Dept. Of Alternative Facts: Hot Air

Hot air (adj & n): local atmosphere which is well above body temperature and therefore personal comfort zone ambience; lectures, debates, comments, or conversation in which one person dominates the interaction with information which no one is interested in nor believes.

Hot Air. Our public space is full of it. Talk about climate change! But, it caught people’s attention, gets their dander up, and leads to more advertising moments. If you believe that, I have ocean front property in Arizona and will throw in the Golden Gate Bridge for free.

Hot air comes and goes like weather systems, for which we have at least two seasons worth of named storms now, and are pretty frequently running out of letters before the season’s end.

The latest, oops, this controversy was at least three week ago, so we have already forgotten about it and been subjected to at least two to three additional Hot Air events, was about gas stoves being band. This resulted in an editorial in a neighboring county’s weekly paper, which got re-printed in our county’s weekly paper, which required a knee-jerk response on my part. Thankfully, I am in better physical shape than any of the four quarterbacks for the 49r’s (I’ll add them to the Golden Gate Bridge, if you’ll believe that).

Letter to the Editor,

The editorial, “From other editor’s desks… Local Flavor” (1/25/23), regarding comments about gas stoves, from Richard Trumka, Jr, of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, illustrates a number of issues in today’s civil discourse.  

In his interview, Mr. Trumka cited a number of health and safety concerns about gas stoves. He then made a general observation about government.  He said, “products that can’t be made safe can be banned”.  He did not make any comments about actual plans to ban gas stoves.

A first observation: public officials, from presidents to policy makers to bureaucrats should prepare their statements, rehearse them, and stick to the topic.  They should take into consideration their intended audience, as well as unintended audiences.  Ears and eyes behind every bush and under every rock these days are waiting for a gotcha moment.  Any committee hearing and page-six interview can become someone’s front-page, above-them-fold controversy.

A second observation: our news and social media are waiting for someone to slip up in order to feed the headlines and promote various agendas.  News media theoretically have some degree of accountability for fact checking. But social media is filled with self-appointed  journalists, pundits, and propaganda ministers waiting for something to post.  

Mr. Trumka’ s gaff had little to do with gas stoves (or automobiles, guns, coal plants, rock climbing gear or any other product that is difficult to make safe) but had a lot to do with what governments have the power to do.  But, the anti-government media jumped at a chance to claim that President Biden wants to rip your gas stove out of your kitchen.  The right, left, center, fringe, and outer space are full of folks waiting for a headline.

A third observation: the potential risk of gas emissions indoors may have less to do with changes in gas stoves, then the changes in how we insulate, heat and cool our homes.  Years ago, we opened windows, turned on fans, and circulated outdoor and indoor air in warmer seasons.  We had marginal insulation, thus during colder seasons we had a degree of air exchange, which allowed off-gassing chemicals to escape.  Now we have well insulated homes, which keep indoor air pollutants inside.  

Mr. Trumka and the Consumer Product Safety Commission might do us better by giving us suggestions for how to contain or reduce gas stove emissions.  How about installing outdoor venting range hoods, rather than the recirculating oven vents that just blow the gasses around the kitchen?  Do the HEPA air filters in central air heating/cooling systems filter out the chemicals?  Maybe we need to change those twice per year?

A fourth observations: Rather than banning some products, let technology replace it.  This is what free economies do.  Quill pens were replaced by ink pens, which were replaced by typewriters, which were replaced by word processors, which were replaced by lap top computers, which are being replaced by cell phones. 

Gas stoves will not be replaced by electric stoves (which actually account for the majority of kitchen fires, a more dramatic risk than invisible gasses), but by induction ranges.  Induction ranges work from the technology of electromagnetism.  Induction ranges uses less energy (and therefore less natural gas, coal or nuclear energy from power plants, or solar or wind power farms), do not put off indoor pollution, and have low risk of kitchen fires.

Were Mr. Trumpka’s comments about gas stove a “recipe for disaster”, as Senator Manchin stated?  I say, No.  Just another “tempest in a tea pot”.  Earl Grey or Camomile?

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Dept of Alternative Facts: Replace

replace: (v) to change one object with another similar object

One the the conspiracy theories floating around in recent years is Replacement Theory. The logic, this time around, is that people of color, specifically legal and illegal immigrants to the USA, are part of a plan to replace people of European ancestry. The implication here is not just that the racial/ethnic composition of the USA is changing, but that some organization is orchestrating this.

I would agree that the racial/ethnic composition of the USA has been constantly changing over the past 500 years as various waves of people from different part so Europe and other parts of the world came over, sometimes at our government’s encouragement, sometimes due to people fleeing political, social, and economic situations in their home countries.

Over the past few years, the owners of our local paper have been transferring the leadership of the paper to their children and other staff. The husband has been writing a weekly column for the past 25 years or so. Recently, his daughter filled in when he was not able to complete his draft. He has written about this, and also applied this idea of replacing oneself to our aging political leaders who are not transferring their power and leadership to younger generations.

This prompted me to write about being replaced:

Letter to the Editor,

I see that D (Unbased Opinion, 12/7/22) believes in Replacement Theory. Yes, presidents Biden and Trump need to be replaced by younger leaders (as do Pelosi, McConnell, Feinstein and most the other politicians who are in their 70’s and 80’s). 

D and P have proactively set up to be replaced by their children who have taken on active roles in managing the paper, just as P did when she took over from her aging parents. Every generation does this, on a personal and society level.

This is no conspiracy theory about white people being replaced under the control of some secret society.  We all get replaced at some time.  Sometimes this does mean that people of other backgrounds, races, and cultures replace those who have been in charge under what ever circumstances.

Immigrants from around the world are replacing those of us of European decent, just as my Prussian and Norwegian ancestors replaced people from England and Native Americans, who lived in Oklahoma and North Dakota.  And, the Italians and Chinese replaced the Irish who replaced the African slaves. Of course, that does not mean that the Norwegians, Prussians, Germans, Poles, Italians, Irish, African, nor Native Americans completely disappeared.  They went on replacing people elsewhere.

What is important is not whether we get replaced, but what we leave for future generations.  Do we leave them livable infrastructure of housing, roads, communication, and energy sources?  Do we leave them with traditions and art which hold a variety of cultures and beliefs together?  Do we leave them with values, work habits, and beliefs which give them purpose?

Those who come after us will not live life exactly as we do.  But, we do not live life as our past generations did either.

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Dept of Alternative Facts: Socialism

socialism (n): a form of government in which various needs and interests of the citizens are funding by a central government

In controlling the narrative, the GOP raises the flag of socialism around the time of elections to draw fearful voters to their precincts (the Democratic Party does the same, just with different fear-mongering themes). As propaganda goes, the more vaguely a threat is defined, the more the listener will fill in the blank. Thus, “socialism” comes off as some 1950’s The Blob or The Monster from the Black Lagoon horror flick with grainy views of what the red-scare might actually look like.

That, of course gave me an opportunity to write to our local paper:

I have been reading the political columns and advertisements in the paper, as well as seeing many “Fed Up, Vote Republican” signs around the county.  The general theme appears to be that our government as become a socialist government, this is bad, and Republicans candidates will “drain the swamp”.  I have been thinking of some ways that those with these beliefs can help the problem of government involvement in our lives, regardless of who sits in which seat of power.

First, start with health care.  Stop accepting Medicare and Medicaid, and do not sign up for health care insurance through your employer as these programs for the most part follow guidelines from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) as well as The Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obama Care).  Self-insure, like old order Mennonite communities, then we will be accountable to our neighbors who will be paying our medical bills.  And, if illness is the result of the Fall recorded Genesis, accept that dying from a heart attack, stroke, cancer, liver or kidney failure is part of God’s plan. Fill out Advanced Directives and do not call the rescue squad.

As reported recently, agricultures is a primary business in our county.  Forego federal funding, programs, and grants from the USDA.  We should pay for our own farms, poultry and beef operations, land conservation, and crop insurance. 

Also, rural electrical and telephone services came through USDA programs, as I understand, so prior generations should have waited for private industry to put up power and telephone lines.  Should we dig up the fiber optic lines that the federal government funded and return them?

Thinking of infrastructure, we should stop asking the federal government to build the highway through our county?.  If I recall correctly, in the 1890’s every health male in the county was obligated to give two days to maintain the roads in the county.  Maybe we should put in a little sweat-equity of our own to finish off the highway.

And while we are discarding federal funds for infrastructure, we can let Senators M and C know that we no longer want the government intervening in in our water sourcing and sewage disposal projects.

Let’s not forget education.  I do not know to what extent, but I bet our local schools, community college, and public universities are utilizing federal funds for various building projects, meals, educational resources, and following federal guidelines for boys and girls sports.  Homeschooling and setting up non-school based sports and arts programs could fill that gap and keep our youth from worrying about…I won’t even say…. One factor in successful education, homeschool, private or public school is the engagement of the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other folks who are like family.  Let’s not expect those who are beholden to federal, or possibly the whim of the state legislature, to call the shots. “Teach your children well” some song went years ago.

We should also be skeptical of signing up for military service.  This is a federal program, of course, and therefore must be at risk of corruption by Commie Joe.  The current interpretation of the Second Amendment should be sufficient to protect ourselves.  Don’t let generals beholden to Princesses in the Middle-East, dictators in Asia and South American, or alliances in Europe be recruiting our soldiers into their regional conflicts.

I’m sure that I could go on, but I’m probably past my allotted 500 words.  But, do the above and the swamp will be blooming more than tulips next Spring.

Now, when you go to vote, consider how much socialism has provided for your ability to do so: all the political information you have received in your USPS mail box, the roads or public transportation that you use to get to your polling station, the federal grants which paid for the voting machines or paper ballots, the Social Security and Medicare benefits which the (most likely) over 65 poll workers are using to be healthy enough to help you cast your ballot…, see how the list goes on. Otherwise, get your horse and axe out to cut your way through a new path to the polls (just don’t cross over any National Parks or Forests along the way).

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Dept. Of Alternative Facts: That’s Entertainment

entertainment (n): an activity which someone engages in for recreation, without obligation

With the mid-term elections coming up, I have been reading a lot of local news and Letters to the Editor which are focused on the Far-Right’s disdain for the federal government and especially the President, and and the Democratic Party, whom they tar and feather as socialist and communists. Those writing seems to see that running for county clerk or commissioner from the Republican Party are running agains “Commie Joe”. As far as I can tell, there are a lot of political steps between our local government and the White House. Thus, I responded:

Letter to the Editor

S P’s Letter to the Editor brings up an important issue for today: Why are we so obsessed with the activities of whoever resides in the White House.  It does not matter whether one side rants about Trump/W/George Sr/Reagan/Nixon, et al. Or the other side rants about Biden/Obama/Clinton(s)/Carter, et al.  Why has the Executive Branch of our federal government become so powerful in our society that we ruminate on its wins, losses, inadequacies, quirks, and scandals.  I have wondered about this for a number of years.

While many factors effect how the presidency has become our focus, I see two major influences.

News has been, and is becoming more so, entertainment for many people.  News, whether print, digital, TV, radio, or word-of-mouth, imparts some information, but mostly keeps our attention by being entertaining.  We like to follow stories that fit our narratives of social and and political life.  That could be our leaders acting on our behalf in what we consider good laws. Or, expressing how dangerous the world is (along with how they are going to protect us). Or, real life dramas, intrigue, and suspense.  Or, heart warming tales of love and romance.  We like to watch a good story.  But, why does the White House fill this roll in our lives, versus other branches of the government, or our state and local leaders?

Given the news bureaus’ economic realities of budgets and limited reporters, national news is easier to report on than attending lots of congressional hearings, state and local meetings.  Also, the office of the president is the only one that everyone in the nation may participate in.  Except for some hot issue congressional, state, or local races, most of us are not interested in what is happening three or thirty states over.

Thus, the media, right, left, center, or fringe can capture our attention and keep it by focusing on the presidency.  With that filling our broadcast hours and news cycles, what else do we have to talk, or write Letters to the Editor about?

I agree with Mrs. P, let’s “talk about issues related to THIS local environment and area…”.

For instance, in the past few weeks, we have shopped at local markets and farm stands in Lost City, Wardensville, and Moorefield; attended music events in Baker, outside of Wardensville, Capon Bridge, and Upper Track; hiked on the West Virginia – Virginia line on North Mountain; watched glass blowing in Wardensville… And, the Moorefield Examiner has written articles and carried advertising for many of these places.

Let’s forget about where Brandon may be Going for a while, and enjoy our region. 

Reading the local paper over the past two months, I’m not sure that others writing in either read or agreed with my opinion. They will get an ear-full soon.

Do some research on your state and local elections over the next couple of weeks. Elections are won by those who show up.

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Epilogue: Retreat from Retreat

Our days at the Hermitage drew to an end.  We packed our suitcases and returned them to the vehicle for the drive back to my mother’s home.  We attended the Vigil and Lauds services, ate breakfast, cleaned up the Sophia House, and headed out into the morning sun. 

Driving north on Highway 1, we stopped for a few shorter hikes to see McKay Falls, the redwoods in Big Sur State Park, and to lunch on the beach at Andrew Melora State Park.  The closer to Carmel that we drove the more vehicles gathered in a caravan.  Four, five, seven, twelve, fifteen.  

This was not a pilgrimage of fellow travelers, but annoyed drivers who would rather not be behind others on a section of road without passing zones.  The cell phone began to ping, as several days of undelivered messages began to flow.  Civilization had begun to return.

Prior to various phenomenon vying for out attention, we talked about our reflections on our days of silent retreat.  We agreed that our days were not too different from being at home, in terms of spending time reading and working on creative tasks, knitting for Linda and photography & poetry for Oscar, and home made meals.  What was different was that we did not have obligations of tending to the garden, fixing the fence, remodeling our home, and interacting with neighbors and friends.  This was more life affirming, rather than life changing.

We also reflected that a hermit’s life of quite, slow pace, contemplative activity was easy for us.  But, this is not our direction in life.  Rather, for us returning to being in world, if not of the world, involves lived service to others.  Most immediately family who are in life transitions.  Then friends and neighbors who are coping with illness, retirement, and health challenges.

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Poem: Solitude, In Black, White, and Grey

What motivates someone to seek a silent retreat?
To travel to a remote mountain hermitage?
To be alone among other retreatants who stay alone?

Is it a means of escaping the 24-hour cycles
Of news and social media, which interrupts 
With cell-phones buzzing while they sleep?

Is it to distance themselves from
Demanding family and friends
Who intrude on their boundaries?

Is it to have time to read, reflect, and contemplate
A book rather than responding
To snap-chats, texts, and 15 second videos?

Is it to emerge one’s senses 
In the beauty of the setting 
Of one’s hermitage and the chapel?

Is it to refresh and release one’s creative
Energy and talents to share in
The divine process of inspiration and creation?

Is it to find spiritual peace and
Connection with the landscape,
Monks, and fellow sojourners?

Is it to find healing, body and soul,
For pain of physical deformity and injury,
Or emotional traumas of living?

Is it to be? Nothing more,
As, “to be” encompasses all motivations
For which Jews, Samaritans, Caananites,

And Centeurians sought out Jesus.
And for which he gave forgiveness,
Healing, and peace.

And, after Jesus imparted wisdom, healed the sick, 
Cast out demons, and wrangled with hypocrites,
He sought solitude, silence, and retreat.

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Poem: Say Their Names

Billie Holiday confronted her audiences
When she sang of “Strange Fruit” to illustrate
The dominant culture’s assault on black bodies.
She did not name the fruit of black men lynched
For offending white authorities with
Perceived crimes primarily of being black.

Today we say their names:
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Amhaud Arbery
With the sad and horrifying reality
That any list has no beginning.
Their names lie buried in the unmarked graves,
Paved over with highways through black neighborhoods.

And, the list is not complete while 
Bounty hunters continue to collect those 
Whom they consider fugitives,
In order to return them to slavery in our penal system, 
Which by the 13th Amendment sanctions 
Forced, unpaid labor of those incarcerated.

Let us call out their names, starting with Jesus,
Whom the Sanhedrin turned over to the Roman authorities,
As if utilizing a Texas style citizens arrest,
Then goaded by the Governor to lynch him on a cross;

Jesus, who claimed to fulfill the same
Laws used to condemn him.
Loiterer.

Jesus, who forgave sins and instructed
Those who had erred to live rightly.
Advocate.

Jesus, who challenged the self-righteous
To show mercy.
Agitator.

Jesus, who asked us to see him in 
Children, the poor, our neighbors.
Activist.

Let us see Jesus in all whom we meet.
Then we can say their names and his name
To realize that their lynchings are his crucifixion.
George Floyd – Jesus
Breonna Taylor – Jesus
Amhaud Arbery – Jesus

Say your name – say his name.
Live.

(This may seem to be an odd theme to come out of a retreat at a monastery. But, part of a silent retreat is contemplation of reading. In monastic nomenclature, this is lectio divina, literally reading scripture, the liturgy and prayer. What I had chose to bring for reading was a book which I picked up earlier in the year, but wanted to read thoughtfully: Reconciliation, Healing, and Hope, edited by Jan Naylor Cope. It consisted of the homilies presented at the National Cathedral during 2020 and 2021, specifically starting with the pandemic, transitioning to racial justice protests, continuing through the presidential election and aftermath of all of these. Over the course of the two days that we were at the New Camadoli Hermitage, I read about 25 homilies, to just past the November 2020 election. I finished the rest after our period there.

On our second day of retreat, when we walked along the trail which bordered the burnt area of Limekiln State Park, I saw the tree in the photo. While not really a crucifix, it had some what the horrible image of one. Plus, if you look closely through the lowest hole in the tree, there are two smaller trees crossing to form a diagonal X crucifix, which by tradition is how Peter asked to be crucified upside down at the Roman Circus on which St Peter’s Square of the Vatican now stands. Plus, especially in the black and white format of this image, the tree trunk is hauntingly black. Any wonder that my contemplation and observation brought out Billy Holiday’s song, Strange Fruit?

From friends whom I showed the poem to later, my linking Jesus crucifixion to a lynching is not a new idea. But, maybe it is an idea we need to contemplate.)

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Poem: Wildfire

At Pentecost flames leapt from Jesus’ followers
Who shared the Messiah’s message
In ways that diverse peoples could understand.
The Gospel has one and many forms.

Fire ignites, illuminates, consumes.
Fire must have the right conditions to occur.
Fire burns, then moves on.
What is left appears charred, black, dead.

But, wait a year or two, sprouts and seedlings
Which lay dormant, bud, grow, and return
The wildfire burn region to life.
Green shoots reclaiming the prairie and forest.

What happened to those first Jesus followers
After the wildfire of Pentecost burnt through?
Wait for the new growth, rather than
Try to create fire themselves.

Often an epiphany or conversion experience
Comes with a fire of emotion and enthusiasm
To be followed by the charred landscape
Sprouting with worship, love, and service

(In exploring hiking opportunities along our route to the New Camaldoli Hermitage, I learned that many trails into state parks that travel into the coastal canyons of the San Lucia Mountains were still closed two years after the wildfires of the Dolan Fire in 2020. Limekiln State Park, which borders the hermitage was one of these parks. The hermitage has a trail which goes right along the boarder, looking into the canyon where redwoods, oaks, sycamores, and underbrush plants were scorched. However, rather than being dead, the charred trunks had sprouted new branches and had many daughter trees grouping out from the roots. You can see these on the blackened red wood tree trunks in the photo. I originally started a poem about the natural process, but obviously it took on a spiritual metaphor. Jesus could have told a parable to guid his followers to grow deep roots of faith in order to sustain themselves after the passions of conversion smolder into ashes.)

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Poem: Ordinary Time

Ordinary, normal, routine, 
Measured out in days, weeks, months, seasons,
Sleep-wake-rest-activity cycles,
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert,
Coffee, tea, soda, wine,
Self-care, chores, leisure.

But are these times ordinary?
Or, is the ordinary the structure upon
Which we then navigate
What is not ordinary?

We go about our routines
Until the unexpected occurs.
The crisis, or surprise, demands 
Or attracts our attention and
Reschedules our schedules.

Do we see these non-ordinary events
As derailments or opportunities?
Our answers reveal our natural inclinations
And lived experiences which have
Molded our responses.

Do we see the devil of distractions,
Or the god-moments of good fortune.
Maybe the gifts of which Paul writes 
To the churches of Corinth, Ephesus, and Galatia
Are as much our talents as well as our 
Responses to the unordinary in ordinary times.

Extraordinary! 

(For those who may be reading this without the larger context of the prior poems, I will reiterate that these poems formed while we spent a few days at a monastery along the California coast. We participated in the services each day. By the church calendar, we are in Ordinary Time between the Pentecost and Advent seasons. If you are not familiar with the church calendar, used in the Catholic and Anglican churches and some Protestant churches such as the Lutherans, the year is devised into different blocks of time. We are in general most familiar with Advent, the Christmas season, and Lent, the weeks leading up to Easter. Anyway, reading the liturgy each day brought the concept of Ordinary Time to mind… The image above is the chapel at the New Camaldoli Hermitage)

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Poem: Clouds

The clouds rise, like mountains uplifted
By vaporous subduction zones of tectonic plates
In geological time measured in seconds
Rather than millennia.

7,200 seconds ago we were submerged in
A cloud which covered the Santa Lucia Mountains
In billowing puffs as if to burry us in
Droplets of serpentine, feldspar, and quartz.

3,100 seconds ago the white sun and blue sky
Warmed half of our horizon while the tops
Of the clouds formed peaks and valleys
From warm and cold columns of drafts.

As I looked up from each paragraph of my reading
The skyline changed as if a towering mountain range
Were uplifted then eroded back to alluvial plains,
An Everest one minute, then Grand Canyon the next.

(An aspect of time in nature that I have long noticed living the a remote area is how much more I see by being in place with fewer distractions. The geography of civilized living, and constant flurry of activity often distract us. We experience our landscapes more as backdrops to our activity, scenery, rather than viewing them in depth. While sitting on the porch as Sophia House, reading for hours at a time, I could watch the changing vista. On this day, the fog which I referred to in an earlier poem changed into clouds, which constantly changed. All I had to do was notice this constant motion.)

(To this point in the rough composition of these poems, most focused on elements of observation or experience from our drive to the New Camaldoli Hermitage, with hikes in Point Lobos State Reserve and other points along the coast, and the first morning in which we attended the Vigil and Laud services, then sat on the porch of Sophia House and walked along the entrance road to the monastery watching the fog roll in, then clouds form. During that morning, I began reading the book of sermons from the National Cathedral, Reconciliation, Healing, and Hope, edited by Jan Naylor Cope. The poems which flowed over the afternoon and next day were more influenced by reflections on those sermons staring with the Covid-19 Pandemic, into the summer of racial justice turmoil after George Floyd’s death, and continuing into the hostility of the 2020 presidential election cycle. You will notice a shift in theme and tone. Adding to this, we took a walk along the edge of Limekiln State Park, which bordered the hermitage property, and observed the area burned in the 2020 Dolan wild fires)

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