Thursday, February 26, 2015

shifting responsibility

In a world where personal responsibility is increasingly sidelined, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has added another layer.

Vilsack suggested to Congress yesterday that consumers worried about the genetically-altered food they were buying could simply look it up on their smart phones and thus save purveyors of goods from listing such ingredients on their boxes or cellophane wrappers.

The Food and Drug Administration handles most food-package labeling, so Vilsack's idea isn't an official proposal. But the agriculture secretary suggested it could head off the debate between the food industry and those who have pushed for package labels that identify GMOs.
What is it that encourages individuals and industries to avoid standing behind what they produce and to provide the evidence?


I'll probably never arm-wrestles the topic into a newspaper column, so I guess I will let it out of the starting gate here ... in the privacy of my own slovenly home... the question of trust.

As far as I can figure out, there is an unremitting desire to feel the warming waters of trust. It soothes the soul. It warms the cockles. In the midst of uncertainty trust is relaxed and at peace with something or someone. Trust is a place or time where doubt is erased and comfort kicks in. I'm talking gut-level stuff here, not dictionary stuff.

An Internet dictionary offers this partial approach:
-- a feeling of confidence in someone that shows you believe they are honest, fair, and reliable
-- confidence that something is safe, reliable, or effective
Trust. Cops want it and so do criminals. Politicians court and sometimes lie in order to cement it. Spouses and religious devotees may lay claim to it. Farmers and stock brokers and young mothers and old codgers all seek out little and large homesteads of trust. To trust may prove dangerous, but the alternative of distrusting each and every segment of life that comes down the pike is both exhausting and impossible.

There's just got to be something trustworthy and even if there's not, still ... well ... I guess each picks his or her own version. Buddhists trust, for example, that all things change and their sometimes smug assertion is hard to contradict. But is it trustworthy?

A resting place. Someplace that requires no energy. A bit of peace. Just one small moment that devolves drip by drop into this moment -- a point at which the matter of trust is irrelevant.

There have been people I trusted. And on the sociological big screen, I used to trust the U.S. Supreme Court and the magazine "Consumer Reports." Maybe the Buddhist "enlightenment" is worth trusting, but how could I know that without first being enlightened?

It's a strange duck, trust.

Guantanamo clusterfuck

If Islamic State wants to delight in the corruption of its enemies, I think it has no further to look than the clusterfuck trial under way at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo prison in Cuba. The U.S., a country that might like to present itself as a model of justice for all (wo)men has yet to clearly define its role in holding "suspected terrorists" without recourse to what the U.S. Constitution provides for -- the right to a speedy trial.

Since the prison opened in 2002, 779 prisoners have been held; 644 released or transferred; and 122 remain (I'm not quite sure how that math computes, but it is the assertion of the linked site). The charges against the prisoners have and continue to vary, but almost invariably, what was frightening and heinous about the original charges has turned to dust the moment any particular case came anywhere near courtroom adjudication. The prosecutorial authority has been unwilling in many cases to reveal its sources or the bases for the original oh-so-awful allegations. This seems to be the best that the U.S. can muster -- heartfelt, righteous, frightening blither unsubstantiated by the facts required by any decent legal system. The U.S. is reduced to saying what it is against instead of proving what it is for.

Today, on National Public Radio, there is a good report on one egregiously long and unfocused trial proceeding. It makes clear what is true in the whole mishegas -- that Nero (the U.S.) fiddles, Rome, in the person of flesh and blood men, burns. Here is the lead to the NPR story:

This Sunday marks a dozen years since Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in Pakistan — and seven years since Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann announced formal charges against him, alleging Mohammed was the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ever since, the United States has been working to try him and four other men on death penalty charges at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Now, one of the biggest cases in U.S. history may also become the longest. And it could be years before what's being called the "forever trial" even reaches the trial stage.

 Do individuals, even with the bloodiest of intentions, deserve to be imprisoned, kept from the homes and families or any semblance of a "free" lifestyle. Dick Cheney and other exceptionalist neo-conservatives might argue that they do deserve it. But the question remains as to whether the U.S. deserves Dick Cheney et al.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

East Coast seas rise 5.04 inches

In the news...
-- Sea levels north of New York City rose by 128mm in two years, according to a report in the journal, Nature Communications.
-- In a report, Amnesty International urged the United Nations Security Council to relinquish its veto rights in some cases pertaining to human catastrophes.[Talk about "when pigs fly...."]
Instead, the council's five permanent members - the UK, China, France, Russia and the US - had used their veto to "promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians....
-- Drones have appeared over landmarks in central Paris for the second night running and police are no closer to knowing who is operating them.
There were five sightings by between 23:00 on Tuesday and 02:00 (01:00 GMT) on Wednesday, French media report....
Flying drones over Paris at night is illegal and daytime flights require authorisation from the city.
Five drones were seen the previous night in similar areas, including the Eiffel Tower and above the US embassy, close to Place de la Concorde.
-- STEPHENVILLE, Texas (AP) — A Texas jury has rejected theinsanity defense of a former Marine in the deaths of famed "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle and another man.
After a two-week trial in which jurors heard testimony about defendant Eddie Ray Routh's erratic behavior, including statements about anarchy, the apocalypse and pig-human hybrids, they convicted Routh Tuesday night in the deaths of Kyle and Chad Littlefield at a Texas shooting range two years ago.
If Routh were insane, of course, my own sanity would come into question ... I, who put him on his glorious and patriotic path by funding, whether through inertia or willfulness, the 'peace-keeping' role that led the U.S. to take up arms at the drop of a hat.

heat in the house

This morning, the low rumble of what used to sound like a Sikorsky jet engine emanating from the basement is gone. Instead, the radiators are giving off reassuring can-do clicks and hisses but there is no roar from afar.

Yesterday, the plumbers came and installed a new boiler in the basement -- something to replace the old battleship of a furnace that bit the dust last Friday. The job is not yet complete -- and there is the question of precisely how much of a financial bullet we will have to bite -- but for the moment there is heat in the house.

Some part of me -- some long, long habit -- feels at a loss without the smooth rumble that would rise up when the heat went on. It's "better" of course, but sometimes "better" doesn't really feel better.


Perhaps because I have not been frivolous enough in my life, last night I bought an airline ticket to South America. In keeping with my belief that if you want to visit a foreign country, you should generally skip the big cities -- cities are all the same and it is in the countryside that the small, specific red blood cells of a nation are forged -- my destination was to be 'out there' somewhere ... out where the grass is green, the houses sturdy and a quiet man tended his sometimes-willful pigs or small bank or well-tended church and the world was flat, perhaps. I bought the ticket on the spur of the moment and I was planning to go "now."

As dreams go, this one was flavorful and packed with a wish that is highly unlikely ever to be fulfilled. When awake and when thinking about distant destinations, South America is a place I know little about and as a result have little interest in. Imagine that -- cavalierly writing off a whole continent. But it was that ignorance that allowed me, for a change, to be frivolous ... if only in a dream.

On the one hand, I suppose it takes a kind of courage to be frivolous, to range spontaneously away from terra cognita and into the realm of just do it. On the other, individuals who give over to every whim and whimsey strike me as ... well ... frivolous and weak-tea and probably cruisin' for a bruisin'. I suppose that each side of the coin can look with a wispy longing at its shadowed obverse.

Caution to the winds!

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Trust, leap, let the music take you, giggle within ... and be frivolous!

South America, here I come!

If only in a dream.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Italian Twitter tweaks ISIS

Passed along in email and probably warranting a particularly grisly fatwa. Tweaking The Prophet -- peace be upon him -- is one thing. Laughing at his self-styled expositors is quite another!

cold weather

Minus-14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-25.5 Celsius) at 6:45 a.m. today.

Even the wood stove in the front room is having a hard time keeping up.

A new furnace, after the old one crapped out last Friday, is due today or tomorrow.

If it stays this cold, even the expense begins to contract in the mind.


Without its overlays of "gloomy" or "depressing" or "miserable," the word "dismal" popped up this morning as if a person had walked into a room, approached a piano and idly hit a middle C.

It was not negative or positive. It just had a flavor and richness all by itself. There was vast potential that could follow in its singularity and yet, for the moment, it was its unadorned singularity that was somehow pleasing.

Like "shit," "dismal" felt like a tailor-made suit jacket -- smooth and silky and perfected in every way. What a flavor! Small and enormous all at once, inescapably present and yet smiling a small smile at the future ... "dismal."

This is not a topic to talk about, perhaps. The toxicity of academia crouches for the kill. The whines of the multitudinous mind are not far behind. Everyone wants a piece of the action and "dismal" gets no respite. Instead, it is attached and assessed and freighted with meaning. No reason it shouldn't, but this morning I like it alone and untouched and complete without complement. "Dismal."

I once saw some very large paintings in the Guggenheim Museum -- the 14 Stations of the Cross 'depicted' as black lines on white canvas. Très abstract. They irritated the shit out of me because the simplicity stood scant chance of transmitting itself to the on-looker and art that doesn't dare to be flawed and transmit strikes me as bullshit. While looking at the pictures, I ran into an artist friend of my mother's and expressed my irritation ... I really was pretty pissy. She tried to chill my jets by suggesting "well, perhaps it is an arrogance of simplicity."

As arrogant as "dismal" or the abstract 14 Stations of the Cross may be, still I suspect everyone has pinpoints of understanding or words or music or gestures that are teeny-tiny of themselves and yet resonate, rich and nourishing as horse manure. Backtracking into the future. Before the Big Bang. Something all by itself, unadorned, and yet reaching the furthest reaches like an angel.

OK, I've ruined it and the delight of "dismal" has been duly compromised and sullied. It's not exactly sad or something to communicate. It's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Maldives leads the 'terrorist' charge?

 Perhaps fender-benders will be the next stop on the way to the coveted "terrorism" label.

MALE, Maldives (AP) -- Police on Monday dragged the Maldives' former president into a court, which ordered his detention throughout his trial over a decision to arrest a senior judge three years ago.
Mohamed Nasheed was arrested Sunday and charged under an anti-terrorism law.
He was brought to Criminal Court for the first hearing, and was dragged into the courtroom after he resisted police attempts to stop him from speaking to journalists gathered outside.
The three-judge panel gave Nasheed three days to name his lawyers.
The Maldives government says the anti-terrorism law covers not only violent terrorism, but a wide array of actions against the state. (Emphasis added)