70 Years Of Independence

I want to take this opportunity to wish my Internet friends in India and in Pakistan a happy Independence Day today. I feel privileged to regularly correspond with special people in both nations.

Both India and Pakistan obtained their Independence from Britain on this date in 1947. The development of both modern nations has been long intertwined and complex. South Asia is of particular interest because of the area’s place in the world’s ancient history. The subcontinent is one of the first places that civilization began.

There is enough history in South Asia to fill libraries and museums to overflowing. This includes both ancient and modern times. So, what happened nearly three-quarters of a century ago to make today important?

Political Independence from the British Dominion was quite lengthy, harsh, and nuanced. For brevity’s sake, I’ll outline only the very bare-bones official political events.

The struggle for independence from Britain began in earnest when Jawahrarlal Nehru proclaimed “Poorna Swaraj” or total freedom from colonial rule on January 26, 1929. India’s Congress Party celebrated January 26th as Independence Day until colonial rule ended.

The last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, was given a mandate by the British parliament to transfer power by June 30, 1948. However, due to the continued strife and conflict, Mountbatten figured that had he waited until then, “there would have been no power left to transfer.” So, the Viceroy moved the transfer date ahead to August of 1947.

British Parliamentarians followed Mountbatten’s advice and the Indian Independence legislation was introduced in the House of Commons on July 4, 1947 and passed within two weeks. In its finished form, the law called for the establishment of the Dominions of India and Pakistan, in turn, they were given permission to secede from the British Commonwealth of Nations. All of these were to happen on August 15th of that year.

The transfer of power from Great Britain to the governments of India and Pakistan did take place peacefully on August 15, 1947. Now, Independence Day is celebrated each August 15th in both nations. By the way, the old Indian Independence Day, January 26th, is now celebrated as Republic Day in India.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this thought from Marcus Tullius Cicero: “What then is freedom? The power to live as one wishes.”

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Disaster From The Sky

“So, what’s new?” I asked Jorge during a long lag in conversation.

My friend exclaimed that he could hardly wait for the Swift-Tuttle comet to arrive in our part of the Solar System.

I was rather surprised at his statement and said that I wasn’t aware that a comet was due to arrive any time soon.

Jorge said, the comet wouldn’t be here until 2126.

I replied that both of us will be long dead and gone by that time. Then we shared a macabre laugh. Then I asked why my friend was so eager for Swift-Tuttle’s return.

He answered that all the hype surrounding the total Solar eclipse that’s going to happen next Monday the 21st got him to thinking about comets and asteroids and the worrisome things they could do if they approach too closely to Earth.

I replied that the only thing I’m worried about is that the sky might be overcast that day and I’ll be stuck watching it second-hand on the Web.

Jorge agreed that he had the same concern, then he steered the conversation back to comets and asteroids. My pal looked into the significance of the comet that last appeared in 1992. At that time, it was visible with binoculars.

Anyway, in the summer of 1862 (July 16th), at the height of the American Civil War, astronomer Lewis Swift noticed a comet. A few days later, Union Navy officer Horace Tuttle spotted the same comet. The comet progressed along its orbit, at it’s peak, the comet tail stretched to almost 30-degrees of the night sky. Eventually the object was named 109P/Swift-Tuttle.

I noted that it is the tail dust of that comet that causes the Perseid meteor shower that’s happening around this time of year. So, there is a lot going on in the sky this month.

Jorge did his homework about Swift-Tuttle. The comet’s nucleus is 27-kilometres (16.7 miles) in diameter. The asteroid or comet that is suspected of causing the great extinction event that took place 65,000,000 years ago was estimated to be 10-kilometres (6.2 miles) in diameter.

Swift-Tuttle’s last pass near Earth in 1992 had been miscalculated by 17 days. This variance means Earth’s distance from the comet can be closer or farther depending on the error. That means if the latest calculation of Swift-Tuttle’s orbit is off by 15-days, the big comet could collide with the Moon or Earth. If it hits here, life on Earth could be snuffed out. Hopefully the calculations are correct. This gives a one in a million chance that the comet will hit the Moon or Earth.

Whenever comets or asteroids are predicted to pass close to Earth, conspiracy theorists and other noteworthy people fear that the end of civilization is near. You may remember last year’s failed prediction by Pastor Ricardo Salazar from the Global Church of the King of Israel. He predicted that an asteroid would smash into Earth in order to cause doomsday and bring about the Anti-Christ.

Even Dr. Stephen Hawking has speculated about an asteroid impacting our planet. He says this would pose a major threat to all lifeforms on Earth. Hawking tempers his concern by saying he thinks any such disaster would take place thousands of years into the future.

Jorge said he has read that NASA believes there is an extremely remote chance that an asteroid could hit Earth on September 28th this year. If that happens, we are not equipped to divert it away from us. Life would be wiped out. Not to worry though, because nearly all the experts say that future flybys will not cause us any actual concern.

Meanwhile, there is still the big Solar Eclipse and Nebraska is one of the places for optimum observation of the phenomenon. The path cuts across the state from the southeast to the northwest. If the weather forecast calls for sunny skies I will drive to Grand Island or Crete to witness the event in person. If I was really clever, I’d take the time to visit Carhenge near Alliance, Nebraska mid-day, next Monday.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer Max Lucado. “You are heaven’s Halley’s comet. We have one shot at seeing you shine.”

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Do you remember the characters you imagined yourself to be during childhood playtimes? Did any of those pretended characters become a part of your adulthood?

Sometimes I was the cowboy and sometimes the Indian in the clichéd game of Cowboys and Indians. After John Glenn went into orbit, my friends and I loved to pretend to be astronauts.

My parents bought a little reel to reel tape recorder for me when I was still quite young. I read newspaper stories into the microphone to create newscasts. I also invented advertisements to play back while changing records on my little phonograph. Nobody was surprised when I later chose broadcasting for a career.

I think of people who take up acting in plays and movies for a living. They go around pretending to be other people and then get paid enormous sums of money to do so. It must be liberating to go home from the studio to once again become themselves. Perhaps this is the reason why Drew Barrymore once said, “There’s something liberating about not pretending. Dare to embarrass yourself. Risk.”

Pretending to be someone you’re not can be helpful in many instances or it can be a coping mechanism to protect yourself from harm. During my high school years, I had to pretend to be heterosexual. I even went so far as to go steady with two girlfriends. I found out later that very few classmates were fooled by my charade.

A lot of us have a hard time facing reality and truth. We prefer to exist in a make-believe world. Some call it fantasy, and others say this is denial. The philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “The world is a perpetual caricature of itself: at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be.”

If we pay close attention to the commentators and “experts” we eventually discover that many of them project a false certainty and dogmatism about subjects they actually know little or nothing about. When we see this, we become very concerned when people pretend to know things about which they don’t have a clue. It’s very worrisome when such people cast themselves as leaders and cultural icons.

Sometimes a cultural icon learns from his life experiences and has wisdom to share. David Letterman is one of those people. He said, “There’s only one requirement of any of us, and that is to be courageous. Because courage, as you might know, defines all other human behavior. And, I believe–because I’ve done a little of this myself–pretending to be courageous is just as good as the real thing.”

Pause awhile, and think about what pretending means in your life. Pretending can be a tool for good or for ill.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor, comedian, writer Kumail Nanjiani. “Nobody really knows what they’re doing. Some are just better at pretending like they do.”

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Thinking About Pirates

I heard the adlib by the sports announcer as he read the baseball scores earlier this week. After mentioning the result of the Pittsburgh Pirates game, he said, “Arrr, don’t forget it’s pirate month!” I laughed at the remark and vocalized a few arrr arrr growls just for fun.

Whether or not the announcer knew why the Pittsburgh team was named the Pirates, he was right to mention pirate month. Baseball fans know that the early practice of the Pittsburgh team was to “steal” players from other teams. One of the most famous early deals was “pirating” Louisville’s Honus Wagner.

I got to thinking about pirates who are not players for the Pittsburgh baseball club. Most actual pirates are seedy characters who are infamous for unethical practices and lawless behavior. The worst contemporary examples being the Somali pirates. They had been a serious menace to shipping since the early 2000s until fairly recently. the piracy was closely related to the collapse of the central government in Somalia during their civil war. As a result, the Somali Navy disbanded and the country’s territorial waters went undefended.

Although the Somali pirates were troublesome to commerce in east African waters, there are other examples of piracy that are detrimental to the global economy but much less physically violent. They number in the millions. These are Internet pirates.

On the surface, many people think it’s OK to pirate music, movies, and other material from the Web. The problem is that pirated content is actual theft. Every time something is pirated, the creators and producers of the material do not receive payment. You might think of it as virtual shoplifting.

As our world becomes increasingly dependent on knowledge sharing, intellectual property theft becomes more threatening to the millions of musicians, artists, actors, writers, and so on who depend upon royalties to stay financially solvent. Illegal downloading is online theft.

Even scarier are criminals who troll the Web and cast about for victims with lucrative piracy websites that are dubious on the surface and in reality. They commit actual piracy by attempting to install malware on our devices and by hacking into our accounts. This is an extremely dangerous situation.

Internet pirates are serious, big-time criminals who have become extremely wealthy by raiding Internet users around the world. One of the most infamous groups of organized Internet pirates was Pirate Bay. They had an illegal profit margin of more than 1,270-percent. Pirate Bay was far more lucrative than dealing drugs.

When we take into account organized criminal activity on the Web plus individual freeloading “innocent” piracy, everyone will ultimately be hurt. There will be less incentive for creative people to market their music, movies, books, and other art. Piracy hurts business and results in actual physical job loss. Internet pirates are a real, major drag on the economy.

The problem of Internet piracy is not taken seriously by society because, sadly, we have become conditioned to obtaining something for nothing. Many of us think that just because we pay our Internet providers each month, that we don’t need to pay for product. We have devalued, in spirit and in reality, entertainment products. Many billions of dollars are lost each year to Internet piracy.

We need to clamp down on modern pirates. Then we can enjoy the fun practice of dressing up like pirates for parties and Halloween. Besides, who doesn’t like to yell out “arrr arrr”?

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor Johnny Depp. “Life’s pretty good, and why wouldn’t it be? I’m a pirate, after all.”

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Desktop Auditions …Floral Friday

We’ve been conditioned to think of our computers whenever we see or hear the word desktop. For today, I’m thinking of the actual desktop where I park my computer. I like to place a flower arrangement at the corner opposite the desk-lamp to add a little pizazz.

I have three likely candidates for that important position today. The first one is a spiral of artificial elements rooted in a medium small Shawnee planter pot.

An aged brass goblet vase from South Korea provides an understated place for a generous bunch of ivy and mini-blooms.

A Clydesdale horse is the main attraction of this bright display of poppies.

The other side of the container reveals that this is a souvenir that was sold at an appearance of the horses when they were in town a few years ago.

I like all three arrangements for different reasons. I think I’ll rotate them whenever it’s time to dust the desktop.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a peculiar quip from former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. “One sits the whole day at the desk and appetite is standing next to me. ‘Away with you’, I say. But Comrad Appetite does not budge from the spot.”

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The incongruous ad caught my eye while skimming through Facebook. It was plugging “Hobo Handbags” at Nordstroms for “only” $284.90 regular price was $428.00. I said out loud, “Wait a minute!” I already knew that Nordstroms is a high-end prestigious department store chain. Why would such an establishment sell things for hobos and tramps? Furthermore, how could a vagrant afford to pay that kind of money for a purse? A lot of things didn’t make sense in that advertisement.

I Googled Hobo Handbags because I know very little about women’s accessories. It turns out the handbags in question are just fancy, designer purses. Although my curiosity was satisfied, the word “hobo” kept repeating in my mind.

The very word hobo triggers a vision of somebody like Red Skelton’s vagabond clown character, but more desperate because a real hobo is not a millionaire entertainer. In my mind, a hobo is a homeless person or migratory worker who lives a subsistence lifestyle either by circumstance or by choice.

My vision of hobos are of down-and-out folks who hopped freight trains in order to migrate during the desperate era of the Great Depression. This harsh lifestyle has become romanticized through folklore and movies. Most people do not aspire to become hobos.

Hobos are the human version of feral alley cats. I mean this in a positive sense, because alley cats can teach us a lot about survival. An alley cat is amazing in how well he is able to thrive in adverse situations. He’s tough and you don’t mess around with an alley cat. The world would be a lesser place without alley cats.

My mind went back to the “Hobo Handbags”. The name is used in a positive, albeit ironic way. Why would a well-to-do lady want to own a personal accessory with such a name? Are these things marketed to people who have a lingering dissatisfaction with their luxurious lifestyle? As they drive their BMWs, do they daydream about running away from it all by stealing a ride on a freight train? Do they realize how tough such a life is? Do they really want to apply their resourcefulness and skills to the bare-bones life of the hobo? Could they actually travel the countryside searching for work?

The personal safety of hobos comes to mind. The very fact of moving and living in unfamiliar territory makes them targets for theft, assault, and murder. Hobos have to be one step ahead of culprits and what to do if an attack threatens his or her safety.

Experienced hobos or people taking on that lifestyle by choice do research ahead of time. They make lists of places they can sleep, eat, shower, and find temporary employment. They know the more prepared they are, the more they will actually enjoy their migration.

The hobos I’ve met proudly call themselves hobos. They’re interesting people who have made me think of such a lifestyle for myself. Those thoughts are short-lived because I like creature comforts too much. Yet I think about these people who have placed real freedom at the top of their lists of priorities. These are folks who are living their lives to the limits. They have managed to create some sort of balance between travel, work, relaxation, and exploration.

Hobos are quite clever and inventive. They not only exist independently, but they also informally network with others. They communicate with one another about what places are safe and which are unsafe. Where can they take shelter? Where can a person find a cheap, wholesome meal? Is there work in the next town? They are masters at the art of dumpster diving.

What’s really positive about the few hobos I’ve met, is how physically and mentally strong they are. In order to survive, they must remain fit and healthy. The time on the road also gives them the opportunity to ponder life deeply and meet different people and circumstances. This is why I think of hobos and alley cats at the same time.

If or when our country experiences a severe economic downturn like that of the 1930s, it will be the hobos among us who will teach the rest of us how to survive.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the late entertainer Art Linkletter. “I grew up poor. I never had any money. I was a hobo, you know, ride the freights.”

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Happiness Happens

If only I could own a quaint home with a white picket fence and have a brand new car in the driveway, I’d be happy forever. How many of us have similar wishes? Maybe the dream is for a mansion on the hill or a penthouse abode in Manhattan and a fleet of luxury vehicles at our disposal.

Perhaps owning the ideal home and vehicle creates happiness for some of us. As we know, such a scenario is the exception rather than the rule. There are certain religious and national leaders who reside in grand estates, own magnificent yachts, and fly in their own jet aircraft, yet they ache for more. There are those who reside in magnificent skyscrapers who hunger for ever more wealth, fame, and power. They are not truly happy. They spread unhappiness in their wake.

We also know of people who live in dire poverty, sifting through garbage heaps searching for scraps they might sell in exchange for a meager meal and rags for clothing. Such people certainly are not guaranteed happiness.

Some folks believe that if only they could convert other people to their own ideology, religion, philosophy, or political views, then they and hopefully the world would be happy. This is the thinking behind much of the strife and unhappiness we read about in our history books. Obviously this is not the path to authentic happiness and joy.

Clearly wealth alone nor convincing others to adopt particular ways of believing will not give us the fulfillment and happiness that we seek.

What about the aspects we hear and read about from self appointed experts and armchair psychologists? They often point out that good physical health, a trusted circle of friends, the spouse of their dreams, a fulfilling career, and owning a pet will ensure that we will be happy. However, we know of some people who possess all of these things who are profoundly unhappy.

Isn’t happiness something other than finding security in stuff and beliefs? Isn’t happiness the state of mental peace?

Last fall, I became interested in luxury fountain pens. It happened by accident when YouTube’s algorithm suggested a video review of a very fancy pen. The idea of a fountain pen review seemed very anachronistic and amusing, so I watched it. The presenter was enamored with the entry level “Rolls Royce type” of pens. It only cost $300. Then there was the ink, he pooh poohed mere cartridges and said that he prefers a pump mechanism so he can use a particular shade of grey ink that also costs a fortune.

The pen was only the beginning. There was a special brand of paper tablet one must acquire because of bleed through and other assorted problems that fountain pens reveal about mere regular paper. Such expensive, fine writing instruments require special care and cleaning, so the owner must have provisions and time to properly maintain the pen.

All of this was quite intriguing and struck me as something I should have. I became obsessed with finding the perfect fountain pen that would fit my budget. I looked and searched the web for more pen reviews and skimmed through eBay for bargains.

One day, in the midst of yet another eBay search, I stopped and observed my thought processes. This new fascination with expensive fountain pens had disturbed my mental peace. Did I think that owning a beautiful fountain pen would make me feel satisfied and happy? Perhaps it would for awhile, until I became bored with it and wanted an even better pen later on.

That’s when I decided not to go down that rabbit hole. I closed the eBay page, drove over to Walgreen’s and purchased a $5 Zebra “disposable” fountain pen. I’m very happy with its performance. The fact that maintaining it is cheap is a bonus.

It’s odd that we humans don’t often realize that when we yield to desire or develop attachments to viewpoints that the result is mental unrest. We live in a sea of advertising messages, religious crusades, and political campaigns that promise us happiness and everlasting joy. However, once we submit to the promises, a strong desire of attachment occurs. That is when mental peace is lost.

We realize that the political newcomer, the awesome religion, or the new fountain pen does not bring about everlasting happiness. We begin to search again. Where do we look? Do we look in the city, in the wilderness, in the sky, or under a rock?

Each person is different and has unique ways of seeing the world and how she/he fits into it. Never ending happiness is found within each person, within each psyche, within the thought processes of the mind.

If one is sincere in the search for happiness and joy it’s important to carefully and honestly investigate the nature of our own minds. This is a very personal process. Nobody has the magic book or technology to do this for us if we want to do it right.

Happiness is never a “done deal”. It’s not the euphoria of a conversion event. Happiness is an ongoing process. Happiness can come about by living your own life in an ethical manner and being true to yourself.

There is one passage from the Dhammapada that is a seed for further contemplation. “We are shaped by our thoughts. We become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers this ancient saying: “Everyone wants happiness, but the true way to reach perfect happiness is to bring happiness to others.”

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