I Lied Today

r toon

I lied today. About my age.

As I waited to get a haircut, the other men bragged about how old they were. The oldest was 87, and the youngest, but me, was 81.

I told them I was 71. Which I am … almost. They complemented me on looking younger. I felt bad.

What possessed me to do that? Felt like a child saying he was almost seven.

Not a bad feeling–not the fib–the childishness.

 

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My Seven Wonders of the World, #5

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photo from pininterest.com

Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru.

Despite the latter being the poster image (top photo) of the Inca Empire, they ruled from Saksaywaman (near Cusco) eighty kilometers away. In my mind the massive walls of Saksaywaman (lower image) are more striking than the re-constructed temples, homes and terraces of Machu Picchu. (The photograph does not reveal that the far hills are separated from Machu Picchu by a river gorge, which effectively creates a thousand-foot-deep moat on three sides of the site.)

Particularly remarkable is the similarity of Saksaywaman’s finely-fitted massive walls to similar constructions, such as the cyclopean walls of Mycenae half a world and several millennia away, and Osaka Castle, closer in time but more remote culturally.

Machu Picchu’s site and modern reconstruction renders it more photogenic, despite its being a subsidiary outpost of the Inca. After the Spanish conquest, the site of Machu Picchu site was covered by jungle and known only by locals until the twentieth century. If you have the opportunity, visit both as we did.

The particularly fit can trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu along paved trails of the Inca. The distance challenges less than the altitude, which starts at 12,000 and descends to 8,000. We didn’t make that trek but did in 2003 climb Huayna Picchu, the hill overlooking Machu Picchu, to a tiny (perhaps priestly) community site for a selfie (since lost).

My Seven Wonders of the World, #4

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Appian Way near Rome (www.keyword-suggestions.com)

Roman Roads, including bridges and aqueducts, but not monuments and buildings. The Romans didn’t just grade the path and lay out some stones, they built their roads like buildings. They built their roads to last, and last they did.

To this day Europe, western Asia and North Africa are crisscrossed with the veins of Roman military, commercial and administrative governance. They anticipated modern highways for defense and commerce.
Seemingly, all the straight roads in England were laid out by the Romans. Over mountains, across rivers, or through bogs, the Roman demonstrated that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The Watling Street from Exeter to Lincoln stretches 293 kilometers, never more than ten kilometers from a straight line.

aquaduct

(Caesarea Maritime aqueduct in Israel. My photograph)

Over the years we encountered Roman roads in England, Germany, Italy (of course), Greece, Turkey, and Israel. The adage about all roads leading to Rome may not be true, but the roads connected an empire for a thousand years, and many remain under roads and bridges still used today. (You’d think we could make a road last a hundred years.)

My Seven Wonders of the World, #3

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Temple Mount of Jerusalem

 

(AVRAHAM GRAICER, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index)

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem has been a focus of history and religious devotion and fanaticism for three millennia. Three faith’s hold it to be the site where Abraham offered his son (Genesis), though they disagree which son was offered. It was the site of Solomon’s, Zerubbabel’s (Nehemiah?) and Herod’s temples in the tenth and sixth centuries BC and first century AD.

Some assert that Herod’s Temple was only the second, as the building of the third temple will supposedly trigger the Apocalypse, but historically Herod’s Temple was the third Jewish temple built on this site. Calling it a reconstruction of Zerubbabel’s sanctuary would compare to Continue reading

My Seven Wonders of the World, #2

The second in a series of seven articles about the seven man-made objects/sites I found most amazing. You mileage is sure to vary.

My #2 is Stonehenge.

stonehenge

commons.wikipedia.org image

Equally old, evocative and challenging as the Giza Pyramid group is the Stonehenge of Wiltshire, England. Stonehenge is a series of concentric circular monuments started as early as 8000 B. C. Most visible today are the remains of Stonehenge designated 3aII, built during the twenty-sixth century B. C., about the same time as Khufu’s Pyramid.

Stonehenge is best seen on quiet days without the crazies. (Like the Pyramids, Stonehenge was built long before Continue reading

My Seven Wonders of the World, #1

Noodling around the internet “researching” something else, I ran across a New Wonders of the World list. Based on a poll run by an outfit in Switzerland, it was mostly a popularity contest. Several of the listed “wonders” can be rejected outright: neither the Statue of Liberty in New York nor Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro are wonders. Large statues, but neither the largest nor the most significant. Too modern. Ditto the Eiffel Tower. Petra and the Taj Mahal at least showed endurance.

So, I jotted down a list of seven wonders, then realized that I had actually seen only four of them. How can I judge the wonder-value of something I’ve only seen in photographs? Therefore, I started over, listing seven manmade structures which moved me when I experienced them. Rather than just list the seven, I’ll devote a short article to each. Along with a picture. Unfortunately, I visited some before the era of digital photography and, while I took pictures of each, I’d be hard pressed to find them now, and they’d be slides, prints or negatives.

The current mode would start at number seven and work up to number one, but that doesn’t work because, even if any of you have seen them, there can be only one greatest manmade wonder of the world. Even the ancients agreed. In fact, this group of structures was ancient when the ancients made their list. And is the only surviving wonder of the original list. I’m referring, of course, to:

1. The Great Pyramids at Giza, Egypt.

giza-pyramids

commons.wikimedia.org

The Giza Pyramids are perhaps the only “gimmee” on the list. No one who sees them can miss their gigantic proportions and simplicity of form. When I saw the Pyramids in March 1983, I was prepared beforehand to be underwhelmed because I expected them not to live up to the hype. We stayed at the Mena House Hotel (a significant historical site itself) just down the hill from Khufu’s Pyramid. (The Mena House starts on the edge of the picture, by the golf course.) The first afternoon we walked up the hill to see for ourselves.

Approached that way, Khufu’s Pyramid shields those of Khafre and Menkaure. Khufu’s Pyramid isn’t just big, it’s so big that your sense of proportion is jarred. Impressive? It’s as impressive–no, more impressive in person. In addition to the three great pyramids Continue reading

Convincing Ourselves the Real is the Ideal

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ISTOCK image in WSJ

Hopeful science thought for the New Year (from Dr. Helen Fisher on edge.org via the WSJ):

“Natural selection [favors] those who responded negatively to the one malevolent intruder, rather than positively to myriad friendly guests.”

But, “happily-in-love long-term partners [overlook] the negative to focus on the positive aspects of their marital relationships—… ‘positive illusions.’ … We humans are able to convince ourselves that the real is the ideal.”

“The neural roots of tolerance, mercy and pardon may live deep in the human psyche.”

Happy New Year, especially you who survived and thrived in long-term, loving relationships.

Firing a Flintlock at Colonial Williamsburg

30drill

(not flintlock firing program participants)

Want and need seldom coalesce as conveniently and enjoyably as they did March 30, 2016. In the process of writing a Revolutionary War novel, I had questions about the process and feel of firing a flintlock musket of that period. Such an experience is not readily available.

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The range, safely away from populated areas

By happy coincidence Colonial Williamsburg, about an hour from where I live, recently inaugurated a flintlock firing program. I inquired and found the requirements simple and suitable. So, while my wife photographed the sheep, flowers and people in Colonial Williamsburg’s historic area, three other gentlemen and I were transported to the new black powder firing range.

Williamsburg’s program is convenient, safe and well-presented. Each two shooters are paired with an instructor, while the remaining costumed attendant acts as range safety officer. State-of-the-art noise reduction Continue reading

Smart Guys in the Mirror

Several years ago a lot of Smart Guys discovered how to get rich(er).

They looked at interest rates, energy prices and technology, and borrowed a bunch of money (and/or bought or leased land, equipment and facilities, hired people, and issued stocks or bonds) and set about to find, develop, pump and refine copious amounts of oil- and gas-related energy products.

The catch: they hadn’t figured on so many other Smart Guys doing exactly the same thing.

Instead of getting rich, they created an over-supply of said energy products resulting in a halving of oil and gas prices. Even though interest rates were next to zero, they soon found themselves unable to re-pay all the money they’d borrowed (or committed).

Result? A whole bunch of Smart Guys are losing their shirts and looking for someone to blame. They can’t blame themselves; they weren’t stupid; they were Smart.

What should they have done? Develop it slowly. Leave it in the ground until it was needed. But the Smart Guys are also greedy and short-sighted. So, they’re still pumping oil we don’t need out of the ground at half the price it was. After all, they have bills to pay.

And they’re Smart Guys.

(You and I can figure this out, why can’t the Smart Guys in business, in Washington and the Nobel Economics laureates? It’s not some right-, left-wing, Saudi, Iranian or capitalistic conspiracy. It’s a bunch of Smart Guys who aren’t.)

Loving Our Enemy?: the Politics of Hate

Recent readings in the Bible, fiction and the media awoke me to considerations of friends and enemies, both personally and nationally.

Hate is a potent weapon which seems to be today’s default emotion of many people and nations. Hate mobilizes unity of effort and sacrifice to defend oneself. But hate eats at the hater as well as attacking the hated. Hate tears down.

And hate lasts longer than joy or other emotions. It’s not a switch we can flip at our convenience, as portrayed in Orwell’s dystopic 1984. National or cultural hate often carries across generations. Some nationalities have hated others for centuries. When I was a child, my parents’ generation were still damping the fires of hatred generated during World War Two against the German and Japanese people, then becoming our allies against the threat of the Soviet Union and Communist China. The twenty-first century finds us clinging to antipathy toward Russia and China, who should be our allies against the ethnic and sectarian evils of our day.

I’m not talking about whether they deserve our love or our hate; I’m talking about us. Perhaps we focus too much on their threat and too little on our joint humanity. No, we can’t just hold hands and sing “Kumbayah,” but we should also eschew knee jerk calls to hate our neighbor.

Because that’s the point, isn’t it? The illegal immigrant or the Islamic jihadist is as much our neighbor as the person who lives next door. And aren’t we supposed to love our neighbor? Who is my neighbor? You know. He who needs my mercy. (Luke 10:29-37) Even though he may not want it.

Love? Love the guy who’s trying to kill me? Love those who threaten all that I hold dear? Love that man, or this woman, and those people? Yeah, pretty much. But you don’t know what they’ve done or intend to do. So?

That’s our example from Jesus to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. They loved their neighbor more than life.

All three were murdered.

Nobody said it was going to be easy.