Saturday, January 31, 2015

cutting off the snake's head

What is it that U.S. and other power bases do not understand?

Around the world, one "dictator" or another, one "insurgent" leader or another, one "bad man" or another is cloaked by the U.S. et all in the glory of being the villain du jour.

Then he is assassinated or dies and the U.S. or other governmental entities crow, "Cut off the head and the snake will die."

And once the snake's purported head is in fact cut off ... the mission, the cause and the blood-letting persists.

Does this not suggest that another approach might be more effective? If you don't ask what it is that someone wants/needs and why they want it and then attempt to address those wants/needs, is killing them the answer to the question? It all feels like the exasperated parent who snaps at a reluctant child, "Shut up and eat your spinach!" Yes, there are "terrorists" with violence-laced, disproportionate and pig-headed demands -- who are dying to die -- but is it true that none of their goals/demands is within the realm of human sanity? I find that hard to believe.

A U.S.-backed action in the Philippines -- how wonderful it's not the Middle East for once, right? -- brought all this to mind.

Marwan seems to deserve a round of U.S. applause: It was he, among others, who allowed America to march resolutely towards a goal of allowing war to distract from more complex issues at home ... that and, as an adjunct, keeping the electorate in thrall to the fear of snakes.

I burn your books, you burn mine

BAGHDAD (AP) — When Islamic State group militants invaded the Central Library of Mosul earlier this month, they were on a mission to destroy a familiar enemy: other people's ideas.
Residents say the extremists smashed the locks that had protected the biggest repository of learning in the northern Iraq town, and loaded around 2,000 books — including children's stories, poetry, philosophy and tomes on sports, health, culture and science — into six pickup trucks. They left only Islamic texts.
There are those who adore books as if they were talismans of greatness and virtue and such people are horrified that a book burning took place. For them, book burnings are an apostasy.

But worse than that, in my mind, is the concrete fragility of the world view that indulges its feeding-frenzy fires: Are someone else's ideas so threatening to my philosophy and if so, what does that say about my philosophy? How convincing and practical, to say nothing of kind, are ideas that excoriate a world that does not share them?

This might all be hypothetical hand-wringing, if the feeding frenzy wrought by group-think agreement (good, bad and indifferent) did not end up spilling others' blood.

The mad dogs of group-think -- a spinoff of what may be elevated and inspiring and genuinely nourishing starting points -- are ... well they scare the shit out of me.

And what is socially true is a capacity that is singular and personal as well. I burn your books and you burn mine from time to time.

Lord, do not save me from the utter thoughtlessness of others. Instead, save me from the mad-dog and subtlely shaped stupidity within!

Let's just agree to be infidels, OK?

meditation video game

And now, of course, I can't find it any more.

A video of a meditating bald man/monk sitting facing the computer-user while an animated fly buzzes around ... in one ear and out the other, on his face, etc. The moment the computer user attempts to do anything with the cursor -- swat or catch the fly, for example -- the man's eyes pop open in disgusted surprise that anyone would interrupt meditation over so minor a matter. "Don't zzzzzz" the screen advises. The effect is both funny and serious.

I can't find it and save it as I should have. Maybe the video no longer exists. Or maybe I have just been zzzz-ing too much.

I mention it in case anyone else was savvy enough to save it and is willing to put a link here.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

intellectual coward

The Associated Press was in contact this morning, seeking confirmation of my mother's death and other odds and ends. The requests sent me here and there around the house and put me on a my-mother's-death frequency.

I wondered what I had learned from her. Probably a lot, much of it so tightly woven within as to be forgotten. But it crossed my mind that one of the positive things she taught me, though she never said it directly, was, "don't be an intellectual coward." She never was and, as a result, she was lonely I think.

What is an intellectual coward? Taking a swing at it, I guess I'd say an intellectual coward was someone who claimed to know something and was graceless enough not to admit that s/he was too tired or busy to do the homework implicit in that knowledge. Going the distance is too damned exhausting and it's easier, within or without, to say, "I know."

But I see nothing wrong with admitting that sure-fire or even much-touted knowledge is just the point beyond which the one with the knowledge refused to go. There are gross versions of this -- think "terrorist" or "hero" or "love" -- and there are far subtler versions -- writers or sports bettors or philosophers or whoever who rely on the sweat of others and then claim it for their own ... without that graceful nod to the distance they refused to go ... and for which they expect applause.

It takes some balls not to be an intellectual coward and my mother had balls.

cold weather

It is cold this morning -- minus two degrees Fahrenheit at the moment. The dawn sky was dotted earlier with pink clouds as if to bring credibility to the old saw, "Red sky in the morning/ Sailors take warning./ Red sky at night/ Sailors delight." The forecast promises a few inches of snow later today.

Cold ... a hard cold.

Bundle up as I have. Wrap yourself in layers of clothing...

I once listened to an East German telephone operator chatting with a fellow telephone operator in another city. It was so cold, she said, that her son had put on 17 sweaters. I listened to the telephone tap tape several times to make sure I had it right ... 17 sweaters.

Swaddle yourself in another and another bit of clothing.

Ordinary clothing, monastic clothing, police officer clothing, businessman clothing, homeless-person clothing, military clothing, au courant clothing, behind the times clothing ... layer after layer ...

The cold doesn't mind, but I do.

the price of Buddhist ritual

For the Buddhism-beckoned in the audience, here is an article from the BBC entitled "China's super-rich communist Buddhists."
"They may not be able to buy their way into Nirvana," Geshe Sonam says, "but in Buddhism, you can get more karmic reward the more money you spend on rituals."
Sometimes, but not often, I wonder how far anyone can stretch a perfectly-good rubber band before it snaps.

mummified Buddhist monk

Passed along in email today was this tidbit about a mummified, 200-year-old Buddhist monk.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Let's Go Fly a Kite"

Because I ran across the 2013 movie, "Saving Mr. Banks," a film about the tart and emotionally-immured author P.L. Travers and Walt Disney's attempt to make a movie of her "Mary Poppins," I have now got the following song stuck in my mind. It probably won't have the impact it does in the context of the movie, but still....

Israelis jail stone-thrower, 14

BETIN, West Bank (AP) — The fate of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl, tried before an Israeli military court for hurling rocks at passing cars in the West Bank and sentenced to two months in prison, has gripped Palestinians who say her treatment demonstrates Israel's excessive measures against stone-throwing youth....
The Israeli military said al-Khatib was charged with stone-throwing, attempted stone-throwing and possession of a knife and that under a plea bargain, she was sentenced to two months in prison and a $1,500 fine.

loss of what?

A strange sadness overcame me yesterday when I happened to learn of the death of my first bed-time girlfriend. The sadness seemed to complement or flesh out what I didn't seem to feel about the death of my mother on Jan. 11.

In fifty-odd intervening years, I hadn't kept up with the life and times of the girl who had popped my cherry and led me towards a richer and more confused and more human roundness. I found her married name almost by accident via the Great God Google. She died last year at 70 of cancer. She had had two daughters. Her husband survived her.

The obituary gave the information and something inside me exclaimed, "No! Things aren't supposed to be like that!"

Like what? Like ... however tenuous and uninformed my memories were, still they were my memories and formed a bit of who I liked to think I was. My memories were serious even when I didn't pay them much mind. Because the memories were alive, the person was alive ... and somehow was not allowed to die until the memories died. But of course things don't work like that.

In some small but pervasive way, I felt bereft and sad and surprised and upset.

My mother died at 98. It was her time, I guess, and, however complex the weaving she made in my mind, still I did not feel deprived or deeply sad. Maybe that will come later. Maybe not. But there was something touching and tearing about the 'loss' of a young woman with whom I laughed and gained a little humanity.

I'm not sure exactly what was lost, but I felt a sadness I imagine others feel when someone close dies ... even when they are not close.