Celebrate Banned Books Week

bannedbooks-02
Have you noticed that when something like music or literature is officially banned by a political or religious group that people’s curiosity about it is aroused?  Often, the particular song or book receives its most effective promotion by way of the ban.  Wouldn’t it make better sense for oppressive regimes and sanctimonious groups to ignore the works all together?

bannedbooks-04The most obvious example I can think of is the religious reaction, in 1988, to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. After the Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued the fatwa against Rushdie, the world became aware of the novel. I made a special trip to my favorite book store to order a copy of it.  Rushdie’s book was placed on back order due to high public demand for the book.  When my copy finally arrived, I could hardly wait to read it.

While I enjoyed Satanic Verses, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the book, nor did I think it was worthy of such a massive outcry.  The official ban, only supercharged public interest in Salman Rushdie and his work. I’ve never bothered to re-read the novel. What the ban did do, was make me more aware of other banned books.

There have been official bans on books and knowledge for as long as organized societies have existed.  There’s the famous example of the Biblical Tree of Knowledge kerfuffle. The Roman Catholic Church maintained their “Index Librorum  Prohibitorum”.  bannedbooks-01

up until 1966.  There were very severe penalties for attempting to read anything the clergy deemed unfit. There is Daniel Defoe’s infamous 1722 novel The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders. Even though the author self-censored the grimiest of details in order to keep himself from being jailed, the book was still banned because it was judged to be lewd and indecent.

Then there are Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Sawyer has been banned from several schools and even public libraries. Meanwhile, Finn is one of the most controversial books ever printed. I cannot imagine being deprived of two of my favorite books of all time.

Modern day religious censors would like to ban the entire Harry Potter series of books.  Again, my curiosity was piqued by the religious reaction to the books. That led me to pick up a copy of the first in the series to read.

If memory serves me right, I think the first banned book I craved was Robert Newton bannedbooks-00Peck’s A Day No Pigs Would Die. The school librarian had several copies “on hold” that pupils could borrow only if they had a signed parental permission slip.  I’m glad I was given permission to read it. The very graphic, no-holds-barred nature of the book taught me some valuable knowledge of unpleasant truths about life.

Because I’ve learned so many important and interesting lessons from banned books, I celebrate Banned Books Week every year. I make a point of checking out the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. They have links to current lists of challenged books. You can check it out here: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks

The important take-away about censorship for me, is that if I ever write a book, I hope some self-righteous group will publicly advocate banning it. Then it might become a best-seller.

Ciao
mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the critically acclaimed writer, Pete Hautman. “Yes, books are dangerous. They should be dangerous–they contain ideas.”

Posted in Books, Controversy, cultural highlights, Entertainment, History, Politics, religion, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For Happy Cat Month

cat-01
I thought that in reviewing a cat book, a couple of weeks ago, that the subject of happy cats had been covered enough for Happy Cat Month.  It wasn’t.  I had barely scratched the surface.  Cats are fascinating creatures to the people who love them and to the biologists who study them.

I also need to update some information about my sister’s newest cat, Random Kitty. After I wrote the book review for Cat Sense, we brought Random to the vet to be spayed and vaccinated.  I pre-paid for the operation then left the clinic.  Later that day, I arrived home to discover a phone message from my sister. She said that the veterinarian had discovered that Random Kitty is not female. They went ahead and neutered him.  This new knowledge caused me to laugh uncontrollably for several minutes and chuckle whenever thinking about the cat.

The fact of Random’s gender answered a few nagging questions I had about his cat-03081516behavior.  I promised to make fewer assumptions about him, in the future.  It also gave me an excuse to post more pictures of the cat to Facebook and to this blog.

The process of keeping Random happy will not be an isolated case.  There is an older cat, Sunshine, to be given equal consideration.  The senior cat does not like the new cat at all. While Random Kitty is eager to make new friends, Sunshine will have none of it. This problem may turn out to be the most serious one.  So far, there is no solution in sight.

Meantime, both cats appear to be happy, if that emotion can be felt by felines.  The have plenty of nutritious food, fresh water, and clean litter boxes. There are plenty of places and opportunities for play and they receive a lot of human love.

Because the cats need separate territories, the old cat gets the run of the living room and the new cat stays in the enclosed porch. When Sunshine goes outdoors for her constitutional, Random is allowed into the living room.  These are attempts to make the two cats more familiar with each others’ scents. So far, this experiment is inconclusive.

Meantime, there is the situation that Random Kitty likes to use me as a toy.  If I am standing, he wants to climb me as if I’m a tree.  That means I must wear thick denim jeans and cover my arms with long sleeves.  If I am sitting, Random will pounce onto my lap but scamper away when I attempt to pet him.

cat-02randomkitty082416hOnly after I wear him down by lengthy play with actual cat toys, does he mellow out. When he’s tired, he’s affectionate.  At those rare restful times, he will bump his nose to mine and allow me to pet him.  When he’s had enough, he curls next to or on top of my feet, dog-like, to nap. Hopefully, as Random Kitty ages, he will be less violent and more lovable.

I do my best to give equal amounts of time to each cat.  Sunshine is easier to please.  She likes to just hang out and let me pet and brush her.  So, when I need a time-out from Random, I visit Sunshine.

As far as the cats go, all we can do is provide them with the necessities and make sure we give them plenty of TLC. They seem to be happy cats.

Meow
mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Albert Schweitzer. “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.”

Posted in cultural highlights, Friendship, Meanderings, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Lucky

Yesterday, I lost my footing on one of the two steps leading to a landing which leads to basement stairs and to the back door of my house. I instinctively reacted by swinging my left arm to brace a fall.  I did not fall because my wrist caught the corner of a wall. I did get a nasty bruise near the wrist, though.

Later, I realized that had circumstances been slightly different, I could have tumbled down the flight of stairs to the left of the landing into the basement.  I expressed gratitude for my good luck.dumbluck-01

We’ve all had plenty of close calls.  Except for some positive circumstances, we could be in dire straits.  We also know of situations when luck was not present and something awful resulted.  We might see a homeless person on the street and say to ourselves, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Yesterday’s close brush with serious injury, or perhaps death, put me in the mood to think about the concept of “dumb luck”.  Macmillan’s online dictionary defines “dumb luck” as “the way in which something good happens completely by chance, without being planned or deserved. The synonyms are: luck, luckiness, beginner’s luck, and charmed.

I’ve had two nicknames in life. One is “Red”. The other is “Lucky”.  Does having such a name bring about some sort of subconscious influence on one’s life?  Does believing that being “blessed” with good luck cause a person to take more chances, thus confirming the belief? There is a lot of pseudo-science regarding this subject. We can also find some fair amount of legitimate psychological studies, too.dumbluck-02

There is something going on with luck that goes beyond the mathematical concepts of randomness.  There certainly are psychological and social aspects of good luck.  After all, one’s attitude about other aspects of life has plenty of influence on whether or not a person succeeds.  There has been a fair amount of debate and writing about the topic of luck.

Luck is sometimes thought of as some sort of metaphysical “energy” or a “being” similar to a guardian angel.  Patrons of gambling halls and casinos sometimes hope for the presence of “Lady Luck”.  Whenever I’ve had a string of successes and good fortune, there seemed to be an indescribable “presence” of a ghostly power that steered me towards happy outcomes.  My skeptical nature knows how the mind plays tricks and that the metaphysical illusion is a deliciously compelling state of mind.

Conversely, when events do not turn out as anticipated or the results are unfortunate, it seems like “Lady Luck” has gone away.  Some people believe that bad luck is the result of some type of metaphysical curse or influence by an inauspicious or demonic energy. As in the case of “Lady Luck” there seems to be the illusion of a presence. This often results in a sort of unconscious “confirmation bias”. The mind takes note of bad stuff happening. This encourages the belief in bad luck or curses.

dumbluck-03There is the type of luck that affects the lives of extremely wealthy, powerful people and the lack of luck that  affects the very unfortunate members of our species.  Being born into a wealthy family that has much influence over society is a major determining factor in good luck.  So is being born into a positive, encouraging family. It is a matter of either having immediate access to resources or the knowledge about how to obtain those resources that greatly influences success in life.

Similarly, if a person is born into poverty and has little or no access to resources, she will find many roadblocks to success. Although it’s less probable that a person from a disadvantaged background will experience great wealth and power, it’s not impossible.  Circumstances and timing might come to the aid of the less fortunate individual.

Someone born in a country like the United States or Canada automatically has the good fortune of living in a country that has vast resources of nearly all sorts.  Opportunity is abundant.  All one needs to do is pursue success and the means to acquire it are already present. “Self-made” millionaires frequently, conveniently forget how they accumulated their great wealth.

If a person is born into a place like Ethiopia, the situation is markedly different. When a person yearns for success there, she will find physical and cultural roadblocks in her way. She must have the good luck of having family or friends who encourage her. There also must be some sort of opportunity to exploit.

I think of my own good luck and feel thankful for being born physically healthy  into a lower middle-class family in the United States. My birthright included good public schools and libraries, the acquaintences of influential fellow citizens, the presence of opportunities for gainful employment, and the friendships of people who shared and encouraged my love of learning and discovery. There was plenty of being in the right places at the right times.

Oh yes, there is the good fortune of having the nickname, “Lucky”.

Ciao
moi1988bThe Blue Jay of Happiness wonders if you ask people to wish you “good luck” whenever you attempt a difficult task.

Posted in Contemplation, cultural highlights, Health, religion | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vintage Yellows …Floral Friday

I really wanted to concentrate on a primary color for today’s projects, so I brought out my old color wheel chart, closed my eyes, and dropped a dime onto the page. It landed on yellow. My color preferences have always favored the three primaries. I cannot honestly say which of them I like the very best. Just as blue and red evoke strong, positive emotional sensations, so does yellow. ff092316d

There are many claims made about this beautiful color. It’s supposedly the color of optimism. There are people with sunny personalities. Yellow enhances concentration. There have been claims that it notches up metabolism.  Personally, yellow triggers nostalgia. I think of the yellow pieces of grandma J’s Homer Laughlin Harlequin dishes.

Since my ten-cents landed on yellow, I eagerly dug into my supply bins.  What came out was nostalgia. The containers are vintage and so are the silk flowers.

ff092316a

The Brush planter-pot is a subtle shade of yellow and made a good starting place to ease into an upbeat mood. 1990s vintage ivy and yellow flowers enhance the design and color theme of the pot.

ff092316b

The yellow Haeger shell planter has just a hint of green highlights.  This calls for full on orange and red orange flowers from the 1980s and 1990s.

ff092316c

The light yellow McCoy flower pot is the oldest container of this batch.  A mixture of old and very old faux floral elements with this shade of yellow evokes early Autumn feelings.

Ciao
J 7-1-01The Blue Jay of Happiness says the Beatles’ song “Yellow Submarine” played over and over in the writers head while creating these arrangements.

Posted in art, cultural highlights, Floral Arts, Hobbies, Vintage Collectables | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being A Beast (Review)

Doctor Charles Foster has written a very peculiar book about animals.  It’s not another one of those touchy-feely, idealized bedtime story type of books. Foster’s account goes far beyond the anthropomorphized characters of popular culture.  The book Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide is a really wild, graphic account of the author’s attempts to live as five different creatures.

beingabeast-01
This book presents Foster’s efforts to duplicate the ways that five animals act and feel in the natural world–a badger, an otter, a fox, a red deer, and a swift. While he tries not to  engage in the trap of anthropomorphism, Foster also works to go beyond purely scientific jargon.  He physically enters the particular ecosystems of each animal.

This sensory immersion into the world of wild animals of Great Britain shocked me more than a few ways in the chapter about the badger.  Foster enters the wilds of the Black Mountains in Wales for this metamorphosis.  The most troubling part of this adventure, for me, is that his eight-year-old son, Tom, came along to share in the experience.  Father and son became the nocternal creatures that rely heavily on the sense of smell instead of sight.  They burrow through the ground and dig out a sett on one of the hills.

In the case of badgers, Foster not only evaluates his experience in the badger world, but also compares his observations about Tom’s ability to adapt and live in that environment. This chapter was as much about the creatures as it was about the reconnection to the environment.  The reader gains a more intimate knowledge of the interconnectedness of beast and place. There are also reflections about human interaction/intrusion on the place.

Even though I suspected Foster might describe the dietary requirements of badgers, I wasn’t quite ready for his detailed description of eating an earthworm.  Yes, Foster’s integration into the wild, went as far as experiencing the mouth feel and flavor of a worm. I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything or snacking while reading that passage.beingabeast-03

The chapter about the badger, as well as those of the other animals, means much more than grossing out the reader. There is a deeper philosophical attempt at understanding the wild.  The account is an attempt to cross the species barrier between man and animal. It is much more than an idealized screed about how we should feel sympathy for the animal kingdom. This is real nitty-gritty stuff with plenty of bodily functions being descriibed.

If you’ve ever wondered what it is really like to be a wild animal, Being a Beast gives you the opportunity to vicariously experience that mindset through a human mind.  Because the subject matter is wild animals, the writing style is anything but tame. Very little is left to the imagination.

Behind these animalistic adventures is the author, himself.  What is his background and what might be his motivation to write such a book as this?  He has a varied scholastic background as a Fellow of Green Templeton College at the University of Oxford with a doctorate in medical law and ethics from Cambridge University. He is experienced as a veterinarian. Foster has written previously about law, philosophy, travel, and spiritual matters. He has a personal interest in acupuncture.beingabeast-02foster

Early in the book, the reader discovers Foster’s almost morbid childhood interest in animal remains, particularly blackbirds.  That obsession branched into his childhood practice of taxidermy.  Foster confesses that his past included game hunting expeditions from Britain to Africa. There are hints of his eccentric household that includes a patient wife and their six children.

In the end, Foster admits that the book has turned out to be less of an objective study of wild animals and more of a memoir about his personal “re-wilding”. We find an example of this when he admits that he feels more anthropomorphic about foxes than other animals.

All things considered, I recommend this book to anybody with an interest in animals, the environment, philosophy, or psychology.

{Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide by Charles Foster; 256 pages; published June 21, 2016 by Metropolitan Books; ISBN: 978-1-62779-633-0 }

Ciao
J 7-1-01The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Charles Foster. “It’s not true that extremity shows us our true colors. Those are seen in times of plenty. What matters–what makes us–is how we handle wealth.”

Posted in Books, Wildlife | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Peace

peace-02
I predict that today you will learn about some form of conflict in the world.  This forecast seems to be a no-brainer, doesn’t it?  Our culture exists within a sea of conflict, so naturally we will learn of a new instance of this phenomenon today.

Name your poison, it will be served up any way you want it.  Did you check the daily scores of your favorite sport yet today?  How did your team fare? Did they succeed or fail in their latest organized conflict?  Perhaps you accessed the stock market data this morning.  How are your investments doing?  Have they done well in the competative market? Do I even have to ask about this year’s American election cycle? Of course we know about the weighty conflicts between various nations and religions.

Sure, these examples are easy to name, but there are those other conflicts that we harbor within our own minds.  We have inner conflicts between what we hold as ideal and what we actually are.  There is friction between our own concepts of self-control and freedom.  Many of these conflicts have roots in our cultural expectations and our inate fears.  The strongest of the concepts grow into ideologies, religions, and political factions. These concepts manifest as denominations, nations, and even sports teams.peace-03

The conflicts appear to be the symptoms of a feedback loop. A concept is formed in somebody’s mind. In turn, that concept is communicated to society, at large. The concept is either encouraged as a virtue or discouraged as a taboo.  As the concept becomes familiar and encouraged, we reinforce it internally as well as culturally. As a result, we have a concept about what should be in conflict with what actually exists.  It is the friction of the various concepts held by various people and within ourselves that we know as conflict.

None of this information is new.  I only mention these things in order for us to remember some of the root causes of conflict.  These things are the causes of our world deficit of peace. It is by looking at these concepts individually and collectively that we can begin to understand conflict, and it’s opposite, peace.

When we understand conflicts and our emotional reactions to them, we can begin to develop ourselves to bring on a more wise and humane world.  We soon understand that the way to world peace is by practicing personal peace.

The way to personal peace is a process, not a technique. Personal peace is like a flower that needs nourishment to grow into a mature plant and then open up within the heart to feel understanding and compassion for oneself. As we witness this opening up, we may notice that we feel happiness and peacefulness in our minds. This feeling of peace allows us to objectively notice the conflicts that have been boiling within ourselves.  As we become more honest about those conflicts, we become stronger and more compassionate towards ourselves. We create a new feedback loop.

The new understandings, strength, and compassion we enjoy,  automatically affect our attitudes and behavior towards other people.  You want others to enjoy freedom from conflict and enhanced happiness, too. In quiet moments, you reflect upon how your thoughts affect your actions toward others. We see that our happiness is increased as we resolve our inner conflicts, and in turn, the conflicts we have with other people.

We see that outer conflict resolution does not depend upon promulgating particular ideologies or belief systems because it is the act of promulgation that is at the heart of conflict.  The very acts of promoting particular ideals have caused conflict throughout the ages.

When we become more accepting of who we are and who other people are,  we ,gain more insight and understanding about what makes us and everyone “tick”.

It’s important to use this new outlook wisely so that we don’t become doormats or exhausted.  We can see how the wise use of compassionate behavior towards ourselves and the people we know can work for the rest of the world.

As we know, the attainment of world peace is a very complex puzzle.  Just as we require time and patience to resolve our own inner conflicts, we realize that world peace requires the work and compassion of millions of people.,peace-01

We know that our diligent efforts towards our own inner peace are reflected in how we treat those around us.  As more people find conflict resolution within themselves, more peace with others is the result.

I’m not an airy fairy about the subject of world peace.  As long as there are human beings on this planet, there will be conflicts within individuals and between people.  Our political, ideological, religious, and other beliefs are deeply rooted. It is through acceptance, compassion, and personal conflict resolution that we encourage the inner peace that will rub off onto others.

When we practice loving-kindness towards ourselves and others, peace within ourselves and in the world becomes possible.

Peace
moi1988bThe Blue Jay of Happiness wishes you a happy International Day of Peace.

Posted in Contemplation, Controversy, Meanderings, Politics, religion | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

I Was A Security Guard

Security-02
There seems to be a recent tendency in this blog for me to reminisce about my younger years. I suppose when a person taps that well, the memories keep flowing on their own accord.

In today’s case, I awoke from a time-shifting dream about the early 1970s. It was a very vivid, yet hum-drum vision about walking my beat as a security guard. I could even smell the popcorn machine at the movie theater complex in the mall. This morning’s dream was so lucid, everything felt completely real.

In the early to mid 1970s, I was employed by California Plant Protection, Incorporated in San Jose.  The longest running assignment was my patrol at the Oakridge Mall, in the southern part of San Jose.

Security-03I was issued a light blue, button-down oxford shirt with sewn on embroidered patches with the CPP logo on them, black polyester trousers, a police-style hat, a black, clip-on necktie and a badge to wear on the shirt.  None of the guards were allowed to carry firearms at the mall, so no guns were issued.

Once per hour, I was required to carry the company’s watchman’s clock on a patrol around the interior and exterior of the mall premises.  There were clock keys attached to chains kept in small lidded boxes bolted onto walls at various locations around the property. They were inserted into the watchman’s clock and turned to trigger a time stamp onto the paper tape wound up inside the clock. This was a way to determine if the guards made their rounds and if those rounds varied according to regulations. We were to vary our routines so that any potential troublemakers would supposedly not be able to predict our whereabouts easily. Security-01WatchmansClock

The job was actually quite boring.  I mainly had to keep an eye on adolescents who frequented the mall after school. After mall closing time, I had to be alert for signs of burglary.

There was a serious design flaw regarding the gates for each store.  Above the gates were ledges and a large open space.  All a burglar needed to do was to climb the gate, then crawl over the ledge and drop into the store.

There had only been one burglary during any of my shifts.  Someone climbed the pet store’s gate and made off with a large cockatoo.  The culprit escaped through the store’s back door, triggering the alarm.  I was outside on my rounds when I heard the bells, but the getaway car drove off without its lights turned on, so I couldn’t read the license plate. I could only give a rough description of the vehicle to the San Jose PD.

A highlight of many evenings was when I was required to accompany the movie theaters’ manager to the bank.  After the tickets for the last films were sold, we climbed into his Oldsmobile Cutlass and drove across the parking lot to the bank branch building that faced Blossom Hill Road so he could place the evening’s cash into the night depository. This was also the most hazardous part of the evening because we were vulnerable to armed robbery at this time.  Luckily, we were never faced with that situation.

The worst problem with being a security guard was the constant standing and walking.  Because of the low pay, I could only afford to buy cheap dress shoes.  The pain was very distracting and made the job miserable.  I reluctantly requested a new assignment because of this.

Eventually, I was sent to one of the San Jose Sperry Rand manufacturing plants.  The rounds were more frequent but less dangerous. There was more concern for internal security and safety.  At the end of each night, I sat at a small desk near the main entrance and checked the ID badges of employees arriving and leaving during the early morning shift change.  This was my favorite assignment, because I met so many interesting people there.

Security guard work provided me with a humble paycheck and valuable discipline in paying attention. Yes, I might consider doing it again…with better shoes.

Ciao
Security-iconThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Canadian actor Bruce McCullach.  “I would rather be a security guard than a rock star.”

Posted in cultural highlights, Hometown, Meanderings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment