From my perspective, it appears that wide-spread complacency has brought civilization to the brink of collapse. We have lulled ourselves into this collective state of mind because we seem to think we have all the necessary answers at our disposal and/or we believe we cannot do anything to improve the major problems of the world.

Many of us are caught up in dissent and anger, while others of us are mired in the tempting mental states of denial and the dark well of apathy about the fate of humanity. I argue that complacency is responsible for where we are today.

We can see a microcosm of this complacency by scrolling down a Facebook “Newsfeed”.  On the screen we find an array of activist posts regarding the state of the environment, the worries about corruption, and concerns about poverty. In almost equal measure are memes that advise us not to worry ourselves over problems we cannot individually solve, pointless humor, plus the ubiquitous photos and videos about cats. The point being that it is more important to be self-involved than becoming socially involved.

I admit to spreading cat photos, but I do this in order to sugarcoat the “shares” about global and national problems. In some small way, I hope to put a dent in the tsunami of complacency that seems everpresent today.

I saw complacency close-up as it resettled into the hearts and minds of the LGBT community.  After years of painful struggle to attain some semblance of equal human and civil rights, we breathed a sigh of relief and let down our guard following the happy result of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. The euphoria of the moment helped lull much of the community into a deep state of complacency.

Now, with the resurgance of anti-gay forces, we face the prospect of having to start over from the beginning. The massacre of party goers last year in Orlando, Florida was the wake-up call for many. We discovered that gays are being thrown off of tall buildings in parts of the Middle East.  This year, gays in Chechnya are being rounded up and murdered. There is no room for complacency in all of this.

Many people have also become alarmed at the level of complacency in some quarters regarding global climate change and the environment in general. There seems to be a feeling that we cannot do anything about climate change, so why bother?  Besides, there are plenty of activists carrying signs and protesting, isn’t that enough?

The people who are not complacent are developing and implementing new technologies that diminish or eliminate many of the factors that contribute to climate change. There are even a precious few former corporate polluters who are making efforts to invest in environmentally friendly technology so they won’t be left behind as the world transitions to green energy.

It’s easy to become complacent, even in the face of great danger. Passivity is very tempting when we believe that it is difficult or impossible to improve a situation. We ignore warnings and become lazy in the face of major deficiencies and actual, great danger.  After all, won’t the powerful people insure that terrible things won’t really happen?

A great number of people and nations have failed to heed Aesop’s sage advice. “Don’t let your special character and values, the secret that you know and no one else does, the truth–don’t let that get swallowed up by the great chewing complacency.”

It’s easy to complain and become complacent, so much so that we can become complacent about complacency.  There’s a simple, ages old remedy to practice to help ward off this laziness. That is to live each day as if it is your last. Truly imagine that today is your last day. The point is, it very well could be. This prescription may help insure that today is not the last day of civilization.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Franz Kafka. “Always draw fresh breath after outbursts of vanity and complacency.”

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When We Rise (Review)

Cleve Jones writes that his book is not an autobiography, rather it is a memoir.  What an incredible memoir it is. It’s a personal book of memories in which nearly every member of the LGBT community can find something to relate to. I didn’t hesitate for one second to pick up When We Rise: My Life in the Movement, after I spotted it in the New Books section.

Among a few other activists, I’ve been following the activities of Cleve Jones throughout the post-Stonewall era. Jones has been a shining light to many of us boomer gays who lived through the years when the LGBT civil rights movement came onto the political and social scene in the US. Jones is along side with Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovitch and Harvey Milk when it comes to people who put themselves into the movement.

The book recounts the legal and political battles that he and other activists fought tooth and nail to win. I couldn’t help but relate it to the present day as our adversaries are working to undermine and undo the hard work of the LGBT community done during the past years.  Jones’ words are a poignant reminder that society must continue to move forward and not surrender to those who wish to throw our sacrifices into the trash heap.

This memoir is fascinating to those of us who were on the outskirts of the movement, who fought our own battles with acceptance, coming out, and sometimes graduating to advocacy.

The first few chapters of the book recall Jones’ early years of his sexual awakening paired with historical events with which he was not personally connected. He equates his personal view of linking gay liberation with his own sexual freedom. This was a strong, subversive way of life back in the bad old days when same sex activity was illegal in much of the country.

In 1977, Jones meets the “Mayor of Castro Street” Harvey Milk. This marks the true beginning of Jones’ political awakening. He works first as an organizer in the San Francisco gay movement.  Following the assassination of Harvey Milk, Jones recovers and finds work as a political aide to a California Assemblyman in Sacramento. These are the experiences that give Jones the know how to advance ballot initiatives and legislation.

The last several chapters of When We Rise include the dark years of the AIDS crisis.  Jones remembers the thousands of people who died and who were disowned by their own families, society, and our own government. It was through tireless organizing and activism that progress was made to awaken people to the severity of the crisis.

This led to what is perhaps Cleve Jones’ most innovative piece of activism. He conceived of the “NAMES Project” popularly known as the AIDS Memorial Quilt. This heart-wrenching part of community organizing helped to further humanize the suffering and loss that AIDS had wrought on humanity, regardless of sexual orientation. The epidemic became personal for Jones after he received his own diagnosis of HIV positive.

Jones was one of the first patients to respond to the then new AIDS drug “cocktails”. He pulled out of the tailspin of diminishing “T-Cell counts” and lived to talk about it.

The book was a pleasure for me to read partly because Cleve Jones is two years younger than me. It was a reminder that Jones’ life has served as a barometer and an inspiration to LGBT people like me through the years. It is inspiration that is much needed in these harsh years of the upsurge of anti-gay sentiment in the world.  It is a reminder that we will continue our struggle for full human rights and we’ll never surrender.

{ When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones; 304 pages, published November 2016 by Hachette Books; ISBN: 978-0-316-31543-2 }

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Cleve Jones. “During those days when you’re exhausted and during those days when you’re frustrated, during those days when you’re being attacked by your own people for doing what you think is right, remember you’re part of a progression that goes back a long time of ordinary people who are doing their best to make it a better world.”

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Deluxe …Floral Friday

We like to have a little pizzaz in our lives, even if it’s done in a small way.  I have three examples of what can be done to add just the right touch to a special place.

An enameled copper pitcher-planter by Ethan Allen was made in England.  I got it for a song because it has a couple of small dings. It’s now the base for three hydrangea globes.

Floraline by McCoy manufactured several specialty planters for commercial florists.  One of the most popular was their small jalopy.  This black example is perfect for a trio of short-clipped roses.

The luxurious red enamel of the Thai manufactured vase brings solidity to the cool, lightness of small flowers.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Coco chanel. “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”

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To Dream

The snow fell in large clumps and was stuck onto all the surfaces along the path. The wet precipitation seemed to be the source of great happiness and serenity. As I glided above the snowy surface I felt increasingly greater joy.

Then I looked over to my left and saw the familiar sight of the river. The snow shower continued as I drifted nearer to the stream.  The next thing I saw was a construction site that was dominated by one of those very tall cranes that are used to lift and place large objects into position.

The next moment I found myself standing behind the clamshell at the end of the crane’s cable. I was pondering the opposite bank of the river. It was also at that time that I noticed the other side of the river was completely free of snow. I felt compelled to get to the other side.

Suddenly, I found myself inside the crane’s clamshell and began swinging towards the opposite riverbank. The motion of the clamshell stopped just short of the other side, then the clamshell reversed direction and approached the original side of the river. I felt like I was on a very large pendulum as the clamshell continued to swing back and forth.

Before long, I noticed my laptop computer resting in my lap. That was when I began tapping out an email.  I clicked on “send”. Then voile’, the scene went blank. Suddenly, I was awake.

In the twilight mind state, I noticed that I had kicked off the blankets on the bed. I instantly pulled them back over me. I switched on the bedside lamp, fumbled for my journal and pen, then jotted down the basic outline of the dream for later reference.

It was time for a brief dream analysis. I deduced that the snow scene happened because I had become chilled after kicking of the blankets. The river in the dream was the actual river that flows near my little house. It appears in many of my dreams. The construction crane in the dream represented the actual crane that is at the sight of a bridge demolition/reconstruction project a few blocks away from my home. Perhaps the swinging clamshell and the email represents my vain, unconscious attempts to grab the blankets to cover myself back up.

The quickie analysis seemed logical, so I put away the journal and pen, switched off the lamp, and snuggled beneath the blankets to return to sleep.

It’s rare that I remember dreams, but whenever I’m awakened by an odd vision, I write down the dream’s outline in order to jog the memory later on.  Many times, my dreams are situational, as in the case of the snowy walk along the riverside. Those are easy to analyze.

A rarer type of dreams borders on psychedelic.  I love them because they’re so entertaining in their visual and tactile richness. These dreams are how I imagine the experience of someone who has taken LSD look like.  The only ingredient missing is Jimi Hendrix performing “All Along The Watchtower”.

Nearly every time I have a memorable dream, I wonder if there is a purpose for that dream. Is it a forbidden desire bubbling up to the surface? Why do I have very few scary dreams?  Why are most of my dreams simply frustrating? Why do some of my dreams, including my earliest dreams, focus on the three pure primary colors of red, blue, and yellow?  Why do I favor yellow most of all?

My friend Jorge says that he remembers nearly all of his dreams.  He says one disadvantage of this ability is that the dreams often influence the way he feels the following day.  When he has one of his frequent spooky dreams, it takes him a long time to shake his foul mood swing.

A couple of  years ago I picked up The Art of Dreaming by Carlos Castaneda for old time’s sake. I just wanted to try my mind again at lucid dreaming.  Even though Castanneda’s  claims about sorcery and spiritual magic have been debunked, I was curious about what he had to write about lucid dreaming. It was a throwback to those years when I read Castaneda’s other books in order to fuel my “New Age” beliefs. In spite of my best and honest efforts, I still cannot experience lucid dreaming.

The only trustworthy person I know who thinks he may sometimes experience lucid dreaming is my friend Jorge.  He says that he has had visions that are almost textbook cases of what is presented in “New Age” books about the subject including what was written by Castaneda.

He also has lucid dreams in bed following an especially grueling road trip at work in his truck. Jorge does not follow any sort of technique to attain lucid dreaming, he is only aware of being “out of his body” observing himself sleeping. Jorge dismisses the notion of “soul levitation”. He attributes the hallucinations to hormone imbalances due to diabetes. He says he doesn’t believe any supernatural influences cause his dreams.

Although researchers have discovered much about the “dream centers” in the brain, dreaming remains mysterious in many ways. Dreams can be very useful in practical ways. There are the often cited stories about the discovery of the molecular formula of benzene plus the invention of the lightbulb. Some writers use dreams as seeds to their novels and poetry. Even musicians find audible inspiration in their dreams.

All I know, is that my own dreams are entertaining and help to provide some measure of insight about life. I appreciate the rare times I can remember dreams.  I hope to have many more of them.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders Khalil Gibran. “Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream.”

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Charles Richter’s Scale

People like to compare things so we can wrap our minds around difficult concepts and events. For instance, there have long been means of comparing the severity of hurricanes and tornadoes.  If you’ve ever experienced a tremor or a full blown earthquake, the magnitude of the shaking becomes more than a curiosity to you.

In the 20th century, a mathematical technique was developed to express the magnitude of temblors. The world knows this form of measurment as the Richter Scale.

The magnitude of an earthquake is determined from the logarithm (a mathematical method of expressing ratios) of the amplitude (the range of vibratory movements measured from an average position to an extreme position) of waves recorded by seismographs.

The Richter Scale expresses magnitude in whole numbers and decimal fractions. For instance, a magnitude 4.3 shaker is a relatively mild earthquake, a magnitude 5.3 is a moderate quake, and a 6.3 is a strong earthquake. Each increase in whole numbers is a tenfold increase in amplitude.  Seismologists understand that each whole number increase means the release of around 31 times more energy than the preceding numerical value.

The Richter Scale has no upper limit. However, scientists have developed another similar scale for the study of the most severe earthquakes called the “moment magnitude scale”.

As a point of clarification, the Richter Scale is not a measure of fatalities and physical damage to populated areas.  The measurement applies only to the magnitude of the shock waves. For example, a 6.8 magnitude quake might destroy a city, but one of the same force in the wilderness might only scare deer and elk. The same force on the ocean floor might not even be felt by us land dwellers. That means the Richter Scale is a way of comparing earthquakes to one another.

How did the Richter Scale come about and how did it get its name?  The man who came up with the idea was Ohio native Charles Richter. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1909.  After young Charles graduated from Los Angeles High School, he moved to the Bay Area to attend Stanford University.  There, he earned his undergraduate degree in 1920. Following that, he started work on his PhD in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology. However, before finishing his PhD, he accepted a position at the Carnegie Institute of Washington. That is where Richter became interested in seismology.

In 1927, Richter returned to Southern California and joined the staff of the Seismological Laboratory under the direction of Harry Wood. There, Richter did the routine work of measuring seismograms (the graphs of quakes) and the locations of earthquakes in order to compile a catalogue of epicenters and times of occurences. The study regarded seven widely spaced geological stations equipped with seismographs across southern California.

There was difficulty in ranking or comparing various earthquakes with one another. Eventually, Richter’s colleague Dr. Beno Gutenberg suggested that amplitudes be plotted logmarithmically.  So, Richter set about to plot the seismographic waves on a graph. The differences formed a new instrumental scale that contrasted with the intensity scale.

This new scale measured comparative magnitude. Richter’s boss, Harry Wood, insisted that the new scale should be given a distinctive name, so Richter simply named it after himself.

There was still a need to apply the Richter scale to events outside of Southern California and the particular types of seismographs had been used. In 1936, Richter again collaborated with Dr. Gutenberg. Together, they calibrated the scale to apply universally to all areas on Earth.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Charles Richter. “My amateur interest in astronomy brought out the term ‘magnitude’, which is used for the brightness of a star.”

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Something About License Plates

When was the last time you or your family played the license plate game?  I probably last played it just before I got my driving permit because the license plate game is rather distracting.

There are several variations of how it is played, so the game doesn’t have any set rules.  When our family first played the game, we only watched for plates from various states and Canadian provinces. The first person to spot a different state’s plate called it aloud then jotted the name on a page in a paper tablet. The person who first saw the most different states’ or provinces’ plates, at the end of the trip was the winner.

During shorter trips, we usually only saw Nebraska plates, the game was usually short because Iowa and South Dakota plates were often the only other plates to see. On slightly longer trips, we might see plates from Kansas, Colorado, or Wyoming.  A real thrill was to see a license plate from Alaska or Ontario.  I’m not sure why so many drivers from that province were in Nebraska at that time, but they far outnumbered cars from Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I don’t think we ever spotted plates from any other province.

Most of the time we just kept track of the different types of Nebraska plates. When I was young, the numbering system was categorized by county numbers. For instance, vehicles from Madison County have the prefix “7”. A Madison County plate might show “7-A123”. A vehicle from Wayne County might be stamped “27-A123”.

A bonus point was awarded if we could name the county that issued the plate. Another point was given if we could identify the county seat of that county.  Our childhood Nebraska license plate game would be more difficult to play today because the numbering system has been altered for the higher population counties. They now use three letters, three numbers such as “ABC 123”. Lower population counties still use the old prefixes. Another complicating factor are vanity plates. There are also higher priced specialty plates.

Sometimes we tried to figure out how other states assigned plate numbers. Some, like Iowa, were straightforward. The county name, itself, appeared at the bottom of the plate. Then some combination of letters and numbers identified the vehicle.

South Dakota had a variation on the county numbering system, similar to Nebraska’s, but we couldn’t figure out which number belonged with any particular county. South Dakota eventually adopted a confusing system that mixed up numbers and letters. One aspect of South Dakota plates, is that the passenger car plates usually had a depiction of Mount Rushmore somewhere on each plate.

California plates added a different dimension to our license plate game. Older cars had black plates with yellow numbers and letters, while newer cars sported blue plates with yellow numbers, so we counted California as two states. The new California plates aren’t as distinctive and the numbering lettering system appears to be random and arbitrary. I suppose with so many motor vehicles registered in California, the numbering of cars is much more complicated.

As far as attractiveness of license plates goes, in my opinion, New Mexico’s older plates win hands down. The ancient Zia Sun symbol is an elegant and simple adornment also found on their state flag. I think it might be worth moving to Albuquerque just to have “Land of Enchantment” plates on the ol’ Camry.

It’s funny how such common things as license plates can stimulate so much curiosity and enjoyment.

The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that the very first license plate in the world was registered to Daniel and Hermann Beissbarth of Munich, Germany in 1899. It was simply the number “1” on an orange plate.

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Sky Awareness

The sky is everpresent.  The sky is the part of our world that can be breathtakingly beautiful and at times, very frightening.  We would not exist without the sky.  Most of us only usually take notice of the sky when something extraordinary happens “up there”.

Perhaps we notice a particularly stunning sunrise or sunset.  There might be the terrible majesty of a severe thunderstorm. Many of us feel sad when the sky is just a dome of cumulus grey. We feel happiness on days when the sky is partly cloudy or fully clear.

I’m guessing that National Sky Awareness Week was instigated because this is the time of year, in North America, when severe atmospheric conditions reassert themselves in their most destructive forms.

While we’re searching the sky for signs of danger, we can also take deep breaths and contemplate the ever changing beauty of what exists above us.

Have you ever wondered why the same aspect of our world is properly known in its singular and plural forms?  Sky and skies mean the same thing. Irving Berlin was spot on when he penned his tribute to the sky “Blue Skies”. It’s fitting that this beautiful song has been recorded by so many famous singers.

Anyway, this week is the time we can reacquaint ourselves with the Earth’s sky. You don’t need to be an astronomer or a meteorologist to just look up, observe, learn, contemplate, enjoy, or photograph the skies above that sustain us all.

By the way, I photographed all the images for this post in rural Wayne County, Nebraska on various mornings.

The Blue Jay of Happiness contemplates this thought from the Persian poet, Hafez: “Even after all this time, the Sun never says to the Earth, ‘You owe me.”  Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”

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