Sunday, June 30, 2013

experience-based death

Is there anyone, old or young, who has not and does not continue to gather data based on experience? How that experience is interpreted may vary, but the gathering of data goes on and on and on and on ...
the sky is blue, water flows downhill, math sucks, Suzy is beautiful, the children are sometimes insufferably noisy, money is tight ... no matter what the age, the data gets processed, stored, regurgitated, dissected, connected.

A whole lifetime, long or short ... Experience R Us... very credible and creditable stuff ... experience.

A whole lifetime.

And one aspect of that whole lifetime's worth of experience is the recognition that no matter how well plotted or how well planned, the future never (ever) comes true as imagined. This can be ignored under the heading of, "well, it pretty much came true as I said/thought/hoped it would," but the fact is that no one can precisely and with certainty predict the future. A marriage that started out on a joyous footing becomes more nuanced. A friendship falls prey to betrayal. A lifelong enemy becomes a friend. What was looked forward to -- good, bad or indifferent -- never comes precisely and exactly true.

No one makes a big deal out of all this. It is just the teaching of this life experience ... whether in the moment, the day, the week, the year: No one can tell the future. This truth is experiential and amounts to a common sense that goes largely unnoticed. Unnoticed ... it's just that boring: No one can foresee the future.

A whole lifetime. A whole goddamned lifetime of in-your-face, no-one-can-know-the-future  experience....

And yet when it comes to the matter of death, a lifetime of experience is forsworn in favor of an ornate and comforting afterlife.

Leaving aside the matter of whether "after" or "before" actually compute when discussing "life," still it seems a terrible betrayal. True, the betrayal may seem warranted based on fear, but with a whole lifetime of experience in the matter of not knowing the future -- actual-factual, data-gathering, in-your-face evidence -- wouldn't you think that a bit more optimism could be brought to bear, optimism based on fact rather than fancy?

Consider ... a whole lifetime of evidence suggests that knowing or predicting the future is a pastime for fools and charlatans. Time after time, life proved us all wrong, to one degree or another.

But isn't it worth noticing as well? Sure, we were all wrong in trying to or imagining we could make spot-on predictions, but the fact of the matter is that despite being wrong, nothing exceptionally awful happened. We were wrong and survived it. The fact that anyone didn't know precisely the condition in which they would survive it is part and parcel of not-knowing.

But survive we did ... entering the unknown moment after moment, day after day, week after week, year after year ... and yes, it may have been a bitter pill from time to time ... but the unknown didn't turn out to be that bad, did it? Was it bad enough to be worth forswearing an entire lifetime of perfectly sensible, experiential data-gathering ... of pretending that just this once, in contravention of all previous experience, we actually could see into the future and what a bright and glorious future it would be?

It may all be unutterably human, but that doesn't mean it can't be simultaneously quite sad... to forswear a perfectly good life in favor of a 'perfectly good life.'

Sometimes I think what passes for spiritual succor has a good deal to be ashamed of.

getting as good as you give

Is it true or is it just another version of the Chinese fortune cookie factory at work? ...

I have a hunch it is true:

What you get is only as good as what you honestly give away.

lie-detector provision

In Italian courts, if I remember correctly, it is presumed that defendants would lie on their own behalf. If true, this strikes me as an apt, rather than cynical, reading of human nature.

In the United States, legal proceedings find footing in the promise from those testifying that they will tell "the whole truth and nothing but the truth." Failure to do so constitutes perjury, a punishable offense.

Given the hearings before Congress and the courts -- hearings about banking, stock market, insurance and other complex malfeasances that leave the rest of us financially gasping -- I wonder if it would be possible:

When a person testifying claims to "have no recollection," and when those questioning this person have reason to doubt his or her statement, would it be possible to ask that the person undergo a lie detector test? "Excuse me, sir, but would you please report to the lie detector department ... it's down the hall and to your left."

Lie detector tests are intrusive and not always reliable, but the object of administering the test would not be to say what the truth of the matter was; the object would be to determine if the person were a liar ... and hence a person whose "whole truth" was something shy of the truth ... and hence that his testimony could be doubted ... and further investigation might be warranted.

I doubt that Congress would have the nerve to insert a lie-detector provision into its precepts for hearings (who is his right mind, especially all those lawyers, would want to be hoist by his own petard?), but the idea that such a clause might be inserted and exercised, well, it appeals to me.

Not as a matter of finding out the truth of the matter at hand.

Just as a means of helping to verify that the "whole truth and nothing but the truth" was within the witness' willing boundaries.

OK ... it's a wet dream. But everyone has those once in a while.

bringin' the heat

-- In Ecuador, flower-growers are on edge about an implied threat by the U.S.: If Ecuador offers document-leaker Edward Snowden asylum, Ecuador's $250 million dollars in flower exports to the U.S. may see existing tariffs held in place and not, as hinted, eliminated. Snowden is unreliably reported to be holed up in the transit area of a Moscow airport. The U.S. would dearly love to capture him, put him on trial, and put its own warming embarrassments to bed.

-- In a similar, but somewhat different vein, "The head of the European Parliament has demanded "full clarification" from the US over a report that key EU premises in America have been bugged." If the Spiegel reporting of such bugging is true, it would have a "severe impact" on ties between the EU and the United States, according to Martin Schulz.

-- And in a less amorphous and confounding expression of heat, the Southwestern United States is looking forward to more truly sweltering conditions. Las Vegas was touched with 115 (46C) and in Death Valley, known as the hottest place on earth, temperatures reached 125 (51.7C) Death Valley recorded the highest measured temperature on Earth on July 10, 1913 --  134 (56.7C). The heat may break by Tuesday ... or it may not.

Sorta like Edward Snowden.


"Whimsy" is defined by an Internet dictionary as "a strange but pleasant and funny quality." Whimsy is not mean, as humor may be, but it recasts the perspective in light-hearted and sometimes ludicrous terms. It lightens what might, in another setting, be a quite cumbersome and solemn situation. Whimsy opens things up for no particular reason and for that reason can be quite informative. I like it.

This morning, for example, I found myself casting a whimsical reply to a comment on an earlier blog post. The topic, while no doubt serious to some, was not earth-shattering in importance, but what I noticed was the enjoyment I found in whimsy. A smile, a silly, another perspective, in this case made out of whole cloth:
In his perceptive and widely-acclaimed treatise, "Worms I Have Known," Sir Reginald Flagler, OBE, went to some lengths to describe and analyze wormulous subgroupings ("Charm Schools") which seemed to come together for the sole purpose of easing the childhood traumas suffered at the hands of careless human beings. "Worms may not have brains," Sir Reginald commented in a 1996 interview, "but they have multiple hearts and those hearts are as powerful and fragile as our own. Worms are people too, you know."
It was a giggle and I like giggling. And the writing of it took me back to a time, during a particular moose-hunting season, when I wrote an entirely bogus news story about a man who had been moose-hunting in Maine and inadvertently shot a Spam Animal, a creature long thought to have been extinct. (Unfortunately, I didn't save the story, but just the outline still tickles my ivories.)


Of course one man's humor is another man's desecration, but it seems to me that anyone might be well-advised to keep their whimsy machine well-oiled. I am not suggesting that anyone turn humor into a defense mechanism that sidesteps every serious issue. But I am suggesting that as part of any disciplined and peaceful lifestyle, it might be a good exercise to address whatever serious issue is currently in vogue with an occasional bit of whimsy ... just take the serious issue, and, for five minutes, recast it in terms that are vaguely ludicrous and worthy of a fleeting smile.

A love affair, a grand betrayal, a sweat-soaked spiritual effort ... not as a dismissive put-down, but just as a means of taking a time-out to smile, apply the whimsical template: How silly and delicious is this?

Once having applied the template, there would be ample room to return to the regularly scheduled, un-whimsical programming.

Whimsy: A wider world.
Seriousness: A wider world.

Pretty whimsical, I sometimes think.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

worm charming

Chairman Mike Forster at the 34th World Worm Charming Championship in Willaston, Cheshire in the UK. BBC photo.

Worm charming.


Nuff said.

a glimpse

Just one glimpse ...

Besides the uncertainties and unsatisfactory qualities bestowed on any given life, perhaps there is something to be said for the brief glimpses that draw people forward in spiritual endeavor... clarities that come and go before anyone can say "comegone." Perfectly plain ... utterly compelling. Nothing to do with "spiritual" -- but "spiritual" is the best a crippled language can offer.

A glimpse.

The stumble-bum image comes to mind...

Of a hiker traveling through some night-time woods. The darkness is not spooky or profane. Darkness has no agenda. It is simply dark. The darkness has implications for the hiker, but the darkness itself has no implication.

And suddenly, up ahead, with a certainty that goes beyond certain, there is a single dot of light -- a camp fire at some distance through over-hanging bows and leafy brambles. The glimpse is so quick that the hiker may not be sure that what was seen had actually been seen. Perhaps it was some flashing trick behind the eye lid. But immediately the doubt is evaporated ... I did see it, though now it is gone once more.

The hiker directs the steps, one by one towards that camp fire up ahead. The certainty of that single glimpse is lost behind tree trunks and thatching fir branches. But still, one foot is placed in front of the other. The fact that the hiker cannot see the trail well or precisely means that roots or holes destabilize the march. Branches brush or slap the face. Who knows what's coming next? No one can see the future. The only option is to take this step... in the darkness ... towards the camp fire that may not be there once the hiker arrives. Fear is just a delaying tactic.

And so it goes. Step by step. With other glimpses, other bright certainties, perhaps ... all disappearing as quickly as the first....

Until at last the hiker enters some small clearing and there it is, the camp fire that winked and beckoned through the dark. A small clearing with a fire, assured as any glimpse.

The hiker sits and may wonder idly, "Who built this fire? Whom can I thank?" But fires, like darkness, have no agenda, so all anyone can do is enjoy the warmth ... a warmth that likewise lacks agenda.

My glimpse. My darkness. My fire. My warmth. My home....

And delight, like fear, is just a delaying tactic.

Friday, June 28, 2013

irritating advice for new parents

A nice tongue-in-cheek article from the BBC observes with apt acidity the advice others are willing to lavish on soon-to-be-parents, be they the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge or just poor schmucks like the rest of us.

dirty little secrets

Lance Armstrong, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France who had his medals stripped from him after he admitted doping, has thrown a monkey wrench into the latest version of the premier bicycling event by saying he thought there was no way to win the race without chemical assistance.

He later clarified his remarks by saying he was talking about an earlier time period, but by then wounded Tour de France officials had felt the lash of his remark and were once again scurrying to assure the public that the event was truly untainted.
Armstrong was clearly talking about his own era, rather than the Tour today. Le Monde reported that he was responding to the question: "When you raced, was it possible to perform without doping?"
"That depends on which races you wanted to win. The Tour de France? No. Impossible to win without doping. Because the Tour is a test of endurance where oxygen is decisive," Le Monde quoted Armstrong as saying. It published the interview in French.
Is the public reassured? I doubt it. If it was impossible to win back then, and if improved oxygen can make all the difference, are we supposed to believe highly-trained competitors will not grab whatever advantage is currently available?

I wonder what would happen if the dirty little secrets inherent in pretty much all human endeavors were simply made public. No big deal ... it just goes with the territory. What then? Would it lighten or increase the load? Would morality be improved or diminished?

My dirty little secrets and yours ... I wonder.


An Internet dictionary defines the word "validate" as meaning:
to officially prove that something is true or correct
to officially state that something is of an appropriate standard
to make a document legally valid
On public television news last night, a segment was devoted to the diminishing world of orchestral performances. Since music of various kinds -- including classical -- has lifted me up or drowned me or exploded me or swooned me or stolen my soul or eradicated me in convincing and delightful ways, I watched and listened to the segment.

The tale was quickly told: The music that once could only be heard in gilded theaters had wound its way onto records, then tapes, and now iPods. Attendance at symphony performances had and has plummeted. Why go out or make some expensive effort when the same music could be had at the touch of a button?

But the TV segment focused and refocused on the young and often incredibly dedicated and skilled musicians. They were attending schools like the premier Julliard School, paying enormous sums, battling enormous competition and sacrificing in ways that others might never consider. These were people who ate, drank and slept their efforts. But how would they live if audiences stayed home in droves?

A music teacher commented -- perhaps whistling past the graveyard -- that even if they received no pay at all, such students would continue with their art. This was their soul, their life, their heart and there was no escape. The had to do it. Anyone can sympathize with or even idolize such dedication ... but seldom do they investigate what they may applaud. Is it true or is it wishful, wispy, hopeful thinking?

Are these very dedicated students -- in a way akin to my own reaction to some music -- beyond the need for validation? And is the soaring into a realm that is beyond all clamor and applause recognized instinctively as something that is, at last, honest and true? It may be a delightful thought and even a delightful truth to soar in a realm that is pure soaring ... but it is also confounding and perhaps spooky.

If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, is there, in fact, any sound?

How many aspects of life are laden with the need for or insistence on validation? I don't mean this in a snarky, high-seat tone ... just as a question: How many? Or maybe the question should be asked from the other side: How many aspects of life are not laden with the need for or insistence on validation?

These days, college graduates enter the world with a certificate attesting to a wider validation of their education. In Buddhism, schools can claim a lineage "all the way back to the Buddha" and teachers can exchange certificates of approval. Powerful executives jet to warming climes where others serve them cooling drinks and validate their standing and prowess. Grade-school children rush home to announce to delighted and approving parents that they have gotten an A. A soldier wins the Medal of Honor or the Croix de Guerre ....

There is nothing precisely wrong with validation, no reason not to feel the satisfaction of an apparent success. But I do think that examining the function and reliability of validation is worth the price of admission. Failure to investigate leaves the validated soul uncertain ... constantly seeking out more and better validation because this validation -- the one just now -- never quite covers all the bases.

If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, is there, in fact, any sound?
Where the music lifts anyone to inexplicable heights, well, what's that about?
And then there are the more mundane questions that can arise out of a kiss, an orgasm, a sneeze...

A land without validation seems to be all around ... and yet the best anyone can manage is to attempt to validate it. And the man or woman who announces, "I have no need for validation" has eviscerated the truth simply by making the statement.

A land without validation. A music beyond music. Falling in the woods. Aaaah-choo! It's all so simple and endlessly obvious and yet it's harder and more bloody than chewing barbed wire.

It seems to me that the more anyone elevates a land without validation, the more bliss that is found within its confines, the greater the attachment to a world rife with validations. So perhaps bliss is a good warning signal ... validation is not necessarily bad and a land without validation is not somehow good. It's more a matter of making friends with the inescapable, finding some peace with the endlessly obvious.

The tree falls in the forest. The music soars the soul. The kiss defies all language. The FedEx truck passes by the house.

Do I really need to validate all of this?

Isn't laughter more appropriate ... real laughter -- the kind that makes you fart without validation?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

self-siphoning beads

 Blow your mind:

And here is a slow-motion version and, uh, explanation.

chalk one up for Pfc. Bradley Manning

A military judge in Maryland appears ready to allow Pfc. Bradley Manning's lawyers to introduce a video clip that prosecutors say exposes military tactics and procedures and should therefore be classified. The attack killed a dozen people, including two Reuters staff members and several children.
Manning admits giving the video to WikiLeaks but denies revealing national defense information.
Manning, 25, stands accused of  "22 offenses, including communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source and aiding the enemy."

pure purity

The real McCoy.

The pure truth.

The unadulterated drink.

What would purity mean if it actually were attainable? Would it any longer be pure? Would it really be very interesting? Would fewer children go hungry and fewer adults be unfulfilled?

In Japan, a 71-year-old man is suing newscaster NHK for $14,300, claiming that the broadcast use of Americanized words causes him mental distress and implicitly degrades the purity of his culture.

I have known Buddhists who insist on the teachings that are "the real thing" and "authentic."And there are plenty of other cultures besides the sometimes-tightly-wrapped Japanese who insist on one kind of purity or another.

Isn't it true, though, that every reference to purity -- from anal-retentive to righteous to supercilious to relaxed-and-assured -- invariably relies for its purity on the impurities it sees elsewhere?

How pure could that actually be?

If you're going to be thankful for something, "impurity" strikes me as a better bet than "purity."

closing your church doors

In Pelham, a well-heeled community eight or ten miles from here, the 173-year-old United Church of Christ will close after the 10 a.m. service this Sunday, according to the local newspaper. With 36 active members, $17,445 was raised last year. The budget was $55,200.

As I might feel a sense of sympathy for anyone whose much-beloved has moved along, so I feel a wispy and not-entirely-clear sympathy for the church. Somewhere within, I whisper inadequately, "I'm so sorry." It's not that I ever attended church with any devotion or regularity (my parents were both devoted to the religion of the intellect), and it's not that the idiocies of religion couldn't inspire my wrath, but my upbringing recognized the presence of "church" in a wider sense: It was part of the air in which I moved; it was something that others loved ... and when something that is loved moves on ... well, I've felt that too and so I say inadequately, "I'm sorry," as if those words might somehow comfort and reassure and love.

I'm so sorry.

And, simultaneous with the sense of amorphous sorrow, there is also a sense of pleasure, the same sense of pleasure I get when I see my kids exhibiting signs of adulthood... little acts of kindness or expressions of understanding that indicate they have or are in the process of forsaking what was once so much beloved, so relied upon, so certain. It's not easy, perhaps, but, like it or not, everyone is destined to grow up ... even if being a 'grown-up' is never the done deal that mouth-merchants might pretend it were.

Adulthood ... there is not a goddamned thing anyone can do about it. Wriggle and squirm, praise or despair, encourage or discourage, posture or get real ... adulthood happens all by itself, for better or worse.

And all of this made me think of "surrender" in spiritual endeavor. To give up, to give away, to outfox, to disdain, to see through ... is there a spiritual persuasion that does not contain within its hallowed precincts some version of "surrender?"

It can be a pretty insistent drumbeat, whether from charlatan or pure spirit -- let go and let God; give up attachments; seek out enlightenment; exercise compassion; do unto others etc. Leave what once was so beloved behind. See the light.

But today, with the closure of the Pelham church in the offing, I don't think I agree with this concern about surrender. It's too childish, and adults, after all, are adults. To surrender something is to imbue it with the notion that it could somehow be surrendered ... that someone had it in the first place. Maybe it's a bit like the atheist who must first posit God in order to shoot God full of holes. To speak of or encourage surrender (I'm thinking of this on a personal level, not as some red-hot gospel delivered from the pulpit or self-help book) is like an exasperated parent who says to the child, "Oh, grow up!"

How could anyone grow up before they had grown up? Sure, they could fake it and sure they could find something they love in the churches of the mind -- something that might one day close its doors -- but maybe it would be more sensible to let things surrender themselves. Stop sweating and straining and trying to be an adult when, all by themselves, people do become adults.

Hold on tight-tight-tight or attempt to release ... doesn't it amount to the same thing -- giving substance and force and credibility to that which someone might long to evade or demolish?

With a faint heart, of course, it can be argued that some effort is imperative in a happy life, a peaceful life. You gotta bust your balls! And it's true ... why else would anyone build beloved churches in their minds or on their streets? Work your ass off -- it all seems so necessary and important and lord-I-do-love-it.

Don't things surrender themselves? Don't they move away without any assistance whatsoever? What possible use could spiritual endeavor be if it too did not close its doors ... not with a cranky slam or a silver-tongued click of delight ... just closed because, well, that's what it wanted to do.

If you cannot surrender spiritual life -- if you cannot watch it move away of its own accord -- what rich reality could it possibly have? No one could force themselves to be an adult. Adulthood happens without any problem at all. Why assure failure by seeking success?

Surrender or hold on tight ... same stuff, different day.

I think there are gentler and more useful approaches -- approaches that accord better with being a happy and peaceful adult.

But all this is just one kid talking to another, right?

Let's go out and play now!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

brand new bird

A completely unknown bird, the Cambodian tailorbird, has been discovered in Phnom Penh.

ask the egg

When he sought training from the monks in China, a bigamist acupuncturist I went to for treatment had been only grudgingly accepted. And the first segment of his training included endless, merciless beatings.

The monks who were once the repository of acupuncture skills could see that his well-heeled family background (his father, if I recall, had been an industrialist who moved from his oriental home to Sweden in the course of business) had seeped in and would prove a barrier to his skills: Acupuncture was an art to serve; it was not a realm of merchandizing and self-aggrandizing proprietors.

Anyway, the monks beat the crap out of him. I do not know how long his training lasted, but when it was over, there were no diplomas that I know of. Only when he came to America would the acupuncturist have to gather up the paperwork that would 'prove' he could do what he actually could do.

That his early training had had some effect was underscored even in the time when I received his treatment for a nagging bit of arthritis: Yes, he charged money, but if there were a need and the patient had no money, he would provide treatment for free. He was a servant, not a proprietor. He had nothing to sell ... he only had something to offer.

The spiritually-inclined might imagine that this was a man of humble demeanor, with a bowed head and serene gaze. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was full of piss and vinegar, loved to dance and was blissfully unaware of the discomfort he might be causing by being married to two women (with two kids each) at the same time. He was flawed ... he was himself ... and he was a servant.

And I thought of him this morning when two front-page newspaper articles appeared. How or whether they related to the bigamist acupuncturist, I'm not sure. But it felt, somehow, as if they did.

Celebrating a tax increase
The first article concerned the passage of a local tax override measure. The vote was roughly 60% in favor and 40% opposed. One woman who may be forced to move away from a city she has called home for years was quoted as saying, "We can't afford it. Money is extremely tight for us." The measure will buttress schools, cops and various services and, for those who favored the tax increase, it was a matter of the quality of life in their home town. Living on a fixed-income as I do, the tax hike is a decided bite in the financial ass. But worse that that, somehow, I sense a well-heeled arrogance in those willing to make improvements on the backs of others. I could be wrong, of course, but I doubt it. (Here is a rewrite of an article I wrote and submitted to the newspaper four or five days before the override passed.)

The second article, immediately below the override tale, probably has zero interest for anyone who does not live in my home town, Northampton -- a city whose comfort rests largely on the Ivy League college here (Smith) ... a city where many favored the impact and intention of the Occupy Wall Street movement and could be moved to tears by the growing income disparities in the country. The second article had to do with the closure and sale of a local lumber yard. No one wants to buy the business, Northampton Lumber Co., but the property is large and the potential for condos or cafes or other money-making devices is obvious.

Lumber builds things ... actually  builds something. It does not connive or posture, excuse or applaud ... it just builds stuff. It creates. It serves in concrete ways. True, the local lumber company probably charged more than the big box stores like Lowe's or Home Depot which specialize in high volume and dubious quality, but still ... to have a lumber store that contrasts with the arty gimcrack and pub-chuckling and smoothly income-rife establishments strikes me as sensible.  Am I biased based on both tight income and a past love of building things? You bet I am.

But there seems to me to be something whopper-jawed and out-of-balance about all this. No doubt my age and an unwillingness to have my comfort zone revised play a role. No one, in any endeavor, can pursue that endeavor without demonstrating the old adage, "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs." Everyone ignores one thing in order to focus on another... good or bad, no difference.

But who, while making an omelet, consults the egg? Not that this is easy or ever perfect, but still ... what does the egg say? Isn't there a wisdom to hearing the egg?

Today's news stories made me feel as if there were some principle that was out of kilter. Criticism is not the point. Facts on the ground and actual outcome(s) feel somehow, amorphously, skewed.

A Somali security official who was summing up the why's and wherefore's of piracy off his shores once observed: "If you do not share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you."

Cruisin' for a bruisin'.

Too many jovial proprietors and not enough servants.

I suspect we're all in for a licking.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Understanding Leaks...."

Pretty good opinion piece passed along in email:

Of leaks and the totalitarian ooze.

blog proviso

To all my friends and enemies with whom this blog creates an ephemeral relationship:

Just so's we're clear:

What is written here is written in some hope that you will understand the mistakes YOU DON'T WANT TO MAKE.

If something strikes you as correct, well, don't blame it on me.

And ... thanks for the company.


I wrote what is below on a Buddhist bulletin board. It was a response to someone who was often quite self-critical. Just thought I would post it here as well:

Your post brought up shards of reaction and recollection ... just take it for what it's worth:
-- A lot of years ago, as a newspaper reporter, I won a New-England-wide first prize from United Press International for a five-part series I had written about alcoholism. I really had busted my ass writing it, but when my boss asked me if I wanted to go to the awards dinner, I said no-thank-you. He pressed me to go. I refused. The why's and wherefore's were many, but somewhere at the bottom of it all was a sense that 1. somehow I didn't deserve it and 2. basing success or self-esteem on what others thought was not a honey-trap I was willing to fall into.

-- My Zen teacher once told me that for the first 18 years of formal practice (zazen or seated meditation), his legs hurt like fury. I was grateful for the story because my legs continued to hurt at the time he told the tale (nine or ten years into my own practice) and the pain always made me feel that I was a phony Zen student somehow: If I were a real Zen student, my legs wouldn't hurt and I would be cool as a cucumber. Somehow I was devoted Zen student who couldn't, in reality, find his own ass with both hands; I was not at all as worthy as other students who never seemed to yowl and complain the way my mind did.

-- Once, as a kid, I was on a public ski slope and having quite a good time zooming here and there. I was a moderately good skier (meaning I didn't fall down every time I headed down the slope). But at one point, when I was climbing back up the hill for another run, an adult male I did not know called me over to him. "Look, kid," he said. "Any asshole can ski fast. It takes a good skier to ski slow." His words struck home partly because I was not used to hearing cuss words from well-dressed adults. The guy didn't explain or press the point. He just went about his own skiing. So ... I tried out what he had advised -- skiing slow, making the turns with attentive care, keeping the skis properly aligned ... all of it. And for the rest of the afternoon, I spent about as much time on my ass as I did skiing.

I sometimes think that half or more of the reason anyone fails is that they're so damned busy trying to "get it right" or trying "not to get it wrong," to "succeed" or "not to fail" ... and to receive accolades (whether within or without) for their efforts ... trying so hard with an effort that might better be put into to what they were actually doing ... that ... well, everything seems to come out sucky. One of the nice things about Buddhist practice is that determination takes us through what is ultimately nonsense ... And you don't even have to be a Buddhist to find it out:

How many things can any person do at one time? Multi-tasking is bullshit. Everyone does one thing at a time. Why? Because there's no other choice. Not only is there no other choice, but imagining that there could be both and observer and a doer simultaneously ... is more bullshit. Little by little, by doing and doing and doing some more, the dime begins to drop. It's not a question of finding some final, unequivocal bliss. "Buddha" means "awake" ... it doesn't mean some kind of special awake ... awake is awake. Bullshit is bullshit. Same for you, same for me.

Bit by bit, doing by doing, not-trying-to-escape after not-trying-to-escape everyone just does what they do. Sometimes they screw the pooch. Sometimes not. If you make a mistake, correct it. If you don't, correct that.

Take it easy. Ski slow. And don't worry about falling on your ass quite so much. All that worry detracts from getting back on your feet ... which is all any awake person does in the first place.

election day

Around here, it's election day, an off-year affair that traditionally draws out few of the electorate doing the electing.

On the ballot are the choice for a U.S. Senate seat and, more rousingly-important locally, a tax override measure that promises to fill financial gaps and sidestep a loss of teachers, cops, services, etc. The weather is scheduled to be clear and the temperatures sweltering.

I wrote a longer post about trying to convince my younger son why he should get out and vote ... not for or against anything, if that's what he chose ... just vote. But the post disappeared into the ether of the Internet.

I am in a better position than my son to know the depredations committed under that flags of liberty and freedom and I am no my-country-right-or-wrong-but-right-or-wrong-my-country nitwit. But still, I want my sons to vote.

Why? Perhaps because I think that anyone who cannot acknowledge with a full-frontal nudity where they are in the present is cruising for a guaranteed failure when it comes to what they might prefer in the future.

Does it suck?

Yes, it sucks.

But cowardice is a poor foundation.

Suck it up.

"violence is the solution..."

Last night, before bed, my 19-year-old son and I were floating down a river of conversation. I love talking with my kids, not least because they challenge my settled opinions and conclusions. The challenge is not always deliberate -- not loud-mouth, fuck-you rebellious. More often, what shakes the cobwebs from my rafters is a casual bit of thought that may strike me as utterly mistaken, but forces me to review ... what if this point of view were somehow correct and apt and nourishing and true? Seriously.

"'Violence is the solution to everything,'" my son approvingly quoted a drill sergeant who was part of the military-basic-training tableau that formed the single most compelling bit of experience in his recent life.

Beneath the cobwebs, I could feel the knee-jerk conclusions struggling to get out and assert themselves in forceful, self-important, philosophically-sound, old-fart certainty. I had a thousand responses on the tip of my cobwebbed tongue, a thousand thrones I might climb into and from which I could orate. But the fact was that I didn't want my son to agree with me any more than I wanted him to agree with the drill sergeant. What I really wanted was my son to agree with himself.

"Violence is the solution to everything."

My mind stammered and stuttered and considered claiming the authoritative, parental high seat.

And then my tongue came to my rescue, saying only, "Imagine what the world would be like if everyone agreed with you."

I could see the flicker in my son's eyes ... hadn't thought of that. He is a good-natured person, kind and perhaps a bit confused by his own kindness. Like any teenager (or adult either, I suppose), he is searching keenly for the "always" and "never" answers that will still the waters of life, the waters of "sometimes." It's a confusing search, as anyone who has been a teenager can attest. In later life, the questions dim as the cobwebs collect... cobwebs like mine ... cobwebs that rest on a wider experience and claim the role of "answers" to questions that never really got answered ... the chasms across which cobwebs were constructed as a means of outwitting some nameless abyss.

I like talking to my kids because they blow out my cobwebs ... or anyway some of them.

"Violence is the solution to everything."

The abyss.

An abyss inspiring my cobwebbed virtue to raise its righteous head. God knows I can put up a virtuous fight. But when has virtue ever been an empirical improvement on honesty? Instead of saying no-no-no to what clearly deserves a no-no-no, how about reconsidering the carefully-cobwebbed, carefully agreed-to assumptions? I like reconsidering, challenging, and getting away from times when I can do no better than to agree with others. It may be an irritating exercise, but it leaves things refreshed.

Such friendly cobwebs, the "always" and "never" crossing the abyss of "sometimes."

There is some food for thought in Claude Louis Hector de Villars' observation, "God save me from my friends. I can protect myself from my enemies."

But the paradigm is not complete. It is not entirely satisfactory. At best, it is another fragile cobweb: Always-never-sometimes? Not quite.

Heaven knows it takes a great deal of courage to face my enemies, whether literal or metaphorical, whether within or without. A literal enemy -- the Taliban or some other lately-selected foe, perhaps. An enemy within -- attachment or ego, perhaps. This stuff can require a boots-on-the-ground, shit-oh-dear courage ... grinding, frightening, determined, uncertain of the outcome, endless, cold-sweating in the event ... God give me courage!

But today I think I will nudge my son a bit further ... which is to say, I think I will nudge myself:

If it takes great courage to face your enemies, how much greater is the courage of the one who has no enemies?





Monday, June 24, 2013

the final solution

During World War II, Adolph Hitler put forward and implemented "the final solution," "Die Endlösung." By eradicating Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, priests and other riff-raff (the untermenschen), Germany would be purified and free to live out a rarefied Aryan existence that was true and elevated and charmed by destiny.

Let's not be too quick to look down on or dismiss Hitler's vision. It is as worth investigating as it is dangerous and cruel.

Currently, in the United States, there are billions of dollars being spent to combat something called "terrorism." The torn flesh and lost lives attributed to "terrorism" are real-time facts, horrific and heartless. Who would not do his best to thwart such activities ... and assure a continuation of some more peaceful lifestyle. Who would not do what he could to get out from under the riff-raff threat?

In Buddhism, those who practice (not just preach) work pretty hard. Enlightenment is not for sissies. Attachment, ego, dualism, monism, etc. ... this collection of riff-raff requires a no-kidding-around effort. A rarefied, clarified, and spectacularly bright destiny awaits, however subtly camouflaged the promise might be.

The final solution.

An interesting exercise is this: Instead of pointing out the very real horrors of whatever "Endlösung" is selected, let's follow the path as others or we ourselves have laid it out: What if such very real enemies as have been selected were, in fact, wiped off the map? What if Hitler had in fact eradicated not just six million Jews and millions of others, but had cleansed the empire he lived in COMPLETELY. 

What would Hitler do without something to blame?
What would the United States do without something to blame?
What would a Buddhist do without something to blame?

All the bad stuff, however it is conceived, is ahhh-at-last conquered and expunged. The grand goal has been met. The riff-raff are no more. Terrorism is out of the question. Delusion has been dealt a mortal, convincing and purifying blow.

Ahhh ... the final solution, whatever it is!

But, as Voltaire suggested, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

And isn't the same true of our most heart-felt enemies, the ones without whom we could never really enjoy the 'purification' of the race or the 'peace' that has no detractors or the 'enlightenment' that throws no shadow. If things were in fact as they had been envisioned ....

Shit! ... we'd be flopping around like a fish on the dock.

In the same breath that anyone concocts a god or a final solution, in that very same breath s/he thanks god for the wherewithal to fuel the hellfire all around.

Go ahead, make up a final solution.
Concoct and define and dissect an enemy.
Be earnest and sincere.
See how well that works.

Americans and their economy

Passed along in email:

Three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck and have little or no savings cushion if a job loss or medical emergency should occur.

Meanwhile, senior citizens in almost every state are falling seriously short when it comes to living out their "golden years."

Economists sometimes proclaim themselves to be "disappointed" by such findings.

If economists are "disappointed," just imagine what those experiencing such conditions are.

news photos

Long-tailed mayflies (Palingenia longicauda) mate on the surface of the Tisza river near Tiszainoka, southeast of Budapest, June 23, 2013. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh   

Tourists look at the rising "super moon" from the elevated skywalk of the Supertrees Grove at the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore June 23, 2013.
A Hindu devotee performs with fire during the Jal Yatra procession ahead of the annual Rath Yatra, or chariot procession, in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, June 23, 2013.

management behind bars

Can American workers learn something from the Chinese employees who locked up their American boss in Beijing?

The jailers/employees are demanding severance packages equal to those of 30 workers who had already been laid off ... even though the boss has said there is no danger of the current workers' losing their jobs.

The jailer/workers, Chinese who live in a shrinking economy, apparently didn't believe his promises.
"I feel like a trapped animal," [Chip] Starnes told The Associated Press on Monday from his first-floor office window, while holding onto the window's bars. "I think it's inhumane what is going on right now. I have been in this area for 10 years and created a lot of jobs and I would never have thought in my wildest imagination something like this would happen."
Interesting choice of words ... "inhumane." Accurate? Probably. But what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander: How much more quickly might management recognize inhumanity when it got a dose of a similar medicine?

Of course, not all inhumanity is delineated by guns or bars.

hot day

A fetid day, fat with heat and moisture and imagined pollution, has been served up around here and it's not even 9 a.m.

It pleases me, in some perverse way, that the heat gets to my 20-year-old son. It makes me feel that I have an excuse for turning into a limp washcloth.

The days of an imagined, indefatigable ability to meet the elements and be their master are gone.


forgivable fairy tales

Not that the world is actually a dangerous place, but sometimes I think the heart-felt human longing for safety and relief deserves to be filed under "Forgivable Fairy Tales," right next to "Santa Claus" and "The Easter Bunny."

On Saturday, a subcontractor for the bank I patronize called to ask about a couple of suspect credit-card charges, one for $240 and one for $38.60. The charges had been flagged because they seemed to be out of the ordinary, given past spending trends. I told the pleasant young man that, no, I had not been to Canada recently and I was very rarely up at 4 a.m., the time when the larger charge had been made. Likewise, I had not been to or charged anything at a bookstore in California, where the smaller amount had been debited.

While I had him on the phone, I asked the pleasant young man how the hell this had happened. I don't walk into stores waving my credit card and calling out, "Yoo-hoo, everybody! Here is my pin number!" The pleasant young man was pleasant. He knew he was talking to one of those older people who didn't have a clue about how the world went around. He gave me short course on the various ways in which credit card theft occurs. Sometimes a card is boosted online. And sometimes, the determined simply make up random credit card numbers until they find one that actually exists and they can access it. In the end, it didn't much matter what firewalls of protection anyone donned ... where there's a will to protect, there's a way to outwit.

Last night on TV, news man Bill Moyers revisited an earlier story entitled "The United States of ALEC," an investigative piece about an organization that tinkers for its own ends with such democracy as remains in the various united states.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is a conspiracy nut's wet dream, only in this case there is no fantasy about who is getting screwed. The group is composed of big money, big business, and big politicians, all of whom, while remaining below the legal radar screen of what it means to lobby, have managed to attain a 20% success rate when influencing state laws that might otherwise hinder their power-and-income ends. 

Labor, education, law, environment, guns, religion, politics, and a host of other issues have been credibly affected by ALEC. Their activities, for the moment, are all legal within the democratic system they seek to subvert. ALEC is huge and amorphous and is filled with men and women who are impeccably dressed ... and, like many conservative entities, knows that what's good for you resides first and foremost in what's good for them.

What sounds safe and convincing to one, may sound dangerous and corrupt to another... a truly dangerous world from which each might seek out safety and relief. But whatever the safety and relief, there is implicitly danger and corruption ... except among the Santa-Claus-prone... like me.

After watching the Moyers segment, I checked my email and found a note from an acquaintance who had suffered at the hands of a spiritual guru, a guy named Andrew Cohen. Of Cohen, Wikipedia says, "Mind Body Spirit magazine listed him at Number 28 on their 2012 top 100 most spiritually influential people alive today." (I'm sorry, I can't help myself: Who makes this shit up???!!!) His mother describes him as the "sweetest, sensitive kid, [who] had changed into an unrecognizable tyrant." The email came from Bill, a former disciple who had been deeply hurt after serving and admiring Cohen.

Bill sent a link to a long, 'thoughtful,' 'even-tempered' assessment of the enlightening universe Cohen presides over. The link suggests Cohen may be trimming his own sails. Bill knew that I had been involved in similar sorrowful shenanigans in Zen Buddhism. There was a kinship of experience ... outrage, sorrow, resentment, confusion ... and the presumption that the assessment of Cohen would bang my chimes. Well, it did ... I couldn't read the article with much interest. Truth to tell, I didn't try very hard. And given the fact that manipulating others can set my hair on fire, I wondered why.

Laziness probably. Old age maybe. I don't feel as if anyone should lie down in the warming ooze of over-arching 'spiritual' understanding and thus excuse very real depredations, but will someone please tell me the place or time in which such depredations do not exist, whether in actuality or potential? Is there an honest-to-god situation that spells safety and relief in any credible way? And if there were, would it be credible? Sleazeballs, like saints, are a dime a dozen. Is there something extraordinary about this?

As I say, I can see no reason not to raise hell when hell needs raising, but raising that hell under the banner of some Santa Claus or Easter Bunny that can provide safety and relief ... well, I doubt it, and more, am increasingly unwilling to say that I don't doubt it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

brass band ... woohoo!

your peace of mind

Crossing my mental road like some lazy armadillo:
Give away your peace of mind,
That once-beloved now far behind.
Savor the sweetness of an orange;
Forsake the minarets of rind.

calling the teacher's bluff

A fleeting thought noted elsewhere:

There is a difference between Shimano and others referred to as Zen teachers. Any Zen teacher worthy of the name would be thoroughly delighted if a student called his bluff. Shimano has always been petrified that someone might call his.

"it's all good"

A number of years ago, I had an Internet chum who insisted, both in email and on the Buddhist bulletin board we both frequented, on refraining from the use of the word "I." I can't remember if he slyly elevated his own stock in the usual way, by using "one" or "we," but I do remember that his habit created some pretty convoluted and sometimes downright ridiculous writing.

But at the same time that I was tut-tutting about my friend's habit, I was in the throes of a habit of my own -- not using adjectives when at all possible. Both of us, I suppose, were on some kind of 'purity' or 'discipline' bender... expending energy with an eye to some more tuned-in result.

I have since lost touch with my old friend and have no way of knowing whether he has kept his discipline oiled. I do know that I now no longer worry about using adjectives.

To quote the lazy who remain flummoxed by the bad, "it's all good."

Actually, of course, it's not all good at all.

It's better than "good."

what, precisely, is wrong?

Does it ever cross your mind as it sometimes does mine...

What, precisely, is so wrong with life that I insist on praising it?

beyond the coziness of hell

Those who take an abusive delight in Dante Alighieri's rings of hell might want to take a step back from vivid imagination and consider the plight of the inmates in Bolivia's largest prison. 

The prisoners are protesting a plan to close the jail. The government wants to close the La Paz facility and put an end to "cocaine trafficking and other abuses" committed within the prison walls.

Among the alleged abuses is the repeated rape of a pregnant 12-year-old girl by her father and other inmates.

Prisoners deny the allegations and say the girl is fine.

The girl is one of several hundred children who have no choice but to live in the prison while a parent serves out his term.

Digest the scenario.

Munch on the details.

And perhaps you will agree that sometimes a vivid imagination of the sort Dante inspired is really a second-rate, lick-spittle competitor. Sometimes the world is so topsy-turvy that there is no adequate description outside the soldier's wry acronym, FUBAR ... fucked up beyond all recognition.

a grandmother's love

It's Sunday
And it's my fault.
I am mildly ashamed and yet, perhaps as a sop,
Imagine that it causes less harm than my other peculiarities.
It's Sunday.

Across the street,
The red leaves of the Japanese maple
Provide a nudging, hug-filled reproof
As they dance with absent ardor
In passing puffs of wind.

It's like your loving grandmother
Rocking minutely in her chair,
Blue-veined hands at peace,
Remembering with a soft savor
The ball at which there was once a graceful gaiety....

Not on Sunday, of course,
Or any other day.
But now among the leaves and wind,
Softly, softly, rocking, rocking -- beyond all grace...
Is there a time or place that is not dancing with loving grandmothers?

Or peculiarities either?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

slipping through the cracks

Funny how the mind might skip over whistleblower Edward Snowden's actions and revelations about government snooping on citizen privacy and yet be outraged and astounded at the incompetent carelessness of The Gap when, instead of delivering a tie and pocket square a man had ordered, the company shipped him "the confidential files of about 20 former employees, including Social Security numbers and W4 tax forms."

In the latter instance, people may be outraged at the stupidity and intrusiveness.

In the former case, well, it needs to be parsed and examined and balanced ... no instantaneous yowl of outrage or fear and hang-the-bastards-out-to-dry!

The government, of course, has our best interests at heart.

Sorta like The Gap, I imagine.

the 'worst' form of government

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once observed that "democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried."

The intellectual deliciousness of this bon mot has a sharp, real-time edge. Democracy can shape and guide a country ... and has every bit the potential to be dumber than a box of rocks ... and mean into the bargain. There are dictatorships and there are dictatorships, each finding its foundation in a desire for a bit of stability, the time to change the kids' diapers, the peace in which to go to work.

In Brazil, what started as a protest against a small increase in bus fares has escalated into millions of people taking to the streets. Brazil, the democracy, is under siege. Complaints range from spending on luxury what might have been spent on schools or health care, to despair at a lolling willingness to be corrupt.

In Turkey, a protest over plans to create a mall where there is currently green space in building-dense Istanbul has blossomed into a government-questioning surge.

In Afghanistan, the hardline Taliban, a group that favors a twisted rigidity which is nonetheless rigid and thus offers an imagined stability, is jockeying for power against the current government ... which of course wants to keep its hold on power.

And in the United States ... well, I haven't got the energy to look up all the links that might underline the governmental dysfunction of which so many are, for different reasons, suspicious.

All of which, and more like it, makes me wonder, "what if there were a government and nobody believed it?"

Teenagers not yet out of diapers might delight in the notion. But those who change diapers and go to work and provide the comfort in which diapered teenagers might exercise their right to delight may not be so sanguine. Unshaped social systems may look good ... right up until the moment anyone tries it. That's the point at which the Taliban and their ilk may start looking pretty good, pretty consoling, pretty annealing.

And still I wonder: Without doing a victory dance to 'freedom' or wringing the hands in the despair of anarchy ... what if there were a government and nobody believed it?

Might ask the same question of any deity, I suppose.

Gotta change some metaphorical diapers now.

the pope on trial

It's not exactly new news that the former pope and some of his minions are the target of a complaint in the International Criminal Court.

L-R: Current and former popes
The Roman Catholic Church, the largest corporation on earth, stands accused of centuries-old systemic complicity in a variety of abuses, most notably the priestly sexual abuses of children in its charge. Suggesting that the Vatican was not complicit in these heinous crimes or that the Mother Church is somehow beyond reproach and deserves to be saved ... well, it beggars the imagination of any sane man.

A friend sent along a link (above) today to a book review of "Your Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict." The review gives the writer leave to resurrect what has been resurrected in the past and will, with any luck, be resurrected in future. The pure malevolence of the situation deserves no less.

Every individual tale is a tale of horror that glistens and winks with endless facets. And the institutionalized tale is no less horrific, no less faceted, no less gruesome in its endless, endless detail. Anyone looking into the matter must recognize that whatever aspects are brought into focus require the viewer to set aside all the other facets. I mean, this thing is HUGE, GINORMOUS and dispiriting in its vastness. If I were to understand it all, when would I have time to mow the lawn? I mean that literally.

(Consider as just one minuscule example this collection of official church documents dating back to 309 AD ... all of them relating to sexual dysfunction within the church that may claim no dysfunction. I've read them. And when I finished reading them, I was literally numbed ... I literally could find no words... and those documents barely scratch any credible surface.)

But the nagging doubt crossed my mind this morning: That just as the so-called espionage accusations leveled against Pfc. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden will probably lapse into forgetfulness due to their endless implications and facets, so too will the Vatican and its minions survive relatively unscathed. The problem is too large and complex, too woven into the social fabric, to be resolved with anything as pointed and relieving as a "guilty" verdict. Manning and Snowden will go to jail because, well, the institutions against which they arrayed themselves are too amorphous, too huge, too mentally challenging to allow anything less. And the Vatican? Well, to mix metaphors, the Vatican has more tentacles than a dog has fleas.

It's like punching a pillow ... the pillow survives ... and the slugger has to mow the lawn.

Galling? Sure. And no reason not to try.

But still.

going to the edge of things

Just some milk-sop, whiney mumblings....

Dwindling energies are a part of old age. Of course, that will never happen to you, but the rest of us are differently situated: Energies dwindle.

And with that dwindling, there is a certain crabbiness that springs up when others suggest or sometimes demand that that dwindled energy be brought to bear: Voting Republican is a fool's errand ... listen to me and let me convince you! There are improvements that can be made in your life and mine ... listen to me and let me convince you! Believe what I believe and then ... and then... well, we can be friends and there is something convincing about friendship so then both you and I can buttress our beliefs and feel better and more convinced and more at peace.

It's all cozy and companionable, but it doesn't work, and nowhere is that so apparent as in old age when energies dwindle.

Where once bike riding or religious conviction or getting a Ph.D. or a soldier's firefight represented the far reaches of what might be possible in life -- something new and unusual and attractive and as yet untried ... where once a warming belief was brought to bear because inexperience and a fear of being alone seemed to compel it ... now, like it or lump it, the energies have dwindled.

There really is something to be said, in my book, for going to the edges of things, for picking up one gauntlet or another, for meeting the challenge, for risking defeat in pursuit of success, for walking into what once was a potentially-dangerous "distance" from a position of relative comfort.

Little and large, who doesn't do that?

But woven into this adventure, whatever it may be, is often the conviction that being among friends who are similarly inclined or hold similar beliefs bestows certainty and peace. Yes, being among friends is nice in the trip to the edge of things.

But the facts are unfortunately more daunting: In my book, going to the edge of things, means that each goes alone to his or her own edges. It can be pretty eek, but in the cause of peace, settling for companionship as a means of finding relief simply does not work. Your edges are just that ... yours. My edges are just that ... mine. The fact that you and I can both think we are, perhaps, "Buddhists" or "Ph.D. candidates" may be inspiring and warming, but in order to put the matter of peace to bed ... there may be camaraderie, there is no such thing as camaraderie.

For my money, this is important ... going to the far reaches, the very deepest depths, the very tippy-top ... going to the place where parallel lines meet, where beliefs can no longer support the scene ... how could there be any other choice? Where is the courage not to require enemies? Where is the patience to fly? Where is the doubt sufficient to doubtlessness? How could anyone "live in the moment" s/he is already living in? The edge of things is the only suitable choice and there are no choices.

But of course there are always choices and this is where my dwindling-energy crabbiness comes into play. I am delighted that some Saturday-morning door-knocker believes in the unifying and love-strewn path of Jesus ... the way and the light. I can enjoy the description. But I decline the invitation to see things his or her way... even when I agree. Seeing things in someone else's way may be warming, but it invariably falls on its face. Please don't ask me to fall on my face: I'm old and getting up is an energetic pursuit I prefer not to waste. I love your friendship, but my love is not premised on agreement or belief.

And now I have been as polite as I can for as long as I can ... now fuck off!

Don't get me wrong: I'm sympathetic to any who may choose to go to the edges of their things. I too have begged and pleaded, "Please, please tell me what it is that lies at the edges of things!" I too have believed in warming tales and cozy credulity. I like hanging around with sympathetic souls and sipping coffee or tea ... and laughing or swooning or weeping in unison. Kinship is consoling ... but the edges of things are beyond consolation and relief. Peace beyond the edges of things is ... is ... is your business and mine. I would not insult you by asking that you believe me ... and I would be grateful if you extended the same courtesy to me. Think what you like. Believe what you like. Push your envelope as you choose... it's pretty important, I think... going to the edges of things over and over and over again until ...

Well, the sun is shining. What the fuck did you expect?!

But maybe I'm wrong. I'm too old and crabby to worry very much about being wrong ... and my dwindling energies are not up to your imagining you are right.

As far as I can see, beyond the edges of things there is just a bit of sunshine.

You want improvements?

Go get 'em, tiger!

Friday, June 21, 2013

"home of the free...."

U.S. surveillance leaker Edward Snowden has been charged with espionage in the 'land of the free and the home of the brave.'
Authorities are also understood to have begun the process of getting him back to the US to stand trial, with American media reporting that the US government has asked Hong Kong to detain Snowden if he is still there....
The 30-year-old technician fled Hawaii on May 20 and flew to Hong Kong, an autonomous Chinese territory, from where he proceeded to leak details of secret US intelligence programs to international media outlets.
In related news, Yahoo has given some details of the federal demands for its users' records.
[Yahoo] said it had received between 12,000 and 13,000 US government requests for user data in the past year and a half....
Yahoo voiced frustration that it was unable to reveal the number of requests that had concerned national security....
"Like all companies, Yahoo cannot lawfully break out Fisa [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] request numbers at this time because those numbers are classified," it said in a blog post by chief executive Marissa Mayer and general counsel Ron Bell....
          So far disclosures have revealed:
  • Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from federal, state and local authorities between December 2012 and May 2013
  • Facebook received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests between July and December 2012
  • Microsoft received between 6,000 and 7,000 requests between July and December 2012
It is hard not to suspect that the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requests are classified not because of the source but because the number, in comparison to other requests, might be startlingly few ... and thus make clear that a generalized snooping had relatively little to do with whatever "terrorism" might be defined as these days.

And then there's Pfc. Bradley Manning, whose trial for a leak similar to Snowden's is still on-going, though it's not easy to find it in the news.  A two-day old story says that prosecutors have dragged Julian Assange and his Wikileaks efforts into Manning's trial. The fact that you have to seek out Manning's story gives some hint as to the likely and hoped-for fate of the whistleblowers ... just forget about 'em ... they're gonna get locked up anyway... no one cares and the government will no longer be asked unfortunate questions that it can only answer by saying, "that's classified."

It all seems to give new depth to the word "drone" .... "home of the free and the land of the brave" ... droooonnnnnnnne!

"supermoon" and UFOs

The largest full moon of 2013, a so-called "supermoon," will light up the night sky this weekend, but there's more to this lunar delight than meets the eye.
 -- And, in related(?) news,
The U.K. government has released the final batch of secret files related to a decades long hunt for little green men -- and revealed that the hunt for aliens was detracting from “more valuable defense-related activities.” ....
"The level of resources diverted to this task is increasing in response to a recent upsurge in reported sightings, diverting staff from more valuable defence-related activities."

journalistic daydreaming

Once, as a newspaper employee in the editorial department, it occurred to me that when it came to hiring reporters, it might be just as well to fire the personnel department ... later to become known with an oozing disdain as "human resources."

Instead of filling out forms listing previous employment or what college someone attended, the applicant would simply be given three or four hours to walk downtown and find a story -- any story -- and then come back and write it. The editor who could not discern from such an exercise whether the applicant had what it took to be a reporter did not deserve to be an editor.

Whether the applicant had been to Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton or the Shawnee Agricultural Institute and whether, while there, s/he had put in heart-felt hours on the school newspaper or yearbook or studied something called "journalism" ... yes, all this and more like it could be captured on personnel forms that might later appear to excuse any lapses in executive judgment, but the reliance on paperwork always struck me 1. as skirting the issue at hand and 2. as laying a groundwork for mediocrity: A clerk with the right credentials is still a clerk.

The old man on a park bench.

The firefighter buffing his truck to an impossible luster.

The business owner sweeping a sidewalk in front of the store.

The cop car parked in front of Dunkin' Donuts.

The bum and his belongings resting in a shadowed alley.

But, but, but ... I can hear the chorus of thoughtful and caring disagreement, exegeses that cocoon both the applicant and the employer. Paperwork is not the sole yardstick, these voices chorus. Paperwork provides context. Credentials and curricula vitae make a difference.

And I agree, such things do make a difference. The only problem is when what was once making a difference segues into a mealy-mouthed yardstick for judgment.

Three or four hours. Bring me a story. If you can't do that, there are any number of professions out there that are more than willing to be impressed with paperwork ... if not actual work.

health tip?

I'm not sure if it's true, but I think it is:

Create something.

Every day.

Create something ... literally.

Something from a personal cloth -- something no one else has a hand in. Your hands, your mind, your creation. No importance necessary.

Maybe a paper airplane.

Every day. Little or large.

Create something.

I think this qualifies as a health tip.


Strange to think:

The human heart searches for certainty with a certainty that makes the search for certainty redundant ... and, quite possibly, irrelevant.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

supporting the cause of obeisity

At a Christian school in Australia, sexual abstinence is being encouraged through advisories on other, less potentially harmful activities: Walk the dog or bake a cake, for example. A pamphlet entitled "101 Things To Do Instead of Doing It" has been circulated.

I seem to remember 'walking the dog' on occasion during sexually-frustrated teen years, though we never had a pet. We never called it 'cooking a cake' as I recall. But maybe I just hung out with the wrong people.

Eido Shimano teisho

A friend sent along Eido Shimano's latest version of a teisho. It was delivered to a group calling itself the Rinzai Zen Sangha, a group that alleges it has wide connections in the world of Zen Buddhism and yet is not beholden to that world ... taking credit without shouldering responsibility, that sort of thing.

I freely admit my failure to penetrate any imagined deeeeeeeeeeeeeep understanding in this matter. Truth to tell, I don't want that understanding. I am putting my reaction here because, in other times, I can imagine taking such presentations with heart-felt seriousness.

I tried to watch the video. Really, I did. But I got no further than the first couple of lines....

I felt like a man who has been invited to a pleasant walk in the woods only to get bogged down in ankle-deep, warm caramel along the way. Was this man physically debilitated in some way that would account for his ponderous speech and self-referential delivery? That was the kindest understanding I could come up with.

The only other alternative I could come up with was a profound lack of faith and corrupt understanding.

A walk in the woods is light and easy. Sights come and go. Conversation is companionable. It's no big deal and yet it's really quite pleasant. No one in his right mind lays on importance ... be it the moment at hand or the self-aggrandizing sort: That would fuck up the perfectly-pleasant pastime. There is a difference between offering and demanding.

What was this man afraid of, for heaven's sake?!

Walking through warm caramel.

Sure, there are endless explanations and wily bolt holes of response.

I just prefer walking in the woods. If I get it, I get it. If I don't, I don't. The trees and sunshine don't mind.

courage without enemies

In Hinduism, a spiritual persuasion, a human life is encouraged to go through four stages: The student stage (up to around 25), the householder stage (up to around 50), the hermit stage and the ascetic stage. Since Hinduism is a spiritual persuasion, the final stages relate to a deepening devotion to God.

Of course no (wo)man's life actually has such things as stages. There are no freshly-painted doors that lead from one room to the next. Stages are conversational conveniences used to fiddle with what is a single piece of cloth -- this life. Still, for conversation purposes, you can sort of see what the Hindus are getting at ... so, OK, let it ride.

This morning I found myself disagreeing, a conversational pastime that can be a lot of fun.

Youth is the best time for religious activities, it crossed my mind. Like sex, religion stirs a pot that requires no stirring. The sweaty and sometimes delightful confusions of religion require an energy best reserved to the young.  Be a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Christian, a Jain, a Jew, a Muslim, a Zoroastrian.... Go get 'em, tiger! Serious or superficial, go for the gold! ... Exercise and tussle and moan. Stick your fingers in the outlets of experience.

But what then of an advancing or advanced age? Is this an appropriate time for a devotion to God? I think not. God is a young (wo)man's sport. Everyone may want to be young forever, but the bathroom mirror and the collection of aches and pains tell a conflicting story. Advancing or advanced age is no longer convinced by egregious conflict, orgasmic bliss, or the gizmos of those ensorcelled by 'eternity.' Improvements, while laudable, deserve a second look and old age may be an appropriate time in which to take that look.

What then of the conversationally-convenient stage of old age? What raiment is most appropriate?

I don't honestly know, but my guess this morning is this:

What is appropriate to old age is a courage that no longer requires enemies.

That ... and perhaps a bit of sunshine.