Sunday, August 26, 2007


As I approached the lake, I heard a splash and looked up to see a large bird flying away. I was quite disappointed, until I realized that a second bird was still there. It didn't move for a long time. I took several pictures, wandered around the lake, came back and took more. (Most of them didn't come out too well.)

At last I was ready to leave, but I decided to try for one more shot. Just as I thought this, the heron spread its wings and flew away. I thought I had finally scared it off. but then I saw its mate rising up from another part of the lake.

They met in midair, circled and flew off together. I lifted my camera, but I was too astounded to think about framing a shot. Also, I know that it's hard to capture moving objects with digital camera. So, unfortunately, this photo is only a pale reminder of the most exciting thing I saw at the lake.

They have a huge wingspan, as you might expect, and when they fly a pattern of black and white splotches is revealed on their back and wings.

In this place standing

Ever since I started this blog, I have wanted to put up a picture of a certain group of trees near my house. "In this place standing" refers to them, because of the way they stand, so peaceful and so strong. I tried many times to write about them but it could not be done. Only a picture would work.

So I hope it looks nice. Obviously I had to crop the upper part of the trees--I didn't really want to but I didn't want the picture to take up too much space either.

Update (March 23, 2008): I changed the blog template. The picture now appears to be too small for the header area. This is not my fault! It won't allow me to make the picture any wider. I like the new "stretch" layout, but the awkward header design might turn out to be too much for me.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Power of Speech

Back to Howard Zinn: another thing that made an impression on me while I was watching the documentary was some footage of him speaking at an anti-war rally during Vietnam. He went on for quite some time advocating non-violence. The crowd cheered. The cops all stood around, and when he was done they lifted up their clubs and moved in.

I asked myself, "What caused them to respond to non-violence with violence?" I could only believe that they were scared. They felt threatened by talk of non-violence--more than that, they felt threatened by someone who was willing to stand up in public and criticize the government. Such things must not be allowed. Speech is dangerous. All he did was talk.

Speech is dangerous under other circumstances too--in families, for example. Many families, perhaps all, have secrets--things that they believe it's better not to talk about. In some families, the secrets relate to child abuse. I have personal experience of this.

The first rule of child abuse is "Don't tell anyone." You might expect that the abuser doesn't want anyone to know about what he did. But in many cases, nobody else in the family wants to know either. And when they start making excuses for the abuser, one begins to get the impression that talking about abuse is worse than actually doing it. Child abuse is not seen as a threat to the family. Telling the truth about it--that's a threat.

Speaking out is a powerful and frightening thing. But for some of us, the truth is necessary.

See also "Without Struggle There Is No Freedom" and "The Power of Silence"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Finally, I Can Use the Web for its Intended Purpose

. . . posting pictures of my cats.

Here they are:

Here they are again:

Here is the devil kitty:

Awwww . . . so cute.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: Howard Zinn

Yesterday I watched a documentary about the life of Howard Zinn, author of The People's History of the US and several other books. The film seems to be loosely based on his memoir of the same title. I read at least part of the book (can't remember if I finished it.)

In some ways, Zinn is a very ordinary man. Born into a poor working-class family, fought in World War II, married and raised two kids, the first member of his family to go to college (apparently, neither of his parents ever got as far as high school), he eventually became a professor of history. Many people who have fought in wars take a dislike to the whole notion of war: that's not unusual either. But his passion stands out.

For me, one of the most moving parts of You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (book and film) is an episode that happens at the end of WWII. Zinn had joined the Air Force in order to fight evil, in the form of Hitler. He dropped quite a few bombs on various German cities. The war was almost over when his squadron was sent out one night to attack a French village (they were told that it contained a large number of German soldiers, as well as civilians.)

Their planes were loaded with some new type of bomb: Zinn later discovered that it was napalm. He came to believe that the only reason he had been ordered to bomb that village was because the American military wanted to test its new weapon. This didn't sit too well with him, and neither did the thought of how many civilians he must have killed, in that bombing raid and all the others. Soon he became an advocate of non-violence and civil disobedience, starting with the civil rights movement, and protested against wars from Vietnam to the present day. (He has had no lack of opportunities for protest.)

I've always had a certain admiration for conscientious objectors, and anybody who stands up for what they believe in--without resorting to violence. But Zinn's story reminds me that in some ways, those who deserve the most respect are people who have made mistakes and risen above them.

It's all very well to have a clear conscience and never to have gone to war in the first place (for example.) But what if your conscience is not clear? We've all done regrettable things. Few of us, I hope, have the same thing to regret that Zinn did: killing a large number of people. How do we cope with our comparatively minor regrets?

I don't recall Zinn expressing particular guilt or remorse for his warlike actions (although it was a long time ago.) He doesn't have to: his later actions speak for themselves. He came to believe that war is wrong, and he does his best to ensure that such things will never happen again. That is all a person can do.

I think to myself: If he can live with what he did, then I have nothing to complain about at all.