Tuesday, December 1, 2015

boats with skeletal passengers

"Fishing boats carrying decomposed corpses have washed ashore in Japan in recent weeks, leading to speculation they are rickety North Korean vessels that have strayed dangerously far from port under the impoverished nation's push to boost its catch."

burnishing the worm hole

Shakespeare, among others, put his finger on it: "The truth will out." Eventually, with drips and drops or tsunami-like force, a new appreciation of what may be or have been a wracking situation shape-shifts and becomes more complete or honest or something.

But since the point at which the truth comes out refers to a situation now past, I wonder at its usefulness: In a knee-jerk way, I think it is useful, but less reflexively, I'm not entirely sure. Saying it has no use opens the door to more obfuscation and lying; saying it has a decisive usefulness -- "healing" or "closure" or some such -- hardly scratches the surface.

Everyone seems willing to burnish his or her own chosen worm hole, the not-quite-so-delicious aspects of one apple or another.

The U.S. invaded Iraq based on faulty intelligence, but once committed, the tale was burnished. "Collateral damage" is so much nicer than children ripped to shreds. In Paris, heavy-hitters have gathered to address climate change on the same day Beijing is elbow-deep in a coal-inspired, soupy smog that betokens a red-hot economy.

And then, of course, there are individual bits of spin-doctoring and facile forgiveness based on an outcome that makes "it" all worthwhile, whatever "it" may be. Yes, I have done cruel and irresponsible things, but just look at the good parts that likewise evolved. Five thousand, six hundred and nine people died of disease and accident in the course of building the Panama Canal that opened in 1914. A lot of deaths ... but a marvel of engineering and commerce and many of those who died were brown and besides, it's all in the past.

From the 1960's to the present, the Zen exponent Eido Shimano was dogged and chastised and defended in a sandstorm that accused him of thoughtless affairs with his vulnerable students and, peripherally, with some financial hi-jinks that have yet to be addressed. Through it all, like the Vatican's subtle and not-so-subtle sidestepping of its pedophile-priest scandal, Shimano implicitly denied all wrong-doing and sought to maintain a burnished persona. There were people who had been badly shaken -- vulnerable women whose vulnerability made them easy sexual prey.

The critics -- me too -- yowled. Shimano stood fast. The evidence mounted. Shimano stood fast. A lot of the accusations -- like the accusations against the Vatican -- were just too compelling to describe as vindictiveness or high-class gossip. The Shimano Archive collected information and loosened Shimano's purchase on a vaunted persona. Yes there were those unwilling to let him sink into a sea of calumny, but there were also others who were. Still, Shimano never 'fessed up.

Until last Nov 21 at a meeting that Shimano himself orchestrated -- a gathering in New York that he claimed was in search of some healing balm. The fact that such balm might coincidentally restore some of his tattered luster was not the point. He cared. The meeting took place at the All Souls Unitarian Church.

Various raw recordings do not make clear whether the congregation absolved and resurrected a fallen angel -- it was a set piece, but what table it set is not entirely clear: Was this a contrite and more honest Eido Shimano? Were the women he had taken as paramours in any way salved? The questions hovered. I wasn't there so I don't know.

But I do know that for the first time, Eido Shimano said the words he might have said so long ago: "I had many sexual relations with female students." (http://www.shimanoarchive.com/Audio/Shimano%20Apology%20A2.mp3 ... 12.15 mark)

A simple statement. And yet on it hangs years of twisting and turning and discombobulation of the Zen sangha, a no-no in Buddhism. And what does it amount to after all this time? The workers at the Panama Canal are dead. The women harmed by Shimano remain, in many cases, wounded. What price has been paid and what good does this latter-day honesty do?

I'm not trying to minimize, but I can't help but wonder. Cui bono -- who, if anyone, benefits? The truth is easy, somehow, and yet it is also used up and battered and what good does it do? I hope it does some good outside the absolution and resurrection of the man who organized the meeting.

As Dylan Thomas wrote, "Time passes. Listen! Time passes." I favor the best truth anyone can muster. I favor a reduction in the effort to burnish the worm holes, public and private.

I favor ....

But that's just me.

Monday, November 30, 2015

news that 'cares' so much

Grouchy old man alert!

Sometimes it drives me batshit to come into contact with yet another person or entity that "cares so much" and cannot seem to refrain from repeating how much s/he or it 'cares.' This caring is, to hear the excuses given, for my benefit ... it's like some mewling spiritual apologist pretending not to interfere with my lifestyle or convert me in any way while all the time coo-ing sweet nothings in my ear. It's all self-serving hogwash.

Consider the Associated Press, an organization that describes itself as the world's largest news-gathering organization. I read its headlines and occasional stories every morning. And on its index page, the AP has taken to adding something called "10 Things to Know for Today."
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:
How helpful.

How caring.

How incredibly pablum-esque and self-serving!

Because I am so busy with the twitdom of Twitter or the vacuous facelessness of Facebook, the Associated Press is obviously trying to make my life "easier." Wouldn't like to look like a dummy in conversation, right? I need to keep up with current events if only according to what someone else says. Well, the Associated Press is there to care.

My crabbiness relates to the fact that I think news is important and keeping abreast of your own world is sensible. But popularity is not the point. The point is not to be any stupider than you were in the first place. It may change absolutely nothing to read the news, but it indicates a willingness to take some responsibility and shoulder your own life.

Beliefs and opinions only reach so far. Of course the same can be said for news, but at least news has the potential to inject another point of view ... when it is not, as of late, too busy skipping salient points or selling something. News is not a hand-holding enterprise. Popularity is thin tea.

What I "need to know" is something I can figure out for myself. What I don't need to know is that some ersatz do-gooder is there to lend a caring hand.

incognito in life; 'cognito' in death

Funny how those who once strove and sweat to achieve and maintain the spotlight in life can slip away post mortem and simultaneously those of no particular, flood-lit stature can spring to life after suffering a similar fate.

Case in point:
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- A reclusive great-grandson of Russian Tsar Alexander III had a funeral in the northern Australian city of Darwin after living his final years in obscurity and alone with his dog in an Outback trailer park where he was known by locals as Old Nick.
Here's another limping-attempt story to reconstruct what had been so carefully deconstructed in Leonid Gurevich Kulikovsky's lifestyle. He's news now ... what the hell: The Romanovs (the last of the tsars) and the English house of Windsor have family links that go back forever (and I can no longer retail) but as I recall, those links of European royalty make the inbreeding of the American South look positively pristine.

No matter what the links or my faulty memory, still this guy was part of royalty and royalty is definitely on the 'kool' scale of American consciousness ... when it's not busy being excoriated. How could he live with a dog and keep his mouth shut and not capitalize on his roots? What sort of decision-making process went into his low-key life that he seemed to follow with determination? Why won't he be famous for me, preen and strut in that lordly realm that cannot conceive of being ludicrous.

Only his dog knows now.

George V
Alexander III

Sunday, November 29, 2015

a kinder, gentler Islamic State

It's a bit thin by argument, but an article suggesting that Islamic State's acts of charity could prove decisive in its war with the western infidels is interesting. Who, after enough bombing and hunger and death, wouldn't settle for a little charity?
Although Islamic State rejects democracy, if it continues to rally public support through works of charity and governance, it could become entrenched in society and be that much harder to defeat. Even the group’s draconian treatment of women may not be enough to stymie public support.
Is such decency nothing more than a political ploy? Perhaps so, but put yourself in the place of the recipient: If someone promised you a better life after dropping salvo after salvo on your neighborhood (and seldom if ever actually delivered) and someone else suggested they would limit liberties but wouldn't kill you in the meantime ... which would you choose?

the phone book

The land-line phone book was tossed up on the porch this morning -- a waxing anachronism in a day and age of more-cell-phones-than-people-and-each-'smarter'-than-the-last. The book is thin, given that it covers two counties in my neck of the woods. In New York City, the phone book used to be so thick that strong men would show off by ripping it in half and police officers would sometimes whack reluctant suspects as an encouragement.

Fifty-five pages devoted to throwbacks like me who have an address and a phone. Thirty pages devoted purely to businesses. I used to like having a cell phone for in-the-car emergencies and quick connections with family members, but otherwise, the fidelity was poor and the price not worth the possession. Most of the devices devoted to "connection" these days strike me as ways of driving people further apart and I don't like it. ... Facebook, Twitter, an "app" for this and an "app" for that ... horseshit.

But I can recognize my own anachronistic being in all of this. If everyone is doing it, I must be wrong, though I decline to agree with the assessment. I'll just keep on waiting for all those lonely-and-getting-lonelier people to tune in to something serious.

I will do what I can not to converse with anyone holding a cell phone as we speak, wearing expensive sun glasses s/he neglects to take off or hidden behind a barbed-wire beard.

Talk about lonely, right?


Yesterday, a friend called to say his son was being transported to a Boston hospital from Maine. The son had apparently overdosed on Tylenol and needed a liver transplant or he would die. My friend is old and tired, so the news was redoubled in its intensity: He could not go with the son he was trained to love and protect.

How things stand this morning, I have not yet found out and, from afar, I too feel the sympathetic winds: How would I feel if one of my children were threatened with death? There is no answer but that doesn't mean the question can likewise go unasked.

It's a gob-stopper and yet this gob does not stop. Your kids aren't 'supposed' to die first. In fact, your kids aren't supposed to die. They're supposed to stay around and wave goodbye when you die, right? There are a million assumptions like this, climbing out of hidden lairs where they were assured and went unchallenged except in an occasional intellectually-distant fashion. How can the protector no longer protect? Could he, in fact, ever have truly protected? Well, he tried and perhaps convinced himself that he had somehow, in whatever small way, acted as a firewall for what is loved.

But now it's all shot to shit -- shot to shit and the bald fact is that it was ever thus ... uncertain, approximate, and sometimes flat-out wrong. So then there is the situation itself underpinned by a long-standing inaccuracy that passed as accuracy.

Everything seems to be blown up... and I am just imagining where my friend is living the explosion.

It's all too much...

... and there is more.

escorting the elephants

If a man's profession were to escort elephants from the dance hall, I wonder by what circuitous training he would have achieved this rooted calling.

Strange how resumes, within and without, seem to command the present and yet, while not exactly wrong, never touch the sweet spot.

In the face of such odds, what else is there but to escort the elephant?

Lord, I would give a million bucks to have learned to walk like an elephant!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

"dismal swamp"

Like some unpitted and polished ball bearing, there are words in my mind that hold an almost-treasured place. These are words that, in their time, are perfect and whole and fill the bill, though I am not entirely sure what the bill is or will be. They are brilliant friends whose light source is elusive.

"Shit" is a pretty good example.

And, this morning, floating burnished in my head are the name and words, "Dismal Swamp." How I wish I had contrived so perfect a perfection. I realize I cannot "have" it in any literal sense. It is like looking into the eye of a hawk -- present, fierce, and the more challenging because I know it doesn't give a shit about "challenges." But it is perfect somehow ... and what are perfections for if not an improvement that is utterly impossible?

Dismal swamp. Its literal size and location and being are just the tip of the iceberg. What goes unseen is the redolence and suggestions in my mind. What a fine word "dismal" is. What a tall tale "swamp" can tell.

Part of what beckons to me is that there is no beckoning. It is some unpitted and polished ball bearing that seems to await its time: And how could it possibly be "waiting?"

Wish I'd said that ... but grateful to have made its acquaintance: Dismal swamp.

Friday, November 27, 2015

writing for the waste basket

I am still gnawing on the iron spike -- the one that suggested to my younger son that if he were going to be deployed with his National Guard Unit, the first thing he should do was to learn 100 words of the language of the country he was going to be sent to.

Gnawing and trying to write it and ... here is what I wrote this morning as an intro ... and realize is too long and will have to be thrown out. Nevertheless, the memory was fun...

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in the early 1960's a fellow German linguist and I sat on the terrace of a Berlin cafe and eased through an afternoon on which we were not tasked with spying on the administration of  the then-dread government of East Germany.

We sipped beer, soaked up the sun, admired women, and mentally put aside the sheets of paper that were integral to our weekday work -- the papers marked "Top Secret" (code word) at top and bottom; the ones on which we translated governmental phone calls.

"If you had to choose a single word to know in any foreign language," Bill said, "what would it be?"

This was a topic worthy of a lazy afternoon -- frivolous and yet serious, somehow. Communication had to begin somewhere, didn't it? So ... was there a Rosetta Stone of some sort, a jumping off point between those who spoke and those who listened from different perspectives? The question hung in the air and then we began throwing out possibilities.

One after another, we tried them out and then discarded them. They weren't exactly right. They weren't encompassing enough. They weren't bulls-eye enough. We were just about to give up when Bill hit the nail on a head we could agree on:

"Toilet" he said simply.

And somehow, perhaps because the beer was good, that was that. A single word. No matter that there were cultures that had no literal toilets: The function was the same with or without the porcelain.