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Category: Humans

As Luck Would Have It
I don't want to get too sentimental about the Incas. They were a handsome people with an impressive culture, but like most empires, theirs was marked by conquest, slavery, and more than a little bloodshed.

I can't help feeling, though, that they drew a pretty tough hand in the high stakes game of human history. By the middle of the fifteenth century, they had reached a peak, thanks in part to the drive and organizational prowess of Yupanqui Pachacuti, "the first Inca." He was, no doubt, a world-class control freak, but he seems to have led his people to primacy over the many other cultures west of the Andes. Under his rule and that of his immediate successors, the Inca empire came to encompass a domain along the west coast of South America that was roughly half the size of all Western Europe.

His people continued to battle among themselves, brother against brother, for nearly a hundred years, but at the same time, they created a culture that managed to distill the wisdom and skills of all the peoples they absorbed, including astronomy, mathematics, and the know-how to produce some of the most stunning feats of engineering the world had ever seen.

It was their misfortune to be coming into their own just as the Spanish arrived in force -- massively armed and on horseback, no less. The opposite end of the human diaspora out of Africa arrived at the absolute worst time for the Inca, and they just didn't have the strength to survive the collision. Like the other pre-Columbian societies that had thrived in the Americas, their achievements were all but buried under the advance of another, more powerful, conquest-hungry society with its own brand of high-end control freaks.

We can only imagine what might have happened without this colossally bad bit of bad timing. Perhaps the Inca empire, as so many empires before it, would simply have collapsed of its own weight. They did not have a written language, which can be vital in sustaining and growing any culture. They had the wheel, but it never really caught on in their mountainous realm. Still, they might have gone on to greater things. We'll never know.

They never saw what hit them, really. The blow came out of nowhere...a sucker punch. That kind of bad luck is a big part of any game, including human history.
More Near Wisdom
Find a niche, and scratch it.
Keep It Simple
As the young woman at the checkout counter begins sliding my items over the bar scanner, she glances up and asks, “How’s your day been?”

She’s at the end of her shift, and has probably asked that question hundreds of times today alone. Still, it’s a good question: engaging without demanding engagement. I am ready to engage, however, so I respond, “So far, so good.” If I’m ready to keep the chat going, I’ll add “Checking off the list, one by one,” and wait for the free-form portion of the chat to start…or not.

I cannot count how many times I have participated in that opening conversational gambit. It takes place at least once every time I go out on errands. In some ways, it is like the errands themselves: mostly disposable, nearly automatic, demanding neither intellectual nor emotional effort. It’s good to do errands, and it’s good to have pleasant interactions with your fellow humans.

I’m not going to suggest that such a mundane formula is the secret to a better world, but you could do worse. Imagine if we all just did the little jobs we know we’re supposed to do, and, while we’re at it, tried to be nice to the people we meet along the way. That might turn out to be a pretty good place to be.
Fair & Rainy
It has been suggested to me that these essays have tended to skew to the dark side. My gentle readers seem concerned that I might be dwelling too much on the vexing aspects of our world without giving hope and optimism their due.

Let me just say that I am touched by these expressions of care. Rest assured, all of you, that I am at heart a warm and fuzzy person. It’s just that I keep my fuzz closely shaven and my warmth set just a hair below room temperature.

But I love rainbows! Gosh, who doesn’t? When I see children’s depictions of these magical natural wonders, I am always filled with joy. Unless, of course, the colors are arrayed in an incorrect order. Red should be at the top of the rainbow, followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Come on, people! It’s simple science.

Furthermore, the sun should never appear in the same frame with a rainbow (though, in a depressing number of these drawings, it does just that). For the rainbow effect to be even possible, the sun must be behind the viewer, with the water vapor in the sky refracting light back to the eye of the observer. It is only because I love rainbows so much that I demand that they be accurately portrayed.

Also, I think unicorns are adorable. So graceful, so lovely, so pink, so purple! But let’s be clear, kids…they do not exist! Flying horse-like creatures would defy the laws of physics that we all love. And if they did exist, that alarmingly sharp horn or antler or spear or whatever it is on their foreheads would have to be removed in the interest of public safety — and the welfare of the innocent little children who believe in them.

I want to be clear as well that I admire books and movies and other works of art that are life-affirming. We certainly do need more light and positivity and family-friendliness in this dreary world. Just don’t ask me to actually read these books or blow my twelve bucks on such films. I’ve had all the saccharin and aspartame and acesulfame potassium I can stomach in this lifetime. But please keep cranking out this dreck, because my beloved fellow humans seem hopelessly addicted to it.

Babies of any kind never fail to lift my spirits. I would be a cold person indeed if I were not charmed by their big, trusting eyes and their cuddliness. When they are not squalling, or soiling the furniture, or creating havoc in our lives, they can be irresistibly cute. Unless they are insects, that is. Or snakes, or fish, or germs, or anything too large or too small. Keep those things away from me, if you don’t mind. Kittens and puppies, however, are wonderful — if adequately deodorized and restrained.

You see? I am brimming with glad tidings. In fact, I have to have myself hosed down with Lysol on a regular basis.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon