Off the Radar

Off the Radar

I read a report recently that claimed fewer than 50% of the children who enter into California’s Public Education System ever graduate from high school yet high schools all across California report fairly low dropout rates. What is the dichotomy here and where did all those children end up?

California’s Compulsory Education Statute says that all persons 6 to 18 years of age are to be in school with very few exceptions and yet it appears that many thousands, perhaps a hundred thousand or more per year, drop out of the educational system in California. As an Adult School Teacher I get some of these students who dropped off of California’s Compulsory Education Radar and have accepted the fact without question that some how they were forgotten by the System. That is, until now.

I have had discussions with my wife who is a K-12 educator about the reasons children disappear from a system as robust as California’s Educational System and it got me wondering about the student I mentioned in my last post and so I asked her. Her response was that the family lost their house and they experienced a period of homelessness from which she never returned to school, until just recently. It makes me curious about what goes on in a school where Dick and Jane are in attendance one day, then they’re not, and I can only conclude that there is not enough money to pay people to follow up on every child who goes missing. Who remembers Truant Officers?

A 2004 report on the California Legislative Analyst’s Office website indicates that in 1997-98 there were 412,604 students enrolled in the eighth grade and five years later during the 2001-02 school year 325,928 students graduated from high school in California. Of course a few may have moved out of state and a few migrate workers may have returned to their homes or found migrate work elsewhere but at the same time many others were moving into California for various reasons. What is clear to me and to the analysts who wrote the report we have a problem keeping our youth in school.

I don’t know what the final solution is but I do know that we will not achieve it until we all, as a society of citizens “equal in dignity and rights,” are assured “jobs, education, housing, and an adequate standard of living.”

It is the same call for a global human Bill of Rights.

Bill of Rights-Assembly

Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights-EmblemI have a twenty-two year old female student with a young son who is afraid she will soon become homeless with the passing of her great grandmother with whom they reside. I understand now from my wife that there are services that might be available to help the two them from ending up alone on the streets as winter approaches and we have already had near freezing overnights. This dilemma though tears at my heartstrings and I fight back at the anger when I think of how John Locke’s early statement of human rights that everyone was entitled to Life, Health, Liberty, and Property was perverted by the richest men in America to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Obviously, our founding fathers weren’t much interested in sharing their coveted property with the Indians, Slaves, Indentured Servants, and Unpropertied Citizens of their great experiment.

My student’s challenge made me think back to our U.S. Bicentennial when in 1976 several protocols and statements of human rights came together and were adopted by the United Nations and ratified by a significant number of world nations as the International Bill of Human Rights. To many of us who once wore our hair long, marched in the anti-war protests, and sang peace and freedom songs this adoption was a great hope for the future. The International Bill of Human Rights begins with Article 1, which reads:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 25 contains a further prescription that, like many of the Articles, is a direct consequence of the first Article. It reads:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Many countries, including the United States, have not completely ratified the International Bill of Rights because the forces of power believe (in the words of Jimmy Carter): “governments have no obligation to safeguard the rights of their citizens to jobs, education, housing, and an adequate standard of living.” What a sad state of affairs for a country whose Constitution declares the it is “to promote the general Welfare” of its citizenry. My Merriam-Webster dictionary has several definitions of general the second of which is: “involving, relating to, or applicable to every member of a class, kind, or group.” Welfare is defined as: “the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity.”

Wouldn’t it be something for a society to interpret “general Welfare” such that no individual, family, neighborhood, or community was left undernourished, underclothed, underhoused, underemployed, or underserviced?

I think it would be wonderful.


International Bill of Human Rights

U.S. Finally Ratifies Human Rights Covenant by Jimmy Carter, June 29, 1992

It's a small world

E-Ticket Ride

E-Ticket

At our A Course in Miracles meeting yesterday we were reading Chapters 8 and 9 in the Manual for Teachers but were having a lot of asides and discussions about why we are here in this plane, on this Earth, in this life, and in this dream. We talked about our ongoing challenges, or opportunities, as a previous mentor of mine liked to impress upon his grasshoppers. Now some of my fellow travelers like to point out how we must have chosen to be here in the first place, which got me to thinking that as furious and intense as this roller coaster journey is that: “Life is the ultimate E-Ticket Ride.”

Now, not all of my fellow travelers knew that the E-Ticket Rides were the premium rides at Disneyland in Anaheim but a quick explanation from one of my dear friends clarified the metaphor and we were back to the discussion on whether or not we chose to have this experience. It’s that ancient musing that always begs the question: If I had known then what I know now – would I have chosen life?

There are a few personages from history who have garnered my utmost respect and one of those giants in my esteem was William Blake who addressed the question with elegance in The Book of Thel. Now Thel had the opportunity to leave the Vales of Har and see first hand what awaited her should she choose to be born. What she saw disturbed her greatly and when she came to her grave she asked herself a series of questions, shrieked, and fled back into the Vales of Har.

One of my dear friends remarked that she, like many of us, have earned far too many scars on this pilgrimage, which got me to thinking about the Boogeyman from Tim Burtons The Nightmare before Christmas. What can I say? It was a very visual discussion. Anyway, the Boogeyman was held together by a thread that when pulled released the consortium inside that without there was no substance, or even existence, to the feared Boogeyman. In some ways I think we can view our scars as the badges of honor that we have survived the challenges hurled at us and actually can serve to be the bindings that hold us intact – given our perception.

I believe that, had I been in Thel’s singular position of perceiving life before she had to endure it, I would still have chosen life as long as I saw that along with the pain there was also the happiness. As it was pointed out in the ACIM Manual for Teachers we perceive because of contrasts, which begs the question: Could I know joy without knowing misery? Not that I know the answer but the philosopher in me believes that it is worth pondering.

When I was a kid the E-Ticket was the most treasured in the booklet. Indeed, to the extent that junk drawers all over Southern California held numerous unused A, B, C, and D-Tickets without an unused E-Ticket in sight and I wonder if the junk drawers in the Vales of Har look the same.

Life, the ultimate E-Ticket Ride, replete with its Tunnels of Love and its Chambers of Horrors. Yes, I have my jagged scars and my wretched nightmares but I also have Love and all is well.

Demons

Demons

Many of us that carom through this life are occasionally plagued by demons and I am no exception. My latest demon goes by the name of Pavor Nocturnus and he has been tormenting me since August. I have read that Pavor Nocturnus (aka Night Terrors) is quite rare in maturing adults (affecting less the one percent of the population) and is most likely caused by stress.

I wrote earlier about downsizing and moving in to a 55+ community. As a result of that move I have had, for the first time in my life, episodes of sleepwalking, sleep talking, nighttime panic attacks, and now night terrors. At first I thought I was having nightmares that I simply did not remember but I mentioned the episodes to my doctor at my last physical. Given these episodes and the other unusual sleep episodes he concluded that I was experiencing night terrors and so now I have been taking Esitalopram to combat this condition and finally did have several peaceful nights this past week. That is, until the night before last, I had my worst episode to date and even screamed in my sleep.

Needless to say I am absolutely tired of and so through with these episodes but I am pretty sure what caused this last violent one. We moved only a few short months ago and now given conditions over which we have no control we have to move again and although my conscious self accepted the necessity of the move with grace and calm I believed my subconscious selves revolted at the idea.

The house we looked at Sunday is a fixer-upper but is in a quiet, well maintained, neighborhood. In fact, this house is likely considered the local eyesore but is full of potential and, after all, I have done this before and there is really nothing I cannot do myself, although my wife says I’m too old to be climbing on roofs anymore.

My wife’s prescription yesterday morning was to resume the practice of meditation, which is something I haven’t been doing as of late. I noticed the cover of my recent issue of Scientific American featured an article entitled: The Neuroscience of Meditation: How it changes the brain, boosting focus, and easing stress. Well, I gave it a little try and last night was much calmer although not without some night terrors.

Demons are indeed all about us but I do believe we have the power within us to triumph over them.

Well, at least I hope so.

The Good Samaratin

A Lesson in Compassion

Robert Paul Nichols

Compassion: noun: Sympathetic consciousness of another’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Had my youngest brother Robert survived his demons and addictions he would have been fifty years old on October the 30th, just two short days ago. He was drawn into the culture of drugs and addictions at far too young an age and although I never told him to his face I was angry with him and complained of him to my siblings and my wife. When we were together, however, I was always civil to him even though I bore negative thoughts concerning his use of street drugs and the ill effects they were having.

There are good memories of Robert. Way back in the mid 1980’s when I was living in San Dimas I had retaken up the guitar but the demands of the vice-presidency I had made sure there really wasn’t any time to put the effort needed into it. I mentioned to Robert my dilemma and he asked if he could have the guitar (because I think he had sold his for drug money). I gave him the guitar with the stipulation that he returned the guitar to me when he acquired another. I don’t know what happened to the guitar but I think he took it to Denver, Colorado but returned with out it.

When my wife and I married on June 11, 1988 Robert was the life of the party and made us laugh at his champagne encouraged antics. My best man could not stay with the wedding party so we gave Robert the room at the Golden Sails Hotel that we had rented for the best man and his very pregnant wife. It was a good day and thanks to my brother-in-law we have our wedding and Robert on film.

Not long before his death Robert seemed to kick the drugs but still self-medicated heavily with Vodka even as he enrolled at El Camino College and was planning to study computer programming, which was something I had been and was still doing at the time. We had a pleasant talk and I was proud of my younger brothers accomplishment, congratulated him, and left for home. I did not see him again until his funeral several days later.

I cried. I hated drug dealers and wished they were all put to death. I grieved and then ultimately I emerged from the worst of the pain and realized that my judgment of his drug usage had limited our interactions, our brotherly love. When I realized the price I had paid I knew I could never think or feel negatively about another’s distress and their attempts to cope with this life ever again.

My baby brother bequeathed me the great gift of Compassion and for that I am forever grateful and in his debt. And, from John Lennon:

“Whatever Gets You Through The Night”

Whatever gets you through the night ‘salright, ‘salright
It’s your money or life ‘salright, ‘salright
Don’t need a sword to cut through flowers oh no, oh no

Whatever gets you through your life ‘salright, ‘salright
Do it wrong or do it right ‘salright, ‘salright
Don’t need a watch to waste your time oh no, oh no

Hold me darlin’ come on listen to me
I won’t do you no harm
Trust me darlin’ come on listen to me, come on listen to me
Come on listen, listen

Whatever gets you to the light ‘salright, ‘salright
Out the blue or out of sight ‘salright, ‘salright
Don’t need a gun to blow your mind oh no, oh no

Hold me darlin’ come on listen to me
I won’t do you no harm
Trust me darlin’ come on listen to me, come on listen to me
Come on listen, listen

Mother

Mother (A Halloween Story)

Bill Harrison looked down upon Mother lying motionless upon the polished black-granite table. His eyes were still drowsy with the sleep interrupted by the hissing of the motion alarm that guarded the embalming room of his family’s mortuary. For three days and three nights a series of electrodes attached to Mother’s scalp and forehead created a complete circuit with the electrodes attached to Mother’s copper bound feet. Five hundred milliamperes of a five-volt DC current had been applied to the circuit steadily for exactly seventy-eight hours when the alarm went off. Bill rubbed his eyes and looked down at Mother’s face. Was it Mother’s eyelids or his imagination that was twitching? Bill rubbed his eyes again and remembered when it was Father lying upon the table…

Will-eee! You are the man of the house now and you know what needs to be done. We can’t have Father decaying. The smell will drive away the customers. Take the ice pick and make the holes. That’s a good Willy. I’ll get the formaldehyde.

Willy. Will-eee! Will-eeee! Bill hated listening to the sound of the name more than he hated embalming Father. Mother’s mouth turned it into a profanity every single time she spoke it. “Mother, I want to cut out your evil tongue. Mother, I want to break your neck. Mother, I want to kill you.” These were the things he repeated over and over again in his mind while the seventeen-year-old hands used the ice pick to poke Father’s liver full of holes for the embalming solution. First Father’s Liver, and then Father’s kidneys, and then Father’s spleen, and finally – without mercy, Father’s brain.

Bill poked, jabbed, stabbed, and mutilated Father’s organs in preparation for the foul-smelling Formaldehydic embalming fluid Mother mixed. Mother chanted as she combined the ingredients …

      Formaldehyde, in solution, 1.9%, poured to the line that’s red
      Phenol, the poison extracted from tar, 9.3%, slowly added to the yellow line
      Methyl Alcohol, that poisonous liquid, 11.1%, stir while pouring and stop at blue
      Glycerin, so syrupy sweet, 11.1%, for substance, body, and character that’s true
      Distilled Water, clear and cool, 66.6%, to carry it all where it needs to go

Bill opened his eyes and looked at Mother again. Mother’s eyes were fluttering rapidly now. The tips of Mother’s fingers were beginning to move up and down on the table. The excitement in his chest grew as he envisioned a successful culmination of an experiment inspired by that small article in the Herald wherein the science reporter had referred to the amniotic fluid as the “liquid of life”. Getting the fluid wasn’t an easy thing. One could not simply go down to the corner drug store and purchase a gallon of two. No, Bill had to stake out the local gynecological clinics and offices were he would place a radio transmitter on a pregnant woman’s automobile. Then, when he was sure that she was alone, Bill would enter the woman’s house where he would inject her with a tranquilizer via a dart fired by a small air pistol. Bill would then extract a potion of the woman’s amniotic fluid allowing it to drain into a sterile container. Recovering the dart and the radio transmitter from the woman’s automobile Bill would leave as surreptitiously as he arrived. Bill knew that no one would ever suspect anything. The woman’s unconsciousness would merely be blamed on a fainting spell caused by unknown complications of the pregnancy.

It took Bill six weeks from the middle of September to get enough amniotic fluid to replace Mother’s blood drained body. When he had the necessary amount Bill took Mother’s body from the dehumidified storage chamber where it had been kept since January at a constant 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to avoid the growth of ice crystals which, if allowed to form, would rupture Mother’s cells and destroy any hope of resuscitation. Once on the table Bill had pumped the amniotic fluid slowly into Mother’s veins. First at one pound per square inch of pressure, than two, and then three until he was assured that every vein and capillary had been filled. He than bound the feet together using a copper band and attached the electrodes to Mother’s scalp, forehead, and feet. Bill turned on the current and waited.

Mother’s fingernails were tapping loudly on the granite table. Growing slowly in death the fingernails were now longer than the first joint of Mother’s fingers. Bill watched them tap, tap, tap, and wondered why he never thought to trim them. Mothers feet were beginning to move and Bill turned off the current. The movement of the eyes, feet, and hands not only continued but spread throughout Mother’s limbs. Bill removed the electrodes from Mother’s forehead and scalp and then from Mother’s feet. Bill cut the copper band that had held Mother’s feet together in the circuit. Mother’s eyes opened.

Bill helped Mother sit up on the table. He gingerly moved Mother’s legs off the side of the table so Mother could more easily sit upright. Bill held Mother’s shoulders as Mother’s initial unsteadiness evaporated into an easing balance. Mother’s eyes studied Bill while she puzzled over the sensation in her abdomen. Mother reached out and placed her hand upon Bill’s side, stroking it, feeling it, and sensing the life force within. Mother plunged her long fingernails into Bill’s side, ripping a wide gash large enough to insert the hand that pulled forth Bill’s liver from the gaping wound. Mother chewed and swallowed, chewed and swallowed, until Bill’s liver was gone. Ever so hungry from nine long months of fasting the pain in Mother’s abdomen ceased – a little. Mother stood on the floor next to the embalming table and looked at the thing lying on the floor below her. Slowly, as if remembering how to walk, Mother stepped over the thing and moved slowly toward the door of the embalming room. Pushing through the hinged doors Mother proceeded cautiously down the hallway, through the showroom, through the waiting room, and finally through the entrance doors of the mortuary and out into the yard.

Mother stopped at the sidewalk and looked up and down the street at the dozens and dozens and dozens of witches, goblins, scarecrows, Ninja’s, pirates, Indian chiefs, cowboys, princesses, ghosts, vampires, and at all of their escorts.

Mother looked and Mother was pleased.

Mother was very hungry.


This short Halloween story was written several years ago and was used by my wife this time of the year in her high school English classes. She now teaches sixth grade and this is a little to much for the tender ages. This story appeared in this months Fresh Ink publication of the Inland Empire Branch of the California Writer’s Club

InsectsBanner

Insects

Praying Mantis

We have had a visitor at our mobile home now for several days. It is a large praying mantis and I find it unusual that it chooses to hang out on the vertical patio screen when there is a perfectly good lemon tree only a few feet away. At one point I even thought that may his tiny feet were caught in the screen but I discovered that I was wrong as I watched it move about when I came too close in my examination. But our little visitor has got me thinking about the fascinating world of insects and of arthropods in general.

In my youth I was an amateur entomologist and in many ways I still am. I have been fascinated with (and sometimes disgusted by) insects for as long as I can remember. I have very young memories of the marvelous dragonflies that could be found around the lake at Alondra Park and when I was told that the immature dragonflies lived in the lake and hunted fish and tadpoles I was completely taken in. The enchantment with insects led me into a phase of field study, collecting, and preserving insect specimens that lasted many years. The desire to collect and preserve insects died away while I was still in my twenties because I could no longer bring myself to kill the poor creatures but my first born, who had been my constant companion, was already bitten by the study of insects and she is today a biologist for the State of California whose job is with researching and implementing biological controls of insect agricultural pests and the diseases they transmit.

I was once told that entomologists come from one of two primary beginnings and first are those (like myself and my daughter) who are completely fascinated by the creatures. The other group is comprised of those who, as children, dropped bricks on them or otherwise find ways to crush them. The first group continues to study them while I think the second group is searching for better ways to exterminate them. My daughter researches natural and biological means of control.

I read once that the largest single biomass on the planet are the ants of the order Hymenoptera and it was estimated that it exceeded the combined biomass of all other life forms on Earth. That is mind-boggling to say the least. Hymenopterans are fascinating creatures and range in size from microscopic creatures that are internal parasites of the eggs of other minute insects up to (around here anyway) tarantula hawks that may be two-inches or more in length.

Our praying mantis visitor is just over three inches in length and I know his kinfolk can grow much longer. We don’t have a lot of really huge insects in the southwestern United States although I have seen some of their cousins like scorpions, centipedes, and millipedes that were six to eight inches long. Many years ago my wife and I visited the Yucatan Peninsula and stayed at a tropical hotel that had rustic screened rooms without telephones and other amenities but what it did have were the largest walking sticks that I had ever seen not to mention a plethora of other large insects. I don’t recall the name of the hotel but my wife told me at the time it had been in the movie Against all Odds, which I have never seen, and I believe we stayed there after touring Chichén Itzá those two plus nearly three decades ago.

Insects are everywhere. They are in our food and in some places they are food. They were likely the first terrestrial colonizers and they will likely be the last. Although we consider some to be pests and some beneficial I simply cannot imagine how this world would have evolved without them.