1. Prelude A few of you may have noticed that I've been gone for awhile. Nothing earthshaking but, as someone once observed, "It's not the major disasters that bother me, it's the constant pitter-patter of little defeats." There have been a number of issues at home that have distracted me from this blog, which, you may be surprised to know, is not my main priority. The dust has settled a bit, so I'm back for the moment. (I trust you all have been civil and restrained in your comments, which I have not had the time to monitor.)
There are a number of bloggable subjects, mostly political. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I'm quite tired of politics at the moment. The tsunami of mendacity that is politics these days has simply turned me off, so for the time being I leave political commentary to those who thrive on it. However, here are two pieces illustrative of the human condition: tragedy and darkness, joy and light.
2. Evil II My last post discussed the "Face of Evil,' my take on the motivation of mass killers of the innocent. I suggested the existence of evil in the world that has rendered certain mercifully few mescreants without a soul, or a conscience if you prefer: an inability to distinguish between right and wrong. Shortly after publication of that post, the horrendous massacre at the Sikh Temple occurred. Following has been a paroxysm of analysis of Mr. Wade Michael Page that persists to this day. I believe this is due at least in part to unacceptance of the existence of pure evil by liberals, who, quite laudably in most cases, try to find an explanation and subsequent corrective action for appalling events. "Given sufficient resources, we can fix anything."
I'm sorry, but I don't believe that. I believe that evil exists as a palpable force among humanity. Mr. Page, skinhead and kook, is posthumously being identified as a really dangerous individual whose conduct should have elicited action. This by some who knew or had contact with him. This is hindsight. His persona and actions, while not mainstream, were not justification for restraint or treatment. He was a skinhead kook and little else. Yet, he took it upon himself to kill several innocent souls, at prayer yet, who simply looked different from him. I believe this man was possessed, not by demons but by a palpable evil. It exists among humanity and impels senseless and grossly inappropriate violence against the innocent.
Christians like me call him Satan. Others harken back to primitive survival instincts not completely suppressed by time. Freud had another explanation, something about the ego. The distinction is subjective. The fact, I believe, remains that a number of individuals commit heinous acts without rational motive or justification in defiance of analysis. This does not deter an army of psychiatrists, psychologists, pundits and barroom analysts from submitting their own "answers". But none of these explanations, when looked at objectively, explain the conduct and indicate effective corrective action. We search in vain for the comfort of closure. We must face the fact that evil as an entity exists in the world today.
I don't have an answer to evil. Perhaps acknowledging it will help, but I sort of doubt it. The only course, in my opinion, is to defend against it with the means at our disposal. I happen to believe that concealed weapon carry could help stop a massacre in progress in a few instances. It can be argued that a Gunfight at the O.K. Corral might do more damage than good, but I do think that the ability to defend oneself in general is a good thing.
Having said that, I, along with the NRA, decry the ease with which Mr. Page, a known skinhead with bizarre beliefs, legally obtained weapons. I, along with all you gun-banners, am not comfortable with lethally-armed nut cases. Restricting assault weapons is useless feel-goodedness. Identifying unstable individuals and barring them from legally purchasing weapons strikes me--and the NRA--as reasonable.
3. To Fly There was a article in Saturday's newspaper about an innovative program at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex, instituted by a minister, whereby inmates participate in the raising and release of monarch butterflies. This struck me as a brilliant idea and singularly effective therapy as opposed to most psychiatric treatment which has proven largely ineffective.
My wife, Joan, many years ago came across an article on the monarch butterfly, which is quite unique in the insect world. It has a life cycle that is both fascinating and compact. The whole process of egg to caterpillar to butterfly is consummated in just a few weeks. The article she read described the construction of a "monarch tree" to display the miracle of metamorphosis that takes place in creating this strikingly beautiful and delicate flyer. The brevity of the cycle serves to hold the interest of observers as there are no long lapses of inactivity as is the case with most other butterflies and moths.
The monarch life cycle is unique and miraculous in itself. Monarchs migrate south for the winter along several flyways. At one time, the destination was some unknown place in Mexico. Then someone found the "monarch trees," a grove of large trees festooned with millions of butterflies wintering over. Well-meaning environmentalists and tourists congregated and eventually drove the monarchs away. Now they winter over in Florida and other parts south. In the spring they return, laying eggs on milkweed as they come. The ragged survivors usually don't live long afterwards, having performed their function. Occasionally you might see a bedraggled survivor of the amazing two-way journey. And the life cycle continues. For some reason, monarch population in recent years has fallen off, a sad loss.
Monarch Caterpillar, Chrysalis, Butterfly
Joan proceeded to create this "monarch tree" by placing a dead branch about 2-3 feet high in a coffee can filled with plaster of paris. The large branch had to have many smaller branches. Next, she and some neighborhood enlistees began searching for eggs. The monarch larva feeds exclusively on milkweed, which renders it unpalatable to predators who leave it alone. The egg is a small, black dot which takes a sharp eye to detect. Found, the leaf is detached and placed in a quart Mason jar covered with a piece of cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band. Additional fresh milkweed leaves are added as the original dries up. The eggs quickly--a few days--hatch into a tiny worms--oops, I mean caterpillars. As they consume milkweed and grow, they shed their inelastic skin five times and grow into a two-inch beautiful multi-striped, smooth-skinned caterpillar.
Careful observation over a couple of weeks detects when the caterpillar stops eating. He is now ready to "hang". The caterpillar is removed from the jar and placed on the tree. There, on a branch he begins to weave a small silk nubbin. When done, he turns his rear to the nubbin and a small black hook appears. The hook engages the nubbin and the caterpillar drops, suspended from his hook, and curls into a "J" shape (first image below).
Monarch Caterpillar to Chrysalis
After a few days, his skin splits and peels back, revealing a beautiful green chrysalis with gold accents. Much wriggling dislodges the shriveled skin leaving just the smooth chrysalis which quickly hardens, suspended from the silk nubbin.
A short time later, the chrysalis darkens and the outline of wings can be seen. It then splits open and the monarch in all its glory emerges.
Monarch Emerging from Chrysalis
At first, its wings are small and shriveled and the body outsize. The butterfly pumps fluid from his body into his wings, filling them out to normal size as his body shrinks. He hangs for a few days as the wings dry, dripping a brown fluid. When dry, he begins to slowly flap his wings, which is a clue that he's ready to fly. Joan and company, myself and the kids included, quickly take the butterfly from his perch on a finger and take him outside. Then comes the greatest moment of all, when a quick movement of the hand launches him into flight. He usually flies a short distance and alights to rest a bit before flying off into the world. Failure to detect the readiness to fly results in chasing down butterflies attached to drapes and curtains.
One incident stands out in my memory. Joan threw herself fully into the "Monarch Project," as was her way. Whether it was knitting, gardening (her 100-foot garden was the wonder of the neighborhood) or butterflies, she never did things half-way. Thus, we had dozens of caterpillars in various stages of development and two good-sized trees full of chrysalids, crawlers and hangers in our kitchen.
One day, she sprayed insecticide on some flies near the kitchen door to the garage which was open. A breeze ws blowing in through the screen door. The insecticide blew over to the monarch station with the trees and jars. Immediately, the caterpillars began wriggling and barfing--yes, barfing--as the insecticide hit them. In a panic, Joan called a neighbor lady and they both began washing caterpillars in warm soapy water. I came in to witness this bizarre scene of two ladies frantically scrubbing insecticide off little green worms. Believe it or not, they saved nearly all of them.
The trees with their little miracles made excellent show-and-tell for our kids and our eldest won a Science Fair first prize for her presentation display. To witness these incredible metamorphoses leading to the wonder of colorful flight was indeed a privilege.
One of you evolutionary biologists has to explain to me how random-chance mutations created this wonderfully complex miracle of nature. I believe this is another of God's gifts of beauty to us poor mortals.