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Science Antics - a summary of science experiments undertaken in my past
Writings - various and sundry poems, essays, etc., of varying interest
Anecdotes and such - being generally everything else!
Playing by Ear for Dummies - How One Musician Does It
Being a discourse on how I think I came to be able to play music by ear on a keyboard...
Lawn mower magic
Chemistry and related fields of "play" (as opposed to "study)" always held great promise for improving the well being teenage life at home in Gallipolis, Ohio, in the mid to late 70's. Either through books obtained from the local library, or text books from our father, my brother Tom and I always had copious ideas (experiments) to try.
Whether it was the synthesis of nitric acid (the intended use of which was anyone's guess) or the making of sparklers or other incendiaries, using match heads, iron filings, etc., the lure to engage in "energetic" chemical reactions was always present.
Our grandfather, Charles Seidell, worked at a metal foundry in Newark, Ohio. As an employee at the Roper plant, he had access to excess, experimental, and other such appliances as were manufactured there, as well as scrap metals. Besides pieces of aluminum, one fine artifact was the dreaded magnesium lawn mower. While the decision to use magnesium for the chassis was a physically sound one (very strong and lightweight material), it was extremely hazardous to actually machine and manufacture. But, we did manage to secure one.
The magnesium lawn mower thus became a critical source for this highly desirable material, for use in pyrotechnics, hydrogen gas generation, and carbon arc experiments.
The Day the Test Tube Exploded - aka Stupid Project No. 1
Having read in one of the books that magnesium was a fairly flammable metal, I set about trying to acquire as many magnesium filings as I could, by filing down pieces cut off from the chassis (in relatively inconsequential areas of the mower deck). I quickly discovered that a grinding stone was not a good way to make magnesium filings: they tended to overheat and burn the pile of filings, as well as to fill the pores of the grinding stone, owing to the metal's soft nature. When mixed with some combustible material such as sulfur or match heads (the heads sheared from the countless boxes of cheap paper matches), the magnesium would burn wildly and provide a nice little display piece. The match heads/magnesium mix was packed into little paper tubes and when lit, created a nice little fountain effect, when properly fused with little fuses pulled out of standard little firecrackers.
During the morning of one warm June day, in 1978 or so, I first tested a bit of magnesium filings with some sulfur. I theorized, that since sulfur generally burns (and I had sulfur powder), and magnesium burns (and I had magnesium), combined, they would burn, well, even better. I placed the two components in the bowl of an old spoon, not knowing if they would immediately burn, explode, or what, and held it over a little alcohol flame. Oddly, the sulfur simply melted, and combined with the magnesium ... which then burned quite nicely.
I thus felt confident through such exhaustive testing, that I could make a larger batch of the material in a test tube. By mid-afternoon, I had obtained about a third of a test tube of magnesium filings, and guessing that was adequate, mixed it with an equal amount of sulfur powder. Once thoroughly mixed, I proceeded to the "lab" located in our basement, for the final step: heating the mix to form "magnesium sulfide".
Working under the assumption that the sulfur, when heated in the test tube, would simply melt, and react chemically (sort of?) with the magnesium to form a material that would later be combustible for use in pyrotechnic devices, I set about heating the mix in the tube, over an alcohol lamp. It wasn't really a windy day, but even in the basement, there was a slight draft. Or, perhaps I had a fan running to help cool things down from the summer heat. At any rate, I held the tube with a test tube holder in my left hand, and cupped the palm of my right hand around the flame so as to shield it from the draft.
My palm and wrist of my right hand were therefore mere inches from the bottom of the tube, positioned over the flame.
Suddenly (and, of course, without any warning whatsoever), after perhaps observing the sulfur beginning to melt and bubble for, say, 2 - 3 seconds, there was a very nasty BOOM and the glass test tube disappeared right before my eyes. How I managed to not lose my right hand, I have no idea, but it was cut by shards of flying glass, and there was a scary looking bubbly burn raising on the inside of my wrist. I placed my wrist against my upper abdomen, to reduce the bleeding, and yelled for Mom. I ran out of the basement (certain that I'd cut my wrist terribly and was going to bleed to death). Later I found out that Mom thought I had only burnt myself, but then she saw the blood and zoomed into action.
When the emergency squad came, I was nearly in shock. The medics were commenting on the gunpowder (sulfur) smell, wondering if I had been playing around with a gun. Of course, that wasn't the case. I couldn't hear very well, and my eyes were a bit blinded also, from the bright flash resulting from the conflagration of what (I found out years later) was essentially a magnesium-sulfur flash device. (Such combinations are frequently used as the deafening and blinding reports of professional 3-4 inch ball shells used in fireworks.)
Once the 2nd degree burn on my wrist, and the numerous glass fragments were removed from my abdomen, hands, and wrist, healed, I was henceforth much more respectful of such reactions in the future ... though, that didn't keep me out of trouble entirely. Several months later, I had surgery to remove a piece of glass that was embedded in my abdomen. There a cyst had formed, even though the glass didn't show up on an X-ray.
Experiments with a Carbon Arc - aka Stupid (but fairly ingenious) Project No. 2
Subtitle: The Quest for Sodium Metal
Through a careful reading of our chemistry literature, my brother and I learned that the heat generated in a carbon arc was very great indeed. It was during these years that I had developed something of an obsession with acquiring even just a tiny amount of pure sodium metal. (As it turned out, years later, I had the opportunity to have a container of the pure metal shipped to me encased in mineral oil, and the quest finally came to an end... but I digress.)
After ruining several glass beakers by trying to "cook" a concentrated solution of sodium hydroxide on the stove, so as to perform an electrolysis thereof, I decided such efforts were clearly futile. The reactivity of the metal is such that any separation that may have occurred, would certainly have re-reacted, and been lost.
Then I read how hot the arc from a carbon arc lamp was, and realized that it might be possible to heat enough sodium hydroxide crystals to melt them, and therefore, achieve a direct electrolysis of molten sodium hydroxide. Wishful thinking, indeed.
At any rate, we secured several carbon rods from the center of "D" size carbon batteries. Once cleaned, they were then wired up to a switch, and placed in circuit with an old extension cable plugged in to a 110v AC outlet.
Unfortunately, however, every time I touched the rods together to establish the arc, the circuit breaker would trip and the current stopped. It was a puzzling hurdle, to say the least.
As luck would have it (for it was surely luck), in physics, we were learning about the polarization of light. No better way to prove that, than through the use of, yes, you guessed it, a carbon arc lamp.
The apparatus the teacher used was a wonderful device indeed, in that it demonstrated clearly not only how powerful carbon arc light was for observing the polarizing effect of light filters, but all the more so because it solved the mystery of how to keep current running in what appeared to be a short circuit, when the rods of the arc were touched and separated to generate the arc: there was a nickel wire coil in the circuit that provided enough resistance as to keep the arc from shorting out the AC circuit. I thought for a moment, and quickly surmised that a standard toaster would serve as the perfect load to keep the current running.
Following the implementation of this discovery, we had carbon arcs aplenty. All manner of chemical, compound, and metal were tested in the power arc generated by our state of the art design. We used an old vacuum cleaner cord for the power cable; ran the hot wire from the cable to a SPST switch, and from thence to one prong of the toaster cable. Out from the toaster cable to a piece of 18 gauge bell wire, which was wrapped tightly around one end of a carbon rod. The other rod had a similarly affixed length of bell wire, which was connected to the other end of the vacuum cleaner cord. Circuit initiation went thus: the SPST switch was closed, and the toaster was engaged for a toasting cycle. With the components so engaged, simply touching the two rods together completed the circuit; by gently separating them to create a small 1/8" to 1/4" gap, a remarkably bright carbon arc was sustained.
This was all very well and good, but alas, the quest for Sodium was thwarted. There didn't seem to be anyway to melt enough sodium hydroxide so as to effect the electrolysis of a suitable quantity of the compound. However, the melting and burning of strips of magnesium, bits of various other materials and the like, was vastly entertaining, all the same. At regular intervals, of course, the toaster would complete a cycle, and the power in the circuit would cease.
Because pliers were used to hold the rods, by the insulated wire wrapping the ends, it was only a matter of time, until the insulated melted under the heat generated by the arc. That wouldn't have been a problem, except that the gloves used to hold the pliers had little holes in them. This was bad. And so, as it turned out, during one lengthy session, on the Thursday before Easter, in 1977, the operator of the experiment (me) got a very nasty 110v shock, which may well have only been interrupted by a well-timed cycling of the toaster mechanism.
Needless to say, the apparatus was dissembled and further carbon arc experiments were tabled indefinitely. It was fun while it lasted, nonetheless.
Fun with Hydrogen Gas
One of the advantages of having a handy supply of aluminum metal scraps was that it could be used to generate hydrogen gas, by "marinating" them in a solution of sodium hydroxide. This operation, we found, was best performed by placing aluminum pieces into the bottom of a gallon glass bottle (vinegar, juice, etc.) and then carefully adding the NaOH solution. A balloon placed over the mouth of the bottle would then fill with the gas. The idea, of course, was then to tie a wick or other flammable fuse around the balloon mouth, and set the affair off into the night. When the flame reached the balloon, the rubber would melt and poof or bang or boom, the gas would ignite.
We found that the proper mix of oxygen and hydrogen was essential to achieve a proper pyrotechnic effect. Too much hydrogen and the fire ball was barely perceptible. Such balloons, nevertheless, resulted in a great deal of entertainment, especially around the 4th of July, since no one was quite ready for the end result: a fireball or boom (depending on gaseous mix) out over the valley downwind from where we lived.
Many hydrogen balloons later, there was a regrettable incident that occurred while I was attending a Boy Scout summer camp in 1978. When I returned home, I found a note on the basement door (the "LAB") which stated unequivocally that the blast lab had been shutdown by the management. Hmm. Not a good thing. I soon found out that my older brother had been making hydrogen one afternoon, and quite accidentally lit the top of the gallon glass jug ... which caused the jug to explode, hurling glass shards (yet again) throughout the basement. One piece sliced his arm open, which required stitches. Alas, the bad luck seemed to be continuing.
Casual not-so-scientifically-minded observers may have concluded that it wasn't bad luck at all; these little unplanned casualties were simply the result of engaging in activities such as these.
Writings - various and sundry poems, essays, etc., of varying interest
- On Terrorism: the world Post 9/11
- Marriage and the Church
- Someone has to be the Trash Man
- Nowhere Near Only One
- Mid-Summer's Morn (a saccharine poem)
- The Little Boy and His Magical Lamb
On Terrorism: the world Post 9/11It is apparent that fanatical sects of Islam utilize various degrees of terror among their own peoples to ensure compliance to the will of the authorities and their espoused view of their "god". The use of terrorist attacks on other predominately non-Muslim countries implies that such terrorism will somehow bring about similar compliance.If this is the case, and other countries deplore such activity as rightly uncivilized and otherwise barbaric, how is it possible to expect that any negotiation to bring about a cessation of terrorist activities will ever be honored? Terrorism, after all, breeds in part on a lack of mutual trust, even more so than in conventional conflict.
In other and admittedly more cumbersome words, why should we be expected to believe that after terrorist demands are met, that there won't be additional demands made, and subsequent terrorist actions taken to ensure compliance? It could easily NEVER end. Thus, I suggest that, as long as terrorism is used for political or religious ends, those who engage in such activity forfeit their right to exist in the world community. This is one reason why it is critical that civilized countries and organizations not engage in such activity.Clearly, minority groups have resorted to terrorism throughout all of history, when they feel as though they have no other option. However, the extent that such terrorism impacts the world community is directly proportional to the tools and weapons at the disposal of the terrorist. What we have witnessed since 9/11 is a quantum leap in the seriousness of such activity, and as a result, it finally has everyone's attention.However, it is a simple fact that peace and freedom loving peoples throughout the world will not sit idly by while fanatical factions (be they be based in political or religious causes) employ terrorism to attempt to achieve their goals. As long as the world community has a stick perceived to be bigger and better than the one available to the terrorist, it will be employed to thwart the terrorist ends.And, very unfortunately for the non-terrorists of the world, present day perpetrators of terrorist actions are quite willing to forfeit their life for the their cause. This is a sentiment with which even the youngest recruits of extremist groups are aware of, and in some cases, drawn to.So, in the end, this becomes a very bizarre game of cat and mouse: the world (the cat) chases after the mouse (the terrorist) who is not only willing to be eaten in the name of its cause, but especially after taking a few (or more) cats with it...Will it ever end?Given the nature and stealth of the weapons now at the disposal of the terrorist, I seriously question the ability of the world community to keep terrorist activity at bay. It's sort of like the world-wide drug problem. The best you can do is to educate before addiction, and treat afterwards. With terrorism, however, I suspect education might work to some extent, but I doubt there is really a treatment after the fact, since most are all too willing to die (in the more serious cases).No amount of security will really be able to entirely eliminate the threat, and so, we end up with an ongoing posture of vigilance, that results (like it or not) in a real reduction in civil liberties. In time, such vigilance will probably become second nature. And until then, we need only work at accepting and becoming less sensitized to the death and destruction such social malignancy inevitably brings.But, perhaps the worst casualty will be that that too becomes second nature...
Someone has to be the Trash Man
Being an essay which considers the difference between job and avocation, or employment and position, as the case may be. This came about largely as the result of observing the reasons different socio-economic classes of individuals have different ambitions, different concerns, and would, for example, vote for different presidential candidates. Essentially, this is an exploration of equality, and why achieving it can be a rather prickly pear, indeed.
In the beginning
… Man (and I do mean the male of the species) brought home the bacon. Literally. He did so by hunting, foraging, and generally making sure his family had shelter, food, and safety. It was a simple, though dangerous, time.
Man (the generic human communal sense of the word) progressed through the millennia until civilizations evolved, with artisans, laborers, and politicians. As sciences flourished, so too did the engineers, the mathematicians, the designers; in sum, the thinkers.
And so, for millennia, human populations everywhere may well have been destined to be divided into the thinkers and the doers. Occasionally from the pool of thinkers would arise a leader. Or, from the doers, would arise a despot (though the converse could also occur).
However controversial this clear fact is, the purpose of this essay is to consider the different ideologies, or perhaps the different circumstances, that result in a peculiar dichotomy: one person doing “important” work for which he or she earns a great deal, versus another, who simply does “work” (because they must, to earn a living) regardless of how critical such work may be to the local civilization as a whole.
Let’s take a moment to review the current situation.
A few examples may provide the best insight here.
- For years now, we have been lamenting that those in the teaching profession (especially elementary and secondary education) earn far too little for the critical work they do in preparing the youth of our culture to persevere in life and earn a living.
- The recent rapid evolution of an international market for goods and services has placed “traditional” earnings levels for manufacturing and other industrial goods, as well as certain support disciplines, into a state of turmoil.
- In many areas of the United States, indigenous citizens therein will not accept jobs or employment, characterized by long hours, menial labor, and/or low self esteem.
- Unemployment is a constant threat, ever nipping at the heals of everyone who is employed, all of whom are running to keep up with their co-workers, for fear of losing the greatest race of all time: job security.
Thus, the situation is not so simply this: There are many occupations, many avocations, and many tasks that need “doing”. However, the rewards given to the doers of said tasks are astronomically diverse and in many cases, wholly out of balance with the criticality, the corporate need, or the value of the same to the community for whom it is performed.
If the singular goal of holding down a well paying job were to earn a living, then the matter of job satisfaction would be of little consequence. If the goal of earning a living were simply to provide shelter, food, and safety, for ones family, job satisfaction would likewise be little more than a distraction. What concern was it, after all, to the cave woman, that her man enjoyed risking his life day after day, to provide for his family? The man could choose to enjoy his work, or not, but the result was the same: he provided for his family, or died trying.
Somewhere in the course of human evolution (probably in the last few centuries), job satisfaction achieved a level of importance unimagined “in the beginning”. I rather suspect it is here to stay.
Few of us are at risk of death, these days, trying to provide for our families. However, the disparity that exists between those who do what they do because the enjoy doing it, versus those who do what they do because it is perhaps the only thing they can do, is a very real, and yet, a seemingly inconspicuous truism.
At this point, I should like to reveal to the masses my personal application of the type of job satisfaction I’ve been discussing.
When I was growing up, “projects” were fun things that took ungodly amounts of time to complete, like stringing wire down a 1400 ft. long driveway so that one could setup a transistor based communication link, building a woodcraft creation, or taking a census of the trees on our 20 some odd acres of property.
As I grew older, I soon realized I was only interested in pursuing long-term projects that had a tangible, visible, or otherwise noteworthy outcome (who doesn’t, I suppose?). This sort of work ethic became more concentrated in college when it became clear that there were certain types of things I was drawn to doing, and other types of things I had just as well better steer clear of.
I began my college career in the Computer Science Department at the University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio, with a major in Computer Science. No one in my family had ever considered a career in computers; but a short jaunt with them in the final days of high school, as well as an affinity for programming a hand held Texas Instruments calculator (with “constant memory”!) led me in that direction. However, at about the end of my sophomore year, it became clear that this was way too complex a field to be chasing after. Rather than having to struggle through numerical analysis, differential equations, and other similarly charged curricula, I switched majors to Data Processing (which later became Systems Analysis) and embarked on a Religious Studies minor, concentrating in Liturgy, Catholic Doctrines, and the like.
This was way less challenging mathematically, and as my grades rebounded, so did my general academic spirit.
As “computers” was (and is still) a fairly diverse field, I didn’t have a clue what I really wanted to do, until I had completed several terms as a co-operative education student, working every other semester as a “co-op student” while attending classes the rest of the time.
Over the course of four terms working with the information systems department at the corporate general offices in Middletown, Ohio, of what was then Armco Steel Company, I learned that I was not destined to be a programmer. This was a time consuming and very tedious way of life, if you asked me, progress of which was marked in the weekly or monthly completion of vaguely useful “modules” of code whose purpose it was to do this, that, or something else altogether different. It was like taking weeks to build one drawer of a cabinet, only after which, you realized, you had perhaps seven more drawers yet to build… different in every way from the first, save for the name.
Only after all the modules were complete, could you sit back and admire the project as a whole, unless, of course, you were too busy getting ready for the next drawer in yet another cabinet.
The point being, that while there is stability and familiarity in knowing precisely what is expected of you from day to day, there is little creative spontaneity that can result in unexpected twists and turns, or dashes of spice here and there to break up the monotony. Thus did I come to understand that for me, such work was not to be pursued, and was best left to those who were actually better programmed for such things. [And very thankfully for the rest of us, there are many who are better programmed for such things as these!]
Eventually, then, I discovered a role as an “administrator”, “problem solver”, or “system manager”. In this line of work, you spend your day juggling several things all at once: (1) monitoring and maintaining the proper operation of some system, machine, or other inanimate process, (2) fielding and hopefully, resolving problems, issues, or new “system” requests, as they arrive at your door, and (3) providing guidance or other consultative assistance (whether solicited or not).
Attending to these tasks involves a measure of time management in some cases, but in other cases, it requires a sound creative and autonomous compass, which must some how be aligned with the aforementioned tasks, so as not to arouse the suspicion of “management”; for management sometimes does not fully understand the nature of this work, performance for which you are nevertheless, compensated.
In my adult life, this is not to say that I do not enjoy pursuing more homogenized long-term tasks from time to time. It is only that such tasks usually must involve domestic efforts, with a clear artistic, practical, or otherwise similarly domestic product, such as the laying of ceramic tile, the painting of rooms, the splitting of wood, or other such chores that need to be done (because in part, the alternative of hiring someone to do them is prohibitively expensive).
It is fine to state that “… all men [were] created equal”. Unfortunately, nearly every method used to value such men is a very unequal process indeed. Is the grounds keeper valued as highly as is a physician? Or a plumber as valued as a professionally paid athlete? Of course, being created equal has rarely had a bearing on ones living conditions being equal, or ones earnings being equal, or a host of other real world valuations that, well, are not equal. For example, the capricious tendency to reward employees based on uniqueness of role rather than practical need is a cornerstone of our capitalistic society, and such rewards are specifically not dished out with equality.
In an essay such as this, one must be careful to identify the components of equality that may be successfully wrangled about. Equality of pay, equality of job satisfaction, equality of wealth, and equality of respect, are all well and good, but unfortunately, they are too diverse to be wielded by any one champion.
Consider the following axioms:
- Those at the bottom of the earnings ladder, have the least impact on the distribution of equality, while those at the top have the most impact.
- Those at the bottom of the earnings ladder are most in need of the fruits of equality, while those at the top are the least in need (though they doubtless have the best equipment to pick the “fruit”).
Alas, how does one get to the top of the ladder in the first place? That is indeed a primal question. It is of course an accident of birth that one finds his or herself in a certain station in life. When, in recent memory, was this not the case? This is not to say that hard work in an opportune society cannot yield a fruitful harvest; I am simply suggesting that it is far easier to climb the ladder of prosperity, if one finds his self at one of the upper most rungs as an accident of birth.
Therefore, just as there will always be individuals born to wealthy families, there will continue to be less fortunate members of the society born to less wealthy, or even destitute families.
Efforts to somehow correct this disparity directly by governmental mandate, program, or other device, thwarts the very nature of the human experience, no matter how “Just” it may seem (or be). Though ever more successful in functioning societies, mankind nevertheless cannot be hindered by the shackles of forced equality of wealth. Such efforts inevitably wind up with a demoralized upper class, and a thankless lower class which expects everything to be handed to it on a silver platter.
Likewise, fame and fortune are not necessarily intertwined, for famous people aren’t always wealthy people, and wealthy people aren’t always famous.
Notoriety, therefore, is a poor judge of net worth.
In the final analysis of this situation, I would propose that in a society such as ours, where resources are generally plentiful, it is not the distribution of resources over which the populace is concerned, but rather the distribution of monetary wealth.
Unfortunately, those who work solely because they must, generally work at less highly paying jobs than those who have more opportunities for gainful employment. And whether or not the reader is a God fearing person or not, may determine the extent to which such plight or circumstance is deemed part of the greater Plan or not. In the end, the best solution to these thorny concerns may well be this:
No matter how mundane, arduous, or laborious ones life’s work is, there is always a worse job or a person making less money, or living less well off, than you do. Such knowledge is intended to “set one free”. In other words, if you are the trash man, you have only to consider the innumerable jobs that are far worse…and to ultimately be glad of your station in life.
 This may well be numbered among the more politically incorrect essays ever written.
Marriage and the Church
This essay is a reflection on same sex marriage and the Church, a topic that has been gaining popularity and notoriety in the United States in recent years.
To begin, I wish to suggest that marriage was originally a sacramental event, be it Christian, pagan, or whichever, but “holy” in its origin, nevertheless.
Since the time mankind first began to ask the gods for marital blessings it has been assumed that the currently surviving world religions would continue the tradition.
Once the “state” became involved, however, they needed some means to recognize co-habitant status, and adopting the status of “married” was an easy way out.
Thus, the “state” (no doubt to the chagrin of the religious establishment), decided to license those who could perform marriage ceremonies, regardless though they be clergy, rabbi, or justice of the peace.
Thus we have perhaps the most obvious example of the inseparability of church and state that ever there was. The religious establishment created marriage as a sacramental undertaking, only to have the legal establishment subsequently secularize it as a means to be classified as a member of the “married” state (as opposed to “single”, “separated”, “divorced”, “widow”, or “widower”). This is of course important for tax reporting, wills, and other legal artifacts of our otherwise advanced civil system.
The problem with this arrangement, however, is that it precludes the simple recognition of unions at a civil level, between two people (however said union should be defined at a given time and place) that are contrary to the mainstream religious groups who claim to seek to preserve the time honored tradition of what marriage must (in their minds), always be.
Beyond this rather basic observation, we must now take note that many in the religious “right” would like to make it a law that only those couples who meet certain criteria, may be blessed with the sacrament of marriage; thereby depriving any who do not meet those criteria, not only from the graces of the Church, but also of any legal status of union whatsoever.
This appears to me to be a rather nasty predicament indeed, unless, of course, you happen to be numbered among the arguably dwindling majority. For here we have yet another law, designed to protect the adherents of one belief system (albeit a majority), from the alleged onslaught by the minority.
If we consider for a moment, the fact that many, if not most laws are designed to protect the well being of the citizens of a given community, state, or country, one could argue that laws best serve the same, whenever they are designed to punish those who stray from the democratically agreed upon will of the majority. Thus we see laws against theft, murder, drug dealing, etc., purportedly to advance the cause of the “good-doers” and stifle the perpetration of offenses by the “evil-doers”. In other words, “good” behavior is clearly favored by such laws, and “bad” behavior is, essentially, punished.
The important end result of such laws being to reduce the incidence of bad behavior, and to encourage the incidence of good behavior.
Contrary to this practice, however, some laws exist solely to grant favorable status to certain segments of society, by withholding important privileges on the grounds that these errant “few” (same sex couples being the prime example) are not playing by the “rules” of the majority.
This is not to say, of course, that such people are committing any legal offense. But, amazingly, the laws and traditions that restrict civil recognition of marriage as being inseparable from the time honored prescriptions of the same in the religious realm serve only to perpetuate a religious belief that such miscreants are morally depraved or otherwise living in sin. Such an observation is a wholly religious one, because it is based on the widely accepted religious belief that homosexual unions are inherently wrong and socially aberrant.
Stated more emphatically (and in contrast to laws that seek to punish legally illicit behavior), such statutes will never (regardless of the intention) bring about a behavioral change, since the couples seeking to marry in a same sex fashion, are generally sexually oriented the way they are for a good reason, and no law is going to change the reason. They do not see their condition as being sinful, aberrant or morally degenerate. And since they do not intend to change their behavior in order to appease the so-called religious moral right, legislation which deprives them of their civil rights to marry is inherently discriminatory.
Lawmakers who claim that such unions are “bad” for society (even in a non-religious sense) are simply derivations made by those who cannot find the will to extricate the argument from its religious roots.
Thus, while homosexuality is gaining widespread tolerance in most advanced civilizations at the secular level, there is tremendous inertial drag, it seems, in the religious realm, due to the preponderance of rules and precepts that traditionally label it as wrong and sinful.
Nevertheless, because the state and its laws do not find homosexual relationships illegal (at least in most western nations), we have a curious situation where the civil jurisprudence establishment cannot grant a civil marriage license to homosexual couples, on the grounds, apparently, that such unions are sinful (as democratically espoused by our religion biased legislatures).
Or am I missing something here, somewhere?
Ah, but you say, “… a majority of voting Americans and the politicians they elect are in favor of protecting marriage, by preserving it exclusively as a union between a man and a woman.”
Alas, therein lies the rub, for you see, as long as the majority rules, the majority can and does write the rules.
And, until the voting majority realizes that protecting marriage is a red herring, that same sex couples are simply trying to claim their rights as citizens of a country governed by the rules of the state, and not by the rules of a church or religious group, or until the same group of well intentioned do-gooders realize that marriage is not an institution that needs protection in the first place, same sex marriage will be at the mercy of the religious right.
Therefore, my suggestion to same sex marriage proponents world-wide is to attempt to hack away at the religious bias that causes the label of “sinful” or “wrong” to be applied to their cause in the first place. [“Accepting the person, while condemning the action” will not suffice in this instance, I’m afraid.] The sooner such attitudes retreat into obscurity, the sooner the followers of these same religious institutions, many of whom, no doubt, are politicians, will be free to make sound decisions on the matter, in the legal, not the religious realm. Meanwhile, of course, much ado has been made regarding judges who, some claim, are thwarting the will of the voting public. Thus, a comment about the disparaging nature of “activist judges” is in order here.
Many proponents of banning same sex marriage argue that a constitutional amendment is necessary to control the efforts of so called activist judges, who seek to usurp the legislative and democratic will of the people, by ruling in favor of same sex case work.
One observation that comes immediately to mind is simply this: given the religious imperatives politicians choose to endure to not establish a separation between the church and state views of the issue, one can easily argue that judges are the only component of the government free enough to act on the simple merits of the same. In other words, it should not be surprising that the judicial system has generally been kind to gays seeking marriage, since judges are not bound by the same political pressures to tow the line of the perhaps misguided religious majority.
Finally, one could argue that rules and laws that seek to preserve a status quo are wonderfully conducive to preserving a certain view of the world, be it that marriage should be between a man and a woman, or that prayer is not permitted in government run schools, or other related and equally controversial issues. In fact, one could argue that as long as the people who must submit to such laws generally agree with such laws, there is effectively no problem. The difficulty enters the picture only when a vocal minority arrives on the scene, which judges such laws to be counter to their (albeit less common) way of life, thinking, or principle. For, as we have already observed, disobeying such laws does not imply one is a “criminal”.
Society then needs to think long and hard about whether such proposed laws are defending an important institution (marriage, for instance) from some tangible enemy, or whether, instead, such proposed laws would only serve to preserve a certain life style or moral prerogative, based legitimately or otherwise, on religious conscience and principles – a position that does seem at odds with the present day doctrine of separation of Church and State.
I wish to conclude with a few more practical suggestions as the controversy ensues. The earlier suggestion of trying to change the religious right into adopting a more tolerant view of same sex anything, let alone marital unions, is made in typical left-leaning liberal fashion, of righting perceived social wrongs. Gays who seek to achieve true “marital” status, though well intentioned, are, in my opinion, barking up the wrong tree of equality.
Because the cold reality of the matter is that persuading the religious establishment to cease their protection of marriage from the gay onslaught may take decades or centuries, should it ever happen at all. Therefore, I would suggest a perhaps more “republican” approach, which would be to modify the law in such a fashion, as to secure a complete separation of church and state on the matter.
For you see, as I observed in the opening paragraphs, matrimony, marriage, nuptials, and related forms of socially recognized unions (that use an “M” or “N” word) are singularly religious events in most cases (marriages by justices of the peace, ship captains, or other civil magistrates excepted).
I firmly believe that it was essentially misguided for the state to usurp the term “marriage” as a means of codifying the status of two individuals forming a single household for tax, medical, insurance, and other secular purposes, in the first place. Though I’m sure it seemed sensible at the time.
If ever there was a reason to have a loosely parallel, but distinctly unique legal status to describe such unions, it is now.
Contrary to my more left-leaning gay marriage co-conspirators, I would never suggest that churches be forced into accepting the legitimacy of “marital” unions they would not, or could not, otherwise abide. (Shall we revoke their tax-free status or what?) A given Church will or will not recognize a union of two people as being valid based on their own rules, regulations, or, in the case of the Catholic Church, Canon Law.
If the Catholic Church will not [even] recognize the [non-Catholic] marriage of a man and a woman if (a) one (or both) were legally divorced, (b) at least one in the original marriage was a baptized Christian, and (c) an annulment of the marriage is not granted (or pursued), this does not mean that the couple may not marry! They simply cannot be married in the Catholic Church. But from a legal perspective, the couple can pursue marriage through any other Church that will permit the marriage, or, by any official licensed by the state to certify such unions.
As this is the case, then why shouldn’t a same sex couple be able to pursue the same legal marital status, even though, perhaps, no church would recognize the marriage?
No wait! … I can answer that: because the term marriage defines a state of marital union that is presently governed by the religions of the world (or by politicians who are committed to preserving it as such). Unless and until the State has its own legal term to describe otherwise “marital” unions of two people, be they the same gender or not, there will never be a clear road to satisfy the needs of same sex couples pursuing the same legal rights and protection afforded their heterosexual brethren.
Therefore, the simplest immediate solution is to reclassify at the federal level if necessary, “civil unions” as the legal equivalent to being “married” and be done with it. A “divorce”, therefore, would legally dissolve the union. If a Church wishes to recognize the divorce (or the union, for that matter), that would be their prerogative, of course.
There will doubtless be complications and legal battles to defend/wage, as to how a state recognized civil union will be dispensed. Will ministers of religious bodies be licensed to dispense certificates of civil unions or will only a public official (judge, etc.) be able to issue the certificate? If desired, the couple could subsequently be “married” by a church or synagogue willing to recognize the union, thereby bestowing the traditional blessings of the Church upon the couple.
More fall out remains to be explored. Legal bans (existing or in progress) on gay marriage would have to be instantly deemed null and void, in as much as the term marriage would no longer be a recognized legal term describing wedded unions.
Be assured, however, that there can be no status quo: either laws need to be enacted that would make gay unions illegal because gay activity is illegal, or laws need to be enacted to legalize unions of two individuals on the basis of their civil commitments to each other, without regard to the religious implications gay unions seem to arouse.
Pursuing such ends will mean a major change to the tradition of uniting two individuals in wedlock. But I submit that righting a wrong at the civil level is far simpler than changing the definition of marriage, a term that has been used for millennia. That is a task that may well prove impossible.
Nowhere Near Only One
- being a short story by John Edelmann
This is a tale that began during a dream. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just pick up on the story line, say, on a road trip with a marching band…
… There were busses and more busses (nowhere near only one), waiting to carry a large number of band members. We were herded onto the busses and we were off.
While I must admit that I wasn’t sure of the destination when the trip began, I soon noticed that this was to be a very peculiar trip indeed. Very early on, I observed that a portion of the band members were on a boat and subsequently, these same members had taken to rubber rafts akin to those used for white water rafting. I believe a few of the band members never quite survived that part of the trip.
Eventually, all this resolved itself to a great number of busses traveling through the most unlikely terrain: at first, there was a blinding fog that melted into an endless display of dotted pine trees – as far as the eye could see. Not quite a forest, after all, but rather, discrete little pine tree events, nowhere near only one, but numbering upwards in the direction of infinity.
A short while later, the scene evolved into a barren wasteland – a wintry scene, in fact. This, I was told, was the result of our northerly direction of travel.
Eventually, we arrived in a great city, set on a number of hills; I was told we were in Indiana. We arrived in this busy place during a parade, so travel was unbelievably hampered to say the least.
Now, mind you, I didn’t consider the incongruity of being in a hilly city in northern Indiana, but I was told we were on our way to Texarkana and that we should stay together as we traversed this morass of a city, else we might get lost.
Understanding coerced through bombardment of complexity, would be what I call it.
Best intentions notwithstanding, I quickly found myself on foot, with a few others, struggling to keep up with the racing busses, but it was to no avail. I soon found myself hopelessly lost, amidst countless buildings filled with stairs up and stairs down, some with doors locked and some with no doors at all. Once, I was out on the street again, and happened to glimpse one other member of our once prodigious group. She called to me, but in time, she vanished as well. She was the last one I was to see.
I was going about my un-merry way, searching up and searching down, for a way out of my predicament, when I found myself descending a great number of stone steps through an occasional wooden door. Hearing each door latch as I progressed downward, I thought nothing of it. The downward trek ended at a dark gray stone window, about a foot wide, and maybe 5 feet tall, partially covered with a flimsy wooden shutter (and in the distance, I heard an alarm sound). I cast the shutter aside, and noted with not a little trepidation, that I was looking out onto a gutter of thousands of forgotten and poor old men in dark gray dingy apparel, sitting at thousands of weathered tables, under a great highway overpass, some 30 feet below.
All at once there began a tremor of earthy laughter which wafted upwards. In disgust and dismay, I quickly realized they were laughing at me, inconspicuous though I thought I be.
I spun around and attempted to exit from this stone aerie, when I received the next shock of this little tale: the door I had used to enter this place was locked -- I seemingly had nowhere to run – other than the windowed opening to the area below. There was exactly only one exit.
Would that there might have been nowhere near only one.
With mounting fear, I turned back to the grim sight that unfolded before me below, and caught sight of a small passage that permitted descent from the window ledge.
The intimidating sounds coming from the doting old fools below nearly drove me mad, but I pressed on, and soon found myself thankfully out of their view.
I was finally back on solid ground, but it was a most inhospitable place, this refuge. I was among dirty hills – perhaps it was the remnants of an old mining camp.
As I cast about for some sign, some evidence of familiarity in this desolate place, I realized I was not going to find my way back to the other members of the band, and was resolutely lost.
Since what happened after that wouldn’t have mattered very much, I guess I woke up.
I had over slept by about twenty minutes.
Once upon a midsummer’s morn,
When the sky was pale,
The birds forlorn;
Quite along while ago, I guess,
Whence came the bees and watercress;
I saw my true love by the shore of the sea.
She said, "Come here, and sit down by me."
What happened then, I don’t quite remember.
Time stood still. ‘Twas now December.
The sky was gray, no birds anymore;
"Where did you go? My love by the shore?"
"One minute you’re there. The next, where O where?"
"My princess of Gold, my young love, so fair?"
I went back to that spot; yes, day after day.
"Surely," said I, "that’s where she lay."
Then bowing my head, with her tear in my eye,
I’d pray: "Please midsummer’s Morn, come back ‘fore I die!"
The Little Boy and His Magical Lamb
Once upon a time, in a land not too far away, in an age not long ago, there lived a mean and ferocious king, who ruled a great big castle on the shores of the river, Peel-the-Bark. The castle was likewise known as Castle Peel-the-Bark, and was a curse to all who mentioned it, because of the evil king.
It is very important to understand that the king’s kingdom was very infamous for creating ugly and most dreadful looking woolens; and for raising the very worst in vegetables and beef. This was because the king was of a very treacherous sort and would not let the animals and the farmers do what they knew best.
And so it happened, that the years went by, and the plight of the kingdom steadily worsened.
Finally, one cold autumn day, when things were just about finished being harvested, the king caught a cold. He became very sick, and so the people of the kingdom, the animals, the sheep, the cattle alike, all rejoiced greatly. For at long last, they would be able to do as they wished; harvest and shear as only they knew how.
But the king’s illness worsened, and so, just as the monarch of the little country was getting sicker and sicker, so too the kingdom itself got sick. The wool would not shear, the cattle would not be butchered; the corn and green beans would not stay in the harvest bins. The problem was not noticed by many, at first, but suddenly, it dawned on them, that because their king was sick, the land would be sick as well.
"O Woe with us!" they all lamented. "What can we do? Our king is sick, and we have no Dr. Wizard (the king had driven the wizard away, because they couldn’t get along at Chess) to cure the king."
Well, it came to past, that a little boy, whose parents were enslaved by the mean old king (they cleaned the dungeon) had raised a little lamb all by himself, and had kept him from the clutches of the king’s evil shepherd. This had been no easy task, but the little boy had succeeded, and when the lamb was a year old, something strange had happened. First, the sheep began to talk. Now this did not surprise the little boy, because he was too young to know that sheep aren’t supposed to talk.
Then, the little boy noticed that the lamb had magical powers, and the he could cure colds!
"Oh Boy!", he thought, "I could take my lamb to the king and we could cure him, we could!"
And so he did. Take the lamb to the king, he did, that is.
Now the trip to the castle was one that took the boy (who was 12 now) a very long time to make. However, unknown to the boy, at this time, on the other side of the kingdom, the king’s evil shepherd was ravaging the country side scarfing vegetables here and there and capturing lambs and cows for the king.
And so it came to past, that just as the little boy was nearing the castle, he was captured by the evil shepherd, and his lamb bound with tight oily twine.
Now this was most unfortunate, for everyone. The boy yelled and screamed, as little boys do best, but to no avail. The evil shepherd was not about to listen to stories of "magic" lambs and curing colds and all that.
But the king’s condition grew worse.
Then one day, when the air was calm, and the kingdom restless with anxiety, the shepherd brought the boy and his lamb, bound before the bedridden king.
The king looked up wearily at the shepherd and said, "What is it you want?" and the shepherd joked, "here is a little boy, and his "magical" (he chuckled) lamb."
"What is the boy’s name?" asked the king.
"Bobkins, boy Bobkins, your majesty", replied the boy nervously.
"Bobkins? Did you say boy?" inquired the king. "Isn’t that the name of my dungeon keepers, my slaves? " (He laughed.) Now you see, the boy had not known this, for his parents were taken long before he could have remembered. News of his long lost parents shook his resolve, and a tear appeared in his eye.
"I enslaved your parents, and you come to cure me with that vile "magical" lamb?", continued the king. "You would jest with your king? You would make a fool of me? Yes, of course you would." The king was decidedly against all this, and especially was he against the boy, who he knew he could not trust.
"Shall I kill the lamb for your dinner this night?" inquired the evil shepherd
"Yes, of course, and do it now, while we can all watch in sport and fun," returned the king.
"Very well," said the shepherd, and he grasped the lamb by the neck and proceeded to, well, kill the lamb. There was agony in its cry, and the boy could bear it no longer. But as the lamb fell, finally at peace, the king suddenly exclaimed, stricken as never before.
By this time, several villagers and nobles had filed into the king’s grand bedroom, for this was no everyday event – killing a lamb for sport in the royal bed chambers. And now, all those gathered were observing a most terrible scene. The lamb was all dead and bloody, the king was gasping for his life, and little boy Bobkins was kneeling at the foot of his now motionless lamb. The shepherd was turning deathly pale as well.
Suddenly, from amongst the gathered crowd, an old lady’s voice broke the thick calm:
"What ye be about, there, Shepherd?" she sneered. "Don’t ye ken that he who sheds the blood of the Magic Lamb, will he, himself, be slain? Ken ye no? What a frightful mess ye made here on hi’ majesty’s flo' ". And with that, she shut her mouth and shambled off.
And now, as quick as he had been to jest, the evil shepherd fell to his knees, beside the boy, begging forgiveness. It was a touching scene. But then, both the king and shepherd died.
After a time, the land healed; the boy and his parents were reunited upon the king's death, and they lived happily ever after. Never again, though, did a magical lamb grace the land. The time for such beings was over, after all.