Friday, February 26, 2016

Of Mockingbirds and Cowbirds

Thought for the day:  Before I can live with other folks, I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience. [Harper Lee]

Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2005 [wikipedia]
Nelle Harper Lee had strong opinions about right, wrong, and the role of conscience, but she never sought fame or fortune. In 1964, she said,

I never expected any sort of success with "Mockingbird." I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways, this was just about as frightening as the quick merciful death I'd expected. 

Last week, Ms. Lee passed away peacefully in her sleep, so she finally got that merciful death she was talking about, but whether she wanted it or not, she also got plenty of attention over the years because of her book, too. She never wanted to be in the limelight, but ever since To Kill a Mockingbird was published to great critical acclaim in 1960, she's been one of the most celebrated and beloved writers of our time. She rarely gave interviews or made public appearances, but she did accept numerous awards and honorary degrees over the years, beginning with the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1961... but she adamantly refused to make a speech while accepting them. As she put it, Well, it's better to be silent than to be a fool. 

But she most definitely was not a fool. In 1964, when a school board in Virginia wanted to ban her book on the grounds of it being immoral literature, she wrote them the following letter:

Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board's activities, and what I've heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.
Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is 'immoral' has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.
I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.

(Isn't that letter GREAT???

In a 2011 interview, longtime family friend Reverend Thomas Butts revealed what Lee, or Nelle, as her friends knew her, had told him regarding why she had never written another book: 

Two reasons: one, I wouldn't go through the pressure and publicity I went through with "To Kill a Mockingbird" for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say, and I will not say it again. 

So isn't it kind of surprising that she agreed to last year's publication of the re-discovered manuscript of her Go Set a Watchman? In essence, it isn't a sequel to Mockingbird, but rather, an early, unpolished draft of Mockingbird itself. I haven't read it, and don't know if I ever will, because I don't think I want to see Atticus Finch portrayed as a racist. How about you? Any of you read it? If you have, I'd love to know what you think.

May Nelle Harper Lee rest in peace, happily out of the limelight, and may her Mockingbird continue to inspire readers for many generations to come. Here are some of her more memorable quotes:

  • You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
  • Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through, no matter what.
  • Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.
  • I think there's one kind of folks. Folks.
  • Sometimes, the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than the whiskey bottle in the hand of another... There are just some kind of men who're so busy worrying about the next world, they've never learned to live in this one.
  • People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.
  • People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.
  • You just hold your head high, and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don't you let 'em get your goat. Try fightin' with your head for a change. 
Do you remember the significance of the mockingbird in Ms. Lee's book? It is described as a songbird that does nothing but bring pleasure to people, and Atticus told Scout it's a sin to kill one of them. Within the context of the book, the mockingbird has most commonly been recognized as a symbol for innocence
photo by Galawebdesing [wikipedia]

Which brings me to the other part of this post. The cowbird part. Not saying those birds are inherently guilty, but they do lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, relieving them of the responsibilities of nest-building and raising their young. (I realize some mockingbirds do the same, but for the sake of argument, let's ignore that inconvenient little fact for now, shall we?) 

Now then, let's talk about cowbird-like people. You know, the ones who can't be bothered to raise their children in a responsible manner. John Rosemond, who writes a syndicated column on parenting, recently wrote an excellent article about the rights of children. According to him, one of those rights is to not be protected from the consequences of their actions. You've gotta know who I'm thinking about here. Ethan Couch, the privileged teenager who killed four people while driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and faced scant consequences, because of his Affluenza defense, which essentially claimed his (cowbird) parents had coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility. I've already written two posts about this case and his flight to Mexico after breaking his probation, so I won't belabor it now, but I wanted to give you a quick update. Shortly after I wrote the last post about him, he stopped fighting extradition, and was returned to the States. Last Friday, he appeared before a Texas judge, who ruled that the case WILL be handled in adult court this time. That means he will most likely be sentenced to four months or so behind bars before resuming his ten years of probation, and if he breaks probation again, he could get up to ten years in jail for each of the people he killed. For now, he is being held in maximum security, and in solitary confinement for 23 hours out of 24. Think he's taking it seriously now? With any luck, maybe, just maybe, he will develop the kind of conscience Harper Lee so famously wrote about. For his sake, I sincerely hope so.

                                                        Okay, bye... gotta fly!

                                Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Tiger, Tiger, Turning Light?

Thought for the day:  I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. [Unknown origin. This quote has been attributed to many different people.]


Nope, that wasn't an insult. It just means Happy Chinese New Year! 

In Oriental cultures, there are twelve animal signs, similar to the Zodiac, and  in a cyclical twelve-year pattern, each year is designated for one of these animals. This new year, which began on February 8, is a Year of the Monkey. The Chinese associate certain qualities to each animal, and by extension, to people who are born within the year of a certain animal. Alas, I regret to inform you, I was born in the year of the rat. (sigh)


But I'm not gonna write about the monkey... or the rat. No, let's pretend this is 2022, the next Year of the Tiger... the breathtakingly beautiful, exquisitely powerful, and sadly endangered tiger.

And about Wat Pha Luang, a Buddhist temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, more commonly referred to as the Tiger Temple. The temple was founded in 1994 as a sanctuary for wild animals, and in 1999, the first injured tiger cub, whose parents had been killed by poachers, was brought there. That first cub died, but over the years, more and more cubs were brought to the temple, where they were raised by the monks.

As of January, 2016, there were more than 150 tigers living at the temple, where they are said to be tame, and are treated like members of the family. One monk has said that the tigers had changed... they are now Buddhists, and live lives of peace and tranquility.


Photographs abound of the tigers and the monks who care for them.


The tigers are apparently docile, and at peace with the humans around them. What's more? The temple is open to tourists, and for a fee, they can be photographed with the tigers.

The more pictures I saw of this amazing place, and the more I read about the peaceable tigers, the more I thought about this painting:

The Peaceable Kingdom, by Edward Hicks [wikipedia]
 And this familiar Bible verse: The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and  little child shall lead them. [Isaiah 11:6]

And I thought, WOW! Wouldn't it be amazing to be photographed with an honest-to-goodness TIGER??? To pet it, hug it, cuddle it? I mean... WOW! How wonderful!

Or is it?

Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals "love" them, but those who respect their nature and wish to let them live normal lives love them more. [Edwin Way Teale]


Animal activists have long claimed that the tigers at that monastery are mistreated for commercial gain. Donations from tourists for the privilege of being photographed with these docile animals bring in one hundred million baht per year. (equivalent to more than two and three quarter million dollars.)

Since 2008, six to twenty cubs have been needed every three months to keep up with the cuddle-and-photograph demand. To meet that demand, the monks employ a process known as speed breeding, in which newborn cubs are taken away from their mothers, which forces the mothers to go into heat again. To what end? Each female can have two litters per year, as opposed to one litter every two years, as in the wild.

Accusations have been made that the tigers are drugged and chained so closely to the ground, they can't even stand up... that their claws and teeth are sometimes removed, and the tendons in their wrists clipped so they can't swat or run quickly. Even worse, allegations have been made that some are raised, only to be sold for canned hunts. The tigers are all supposed to be chipped, but supposedly, some of the chips have deliberately been removed, and those un-chipped animals have mysteriously disappeared. On January 21 of this year, National Geographic filed a report, accusing the monks of tiger smuggling, and illegal wildlife trade. Despite all of the investigations and allegations made over the years, so far, the Tiger Temple continues to operate with immunity, arguably protected because it is a Buddhist monastery. But that may change.

                                                           [by William Blake]
                                                         Tiger, tiger, burning bright,
                                           In the forests of the night;
                                                         What immortal hand or eye,
                                                         Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

                                                         In what distant deeps or skies
                                                         Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
                                                         On what wings dare he aspire?
                                                         What the hand dare seize the fire?

                                                         And what shoulder, and what art
                                                         Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
                                                         And when thy heart began to beat,
                                                         What dread hand? And what dread feet?

                                                         What the hammer? What the chain,
                                                         In what furnace was thy brain?
                                                        What the anvil? What dread grasp,
                                                        Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

                                                        When the stars threw down its spears
                                                        And water'd heaven with their tears:
                                                        Did he smile his work to see?
                                                        Did he who made the lamb make thee?

                                                       Tiger, tiger, burning bright;
                                                       In the forests of the night:
                                                      What immortal hand or eye,
                                                       Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

                                Are those tigers burning bright? Or are they... turning light?
                                                 And more importantly, is it... right?

                                   Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, February 12, 2016

How Sweet It Is!

Thought for the day:  Man cannot live on bread alone; he must have peanut butter.

Most women would also tout the vital importance of chocolate. Especially this time of year, with Valentine's Day only a couple days away. Not all, mind you. Some would prefer... cheese. Not mentioning any names, but especially someone with the initials Crystal Collier. (Um, when you read this post, Crystal, for your increased pleasure, I'd suggest you substitute the word cheese whenever I mention chocolate or candy...)

Now then, this post is gonna be a bit different from posts I've done for Valentine's Day in past years. This year, we're gonna talk about an inordinately sweet man known as the Candy Bomber. No, he has never detonated sweet caches of candy, (Perish the thought!) but at the end of World War II, his efforts delivered chocolate, chewing gum and much-needed HOPE and LOVE to war-torn Berlin. (Cheese, Crystal, cheese...)


To refresh your memories, following the end of World War II, Germany was divided into four occupied sectors. Berlin was also split among the four occupying countries, as shown in the map, with the western part being shared by France, Great Britain, and the United States, and the eastern part occupied by the Soviet Union. Berlin was actually situated deep within the Soviet-controlled portion of the country, and let's just say they weren't enamored with the other countries controlling any part of Berlin. They wanted all of it. In hopes of achieving that end, they closed all highways, railroads and canals from western-occupied Germany into western-occupied Berlin, initiating what came to be known as the Berlin Blockade. They figured they would force the other countries to abandon their areas of Berlin.

They figured wrong. In response to the blockade, the U.S. and U.K initiated the Berlin Airlift, or as it was officially known, Operation Vittles, to supply food, fuel, and other supplies to Berliners via airplane. During the airlift, an Allied supply plane took off or landed every thirty seconds, and made more than 300,000 flights in all, delivering approximately 2.3 million tons of cargo.

courtesy of the U.S. Air Force [wikipedia]
In 1948 and '49, 27 year-old Colonel Gail "Hal" Halvorsen piloted C-47s and C-54s during the airlift. He was also an avid photographer, and while taking pictures one day, a group of about thirty children watched him through the fence. When he talked with them, he was astounded by the gratitude they expressed, and by the fact that they didn't ask him for anything. He wanted to do something for them. He only had a couple pieces of chewing gum, which he passed through the fence. To his amazement, the children tore it into tiny pieces and shared it as best they could, and then ripped the wrappers into tiny pieces, too, and passed them around, so they could all get a whiff of the minty goodness.

His heart ached for these children, and he promised to drop some candy to them from his plane. So they'd know it was him, he said he'd wiggle his wings at them, which made the children laugh, and earned him the nickname Onkel Wackelfulgel, or Uncle Wiggle Wings. 

courtesy of the U.S. Air Force [wikipedia]
When Hal got back to base, he used his rations to buy candy, and got some of his friends to contribute, too. They used extra clothes and handkerchiefs to fashion little parachutes for the boxes of candy, and the next morning, in addition to his usual supply drop, Hal dropped three boxes of candy to the children. It was the start of a regular routine for him, in which he dropped candy to the children every week. He became known as Rosinenbomber, or the Candy Bomber.

[In the picture, he's in the midst of attaching candy to parachutes.]

courtesy of U.S. Air Force [wikipedia]

When the airlift commander heard about Hal's efforts, he gave it an official name... Little Vittles... and threw his support behind it. As the news of the operation spread, children and candymakers all over the U.S. began donating so many treats, the drops were increased to every other day. By the end of the airlift, some twenty-five aircraft crews had dropped twenty-five tons of chocolates, chewing gum, and other candies to the children in Berlin.

How did the children react? After the very first candy bombing, they started sending thank you notes to Hal... along with handkerchiefs to be used again as parachutes.

How did the countries react? With an outpouring of love and gratitude, which continues to this day.  Both Germany and the U.S. have bestowed numerous honors on Colonel Halversen, including the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2002, Hal was invited to the Olympics in Berlin, where he was given the honor of leading the German team during the opening ceremonies. In 2013, a secondary school in Berlin was named in his honor.

And every year, to commemorate the airlift, the Candy Bomber returns to Berlin... and drops candy to the children.

This picture was taken in Berlin in 1989, the fortieth anniversary of the end of the airlift.

As a lifelong devout Mormon and sometime missionary, Colonel Halvesen sincerely believes what he said some years ago: Service is the bottom line to happiness and fulfillment.

Not only has he lived his life by those words, he delivered happiness and fulfillment to many children, and his caring deeds went a long way toward healing wounds between countries that were once at war.

But he isn't done! Not yet...

[photo by Sammy Jo Hester,  The Daily Herald]

This picture of him was taken last July in Orem, Utah. Looks like he's still going strong, doesn't it?

That isn't all he was doing...

[photo by Spenser Heaps, The Daily Herald]

Yep! You guess it! He dropped one thousand candy bars, attached to tiny parachutes, to the excited children below.

The Dead Sea is dead because it wraps itself around all of the fresh water of the Jordan and gives out nothing. In your community, there are Dead Sea souls who do the same. [Gail Halversen, 2015]

It's a cinch, he isn't one of those Dead Sea souls. No, he's been more like a gentle rain that nourishes the parched earth, bringing hope, and creating fertile grounds for new growth of understanding and peace. And candy! Don't forget the candy! May this loving caring man continue to candy bomb for many more years to come. How sweet it is! No... how sweet HE is. Happy Valentine's Day, y'all.

                                     Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Bouquet of Joy

Thought for the day:  There are always flowers for those who want to see them. [Henri Matisse]

To those of you who are visiting for the first time because of this Valentine's blogfest, welcome! To Arlee Bird, thanks so much for coming up with this cool idea, and to all of his co-hosts, thanks for supporting it. To my regulars, who are wondering why the heck Swiderski is posting on a Monday... I say again... blogfest!!! I hope you'll stick around, even though it isn't our usual Friday rendezvous, and this isn't my usual subject matter. (If there even is such a thing.) Clicking on the badge in the sidebar will whisk you away to a list of other participating bloggers, so if you'd like, you can check out all kinds of offerings about love, both lost and found.


Anyone who has spent time away from home knows how much it means to receive a letter, and this is especially true for soldiers. Particularly during wartime. Those letters provide a much-needed tether back to the world, and offer hope in the midst of horror.

This is a picture of Smarticus during the Vietnam war, writing me a letter. Being out in the field, he couldn't do that as often as he'd like, but I wrote to him multiple times a day, both to help preserve his sanity, and to try to preserve my own. Mail was dropped to the guys from a helicopter, but most of the time, they had to destroy those letters after reading them. They had no place to keep them, and the last thing they needed was additional weight to carry.

Although times have changed, and modern day soldiers have other ways to keep in touch with their loved ones, I believe hand-written letters are still very important. They're life lines. Smarticus and I were already married when he was in Vietnam, but I truly believe it's possible for people who have never met in the world to establish a real relationship through letters. That's the basis for my blogfest offering, which I call The Language of Flowers. I hope you enjoy it.


       Ex-sergeant Cullen Smith paused to admire the florist shop window. Just as he expected, the Say it with Flowers graphics were cheerful, welcoming, and a perfect reflection of the owner’s personality. He took a deep steadying breath, and dried his hand on the front of his shirt to get a better grip on his cane. No sense taking any chances. He was getting around like a pro on his new leg now, but he didn't want to risk screwing up her first face-to-face impression of him by falling on his keister. No, not now, not when he was so close. This was the day he'd been dreaming of for months. He was finally going to meet his guardian angel.
      The bell above the door jingled merrily to announce his entrance into the shop. He stepped inside and looked around at her dream come true. Nice. Very nice… but where was she? Maybe his mother was right; maybe he should have called first. Maybe he should have warned her.
      Then the sweetest-sounding voice he'd ever heard called to him from the back room. “Just a sec! Be right there!”
      That was her voice. That was Angelica.
      His heart pounded against his ribcage, and then, there she was. Finally. Right there, standing right in front of him. Smiling at him. The first thing he thought was she looked just like the picture she’d sent him, the one he’d carried in Iraq and propped up beside him when answering her letters, and the one he’d found in the pocket of his robe when he finally regained consciousness in the hospital.
      No, scratch that. She looked even better in person. No fold marks through her face.
      Angelica felt a slight tug of recognition in her soul when she looked at the man with the semi-scruffy beard, but she couldn’t quite place him. She was immediately drawn to his eyes, though. They were an unusual shade of blue-green, and somehow managed to express the depths of both sadness and hope at the same time. Mesmerizing.
      “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said. “How can I help you?”
      Cullen hesitated. He should have known this would happen. She obviously didn’t recognize him, but why should she? He barely recognized himself as the clean-shaven, scar-free soldier in the picture displayed on the shelf behind her. With a tenuous smile, he cleared his throat, and said, “I’d like to send flowers to someone to let her know how I feel about her.”
      “Terrific! That’s my specialty,” she said, grabbing a scratch pad. “We’ll even include a cheat sheet to interpret the meanings for her. Okay, so what would you like to say?”
      “I want her to know I’m her secret admirer.”
      Lucky girl, she thought. “That would be yellow mums,” she said, noting it on her pad.

      “And I want to thank her,” he said. “To express my deepest gratitude. No matter how tough things were, she kept me going.”
      “Nice,” she said. “Pink carnations.”

      “I want to ask her to remember me forever,” he said, looking at her intently. “Just as I’ll always remember her. Her letters kept me alive.”
      Angelica’s hand shook slightly as she held it over the pad. “Forget-me-nots,” she whispered, before daring to look at him again. Daring to hope.

      “I love her,” he said around a lump in his throat.
      “Red,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “Roses or tulips. Your choice.”

      “No, your choice, Angelica. The flowers are for you. It’s me. Cullen. I got here as soon as I could.”
      She came out from behind the counter with tears flowing freely down her cheeks. “It’s about time,” she said, while wrapping her arms around him.
      “Thank you for everything,” he said. “Your letters meant the world to me when I was in Iraq. When I came out of the coma, there was a whole pile waiting for me. You even wrote when I couldn’t answer. How can I ever tell you how much that meant to me? How much you mean to me? Ever since you wrote me the first time, I told you I’d come see you when I got back home. Sorry it took me so long.”
      She smiled up at him. “You already told me. With flowers. And if I had some, I’d respond with a sprig of ambrosia.”

      “Which means…?”
      “Your love is reciprocated.”
      With a silent prayer of thanks, he held her close, rocking her from side to side. He kissed her with an aching sweetness, and said, “Too soon to propose?”
      She laughed, and said, “Um, yeah, a little. I think we should go on at least one date first, don’t you?  But when we’re ready, I’ll fill the church with birds of paradise for our wedding.”

      He raised an eyebrow.
      She smiled. “Joy,” she said. “They symbolize joy.”


My joy then...

And now.

Since I'm posting today, I won't be doing a post on Friday, which happens to be Smarticus' birthday. (So I may be busy peeling grapes all day...) Seeya again next week, and every... okay, most... Fridays after that. (Ya never can tell when another blogfest might pop up.)

          Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever. [Alfred Lord Tennyson]

Love is the flower you've got to let grow. [John Lennon]

Flowers are the music of the ground from earth's lips, spoken without sound. [Edwin Curran]

Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. [Oscar Wilde]