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Barry’s Gleanings: U.S. 2016 Election – Thoughts

While some people in the U.S. are celebrating the recent presidential election, many are not.  In the most recent edition of Utne magazine, Eric Utne provides good links to a variety of American voices in his article “Now What?”:

American Flag
Photo by Fotolia/photolink

“Let’s start with Ronnie Bennett who puts out a must-read blog on aging called Time Goes By. She writes:

…It is not so long ago that when someone in the family died, people mourned for a long time. Custom dictated that mirrors in the home be covered, social life curtailed and that the mourners wear black (widow’s weeds) for up to a year and even more in certain cases.

Everything is faster now and today that kind of mourning is obsolete, even considered morbid. Not me. Given what has just happened, I do not believe it is unreasonable at all.

Two things for sure. Like some people in the comments on Wednesday’s post told us, I am wearing black. Complete black, even earrings. Maybe not all the time, but a lot of the time to remind me every day what a terrible thing we as a country have done.

My attire will probably lighten up in time but I own a lot of black clothing so I’m giving it all a new kind of symbolism and meaning.

Second, never again will I say or write that man’s name.

Neither of these silly, little protests will change anything. But they will keep what has happened in the forefront of my mind and that will inform choices I make from now on.

Mostly, right now, I want to be quiet and to learn to breathe again. I don’t know when I will be done with that and unlike the go-getters, I think it is a good thing to do – to be quiet and reflect.

The there’s the Canadian journalist Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. She writes (

They will blame James Comey and the FBI. They will blame voter suppression and racism. They will blame Bernie or bust and misogyny. They will blame third parties and independent candidates. They will blame the corporate media for giving him the platform, social media for being a bullhorn, and WikiLeaks for airing the laundry. But this leaves out the force most responsible for creating the nightmare in which we now find ourselves: neoliberalism, fully embodied by Hillary Clinton and her machine… Trump’s message was: “All is hell.” Clinton answered: “All is well.” But it’s not well – far from it.

Charles Eisenstein, author of The More Beautiful World We Know in Our Hearts is Possible, ( writes:

For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress… The prison-industrial complex, the endless wars, the surveillance state, the pipelines, the nuclear weapons expansion were easier for liberals to swallow when they came with a dose of LGBTQ rights under an African-American President… As we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force… I would call it love if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector… So let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in the uncertainty together…

Rebecca Solnit, ( writes:

Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes—you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.

Ricken Patel, writes:

The darkness of Trumpism could help us build the most inspiring movement for human unity and progress the world has EVER seen, with a new, people-centered, high-integrity, inspiring politics that brings massive improvement to the status quo.

Michael Meade, ( writes:

Solstice means “sun stands still.” At mid-winter it means the sun stopping amidst a darkening world. We stop as the sun stops, the way one’s heart can stop in a crucial moment of fear or beauty; then begins again, but in an altered way… There may be no better time than the dark times we find ourselves in to rekindle the instinct for uniting together and expressing love, care and community.

Bill McKibben ( never fails to inform and inspire. He writes:

I wish I had some magic words to make the gobsmacked feeling go away. But I can tell you from experience that taking action, joining with others to protest, heals some of the sting. And throughout history, movements like ours have been the ones to create lasting change—not a single individual or president. That’s the work we’ll get back to, together.

And then there’s Dougald Hine (Crossed Lines,, co-founder of my favorite collapsarian website, Dark Mountain:

It’s not the apocalypse, of course, but if you thought the shape of history was meant to be an upward curve of progress, then this feels like the apocalypse… It reminds me of the conversations that sometimes happen in the last days of life, or on the evening of a funeral… There’s a chance of getting real… Donald Trump is a shadowy parody of a trickster, a toxic mimic of Loki. We don’t know the shape of the war that could be coming, nor how that war will end, and not only because we cannot see the future, but because it hasn’t happened yet: there is still more than one way all this could play out, though the possibilities likely range from bad to worse. Among the things that might be worth doing is to read some books from Germany in the 1920s and 30s, to get a better understanding of what Nazism looked like, before anyone could say for sure how the story would end… If someone were to ask me what kind of cause is sufficient to live for in dark times, the best answer I could give would be: to take responsibility for the survival of something that matters deeply. Whatever that is, your best action might then be to get it out of harm’s way, or to put yourself in harm’s way on its behalf, or anything else your sense of responsibility tells you. Some of those actions will be loud and public, others quiet, invisible, never to be known. They are beginning already. And though it is not the bravest form of action, and often takes place far from the frontline, I believe the work of sense-making is among the actions that are called for… This is where I intend to put a good part of my energy in the next while, to the question of what it means if the future is not coming back. How do we disentangle our thinking and our hopes from the cultural logic of progress? For that logic does not have enough room for loss, nor for the kind of deep rethinking that is called for when a culture is in crisis… I want to say that this is also history, though it doesn’t get written down so much: the small joys and gentlenesses, the fragments of peace, time spent caring for our children, or our parents, or our neighbours. These tasks alone are not enough to hold off the darkness, but they are one of the starting points, one of the models for what it means to take responsibility for the survival of things that matter deeply…. We’ll get through because we have to, the way we always have, one foot in front of another. Hold those you love tight. Be kind to strangers… There is work to be done.

Each of these thinkers and visionaries has a finger on the pulse of our times. If you’re not reading them, I urge you to do so. You won’t regret it.

Eric Utne is the founder of Utne Reader. He is writing a memoir, to be published by Random House.


Eric Utne from –

Image from –

You’ll find interesting readings – and ideas.  Aloha, Barry (and Renée)

Barry’s Gleanings: Planets, Planets . . .

“Science-fiction writers have been dreaming up alien planets for decades . . . [S]cience had to wait until 1992 for proof that such planets did exist .. . Thanks to a combination of ground-based telescopes and planet-hunting satellites, particularly one called Kepler, which was launched in 2009, more than 3,500 such worlds are known.


Image from:

Unlike their depiction in fiction, reasonably few are much like Earth . .. And almost all are far, far away . . . .


By April 2016, Kepler was about 100 million miles from Earth.

Image  from:

From 2017, though, that will change.  In December a successor to Kepler, called TESS (for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), will be launched into orbit.  It is designed to survey the entire sky, looking for the sorts of exoplanets that are of most interest to humans – ones that are small (like Earth), rocky (like Earth), and relatively close by . . . . The new satellite should spot about 3,000 planets.

In August 2016, scientists announced the discovery of an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, which, at 4.25 light-years away, is the closest star to the Sun.


Proxima-Centauri star – our closest star

Yuri Milner, a Russian billionaire and physicist . . . is already working with Stephen Hawking, a British theoretical physicist, on plans for a tiny, laser-propelled probe that could cover the distance in about 20 years”  (139).

From “Planets, planets everywhere” by Tim Cross in The Economist: The World in 2017. 

Our fiction and our scientific facts are changing  — and all most interesting.

Aloha, Barry (and Renée)

Gleanings from Bali: Passion Fruit

What healthy vine will roar around the garden like a train, lustily embracing any support that leads it closer to the sun?

Ibu Kat describes the local passion fruit in Bali that way.  I know and love passion fruit, liliko’i, from Hawaii.  You may know the intensely flavorful and usually a bit sour fruit as passion fruit or passionfruit, maracuya, granadille, maracujá or lilikoʻi.


Iiliko’i vine and fruit

In “A Passion for Passionfruit,” Ibu Kat provides great facts about this seemingly indestructible plant:

“Passiflora is one hardy plant.  Seedlings spring up from the compost bin, beside walls or wherever birds have dropped them.  Once they are established, they’re pretty much indestructible.  . .. Undeterred by monsoonal floods or torrid droughts, they just keep on climbing determinedly upwards.  I encourage them to grow up tall trees and one has now colonized the roof.  Literature states the vine can grow about 6 m  [over 19 feet] a year but in my experience, it’s more like 10cm [almost 4 inches] a day.

After a while – about a year, after you’ve forgotten about them and the vines have largely disappear in the tree canopies – the oval fruits will start to appear in the grass.

When ripe, the passion fruit releases itself from the mother plant and drops to earth; it picks itself.  Which is just as well considering the dizzying heights from which some of them are falling.  The larger ones sometimes crack upon impact with the earth.  A good wind or heavy rain can produce quite a harvest.  Ignored, the shell eventually rots away and the seeds will germinate where they landed to start the whole process over again.  But it’s much more fun to pick them up and take them home.


Drink the passion fruit juice or just spoon it out of the shell. You can eat the seeds too.

This particular variety has a very deep flavour and aroma, and a sweet/sour acidity that most Balinese don’t like. Wayan Manis wrinkles her nose and declares them ‘pahit’ [bitter].  But the juice makes a wonderful substitute for vinegar in salad dressings, introducing a distinctive fruity dimension to the proceedings.  A shot of juice is lovely in a glass of cold soda or tonic or just by itself, iced, on a hot day.  I’ve heard a rumour that a passion fruit daiquiri is very nice.  Passion fruit makes a lovely tangy preserve which goes well with cheese.

Of course you can just cut the top off like a boiled egg and eat the contents with a spoon, or pour the lot over yogurt.

It’s astonishing, really, that we seem to be the only species that eats it.  My garden is plagued by a family of squirrels. . . These rodents have destroyed every durian and coconut in my garden for years now, taking a single bite which spoils the fruit before moving on to the next.  But they won’t touch passion fruit.

Neither will the bats.  They help themselves to the papayas just at the moment of perfect ripeness, leaving the ragged remains of the fruit hanging sadly from the stem or slumped on the ground. . . . But they show no interest in the passion fruit even when I leave an open one around to tempt them.  . . .

So I’m the only one who thinks that passion fruit is a good idea, and it’s my job to keep up with the crop.  Since the vines can produce for up to five years it’s an ongoing exercise.  I collect them, scoop out the pulp, press it through a potato ricer and freeze the juice.  I give away scores of seedlings.  My compost is full of passion fruit shells.


Passion fruit species vary in color and taste; all those I’ve had were good.

The purple variety of passion fruit is thought to have originated in Paraguay, and being so conveniently packed in its own tough skin was easy for early European explorers and traders to disseminate around the world.  But the fruit is endemic in the tropics and subtropics of every continent except Africa.  Most species are found in South America, eastern Asia, southern Asia and New Guinea.  Nine separate species of Passiflora are native to the United States, at least four species are found in Australia and there is one endemic species in New Zealand.

Some interesting facts to keep up your sleeve for Quiz Night: many species of butterflies rely on passion fruit leaves.  The seeds yield about 23% oil similar in properties to sunflower and soya oil.  Different species are pollinated by hummingbirds, bumble bees. Carpenter bees, wasps or bats, while others are self-pollinating.  The flower was named by Spanish missionaries to South America as an expository aid while trying to convert the indigenous inhabitants to Christianity. [Spiky structures sticking out from the center of the flower  symbolize the crown of thorns; the ten petals represent the ten faithful apostles, the  three stigmata symbolize  the three nails, and the five anthers representing the five wounds.].


Passion fruit flower – beautiful and edible (but then you won’t get the delicious fruit)!

So next time someone congratulates you on your passion fruit vine you can tell them all about it.

Passion fruit is packed with vitamins and minerals.  One hundred grams of fruit contains about 30 mg of vitamin C, 1274 units of vitamin A, 348  mg of potassium along with significant amounts of iron copper, magnesium and phosphorus.

As with everything else, rarity adds value to a product.  If you live in the continental USA, one Californian fruit supplier will be happy to send you eight fruit for US $28 or Rp. 45,588 each.  That makes me feel pretty smug.  And no way will I be coming down with scurvy any time soon” (Bali Advertiser, 28 September -12 October, 2016, p. 31).


Ibu Kat’s book of stories Bali Daze – Free-fall off the Tourist Trail is available at Ganesha Books in Bali and on Kindle.  Watch for her new book, Retired and Rewired.



Passion fruit in Bali – rr photo

Here in Bali, the passion fruit we tried is more oval shaped and a bit sweeter than the kinds we have in Hawaii.

I hope you are able to enjoy tangy, healthy passion fruit wherever you are.


Our breakfast fruit plate at Agus Ayu Cottages; watermelon, papaya, pineapple, and passion fruit – yummy

Aloha, Renée

Images from <>.

Barry’s Gleanings: Your Aching Neck

Some people complain that in-person relationships are being strained because many people spend much time on their cell phones, iPads, computers, and other such screens.

Here is another reason to limit screen time (or at least do it consciously).

In her August 2016 column, “For Your Health: Text neck troubles,” Jane Langille, reports:

“Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, a Costco member and chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine, in Poughkeepsie, New York, wondered why a 30-year-old male patient still suffered from neck pain long after Hansraj had surgically repaired a herniated disk in his back.  The man was unable to return to work in spite of months of physical therapy.  As a follow-up exam, the source of his pain was crystal clear: He admitted to spending four hours a day playing Angry Birds on his iPad and showed his doctor how he looked down at the screen. . . ”

Click on the link below to see the rest of this article and tips to help prevent “text neck.”

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From page 68 of The Costco Connection, printed page 65:



Image from:

Please, sit up, sit up  – bring your devices to eye level – every time.

Be healthy.

Aloha, Barry & Renee

Skeleton image from: <;.

Barry’s Gleanings: Yoga Sutra – #33 for a serene mind

“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind retains its undisturbed calmness” – Sutra  [a rule or aphorism in Sanskrit literature] # 33 of Patanjali.

In the commentary on this Sutra, Sri Swami Satchidananda notes, “Whether you are interested in reaching samadhi [a superconscious state] or plan to ignore Yoga entirely, I would advise you to remember at least this one Sutra. It will be very helpful to you in keeping a peaceful mind in your daily life.  . . . try to follow this one  Sutra very well and you will see its efficacy.  . . . This Sutra became my guiding light to keep my mind serene always.” 

Patanjali says that there are four kinds of people: the happy people, unhappy people, the virtuous and the wicked.  “At any given moment, you can fit any person into one of these four categories.

  • A happy person.  Even four thousand years ago there must have been people who were not happy at seeing others happy.  It is still the same way.  Suppose somebody drives up in a big car, parks in front of her huge palatial home and gets out.  Some other people are standing on the pavement in the hot sun getting tired.  How many of those people will be happy?  Not many.  They will be saying, ‘See that big car?  She is sucking the blood of the laborers.’  We come across people like that; they are always jealous.  When a person gets a name, fame or high position, they try to criticize that person. ‘Oh, don’t you know, her brother is so-and-so; she must have pulled some strings somewhere.’  They will never admit that she might have gone up by her own merit.  By that jealousy, you will not disturb her, but you will disturb your own serenity.  She simply got out of the car and walked into the house, but you are burning up inside.  Instead, think, ‘Oh, such a fortunate person.  If everybody were like that how happy the world would be.  May God bless everybody to have such comfort.  I will also get that one day.’  Make that person your friend.  That response is missed in many cases, not only between individuals but even among nations.  When some nation is prospering, the neighboring country is jealous of it and wants to ruin its economy.  So we should always have the key of friendliness when we see happy people.”

Young and rich – be happy for her.

  • The unhappy person.  “Maybe he is suffering from previous bad karma, but we should have compassion.  If you can lend a helping hand, do it.  If you can share half of your loaf, share it.  Be merciful always.  By doing that, you will retain the peace and poise of your mind.  Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds.  Whether our mercy is going to help that person or not, by our own feeling of mercy, at least we are helped.”
  • The virtuous person.  “When you see a virtuous man [or woman], feel delighted.  ‘Oh, how great he is.  He must be my hero.  I should imitate his great qualities.’ Don’t envy him; don’t try to pull him down.  Appreciate the virtuous qualities in him and try to cultivate them in your own life.”                                                                                      We would do well to follow these examples:
  • The wicked.  “We come across wicked people sometimes.  We can’t deny that.  So what should be our attitude?  Indifference. ‘Well, some people are like that.   Probably I was like that yesterday.  Am I not a better person now?  She will probably be all right tomorrow.’  Don’t try to advise such people because wicked people seldom take advice. If you try to advise them you will lose your peace.

I still remember a small story from the Pancha Tantra [an ancient Indian collection of interrelated animal fables in verse and prose] which I was told as a small child.


The Pancha Tantra tales

One rainy day, a monkey was sitting on a tree branch getting completely drenched.  Right opposite on another branch of the same tree there was a small sparrow sitting in its hanging nest.  Normally a sparrow builds its nest on the edge of a branch so it can hang down and swing around gently in the breeze.  It has a nice cabin inside with an upper chamber, a reception room, a bedroom down below and even a delivery room if it is going to give birth to little ones.  Oh yes, you should see and admire a sparrow’s nest sometime.


Weaver bird nest

So, it was warm and cozy inside its nest and the sparrow just peeped out and, seeing the poor monkey, said, ‘Oh, my dear friend, I am so small; I don’t even have hands like you, only a small beak.  But with only that I built a nice house, expecting this rainy day.  Even if the rain continues for days and days, I will be warm inside.  I heard Darwin saying that you are the forefather of the human beings, so why don’t you use your brain?  Build a nice, small hut somewhere to protect yourself during the rain.’

You should have seen the face of that monkey.  It was terrible!  ‘Oh, you little devil!  How dare you try to advise me?  Because you are warm and cozy in your nest you are teasing me.  Wait, you will see where you are!’  The monkey proceeded to tear the nest to pieces, and the poor bird had to fly out and get drenched like the monkey.

This is a story I was told when I was quite young and I still remember it.  Sometimes we come across such monkeys, and if you advise them they take it as an insult.  They think you are proud of your position.  If you sense even a little of that tendency in somebody, stay away.  He or she will have to learn by experience.  By giving advice to such people, you will only lose your peace of mind. . . .

So have these four attitudes: friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference.  . . . Nothing in the world can upset you then.  Remember, our goal is to keep a serene mind” (p. 54-57).

from: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda

In this time of noisy political rhetoric, we would do well to remember Sutra #33.

Aloha, Renée


Barry’s Gleanings: Truths – Easter, Bernie, & Denied Justice

Saturday was the Democratic caucus in Hawaii.   The printout lists of registered voters were not up-to-date; the volunteers too few, and the lines to cast a single vote were ridiculously long.  At the Kihei polling place where I volunteered, some people waited three hours; some walked away.


At Lokelani Intermediate School in Kihei, HI – line to vote in the Democratic caucus – from The Maui News -3/27/2016

For the most part, people were wonderful; a Bernie supporter gave us cookies, people chatted with friends, some said it was like a party;  only a few yelled in frustration.  Many were first-time voters – young and old.  Some life-long Republicans said they were voting as Democrats for the first time.

Americans want change.  Many people are struggling, and we know it doesn’t have to be this way.   Bernie won in Hawaii, a historically union and Democratic state!  Thank you to all who came (and waited)  to vote their preference for the Democratic presidential candidate.

It’s now Sunday morning, Easter.  Birds are chirping as it gets light; Barry’s making coffee; later I’ll go to a Quaker service and then gather with family and friends at the beach.  We celebrate and remember Jesus.

IMG_1924 - Version 2

With John, Barry – and Nalu at Kama’ole Beach Park III – Easter Sunday

As we feel the Christian love of the season, and the hope of real change in the U.S., it’s troubling to know that laws still remain in the U.S. that deny justice to many.

One such law is called the Doctrine of Discovery.  It is based on official papal letters from the 15th century and a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, most notably Johnson v. M’Intosh in 1823.

“Three papal bulls make up the Doctrine of Discovery, which established the worldview that a certain group of people, Western Christendom, had moral sanction and the support of international law to invade and colonize the lands of non-Christian Peoples, to dominate them, take their possessions and resources, and enslave and kill them.

The doctrine blessed slave trade and genocide.  It yielded a body of international law known as the Law of Nations.  The U.S. embraced these doctrines, creating a constitutional framework for slavery and later segregation, and adapted the Law of Nations as Federal Indian Common Law.

Over the last 150 years, we have seen the repudiation of both slavery and segregation, and the U.S. Constitution has been amended.  Yet Federal Indian Common Law, devoid of human rights principles, remains intact.  It defines Indigenous people as a political entity, giving land titles to Congress and reducing Indigenous property rights to occupancy.  Enforcing concepts of plenary power and unfettered guardianship, rejecting the the relevance of “principles of abstract justice” or the “morality of the case,” it affords remedies to Indians as “a matter of grace, not because of legal liability,” as stated in the Marshall Trilogy, the foundation of federal Indian law.  The Doctrine of Discovery was most recently quoted in a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court Case, City of Sherrill, New York v. Oneida Nation:

Under the ‘doctrine of discovery…’fee title [ownership] to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign-first the discovering European nation and later the original states and the United States.


Great Bear, an Oneida dancer of peace

Today’s massive human rights violations against Indigenous people are the results of such applications of the Doctrine of Discovery.  Life expectancy for Native people in the U.S. is 48 to 52 years.  Unemployment rates in Indigenous communities run from 45 to 75 percent.  And incarceration rates and suicide rates are higher than in any other racial or ethnic group–as are rates of violence against and murder of Native women and the likelihood of being shot by law enforcement.  [Learn more at].

After examining this information, New England Yearly Meeting [Quakers] decided to embark on a multi-year journey of healing.  Their Meeting Minute of the Doctrine of Discovery states:

We as New England Yearly Meeting repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. We are beginning a journey to consider the moral and spiritual implications of how we benefit from and have been harmed by the doctrine as individuals and meetings . . . We need to learn more, find ways to seek forgiveness, and to ask how the Spirit might lead us . . . We encourage consultation with Indigenous Peoples to restore the health of ourselves and our planet.  We recognize that this is our work to do.  On this path, respectfully traveled in love, our goal is true healing. 

. . . It is not enough to apologize.  We must make amends.”

Excerpt from Quaker Action, “Beyond right relationships: A journey of healing,” Winter 2015, p. 16-17.  Full article at –

“When Indigenous peoples exercise self-determination, they come in conflict with governments and corporations that rely on the legal lineage of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery to assert claims on natural resources, such as coal, oil, uranium, natural gas, and water. This is one of many lasting effects of the doctrine today.”  From

In Hawaii too, we have a mainly unrecognized shame of the overthrow of the Hawaiian government.  On January 17, 1893, U.S. troops took part in a conspiracy led by a small group of wealthy, white businessmen and sugar plantation owners to overthrow the monarchy of Queen Lili’uokalani.


Queen Lili’uokalani – last Hawaiian monarch


Businessmen behind the overthrow of the Hawaiian government

Most Hawaiians opposed the coup, as did incoming U.S. President Grover Cleveland.


‘Iolani Palace 1893 – overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom

ʻIolani Palace was the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii beginning with Kamehameha III under the Kamehameha Dynasty and ending with Queen Liliʻuokalani.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King, Jr.

When we act as Jesus would – in love, compassion, and inclusion – He is alive.    There is much to love and many  wrongs to correct.   Consider what Jesus would do – and do it.

Happy Easter.

Aloha, Renée

P.S. If you are a U.S. citizen,  please volunteer to help at your polling place in November.  We hope you – and everyone – votes.  We need to correct injustices; we want just change.






Barry’s Gleanings: “Ants In Your Plants”

“Should someone point out a “bull’s horn acacia” to you, stop and have a close look at this thorny shrub.  Between 4 and 10 feet tall, this acacia has branches along which are pairs of reddish spines that look like miniature replicas of a Texas steer’s horns.  Hence its name.


The Bull-Horn Acacia

Image from: <,_the_Bull_Horn_Acacia_(10078435473).jpg>

Of the many relationships which have evolved between tropical ants and plants, that of the bull’s horn acacia and its stinging ants is one of the most curious.  It is also one of the most dramatic examples of tropical co-evolution between species.

With some caution, shake the end of a branch.  Ants burrow into the end of the spines (sot ice the tiny hole), excavate the inside of the branch, and set up a colony where they rear their young and go about the business of being ants.  When the plant is disturbed, as in the case of your shaking the branch, the pugnacious ants charge aggressively from the spines, stingers armed and ready to defend their acacia host.  It would only take one nasty sting to convince you that this unusual defense system works. [The sting feels like a “staple to the cheek”].


Bull-horn acacia stinging ant

Image from: <;

In addition to repelling would-be grazers, ranging in size from caterpillars to cattle, the ants manicure the ground around the acacia, keeping it clear of sprouts from other plants which might deprive their host for living space in a tropical forest containing 1,200 species of trees and countless other plants.


Stinging ants on a bull-horn acacia

Image from: <;

And the acacia is appreciative.  Not only does it shelter its guardian ants, it also feeds them.  Tiny, sausage-shaped bodies hang from the ends of the leaflets.  Loaded with sugar and protein, they are harvested by the ants.

[You’ll see other ants in a tropical jungle]

On the forest floor you’re almost sure to spot trails carved by leaf cutter ants as they march throughout he jungle in search of tender leaves to attack.  Their trails are veritable highways of activity.  Imagine thousands of people walking home on the highway, each rushing along, carrying a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of green plywood overhead, and you have the concept of these ants.  Leafcutters are amazingly industrious insects.  They can completely denude a full-grown mango tree overnight, carving circular slabs of leaf about half an inch in diameter, hoisting them overhead and marching down the tree trunk back to the hive, which may be perhaps a half mile away or more.


Leaf-cutter ants

Image from: <;

Several highways lead to their hive – often around the buttress roots of a large tree.  Hives of over 100 square meters, 2 meters deep in the forest floor are not uncommon.  In these hives, millions, perhaps billions, of ants chew the leaf fragments, mixing them with nutrient-rich saliva, into a gruel.  From this gruel the ants grow and harvest mushrooms which provide their food source.


Leaf-cutter ants – on the move

Image from: <;

Large ant colonies can cut and process nearly one hundred pounds of leaves per day.  During the decades long life span of an ant colony, tons of vegetation decompose and are worked back into the forest floor.  Constant rain and heat rapidly degrade tropical soils, and so the vast storehouse of nutrients and compost from the ant mounds create a rich oasis in the soil, who, without the busy ants would be nearly sterile” (257).


Leaf-cutter Ant mound

Image from: <;

Essay from: Insight Guides Costa Rica, ed. Dona & Harvey Haber, London: Houghton Mifflin.

Nature is amazing!  What are ants doing where you live?   Aloha, Amor y Luz, Renée

Barry’s Gleanings: “Tuesdays with Morrie”

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Barry’s favorite quotations from Tuesdays with Morrie: 

“The way you get meaning in your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”

“A teacher affects eternity; he [she] can never tell where his [her] influence stops.”

Aloha, Barry (and Renée)

“Tuesdays with Morrie”

Afghanistan then and now: including Barry’s Gleanings

In 1972, I was in Afghanistan.  I wasn’t anyone special – just another young American traveling overland from Europe on my way to India.   I was in Afghanistan before the series of coups in the 1970s, before the Russian invasion, before the civil war, before the moderate Taliban took over and then the extremists, before the U.S. military led invasion with Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).   

I was there to see the giant Buddhas that had been carved during the 4th and 5th centuries into a mountain face.

The huge Buddha statues, carved in the 5th and 6th centuries in Afghanistan - but destroyed by the Taliban in xx

The huge Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban in 2001

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I was there to see the deep, cold, huge Band-e-Amir lakes in the North of Afghanistan.  Notice the land – mountainous, barren.

Cold, deep, brilliant blue Band-e-Amir lake

Cold, deep, brilliant blue Band-e-Amir lakes

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My French/Canadian friend and I were on our way to India and met an Italian guy who never stopped talking,  two quiet Dutch guys, and their Great Dane;  the guys were driving across Afghanistan and Pakistan to India; they invited us to come with them.  We said yes because it was the cheapest way to go – and we were young and foolish.

We’d heard there were many bandits.  In Afghanistan, we saw condoms (given out by aid workers) being used as balloons, weathered men with ammunition belts slung across their shoulders, and away from the towns, we saw children begging for matches – to light the wood fires for cooking and heat.  We camped at night.  We had NO trouble.

Outside Kabul, we saw few people.  The land harsh: in some places, the “valley” between two mountain ranges was so narrow and rocky, it was only a dry riverbed.  The crops of corn and wheat were planted on the steep sides of the mountains.  I couldn’t understand how they could grow anything in that land.  We were in the Hindu Kush part of the Himalayan Mountains.  Near Kabul, toward the middle of the mountain range, the height extends from 4,500 to 6,000 meters (14,800 to 19,700 ft).  The people were extremely poor – and struggling.   That was 1972.

Afghanistan - a land of mountains

Afghanistan – a land of mountains and desert

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According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,

“In April 1978 Afghanistan’s centrist government, headed by Pres. Mohammad Daud Khan, was overthrown by left-wing military officers led by Nur Mohammad Taraki. Power was thereafter shared by two Marxist-Leninist political groups, the People’s (Khalq) Party and the Banner (Parcham) Party—which had earlier emerged from a single organization, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan—and had reunited in an uneasy coalition shortly before the coup. The new government, which had little popular support, forged close ties with the Soviet Union, launched ruthless purges of all domestic opposition, and began extensive land and social reforms that were bitterly resented by the devoutly Muslim and largely anticommunist population. Insurgencies arose against the government among both tribal and urban groups, and all of these—known collectively as the mujahideen (Arabic mujāhidūn, “those who engage in jihad”)—were Islamic in orientation”


Where there had been almost no other people at Bamiyan or the lakes or wherever we were crossing Afghanistan, there came soldiers.

A filer picture dated 07 December 1997 shows soldiers belonging to Shiite faction Hizb-i-Wahdat on patrol in front of a hill with the ancient Bhuddha Statue in Bamiyan province of Afghanistan. Afghan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel insisted 08 March 2001 that a decree by the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, ordering the total destruction of all statues in the country was

A filer picture dated 07 December 1997 shows soldiers belonging to Shiite faction Hizb-i-Wahdat on patrol in front of a hill with the ancient Buddha Statue in Bamiyan province of Afghanistan. Afghan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel insisted 08 March 2001 that a decree by the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, ordering the total destruction of all statues in the country was “irreversible.”  JEAN-CLAUDE CHAPON/AFP/Getty Images)

Inside Afghanistan, tribes and various groups have fought numerous military campaigns.  The U.S. led forces are only the latest group.

U.S. Marines on patrol next to a poppy field in 2010. Image from

U.S. Marines on patrol next to a poppy field in 2010.

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Remind me again why the U.S.  went into Afghanistan and Iraq.

U.S. military casualties according to The Washington Post: From 2001-20146,840 U.S. service members have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.  Of that numbered killed, 3,039 were 20-24 years old.  What are we doing to our young people?  Fifty-three of that number were 50-59 years old.  What were they doing there? In Afghanistan, 2,354 have died; almost double that in Iraq.   (

These numbers don’t count the military members who came home but are injured in body or spirit.  It doesn’t count the suffering of their families.  It doesn’t count all the civilian Afghani who struggle to keep themselves and their children alive.  It doesn’t count the Afghani who are fighting to get their own country back.  Those published figures on casualties are only part of the suffering.

According to Brown University, Watson Institute,

“The Costs of War reports document the direct and indirect toll that war takes on civilians and their livelihoods, including the lingering effects of war death and injury on survivors and their families.

Key Findings

  • Approximately 210,000 Afghan, Iraqi, and Pakistani civilians have died violent deaths as a direct result of the wars.

  • War deaths from malnutrition, and a damaged health system and environment likely far outnumber deaths from combat [my emphases] .
    Civilians killed

    Civilians killed – lots of civilians by violent deaths, more from malnutrition and disease


Since money is a factor too, how much has the war in Afghanistan cost?

The newest U. S. Congressional Research Service says the war in Afghanistan has cost $685.6 billion; Iraq ended up costing $814.6 billion.

Congressional Research Service via Federation of American Scientists


But this Time article, “The True Cost of the Afghanistan War May Surprise You,” by Mark Thompson, says these figures count only some of the cost.  “A truer measure of the wars’ total costs pegs them at between $4 trillion and $6 trillion [my emphasis].  This fuller accounting includes “long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs,” Harvard economist Linda Bilmes  calculated in 2013″ (Jan. 1, 2015).

Remember that our government said we had to go to war because of the “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

And what is happening in Afghanistan now?

If you aren’t depressed enough by the injuries and deaths of our U.S. led military members, and the almost four times as may deaths of civilians – and the huge costs, here is something else you need to consider.

In the Jan. 1, 2015 edition of Rolling Stone magazine, writer Matthieu Aikins says, “After 13 years of war, we haven’t defeated the Taliban, but we have managed to create a nation ruled by drug lords” (p. 68).  Perhaps if we could be leaving Afghanistan and its people (and Iraq too) with a hopeful future,  losses could be justified.

Read this very troubling article:

Also, today here’s the latest news on Afghanistan:  October 15, 2015 – “WASHINGTON — The United States will halt its military withdrawal from Afghanistan and instead keep thousands of troops in the country through the end of his term in 2017, President Obama announced on Thursday, prolonging the American role in a war that has now stretched on for 14 years.” From The New York Times

When will we learn?  War is not the answer – at least not the easy answer nor the sustainable answer.

Yes, many bad people are dead – and many more good ones too.

What will happen to those who fight there and then come home?  What about those who now have to stay longer than planned in Afghanistan?  What will now happen to Afghanistan and its people?  Except for those getting rich on the military, do you really think that war is working?

Couldn’t we be trying something else?

Afghanistan - a mountainous land-locked country

Afghanistan – a mountainous land-locked country.

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Hopefully, young Western backpackers will again wander from Turkey, Iran, across Afghanistan, and through Pakistan into India as we were able to do.  And people in all those countries will have a peaceful, positive future.  It could happen, but we – our governments – have to do something else besides supporting wars.


Renée & Barry

“The Most Important Thing, and It’s Almost a Secret” – Barry’s Gleanings

It’s easy to be disheartened by all the bad news: gun murders in the U.S., ambushes in Israel, Syrian refugees, sunken cargo ships . . .   However, read this New York Times article:  It is good news about the world from journalist Nicholas Kristof:®ion=Footer&pgtype=article

Children at school in Ghana

Children at school in Ghana

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The Right to Education mandates free and compulsory education for children 6-14 in India

Since April 1, 2010, The Right to Education (RTE) law has mandated free  education for children 6-14 in India

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Of course, just because the government makes a law, it is not always followed.  But things, for the most part, are better in the world for most people.

Indian school girls - the government mandates they must have education

Indian school girls – the government mandates they must have education

Of course, we can do much better.  Check out Nicholas Kristof’s article.  You’re likely to learn new facts.

Aloha, Barry (and Renée)

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