Monday, November 20, 2017

2nd cataract

... 'procedure' today ... a three hour wait for a 15 minute operation.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

sticking up for journalism

I am a fan of The Guardian. On the whole, it is my go-to source of world news not least because it seems to espouse journalistic values I appreciate. Remember "the other side of the story?" The Guardian ain't pitch-perfect, but at least it tries.

Currently, there is a "long read" (and be forewarned, it is long) by The Guardian's editor-in-chief, Katherine Viner: "A Mission for Journalism in a Time of Crisis."

For the newsies who read this site, I recommend her essay as a nice assessment of news in our times ... or perhaps news whose underpinnings I approve of. It made me feel good in a time when feel-good is alternatively too easy to come by or too incredibly difficult to find.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

quirky laws in U.S. states

sticking up for the sacred

An Irish Catholic priest does not appear to be just another whiny Christian.

The Rev. Desmond O’Donnell simply suggests that his flock get with the times and acknowledge the fact that "Christmas" is devoid of sacred meaning. For this reason, O'Donnell has suggested that Christians stop using the word, according to a story in The Guardian.
'We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that.'
O’Donnell said he is not seeking to disparage non-believers. 'I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer.'...
O’Donnell said unless Catholicism addressed the reality of what the word Christmas has come to mean, 'secularisation and modern life will continue to launder the church...'
Just because some things aren't sacred doesn't mean all things aren't.

Friday, November 17, 2017

religion as a buttress and bulwark

I think Julia told me her boyfriend's father, who died recently, was a Seventh Day Adventist. As a result, Julia told me in a phone conversation, her boyfriend had, growing up, lived in a lot of different countries as his dad pursued a course of spreading the good word.

But the death was a lingering, languorous one fraught with pain. But worse than the painful indignities that dying visited on the dying man was the fact that his lifelong faith did not sustain and succor him. The family was aghast. The dying man, father to Julia's boyfriend among others, railed against the religion he had followed in lock-step all of his life. It was as if he were saying to his God, "Why are you visiting this pain on me when I have been so faithful to You?!" He ranted and forswore what had once been so dear and his near kin were reduced to trembling: Wasn't religion a means of addressing death in good spirits? Wasn't it a bulwark and a buttress? The old man was adamant in his ire according to Julia. How this affected Julia's boyfriend she didn't say, but it must have been a surprise at a minimum.

Strangely, as one who had spent close to 50 years embracing spiritual life, I found the story consoling.

I had called Julia because, in the distant past, she had been a brick when it came to piecing together my book, "Answer Your Love Letters: Footnotes to a Zen Practice." I knew nothing of internet vagaries and Julia knew the codes. More than that, she was willing to put them at my disposal. The book would never have been published without her hard work.

In the course of collaboration, I learned that Julia was also an artist whose work and mind I liked. It was a recollection of that fondness that prompted my phone call: I thought she might offer some good input on my idea to create a peacenik button saying "If you really want to honor our veterans, stop making them." I thought I might scrape together the money to have the button printed up in bulk and then distributed for free ... maybe at VFW halls.

But it had been a long time since I talked to Julia and in the years gone by she had come to the conclusion that although she hated the man called Donald Trump, she was happy with what he had done in Washington. "I can only watch Fox News now," she told me without rancor as she got around to why she would not help me with the button. She was among the angry who felt disenfranchised and dispossessed by the government that was meant to represent her. Despite all the years gone by, I had expected her to be on my liberal page in the present as she had been on my liberal page in the past. Life has a way of disregarding the fondest of expectations.

And so we segued into other topics as people of our age can. I am 77 and Julia is in her 60's, I think and neither of us is interested in a teen-ager's shouting match. Age softens the edges that righteousness can sharpen. Anyway, we took a slow curve into other realms ... stuff like her boyfriend's father and his cranky demise.

The old man died without a good word for the religion he had folded himself into with gusto. The course correction seemed horrific to those who gathered around his death bed. A sorrow. A betrayal. And yet ....

To me, it seemed a blessing. Or anyway it seemed to bless my waxing sense that the purpose of donning spiritual life in the first place -- the sole nourisher, in fact -- was learning the ability and understanding that comes/came with divestiture. Far from leaning on some staff of reassurance, a believer is best served, especially when confronted by death, when all reassurances are set gently aside.

Think of it: No baby ever slid down the vaginal pipe attended by religion or spiritual preference. The sole capacity of the newborn is the capacity to suck, to nourish itself, and to live. Religion and its precincts were add-ons -- succor for the suckers who already know how to suck. This is not meant as a criticism of spiritual effort, which has many fine attributes, nor of God. It is an acknowledgment of the way in which human life unfolds. Each is born in his or her time and the Post-It's are glued on after the fact -- the habits and capabilities and successes and failures and all the other little notes that shape the person who could use a little reassurance from time to time.

Not for a moment would I disparage another's spiritual leanings. Atheism, like credulity, is pretty simple. I would only suggest that as the child once outgrew boots and clothes as winters passed, so the clothing of spiritual life might face a time when it was appropriate to put all reassurances aside. No need for anger or for joy.

It is simply what happens when the reassurances lose their assurance...

With an assurance that only death can provide.

black-and-white newspaper

The old third-grade puzzler used to ask, "What's black and white and red/read all over?" The answer was "a newspaper" until color was introduced into newsprint and the puzzle lost its zip.

Around here, a three-hour power outage two days ago means that the newspaper has been delivered in throwback black-and-white both yesterday and today. Somehow the lack of electricity messed with the capacity to print color photos and graphics.

The drab results put me in mind of a time when I thought the introduction of color to newspapers was too gaudy and couldn't last. Now, my habit of looking for color reveals itself.

Something to whine about ... thank god.

donations for a bird-flipper

Passed along in email was this today: The woman who flipped Donald Trump's motorcade the bird and was subsequently fired when she admitted her role has rounded up the better part of a $100,000 GoFundMe effort to support her valor.

What I'm waiting for is a dollar amount her former company -- the one which fired her -- is going to have to shell out. Talk about dingbat idiocy. At a minimum, the CEO ought to be fired for lacking the skill and foresight to know the results of a hoo-hah patriotism. Would you want a skill-less dimwit like this running your company?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

15 corrupt convictions thrown out

Leonard Gipson, one of 15 convicted men, talks to reporters after a judge in Chicago threw out the convictions Thursday.
CHICAGO (AP) — One by one, the men told the same story: A Chicago police officer would demand money from them. And if they didn’t pay, they would find themselves in handcuffs with drugs stuffed in their pockets.
A Cook County judge on Thursday threw out the felony drug convictions of 15 black men who all say they were locked up for no other reason except that they refused to pay Ronald Watts.
It was the largest mass exoneration in memory in Chicago.

gifts from China

My across-the-street neighbor Joe and his wife Pat returned from China yesterday. I had thought they were to be gone three weeks but it turned out to be two. Joe brought me an unasked-for calligraphy from a monastery known for having sent monks to India who then brought home the first scrolls and texts of Buddhism. Joe said the souvenir calligraphy wished good fortune or some such for "adam." A nice thought ... and he told me he had brought as well a pebble from the Great Wall, which I asked for but was stashed, for the moment, inside Joe's house.

asked to be kept in solitary confinement

The man who asked to be kept in solitary confinement.

the "First Church of Artificial Intelligence"

Passed along in email today came this article about a start-up church of artificial intelligence.

My first snarky reaction was, "Go out and play in the street!"

But then, because someone is bound to buy in and because there may be something to buy into, I responded to my friend who sent it along:
Will it be benevolent, will it be belligerent, can (wo)men shape and control it ... ??? Questions abound and I am suspicious of anyone (including me) who says s/he is capable of seeing the outcome. One yardstick I have started using lately is the question "Does it fold in failure?" AI doesn't seem willing to fail ... which makes it inhuman ... not to mention boring and, from a human standpoint, malevolent.

It is interesting how, in one way or another, articles try and try and try again to get a handle on the whole matter -- as if an explanation were going to explain, and hence control, this brave new world.


escape from exceptionalism

The exceptionalism of the many.
The exceptionalism of the few.
Without what is exceptional,
What would any of us do?

Perhaps the upshot is that pigs have been and will continue to be oink-meisters.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

the seal of confession?

In August, a commission investigating child abuse in the Catholic church of Australia recommended that any failure to report suspicions of child sex abuse to the authorities should result in criminal charges – even if the discovery was made within the seal of the confessional. “We are satisfied,” the commissioners wrote, “that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behaviour in order to deal with their own guilt.” The archbishop of Melbourne’s reply was unequivocal: the seal could not be broken, and if that meant going to jail, well, so be it.
On the one hand, how wondrous to be absolved of child abuse or any other catastrophe.
On the other hand, how horrific the hidden fallout.

Who would not give a lot to feel/believe the weights might be taken or fall away?
Responsibility is a crucifixion and you don't need to be a Roman Catholic to know that.

democracy ... kind of

Report on global democracy:
Globally, progress has been made in nearly all of these measures over the past 40 years, meaning public institutions are more accountable and representative than ever before. But the impartiality of governments remains unchanged.
“This has been the most difficult thing for democracies to tackle since 1975 to today,” said Ebead. “The sophistication with which democratic backsliding [into autocratic systems] occurs within countries has gone up over the past decade. In the past, democratic backsliding in a county would occur in the form of a coup d’etat or classical electoral fraud with the stuffing of ballot boxes.”
Such methods are still used, but governments also have access to new technologies that can allow them to manipulate voting systems.

power outage

From shortly before 9 a.m. to shortly before 12:00 p.m., there was a power outage in the neighborhood ... or, if my neighbor is to be believed, from Worcester to all of western Massachusetts.

What writing I had planned on the oh-so-electrical computer was thrown into a cocked hat.

But there was water (gravity) and gas for the stove.

Things were quieter without the electricity. Strange how something intrinsically silent can make so much noise and ease the clangor by its absence.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Verbal flatulence. Was there ever a time without it?

Joining the old-timers "we" and "one," these days in seemingly every verbal venue, the word "so" has added its smarmy song to the verbal-flatulence chorus. These days, questions asked by interviewers are answered, in preface, by the word "so."

Why did the cat get up on the garage roof?

So, it seems that the prospect was just too irresistible.

What color is the white house?

So, white has always been the preferred color of a majority of houses.

Why is the sky blue?

So, the sky has its devices....

How does it happen that "so" has joined the verbal flatulence realm?

So, if everyone is doing it, it's cozy and social and sounds thoughtful and offers a moment in which to reflect so, I dunno.


So, why not?

So it sounds dumber than a box of rocks.


Just so.

news missing, warmth remains

The warming sense of community once exuded by the local newspaper has faded into barely-veiled advertising and safe-sex press releases about various "boards" and "officials" in this small city's small newspaper.

And yet, with winter in the offing, the Daily Hampshire Gazette still delivers a warmth in its capacity to fire up the wood stove. It's not the same warmth of news reporting, but I do appreciate the wood-warmth even as I miss the news-reporting that the newspaper once provided a bit of.

In an era of safe-sex and dwindling-dwindling-dwindling news -- the capacity to turn over rocks for the benefit of readership -- I guess paying for a little kindling has to be expected.

Merchandizing by merchants -- what the hell else did I expect?

Viva the Donald Trump motif!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Modigliani -- rapscallion and wunderkind

"He was the ‘ravishing villain’ who drank, took drugs and bed-hopped his way around Paris. But Modigliani’s nudes – warm portraits of confident women – caused a revolution in painting"

traveling in China

As I sit here writing, my across-the-street neighbors, Joe and Pat DeBlase, are touring China.

Imagine that.

I'm not sure why it pleases me as much as it does. I don't wish I were there in their stead.

But it does please me.

virtue meets its maker

Two snowball fights and I am not sure I've got the energy to retail them, but here goes....

The first came in perhaps the second grade, maybe 70 years ago. At the public school I attended, there was one "gang" -- a kind of club which, like other clubs, relied in part for its definition to the people it excluded. It was good to belong to the "gang," the in-crowd, and saddening not to.  Glasses and freckles and girls, perhaps, qualified for exclusion.

But one day, bolstered at home by Pete Seeger's Almanac Singers and the willingness to fight the good labor fight on vinyl records, I gathered all those who were outside the gang and challenged the gang to a snowball fight in the school parking lot during recess. There was a great mound of plowed snow and we made our stand on top of that heap. We may have been outgunned by numbers, but we had the virtue of the underdog (in my mind) and we had elevation. These, I imagined, would see us through to a victory that would leave the gang in the shade.

Only of course it didn't. Once the fight started, it was clear that recess could not end soon enough. Virtue and all, we got clobbered. When it was all over, the kids with freckles, glasses, physical challenges and verifiable stupidities remained excluded. The gang was intact.

Some years later, in the 6th or 7th grade at a boarding school of some 50 students, a group of the best arms available (twelve of us perhaps) challenged the rest of the school to a snowball fight. We had built fortifications up near a wonderful drift. We had laid in pre-made snowballs. We felt confident the best arms could flatten the mere rabble.

Well oops again: What seemed like the entire rest of the school (including teachers) turned out to meet our challenge. The best arms were not good enough for the seething numbers. We got clocked. It was a kind of precursor to the Vietnam war at a time when most of us had never heard of Vietnam.

What wondrous visions and hopes I brought to those snowy battles. What should happen surely would happen. Only it didn't, and looking back, what shudders me worst is the recognition that such good lessons should be blithely ignored as time passed and decency and virtue still sang their siren song.

Sometimes I wish I'd turned out smarter, but it's too late now.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

where politesse can spell death

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Women are less likely than men to get CPR from a bystander and more likely to die, a new study suggests, and researchers think reluctance to touch a woman’s chest might be one reason.
Only 39 percent of women suffering cardiac arrest in a public place were given CPR versus 45 percent of men, and men were 23 percent more likely to survive, the study found.

the parched Ogallala aquifer

DENVER (AP) — The draining of a massive aquifer that underlies portions of eight states in the central U.S. is drying up streams, causing fish to disappear and threatening the livelihood of farmers who rely on it for their crops.
Water levels in the Ogallala aquifer have been dropping for decades as irrigators pump water faster than rainfall can recharge it.
An analysis of federal data found the Ogallala aquifer shrank twice as fast over the past six years compared with the previous 60, The Denver Post reports. ...
Also known as the High Plains Aquifer, the Ogallala underlies 175,000 square miles (453,000 square kilometers), including parts of Colorado, Wyoming Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. That’s one of the primary agricultural regions of the U.S., producing $35 billion in crops annually.

thinking man's existence

Or, as Descartes might have put it, "I want, therefore I am."

move over "opiod crisis"

Among the possibilities of something that's labeled as "bad" is the fact that it can always be "worse."

In the United States, the feeding frenzy that has greeted the "opiod epidemic" has been trumped in Canada by the seizure of 42kg of carfentanil in the basement of a house in a well-manicured Toronto neighborhood. Said one researcher, “Carfentanil is about 100 times more toxic than fentanyl and about 10,000 times more toxic than morphine.”
Lab tests eventually revealed 42kg of the substance to be carfentanil – a drug the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has described as “crazy dangerous” and which authorities in the US have flagged as as potential chemical weapon. The local police force had unwittingly stumbled across what is believed to be the largest volume of the opioid ever seized in North America....
Developed in the 1970s as a tranquilizer for large animals such as elephants and bears, the synthetic opioid has also been studied as a potential chemical weapon by countries including the US, China and Israel. It is thought to have been deployed with disastrous effects when Russian special forces attempted to rescue hundreds of hostages from a Moscow theatre in 2002.
But it only burst into public view last year after officials across North America began to warn that it was being cut with heroin and other illicit drugs, leaving a rash of overdoses and deaths in its wake.

a little stupidity

Are interesting people more interested?
Not necessarily.
Are interested people more interesting?
Not necessarily.

I guess you take what you git and another wannabe fortune cookie goes down the drain. Another stupid question for which there are only stupid answers. An imponderable.

Still, I'm kind of interested.

I never said I wasn't stupid.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day

Remembering combat veterans.

Let me be clear from the get-go: I have absolutely no personal experience of the raging sorrow and enveloping fear and screaming slice-and-dicing reality of combat and the wounds sustained by those who have lived and outlived it. I have no experience: Imagination is mere arrogance, however it grovels and praises and thanks.

Zip. Zero. Nada. Nothing ... that is the extent of my bona fides. I can rightly be accused of being as oozing liberal wimp. I might wish I knew more and combat vets might wish I knew more, but the fact is, I don't know more, however much I may blubber and fume. Yeah, I was a pencil-pushing spy for three years, but I never was in overt combat.

But that doesn't mean I can't allow myself a rasher of wrath.

Today is Veterans Day -- a time to remember those who were lost to combat and war and other widespread insanity and self-congratulation.

There are no doubt many ways to remember those who fell in the old men's wars that sent young men to die and be horribly scarred. I am thinking of only two of those ways: 1. Service and 2. Servitude.

The bunting is on display here in the U.S. and in other countries around the world. At first, this date marked the ending of World War I -- the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh month. Peace, so to speak, broke out. These days, with so many subsequent combat missions in the past, World War I is just one among the many markers set by old men who seldom if ever put themselves in the line of fire, however much their fingerprints are on the trigger.

Service -- yes, we honor the sacrifice, and sorrow for the loss and wish we could weep the tears young men were constrained to weep. God, I am so sorry. It must be said that young men are not without their enthusiasms for the kinship wars welded. Like those waving the flag along the parade route, they too would like to come away with something (like peace) that made some sense. But when they recall what cannot be escaped in the dead of night, "service" is not a bulwark that holds up well.

Service -- blessings be upon it.

But that service has another name that fits as well -- servitude. The old men who concoct and conjure wars have always sent others to do the dirty work they convince themselves is warranted. The law of the land is the law of the battlefield. Let the kids do it ... they're enthusiastic enough and stupid enough to be led by their elders ...whose children seldom serve. It is in the old men that the levers of power and policy reside and it is they who exercise their "good judgment" and waste the children instead of insisting they grow up straight and sound and peaceful. True, peace is a more daunting mission because it means so much more than 'the absence of war.' But if the old men cannot exercise their good judgment in the name of nourishment and peace, will someone tell me why it is not they, rather then the kids, who should be cut down.

Servitude -- in the service of money and lip-service glory: Do we want our kids to grow up to be a mewling merchant willing to sell off patrimony for the blood of sons and daughters? Yes, the old men can hold the young in thrall and some of those young people will join up enthusiastically ... but let's check the finger-prints on the triggers of this world and deal with the evidence as it deserves.

Servitude has been tried. It even works. But its capacity to nourish decency and principle ... well, bring on the feudal past... and never imagine that service and servitude are the same thing.

change ... again...oops

Strange to think -- not criticize or improve necessarily, just think -- how much of this life is devoted to finding some aspect or touchstone that does not change at the same time that the slick and slippery 'philosopher' within seeks and growls and yearns for something unchanging.

Love, joy, understanding, enlightenment ... the words and longings roll off the mental tongue ... you know, the 'good' stuff and the cloying TED talks that seek to enshrine and assure some unchanging certainty.

Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it too! What a piss-cutter.

I am as guilty as the next fellow and yet this morning I wonder how much I might have accomplished with all that endeared groveling to the unchanging if I had simply gotten with the program: Everything changes; relief is not the point. Just think -- "I coulda had a V-8."

I recall the very moment in college when, as someone newly-entranced by "philosophy," I ran into some philosopher who advocated for "change." I was in heaven: Here at last was THE Rosetta stone of answers in my unspoken search for The Answer to Everything. Everything I looked at or experienced was always in flux. Everything changed. How delightfully true was that???!!!!

But then -- oops! -- I was tumbled ass over appetite by the realization that if everything changed, that meant my then-relationship with my latest girlfriend was bound -- as I dearly did not want it to be -- to change as well. Well that would never do! I spent long hours trying to write in an exception for my girlfriend. I wanted the delight (change) AND I wanted my girlfriend (unchanging).

Oh well ... another in a long line of ooops-es in the hopper. But did I learn my lesson?


Literally, forgetaboutit.

Friday, November 10, 2017

toast my tootsies

A brisk and bristling breeze has overtaken the day.

It makes old sods like me wish that someone would impose global warming ... NOW.

Alternatively, I suppose we could have summer ... which I seem to have missed.

without which...?

Start the day with a little laughter:

And perhaps a little music:

Thursday, November 9, 2017

time warp/brain fart

Now, at 8:52, I have finally gotten things sorted out.

When I went into the other room six or eight minutes ago to rouse my wife and find out if she were going to work, I told her it was 8:30.

"You're right," she said groggily. "It is 8:30 night."

I have been operating as if morning were in full swing when in fact it is not.

Oh well, what's 12 hours between friends?

It's another excuse to sleep, I suppose.