Chanticleer #16

I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up. 

Henry David Thoreau


May 14, 2000

Perspectives from a Parfait Sunset

A few weeks ago I took an evening flight to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Flying due north, seated in the left window seat, I noticed an unusual cloud formation. As much as I’ve flown – as both an Air Force navigator and a civilian business/vacation traveler – I’ve never looked down on a cloud formation that included such depth variation. It looked like a cumulus version of the Grand Canyon – a solid deck abeam the plane, then ahead a clearly defined ‘canyon’ of lower level clouds, and then ahead of that a higher flat plateau. I wondered how many people had ever experienced this perspective of a cloud formation.

I peered down the cloud ‘canyon’ and followed it west until I noticed, almost as an afterthought, one of the most amazing setting suns I’ve ever seen. The sun appeared half-sunk into a lower cloud deck, with the top half striated by two narrow strips of clouds, each reflecting a different shade of orangeyellowishpink. Above, a band of brilliant azure blue sky separated the layers of the lower clouds from the whispy strands of high cirrus clouds, each of which reflected unique shades of rosepinkorange.

Having nothing better to do, I watched this seven-layer “parfait sunset” for miles. As the airplane flew north at about 400 miles an hour, and the sun ‘set’ (or so it appeared) at the rate of the earth’s 24-hour rotation, and the clouds drifted according to the whims of the winds, I thought about how rapidly this scene changed before my eyes.

And I considered several aspects regarding “perspective” … Until about 70 years ago when pressurized cabins allowed airplanes to fly at altitude, it would’ve been impossible for another human to see a sunset from the perspective I had – watching the sun sink into an ‘earth’ of clouds. Certainly, the phenomenon has occurred millions of times, but only recently have humans been able to observe it. Until airplanes, humans could only observe clouds from the perspective of below.

(Except, I suppose, a few people on perhaps some very high mountain peaks.)

‘Everything’ that comprised my unique-to-me ‘perspective’ – the clouds, the sun, the airplane, my own eyes – changed every second, from moment to moment. Nothing did not change. Even though we now have jet airplanes, Mars probes, MRIs, and micron microscopes, I suspect that we have not discovered all possible perspectives – we will probably yet discover new ways, new means, and new approaches to look at, listen to, and feel what goes on around us.

Perhaps we will soon acquire new perspectives with respect to cancer, AIDS, the weather, nuclear waste, nearsightedness, hunger, homosexuality, aging, and how the brain works. It’s easy for us/me to look back on our/my forebears with educated arrogance: “Duh! People, like, what sense does a flat earth make?” I wonder how many of us consider what we’re doing-thinking-believing today, from our Year 2000 perspectives, that will make our future descendants feel equally, and justifiably, humility-challenged?


1. “Right to be mad”

My daughter and her mother Cheryl have been planning a trip to the Florida beaches right after school is out. They planned to go with one of Stacy’s best friends and her mother. A few days ago, the other mother informed Cheryl that she and her daughter, due to some circumstances which my daughter and her mother felt should’ve been foreseen, couldn’t go.

As she told me this, much of her immediate anger had subsided. But by the time she finished, she had worked herself into something of a lather – “Don’t we have a right to be mad?”

After giving it some thought, I offered this: “Okay, let’s say that you were justified to be mad. But what right does that give you? Does that give you the right to be mad at her forever? To hit her? To never speak to her again? What good does the right to be mad do you?

Her patience exhausted, my daughter replied with one of those disapproving “not again!” head shakes, then “Dad, don’t go doing that general semantics on me …

2. “She hurt my feelings”

S: She (a friend) said something mean and hurt my feelings.

Dad: What did she say?

S: I don’t want to get into it. It was just something mean.

Dad: Did anybody else hear what she said?

S: (puzzled, not amused, and implicitly asking, “What difference does it make?”) Yeah, Amanda. So what?

Dad: Were Amanda’s feelings hurt?

S: (puzzled, not amused, and implicitly asking, “Whayyyy ……..?”) No! It wasn’t directed at her!

Dad: (persevering) So your friend said some words, and those words hurt your feelings, but they didn’t hurt Amanda’s?

S: Yes. That’s what I said. (huge sigh) Why are you doing this to me?

Dad: Because, I’m just trying to point out that what your friend did was not hurt your feelings. She just said something, said some words, and to you those words meant something that you call “hurt”, but those same words, spoken at the time, didn’t cause Amanda the same “hurt”. I’m just pointing out where the “hurt” came from – it came from you.

S: (looking for the waiter) Why do you have to keep doing that general semantics to me?

Dad: I think this is a good example of how we generate meanings from things. Can I write about this in my newsletter?”

S: (losing it) “I don’t care! Just don’t make me sound stupid, okay? Why don’t you write something good? (Perking up) Why don’t you write something about Hanson’s new CD?

3. Hanson’s New CD

If you haven’t heard of the three-teen-brother-band from Tulsa named “Hanson”, then you probably don’t parent or know any pre-teen/teenaged girls. Hanson hit the charts two years ago with “Mmmbop” and became ‘stars’ to the point of appearing as musical guests on “Saturday Night Live” and acting in a skit as themselves.

My daughter has continued to loudly and proudly hail their genius, even though they’ve more or less dropped out of the limelight in the past 18 months.

That all changed May 9th, when they released their second CD, “This Time Around.” She planned her whole week around getting the CD the day it became available. That night, she called me.

“Dad, you’ve GOT to get it! It’s so GREATTTT!”

I had heard the title track, which features guitar work by Jonny Lang, and liked it, so I went and bought the CD. (Such is the price of parental appeasement after doing all that general semantics to her.)

After I had listened to it (actually, while I was listening to it, since she couldn’t wait to hear my certain effusive praise), she squealed, “So what did you think? Don’t you just love it?”

I replied honestly that I liked it. “But (you knew there had to be a big “but” coming sometime), honestly I think I’m about ready for Taylor (the middle heart throb, same age as Stacy) to start singing decipherable lyrics instead of that straining thing.”

“Dad, that’s his style! And all you have to do is read the words in the booklet while you listen to it once, and then you can understand them.”

I elected to not point out how this reflected a good example of what’s known as projection, since I didn’t want to risk dampening that infatuated enthusiasm by doing any more general semantics to her.

Postscript: Prior to publishing this, I read the above to her to make sure I wasn’t running afoul of any sensibilities. She tolerated it as I read, pointed out a couple of corrections, and then pleaded, “But aren’t you going to say how great the new CD is?”

He who rules out symbols, rules us. – Alfred Korzybski

Symbols and Meanings

It looks like the South Carolina State Legislature has voted to take down the Confederate battle flag that has flown over the state capitol since 1962. George Dubya Bush, I’m sure, is much relieved. (Read Chanticleer’s earlier position on this topic.)

However, while speaking of all things “confederate” … today’s Dallas Morning News front page informs us that now the Confederate Air Force is coming under pressure to change its name.

(Note to younger readers: As far as I know, the Civil War/War Between the States included metal-clad ships, crude submarines and observation ballons, but there were no airplanes in the Civil War/War Between the States.)

The Confederate Air Force was organized in 1951 to “preserve and display World War II aircraft and aviation artifacts.” The organization includes more than 8,000 members in 70 chapters around the world, and owns over 130 vintage aircraft.

Thanks to the South Carolina flag dispute and other minor skirmishes involving the Confederate flag, the Confederate Air Force now finds that airshow bookings and corporate sponsorships are declining. An airline pilot who flies CAF acrobatic aircraft on the weekends, says, “If we don’t get the word Confederate out of our name, the Confederate Air Force won’t survive.”

A longtime CAF member says, “I don’t think we should bend over backward to appease people who don’t have anything better to complain about. One of the CAF’s airplanes is a German Heinkel that has a swastika painted on the tail. We fly it around because it’s part of history.”

A local businessman and stunt pilot demurs. “The Confederacy stuff was a good-old-boy joke that is now completely worn out.”

John White, a spokeman for the NAACP in Washington (oh, the irony), says that his organization does not “… have an overall policy against everything Confederate … We are concerned any time public money is used the display the Confederate flag on public grounds. We have no policy on whether somebody wants to hold a flag in a museum, or wear it on their clothing or display it on their airplanes. That’s not our beef.”

Which leads Chanticleer to ask, “Where is the beef?”