Monday, October 31, 2011

making the obvious official

It's always nice when beard-stroking pundits catch up with what is already d'oh to the average manager of a 7-11 convenience store.

-- The International Labour Organization has issued a report suggesting that the world is on the brink of a wider and deeper recession and that the potential for social unrest is therefore rising. I hate to think how many man-hours and how much money were required to reach that conclusion ... at the same time that hard-pressed Greeks are swarming in the streets and Occupy Wall Street has gone global.

-- Meanwhile, those of an Israel-prone persuasion are yowling because UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has agreed to allow Palestine a full membership in the organization... a move that may enhance its bid for full recognition as a state at the U.N. "The United States, Canada, Germany and Holland voted against Palestinian membership. Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and France voted in favor. Britain and Italy abstained." The United States is considering cutting funding to the agency. Those voting against membership in UNESCO say the move will only complicate complicated peace negotiations with Israel ... negotiations that have gone on for years and years and years and years.

-- And those who get the vampire collywobbles when thinking about the bats associated with Halloween (slated for Oct. 31, 2011) may want to think twice about their eek and distaste. Bats eat insects that can infest crops and, in the Mid-Atlantic states millions of them have fallen victim to a fungus ... a fact that may mean more pesticides and higher produce prices for those who go eek. 

Bats have been nearly wiped out in states including Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont by white-nose syndrome. A survey of six species at 42 sites in those states found that their numbers have declined by almost 90 percent.
Halloween was put on hold in many places because of the snowstorm that downed trees and power lines in swaths of the Northeast this year. It was feared that the children trick-or-treating might be in danger from more than drink-your-blood bats.

-- And, in a quirky turn of events, an anonymous group of hackers has laid down the gauntlet to one of the Mexican drug cartels, the Zetas who kidnapped one of the hacking group's members. The threat to out police and other Zeta co-conspirators was issued in Spanish in YouTube  and has a certain eerie quality as it reprises the movie 'V.'

blackout and the terrorist called Mother Nature

The lights that had gone out and then come back on on Saturday went out again around 8:30 p.m. and stayed out until this morning shortly after 8. Gas stations, automatic bank teller machines, supermarkets, telephones, the Internet ... and a thousand assumptions and resting places of daily life got a severe kick in the ass.

The cause of the outage was a 'freak' nor'easter that came across the East Coast and left many without power. The snowflakes accumulated on not-yet-denuded trees, broke branches that then fell on power lines and houses. Downtown streets were black. Police officers manned major intersections. Between 6 and 24 inches fell from the hills to the valleys. We got perhaps 8 inches. The car radio was full of Sunday come-to-Jesus exhortations and sports news ... everything but what I and others wanted to know. At one point, I grabbed my son and the two of us drove up to the fire station in the dark. I figured if anyone knew anything, fire and/or police personnel would. They were helpful, but damn near as dumb as I was. Four days of outage would be expected. Schools were closed. And the fire department had had to contend with three times as many calls as usual, mostly for downed trees and wires.

The whole thing shook up the mind.

Including a whimsical notion...

........................................TOP SECRET EYES ONLY.........................



We have credible evidence that the recent blackout along the East Coast -- a blackout attributed to an early-winter storm -- is linked directly to Al Qaida and has thus created a much wider terrorist threat than this department is currently charged with averting.

A man later identified as Batholomew (NMI) O'Flaherty was heard (by bartender and longtime reliable source Merkedienst "Merky" Sawchuk) in the Four Shamrocks, a bar on N Street here in the capital, to say to a fellow patron that the storm was definitely the work of Al Qaida. O'Flaherty said Al Qaida had made a bargain with Mother Nature to take on the discomfort brought about by weather disturbances. Mother Nature was sick of getting bad-mouthed like some hapless dentist and agreed that Al Qaida, which already has a bad reputation, could hardly do worse by taking on the duties associated with being cursed by all and sundry.

This new link between Al Qaida and the depredations once attributed to Mother Nature (hurricanes, tornadoes, drought, floods, earthquakes, etc.) means that this department's earlier request for FY 2012 funding has been grossly underestimated. You will recall, perhaps, our earlier request: "The FY 2012 budget request for DHS is $57.0 billion in total funding, $47.4 billion in gross discretionary funding, and $43.2 billion in net discretionary funding."

Given the economic hard times that the country is facing, we felt that our earlier outline of funding needs was modest, but allowed us to carry on with our sacrosanct mission of keeping the nation safe while keeping the electorate in fear and willing to surrender its constitutional rights. But with the addition of Mother Nature to our list of potential terrorists, we feel grossly outmatched and would herewith suggest a doubling of our earlier request. The unpredictability of this new adversary makes our efforts extremely difficult, requiring as it does, an even wider vigilance and uncertainty of result.

We make this request to you because we are aware of the dysfunctionality of the current Congress. If the Congress cannot see its way clear to funding teachers, police officers, firefighters and the like, how sympathetic would it be to our modest, yet truly compelling, request?

Mother Nature is no joke. She is obviously a formidable terrorist threat. And we therefore ask you to consider our request as a matter of urgency.


The department that assures national security ... and election-assuring insecurity.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

lights out

From about 6:30 to 8:30 p.m, the lights went out here as an early winter storm dropped fat ploppy snow flakes on leafy trees which then, perhaps, collapsed on electric wires.

I played poker with my younger son by candle light.

The lights weren't out quite long enough to reconfigure the bedrock assumption of light, but it is nice to have such bedrock assumptions challenged from time to time... money, food, love, warmth in the cold, etc.

here they come

The push-back is gaining momentum ... or anyway that's how I feel it. The Occupy Wall Street movement that got off the ground Sept. 17, 2011, and has enjoyed ever-widening ripples of agreement with its observations about income inequality and governmental hi jinx, simply cannot be allowed to stand. Its protests and news headlines -- day after day and week after week -- are a somewhat amorphous, but nonetheless irritating stick in the eye of those who wield the re-elect-me power and control. It is like being around a child whose antics are acceptable for a while, but then become annoying ... and it's time to put your adult foot down. Bit by bit, the 'adults' are finding reasons and means for breaking up with rallies and surprisingly little disorder.

In Tennessee, for example, a night time curfew imposed by the governor was ignored ... and gave an excuse for arrests. Elsewhere 'health' issues are being discussed. Increment by increment, those unwilling to address the issues raised by the Occupy movement find sincere and heart-felt and self-convincing arguments for why those groups should be disbanded. Well, no one ever said that the cotton candy of wide-spread agreement would not create a stomach ache of one sort or another. I have a feeling the coming days and weeks will test the mettle of those whose righteousness has touched a chord but now will be forced to read the fine print on the I'm-in-charge-here social contract.
Jacob Riis

-- Qantas, the Australian airline, has grounded all flights in the face of on-going labor disputes. As in Wisconsin where collective bargaining was eviscerated, I wouldn't be surprised if labor took it on the chin when it came to 'responsibility.' In hard times and in me-first times, business can afford to claim the high ground: They, after all, are providing the jobs. Jacob Riis once documented the fall-out from that exclusive point of view.

The Internet may or may not aid the latter-day Jacob Riis's of this world.

pick your scripture

Last night I stayed up past my usual bedtime watching a somewhat cardboard movie called "G.I. Jane," a film directed by Ridley Scott and therefore a bit less cardboard than the directorial competition. The movie tells the mostly-predictable tale of a woman chosen for political purposes to go through Navy SEAL training... a woman, like other women, excluded from manly adventures and dangers ... a woman with a glass ceiling ... a woman discriminated against in part by the cotton-candy adulation of a male society... etc. etc.

In one way, the movie is a set piece, an argument that can bore me because I have heard it and agree with it and am bored by my own agreements. In another way, I do like rooting for the underdog, especially when the story line has a bit of honest salt and pepper ... the kind of stuff that Ridley Scott can inject lightly here and there.

And one of the things that I realized as I stayed up past my bedtime was that I am content to take whatever wisdoms I enjoy from wherever they may occur ... and a lot of those wisdoms come not so much from revered texts like the Tripitaka or the Bible or the Koran, but from movies. Movies are good enough for me when something honest and human and truly useful and even 'wise' is offered up. Tripitaka and Bible and Koran are a bit cardboard for me... set pieces that win my agreement but make me recognize that my own agreements are just a bit stale and, on occasion, boring.

And thinking lazily in this way, I thought perhaps everyone was the same, cherry picking the adventures from which to extract wisdom worth acting on, worth nourishing, worth husbanding in action. Pick your holy text, whatever the source, and see it through -- something like that. Movies, as one example, do it for me in the same way an honest story from another human being can. Here is a Tripitaka or Bible or Koran worth crediting for me.

This is not to disdain others' reverence or praising of Tripitaka or Bible or Koran. It's just that I choose to find those things a bit too cardboard. "G.I. Jane," which was a bit too cardboard, tickled my ivories and felt like music to me. Maybe the Tripitaka or Bible or Koran will do the same tomorrow ... feel alive and worth heeding and become something I honestly am willing to take to heart. I'm not counting anything out.

Maybe it's like this: Everyone chooses their scripture and the scripture that really means anything is the scripture that leads any man or woman beyond the cardboard nature of scripture and into a singing and open heart. It has nothing to do with good or bad, wise or deluded, holy or unholy ... it's just what (somehow) fits. Fits and flows easy in the blood.

Ridley Scott may or may not have been responsible, but somehow I imagine he was -- responsible for including in his "G.I. Jane" bits of salt and pepper that included the following, somewhat-strained poem by D.H. Lawrence:

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

Friday, October 28, 2011

everything counts

In my very limited understanding of Tai Chi, students begin with a series of very slow, very careful and, to my eye, very beautiful movements. Tai Chi may be a martial art that requires opponents, but the first opponent to come to terms with is the student who wishes to study.

The "form" exercises are quite precise. Slow and precise. At first, as I imagine it, there would be the try-and-fail learning curve of getting the body to make the prescribed moves. And at first all efforts would be trained on the body ... getting the hands right, the feet right, the legs right, etc. Bit by bit, abilities would grow. Bit by bit, the body would remember. Slowly, slowly.

And after the body had learned a bit, the distractions of mind might loom larger. There is no moving the hands or feet or legs without a purposefulness of mind ... and the mind is a wandering wily customer. Bit by bit, slowly slowly ... focus the mind. Nothing happens overnight.

And then, in my untutored imagination, a little at a time, the dime might drop: Everything counts ... every toe, every hair follicle, every thought, every emotion, every smell, every joy, every sorrow, every flash of anger, every bit of belly-button lint. Everything counts if anything at all is to count. A whole life, from little to large, is brought to life, right now, always. Thought, word, deed. And getting your head screwed on the right way about that is to welcome the peace that anyone might yearn for in this life.

Things are complete. Always. All of them. They are so complete that calling them complete is the purest sort of bullshit.

Tai Chi, sneezing, laughing, crying, walking, sitting, loving, hating, itching, scratching, swallowing, singing, sleeping, kissing, cheering, jeering .... everything counts. Always. No exceptions.

And it is worth the practice to find out what was obvious from the get-go.

a small grrrr

Somebody named Bruce called up shortly after supper yesterday and wanted to know about coming around to see about Zen practice. He dug up my name from the zendo web site I keep pussy-footing about taking down. Bruce said he worked as a nurse per diem at a nearby hospital, that he was retired and that he had read a couple of books about Zen, but didn't know much about the nitty-gritty, do-ing parts.

And, as lazy as I am about such things these days, I could not say no ... even when he said he couldn't come on the Sunday mornings when I generally make the zendo open to all comers. We agreed that Monday or Tuesday evening might work out ... a time when I am generally sliding towards reading in bed and dozing off to sleep. I could not say no to someone who wanted, however tentatively, to step across whatever line it is that separates talk-the-talk from walk-the-walk. I really admire that willingness and feel compelled to support it in whatever way I can.

And then there was the added fact that I liked Bruce's easy-going tone over the phone. He wasn't tugging his forelock in some requisite 'humility.' He was just curious and wanted to know ... in the same way someone might want to know directions to a movie theater. Straight forward, pleasant, and polite without being obsequious.

I still don't like my lazy-time habits being interrupted, but I am willing/compelled to interrupt them ...  with only a small grrrrr.


Ah, "equality."

-- In the sixteen Commonwealth states where the queen of England is head of state, there has been an agreement that the laws of succession should change. Sons and daughters will now have equal rights to the throne. No more boys-first or boys-only stuff.

-- As fall advances towards winter, the Occupy Wall Street participants are facing a new adversary -- a great equalizer -- cold weather. Cold or hot, the issues they are attempting to address go unchanged. Authorities from Oakland, Calif., to Atlanta, Ga., are nibbling around the edges, trying to find an excuse to disperse the crowds whose raison d'ĂȘtre enjoys widespread popular -- and thus political -- support. "Health" reasons have been floated gently ... but I think the truth is that those who wish to assert control (a control granted by the votes of those who agree with the movement) is tempered for the moment by the understanding that to take action is to risk not getting re-elected. I love the conundrum and fear the violence that may erase it.

-- As Washington attempts to come up with a plan to put Joe the Plumber back to work, there are some people seeing an uptick in business -- the lawyers and consultants charged with implementing the Dodd-Frank financial reform overhaul. No one seems willing to tout this uptick in business -- it's too much like praising the effects on the already-well-to-do, I guess -- but there are jobs being created. Lawyers and consultants don't make widgets or anything concrete ... but at least some jobs are being created.

"What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander."

undressing the pig

A saying I have always been partial to is this: "A pig in a purple robe is still a pig." For me, the saying feeds directly into a remark once attributed to former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln: "You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

Personally or socially, dressing things up can be convincing for a while, but eventually the nitty-gritty brass tacks peek through the fabric. I suppose that one man's brass tacks are another man's fabrication, but as a personal matter I think it is worthwhile to strip away the purple robes in which anyone might dress a favored pig... uncover and make peace with the foundations that support and uphold the fabrications.

In religion, there is something simultaneously understandable and quite saddening about the implicit or explicit expression of the notion that "we are the first-est with the best-est."

The Roman Catholics (as far from the only example) are currently awaiting the mandatory implementation of a change in the liturgy, a change that goes into effect Nov. 27. The change will test longtime Catholics' ability to give responses they may have memorized. New translations aim to come as close as possible to the original Latin ... and to make things less folksy or open to interpretation. More mysterious. More 'spiritual.'  The Vatican hopes to get everyone on the same orthodox and hierarchical page.

Recent popes have emphasized orthodoxy and hierarchy, particularly in the West, where religious identity is increasingly fluid. Catholic hospitals and schools have been required to more clearly espouse church teachings, and Pope Benedict XVI has stressed the sole truth of Catholicism over other faiths, even declining this month to pray with Hindus, Jews and others at an interreligious event.
I have seen and even felt the same "first-est with the best-est" approaches in Hinduism and Buddhism, though perhaps a little less legalistically. And as a matter of personal approach, it strikes me as understandable and useful ... for a while. No one wants to be played for a sucker, so asserting or imagining that this (whatever 'this' happens to be) is the 'one true way' inspires confidence and a willingness to make a determined effort. No getting sidetracked by other 'untrue' ways! As a personal matter, it may tentatively make some sense.

But as a policy matter -- one that interacts with a wider world -- it is a recipe for war of one kind or another. True, I don't want to be played for a sucker and true, I don't want to be harried by doubt, but to assert that such faith could or should create an overarching foundation for all is arrogant and small-minded and greedy ... and a far cry from the 'peace' any religion might claim it was aiming for.

Criticizing such narrowness is really small potatoes. You can't properly undress the pig with lamentations. But what does undress the pig, to my mind, is to recognize the tendency within to aggrandize what does not play me for a sucker, what I see as a true or good way, what I am willing to expend effort on. This is what I choose and, good, bad or indifferent, I have decided to see it through. I have decided to undress my pig, to stop being fooled, to get to the bottom of things ... however foolish I may be along the way. With luck -- but without assurance -- I hope I will not injure or demean others in my efforts. The odds of that happening are pretty small, but I will do my best to make amends where, in fact, I have inflicted my purple-robe mentality on others.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty when undressing the pig is the willingness/need to have the agreement of others ... the willingness to allow the views of others to supersede my own uncertain and yet determined steps. If "everyone does it" and I do it too, then I am OK. But the moment you swath the OK pig in purple robes in that way, life comes calling and the not-so-OK-ness rears its head. To go-along-to-get-along is alluring, but if you look back, wasn't this pseudo-support system the very basis in which uncertainty arose? The uncertainty that might incline any man or woman towards a first-est-with-the-best-est religion?

Honesty isn't easy. But consider the pig. The pig goes "oink!" With or without a purple robe, the pig goes "oink!" Is there something mysterious about this "oink?" You bet there is! Not!

How about that for a sensible and less war-like starting point?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Wall Street meditation

For those in the New York area, a friend passed along the following announcement:

Daily Meditation at Zuccotti Park

The IDP [Interdependence Project], in conjunction with several other NYC based yoga and meditation communities, will be offering daily meditation sessions at Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park), home base of the NYC "Occupy Wall Street" movement.

The goal of the sits will be to provide a ground of mindfulness and loving kindness within the demonstration and to promote non-violence and peaceful action.

Tuesday October 25 through Monday November 28, 2011
Guided meditation instruction and open sitting time will be offered
3:30-4:30pm on weekdays
1-2pm on weekends

At the "Shrine Tree" in Liberty plaza, near the corner of Liberty and Trinity Streets.
Larger community gatherings will be offered as our coalition grows, and announced in a timely manner.

"Cyrano de Bergerac"

The nose speech and duel ... originally black-and-white:


are you enlightened?

"Are you enlightened?"

"Only if you insist."

Ikkyu, one of the more colorful exponents of Zen Buddhism, was once quoted as saying, "I am not a Buddha. I'm just an ordinary fellow who understands things."

the universal solvent

Water is sometimes inappropriately called "the universal solvent." It is capable of washing away a vast array of things ... but not quite everything. Some things (fats for example) simply defeat water's 'universal' claims.

But sometimes I think there is a yearning in the human heart to find the universal solvent that will put everything to rest -- something that brings peace in all situations. Spiritually-inclined books, for example, line what remain of bookstore shelves, promising a universal solvent, so to speak -- something that solves or dissolves everything and brings peace. And even without the spiritually-oriented salesmanship, you can hear voices singing the praises of "love" or "freedom" or "money" or "matrimony" or ... well, pick a touchstone, any touchstone.

Find the joker in the deck of cards and everything will improve. The joker or wild card immediately enhances the meaning of any other card -- any other circumstance in life. The joker goes with anything and has the power to solve an otherwise weak or depressing or doubt-riddled hand of cards.

Find the joker.

Find the universal solvent.

Find the god.

I took up spiritual life to find the universal solvent ... or anyway, that's one way to put it. I was doubtful enough and on-edge enough and greedy enough and idealistic enough and determined enough to see the universal solvent, the joker, as a worthwhile effort. What was it that could promise an unwavering sense of certainty and relief and clarity and peace? There were hints that came and went -- experiences that seemed to wash away all concerns for two seconds or two minutes or even two days. But they came and went and I wanted some steady-state understanding, some joker that didn't just dissolve back into the deck of cards that seemed to be my life.

I chose spiritual life and, eventually, Zen Buddhism, as a means of searching out the universal solvent. My own preference liked the fact that Zen did not roll around in the mud with intellectual or emotional constructs. It acknowledged them, but did not say the universal solvent could be wrung from them. There was a joker that smiled gently at intellect and emotion, but declined the invitation to be swallowed whole by them. That made some kind of sense to me, so I pursued the format that Zen practice provided. Zen waved around words like "satori" and "enlightenment," words that seemed to leap over or precede or outstrip the 'ordinary' way of things. Ahh... a universal solvent, a joker ... gimme some of that.

OK, I made a choice and set out to get beyond my own lip service to the various universal solvents of "love" or "freedom," intellect or emotion. I never was a very good Zen student. I was too intellectual or too emotional or too unwilling to surrender or too much of a fuck-up at every turn. But, like a kid dying to ride a bike, I was willing to fall off and get bruised and keep going because I was sick of my own lip-service compromises. It was as if some challenging voice whispered, "You want the joker? You want a universal solvent? Well, stop talking and start walking! Put up or shut up! Dig in and get to the bottom of something for once! Put your ass on the line!"

So I did. Despite repeated failures, I did. I wasn't a good Zen student ... I was just a Zen student. It was just the format I chose, much as anyone might choose a format to do anything. Relying on the judgments of others simply was not enough. What was reliable? What was the joker? What was the universal solvent? I didn't want to believe. I wanted to know.

I did the prescribed zazen or seated meditation ... poorly. I did the chanting and walking ... poorly. I followed the prescriptions as I understood them ... poorly. I didn't want to be lazy and make another lip-service mistake. So I made a lot of other mistakes ... poorly. I was serious, sort of.

And after 35-40 years, it occurs to me that the universal solvent will never be the universal solvent until I simply put on the shoes I own and walk in them. Sometimes on the peace picket line I stand with on Saturday mornings, someone will stop and ask, because of the robes I wear, if I am some kind of a Buddhist. It's a simple question, of course, but it always confounds me. Am I a Buddhist? And the answer comes back, "Sure, when the occasion arises." When Buddhism comes up, be a Buddhist, but otherwise, what's the fuss?

I used to think that Buddhism would create a lot of cookie-cutter good guys, radiating the message of some universal solvent. If you were a good Buddhist, you would be serene and smiling ... just like all the other serene and smiling Buddhists. But nowadays, I find myself trusting that the joker is more interesting than that. It is more interesting than Buddhists and Buddhism. The universal solvent is real, but no one in their right mind would lay claim to it or search for it or praise it. "Real" means it can't be helped.

It's a joker, after all. Jokers fit anywhere. They aren't in business to solve anything ... or dissolve anything either. Just because jokers laugh doesn't mean crying is out of the question.

It's just laughing, right? You laugh, I laugh ... everyone laughs.

a brighter future

-- The United Nations has issued a report urging means and efforts towards making the world a more hospitable and healthy place for future generations. Rather than simply wringing its hands at the fact that world population has topped seven billion people, the report underscores the hope and need to live well and the role young people can and should play in that effort. It's nice that someone should say this. It also feels, in economic hard times, a bit like pissing into the wind.

-- Hospitality took a turn for the worse in Oakland, Calif., where police broke up an Occupy Oakland gathering Wednesday with tear gas and flash-bangs. More than once, authorities had warned the crowd -- a spin-off of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York -- to disperse ... for 'health' reasons among others. 'Health' concerns seems to be gaining traction with those who can't quite get a handle on how to control and defuse the Occupy movement. Although the movement has been surprisingly devoid of violence and incivility, still the presence of so many people being so steadfast carries a menacing message to those who are accustomed to mindless and obedient support. What is a belief system to do when those whose belief is required for the continuation of that belief system simply refuse to believe? A friend sent along this account of the events in Oakland. Read the first paragraph if nothing else.

-- In the 1960's, when protesting the Vietnam war and racism were at their height in the U.S., young men and women were known to burn the draft cards and their brassieres as a statement of their unwillingness to believe and conform. In Sana'a, Yemen, hundreds of women gathered (Tuesday or Wednesday -- the BBC does not specify) to burn their traditional veils as a protest against the violence used against anti-government demonstrators. Yemen apparently does not rely on 'health' issues in order to state its displeasure and desire to control ... violence is more likely the tool of choice.

-- As the U.S. military has increasingly relied on mercenaries (often called contractors) to fight its wars, so civil society has found it useful to hire out its police duties to for-profit organizations.
"One out of every five Americans lives in a community that pays a for-profit company to install and operate cameras that record traffic violations," the Associated Press reports. Strange how demonstrators might be accused of contributing to the breakdown of civil order when the underfunded institutions of that civil order are breaking down as well.

-- And, on a less-weighty note ... some will remember a time when books were popular and that included children's books. Mom and dad would sometimes read stories to their children before it was time to go to sleep and among those books was a 1947 classic, "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown. Now, with the advent of a lifestyle 'lived' along the Internet and with related gadgetry, comes a new parody contender ... "Goodnight iPad" by Ann Droid:


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

sorta, kinda tolerance

The Vatican has invited others to come together ... but pray separately.

religious topography in U.S.

A friend sent along this charting of U.S. religious affiliations in each state. Just put the cursor on the state and the numbers appear. Interesting the number of "unaffiliated" percentages.

lest we forget

Just now my mind is awash in the tendrils and associations brought to mind by the blog entry below -- how it is that even at a personal level, there is a tendency to forget or dismiss the roots of a current expertise and perhaps power. Organizations may provide ample evidence, but then there is the evidence of the mirror.

When I was a newspaper reporter a lot of years ago, I learned pretty quickly that if you wanted any useful information about what, say, the governor was doing about a particular topic, you did NOT call the governor. You always called someone at two or three removes from the governor. This was more likely the person who was down in the trenches, doing the work, aware of the specific difficulties and openings ... in short, someone of a substance the governor would later take credit for. That's what such people were paid for ... to do the leg work so that the leader could, with luck, more effectively lead.

Individuals have a somewhat more complex task because they are both leader and follower. The leader sets the course. The follower gets down in the trenches and does the work. First there is intention and then there is the fine print and sweat... in business, in family, in spiritual endeavor.

But because success is too often measured against what others say and think, sometimes there is the tendency to brush aside the roots of the fruits. "I've got mine and how I got it no longer matters. I got my raise and received the accolades I deserved. The past does not concern me."

Only of course it does matter. No one can remember with clarity all of the steps he ever took, but that very forgetfulness should incline a man or woman to humility. It may be a perfect outcome (applauded by the many I choose to credit and whose applause I accept), but a perfect outcome may rest on some limping goofs or outrageous fabrications. Being forgetful about such matters is both lazy and arrogant. Moreover, it lacks the humanity that the leader and follower within deserves.

There is no need to dwell in the past. But there is a need to be willing and cognizant and, when called to account for our very human inconsistencies, to be able to say to the mirror, "I'm very sorry." A perfect memory is out of the question, but the very imperfection suggests that humility is both warranted and useful.

Or anyway, that's my take.

the corruptions of power...caveat emptor

Today, a friend sent along a link to an Associated Press exclusive about the limping attempts to reform the Legion of Christ, a Roman Catholic Church affiliate that has been criticized in the past for covering up its pedophile depredations.

Aside from any sex-scandal outrage that may be rekindled by the story, I thought it was a wonderful description between the lines of the ways in which organized power structures (in this case religious) can seek to mollify or squelch the legitimate and sometimes horrified concerns of the very constituency that makes that power possible.

The current Occupy Wall Street effort comes to mind....

As does the observation of Lord Acton: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

in search of meaning

Of course things do mean something.

But what interests me is the pure tantrum, the positive conniption fit, the mind can throw when it searches and demands and stamps its foot in search of that meaning. Things have to mean something! Everything happens for a reason! Like a child devolving into incoherent and unending wails at the supermarket check-out line -- "I want candy!!!!!" -- there is the gut-deep insistence.

And of course things do mean something.

But what they mean is this: I want meaning. It's OK ... it just doesn't work very well.

A meaning without meaning doesn't mean much to my candy-loving mind. But it is probably worth checking out. What would it be like if I just left "meaning" out of my list of demands? Is it really that scary?

Take a look. Maybe you'll see what I mean. :)

dust to dust

-- The body of former Libya strong man Muammar Gaddafi was reported buried, secretly, at an undisclosed location in the vast Sahara Desert today. A man who demanded a public was suddenly alone and very, very private as Osama bin Laden, the alleged Saudi mastermind of the 2001 World Trade Towers attack that claimed some 3,000 American lives and then rose to become the central "terrorist" in American-policy minds and then was assassinated by American SEALs on May 1, 2011, and then was allegedly dumped in the vast Indian Ocean. 

Tall or short, famous or infamous, rich or poor ... everyone returns to the truth at some point, I imagine. Every grain of sand has its tale to tell, but what tale is it? True or false, it's worth the effort not to tell a false tale.

-- The word "extinct" used to mean that something no longer existed as a presence or force to be taken into account. But apparently the meaning has been revised since the "extinction" of the Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam seems to mean that there are 50 or fewer remaining. It's a bit of conservationist hyperbole, I suppose, but it still messes with my mind: When is something that is "extinct" not extinct?

-- The last of the most powerful nuclear bombs is being dismantled in the U.S. The dismantling of the B53, a weapon hundreds of times more powerful than the bomb that obliterated Hiroshima during World War II, is taking place in Texas today and being hailed as a "significant milestone." And once again, the question arises: If it ceases to exist, does it therefore cease to exist? Don't think of a purple cow!

-- A columnist asserts that the global-warming doubters have been put in their place by a study done by a scientist who was once skeptical himself. Physicist Richard Muller wrote "Global warming is true." This conclusion comes after some research that went beyond the bias and incredulity of the naysayers whose political agenda runs to industrialization and profit. The columnist seems to feel that this is the last word on global warming and its openness to incredulity. It's as if he were suggesting that reasonable people would be forced to agree. But when has bias -- yours, mine, anyone's -- ever allowed itself to be swayed by hard facts? Once again, extinction is probably something less than extinction.

Seamus Heaney

Who'd 've thunk it?

I was trained up one side and down the other to hate poetry in high school and that distaste has lingered like a set-in-stone bias for years and years ... and yet last night it was driven home that that distaste had to do with the teaching and not at all with what was being taught. Poetry, like opera, seems to have become a dish to enjoy -- sometimes deeply -- where once it caused me to scoff and barf.

The cause for noticing this was a segment on public TV -- an interview with 72-year-old Nobel-winning poet Seamus Heaney, a quiet, steady and attractive man whose persona and poetry utterly sucked me in and made me happy to inhabit the same planet with him. When he spoke of starting out on unsteady feet and then one day finding a voice he could credit as his honest and grounded poet's voice ... well, who doesn't know that feeling? And yet it was warming to have him enunciate it in his lilting, reflective half-smile of a voice. Watching and listening to him just made me warm and made me acknowledge some deep allegiance that I generally pass over and pass by. This was truly a beloved piece of furniture in whatever place I might choose to call "home."

The interview made me briefly -- but only briefly -- want to contradict the observation made by another poet, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, when he was interviewed on the radio. Collins described the meeting of one's favorite author as "one of life's most reliable disappointments." For all of Collins' perfect description, still, I wanted to meet Heaney, to shmooze and bask and see ... not as an acolyte, but as a deep friend. It was a passing fancy, but true enough.

What an overwhelming pleasure I took from that interview. It rolled effortlessly over a million other fancy observations like Hitler invading the lowlands...though it was soft and smooth and powerful as 'the ninth wave' that surfers sometimes patiently await ... the big one.



Monday, October 24, 2011

the usefulness of useless gestures

If a man plays his trumpet to an audience of deaf people ....

If a man waves his banner before a congregation of the blind ....

What is accomplished?

It is useless, in one sense.

But it's a pretty good reminder.

And so, what is useless is also pretty useful.

reining in the Tasmanian devil

-- In Mexico, the acreage devoted to the growth of illicit drug plants is on the rise as the government shifts its military energies away from agricultural interdiction and into the cities where the violence promoted by illicit drug trade is staggering. It's a win-win situation for the drug lords. Not long ago, on TV, former Mexican President Vincente Fox said he thought that since the war on drugs was both too ineffective and too bloody, illegal drugs should simply be legalized a la the end of Prohibition in the United States. Anyone holding his breath for this suggestion to take root in the United States will be dead and buried before the day arrives. But former Yankees manager (I think) Casey Stengel was right when he said in his mangled English, "If the fans won't come out to the ballpark, you can't stop them." If the fans won't stop using drugs, you can't stop them. Abstention is a wise course, but the 'virtue' of abstention is largely a self-defeating thicket.

-- Berlin police have collared a fellow they suspect of being responsible for the fire-bombing of luxury cars."Police say the 27-year-old, who is unemployed and has debts, was motivated by social envy and frustration to set fire to 67 cars over three months." Is there anyone who, in some small way, doesn't possess the Tasmanian devil of such an action? It is a credit to the Occupy Wall Street protesters around the world that more of this sort of thing has not occurred. There were tangential destructive riots in Italy, but in general, to date, the protest has reined in its Tasmanian devils.

-- A U.S. report has criticized the thoughtless expenditure of funds provided to train Iraqi police officers. I wonder if, now that Barack Obama has said the U.S. will take the bulk of its troops out of Iraq (and the American involvement in Iraq will shift from military to economic), more an more reports of this sort will come along. The issues addressed will have been there over the long years since the American invasion, but now ... well now it's open season on years of untended waste.

-- And the Associated Press took a little time today to reprise the longevity and impact of folk singer Pete Seeger as he added his voice to the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York. As I said earlier, I am wary of the role music is made to play in current events, but that doesn't mean I don't like music or don't like Pete Seeger.

crabby conundrum

In whatever 'wisdom' that age/experience confers, and in the additional time that 'retirement' implies, I notice that there seems to be an uptick in the willingness to reach quick and sometimes crabby conclusions.

Age and experience suggest that if you want to solve a problem -- any problem -- the first and most important step is to slow down and really look things over. It takes patience and determination and any conclusion arrived at will be (by the nature of human life) incomplete. But incomplete does not necessarily mean stupid. Thoughtfulness and care stand a better chance of shaping a more sensible 'solution,' however imperfect.

But patience requires time, the kind of time that those who work eight or more hours a day, take care of children or are in the thick of life's daily chores are unlikely to have. Decisions made within this framework are surrounded by the killer bees of daily life. Retirement opens the doors to a less harried approach. There is more time ... but less energy.

And less energy means less patience to put up with those inclined (as I once was) to quick-fix solutions. With considerable crabbiness (read arrogance) I want a quick fix to quick-fix imbeciles (in whose number, of course, I conveniently forget to include myself). Less energy ... increasing crabbiness ... a suspicious nature ... it all adds up to a disinclination and sometimes fear of adding my voice to the public chorus.

In spiritual life, for example, my quick-fix crabbiness expresses itself more and more in simple, quick-fix responses: If you want to do it, do it; if you don't, don't ... but either way, stop whining about it and stop pretending that reading a book has fuck-all to do with much of a solution. Yes, I can make the smarmy, kindly, 'compassionate' observations that play paddy-cake with the human fragilities, but all that takes energy. Old farts don't have an endless reserve of energy. They are, if they're anything like me, inclined to cut to the chase ... meaning crabby. Not only am I crabby about pointless side trips, I am also crabby about my own crabbiness, my own quick-fix biases. Hell, I might as well be a right-and-wrong teen-ager or a belief-prone Christian or a glassy-eyed junkie searching frantically for a healthy vein when it comes to unexamined conclusions.

Slow down and examine ... these are things required when addressing a problem. But the desire for a quick-fix (even to such a matter as quick fixes) seems to be woven into the DNA. And yet problems, my crabby mind reminds me, are precisely and only my own doing. I am responsible.

OK, I may be responsible, but this doesn't mean I don't want, quick-fix fashion, to blame them on someone or something else ... you, for example. Problems are what I love to hate ... they keep me imagining that I am alive. In this, I prove myself part of a very human race that age and experience seems to separate me from. What a jackass ... and it's all 'your' fault! :)

I don't want a problem. But increasingly, I don't want a solution either. Solutions just compound the problem. I guess I'll just have to learn to live with crabbiness when it comes calling.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

gourmet toe-jam

My experience is this:

Every time I open my mouth (whether within or without), I am bound to put my foot in it. Some conclude from such an observation that the only sensible course is a thin-lipped, lock-down silence. This is miles and miles too noisy, from my point of view.

The only viable option I can see is to enjoy this gourmet toe-jam.

clamping down

-- In Chicago and Sydney, there have been arrests.  The Occupy Wall Street movement that began Sept. 17 near the New York Stock Exchange and subsequently spread worldwide continues its vigil and its presence. I can imagine the authorities mustering their arguments for why this pesky child needs to be reined in and taught a lesson. I'm not sure that the arrests in Sydney and Chicago are the tip of some coming iceberg -- that the trend will pick up steam -- but I can easily imagine that it might. In 1932, the "Bonus Army" with its legitimate demands was driven from its Washington camp site by federal troops and tanks led by General Douglas MacArthur ... and two of the 43,000 veterans and their families who had gathered were killed. Those in authority are unlikely to exhibit their imagined 'patience' forever: If you cannot answer legitimate questions, the next best thing is to try to eradicate the questions being asked.

-- In Australia, authorities have launched a hunt for a great white shark that killed a U.S. diver recently. How they will know if they have hooked the right one and whether such a success insures a greater safety for swimmers in future beats the hell out of me. I also wonder if the sharks are passing out leaflets urging kith and kin to clear the predators and defilers who have invaded their environment -- an environment that is not purely recreational for them, but is a matter of life itself. Roughly 60 people worldwide a year suffer a fatal shark attack. In the United States, 38 people die annually from lightning strikes. The chances of getting attacked by a shark are put at 1 in 11.5 million. The chance of being killed is less than 1 in 264 million.

-- A friend sent along this article about several new books showing that the world has become, over time, a significantly less violent place. The statistics back up the premise. But of course they do not factor in the potential for danger. Anybody may be more peaceful on the surface -- fewer killings, rapes, wars, etc. -- but the mind remains capable of vast depredations. There may be more peace statistically, but it is a peace premised on and inextricably linked to its bloody mirror image ... and what sort of peace is that? It may be "better than the blow of a stick" (better than the alternative) as a compromise, but that sort of peace continues to rain down blows.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

tortured poetry, great punch line from Benny Hill

Poesie from the late British TV comedian ... perhaps a counter-point or companion piece to "The Impossible Dream." (Certainly a raspberry to Edgar A. Guest's "It Couldn't Be Done.")

 By Benny Hill

They said that it could not be done,
 He said "Just let me try."
They said, "Other men have tried and failed,"
 He answered, "But not I."
They said, "It is impossible,"
 He said, "There's no such word."
 He closed his mind, he closed his heart...
To everything he heard.

He said, "Within the heart of man,
There is a tiny seed.
It grows until it blossoms,
It's called the will to succeed.
Its roots are strength, its stem is hope,
Its petals inspiration,
Its thorns protect its strong green leaves,
With grim determination.

"Its stamens are its skills
Which help to shape each plan,
For there's nothing in the universe
Beyond the scope of man."
They thought that it could not be done,
Some even said they knew it,
But he faced up to what could not be done...
And he couldn't bloody do it!


Today, an article I wrote for the local newspaper got published. It was about trust (using the Occupy Wall Street protest as a springboard) ... a "trust" that might roughly be defined, as an Internet dictionary suggests, as "confidence that something is safe, reliable, or effective." Two days ago, I went into a radio news studio to discuss the article further and that interview (largely a plug for the newspaper) will air twice on Monday, the interviewer said. Fifteen minutes of 'fame.'

Prior to the interview, I looked up the word "trust" and found the definition above among others. For an amorphous and yet compelling item, the definition struck me as close-enough-for-folk-singing.

But it also struck me that the definition left out -- and I was sorry I left it out of the article -- the fact that trust, by whatever definition, is constantly at war with the facts of life -- most notably the FACT that everything changes. How reasonable or sensible is something called "trust" when everything changes? Or, leaving reason out of it, what role does trust play and what function does it perform? How does trust differ from a trust in distrust?

It's a question individuals sort out for themselves, I imagine.
PS: Here is the interview.
Pretty AM-radio, but beggars can't be choosers.  

victory and defeat

Yesterday, I decided to take an air conditioner out of an upstairs window. The leaves are changing, the air has picked up a nighttime nip and I like to save the air conditioner from the freezing conditions of winter.

I had done it 'a hundred times before' -- taken it out or put it in. I knew the thing was quite heavy and difficult to maneuver through the upstairs hall. It always had been a challenge to my muscles, but I had come out victorious in the past and planned, in my mind, to do so again.

My knowledge of the past made me confident. I had done it so I could do it. It was a problem, but not an insurmountable one. In my mind, I was younger and full of muscular ability.

But this time, the air conditioner made its own victories apparent. Yes, I got it out of the window and yes, I carried it as carefully as I could to the room where I had always stored it, BUT ... the victory took the starch out of me. The air conditioner let me know in no uncertain terms that it would, at some point, overcome my confidence and victory. I was exhausted and wracked by the experience. And I could almost hear the air conditioner whispering, "One of these days, old man...."

It made me think: Be gracious in your victories and honest in your defeats. Things work better that way.

And still ... it's no mean thing to acknowledge and ingest "defeat." There is someone who purely hates it: "Me."

out of Iraq ... singing

-- On the day, yesterday, that U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the bulk of American troops would be home before year's end, 92-year-old folk singer Pete Seeger, a man once excoriated as a socialist or a communist or whatever other epithet occurred to those in power, joined the Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York.

The BBC offered the following statistical rundown on the country the U.S. invaded under false pretenses so many years ago:

  • War began on 19 March 2003 with 173,000 troops, 150,000 of whom were Americans
  • 670,000 Iraqi security forces were on duty as of March 2011
  • 4,408 American troops have been killed
  • 179 British troops have been killed
  • 115,405 Iraqi civilians are estimated to have been killed
  • 32,195 American troops have been wounded
Source: Brookings Iraq Index, US Department of Defense

And for what? On television last night, a deputy director from (I think it was) the Defense (or maybe State) Department said the U.S. wanted to cement relations with Iraq in the same way it had cemented relations elsewhere in the Middle East. Among other things, he referenced liaisons with Egypt, a country to which (I had earlier discovered) the U.S. provides approximately $2 billion in aid every year -- second only to Israel. Over half of what is described as military and economic aid to Egypt is earmarked (by agreement) for the purchase of U.S.-manufactured arms. These strings mean that U.S. corporations make a lot of money from aid depicted as strengthening and benefiting the nation. So ... the taxpayers get to sacrifice their sons and daughters AND enhance a variety of business empires. Does it get any sweeter than that, assuming you are a businessman? Republicans might say that this arrangement creates American jobs and all I can think is, American jobs whose tax-paying-foreign-aid-producing workers can then send their sons and daughters to the next military misadventure. Anyway, these are the sorts of ties the U.S. would like to develop with the country it invaded.

Seeger has spent a lifetime adding music to a variety of worker-oriented causes ... well, he's one of my pillars, but I have become skeptical about the role of music in support of any cause. Music binds people together because, I think, it touches an intimate place inside them, an open place, a vulnerable and delighted place, a place of so-called sharing. Militarists and rebellious upstarts all know this and all add music to their agendas. There is music for war, music for peace, music for baseball, music for movies, music for any number of causes ... and yet music has no cause. Music is pure heart, whatever the impurities of its employers.

-- And in other news that might be categorized under "sic transit gloria mundi," miners in China are digging far and wide for profit, just as they do elsewhere. And one result, besides the riches, is that the Great Wall of China is under attack and crumbling. The miners have legal permits and so the past is left to fend for itself.

-- And then there are those determined to preserve the past, finding riches within it. In Alexandria, Va., a wife and her husband are cataloguing stuff that was made to be thrown away. Their interests run to the midway of passing fairgrounds. And they are not alone. The world of ephemera is a world worth preserving, these collectors of political buttons, fliers, comics, fair posters, etc. seem to say. Perhaps for money, perhaps for love ... it is a world unto itself, this world of what might have been discarded. And thus there is an Ephemera Society of America.

However rough-hewn, still there is the worldly wisdom of American humorist Will Rogers -- wisdom I rank right up there with Shakyamuni Buddha:

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Either it happened and I missed it or it didn't happen and I missed it.

American Christian radio host Harold Camping -- the same one who said Judgment Day and the Rapture world take place on May 21, 2011 -- predicted the end of the world was scheduled Oct. 21, 2011.

That's today. And there are only two more hours left in "today." Unless of course I have already been raptured or destroyed and am living a figment of my imagination.

Oh, it's all so confusing.

Maybe if I make a big enough donation, I can get it straightened out in my head.

artist in action



stop, look and listen

I had just pulled out of Walmart this morning and was waiting in line at a nearby red light. The radio was belting out some operatic tenor -- a brisk and peppy tune in Italian. I listened idly while keeping an eye on the large white truck that was ahead of me in line.

Equally idly, I looked for a moment in the rear view mirror. Behind me sat a narrow-faced guy wearing sun glasses. He seemed at first to be talking to himself. But all of a sudden it hit me -- he was singing with gusto the very same music I was listening to on the radio... in Italian, opera, lively as a Mexican jumping bean. Unheard, but heard ... simultaneously.

I got so entranced by the serendipity of it all that I damn near missed the green light.

What a nice little present.

percentages of proof

-- A friend was kind enough to pass along this link, which details the participation by some percent of the one percent excoriated by the Occupy Wall Street (the "99%) movement. Warren Buffet is not alone in recognizing that outsized wealth is not a sign of beneficent or socially-responsible success.

-- Further, on the protest that began Sept. 17, 2011, there is this story about the management company that is responsible for Zuccotti Park, the place in New York where Occupy Wall Street participants have taken up residence. The rules governing Brookfield Office Properties' responsibilities are vague -- vague enough so that it is easy to imagine their being used (when and if someone decides to take concerted action against the protest) to kick ass and take names.

-- Libya's strong man, Moammar Gadhafi, was killed yesterday. It's unclear whether a French air strike on the convoy in which he was riding is responsible or whether, when the rebels who have been waging a bloody campaign against his regime pulled him out of a vehicle, they shot him. The latter seems more likely. Either way, he is dead and the news is awash in speculation about what comes next. It is no small thing to eradicate a much-loved villain and then be faced with the quandary of what to do with all that energetic and beloved focus.

-- China is feeling a sense of outrage and shame after a two-year-old girl was run over by two vans in Foshan and passersby did what passersby do ... passed by the bloodied victim. The incident was caught on a surveillance camera. I imagine the surveillance camera, probably meant to capture various sorts of civil malfeasance, caught a little more than it was supposed to ... perhaps the complicit willingness to overlook the deaths of female children. It's one thing to know that things happen and quite another to have it shoved in your face. It's too much like looking in the mirror, I imagine.

-- And a spear head lodged in mastadon bone has apparently upended the idea that North America was first populated when travelers crossed the land bridge from Asia 13,000 years ago. Several discoveries, including the spear head, suggest that the continent was populated perhaps 15,000 to 16,000 years ago. I wonder what all this does to "Native American" claims. 

oh, for Christ's sake!

Yes, it's commonplace. Yes, it's a good advertising leverage. Yes, it's consoling.

But it fairly makes my teeth itch.

What would Jesus do? What would Buddha think? What would Mohammad say? Wouldn't Gandhi approve? Is there something inherently wrong with simply saying, "This is what I think" or "This is what I choose to do"?

Using others as a yardstick and support for personal behavior has made itself felt in the Occupy Wall Street movement in number of ways, no doubt, but duck and cover ... here comes Jesus! A Washington Post columnist has dipped her oar in the contemporary waters. Well, everyone's got to make a living.

         The Jesus of history would love them all. What Jesus really said, and what he meant, are the subjects of culture’s greatest controversies, but one thing is sure. Jesus gave preferential treatment to society’s outcasts.
I like the Occupy Wall Street effort at largely because it asserts the right anyone might lay claim to -- to speak up and speak out. Why, in heaven's name, would I assume that someone's voice did NOT deserve to be heard? Why would I agree any more fully if Jesus or Buddha or Gandhi or Mother Theresa were wrapped into the argument?

There is something demeaning about dragging other points of view into the equation. It's as if any view anyone might hold were somehow unworthy or lacking in persuasiveness when standing on its own.

But of course it's commonplace. "Everyone does it." I bolster my point by relying on the attractiveness of someone else's approach. This seems to be true because I don't want to be thought a fool or because I am attempting to dislodge what I consider to be your foolishness. What the hell -- if Jesus says so, it must be true and if I quote Jesus, I must likewise be true... something like that.

Sometimes I think the most wondrous thing about the historical beacons anyone might choose to affix in their lives is that they are dead. Dead people don't talk back. Their words and activities are open to all comers when it comes to interpretation and enunciation. They don't demur. They are fixed ... and blessedly silent when employed by their followers as support mechanisms.

But when you think about it, what, precisely is true about what Jesus or Buddha or Mohammad or Gandhi said or did? Is it true simply because a lot of people agree that it's true? But if this is so, then on what basis did that agreement take shape? The only basis I can think of is either that people are obstinately gullible or that, somewhere along the line, someone took the trouble to find out the truth of their statements and actions ... actually checked it out to see if it panned out in walking-around reality.

And if, in fact, anyone were to check things out in experience, then the truth would become their own truth, their own voice, their own experience ... and the need to rely on anyone else for reassurance would evaporate. Experience trumps belief, so anyone experiencing what Jesus suggested no longer has the need for Jesus ... or Buddha ... or Mohamamd ... or Gandhi.

Woo-hoo! Occupy Wall Street -- or any other street you choose -- and let your voice be heard!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

joke du jour

Passed along in email:

Last week, Mildred checked into a hotel on her 70th birthday and she was a bit lonely.

She thought, "I'll call one of those men you see advertised in phone  books for escorts and sensual massages"
She looked through the phone book, found a full page ad for a guy  calling himself Tender Tony - a very handsome man with assorted physical skills  flexing in the photo. He had all the right muscles in all the right places, thick wavy hair, long  powerful legs, dazzling smile, six pack abs and she felt quite certain she could bounce a silver coin off his well oiled bum.

 She figured, what the heck, nobody will ever know. I'll give him a call.

"Good evening, ma'am, how may I help you?"

Oh my, he sounded sooo sexy! Afraid she would lose her nerve if she hesitated, she rushed right in:  "Hi, I hear you give a great massage. I'd like you to come to my hotel room and give me one. No, wait, I  should be straight with you. I'm in town all alone and what I really want is sex. I want it hot, and I want it now.  Bring implements, toys, rubber, leather, whips, everything you've got in your bag of tricks. We'll go hot and heavy all night - tie me up, cover me in chocolate, syrup and whipped cream, anything and everything, I'm ready!!  Now how does that sound?"

He said, "That sounds absolutely fantastic ma'am, but you need to press 9 for an outside line."

'original' ideas

As a very green newspaper reporter, I was once assigned to go to a press conference scheduled at a nearby air base. A general had something to say ... I forget the topic. And as I rode out to the base with several other reporters from other news organizations, we all chatted idly about the aspects of the upcoming event. I had come up with my own question to ask and I told the others in the car what it was. Others chimed in with their questions, I seem to remember. But when it came to the Q&A section of the press conference and before I had a chance to open my mouth, the Associated Press reporter got in his question ... which was pretty much word-for-word the question I had outlined in the car.

It left me speechless and pissed me off: He had 'stolen' my idea.

As the years went by, I came to find that those around me often had no compunction about stealing ideas they had no capacity to formulate on their own -- my ideas. I didn't mind as long as I was given credit, but saying someone else came up with the idea that comes out of your mouth lessens the impact and ego-boost of pretending it is original as stated.

The whole thing pisses me off less today than it did once. It's human ... and it lets you know what sort of person is co-opting your ideas. It's just another ego-tripper who lacks the capacity and willingness to think for himself.

The flip side of this coin is also interesting: Is there really any idea -- any idea at all -- which does not owe fealty to someone else's 'original' efforts? No there is not. From Einstein and Edison to Joe the Barber ... we're all living on food that others have chewed. It's not a matter of whether this is the case, but rather that it is the case. The word 'original' overstates the case by quite a lot.

Perhaps the only sense in which "original thinking" has any meaning is in the uses to which anyone might put someone else's leavings. Are such leavings used as a means of parroting and self-elevating or is there some honest nourishment within?

Before you ever imagined you had an original idea ... what originality is this?

Your life, your choice.


-- Researchers have begun to study the relation between the brain and the effects it may feel from an organization whose activities I love to hate: Facebook. They are studying changes in the brain as related to use of the social networking phenomenon. The studies, said one researcher, "should allow us to start asking intelligent questions about the relationship between the internet and the brain - scientific questions, not political ones." OK, it's just physical at the moment, but perhaps the research will lead to consideration of such somewhat amorphous qualities as "dehumanization" or "stupidity."

-- Today there is blowback from the releasing and subsequent killing of wild animals in Zanesville, Ohio. The zoo owner opened the cages, let his captives go and then killed himself. Authorities were forced to kill 48 animals, including 18 Bengal tigers and 17 lions. The animals were roaming around and threatened the safety of nearby residents. Even those who were horrified by the killings admit there wasn't much of a choice.

-- And in New Jersey, a man has sued several big banks (Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo), accusing them of colluding with credit card businesses to fix the fees they charge to ATM customers. The suit, filed in federal court in Washington, is seeking class-action status. No word on whether I might ever see a refund.

trust yourself

If you trusted yourself enough, what need would there be to distrust others?

Or trust them either?

My bet is that if you ask someone if s/he trusts him- or herself, the answer would be a secret or not-so-secret "yes."

But is it true? I doubt it.

I think it's worth thinking about.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

15 minutes of minute fame

Actually, it'll be more like six or seven minutes, but it's something, right?

The managing editor of the local newspaper called me up half an hour ago, said he liked the piece I sent in a couple of days ago, said he would run it, and then asked if I would be willing to be the first interview in a series of radio bits the newspaper was planning.

My mind, like some dithering starlet, went into overdrive: What will I say, what should I wear ... it was ludicrous. The article, which I had to reread just now, is about trust -- the trust whose devaluing is on trial as the Occupy Wall Street protests continue ... the trust that trickles down to your street and mine and is too often manipulated instead of honored.

A lot of years ago, when I was a gung-ho Zen Buddhist, I was assigned by the Zen center I belonged to to go on the radio to talk about Buddhism. I was all a-flutter and, the night before, rehearsed the basic tenets I supposed would be covered in the interview. I was caught absolutely flat-footed when the first question out of the interviewer's mouth was something like, "What about reincarnation?" Reincarnation simply didn't make any difference to me, but I realized it made a lot of difference to those who had a passing acquaintance with, but little understanding of, Buddhism. I floundered and flopped like a fish on the dock. I don't know what I said and I sure as hell don't want to know.

Naturally, I don't want to do that again. This time my starlet wants to be the suave sophisticate, dispensing sensible information left, right and center. This time ....


around the world

Around the world:

-- Turkey invaded northern Iraq (it's called "hot pursuit") after Kurds allegedly killed 24 Turks along the border. The Kurds, long given the short end of the international stick, whether from Iraq or from Turkey or from the United States,  are sitting on what are thought to be vast oil reserves. The United States supported the incursion by the Turks. No word from Iraq, under whose umbrella the Kurds currently reside. It's not the first such 'incursion' based on what is not the first attack on Turks.

-- In Afghanistan, the top U.S. and NATO commander announced a new offensive against militant networks along the Pakistan border and plans to ramp up operations next year. Pakistan is not amused.

-- And in Greece, a nationwide strike has erupted in ... go ahead and guess ... is it A. a yo-yo championship; B. a peaceful resolution or C. violence?

Occupy Wall Street convention

The Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be taking a more specified and less amorphous stance with the posting of a list of their possible suggestions to be considered at a national convention.

While not yet 'demands,' the list has the distinct advantage of being written in pretty straight-forward English.


I don't generally read much any more about Zen Buddhism, but yesterday was different. I was emailing with Stuart Lachs, an occasional 'bad boy' writer in the world of Zen, a guy with enough solid practice to have street cred in my book, and he pointed me to an essay he had written on the hua-t'ou form of practice. Since I was only vaguely informed about hua-t'ou, I read and enjoyed it...and recommend it to those whose curiosity inclines them in that direction.

Stuart's other essays (Coming Down from the Zen Clouds: A Critique of the Current State of American Zen, for example) make a lot of Zen enthusiasts uneasy ... or, if not uneasy, then sometimes overly-enthusiastic. The questions he posits and the historical evidence he adduces often leaves the professional Zennies gasping with indignation or grasping for straws that will bolster the reputation of their professions. Seldom, that I have seen, do they meet Stuart on open ground, critiquing his critiques with historical or common-sensical counterargument. Instead, there is a retreat into 'spiritual' assertions or touchy-feely hand-wringing or blustering outrage that does not speak well of the Zen they have chosen to embrace.

Anyway, the hua-t'ou essay is not confrontational as far as I could see. It's just a description of the practice.


-- In Zanesville, Ohio, armed police who have already killed 30 of them are patrolling the streets, on the lookout for what remains of the 48 wild animals that escaped from a nature preserve where the owner's corpse was found Tuesday, an apparent victim of suicide. Lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears had been held captive at the preserve.

If you lock up the things that are wild -- whether within or without -- aren't they bound to escape, bound to cause fear, bound, at some point, to go unbound?

-- A Pennsylvania woman is in custody in Philadelphia, accused of locking four mentally-infirm people in a basement crawl space while apparently stealing their Social Security money.
"Detectives also found dozens of ID cards, power-of-attorney forms and other documents in the apartment, suggesting the alleged theft scheme involved more than just the four captives." One man was found chained to a furnace.

-- In Lafayette Park, near the White House in Washington, Elijah Alfred "Nature Boy" Alexander Jr., 66, regularly spends his days walking and talking. He calls the park his office. ""I became a preacher in the Baptist church and realized I was a hypocrite for telling people to live the nomadic life of Jesus Christ and I haven't done it myself. So I chose to become the nomad." That was 15 years ago." He tells his life story to those who ask. (This photo essay requires the viewer to wade through an ad first.)

What is it that calls out pleasantly from a person or people who decline the blandishments of a civilized and much-camouflaged society? Isn't there some small voice, however badly informed, that whispers, "Gee, I'd love to do that too and I am glad there is someone who actually is doing it."? The longing may not be well-defined as to mission or credo, but it's almost instinctual, as if rising up from the long-ago and far-away within. It is as if something were missing and much-missed... the "nomad" or the peaceable wild thing ... uncaged and breathing free.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Shoot straight, you bastards!"

This morning, there was a letter from a friend who writes pretty good essays about the misperceptions and manipulations that go on in Buddhism. Several of his points interested me, so I took some time answering and adding my own thoughts. Energy.

And then there was the daily blog to write on. Energy.

And then there was an article I wanted to write for the local newspaper. Energy.

And then the plumber was coming to fix the drain on the upstairs bathroom sink. I had to go to the bank to get money to pay him and listen to his lengthy explanations about why he had to charge so much. Energy.

With energies waning, what do I want to spend energy on? This morning, it was writing ... and I did not want to be distracted, to have what energy I could muster siphoned off. So I listened half-heartedly to the plumber and then sailed back into the newspaper opinion piece and found myself struggling to get it into some sort of order. I didn't have as much energy as I would have liked, but I did it anyway and shipped it out because, when all was said and done, writing was a choice I had somehow made in life and it was miles too late to change my mind.

And then I thought of the 1980 Australian movie "Breaker Morant," a tale taken from a play and very well done. The movie concerns three carbineers during one of the Boer Wars in South Africa. The three lieutenants are accused of executing Boers in a way not sanctioned by their British masters ... who had in fact sanctioned the brutal tactics. And when at last Breaker Morant, the protagonist, and one of his fellow lieutenants are tied to chairs as the sun rises over the grassy plain, Morant's last words to the firing squad are, approximately, "Shoot straight, you bastards!"

Live as a soldier, die as a soldier. It's the best any of us can do.

let loose the monkeys!

-- There used to be an idle speculation that an infinite number of monkeys sitting in front of an infinite number of typewriters would eventually compose the works of Shakespeare. Now, it appears, there is an attempt to codify what used to be a pleasantly idiotic beer-drinking discussion:

Statistics have long shown that large crowds of average people frequently make better predictions about unknown events, when their disparate guesses are averaged out, than any individual scholar - a phenomenon known as the wisdom of crowds.
Now the nation's intelligence community, with the help of university researchers and regular folks around the country, is studying ways to harness and improve the wisdom of crowds. The research could one day arm policymakers with information gathered by some of the same methods that power Wikipedia and social media.

Oh goody -- a world based on the Wikipedia model. Anybody's guess can be elevated to the level of level-headed thinking, if not wisdom. Frankly, I'd rather stick with the ignorant but diligent scholar ... s/he may be wrong, but at least, with luck, s/he has done a little thinking.

The whole effort puts me in mind of the somewhat uncharitable, if apt, observation by LaRochefoucauld that "The intelligence of the throng is inversely proportionate to its number."

Let loose the monkeys!

-- Seven monks have recently done the same, but now a Tibetan Buddhist nun in China has set herself on fire as a means of making a political and religious statement. The horror and desperation and perhaps insanity of the action remains undimmed in my mind by the increasing number of such protests. A 20-year-old woman did this. The commentary on such an action is up to the individuals who choose to comment. Self-immolation by a 20-year-old cuts out my tongue.

Monday, October 17, 2011

a counterproductive spiritual aid?

If I had to guess (and were drinking beer at the same time), I think I would guess that what passes for religion in the world is based in uncertainty and doubt.

Farmers along the Nile were never certain when the source of their sustenance, the river itself, might flood their fields and leave them hungering. Death was a mystery whose hidden realms needed defining. Life came from the very sun that could fry a man to a crisp. What was strong yesterday became weak today and vice versa. And so on and so forth.

And uncertainty or doubt cried out for an explanation, a plan, a celestial hierarchy, a hole card that would dispel doubt and uncertainty.

But the odd thing about the explanations that religions -- the concoctions aimed at dispelling doubt -- contrived is that almost without exception they required belief. And belief by its very nature does not dispel doubt. It imposes doubt.

And if this is so -- as my beer pitcher tells me it is -- then what religion lays out is a system by which to impose still more doubt ... on top of the doubt that existed before religions attained liftoff.

Check it out. See if it's true. And if it is true, then reconsider the fervent beliefs that offer not so much relief and release as they do an even more uncertain world.

If belief merely aggravates what people sought to escape in the first place, how useful could it be?