Sunday, July 15, 2018

life sneaks into artifice

In the search for some pre-sleep soporific to read, I pulled a dusty book off the porch bookshelf a couple of days back. "Young Men and Fire" by Norman Maclean seems (by page 47) to be a not-terribly-well-written, not-terribly-well-edited reflection on the "smokejumpers" of the U.S. in general and those who were killed in the Mann Gulch fire in Montana in 1949.

Somehow I have kept on reading its pages. It may feel lumpy as a high school senior's essay, but there is something honest in it -- men, most of them at least partly and admittedly crazed, who set out to tame and extinguish ferocious fires in impossible and faraway places. And in the midst of it, I read the following paragraph, a paragraph that somehow spoke the truth in the midst of lumpy artifice for me:

The narrator (Maclean) is questioning the widow of one of those who was killed:
She and I have known each other off and for most of our lives, and we have known the Blackwater River, where her ranch house stands, even longer. "He said to me when we were married, 'You do your job and I'll do mine and we'll get along just fine.'" Then she said to me, "I can't help you much. I don't know much about smokejumping, and I didn't know any of the Smokejumpers. We never talked about them, and he never invited them home." She added, "I loved him very much, but I didn't know him very well. If he said my red drapes were black, I would say, trying to keep myself intact, 'Yes, Wag, my red drapes are black.'
I loved him very much but I didn't know him very well. How much of real life is based in such confounding, bright-light truths? It felt spot-on to me ... but maybe not to others.

the next rock bottom

Passed along in email was this additional evidence that every time the United States seems to have hit rock bottom, there is another rock-bottom to hit.
A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.
Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.
Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

the light

Be as silent as the light

And then

Shine.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

real-life art or is it real-art life?

Mix 'n' match -- Fun stuff.



































Since April, Michael Thibault has been mixing contemporary photography with classic paintings on his Instagram account Art Frame Design. It all started with a Van Gogh: “I positioned it on a fashion portrait,” explains Thibault, “but I still had the feeling something was missing, so I added a frame and adjusted the lights and colours. I posted it on Instagram and this first piece was appreciated... so I made others.” The sales manager from north-eastern France has so far created almost 100 images, featuring work by, among others, Leonardo, Modigliani and Frida Kahlo. “Some of my creations are more surreal than others. My favourites are the ones where the adjustments are done simply and everything comes together – the ones that seem obvious.”

unweaving the woven

     I cannot undo
     What has been done.
     It would not be easy
     Nor any fun.

     But if by some chance
     I could undo
     The question remains,
     Would it be true?

a real challenge to world's hackers

With the 26th Def-Con hacking conference scheduled for Aug. 9-12 in Las Vegas, now may be the time to offer one last encouragement to the world's computer wizards to give back to a universe that has been so good to them.

Hackers around the globe have proved adept at cracking financial or industrial or governmental fortresses, but without the world wide web to challenge their various bits of expertise, where would they be?

Isn't it time to say a collective thank you?

And what better way to both exhibit expertise and bow to the world that made it all possible than to hack into the various facets of the internet and for one 24-hour period -- just one day -- block and banish all news stories about or relating to Donald J. Trump? Nothing, nada, zip, zero....

News stories, analyses, opinion pieces ... 
all of it ... gone ... for one day.

A childish dream with potentially serious blowback, you say, but I say the good effects outweigh the bad.

What a relief, for starters.

Then there is the matter of Trump's capacity to slap/lie/misrepresent in gross terms a single topic and then turn around and kiss it better. How much difference could a 24 hour hiatus make?

And then too, news outlets might find rafts of news that go uncovered or under-reported or poorly-researched due to the feeding frenzy coverage granted to Trump's latest, self-centered pirouette.

Just one, single day of no stories that refer to or are penned by Donald J. Trump.

These are the best of the best, these hackers. If anyone can make this dream come true, hackers can and should. A wider world will thank them.

I am lazy enough to be unwilling to check the news wires I read each day to determine how much space such an action might free up. A third, at least, is my lazy-man's guess. News ... imagine that!

Perhaps the August conference is a good time to start mapping a strategy. Just bar Trump from living rooms and dens and sofa nooks across the world. One day. A breather.

Would Trump implode? I don't know, but I do know it would help him to learn that though he may long to be the cynosure of all eyes, still there is a higher authority ... and he ain't it. Would such an algorithmic bit of magic open the door to even greater crimes? Difficult to know ... but worth finding out.

Someplace out there, I started an inept (friends told me so) petition asking hackers to pick a day among themselves -- perhaps in August -- and make it all happen. I can't find it any longer, but it was pretty inept in any case, so nothing is really lost. But the Def-Con conference might be just the place to start hatching a plan that might create a reality. There is no time like the present.

Hell, I'd rather read another touchy-feely-millenial-improvement plan than be confronted with yet another and another and another story that relies pro or con on the immoralities and ignorance and outright lies of my country's president.

C'mon, guys and gals ... show us whatcha got!

Friday, July 13, 2018

appreciated advice

In late 1964, when I had left the army and had a job with a New York book publisher, it took a while to recognize that book publishing was a bit too pluperfect pink for me. Everyone was bright and dressed nicely and there were muffling carpets on the floors. What I loved about books was not what book publishing was about. Instead, as a friend had warned me before I took the job, "book publishing is about selling shoes."

The discovery came in slow increments, but once it had a toe hold, it refused to let go and I scrounged around wondering what else I might do and took up the idea I might like newspaper reporting. The only problem was, I knew squat about the business -- how to break in, how to gain some credibility, where to get some practice. And so I felt lucky when someone gave me the name and phone number of a city editor (the newsroom top gun who threw your latest effort in the trash bin with a snort) on Long Island. By the grace of God, this guy was patient with my endless ignorance.

The game, he said, was played like this: Don't apply to the New York Times (the holy grail from where I sat) at first. Instead, get a job away from the bright lights and big city. Build a repertoire at another paper and THEN apply to the New York Times.

He also gave me a nutshell summing up of the reporting business. Like all nutshells, his advice was only as good as the effort anyone might put into it ... walk the walk and not just talk the talk. His advice was deceptively simple when it came to journalism: "First, it's a craft, not an art. And second, be yourself." Since that long-ago-and-far-away, it has occurred to me more than once that his advice as regarded journalism was equally true for any other longing or passion or leaning: It's a craft, not an art and be yourself.

Besides these two facets of the newspaper business, the only other pointer he gave me was to stay with a smaller newspaper for no more than five years. "During the first five years, you learn good habits. After five years, you start learning the bad ones."

But it was the first two pointers I remember best and wrestled with over the years ... fucked up and kept going, fucked up and kept going, fucked up and kept going. Idealism was good as long as you didn't get too convinced by it; hypocrisy was no surprise; self-promotion was always in the mix; the news source would use the reporter and the reporter would use the news source ... and symbiosis could be addictive. I have known reporters who wallow like pigs in shit in the fact that they are rubbing elbows with the powerful and empowered. I've done much the same.

A craft, not an art. These days, what's left of journalism is mired in art, in predicting a future no one can know, on not digging any deeper. And a craft is something that gets done and not just imagined. It is not simply hoped for or pimped for or postured in support of. A craft invariably leaves something out and that something is the reporter's responsibility. Telling the 'whole' story is not possible, so what part of the story are you willing to ignore or sweep under the carpet or set aside. You might love not to be a liar, but A. words are not facts, so you are, perforce, a liar and B. the choice to lie is not someone else's choice. Every key stroke, every note struck, every movement of the brush ... it is a craft, not an art, even when others call it art.

These days many are far too willing to overlook their own lies. And certainly that is one danger. Another is to become bogged down in a recognition of the lying aspect ... and accomplish nothing. What choices anyone might make is entirely up to his or her own mettle. What compromises is anyone willing to live with? Finding out is part and parcel of the craft. Neglecting this responsibility is a mistake: Not easy, but a mistake.

And then the other part of the advice column -- be yourself. Oh shit! Who am I ... the one I am encouraged to be? It's an easy question for those who swagger and announce, "I know who I am." Right ... and pigs know how to fly.

And it is a mistake that segues into the business of "being yourself." Surrender to my own cherished beliefs ("I know who I am") is one option. A little peace and quiet is nice. A little satisfaction. Don't dig too deep or you may stub a toe painfully against some unseen rock. If I am a falsifier, from what truth does that grow? And, conversely perhaps, if I am a truth-teller, from what falsehood does that emanate?

None of this mumbling and grumbling did me much good when I was a reporter. You had fifteen minutes to write a news story and your personal problems were your problems. Your sensitivities could go piss up a rope. As my mother used to say of writing, "Don't get it right. Get it written."

Anyway, I took a job reporting and purely could not believe that anyone would pay me to be nosy. Imagine that!!! For five years I wallowed in it, high-brow and low ... and loved it, even as I tried to iron out the wrinkles and searing flame of what it might be to be myself. Eventually, the question may have pressed too hard and I slip-slid into Zen Buddhist practice and a job painting apartments back in New York. Zen is not for everyone, but it put wind in my sails. Zen didn't fuck around: You want to know who you are? Seriously? Then find out and let nothing deter you.

Or, as my Zen teacher's teacher laughingly commented when he learned I painted apartments: "Wonderful! Each stroke of the brush is IT."  Did I get it? Nope, but it's grown on me.

It's a craft, not an art.
Be yourself.

Strange how advice given over there turns out to be advice given here. It's all water over the dam -- no one reads newspapers any more.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Black Moon Zendo web site disappears ....

In the beginning....
I was looking around for some of the pictures I had placed on my small zendo's web site when I discovered that the web site itself seemed no longer to exist ... or if it does, it is elusive as a bat.

A bit of a jolt in the sense that seeking out the pix won't be quite as easy for me, but also ... well ... it's OK if I say "done is done" but when someone else says it, suddenly my proprietary nature raises its protective, clutching head. If it did exist, what difference would it make? If it doesn't exist, what difference does it make?

I didn't agree to eradicate it and now it is eradicated.

I do miss the pix, but ... oh well. www.blackmoonzendo.com ... gone to another shore I guess.

In the middle ... kids help






In the end:
                                                     POOF!

I am not doing a Zen mewl, hoping that some steadied hand will mention transiency and then preen,  but I do wish I could retrieve the pictures that were on the web site.

PS: A savvy (and more energetic) friend recovered this for me. It seems you have to press each desired link a time or two in order for it to come up.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

and again ... spiritual life

Back to the nudgings that ebb and flow -- that insist only to evaporate like wood smoke in the evergreen boughs above. Wouldn't you think all that effort, all that time, all that solemnity that morphed into seriousness under the guise of seriousness would amount to something, some answer, some satisfaction, some unwavering conviction...?
****

As the crow flies, it all began around 1975 when the decision/question enveloped me: Was spiritual life true? I  decided to find out. As a newspaper reporter at the time, the question shaped itself in the newspaper reporter's directness: "I want to know if spiritual life is bullshit or not." In this instance, I did not want to know as a means of convincing anyone else. The blood of this lamb was strictly for my own washing. Mohammad, Jesus, God, Buddha, Vishnu ... screw the names and swoons and promises. Was ... it ... true? No-fucking-fairy-tales true?

No more was I interested in the philosophical or psychological need to be in control with explanations and tome-like disquisitions. No scripture need apply. Just ... was it true? How and why the question took on urgency at the time was just more smug crap. I suppose I can say I felt bereft in some sense, but there were no eureka events impelling me -- no deaths of the near and dear, no break-ups of romantic relationships, no waxing sense that I would die and I wanted a happy hunting ground, no drugs forsaken.

Bereft -- that's as quick and dirty an impetus for the question as any. Psychologists, philosophers, TED talkers and others wishing to find and be control of some 'meaningful' answer can take over now. They want to know whose heart they can strum. I just wanted to know. "Why?" -- the question was and remains irrelevant.

Know for me. In my terms. Without any smarm. Is it bullshit or not?

And now, as the crow flies, it's 50-plus-or-minus years later and ... was it worth the effort? Is it true or not. Why, after all that time, do I conclude that the only possible conclusion to a serious spiritual adventure is to give it up, to give it away ... forgetaboutit! Seriously -- what are you doing with all those sap-sucking nostrums that drew anyone forward in their laughter or tears or brief flashes of wide-open lightning? Stop lollygagging about in all that stale bread that once nourished and informed.

Stop it! If you can give up cap pistols and dolls, surely you can give up spiritual adventure. Not be lured by humanists and psychologists and philosophers and priests and atheists and agnostics.... Just give it up.

What other use or usefulness could there be?

Fifty years.

As I gave up fifty years, so I must -- no choice in the matter -- set it aside.

Is it bullshit or not?

Yes.

But that's just my take. Bereft-berefter-bereftest. Don't expect me to put money in your collection plate. Don't expect me to be gooder than I might have been. Don't attach electrodes to my head in search for some proof. Don't expect me to purr.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

the Guantanamo roust ... again

Eleven inmates held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp without charge for as long as 15 years will have a rare hearing in a US court on Wednesday when they submit a petition demanding they be tried or released.
A black eye revisited.

Shameful.

"Stormy Daniels," helps right U.S. ship of state

I suppose it could be a lingering wet dream of some sort, but the story that caught my attention and aroused a pitter-pat of excitement this morning was the tale of porn actress "Stormy Daniels" taking all her clothes off at the same time President Donald Trump was trying to boost his own celebrity by announcing his nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court.

A strange concatenation and perhaps one indicative of the times Donald Trump has landed my country in. I have always taken the Supreme Court seriously. With luck (and discounting the Citizens United case), the Supreme Court represents a potential even keel in choppy, immoral seas Trump has confected and stoked. Serious people on serious business, and yet this morning some part of me pinned its hopes not so much on the court as on a naked lady who alleges she was paid off in the wake of a little sex with the now-president.

God, how Americans hate their love of prurience! Or, how they love their hatred of carnal manipulations and pleasures. It's a Trump moment -- everything reduced to a level that Trump himself adores ... women as sex objects, manly men, bigotry, ignorance, racism, tax breaks for his handlers, imbalancing what others tried so hard to balance ... and yet when Stormy speaks (as she did in March on "Sixty Minutes") her voice and allegations are level-headed and, from where I sit, credible. She comes across, as my father used to say, "as a person with sand." Is she out for herself. Probably. Is her lawyer out for his own best interests? Probably. But are the two of them nonetheless more credible that the president of the United States? I think so.

Or is all of this just teen-swoon poetic justice or, as I said, the refrain of Sally Five-Fingers?
WASHINGTON (AP) — As President Donald Trump exercised his power by nominating Brett Kavanaugh Monday night at the White House, adult film star Stormy Daniels exercised hers about a mile away, wearing nothing but black heels....
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said she had sex with Trump in 2006 when he was married, which Trump has denied. She’s suing Trump and his former longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen and seeking to invalidate a nondisclosure agreement that she signed days before the 2016 presidential election.
It was unclear how much money the club and Daniels were earning from the event, which charged $50 and up per seat. The venue, DeMoya said, can seat a couple hundred people, but it was not nearly full....
Trump supporters may willingly overlook the fact that promised coal-mining jobs have not been implemented. They may dismiss as the fault of Democrats the fact that Republicans have yet to come up with a promised replacement for Barack Obama's health care initiative. They may go with Trump's flow on "fake news" even as he embellishes the realm. They may point fingers elsewhere when asked to think through the assaults on diplomacy and international relations. But sex and fucking? This is a world that they understand.

As General George Patton once said, "A man who won't fuck, won't fight" and Trump is nothing if not a ... uh ... fucker ... or is that "fighter?" Or at least that's the way he casts the story and that's the story his supporters can hear ... even if he has to try to buy his way out of it.

So maybe Stormy's come-hither body -- and don't-fuck-with-me mind -- is just the ticket.

Imagine taking a porn star more seriously than the president of the United States. Such are the times. Et pourquoi non?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

what it means to mean

What a peculiar moniker "meaning" is.

A trip to one internet dictionary yields the peculiar definition, "what is meant by a word, text, concept, or action." Which begs the question of what "meaning" might mean... leading to a tail-chasing exercise ... the meaning of "meaning" is what "meaning" might mean. That ought to fry anyone's eggs.

Another definition -- this one from Merriam Webster, which is one of the few dictionaries that actually digs in to the words it includes: "the thing one intends to convey especially by language....the thing that is conveyed especially by language....something meant or intended...significant quality; especially : implication of a hidden or special significance....the logical connotation of a word or phrase; the logical denotation or extension of a word or phrase ...." and there is more.

What a peculiar moniker, "meaning." Academics pounce like a cat on catnip. Philosophers find yet another excuse to sit in a Paris cafe and ponder. Do-gooders and sooth-sayers smooth the lashing of life's waves. And coincidentally create an income stream. The grief-stricken are consoled ... well, not really, but you know what I mean.

Meaning -- what would things be like if for just one moment -- one gentle, firm moment -- "meaning" were excised from anyone's lexicon. No anger, no cynicism, no eureka, no sorrow, no confusion, no greed, no love or joy, no wisdom or ignorance ... just excised.

The tractor trailer tipped over.
The couple got married.
The maddened elephant stormed through the village.
The seas rose and the wind blew.
From across the room came a single smile.
The graffito read, "A kiss that lasts forever is a strange gift."

And with the excision of "meaning,' of course, any notion of "no meaning" would, ipso facto, likewise be excised. What would that be like?

Remember the times where the desperate need for "meaning" was all but overwhelming? Remember the last time some slick-tongued nitwit opined, "it is what it is?" Remember, remember, remember the meanings for which anyone might cry out or inveigh against and yet ... and yet ... and yet.

"Meaning" is a peculiar moniker.

I want to say "the other side of the mirror," but the peculiarity of "meaning" leaves such a phrase floundering on some psychobabble dock.

Gently, firmly ... "slip-sliding away."

Is "meaning" necessary? How could anyone know without giving it a rest?

What might "giving it a rest" mean?
 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

if the Democrats win the 2018 elections....

Does anyone agree: I think that if the Democrats, who claim to be keen on winning back a U.S. congressional majority in 2018 mid-term elections, actually do win ... what will happen?

I figure they'll be so busy trying to undo what the Republicans undid in the matters of climate change or bank regulation or health care or dealings with Iran that they will be the party that can be rightly accused of obstructionism and gridlock -- the very difficulties Republicans are currently trying to get out from under.

So, the Democrats will become the Republicans they claim to abhor and STILL nothing positive or nationally nurturing will be achieved.

Donald Trump has confected the perfect swamp in the swamp he said he would drain.

And I don't think the Democrats are capable of stepping out of the high-kicking, Trump-friendly, self-serving world.

Remember, undoing is miles harder than doing and no politician of any stripe wants much more than another term.

Donald Trump achieved what his minders wanted most -- a tax break for the wealthiest at the dust-in-the-eyes expense of those who actually work. Everything else is fog and cotton candy.

How anyone sees this scenario as leading to something other than blood on the risers beats the socks off of me.

boys into men

I don't recall many male role models when I was growing up. My mother and father were divorced, I came under my mother's wing. But both parents were intellectually inclined if not equally capable. If there is no immediate father figure, where is a boy to look. Where is his action figure, can-do, derring-do male footprint? John Wayne during Saturday afternoon matinees only reached so far ... who was there, then, to tell me the stuff a boy wants to know without, as often as not, even knowing it? I wanted to be right, to be unsullied, to be unafraid, to be a grown-up ... but ... but the "buts" seemed all around me. I shudder to think of how I may have failed my own sons.

I suppose the templates were all around me as well, but two of the most direct bubbled up this morning for reasons I cannot guess. The direct. The heart-stopping. The object lesson from a credible, if distant male.

1. I was skiing on a no-account public hill one day when I was in, perhaps the sixth or seventh grade. There was no tow, so each run down was mirrored by a walk back up. There wasn't much excitement to it. But on one such return to the wussy pinnacle, as I concentrated on my upward course, a man nearby pitched his voice in such a way that I knew it was meant for me. "Any asshole," he began firmly, "can ski fast. It takes a good skiier to ski slow." I looked at him and I imagine he looked back. He was not insistent, but he was assured as cold milk in the refrigerator. He barely thought of his challenge as a challenge, his face said. This was just the truth. Take it or leave it.

I took it and for the rest of the day, I practiced skiing slow. It wasn't easy ... but he was right. And in practicing, I became right as well. Even when I fell down and then fell down again. I seldom fell when skiing fast, but when skiing slow, I fell and got up, fell and got up, fell and got up.

2. Some years later, at 19, Pete and I were picked up at the train station in Oregon by the foreman at the lumbering camp both of us would work at for the summer of 1959. Arne Jarve, a big, silent Finn who fit snugly behind the pick-up truck's steering wheel. He was big. The steering wheel looked small in his hands. He looked tough as nails to me and I was prepared, if he ordered it, to jump to whatever assignment he gave. Challenging a guy like Arne Jarve would have been like challenging a steamroller.

But the situation was strange. Pete's father, the president of one of the west coast's largest lumbering companies, had gotten me the summer job at Pete's request. Pete, a fish-out-of-water junior at the college where I was a freshman was rumored, even at his young age, to be worth a million dollars. But he also longed to be part of a rag-tag, imagined-bohemian group I fit into ... writing, painting, music and sex. Pete wanted to be accepted and as a freshman I looked like a key to the door he wanted to pass through. I didn't pay much attention to him until he said his father could get me a summer job ... outdoors ... in a lumbering camp. Since we were both a little tipsy when he said this, I didn't pay much attention, though my summer-job longings lurched a little: What a dream-come-true that would be! But Pete remembered and, in fact arranged it and so the two of us were sitting with Arne Jarve in the pick-up: Pete's father thought a summer in the woods might do his son good. I thought Pete was a square peg headed for a round hole, but if it got me a job, I wasn't going to complain. I can't imagine what Arne must have been thinking as he ferried the boss's son and his East-coast stringbean of a too-clean sidekick in towards town.

Jarve kept his thoughts to himself except to inform us that on the job running property lines through the woods, we were required to wear spiked boots (which we had to buy) and a construction-site helmet, which the company would provide. Turning to my left a little to address Jarve more directly in the pick-up, I asked, "Do we need to wear gloves?" There was the barest fraction of a silence before he replied, even-toned, "I don't wear them." That nano-silence tore my paper ... the cocksucker was challenging this East Coast pussy to get it on ... and I vowed then and there that I wouldn't wear gloves no matter what the cost. By the end of that summer, my hands were hard as nails, calloused and scarred and ... I had been right as rain.

The first day of work on our five-man crew was the roughest terrain I ever faced, Army included. I climbed and clambered on all fours, it was so steep. And I suppose I won my spurs when, one day, our crew ran into another crew that was removing gigantic stumps and we all stopped for a cigarette break.

I was sitting on a huge stump, listening to the conversation that skittered here and there when, all of a sudden, from my rear, came a tremendous explosion. One of the stump-removers thought it might be funny to see the greenhorn jump when he put a single stick of dynamite under the stump on which that greenhorn was sitting. What the hell, it was just for fun. It was only a single stick of dynamite. The greenhorn did in fact jump and then, seeing the laughter all around him, laughed as well. If he could take that, he must be at least a little bit OK ... not entirely an East-Coast sissy.

Pete never did get it -- the ragging that all summer employees get on the job, the bullshit they eat before they refuse to eat any more and are more or less welcomed. Pete wasn't accustomed to what his father wanted to accustom him to. I felt, by summer's end, a bit sorry for him, but declined the offer of a cruise up the Pacific coast in his father's yacht. In many ways, Pete was a walking definition of "poor little rich boy." I felt sorry, but I didn't like Pete much.

I guess learning to dislike things and people is part of the manly pursuits ... but ... but ... but

Was I more the man or less?

Friday, July 6, 2018

the delicacy of elephants

I'd like to go
As the elephant goes:
Watch his heels
And watch her toes.
More seamless
Than a spider's web
Smooth as whipped cream,
Wax and ebb.

I'd like to go
As the elephant goes.
But can't, alas and
Stone the crows!
I am all elbows
And all knees,
Devoid of all
That walks and sees.


welcome ... now get out!

Somehow there's a suspicion in my suspicious little mind that the financial pig trough got a little deeper as the D.C.-desk-bound sensed a threat and began believing its own 'terrorist' agitation-and-propaganda handouts.

The occasion for this suspicion was an Associated Press story that tried to document the foreign-born/linked who joined the U.S. military and were promised a fast track to citizenship based on that service ... only to find themselves in recent possession of unexplained/undocumented discharges from the military, thus tearing up the contract already made. These were men who had relatives/links in foreign countries and were thus, vaguely detailed, open to questionable allegiance, even if they had been given a good or excellent allegiance rating.

Back in the early 2000's when the U.S. was quietly and not so quietly invading the Middle East, one of the complaints was that there were not enough native-language speakers among military forces. There were language schools available in the U.S., but the time it took to train a linguist was expensive and slow (someone once told me, but I had no way to confirm, that it cost $1 million to run a background check on my lily-white past before I went to language school ... and that didn't include the classroom time for a relatively easy language like German. How I now wish I'd taken a 'hard' language like Arabic or Russian or Chinese). And, assuming all the true-blue Americans could learn a language, there was always the disadvantage of skin color.

Imagine how much more cost effective it might be to induct someone who already knew or might know how to speak a foreign language. And were the right color. True, they might be a risk (like Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan who killed 13 and injured 30 at Ft. Hood in 2009. A U.S. Senate report (the same senators who sent their children to join the military, right?) dubbed the Ft. Hood fusillade, "the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001". But I know of no comparison of foreign-sourced military members who DIDN'T go off the deep end when compared with the number who did.

Aaaaanyway ... 'terrorism' fills the land these days, even as it fills the pocketbooks of those paid to 'root' it out ... a fact that never seems to receive any confirmation: Authorities arrested someone, sure; they suspected terrorism, sure; they broke down the wrong doors only occasionally; but what was the outcome ... did they ever prove a single terrorist thing? There's a lot of money tied up in the suspicion business, especially for a government planning to go to war because it cannot pick up the tools of peace.

Were there terrorists among the foreigners who got screwed out of the citizenship deals they had been promised ... well, maybe, maybe, maybe ... Did any of them speak desirable languages, languages that might grease the war wheels as the U.S. ups its war-ante in the Middle East? Dunno ... but they're foreigners and we all know what Donald Trump thinks of foreigners, women, blacks and browns ... there ain't no trustin' 'em, Festus! Terrorists in the makin' I betcha.

"Terrorism," the word that came to wild popularity in the 2000's among those seeking to cement their positions and paychecks. Don't ask and don't answer any hard questions (what does it mean; whom does it seem to target; what is the outcome of all the shadowy investigations that never seem to produce concrete outcome(s)) Keep an eye on the foreigners who might bring some intelligence to the intelligence game ... they could snap, right? I know ... mortgage payments are no joke. Keep the spigot open, maintain the fear and bigotry levels ... we may not be able to do peace but we sure as fuck can do war... no verbalizing necessary or invited.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

"thank you for your service"

Perhaps because I suffered its lash when young, there is little that infuriates me more than feigned affection. On the other hand, knee-jerk reactions and habituations and the sheer delight of a raging wrath is so winsome ... something just looking for an excuse to rise up and roar and be clean.

Anyway, yesterday was Independence Day. July 4th -- the day on which Americans break out flags and fireworks. It was hot with an intensity that D-double-dared decency and politesse to even consider wasting their time. Who had the energy for neatly-hung clothes and mores ... it was too hot.

I was standing in the suburban-esque street outside my house. In the heat -- the dazzling, frying, erasing heat. From up the way, a man carrying a guitar case approached. He too was in the street rather than on the sidewalk. He seemed to be in his still-ironed 50's, a pink and caring man. As he came abreast of me, we nodded our greetings and then he passed, apparently headed for a parked car.

Suddenly, perhaps because the heat melted the sanity of the moment or perhaps because it is a question that always interests me, I called after him: "What is the single greatest lesson you have learned from music?" The question stopped him as somehow I knew it must. He turned around. And he was quiet for a moment. And then he set off on "a single note." Heat or no heat, miasmic dream within miasmic dream, he had to answer.

When he ran out of words, he asked, millennial-polite and despite the heat, "How about you?" And I too tried and failed to answer. But then he turned the dream-time-hotter-than-dammit tables on me: "Did you serve in the military?" he asked. "Yes," I replied. "Well, I'd like to thank you for your service," he said on July 4, that day of flags and bunting and fireworks. And those 'caring' words broke me wide open. "Don't run that bullshit on me," I said with devil-take-the-hindmost ire. "If you really want to honor veterans, stop making them!"

What did I know of his background and service and caring? Nothing. I assumed ... assumed in a land that loves to praise the 'heroes' who came home having seen what no man should be forced to see, suffered what no man or woman deserves to suffer ... because I voted for the assholes who made it all possible, who retooled their factories and raked in the cash. "Thank you for your service" is shorthand for those who wish to absolve themselves of the crimes for which they cannot be absolved. The coffins come home and we are no longer allowed to see them. Men and women come home and are riven again and again with memories I have laid upon them. "Thank you for your service?!" Go fuck yourself!

I was infuriated on the hot-hot suburban street ... as delightedly infuriated as a supporter of Donald Trump who may not have much left in a life much bereft ... but I can be furious and the fury blows my pipes out ... cleansing, useless, but at least furiously true.

Gawd! For those few lava-bubbling moments, I was cleaned out and cleaned up. This was what I really felt and really roared and didn't care that no one cared because I cared! Take your glowing encomiums, your 'heroes' and branded bearers of arms ... wrap them up in barbed wire and shove them up your ass! Don't tell me you care! CARE!

It was all irrational in the July 4 heat that wiped reason from my universe. Wiped it out and, wicked truth be told, felt great.

"Thank you for your service?"

There once was a man from Nantucket
Whose cock was so long he could suck it.
He said with a grin
As he wiped off his chin,
"If my nose were a cunt, I would fuck it."
Self-congratulation ... oh Jesus!

Was I right or was I wrong in yesterday's 'patriotic' fever? Probably both, but feeling right ... well, every once in a while I like that feeling.

Soon enough, the guitar-player excused himself. The heat was too much and perhaps he felt the wrath I kept carefully enough (I hope) inside. He got into his Honda and turned on the air conditioning. Can't say that I blame him.

Hot days ... heroism ... and shame.

Tears and sweat are both salt water.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

on the chocolate main line

"Bruce Bogtrotter" in the movie, "Matilda"
Well, the experiment failed ... sort of.

For a long time, I had wanted to make a super-chocolate cake replete with chocolate chunks, raw cocoa, butter, confectioner's sugar and, the kicker, black raspberry jam. It was the flavor combination of jam and off-sweet chocolate that held my experimental fancy and yesterday, I got off my ass and tried the imagined chemistry set: Boxed devil's food cake with chunks and powdered baker's chocolate added; icing of melted bitter-sweet chocolate, butter and jam ....

The icing was too runny, but the flavor of jam and chocolate hit the spot.

As Thomas Edison is said, approximately, to have said, "I didn't fail 2,000 times to create a light bulb; I discovered 2,000 ways that didn't work." Jam and chocolate taste good to this old choc-o-holic. Nice to find an experiment that goes "eureka" on my tongue.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

speed of light ... a question

Sledge-o-matic decimates unwary vegetation
Is it a reasonable question in a comic-book era (borrowed from the comedian "Gallagher," I think):
If a car is hurtling through space at the speed of light, do the headlights still work?
You may think this is a foolish question, but consider: There was a time when you thought Donald Trump was foolish as well.

orchestrating "deepfakes"

Just in time for U.S. President Donald Trump and his political mirror images to utilize in the 2018 mid-term elections:
New technology on the internet lets anyone make videos of real people appearing to say things they’ve never said. Republicans and Democrats predict this high-tech way of putting words in someone’s mouth will become the latest weapon in disinformation wars against the United States and other Western democracies.
We’re not talking about lip-syncing videos. This technology uses facial mapping and artificial intelligence to produce videos that appear so genuine it’s hard to spot the phonies. Lawmakers and intelligence officials worry that the bogus videos — called deepfakes — could be used to threaten national security or interfere in elections.
So far, that hasn’t happened, but experts say it’s not a question of if, but when.
"Deepfakes" -- if everyone is lying to everyone else all the time ... uhhh ... does that make Trump's "fake news" fake or does it make it true? You might think this is a joke for some novice philosophy student or a mathematician in training (a minus times a minus is a plus ... have I remembered that right?), but lies are insidious and far from smirk-worthy in the end. My social links wither together with "the truth" and I don't like being lonely. On the other hand, maybe this story itself is nothing but a "deepfake," a plot by 'big pharma' aimed at pushing me down the pill-puddled path to the future.

The lazy savants may view the advent of this technological deepfake wunderkind as a blessing: "Toldja so! Now the electorate will have to think for itself." But no one really wants that responsibility. Everyone would like to trust someone: After all, there are groceries to be bought and soccer games to attend and eeking out enough money to keep pace with the oh-so-improved economy that never seems to reach my house.... I need to trust someone, as Donald Trump advocates can demonstrate in spades.

"Speak truth to power?" What truth? What power? Who will arbitrate this clusterfuck? Are the oligarchs dancing on our graves? I imagine they might be. Fake-faker-fakest ... when draining the bureaucratic swamp is nothing short of filling it.

Monday, July 2, 2018

beat the heat ... not

If the heat were snow, we'd be in over our hubcaps. The heat lingers and lollygags, quiet and enfolding as any snowstorm whopper. It is as insistent as a new nun and raps my knuckles the moment I think to outwit it. It sucks me out.

So it goes.

I huddle and thank goodness that the air conditioner works.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

revisiting what is settled

"If I had only known then what I know now...."

Today, a friend passed along a story about a Buddhist organization whose ranks have been shivered by sexual misconduct allegations. And the Associated Press offers a piece about the Vatican and its non-policy about policing pedophilia within its Roman Catholic ranks. Two stories in a realm I once chose to muddle around in -- the land of the 'spiritual.'

I wonder idly, as I peruse the same old stuff in two vaguely-different venues, if anyone doesn't reach a point in life when things seem out of kilter, when the old answers don't quite measure up, when something knocks at the door and suggests that a new configuration of biases and allegiances isn't warranted. Doubt veils the pristine scene ... there are increasing flies in the hitherto acceptable ointment.

And not just spiritual life. Anything. Any topic. Any venue ... is there something anyone may have chosen with gusto and are willing to see through to the end, but, but, but ... suddenly the 'but' flies sizzle and buzz. The wonderful job. The good marriage. The philosophy that won't quit. The enduring friendship. The meanings and importance seem to wobble and seek out improvements and yet the willingness to quit and poke around is not in play. This time ... this time, by God ... I'll get to the bottom of it ... warts and all. No more all-talk-and-no-walk. No more philosophical razzmatazz. What's the truth? What's my truth?

Do all people hit such a wall? I have a hard time imagining that they won't or can't hit such a wall, but I am naive. Questions are sometimes just too damned daunting. Too spooky. Too up-tearing. I need something to hold on to. I won't let go ... seriously. So, squelch the doubts, plaster the widening cracks ... "you'll get pie in the sky when you die" and there is no willingness to append the harmonic, "it's a lie." Just to consider it is too much.

I am naive. Old meanings may suffice. Throw enough old Jell-O at the wall and some of it is bound to stick.

Is that a matter for sadness or not? I think it's sad not to pick your topic and then really dig in, but I am naive.

Imagine if meaning had some meaning ... or didn't.

Revisiting settled things is pretty unsettling.

hot day

At 11 a.m. a rotisserie-esque heat [90F/32.2C] has descended in force. How in heaven's name did anyone survive such heat when it struck New York City when I was a kid and air conditioning was not in every window? New York -- a brick-oven of tall, stone buildings ... a pizza oven down whose streets an occasional water truck might pass, spraying water left and right from its tanker womb, washing away some, but not much, of the searing of the streets.

The porch, where I sit and sip coffee, is too hot for much communion with the outdoors. What a weakened sissy I have become. How thankful I am for the air conditioning. Wuss-wussier-wussiest. Once upon a time, I guess, I simply lived through it because there was no other option. Now I cross my fingers for the options I know are available. "Dear Santa -- I don't want a lump of coal...."

Yes, yes ... I hear the Zennie chorus: "When it's hot, sweat; when it's cold, shiver."

Saturday, June 30, 2018

"the buck stops here"

Harry S. Truman
In 1935, as a newly-minted U.S. senator from Missouri, Harry S. Truman paid a somewhat awe-struck visit to the Senate well. So much history surrounded him. Perhaps he remembered a bit of his military tenure in World War I. It was probably not on his radar at that moment that he would become (1945-1953) president of the United States and place a plaque on the presidential desk that read, "The buck stops here." In the Senate, he was on hallowed ground. No kidding.

Truman had a sense of history and honor. Standing in the Senate well for the first time must have been a jaw-dropper. Yet as he stood marveling (if that's what he was doing), a colleague slipped up behind him and is said to have said, "Harry, for the first six months, you'll wonder how you ever got here. After that, you'll wonder how the rest of us got here."

Those were other times, but were they so different? I suspect, in one sense, that they were. Those were times when more seasoned voices actually encouraged recently-graduated young people by saying, "You can be anything you want. You could become president of the United States."

Nor was this simply the eyewash du jour. Becoming president of the power player of that time was not just some joke or bitter-sweet pill to swallow. Imagine ... president! There was honor in social service, whatever its drawbacks. The U.S. had won its spurs, both at home and abroad and to be the rider was ... a gob-smacking thought. As Shakespeare put it, "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."

These days are different, I think. The internet offers a million reasons to get a good night's sleep and leave the uneasiness to those who still feel a sense of obligation and willingness to sustain a hundred cuts and bruises. These days, applause is top-most in small minds. Being "right" takes precedence over being "just" and being "right" is ascertained from strategically-placed applause-o-meters and carefully-tabulated bank accounts.

Or maybe I am blowing this out of proportion. If so, I'll just play the old-age card. What the fuck could he know?! And you'll notice that I take the easiest road and praise someone who is dead and thus not in a position to contradict my froth-wallowing.

the future as we (don't) know it

In our neck of the U.S. woods, the local newspaper is offering its usual safe-sex attempts to look into an unknowable future with a story about a heatwave [90's+ F/ 30's C] lumbering towards our neighborhood. Hunker and bunker, boys and girls! 

News is hard enough without pretending that the future is knowable. The present is not difficult enough in an internet age. Guesstimates have replaced facts as the lingua franca.  News outlets strain to be 'relevant' by becoming irrelevant... and, oh yeah, coincidentally cutting newsroom staff.

"Fake news," anyone?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Israelis support Palestinians


As Israelis, we call on the world to intervene on behalf of Palestinians
We’re patriotic citizens but are horrified by the escalating tensions in our country: we fear for those who live here.
With Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm, with Donald Trump supporting the scenery, and with nuclear weapons as a ready enforcer, no doubt this call as well will be brushed off as the whining of yet another 'anti-Semitic' cabal. At least, to the best of my knowledge, Israel has not yet sought to detain Palestinians behind gates that once again proclaim, "Arbeit Macht Frei."

Thursday, June 28, 2018

the failure of others?

Fortune cookie du jour:

Do not malign the failings of others without first casting a light on the similar failings of your own. And if, having cast the light, you are unable to excise what is malignant, at least have the good grace to take responsibility for it.

kamikaze U.S. Democrats

 A friend in Japan sent along a piece by Chris Hedges, an author who is not about to lie down and spread his legs for the latest sensitivity/democracy/compassion fad. The piece is a bit old, but its pungency remains.

I am wary of what others assume I might or might not like, but I found myself sucked into the piece and thinking more than once, "absolutely, goddamned right!" Hedges may be shrill, but he's smart enough to make me think others could simply turn down the volume and listen.

Bloody times in the offing. No fucking joke.

Among other -- some more compelling than this -- observations:
The Democratic Party, which helped build our system of inverted totalitarianism, is once again held up by many on the left as the savior. Yet the party steadfastly refuses to address the social inequality that led to the election of Trump and the insurgency by Bernie Sanders. It is deaf, dumb and blind to the very real economic suffering that plagues over half the country.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

"home-made" and "artisan"

Among the shifting tides:

When I was a kid, "home-made" was an ad any child might affix to his or her lemonade stand during the throes of summer. "Home-made" meant the kid probably had a little sweat-equity invested in the ice-cold beverage that could hit the spot on a hot day. But also, it was a concoction that could be second-rate. Home-made meant just that. Not all home-made goods are necessarily better. Really, they could be pretty awful.

Nowadays, in an era when sellers are looking for an edge, what was once "home-made" is bruited as "artisan," a word that once referred to someone with long experience and expertise. Now, any person who has poured fifteen or twenty minutes into his or her product is an "artisan" because "artisan" is a kool word and it seems to offer an authenticated product.

Emphasis on the word "seems" just as it once was for "home-made." Beer, wine, bread, shoes, sweaters ... in my neck of the pink and perky universe, these are goods that are often labeled "artisan" ... and may just as easily contain the money-making thinners and short-cuts whose presence make the product just as second-rate as what is sold in a chain store.

A Wonderbread World peppered with "artisan" flavoring.

And once upon a time, the CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite observed that "news is not about how many cats did not get up on the garage roof." These days, my local paper shows an ever-waxing willingness to present stories about all those cats that didn't get up on the garage roof. And like as not they are wearing yoga pants. Newspapers are facing hard times and the willingness to winkle out the solo cat mewling on the garage roof has been supplanted by the safe-sex stories about meetings or the police blotter or who died and how nice they were. It's easier to do the easy stuff and not offend anyone and not put in the sweat-equity that used to go into news stories.

I sympathize with newspapers, of which I am a product, but I see no reason not to note that their profits, however diminished, are plush. Do the owners want more? Sure they do. But at what expense? Yoga pants don't fill the bill. Building a parking lot may keep the wolves from the door, but at what price?

In 1994, former newspaper reporter John Morton wrote:
Last year, taken together (in other words, adding up all their revenues and profits), these companies' newspapers kept 15 cents out of every dollar they took in before taxes. By contrast, the Fortune 500 companies together earned about 5 cents.
Even if it's only a 10% profit (after taxes), there's nothing shabby about that in today's marketplace. Maybe an inclusion of news would not be untoward.

Just paddling upstream without a paddle.

chalk one up for the heterosexuals

A heterosexual couple who were denied the right to enter into a civil partnership have won their claim at the UK’s highest court that they have suffered discrimination.
Justices at the supreme court unanimously found in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan in a decision that will put pressure on the government to change the law.
The pair, from west London, who believe that the institution of marriage is patriarchal and sexist, have fought a prolonged legal campaign to open up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples.
Can you imagine the conniptions in the Muslim/Christian/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu environs?

Sometimes I purely love the Brits.