Friday, April 24, 2015

"War is America's Business"

Received in email was this pretty low-keyed chapter-and-verse essay about U.S. arms sales in the Middle East.

"Was is America's Business" collates a lot of perhaps wispy thoughts that float around in the mind when reading about the latest U.S. foreign policy adventure.

courtesy

Around here, it's almost noon.

Pretty soon, the phone will ring.

I've learned my lesson, but that doesn't mean I won't react like Pavlov's dog, mentally salivating to pick up and be, perhaps, surprised or delighted.

Yes, I will pick it up, but I am in training now.

Now, when the phone rings at noon, I pick it up and say nothing. In return, I will receive a great blank of noiselessness. The voice-activated advertising spiel at the other end is not capable of coping. After thirty seconds, I will hang up.

The federal "do not call" option available on the Internet does not work perfectly or even well. I still get these junk calls. As with spam email, I wish in vain that no one could get through if there is no return address or phone number. Why should I want to be contacted by someone who refuses to extend the same courtesy to me?

Does it all boil down to courtesy?

Does courtesy still exist? I'm not sure. Since the world is moving too fast these days or I am moving too slow, I have felt forced to create my own Emily Post book of etiquette.

I grew up learning which glass or fork to use first when at an over-dressed dinner table. This information has precisely zero relevance in the world I currently inhabit. I opened doors for women, walked nearer the curb when accompanying a woman along some American sidewalk, learned how to kiss a woman's hand when in Army language classes, and how to fawn in various decorous ways when in the presence of my superiors.

Some of it was phony-baloney courtesy and some of it oiled the social wheels. It was good stuff to know even if you never used it.

But now?

Now, when an email opens with "Dear Friend," I am brought up short: Would any real friend address me as "friend?" What's the matter with the name by which my friends all know me? And why, when the writer has addressed the email to me, is there no usable return address? These days, a "friend" is no longer a friend, but rather someone to hold at arm's length.

Or delete without reading further. It was pretty discourteous at one time, but in the era of Facebook when people ask to be "friended" it's obvious that a friend is made of thinner tea -- an acquaintance, perhaps, or perhaps not even that since the connection only exists in an imaginative ether.

Is it discourteous to dismiss insistent introductions that begin "Dearest in Christ?" Actually, I don't mind those quite as much, mostly because of the ludicrous quality: If someone chooses to play the religion card, well, hell, I'm mostly a Buddhist. And the Nigerian petitioners who promise me a slice of $27 million ... well, at least their scams are out in the open.

The courtesies of the past do rise up from time to time. I don't ask even my sons why they insist on what I think of as the Yasser Arafat look -- three days worth of whiskers that somehow never turns into an honest beard. Nor do I bristle quite as much when every mother's son uses the word "issue" when they mean "problem" or lards his or her lingo with TED-talk cliches like "going forward."

Where I grew up, a reasonable command of English was a small courtesy.

And there are a hundred other ways in which I try to remain courteous without sinking into the Downton Abbey quicksand of refined class warfare. My latest version of Emily Post is not yet ready for publication.

Perhaps it never will be.

I do refuse to believe Facebook et al. do much more than emphasize the separation between perfectly nice people who lack the gumption to find perfectly good friends. And I decline to imagine that news media are in business to inform the nation's citizenry.

But I prefer to be as courteous as I can.

I can still kiss your ring if you insist, but I would prefer not to kiss your ...

Well, perhaps it would be discourteous to name.




Thursday, April 23, 2015

how to be a little less stupid


Will it stem the tide or reverse gravity? Being "less stupid" is no easy exercise, but a couple of pointers never hurt ... perhaps:
Sternberg and others are now campaigning for a new kind of education that teaches people how to think more effectively, alongside more traditional academic tasks. Their insights could help all of us – whatever our intelligence – to be a little less stupid

NASA image

Shadows from the solar eclipse are reflected on clouds over the Arctic Ocean in images captured by Nasa's Terra satellite on 20 March 2015

visit from a turkey buzzard

Even with the whistling fury abated, still yesterday's turkey buzzard floats and banks in my memory.

It was late afternoon, a time when the grackles -- or whatever they are ... the birds that crap on cars -- generally coagulate high in the as yet-unleafed branches of a tall tree across the street. I always imagine them convening prior to calling it a day, heading home and pulling the covers up around their ears. But yesterday, with the clouds scudding and the winds flexing their muscles like the precursor to some tragedy in an Oklahoma trailer park, there was no convention. All the birds were gone, by sight and sound. The wind, like Poseidon, ruled the realm and and roared ... and all the fishes were silent.

Zipping grey clouds, warmish, silence from the gallery ....

And there, alone in a place between playful and regal, a lone turkey buzzard seemed to make a playground of acrobatics ... floating on one invisible wind hillock or another, then sliding gracefully and at whooping speed to the left or right or straight down until it was time to lift once more, rescale the heights and begin again.

Turkey buzzards are not part of the neighborhood landscape in general. They can be found at the town dump further to the north, eeking out a living on what they do not consider "waste," but around here, it's sparrows and woodpeckers and crows and robins and cardinals and blue jays and an occasional red-tailed hawk. Turkey buzzards are a rarity, like some poor relative who lives in Kentucky and shows up once-a-decade for Thanksgiving dinner ... or perhaps a god who does not mix with the hoi polloi.

Whatever the truth of the matter, this turkey buzzard owned the skies that were to rambunctious, too dangerous, too threatening for more cautious, safe-sex, and cowardly customers. Swoop and bank -- the owner of all s/he surveyed, the last child on a richly-appointed playground, the last (wo)man standing after a furniture-splintering barroom brawl.

His/her flight path was playful and yet regal. S/he didn't seem to be hunting prey on the earth below. S/he seemed to be laughing a laugh no one else dared to laugh -- calling on the heavens to do their worst: S/he was ready...

Ready to laugh some more.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

religion and its atrocities

I wrote what follows as a comment on a Buddhist bulletin board and think it is worth saving either as a means of admitting where I stand or as a means of eating my words if necessary:
It's a sorry fact that the codification of spiritual endeavor (let's call it "religion") invariably makes religion complicit in atrocity and war. Trying to evade the lash of this observation is, in my view, both irresponsible and futile. Better to investigate and then, assuming you still want to espouse a particular religion, decide on your own personal willingness and understanding.
The above is clearly a broad brush approach. Short of concrete evidence to refute it, I will not retract any of it. In the last couple of years, I cannot tell you how many of Brian Victoria's meticulously-researched essays on the complicity of Zen Buddhism in the Japanese invasion of China I have read. During that same period, I cannot count the number of essays or news stories I have read about the pedophile atrocities in a variety of religious venues.
Religion, from where I sit, depends heavily on the stability provided by the state. The state is not in business to get into heaven and has a tendency to stumble into one hell or another. Suggesting that religion could somehow be free of the shadows cast by its protector is delusional.
It wouldn't surprise me in the least if somewhere or other the Buddha didn't say, whether implicitly or explicitly, "read 'em and weep." Not that the shadows tell the complete story of light, but light without the shadows ... what sort of impoverished religion is that?

Chase bars storage of cash

[In 1923] A woman burns German marks in the furnace to heat the home during the peak of the Weimar Germany hyperinflation.
Received in email today an Infowars article which suggests that JPMorgan Chase has begun banning people from storing cash with no "collectible value" in their safety deposit boxes.
As of last month, Chase has also instituted a new policy which, “restricts borrowers from using cash to make payments on credit cards, mortgages, equity lines, and auto loans,” writes Professor Joseph Salerno of the Mises Institute.
Since U.S. paper currency suggests that the bill is good for all debts, public and private, it sounds a little as if the bank were treading perilously close to usurping federal authority and/or perhaps somehow covering its ass in the event of an economic collapse.

Honestly, I don't know what it means, but since safety deposit boxes are assumed to be private in nature, it sounds intrusive to bar any use to which it might be put outside of explosive or toxic substances.

I hope someone will suss out more comprehensible facts on this subject. Google and Snopes were of no use.

soaring truth, applauded lie

Taking part in a soaring truth that then devolved into an applauded lie....

Anyone who has seen some living soldier or sailor receive the Medal of Honor -- the highest military award in the United States -- beholds something akin to embarrassment. Never have I heard one of them say much more than that s/he receives the honor on behalf of those who were no longer alive to receive what they more rightly should have received. These recipients, if I had to guess, are not about to turn away what has the potential to make their lives better. But neither can they elude the lash of reality....

To have been somewhere and experienced something that was in deadly earnest -- something completely off the charts in retrospect and yet, in the moment, was simply the only choice available, the only thing that could be experienced, the only thing among all the only-things -- this moment, this action, this right-now ... this ... inescapable experience.

And now, after the fact, we gather together to award this medal for what no man or woman can rightly claim -- the present that is now the past.

Taking part in a soaring truth that has devolved into an applauded lie ...

How much of spiritual endeavor is precisely -- and I mean precisely -- like that?

The line between exultation and dissolving in tears is a thin one.

spiritual life as luxury

An ex-Jesuit, shrink friend of mine once observed that the sense of loss and impoverishment felt by those who lacked worldly wealth was often mimicked among those with 5,000-square-foot homes graced by eight bathrooms and 14-car garages. When you have "nothing," it is much akin to when you have "everything" -- a hole in life's fabric, a quicksand in which to founder and flail, a vacancy and longing that begs to be mortared.

Since I was in the process of being therapized at the time my friend made his observation, there was no time to really go into the chapter and verse of how or why he felt there was such a similarity between the poorly- and the well-off. Nevertheless, the off-hand observation sticks with me and I tend to credit it because I tended to credit my shrink: He was not a feather-merchant or a white-wine critic: He thought things through as a rule, so ... same sense of unsatisfactory life, different circumstances.

And to the extent that this vaguely-defined observation holds water, I wonder what effect spiritual life has as an apparent life preserver. An old saw suggests that the poor have sex and religion for free. It's not entirely true, of course, but you get the drift: Fucking and the church are less expensive than another Rolls Royce and stand within reach of even the least wealthy. It doesn't 'cost' anything to be believe in whatever god is chosen and there is hope to spread on what may be hopeless circumstances. You don't have to prove it to reap its succor.

And after all the bathrooms and party drugs and successful board-room maneuverings and trophy spouses -- in a time when things start to get freighted and stale -- the wispy wonders of a 'wider reality' can be pretty enticing. It may not save your ass, but, on the other hand, maybe it'll save your ass.

Religion as a rich man's sport. A luxury item. That's what wonders me this morning. A poor man longs to be rich. A rich man longs to be rich in ways that, in their wispy wonder, are more credible and concrete than the goods his or her friends laud and admire.

A luxury item ... mostly a luxury item for white guys with time and money on their hands. A luxury item that relies on the poverty of those created by those cocooned in wealth. Naturally, there is a passing nod to the poor and the downtrodden, who may likewise be transfixed in the headlights of religion.

I can hear the philosophical instruments tuning up in this realm... "ah, yes, everyone suffers" etc. but what interests me is not so much what philosophical or religious Band-Aid might be applied but just the choice of what might be called an orange marmalade of possibility: It's delicious, of course, but as a meaningful diet, it pales.

Does it matter under what circumstances anyone digs into or merely sniffs the edges of spiritual life? I think not. Whether fad or life-saving fortress, it all depends on how deeply anyone chooses to dig in and find out. There is no criticizing the digging of others -- that would be a waste of energy. So if someone wants to get a religious tattoo or seek out some dank cave in the Himalayas ... OK.

But it's a rich man's sport, this spiritual stuff -- another pair of shoes in Imelda Marcos' closet of 3,000 pairs. Not better, not worse, no matter how beloved.

Lightly.

Go lightly.

Iconic or dime-store trinket -- never give up and go lightly.

And keep your eyes skinned.

man cited for shooting computer

Today began on a high note with an email from a friend who passed along the tale of a 37-year-old Colorado man who took his balky computer into an alley and shot it eight times. The wounds were apparently fatal. The man was cited for discharging a weapon within city limits.

I hesitate to comment on the story. The laughter and agreement potential comes in so many shapes and sizes that the story is like a magic stone that allows any and all comers, any and all appreciations.

Lord love a duck!

Eight times!

That ought to make anti-gun saints rethink their philosophies.