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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Everything must Change

                                                                             December 8, 2011
Everything Must Change by Brian D. McLaren

Not an ordinary book, but an extra ordinary book.

If you are concerned about the legacy we will be leaving for our children and our grand-children, then read this book.

If you suspect that the world is on a suicide mission, then read this book.

If you are quite convinced that the world is NOT on a suicide mission, then read this book.

If you have an inkling that status-quo Christianity has been side tracked by our modern hyper confident culture, then read this book.

If it is clear to you that the wealthy are getting wealthier and smaller in number, while the poor are getting more destitute and growing in number, then read this book.

If you are convinced that there is nothing you can do, then read this book.

On the other hand,  if you are looking for an inexpensive gift or you prefer some lighter reading pick up a copy of "Watershed" by an oldesertrat...

Friday, November 11, 2011

PCV in Africa

Stories I remember as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV)
 In Ghana West Africa.

My first night in Ada-Foah was interesting. There were three PCV teachers, a British VSO, and an African student living in one house. I had a corner room near the road. Shortly after we had all gone to bed, I heard gunfire! And shouting of a lot of African voices. The mob was moving nearer, but no one else in the house was alarmed by this, so I decided that the best thing to do was to keep my head down to avoid being hit by any stray bullets. I didn’t know what I would do if they came into the house. The gunfire and shouting mob moved passed us and diminished, and I finally fell asleep. The next morning was bright and calm as everyone was stirring, washing up and getting ready for breakfast. We sat around the table as though nothing unusual had happened. I finally had to ask what the ruckus was all about. Everyone looked around with bewildered looks, until Bob Demule, our senior PCV of one year, said “Oh that might have been the funeral procession for a fetish priestess who had just died. They fire black powder muskets (no bullets) to ward off ghost and evil spirits.” I realized I had a lot to learn.

After we got settled in, and learned our teaching assignments, we started walking around the village. Bob led us to the main store and bar, where we would eventually make a habit of going to sit at a table, and drink beer, and talk. The nights never seemed to cool off due to the high humidity, even though the temperature seldom rose above 80. Since we were only 800 miles north of the equator, the sun rose at 6am and set at 6pm all year round. We only had kerosene lamps for light at night. So it was difficult to do any reading after sundown, because the lamps only increased the heat.

One evening we went into the bar and there was a surly, burly looking man sitting at the center table, the one we usually sat at. He was brafuno (white man) with red hair and ruddy complexion. Since he didn’t look too friendly we sat at a side table. After a while he spoke to us and asked us if we swam in the river. We told him that we didn’t, and he said that he saw white people swimming in the river and he just wanted to let them know that there are barracudas in the river. He told us that he was off of one of the fishing trawlers.

Another time, I was walking around the village looking at all the old buildings. Many of them were made of brick and mortar back in the colonial days who knows how many hundred years old. It was a Sunday morning, no one around, when a yellow taxi (of all things) sped around in a circle and stopped in front of me in a cloud of red laterite dust. The driver’s door opened and a huge African got out. He was wearing a cloth toga and had a large scar on his left cheek. I wondered if I was trespassing on sacred land. He walked around the rear of the car and as he approached he held out his hand and with a big grin he said, “Brafuno, welcome to Ada”!

Our house was made of concrete blocks, sturdy but rustic. We had a two burner gas stove and a kerosene fridge. We drew water from a well using a bucket on the end of a rope. We had a wash room for bathing, using a bucket of water. The bucket held about two gallons. For a toilet, we had a small room that was about five feet square and the toilet was a mahogany box with a hole on top covering a bucket. There was a small door to the outside behind the bucket, and each night the “night-soil man” would come by each house, with a much larger bucket which he carried on his head, and dump our bucket into his bucket. When his bucket was full he would carry it down to the beach and dump it into the surf. I understand that the job pays about two shillings a day; the equivalent of a quarter.

Bob Demule taught French, I taught math, and Tom Ramonda taught science. I envied Tom for having his own science lab; in fact it was in a separate building. He had the students develop the habit of bringing in specimens to display in the lab. One evening there was a knock on the door, and some students were there with the badly mangled body of a rather large snake, and asked if Tom would like to have it for the science lab. They explained that a workman had aroused this black spitting cobra from under a pile of bricks, and the cobra had fired a spray of venom in his face. Although they killed the snake by throwing bricks at it, without the anti-venom, the workman would lose his sight. So they cut off the snake’s head, and told Tom he could have the body for free but would have to pay five pounds for the head to help pay for the anti-venom. Tom declined on both counts. The only other snake I saw in our village was a little brown snake slithering across the road in front of the jeep. I stopped the jeep, got out and chased the snake with a stick. It ran into a hole under the roots of a dead tree, and I couldn’t persuade him to come out. Richard, the African teacher who was riding with me, was very upset with me for even stopping. His attitude was that all snakes are dangerous period, and if one bites you, you will die. I told him it was just a harmless little brown snake and not one of the poisonous kinds. Later that year during the Christmas break, some of us stopped in Kumasi and visited the Kumasi Zoo. At the park entrance there were two large glass cages containing a large number of green mambas, which are very fast, very aggressive, and very poisonous. They were a slithering mass of chartreuse colored snakes. To my great astonishment, one of them was brown, just like the one that had crawled across the road in from of the jeep.   

My next snake story was in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. During the summer of 1965, I decided to vacation in East Africa. Since there were no direct flights to Kenya, and after stopping to refuel in Nigeria, and the Congo, I stayed overnight at the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. I hadn’t counted on it being in the middle of winter in the southern hemisphere; the bed at the airport was very cold,  and I felt like a poor little humming bird with the blood being sucked out of it by a praying mantis. The following morning I flew on to Salisbury and decided to stay for a few days. I asked the cab driver to take me to the Peace Corps Hostel, but he said there wasn’t one so he took me to the YWCA,which seemed to be the watering hole for all expatriate travelers. One morning while I was sipping a beer and chatting with a young missionary from the Congo, another man sat down at our table, introduced himself as a snake handler from South Africa, and invited us to take a tour of a nearby snake farm. Having nothing better to do we joined him. The snake farm was more like a reptile zoo, composed of several glassed in cages holding a large variety of snakes. One cage held several types of cobras. The black spitting cobras were in a separate cage. As I watched them, I noticed a pair of perfect circles of venom that had been sprayed on the glass right in front of my face. At that point I was very thankful for the glass that separated us. With the exception of the spitting cobras, he would step inside the cage and bring out individual snakes for us to photograph up close. When he opened one of the cages I heard the familiar sound of rattlesnakes. When I asked him what they were doing with rattlesnakes, since they are not native to Africa, he said “Oh we collect snakes from all over the world.” As he stepped inside, the rattlesnakes moved as far from him as they could get. He was covered with the scent of the other snakes and they were terrified of him!

In the next cage there was a large dead branch and a large gray snake lying as still as the branch. He told us that this is a black mamba. Fast and very aggressive it is the only snake that will attack a human without provocation. Its bite is called “the kiss of death”. He unlatched the door and at each pause he watched the snake for any sign of movement. He opened the door a few inches and paused, a few inches more and paused, cautiously put his left foot inside and paused. The snake did not move. He opened the door a few inches more and paused, he moved forward and put his weight on his left foot, with still no movement from the snake. At that point he wisely retreated and closed the door.

He then took us to a concrete pit. It was about fifteen feet deep and just wide enough and long enough to house a gigantic twenty-five foot Nile crocodile. With a long bamboo pole he began lightly tapping the croc on the head. As he tapped, the beast became more and more agitated. He told us to keep watching, and finally in a monumental fit of rage the croc roared and leapt to within two feet of the top of the pit. The roar sounded like the sound effects for a movie of two prehistoric monsters doing battle.  

The next morning I flew to Nairobi Kenya.      

©Harold Gower
July 20, 2010

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sonnet Defined July 25, 2011


I used to think I knew the definition of a sonnet, but now I’m not so sure. I used to believe that a sonnet had fourteen iambic pentameter lines with one of several rhyme schemes to choose from. The Shakespearian, the Spenserian, the Miltonian, the Petrarchian and even the” indefinables”  had some kind of a rhyme scheme, but I have recently seen a number of “sonnets” having fourteen lines alright  of varying line lengths, which I now label  “Plutonian”,  because their rhyme schemes (or lack thereof) explode in your face.  They are usually very nice poems alright, but I would hesitate to call them sonnets. Whenever I write one like that I have always called it an ‘onnet, because I just isn’t quite a sonnet. 

Here is one of my ‘onnets:


Imprisoned in a cell of low degree

Imposed on self by self I know not how

Escape was out of question, so till now

I wallowed in self-scorning misery.

So long there I could scarce recall the days

Of freedom when the air was fresh and young.

My muscles longed to stretch and exercise.

But then among the rubble and debris

I spied a sphere no larger than my palm.

Drawn to its port I peered then entered calm,

Defying laws of space and gravity.

Behold the universe!  What grand arrays!

Ethereal displays! My cell door sprung

Into my inner self I now arise.

The Shack

As I read The Shack, I had to keep reminding myself that this is an allegory. Some readers are put off by the way God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are represented.  God is personified as a “large, African-American Woman” by the name of Papa, the Holy Spirit is personified as a “small Asian Woman” by the name of Sarayu, and Jesus is a homely ‘Middle Eastern man”.  But if the reader can get beyond that, the book addresses such questions as:

If God is Love then why did he create hell?
If God loves us then why is there so much suffering in the world?
Why does He allow deranged people to kidnap abuse and murder innocent children?
What is the Trinity?

So even though you may have your own answers to these and other questions, this book may give you a new refreshing slant, as it did for me.

Each chapter is prefaced with some very fine quotes like:

 “God is a verb” – Buckminster Fuller

“An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of his children.
He does not distribute Himself that each may have a part,
but to each one He gives all of Himself as fully as if
there were no others.”
-      A. W. Tozer.

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully
as when they do it from religious conviction”
-      Blaise Pascal

“Once abolish the God and the government becomes the God.”
-      G. K. Chesterton

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of
Truth and Knowledge
is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods”
-      Albert Einstein

“Sadness is a wall between two gardens”
-      Kahlil Gibran

“The soul is healed by being with children”
-      Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Tuesday, August 23, 2011



Steve Allen is remembered mostly as a comedian and a musician. So it may come as a surprise to you (as it did to me) that he also did some very serious thinking.

“Dumbth”, published by Steve Allen in 1991, is about the dumbing down of America which has been gradually getting worse for the last 50+ years. His introduction describes the phenomenon very well. 

 He blames poor television programming for much of it. Much of what he says are things that we, who are over the age of 50, are familiar with and agree with, but he verbalizes, and lists for the record…

 He decries the educational system for teaching facts without teaching students how to think and reason, but he also blames the parents for not taking an active part in their children’s education. Oddly enough, he does not blame the president for the entire mess, even though he does take a few choice pot shots at president Reagan.

 He then lists 81 rules to improve.  These are suggestions that individuals can use to improve their own situation by sharpening their ability to reason, and do not require an act of congress.

recommended reading:

and along these same lines you may find interesting:

And yet another: Refering to Rule 81

 and one more:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

From Zero to Inifinity in a Flash

Infinity is a very difficult concept to wrap the brain around. When I was taking Integral Calculus (which I nearly failed) we would often have to integrate from zero to infinity without so much as batting an eyelash. We take zero for granted yet it is different from any other finite number. For example any number multiplied by zero is zero, and any number divided by zero is infinity.

Infinity, on the other hand has its own special qualities. It is not a number at all, but is unbounded. It has no limit. Pick any large number such as the national debt and divide it by infinity and the result is zero. Infinity reduces anything to zero by comparison.

A baby compared to me is very small, but compared to the earth I am reduced to an invisible dot. And compared to the solar system the earth is a very small dot. The solar system compared to our galaxy is a tiny spec and our galaxy is infinitesimal compared to our universe. And as difficult as it may seem to imagine, our universe becomes nothing when compared to infinity. Infinity is such a difficult concept to grasp that it drove more than one mathematican out of his mind.

George Cantor, a Jewish mathematician, thought that he would be able to comprehend God  (the Aleph), the infinite creator of the universe, if he could only understand infinity. He lost his mind, but he developed a whole new branch of mathematics that we now study as Set Theory.

Recommended reading:
“The Mystery of the Aleph”, by Amir D. Aczel
Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity.

Monday, August 1, 2011



The Nature of Gravity

 Have you ever been to carnival where there is a ride that is a revolving cylinder? It holds about 20 people, who walk in to it and arrange themselves around the perimeter.

 Then when the carnie throws the switch the cylinder begins to rotate and as it picks up speed the riders  feel themselves being pressed against the wall of the cylinder. Then the carnie lowers the platform they were standing on, and there they are suspended with nothing to hold them but the centrifugal force of the turning cylinder. Demonstrating Newton’s 1st law of motion, objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion until an outside force acts to change its speed or direction. In this case it is the friction of the rider’s feet with the floor that starts them moving, and it is the wall of the cylinder that forces them to change direction.

It is the same force at work in the centrifuge in chemistry class.

 Often times, in science we make models to help understand and explain difficult ideas. We make models of DNA, Atoms, Crystals, etc. we also make models of large things like the solar system, globes of the earth and so on.

 Understanding gravity involves understanding our 4 dimensional universe. Since we live in a 3 dimensional world, a concept of the 4th dimension is difficult because we have no perception of it. So it helps to make a model that is scaled down by one dimension, and our model becomes a 2dimensional world in a 3 dimensional universe.

 The 2 dimensional world might be the surface of a trampoline with 2D people that look like coins. And the massive object representing the world might be a large lead sphere. When we place the sphere on the trampoline, it caused the surface of the trampoline to bend down into the 3rd dimension. The people (coins) being 2dimensional, have no perception of the 3rd dimension, but they feel themselves being drawn to the sphere. They conclude that the sphere has a mysterious force called gravity that draws them to it.

 But we, being 3dimensional, can see that the sphere has no mysterious force, but rather, the coins are sliding down the slope of their 2 dimensional space ( the curved surface of the trampoline). Of course the problem with this model is that it requires the earth’s gravity to make it work. If we take our model up to the International Space Station (ISS), setup the trampoline, put the coins on it, and put the massive sphere on it, nothing happens, because there is no gravity.

Remembering the carnival ride, we can cause the ISS to rotate by attaching a couple of small jet engines. The resulting centripetal force causes the objects inside to be drawn to the sides of the ISS. And now we find that our model is working just like it did down on earth.    

So now we scale everything back up by one dimension, and we have a rotating 4 dimensional universe causing massive objects to warp the 3 dimensional space into the 4th dimension, which in turn causes smaller massive objects, like people and rocks, to be drawn towards the large massive objects.

The link below shows a rotating 4D cube.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Help Yourself

Buying on credit has become an American way of life, and as long our economy was inflating, that seemed like the logical thing to do. But that no longer makes any sense. Back before 2008, it made sense to refinance the mortgage to pay for the new car, or the trip to Europe. But now it makes no sense at all.

For the past three years our economy (as everyone is painfully aware) took a nose dive and is not even beginning to pull out. This disaster was primarily due to mismanagement by the banks. Often times the little guys feel helpless, but there are things we can do to help ourselves. The most basic and sensible tactic is to simply LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS. That is do all you can to pay off your loans and credit cards and do not buy anything on credit. Banks live on the credit interest that we pay. If everyone were to pay off all their credit cards and start BUILDING THEIR SAVINGS ACCOUNTS the banks would be in a world of hurt. Just imagine if instead of having $6,000 owing on your credit card and a savings account balance of $60, you had just the reverse, so that when big items came along, you could pay them out of savings and then rebuild you savings.

 This can be done if you make up your mind to just stop charging and start paying off, and saving. Do not buy any frivolous stuff (this means changing your lifestyle for a while) until you get your charges paid down. Then all of the monthly payments you make to your credit accounts can be deposited into savings. Once you get your savings built up, you can start living again as long as you don’t overdo it. Try saving a third of your paycheck.  Ok so you can’t save a third, so save a quarter of your paycheck. If it sounds impossible, you just don’t know how much interest you are paying.

 Credit is not totally bad, but we need to use it very carefully, and never charge more than you can pay off with your next paycheck. “Buy now and pay later” is a very risky thing to do. If you don’t have the cash in your checking account, then don’t buy it until you do.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sonnet Defined


I used to think I knew the definition of a sonnet, but now I’m not so sure. I used to believe that a sonnet had fourteen iambic pentameter lines with one of several rhyme schemes to choose from. The Shakespearian, the Spenserian, the Miltonian, the Petrarchian and even the” indefinables”  had some kind of a rhyme scheme, but I have recently seen a number of “sonnets” having fourteen lines alright  of varying line lengths, which I now label  “Plutonian”,  because their rhyme schemes (or lack thereof) explode in your face.  They are usually very nice poems alright, but I would hesitate to call them sonnets. Whenever I write one like that I have always called it an ‘onnet, because I just isn’t quite a sonnet. 

Here is one of my ‘onnets:


Imprisoned in a cell of low degree

Imposed on self by self I know not how

Escape was out of question, so till now

I wallowed in self-scorning misery.

So long there I could scarce recall the days

Of freedom when the air was fresh and young.

My muscles longed to stretch and exercise.

But then among the rubble and debris

I spied a sphere no larger than my palm.

Drawn to its port I peered then entered calm,

Defying laws of space and gravity.

Behold the universe!  What grand arrays!

Ethereal displays! My cell door sprung

Into my inner self I now arise.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood

Negotiating with the Dead

Negotiating with the Dead, by Margaret Atwood is a wonderful book for anyone who has the urge to write, be it novel, short stories or poetry. This book is a series of lectures she gave at Cambridge University on her experiences as a writer. In her introduction, she lists a long list of reasons various writers have said why they write. Here are some of those motives:
·        To record the world as it is.
·        To set down the past before it is forgotten.
·        Th excavate the past because it has been forgotten.
·        To satisfy my desire for revenge.
·        Because Ik new I had to keep writing or else I would die.
·        Because to write is to take risks, and it is only by taking risks that we know that we are alive.
·        To produce order out of chaos.
·        To delight and instruct.
·        To please myself.
·        To express myself.
·        To create a perfect work of art.
·        To hold a mirror up to nature.
·        To hold a mirror up to the reader.
·        To thumb my nose at death.
·        To make money so that my children could have shoes.
·        To show the bastards.
·        Because to create is human.
·         Because to create is Godlike.
·        Because I hated the idea of having a job.
·        To justify my failure in school.
·        To thwart my parents.
·        To amuse and please the reader.
·        To amuse and please myself.
·        Compulsive logorrhea.
·        Because I fell into the embrace of the muse.
·        To experiment with new forms of perception.
·        To cope with depression.
·        For my children.
·        To speak for the dead.

Monday, February 7, 2011


The Building of the Labyrinth

I had no idea, at first; no concept; just a backyard full of mud; hardpan and river rock, and dry as a bone in the summer, covered by a layer of dry dead sod, lying fallow for two years.

What to do, what to do. Build a patio; extend the concrete; level the ground; lots of work; procrastination, think some more. Scrape the sod; screen the soil; separate the rocks and the sod. Level the soil. Still no concept.

Then a voice (Leta’s) whispers, “Build a Labyrinth”.

Yes! I thought. What a great idea! But what shall I use? Bricks? Stone? Tile? What and how?

I found the white Travertine Pavers, beautiful, natural stone cut from a quarry in Italy. I found the design online. Not having any idea how many I would really need, I bought fifty to start just to see. They filled just half of the outside circle, so I knew I would need at least 500. So I bought half a pallet at a time, which was as much weight as my pickup could haul. But before I could put down the pavers I had to put down a layer of sand on top of a layer of weed block. So I hauled home a half cubic yard of sand. I found that the sand would stay in place better if I wet it first.

By renting a gas powered brick saw over the Labor Day weekend, I got it for three days for the price of one. I thought that surely, by working steadily for three days, I could cut all my pavers in that time. WRONG!  Not even close. I had too many distractions that I could not ignore. And when I did use the saw, it was so loud that I was sure I was disturbing the neighbors. I returned the saw on Tuesday with perhaps a third of the pavers cut. I dreaded having to rent the saw again.

As I worked every day on this labyrinth, Leta would tell various friends and neighbors about my most ambitious project. When she mentioned it to Kris Teiche, our good friend and neighbor in Livermore, Kris said, “Frank has a tile saw, I’m sure you could borrow it. I will check with Frank, and let you know”. Frank said he wouldn’t need it for another two months, I was free to use it. I used it almost every day for the next four weeks. The electric saw was lighter weight and far less noisy than the saw I rented, but I still worried about the neighbors.

Four months after I scraped the sod, I finished the labyrinth, and cleaned up my mess. I took pictures, I showed it to friends and neighbors.  I could see it from my bedroom window. Viewing the concentric circles of white stones alternating with dark grey crushed granite through the horizontal venetian blinds was mesmerizing. There is more to it than mere geometry.

And now, the more I look at it the more absorbing it becomes. I am seeing and feeling things I did not design into it. It is a two dimensional model of our spiral galaxy, turning, drawing magnificent stars into its black hole.

Through the blinds I see it turning, turning with the earth, turning with the planets turning with the galaxy. As surely as the plane I am riding in is in motion. The plane window I am looking through is in motion as I watch the mountains and farms and cities pass beneath me, so this set of concentric stones is my window into the universe.

Like a silent mystic eye
Staring back at the zenith sky.

©Harold Gower
December 28, 2010