Memorial Day 2012 Freedom is product of our veterans' sacrifice
by Barbara Anderson


The Salem News
Thursday, May 24, 2012


In chaos theory, the 'butterfly effect' is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state.

The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane's formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I've been thinking about butterflies again, following the fluttering of my own nonlinear mind all the way to Memorial Day gratitude.

Very attentive readers of this column may recall that I returned last year from my 50-year class reunion with two monarch chrysalises, which I kept behind a net in my kitchen until the butterflies emerged; then I moved them to the butterfly bush in my backyard for some nectar. Chip came over to help me determine that one was male, one female; he's good at things like that.

For some reason I expected them to hang around, like a stray cat. So I went in search of a milkweed plant; it seems that monarchs can lay eggs only on milkweed, which used to grow in vacant lots all over America.

Some readers gave me suggestions as to where to look for it in Essex County; I got lost in Swampscott, and decided not to drive to Haverhill after both butterflies vanished from my yard.

I recently met a neighbor who, to my surprise, has a domesticated version of milkweed in her carefully-tended suburban yard. I like to think my female monarch found it and laid some babies who eventually headed to Mexico for the winter. The neighbor just bought me my own plant, so I am ready if their descendants return to the family homestead.

Carol is very knowledgeable about butterflies, and identified various kinds flitting around Chip's and my far-from-domesticated yard. Red Admirals are the ones that were visiting en masse on Mother's Day; and she showed me a Black Swallowtail on my fading lilacs.

Butterflies make me think of the butterfly effect. I once thought it was just a fanciful notion having to do with a Buddhist concept of connectedness; which, by the way, is the theme of the Fox series "Touch" that some of us started watching Jan. 25 because of our attachment to Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer, hero of "24," an entirely different kind of show.

The change is probably good for us, though I have to wonder: What happens if Keifer's character stops following his autistic son's exhausting quest to connect individuals, and starts working overtime for a counter-terrorism unit? Either way, he has an "effect," as he would if he simply relaxed and raised milkweed on a farm in the Midwest.

It seems we all have an effect on every place we live and everyone we touch, however lightly. I've learned that the butterfly effect is quite real, obviously connected to chaos theory, if you think about it, which I did after reading Erik Larson's "Isaac's Storm" about the deadliest hurricane in American history, which struck the city of Galveston, Texas, in 1900.

Larson's story begins "with an awakening of molecules ... as the sun rose over the African highlands east of Cameroon and warmed grasslands ... and the men and creatures that moved and breathed among them; it warmed their exhalations and caused these to rise upwards. ... Winds converged ... thermal stream encountered moist monsoon air ... a zone of instability ... air expanded and cooled. ... Moisture-freighted air rose high into the troposphere ... where all weather occurs."

Clouds formed. Then "something powerful and ultimately deadly occurred within these clouds ... (more) warm air flowed upwards. ... In Galveston, the humidity was nearly 100 percent."

Larson then brings in one Ernest Zebrowski Jr. who wrote, "add a little glitch, a metaphorical butterfly, to a complex process, and sometimes you get an outcome no rational person could have predicted." Hence that unexpected killer hurricane.

Moving along within the seemingly-chaotic patterns of my mind, I find myself thinking of Larson's latest book. "In the Garden of Beasts" is the story of one family's witness to Hitler's ascendancy in 1933 Germany. This would be perfect reading on Memorial Day weekend, as we honor those who died making sure that Hitler descended before he reached and destroyed America.

Any student of history recognizes the cause and effect that creates it, and the slight, as well as the large, connections that move it one way or another. It's not hard to see the patterns from a distance, but difficult to see them as history is happening, to know the impact of our own exhalations as we move from decision to decision in our own lives.

Since we can't predict the long-term butterfly effect of our decisions, the best we can do is make them in the integrity zone where we can at least control our intentions. In the end, we hope we'll have made even a small difference in the way the world turned.

On Memorial Day we honor those World War II veterans who died making a very big difference, who changed the future in a major way. In any war, those who fight against tyrants and terrorists create an effect called freedom; our flag waves in their refreshing breeze.


The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.


Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.


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