Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Goodbye, Dr. George!


 
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I was saddened to hear that another great intellect – and friend – has left the planet.

I am sure many millions of viewers enjoyed this bow-tied meteorologist’s reporting of the weather in his “old school” style. Today, there’s hardly anyone like him, and all the television stations prefer that short skirts report on the weather to help boost ratings.

As a writer and columnist for the Pasadena Star News in the 1980s, I used to call Dr. Fischbeck and get his opinion about some weather-related issue. He always managed to get to the phone, and was always eager to chat.  For example, he told me that there is no such thing as reliable long-term weather, that weather can only be “predicted” accurately up to 48 hours.

Back in 1984 when I conducted a “rain dance”  with the children at the City of Pasadena’s Victory Park day camp, and it rained that August night, I chatted with Dr. George about it.

Apparently, someone had already called him and told him about the rain dance, so he  knew about it when I brought it up.  Fischbeck told me that he recognized and respected the sacred nature of the Southwestern Indians’ rain dances and ceremonies, having lived among the New Mexico Indians for two years as an anthropologist. Still, he believed that there was no connection between our rain dance and the rain, discounting the ability of what he called “prayer” to affect the weather.

He explained that he noted a storm off California’s coast at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, the day we did the rain dance.  By 11 p.m. that evening,  Dr. Fischbeck said that he knew rain would fall, but not where. He was calling it a “freak storm” since this was August with an average precipitation of zero. Due to the winds that arose, the rain moved further west and north than he expected, he told me.

I met him for the first time in the late 1980s when I was the editor of Mensa’s local “Lament” magazine. I wanted him to write an editorial about the then-drought that California was experiencing. He agreed, and I visited him at the Channel 7 studios.  He greeted me like an old friend, and we discussed his column.  When  published, it was a well-received editorial, still very relevant today.

In honor of Dr. George, here is a shortened version of what he had to say:

SOLUTIONS from DR. GEORGE FISCHBECK

Folks, do you know that this densely populated Southern California urban sprawl is located on what geologists call a “coastal desert plain”?  That’s right – we live here in a desert.  And yet we use and waste water as if there is no tomorrow.  If we don’t start realizing where we live, we’re bound to have some severe problems in the near future.  Why?  Because everyone wants to live in Southern California.  And where does the water come from?  From Northern California and from the Colorado River.  Water experts tell us that we might have a real crisis on our hands real soon if we don’t learn to live with less water.

Let’s explore some of the ways in which everyone can pitch in and help.

Did you know that nearly 50 percent of our residential water use is literally flushed down the toilet?  Today there are toilet tanks that can flush with less water, and some areas are now requiring these in new construction. 

An innovative group in Highland Park named WTI Inc. has been practicing a unique form of water conservation for nearly 17 years.  The household members save their bath and shower water in one-gallon containers, which they neatly store in the bathroom.  Then, using specially-cut plastic pour containers, they use their bath and shower water to flush the toilet.  This is a simple method of water conservation that even apartment dwellers can practice.

Did you know that some plants in your yard require much more water than others?  Talk to the people at your local nursery, and find out which plants are drought tolerant. 

If you have a yard, you should seriously consider grey-water recycling.  Grey-water refers to the water that goes down our kitchen and bathroom sinks, and down the tub.  With some simple drain-line alterations, and with the possible change of detergent, you can direct this once-used water into your yard to water your trees, bushes, and even garden. 

And did you know that the original navel orange tree in Southern California was planted outside a home and watered with dishwater?  You can still see that tree today in Riverside!

The number of ways in which we can save and conserve water are endless.  Some ways that most of us don’t usually think of are, for example, collecting rainwater from your roofs in plastic trash buckets – just like “grandma back on the farm” used to do, right?  Your editor told me that he has collected up to 400 gallons of rainwater in a single storm, although usually he collects about 40 gallons of rain a storm.  That’s free water that doesn’t have to be imported to us. 
                       
Folks, remember that we can always lick a problem if we stick together and work together.  Don’t wait for “the government,” since the solution is really within our own grasp.   I am hopeful for our future.  And thank you for letting me share my ideas with you!
Dr. George Fischbeck
Meteorologist, KABC TV

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

IN SEARCH OF THE REAL SAINT PATRICK




[Christopher Nyerges  is the author of several books, such as Enter the Forest,  Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City (co-author), and How to Survive Anywhere.  He has led wilderness expeditions since 1974.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 or via ChristopherNyerges.com]
           
There’s a lot of green right now in town.  Saint Patrick green: shamrocks, leprechans, beer. But who was Saint Patrick?  Was he a real person?  Children are told  "Saint Patrick wore a green suit, talked to leprechans (he was probably drunk at the time), and while trying to convert the pagans with a shamrock, he marched all the snakes out of Ireland."  Will the real Saint Patrick please stand up?

His real name was Maewyn Succat, born around 385 A.D., somewhere in Scotland, or possibly somewhere else, as there is conflicting historical data on his exact date and place of birth.   His baptismal name was Patricius. 

Around age 16, he was sold into slavery in Ireland and worked for the next 6 years as a shepherd.  Keep in mind that human slavery, as well as human sacrifice, was considered normal for those times.

After his six years in slavery, he believed that an angel came to him in a dream, prompting him to escape and seek out his homeland.  He actually walked about 200 miles to the coast, where his dream indicated a ship would also be waiting for him.  He successfully escaped, and spent the next twenty years of his life as a monk in Marmoutier Abbey. There he again received a celestial visitation, this time calling him to return to the land where he’d been enslaved, though now with a mission as a priest and converter.

Patrick was called to Rome in 432, where Pope Celestine bequeathed the honour of Bishop upon him before he left on his mission.

Patrick returned to Ireland not alone, but with 24 supporters and  followers.  They arrived in Ireland in the winter of 432.  In the Spring, Patrick decided to confront the high King of Tara, the most powerful King in Ireland. Patrick knew that if he had the King's support, he would be free to take his Christian message to the people of Ireland.

Patrick and his followers were invited to Tara by the King of Laoghaire. It was there that he was said to have plucked a shamrock from the ground as he tried to explain to the Druids and the King that the shamrock had three leaves just like the idea of God’s   three aspects - The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost. This was called the Trinity. 

Of course, triads and trinities were a common concept among the Druids.  In fact, one could argue that the trinity (a term not found in the Bible) was a concept given to Christianity by the Druids, rather than the other way around.  Nevertheless,  King Laoghaire was very impressed and chose to accept Christianity. He also gave Patrick the freedom to spread Christianity throughout Ireland.

When Patrick returned to Ireland, he treated the "pagans" with the respect implicit in his dream. Part of this respect was attempting to communicate with the Druids on their terms, which is why he used the shamrock as a teaching tool.  He also blended the Christian cross with the circle to create what is now known as the Celtic cross.  He used bonfires to celebrate Easter, a Holy Day that Christianity supplanted with the already-existing spring equinox commemoration. In fact, he incorporated many of the existing symbols and beliefs into his Christian teachings.

He spent his last 30 years in Ireland, baptizing the non-Christian Irish, ordaining priests, and founding churches and monasteries. His persuasive powers must have been astounding, since Ireland fully converted to Christianity within 200 years and was the only country in Europe to Christianize peacefully. Patrick's Christian conversion ended slavery, human sacrifice, and most intertribal warfare in Ireland.

Patrick was also unique in that he equally valued the role of women in an age when the church ignored them. He always sided with the downtrodden and the excluded, whether they were slaves or the “pagan” Irish.

According to Thomas Cahill, author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, Patrick's influence extended far beyond his adopted land. Cahill's book, which could just as well be titled How St. Patrick Saved Civilization, contends that Patrick's conversion of Ireland allowed Western learning to survive the Dark Ages. Ireland pacified and churchified as the rest of Europe crumbled. Patrick's monasteries copied and preserved classical texts. Later, Irish monks returned this knowledge to Europe by establishing monasteries in England, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy.

When the lights went out all over Europe, a candle still burned in Ireland. That candle was lit by Patrick.

Veneration of Patrick gradually assumed the status of a local cult.  He was not simply remembered in Saul and Downpatrick, he was worshipped. Indeed, homage to Patrick as Ireland's saint was apparent in the eight century AD. At this time Patrick's status as a national apostle was made independently of Rome.  He was claimed locally as a saint before the practice of canonization was introduced by the Vatican. The high regard in which the Irish have held St Patrick is evidenced by the salutation, still common today, of "May God, Mary, and Patrick bless you".

Patrick was not Irish, had nothing to do with leprechauns, almost certainly was not a drunkard, and didn't drive all the snakes out of Ireland.  In fact, there were no native snakes in Ireland, though this story is believed to be an analogy for driving out the so-called “pagans,” or, at least, the pagan religions.

Patrick was one of the "greats" of history who nearly single-handedly preserved the best of Western culture when much of Europe was devolving into chaos and ruin.  He deserves far better than remembering him in the silly ways we do today, such as wearing green, pinching each other, and getting drunk.  Rather, he deserves an accurate memory, and our emulation.  Unfortunately, like all true Saviors of history, they are either killed off, or relegated to the closet of ridicule. 

Perhaps it's time for all of us to re-think how we commemorate this special man, and his vast contribution to world culture.


Monday, March 02, 2015

Commentary: THE BACHELOR




[Nyerges, the author of several books, also writes a blog, and posts Youtube videos. He can be reached at www.ChristopherNyerges.com or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

An example of what's wrong with modern TV

I have been watching Chris the farmer on the Bachelor show on television, along with millions of other fixated, voyeuristic Americans.  I watched some of the last season’s Bachelorette as well, as my various feelings and thoughts about this “reality” show have jumbled around.

The show is obviously well-done, professionally produced, with exotic wonderful places they visit. Yet, on another very primal and basic level, the show epitomizes what’s wrong with our television culture. 

I am bothered by the fact that the show makes a contest out of the most basic fundamental building block of society and social structures: the relationship between a loving couple.   Yes, it is, at the end of the day, a contest to see which of the two dozen or so beautiful women will go home to the farm with Chris.  They are all decked out, trying to out-do the other in their favors and attention to the handsome farm boy. It’s somewhat like two people getting all dress up for a date, except Chris can pick any apple from the tree.  How realistic is that? It’s not, it’s TV!

In the beginning of the show, all the women are happy and having fun.  Of course!  But it is like playing the lotto – only one will “win.”  So it’s sad and disheartening to see the beautiful women all lined up like boxes of cereal while Chris gets to decide what he wants for breakfast.  It’s not real, and while everyone watches from their living rooms as women one by one are voted off, viewers don’t feel the very real emotional agony that the voted-off ones experience. It’s very real pain, and all unnecessary, all for the TV experience.

Relationships are very real, and the best meetings don’t occur in staged TV shows. The best meetings occur in everyday real life, where you will see the person as they normally are, going about their very real life. Meaningful relationships can begin at the flea market while examining ancient coins, or at  the farmers market while selecting apples, or at the park while studying plants and animals.  Life is that way. People meet and love flourishes where you least expect it. 

Real life does not always live up to all the beauty and hype of a TV show. Chris the farmer is far more likely to meet the right person and have a fulfilled life by visiting more of the families in his farm community, where he’d find someone already in-tune with the life he lives.

Each time I have watched the bachelor I get the sick feeling that I am watching some sort of horse auction where one of the horses gets selected for the race track, except these are women, not horses. 

At the root, I find the show demeaning, since it reduces the beauty and magic of relationships and love to a device of entertainment.  I understand the popularity of the show, and yet, we are looking at very real individuals, who perhaps didn’t realize the full ramifications of the web into which they entangled themselves when the agreed to be part of the show.  Viewers who watch the show might just be fooled into believing that real relationships can and should be developed by such an artificial method. But again, real life is very different. The people “dating” on this TV show are certainly not  paying for all the rooms and vacations and decorated sets at all the beautiful far-flung locations.  It’s a fantasy!

We watch as Chris is struggling with who to pick, and trying to decide with whom he might be “falling in love” with, and therefore who he may want to spend his life with.  And I struggle each time the show is on to turn off the TV, and get back to the very real work of living life, and finding meaning and fulfillment in the real world.

As long as we don’t forget that the tale of Chris the Farmer and his assorted potential wives is fantasy, then we might enjoy the tale. 

The big losers may be the “contestants” of the show: the women who publicly flaunted themselves to the star, only to be rejected, and the farmerboy himself, who one day may realize that he already lived in paradise where his ideal mate could have been found in a more organic and private manner.

Monday, February 23, 2015

What the Rain Said to Me


[written 02/22/15]
 
Outside my window the rain is falling.
like an ancient voice to me it’s calling
I listen to its timeless word
I let there be silence so it can be heard
From childhood’s trauma that voice was lost
Society’s trying to grow up was what it cost
My knowledge -- we and the land are one
My reverence for oakland, grass, and sun
This coastal desert plain where I was born
Where living life and heart was torn
Where for love of money the hair is shorn
No longer child for fear of scorn
In this Los Angeles basin where men go mad
For the love of money and the latest fad
And no sense of place or home to be
And no more goal of freedom’s free
For my ancestors once here this night I mourn
In this land where I was born
From my roots that I was torn
And my feelings all so ragged worn
Trying to be who I should be
In this land I try to see
Who we are and are born to do
Is much more than shiny shoe
And hair-do and money coup
Is living life all through and through
From the roof,  rain talks to me
I listen hard for pictures-see
Respect the land, an
d sea, and tree
Realize for sure, freedom’s not free
But built of work, respectfully
It’s all there, to live and see
And the rain tells it all to me
Mushrooms, food, from dale to sea
Respect the elders, those who know
Never stop, always grow
Rain is gift, its fruits will show
Now to dreamtime, I will go.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Lupercalia Roots of Valentine's Day



[Nyerges is the author of several books.  He can be reached via School of Self-reliance at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.ChristopherNyerges.com, where one can view his various blogs.]

In the pre-Christian era, there was a celebration in honor of Lupercus, a pastoral god, sometimes identified with Faunus or Pan.  Faunus is depicted as having the body of a man but the horns, pointed ears, tail, and hind legs of a goat.  That is, Faunus is more or less identical with the satyr, who was said to be lustful, and always ready to party.

The pre-Christian observance of this day was called Lupercalia, which fell on February 15.  On Lupercalia, cards were given (often with subtle or overt sexual offers and overtones), and men reportedly chased women through the streets. Wow! Sounds somewhat like Mardi Gras, or Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Carribbean.”

OK, fast forward to 2015, and the stores of your town are full of red and pink hearts, and lovers and sweethearts are looking for something to give that special person.  Why?  Because February 14 is the day set aside to commemorate a real historical person named Valentinus, the day we now call “Saint Valentine’s Day.”  And who was Valentinus?  With just a little bit of research, we learn that this Valentinus person was stoned, clubbed, and beheaded in about the year 270 A.D.  He was violently killed by an unruly mob.  But why?  And how have we come to associate Valentinus with chocolates and hearts and lovers and all the festivities of Lupercalia?

It turns out that there were at least two people called Valentinus – possibly more – who lived in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries.  One – who the Catholic Church now called Saint Valentine – was beheaded in 270 A.D. 

Another Valentinus lived about a century earlier and founded one of the most important sects of Gnosticism.  He was born in Egypt and educated in Alexandria.  He settled in Rome during the reign of Pope Hyginus and taught there for more than 20 years.  He attracted a large following to his beliefs, due in part to his intelligence, his eloquence of speech, and his impeccable arguments.

But the teachings of this Valentinus differed in some ways from the Christian church of that time, and when the office for the Bishop of Rome opened up, he was not selected.  Valentinus decided to split off from the Christian church, left Rome, and continued to develop his doctrines as he saw fit.

Unfortunately, there are no original surviving documents from the teachings of Valentinus.  So, if you want to discover what he actually believed and taught, you have to study fragmentary quotations found in the writings of his orthodox Christian opponents.      

Through research, we learn that Valentinus was influenced by Plato (the main source of the teachings of Socrates), Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. Valentinus also spoke of a spiritual realm which he called Pleroma, which consisted of “emanations” evolving from an original divine being.  These have been described as the layers of an onion, with each layer being a wholly complete reality.  It’s all very interesting, though it’s all a bit second-hand because whatever Valentinus wrote was apparently “lost” or destroyed by opponents.

The term Gnosticism came from the word “gnosis,” defined as spiritual knowledge.  Those who followed this line of study were called the Gnostics, and many were referred to as Christian Gnostics.  But by the third century, the more orthodox Christian church (and the political power of the day), decided to oppose and persecute the Gnostics.   By the end of the third century, Gnosticism as a distinct movement had largely disapppeared.

Now, here’s the quiz:  Where in all this did you hear anything about chocolates, hearts, greeting cards, bunnies, jewelry, roses, or lace underwear?  Plus, there doesn’t appear to be any historical connection with any of the individuals named Valentinus with the date of February 14.

It is difficult to ascertain why the commemoration of Valentinus was used to supplant, uplift, and supercede the already-existing commemoration of Lupercus, but that’s what happened.  Yet, very little of the trappings of modern St. Valentine’s Day have anything to do with the historical Valentinus.

And that’s really a shame, since Valentinus was as important as perhaps Socrates or Pythagoras, and yet most of us only associate him with the silly commercialism of Lupercalia’s remnants. Certainly it’s possible that the Church engineered this substitution so that men would quit chasing women through the streets on this day.

There’s really nothing wrong with telling your loved ones that you love them!  In fact, we need to do that more often.  But you might also benefit by taking a little time and study a bit about this great teacher Valentinus.  This is also a good time to contemplate the meaning of “love,” and how we can improve our ability to be loving with everyone.  One excellent book in this regard is Eric Fromm’s “Art of Loving.”   Once you get into this book, you may discover – as I did  -- that  much of what Fromm wrote is very relevant today, and very relevant to Valentine’s Day.

NOTE:             Every Sunday outdoors under a large banyan tree in Highland Park, there is a spiritual studies presentation on topics of current interest, such as the meanings of the holdays. The presentations are sponsored by WTI (see www.wtinc.info for details and schedule of upcoming talks).