Thursday, February 11, 2016

"on the cusp" of things

Only in retrospect, I guess, can anyone say with suave assurance that a particular time or place was "on the cusp" of becoming something else. No one with two brain cells to rub together says such a thing of the present because the empirical evidence of what the future holds is not yet assured to anyone other than TED-talkers and politicians. "Something else" takes its own sweet time. Yes, this day is no doubt the gateway to some "something else" tomorrow, but what, precisely, is beyond the door jamb will take a bit of patience... or arrogance.

When I was a kid in New York City, not everyone had yet purchased a refrigerator. As a result, the ice truck still made its rounds and sold great chunks to apartment dwellers who still relied on "ice boxes." In the same vein, those apartment dwellers often had small cabinets that hung outside a back window -- cabinets in which to store milk and fresh vegetables and other foods that lasted longer when kept cool.

The ice man came and the rag man came (soliciting whatever cast-offs had accumulated on some closet floor); and the coal man sent swishing rivers of blackness down chutes that replenished supplies in apartment-building basements; and a man who sharpened knives would park his truck and call out
loudly for potential customers; and, later in the day, when children were out of school and parents returned from their work, a man with a portable organ and a monkey would stand in the street playing tinkly music while the monkey jumped around and apartment dwellers threw change into the street.

In summer, the brick oven that was New York would sometimes get relief from tanker trucks passing by and spraying water into the hot, hot streets. This served to wash down the gutters, but it also sent out a glow of coolth that would rise up through the open apartment windows that had not yet invented air conditioning. Not all of the telephones were single-party lines, so there was a politesse that existed: If someone were on the line when you picked up the receiver, you did not listen in on your neighbor's conversation ... except, of course, when you did... and many phones had specific rings that indicated incoming calls ... two long rings and a short, perhaps, to let you know the call was for you.

As often as not, men wore ties, no matter how tattered their clothing. And men wore hats which they tipped to ladies passing ... or perhaps just of their acquaintance. Horse-drawn wagons were not common, but nor were they rare. The mail came twice or maybe three times a day. World War II, already in full swing in Europe, was just gathering momentum in the United States... and I was fortunate to have a blue tricycle made of metal.

All of it and more like it was not "on the cusp" of anything. It was just the way things were.

Now, of course, I can see that my childhood environment was on the cusp of whatever evolved in its wake. I can indulge in a wispy nostalgia or remember the medicines that did not exist or wonder how anyone got along without the Internet.

But I cannot look forward with the same assurance that I look back at the cusp of things. Surely I am once again on the cusp of something. What it is, I haven't a clue and could never possibly have one ... which makes me wonder why anyone outside TED talkers and politicians would even mention such things.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

my vote is for sale

Political navel lint.

Yesterday's New Hampshire primary is over. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump (Democratic and Republican candidates respectively) won ... big time. And yet the whole thing makes me think that a crowd-funding effort might draw even more votes.

Will someone please set up an auction site in which people can add their names and, with full-frontal honesty, sell their votes to the highest bidder? There is something so perfectly numbing and dumbing about the political charge for the White House that I would rather walk away with a few bucks in my pocket. That way, at least I would have something -- some substance where I don't feel so ground-down and unappeased and unenthusiastic. Instead of a sense that political navel lint is my lot, at least I could buy a Starbucks coffee.

Make me an offer. Any offer at all will do.

And, passed along in email:

censorship as the new normal

Sorry, we can't ban everything that offends you – video

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Atlas for president?

Presidential candidates may be in a dither about who can capture the most votes in New Hampshire today, but for all the spending and posturing and evading and cheering in the nation's first primary of 2016, what concerns me more directly as I skim the news wires is the fact that Atlas is looking for a new home.

Who ever heard of a rabbit -- and we're not talking "Alice in Wonderland" here -- that can grow to be the size of a six-year-old child ... let alone such a rabbit in need of new digs?

Atlas and friend.
I freely admit that my interest in Atlas, who is still growing, opens me to the same charge of "airhead" I might once have leveled at those I considered insufficiently informed or interested by the serious matters of the world. Perhaps, in the recesses of my mind, I would like to vote for Atlas to run my country or anyway bring some straight-forward perspective to life ... eat, sleep, grow, snuggle and, no doubt, multiply. Atlas doesn't pretend to be serious while offering up frivolous nostrums and solutions. Atlas IS serious.

And he reminds me of the old silly, "Question: What's the best way to catch a rabbit? Answer: Hide behind a tree and make a noise like a carrot."

The presidential wannabes seem determined to make noises like a carrot, but they simply don't convince me. And besides, they're not snuggly in my book.

PS. When my older son asked an 18-year-old at the college where he coaches why the younger man was supporting Donald Trump, the multi-millionaire who leads the Republican pack in New Hampshire, the young man looked at him in some astonishment, as if the answer were obvious. Then he replied simply, as if to a naive child, "He's a celebrity."

Monday, February 8, 2016

fresh air for sale

Increased air pollution around the world is giving rise to a bizarre new industry known as Air Farming where bottled fresh air is sold to consumers at a premium.
It may sound like the next big gimmick, but the idea of buying crisp, country air in a jar has proven very popular in heavily-polluted cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
In fact, people are paying upwards of $160 for a single jar of air.

"I. am. not. terminal."

After four years of living with a diagnosis that she was "terminal," an ailing woman reported on a Buddhist bulletin board I inhabit that she had been "misdiagnosed" and 
I. am. not. terminal.
At which point, as anyone might, she burst into tears.

It makes my heart ache to imagine the sandstorm of confusion such an event might create. The initial hammer blow, the one that upended so much in the past, is reversed. But with that reversal comes the realization that although I am not "terminal," still I am "terminal." The decisions reached within the realm of the misdiagnosis still apply ... but are delayed. "Eeek!" gives way to "ahhh!" ... sort of ... but not really.

I wonder if it might be a useful addition to medical school training -- to tutor would-be physicians in the mandatory admonition to all patients that "you are going to die ... your condition is terminal." Of course it might be too depressing for enthusiastic med students. And that's to say nothing of what it might be for patients. But seriously, consider the bitch-slaps life has delivered in the past: Were they more or less salutary over time? Was the truth ever less true because it went unattended?

I don't know. But I wonder.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

fast talk, improved communication?

Sometimes I feel as if everyone were talking too fast in a vain attempt to underscore and complete their point ... if you say it fast enough, then perhaps I will receive the message before I think to shut you down. Or perhaps it is just that I have slumped into an Eeyore mode of sluggish thought and am unwilling or unable to keep pace with the slick and swift.

Yesterday, a friend sent this along:

My first association was with a tobacco auctioneer whose leafy Esperanto leaves me gasping in the dust:

one picture is worth....

If, indeed, "one picture is worth 10,000 words," I wonder what the 10,000 beginnings to this picture might be:

sweet music

In the corners, the sages speak softly, parsing the tender places of the universe.

On the dance floor, the fools twirl and laugh and delight in their partners.

How tiresome the talk of sages and fools where the music is so sweet.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

insistence on trust

Jean Shepherd was a saucy writer and radio raconteur whose novel "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash" was published in 1966. I was not alone in the late nights when I would listen to his radio monologues that challenged various bits of America's conventional wisdom.

Looking back, rightly or wrongly, I see both the conventional wisdom and the challenges to it as a natural outgrowth of the hellish uncertainties that had been World War II. War challenged the comforting and unexamined trust that peace can instill.

But the rigidities of that trust could be and were stultifying and Shepherd called them out. He was, in his time, a bad boy when so many were trying to reclaim the goodness and ease that rests on trust. White picket fences and an idealized family unit were such a relief in the wake of so much horror. Shepherd was a skeptic and, in his time, I was a teenager and therefore a skeptic as well ... though my skepticism was far less informed and well-stitched and fun than Shepherd's.

Trust and skepticism ... but mostly trust is where my mind wanders this morning. In Shepherd's time, the Internet had no footing and as a result he was among the lone and lonely voices that pointed out a needful skepticism. But nowadays -- 50 years after "In God We Trust..." -- there is so much room and reason for skepticism that it feels as if the shoe might be on the other foot: Is there no where and nothing in which to trust? Is there a visceral demand (the one 2016 presidential wannabes would love to tap into) for a trust that will be requited? Will people shed blood in order to assure some version of that trust, whether or not it is warranted?

Skim the Internet for institutions in which Americans have lost faith and the list goes on and on and on and on. Here's one example. Schools, politics, banks, Washington, doctors -- poll after poll finds a dwindling faith or trust. The military fares better than most, but not that much better.

But if you doubt everything, what do you trust?

Do you trust the doubt?

Is it trust-worthy?

What interests me is the real, rather than slick, answers. Is Tennyson right: "'Tis better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all?" Is the longing for an undoubted assurance worth even the price of being another duped fool? For many, I suspect, it is, although no dupe ever thought of himself as a dope.

Skepticism has its wiles, not least the come-hither invitation to be skeptical of skepticism.

Doubt all you like ... insist on trust.

What a merry-go-round.