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It was early morning on St. Patrick’s Day and I was sitting in the kitchen eating a few slices of delicious Irish Soda Bread.  My wife had made it at 5 A.M. while I was still in bed half-asleep, but its smell wafting through the rooms induced me to get up.  From outside the window came the sound of mourning doves cooing and crows playing their little raw saxophones.

It’s not every day that such an invitation to awaken arrives through the air.  Some people are never so invited and others refuse the call, but the bread is always rising, if only we knew.

The bread is always rising.

The Irish soda bread’s smell and taste with my coffee was extremely sensuous and brought me back to our time in Ireland long before the world was locked down by the machine people into a virtual world in front of screens because of coronavirus. The bread was real, not virtual.  I felt as though for a few slow hours I would luxuriate in the silence and allow my mind to go on vacation and wander through the narrow lanes of reverie and memory.

My wife, Jeanne Lemlin, a James Beard Award winning cookbook writer, had created the recipe after visiting  the bakery department at Field’s supermarket in Skibbereen, County Cork, where she observed Dennis McSweeney and his staff preparing their breads in the early morning.  Here’s the recipe so you can join me in the breaking of the bread.

I was returning to my Irish rebel roots, thinking of how my ancestors rose up against their oppressors, the British colonizers.  How those Irish rebels became an inspiration for colonized people around the world.  How the enslaved and oppressed need the bread of hope.

The bread is always rising.  Can you hear its music?

By being lost in reverie, I was violating the terms the machine people have laid down for us to start and spend and end each day in fear and trembling.

They are the experts who, as the English essayist Adam Philips has said, “construct the terror, and then the terror makes them expert.” 

Contrarian that I am. I refuse to be terrorized, now or later.  For twenty years, the U.S. government “experts” have lied about Muslim terrorists coming to get us as they have killed millions of innocent Muslims around the world.

Now it’s an invisible virus that has arrived to slay us.

Of course, the Russians are always coming to get us, but they are very slow; they’ve been coming for at least eighty years but the lies about them continue.  Here they come again!

It is just an odd happenstance that each of these three terrors has in its turn  resulted in further losses of freedoms and increased “emergency” powers for the government. We all know why the caged bird sings.

Freedom is under assault.

Outside on a large tree I see nine black vultures looking my way.  Behind them in the sky are another four or five soaring majestically. The birds have recently returned after wintering farther south. They roost in the tall pine streets on the other side of the house.  They are beautifully ugly.

Love is a mystery.

Their return gives me hope, as did the red-tailed hawks we saw the other morning doing clasped talon barrel-rolls as a bald eagle sailed before them.  So too the little multi-colored moth I saw on the outside glass of the door yesterday.  And the two insects that came up the drain into the kitchen sink.  These little ones had no fear, although their chances of surviving cold nights and water were slim.  But they took the risk of death as the world slowly rises into new life.  All creation conspires toward resurrection in the spring.

But the machine people, like the colonizers and oppressors, are intent on burying us for good. They want to destroy our spirits through fear and falsehoods. They planted their seeds long ago.  If we buy their poisonous fruit, we will reap what we sow.

“What,” wrote Thomas Hobbes in the seventeenth century, “is the heart but a spring, and the nerves so many strings, and the joints so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body.”

Now they want to make us all into machines, obedient artificial intelligence cyborgs, conspiring in our own enslavement.  The only birds the machine people like are drones, satellites, war planes, flying missiles and bullets. They have filled the earth with the blood of the innocent, the blood that doesn’t stop running. They have contaminated the air. They have filled it with electronic noise, the unheard cacophony of billions of desperadoes talking from their cells, caged and clipped-wing birds talking of the unknown.  Lost in cyberspace while thinking they are free and grateful for the little talking machines the rulers have deemed to give them.  Their cells.

The machine people have set their traps to capture any wild birds left.  They want to inject them with their poisonous vaccines, to brand and band them as fit for further torture and control within a totally digitized world.  The medical bureaucrats and their controllers create categories to which they assign people so that they can grant them permission to do or not do various human activities that are their natural rights. As Ivan Illich tells us in his classic Medical Nemesisthe template for this was set down more than two-and-a-half centuries ago:

On November 5, 1766, the Empress Maria Theresa issued an edict requesting the court physician to certify fitness to undergo torture so as to ensure healthy, i.e. ‘accurate,’ testimony; it was one of the first laws to establish mandatory medical certification.

But out of the blue, like a wayward thought, last night’s dream came to me while I was just typing those words.

In my dream, I went down to the basement of the house I grew up in.  It was dark but I could see a large bird sitting on the floor. It startled me by its still presence. Off to the side stood the poet Allen Ginsberg, and next to him was a coffin.  In the coffin was a blue-eyed man in a blue shirt. The man was me.  Ginsberg said the man needed my help with his contact lenses, for they were preventing him from seeing clearly. So I spit on my fingers and removed his contact lenses so he could see. In each of his eyes a cross appeared.  I heard the bird rustle and turned to see it stand up.  It opened its huge wings and its feathers fanned to reveal dazzling colors which it fluttered open and closed. The man rose from the coffin and smiled. I woke up.

It’s not believable of course, although it’s true, even if you think I just made it up, which I didn’t. Dream and reality – what are they?  In memory I can vaguely hear T.S. Eliot’s words:

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

Loren Eiseley, the great naturalist/scientist and enchanting writer, wrote in his 1959 essay, “The Bird and the Machine,” that “I learned there [on an isolated expedition to the western American desert to capture birds – which he never did – circa 1910] that time is a series of planes existing superficially in the same universe.  The tempo is a human illusion, a subjective clock ticking in our own kind of protoplasm.”

Which is to say that the night country we inhabit when asleep and our day hours cross over in the same consciousness to create the strange human creatures that we are.  We generally prefer to dismiss the night like the birds that keep watch on us because we have learned to think of ourselves as Hobbesian machines who live by clocks under the watchful embrace of the rational experts who tell us we are indeed “the incredible human machine[s].”

They lie.  We are flesh and blood and bones, like our friends the birds.  There are profound reasons why birds and bread have held such important places in people’s spiritual lives and imaginations for thousands of years.  They symbolize our human solidarity in the breaking of the bread and our need for freedom in the winged beauty and song of birds in flight.

Despite their dead philosophy, the machine people can never defeat these two human realities. At the still point of the turning world, where past and future are gathered up in the music of the dance, their mechanical philosophies will be defeated.

I am going out for a walk now, up by the lake above the town and the railroad tracks, but in the spirit of that Irish soda bread and the Irish rebel spirit, I will leave you with the song I listened to on the evening of March 17 when I toasted my friends the black vultures with a glass of Guinness as they soared high in the evening sky above the mountains here.

Please welcome our invited Irish guest, Van Morrison: The Beauty of the Days Gone By


"Educated in the classics, philosophy, literature, theology, and sociology, I teach sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. My writing on varied topics has appeared widely over many years. I write as a public intellectual for the general public, not as a specialist for a narrow readership. I believe a non-committal sociology is an impossibility and therefore see all my work as an effort to enhance human freedom through understanding."—Edward Curtin

Behind the Curtain http://edwardcurtin.com/

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