Wednesday, July 31, 2013

sentencing Pfc. Bradley Manning

Yesterday, Pfc. Bradley Manning, 25, was found guilty of multiple counts relating to the release of thousands of secret documents. The mainstream press has concentrated on the fact that he was not found guilty of "aiding the enemy" (a decision that might have gored their ox ... never mind democracy). The charges he was found guilty of -- including espionage -- carry a maximum potential sentence of 136 years.

I don't know if anyone is as interested as I am, but here is Kevin Gosztola's live update site on the sentencing phase -- a time when, perhaps, we will hear precisely what damage Manning did in precisely what instances. These details were barred during the court hearing, although, to a mere mortal such as myself, they sound inextricably relevant to any guilt or innocence. In what ways -- when, where and how -- has the United States been significantly damaged (as claimed by Manning's detractors) and did the impact of that damage outweigh the transparency-in-government that Manning's supporters suggest he nourished?

Gosztola's notes are a bit higglety-pigglety, but they have a feel that is closer to raw data than the smoothly-presented stories and analyses offered by a traditional press that did not see fit to sit through the whole of this pivotal proceeding and is wary of offering a moral context that might include the word "democracy."

belated college degree?

Half an hour ago, on a lark, I sent out a query to a local college, asking what steps might be necessary to complete my college degree.

At 73, I have no earthly reason to do this: I don't feel bereft by the fact that I made it through half of my junior year (plus a couple of college courses elsewhere) and somehow never completed the job; I am not looking for work; I have probably forgotten more than most college graduates remember; and I have no particular 'love of learning' or other miasmic impetus. It just struck me as an interesting idea -- one I will probably drop like a hot potato as soon as the financing and/or academic requirements are placed before me.

But there is something interesting about doing something for no damned reason at all: If I don't have a college degree, it means nothing; if I do get one, that too will mean nothing. I cannot think of a single thing that would be improved by having a college degree at my age.

Perhaps, sub rosa, I would like to do what my daughter has done, my older son is in the process of doing and my younger son may or may not do. Or perhaps I would like to feel more in the swim of things, less marginalized by age and retirement.

But all the pokings and proddings for "motive" ring hollow. I can live with what I have and can't envision being better off with what I don't have.

Why do it?

Well, why not?

catch of the day

Yesterday, I gathered up the "Ugly Stick" fishing rod my younger son gave me for my birthday and the two of us went fishing. I don't care much for hurting or disturbing other critters for some personal satisfaction, but the company was good and the day was beautiful and I was willing to commit a crime.

We both caught several small pumpkinseed sun fish and threw them back, all the while kidding that we were just catching the same dumb fish over and over again.

It was a nice, if disproportionately tiring, outing, probably the last of its kind I will ever make.

For my own purposes, the adventure left me feeling that there was nothing wrong with fishing as long as you didn't have to catch any fish.

lapel-pin lifestyle

Picking up the newspaper from the front stoop the other day, I saw my newest neighbor, Penny, and her dog Casey coming back from a canine constitutional. Penny moved in over the weekend and I had said hello, but we hadn't really talked, so we took a few moments to meet-and-greet before she took off for work at nearby University of Massachusetts/Amherst.

The conversation skipped here and there, nothing heavy ... we were just a couple of dogs sniffing each other in the social matrix. Casey was patient with us. But twice during the conversation Penny saw fit to mention she was the chair of the theater department. It was a position, an accomplishment, a definition and perhaps a setting of power boundaries.

It struck me as strange and mildly annoying thing to say ... twice. I didn't care if she were chairman of Standard Oil ... what did that have to do with the price of potatoes? All I was interested in was whether she was a nice human being, whatever she did or whatever kudos she might have attained.

We parted amicably and yet my small irritation lingered. I felt as if I had been asked to overlook the obvious in favor of some secondary and far less interesting aspect ... as if I had been talking to someone wearing a designer-label shirt and had been required to notice the embroidered alligator or polo player. It wasn't that the shirt was somehow unremarkable. I just disliked being asked to think it was more compellingly remarkable than the human being standing in front of me.

Isn't being you enough?

And of course sometimes it's not. Sometimes it feels small and insignificant and it feels important to crank up the significance. And why not? How much of anyone's lifetime is devoted to collecting and corralling one success or another, one definition or another, one reassurance or another? And all that collecting allows us to say we know each other ... it's supportive and convivial and convincing and ... and then there is the recognition that this sort of recognition, while socially pleasant, simply falls short of some more important fact. Relying on being a "department chair" or a "soccer mom" or a "car mechanic" or a "police officer" or a "professor" or a "car mechanic" or a "farmer" may be true enough, but sometimes it can make you wonder if it's true enough.

In 1968, the 50th anniversary of the "Glorious Russian Revolution," I went on a three-week tour of Russia. One of the things I noticed almost immediately was that a lot of people were walking around with one or more (sometimes a lot more) small badges affixed to their lapels or shirt fronts. These buttons represented places their owners worked or sport clubs they belonged to or other affiliations of one kind or another. They were announcements and assertions and definitions of the wearer. In that time, wearing designer label clothing had not yet become a fad, but the badges seemed to serve a similar purpose ... a small bit of definition without which the wearer would be ... well, who would they be without the social definitions?

Some may snicker at a lapel-pin lifestyle -- how quaint! I'd never do that! -- but my guess is that the habit is so in-grained that it takes some reflection to realign what has been so carefully aligned over the course of a life at whatever age.

Who are you?

I am __________.

Lapel pins aren't always worn on the lapel. Sometimes their assertions and comforts are collected within. Their comforts are apparent within social settings -- you know who I am and I know who you are -- but then the quiet times arrive, times when lapel pins don't seem so reassuring. I'm not just a "department chair" or a "soccer mom" or a "car mechanic" or a "police officer" or a "professor" or a "car mechanic" or a "farmer" ... I'm more than that ... I'm ... uhhhhh ... well, I'm not entirely sure and that makes me uneasy. Sometimes it even panics me. When I don't have a definition, when my lapel pins lose their meaning, how can I be at peace? The blandishments of definition may be a lifelong habit, but the question will not be stilled ... how come definitions can smooth the waters sometimes, but seem to fall on their faces at others? A multi-millionaire on Wall Street may be somebody. But who is s/he in the middle of the Gobi Desert or a steeple chase?

A bit of reflection, a bit of attention or perhaps just old age helps to ease the dis-ease. What is so bad or disconcerting about operating from a position of no-definition -- a space in which any definition can have its moment in the sun, but no one in their right mind would imagine it was for keeps? This revision doesn't happen over night, but a bit at a time, as one definition after another loses its savor naturally, it becomes easier. Wanna be a "department chair?" Fine. Wanna be a "soccer mom?" Fine. Wanna be a "Buddhist?" Fine. Wanna be a "skateboard champ?" Fine. Be anything at all -- that's fine. But know your place in the deck of cards: Aren't you the joker -- the one capable of being anything at all; the one that has no definition of itself but brings pep to the definitions and lapel pins that arise?

It may take a bit of practice, but the advantage to learning these ropes lies in the fact that it is closer to the facts and less reliant on the delightful, lapel-pin frills.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

D-Day for Bradley Manning

 It's D-Day for Pfc. Bradley Manning -- the 25-year-old accused of releasing thousands of secret documents and held in prison since 2010. A judge in Fort Meade, Md., is scheduled to issue her decision this afternoon.

The verdict by judge Col. Denise Lind follows about two months of conflicting testimony and evidence. Manning, a 25-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., has admitted to sending more than 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports, 250,000 State Department diplomatic cables and other material, including several battlefield video clips, to WikiLeaks while in Iraq in early 2010. WikiLeaks published most of the material online.

Decision day for Manning.

Decision day for the rest of us.

I do not hold out much hope for the rest of us ... or Manning either.

Just imagine what things would be like if anyone could run around saying the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes.

PS. OK, it's over. He was spared the aiding-the-enemy allegation (which might have been inconvenient for reporters everywhere) but was found guilty of enough counts to put him in jail for over 125 years. The penalty phase of the trial begins Wednesday. Perhaps the judge will then factor in the observations made by "Bill Hubbard" elsewhere:
"Manning has been subject to cruel and inhumane treatment:
- Manning has been held incommunicado for three years.
- He was held in Kuwait for two months in a cage only big enough to hold a large bird.
- Manning spent ten months in solitary confinement in a six-by-eight foot cell and subject to sleep deprivation and forced nudity. He was released from solitary only because of the negative publicity that the government received.
- The trial has being conducted mostly in secret, the military has refused or delayed providing access to court documents, and the defense has been precluded from showing that Manning’s disclosures have not harmed anyone."

cheesy jolt mitigates anxiety

A woman who routinely walks her two small dogs by my house stopped in the street outside the porch this morning. She bent down, aerosol can in hand, and squirted a bit of something into each canine mouth.

"Good dog!" she crooned after each application.

What the hell was she doing? I thought perhaps it was some sort of upscale breath freshener, the kind of thing I could imagine being applied in the terribly-caring community where I live.

But no, it was more benevolent than cosmetic. What the can contained, the woman said, was Cheese Whiz, a cheese-like product favored by young children and, apparently, dogs. And what the woman was doing was reassuring her animals. They had recently been traumatized by the dog across the street from me -- a dog that came rushing out one morning and scared the woman's leashed pets half to death. The Cheese Whiz seemed to reassure the little dogs that their mistress would not let any harm befall them. Apparently, the anti-anxiety effects from the aerosol is not unusual since I found the picture above on the Internet.

"Hopefully," the woman concluded her explanation, "they'll be dead before the bad effects kick in."

permission to die

The front page of the local newspaper ran the following promo today:
Lee Hawkins of Northampton says she's lived a good life, and she wants a good death too. That's why, at the age of 89, she's planning it now. Laurie Loisel, the Gazette managing editor, spent weeks speaking with Hawkins about why she plans, at some point, to bring death on her own terms. Coverage on Page One and in the Families section. Wednesday.
It is hard not to wish Hawkins well as she plans her death. Making a conscious choice about what no one could choose -- any more than they could refuse -- sounds pretty adult. But it also reminds me a bit of the wryly-apt remark once made by olcharlie, an occasional visitor to this blog: "I'd like to die with a smile on my face, but I guess I'll take what I get."

From a newspaper point of view, self-imposed or assisted suicide is a good topic. It is one of those topics that is exciting because death is pretty exciting even if it is kept tightly under wraps: The bedrock seems to be, "No one knows and I don't want to die." It's a no-no topic. Death is kept at a stylized and ritualized distance ... it can't be known and it can't be controlled but if you talk about it then there is an assertion of knowledge and, more important, there is a warming control.

It all made me think of permission slips and how much of anyone's life might be filled out with permission from others. Just taking a look -- not criticizing or approving.

In the third grade, kids generally have to ask permission from the teacher to go to the bathroom. Sometimes I wonder if the habit ever wore off. The teacher grants permission because if someone has to go to the bathroom, no permission is required. A kid can be excused or s/he can pee in his or her pants. How much of the rest of life is like this?

Lee Hawkins will die with or without a plan of attack, with or without a long series of interviews, with or without the latest outing of a well-closeted topic. Everyone breathes and talks and walks and sleeps and eats without any permission slip required. As a social cement, permission may seem to provide an improvement on the facts, but I think it's a good idea to examine the extent to which anyone might rely on such permissions, such agreements, such debates, such social refinements.

Does anyone reading these words need permission? Does anyone not reading these words need permission? Does anyone need permission to make a choice? How scary might it be if permissions lost their footing and there were neither a granting or withholding of permission because, well, no permission were necessary? Sure, anyone might grant permission to find a topic or reality "meaningful" or "profound" or "wracking" ... but isn't permission an add-on or adjunct? True, without permission slips, there is room to fuck up royally, but life or other people are invariably on hand to point out the gaffs anyone might make.

I see no particular reason not to seek out permission slips -- not to plan and describe and assess and believe -- but I do think it would be worthwhile to sort out how usefully appropriate such permission slips might be.

Permission to die, please?

Permission to live, please?

Permission to laugh and love and weep, please?

Who's kidding whom here?

Monday, July 29, 2013

illusionist takes to the streets

Bring a little magic to your life:

losing the magic

Sitting in the zendo or meditation hall, there was a time when, although I was facing the wall and could not see, I knew exactly who had entered the 60-foot-long room and pretty much what frame of mind they were in ... just from the swishing of their robes or the quiet padding of their bare feet. There was a time when I knew within a second when 40 minutes had passed -- the amount of time for a usual zazen or formal meditation period was. There was a time when I could hear/feel the mind of the person ringing the inkin or bell that began and ended meditation periods. And it was somewhere in and around this time period, that I would sometimes wake up in the morning and know for a fact that I would run into someone I knew on that day ... not who, precisely, just someone I knew in a city of 12 million people that was New York. It was against all the odds ... and I was never wrong.

When I first noticed these things, I thought they were pretty unusual. Little snippets of magical stuff that seemed to arise out of doing Zen meditation. It was, in some sense, kool ... and kooler than people who couldn't do such things. It was like a junior-league version of walking on water or something. I wasn't exactly proud of myself, but I wasn't not-proud either.

I never mentioned this stuff. Speaking about it would have been embarrassing or stupid or something. If I could do such things, probably others could as well ... hell, maybe they have even better tales to tell and abilities to flaunt. Anyway, I kept my mouth shut ... and for quite a while just enjoyed the niftiness of it all.

And then, like a pair of broken-in shoes, it all became unremarkable: Didn't I have something more productive to do with my time? I knew what could be done, but there didn't seem much point in doing it. And as the niftiness faded, so did these small abilities. I didn't mind losing them: We had met and enjoyed each others' company and then had gone about our business. Bits and snippets might float to the surface in the present -- I can still recognize people from a distance according to the way they walk ... even without seeing their faces -- but so what? Not dismissively "so what?", just so what?

Losing the magic ... isn't that what magic teaches in the end. Isn't that the magic?

OK, you can walk on water.

Would you like a cookie?

rope-a-dope spiritual life?

In boxing, rope-a-dope is a technique in which a fighter allows himself to be trapped along the ropes, where his opponent proceeds to pound him. The force of the blows transmits itself to the ropes and the one being pummeled suffers relatively less than what it looks like. When the opponent starts to run out of energy, the fighter counter-attacks and, with luck, wins.

With some whimsy and some seriousness, I wonder today if the serious spiritual aspirant isn't basically availing himself of a rope-a-dope technique ... allowing himself to be trapped, cornered and pummeled by theologies and rituals and intellectual convolutions and emotional confusions ... vast, intricate, convincing, consuming ... sitting still as salt along the ropes of the meditation cushion ... biff-bam-boom for years and years and years until ... until ... until....

The time for a winning attack presents itself -- it's time to knock off the rope-a-dope religious stuff -- and the dope reveals himself.

boom times for poverty

WASHINGTON (AP) — Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream....
While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in government data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.
Does anyone doubt that this sort of insecurity will lead to anger and perhaps violence? Banks are doing fine -- thanks for asking -- but how long do they and their policy-writing paramours in government imagine they can dodge the bullet(s)?

As the Somali intelligence officer once observed about the big-bucks piracy off his coast, "If you do not share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you."

behold the zonkey!

"Not so long ago, a zebra at an animal reserve in Florence, Italy, was so overcome with lust that he climbed his protective fence and made sweet love to an endangered species of donkey in a neighboring field...."

the right to forget

It is nice to hear that a kinder, gentler pope has taken a somewhat kinder and gentler tack on the subject of homosexual priests.
Pope Francis
The rock-ribbed approaches of the past flew in the face of the actualities that evolved from a sexually-deviant training system. If sex (heterosexual, homosexual or any other) is a no-no, where the hell does the Roman Catholic Church imagine future priests might come from... and how can an institution claim to love god and reject his/her/its works? It's whopper-jawed (if financially astute), but it's nice to hear a kinder, gentler approach. (Here's the BBC version.)

Which is not to say the sword of kindness only cuts one way:
...[W]hen someone sins and confesses, he said, God not only forgives but forgets.
"We don't have the right to not forget," he said.
Perhaps someone has a kinder, gentler interpretation of that last line, but when putting two negatives together, my math teacher always said you created a positive ... i.e. We have the right to forget.

And so, in voicing a more conciliatory approach to homosexuality (and by extension sexuality in general), perhaps the pope is also laying the groundwork for sidestepping the powerful "gay lobby" in the Vatican AND the groundwork for sweeping aside the tsunami of priest-sexual-abuse cases that have required so much Vatican treasure.

Do people have a right to forget? As sure as god made little green apples, they DO forget, but is that a right and if so, what are the concomitant responsibilities? Human experience proves that running around picking old and festering wounds is a non-starter... a gloomy outlook based on a past that cannot be grasped.

But I think there is a responsibility that attends on perfectly human forgetfulness. Just because people do forget does not confer upon them the right to therefore -- implicitly or explicitly -- DENY that past, to camouflage it or to sidestep a reality to which they were party. It is one thing to attribute to Balzac the credible words, "Behind every great fortune there is a crime," and quite another to say, "What the hell -- there's always a crime. Fuggetaboutit!" This may be common enough, but as a personal matter, I think it is a poor lifestyle and lacking in common sense.

Balzac's fortune as expressed in anyone's life is a pleasing matter. But I imagine that a happy lifestyle is more honest than simply being pleased. A happy lifestyle is whole. Cherry-picking only works up to a point and beyond that point becomes thin and fatuous. It is nice to have a wonderful treasure, but to therefore deny or try to elude the full price paid for it is delusion. Facts are facts: Everyone is forgetful, but that does not confer the right to forget when facts come to the fore.

If God is not that stupid, why should anyone else be?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

enough is enough!

From out of the ether:

When it comes to organized religion, nothing you will ever do will ever be enough. If there were something that might be enough, organized religion would collapse of its own inflated weight and organized religion is not built to collapse. It is built to go on and on and on and on, not as a matter of maliciousness, perhaps, but as a means of survival.

In some organized religions, death is the only out, the only sum that pays the bill, the only moment at which the fat lady is allowed to sing. From there, organized religion conjures technicolor scenes ... vivid imagination takes hold and there are grapes and virgins and and Elysian fields and harps and halos and the right hand of God ... for which the living may have some use, but corpses have not.

These observations are not intended as some cynical or humanistic harangue. They are not a refined version of George Carlin's astute and crabby riff, "Religion is Bullshit." Rather they are intended to inform or inspire the reasonable question, "If nothing will ever be enough, what then is enough?" This is a question organized religion is not equipped to answer in any serious way.

And knowing this may be of use to those inclined towards spiritual endeavor because it is only they who can say at last and with certainty what, precisely is enough ...

As in...

Enough is enough!


Today I think I will make up a word: Why-wash.

"Why-wash" has precisely the same meaning as the metaphorically-applied "eye-wash" ... an explanation or description that seems to answer a question but is thin-to-useless with application ... and hence blurs, rather than clarifies, what is seen or addressed.

I'm not sure if I will submit "why-wash" to the OED, but I'll consider it.

bits of news

-- In Ireland, a once unremittingly Roman Catholic country, it is now possible to get married without the blessing of the church. Score one for the Humanists: Godless weddings -- Amen.
The Irish parliament legalized secular wedding services last December, after a 10-year campaign by the Humanist Association. The law went into effect on January 1. Similar options are also allowed in Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland and some U.S. states.
--  The bell began ringing in 1939, but only of late has anyone bothered to notice it was embossed with glowing words for Adolf Hitler... a sour note of sorts.
The Wolfpassing bell pays homage to Hitler for his 1938 annexation of Austria, a move supported back then by the vast majority of the nation's citizens. It describes Hitler as "the unifier and Fuehrer of all Germans" and says he freed the "Ostmark" - Nazi jargon for Austria - "from the yoke of suppression by foreign elements and brought it home into the Great-German Reich."
I wonder if the bell sounds any different today from what it did in, say, 1958.

-- In  Aldergrove, British Columbia, a photographer reports on the damn-near impossible task of taking pictures of the participants in the Canadian Open Fast Draw Championships.

-- Elsewhere, there are reams of stories about slaughter and skulduggery and other general unkindness. I guess I am turning into a politician's wet dream -- someone so overrun with information that s/he simply, in one sense, gives up ... a surrender the politician then illogically imagines is a mark of respect for and trust in the political policies that win approval. "If they didn't say I was wrong, I must be right."

a fool for love

When it comes to being a fool for love, I have to plead guilty ... guilty ... guilty.

On the street and sidewalk just outside the porch, occasional mourning doves went about their business this morning. They walked and pecked beneath matted grey skies, smooth and silky as the sky itself, their greys and tans somehow perfect in a perfect time.

I suspect their sidewalk pecking was in aid of replenishing the bits of stone needed to make their gizzards function properly. Gizzards are the avian version of teeth and everyone needs to chew their food.

In the distance, their look-alikes coo-ed their 'mournful' coo's ... so soft I would not dare to touch it if I could.

Soft sky and silky feathers and walking to and fro ... what do mourning doves know of love? They are not fools.

That honor is reserved to me.

letting the air out of the "and" balloon

Funny how the connective "and" does nothing so much as separate.

It's not so much the word itself -- three little letters striving for some descriptive, credulous flow -- but rather the belief and meaning
brought to it. Bliss and wonder and ied's and lovers kissing by the Dumpster and great success and awful failure and Beethoven and children going hungry in the night.


No, it's not the word itself, but what it is imbued with. Maybe things would be lighter by quite a lot without such credulity. A little closer to honesty.

Suggesting this sort of honesty is a dangerous business: Who knows what well-dressed charlatan will stand before the sodden throng, dispensing this latest bit of rancid hope? When have I ever been any different? ... another liar inviting and inveighing, "dispense with 'and!'"

It's not as if "and" were somehow evil or conniving. It's just that the fallout from credulousness hurts so much. Who would not lighten the load where they could?  So maybe an and frame of mind is worth setting aside ... gently as with a paper-thin bit of china.

In the Bible, the most-frequently used word is "and." 28,364 (give or take) flechettes of separation striving earnestly for unity and union and oneness and reprieve from separation.

And (wink, wink; nod, nod) anyone who has read the American writer Ernest Hemingway knows the lulling, beguiling softness of the word. Strange to think that a man like Hemingway, a man so deeply committed to "courage," should fall so short of his own shining light and rely instead on a cop-out like "and." Perhaps it was some recognition of the falseness of this god that put the suicidal gun to his head... but perhaps not: Suicide seemed to run in the family.

But let's not worry too much about what others say or do, said or did. What hurts so much is not what hurts others. What hurts so much -- and what anyone might long to escape -- is here and now.

Here and now.

Here now.



Maybe it takes a little practice, but what the hell ... do you have something better to do? Practice setting aside not so much the word itself -- "and" -- but rather the assertive, controlling need and belief that accompanies it.

This is not a means of applying leverage so as to lay claim to virtue or wisdom or some other fanciful goodness.

It's just as a matter of lightening-the-load fact.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

whistleblower's price

It is sometimes argued that leakers of secret documents like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden should have taken their concerns to their superiors, that there were mechanisms in place for anyone wishing to contradict or question current policies. By not going through channels and not availing themselves of those mechanisms, these men broke their vows and broke the law and became the 'traitors' they are sometimes accused of being, according to the argument.

Anyone seriously interested in testing the validity of this argument (and yes, it does require a mind capable of thinking outside a 141-character box) may be interested in the tale told by Sabrina De Sousa, a former CIA operative who apparently got her ass kicked when she attempted to play by the rules. De Sousa was a bit player in the extraordinary rendition activities that spirited "terrorists" to secret prisons set up by the CIA. When she attempted to point out the legal flaws in one particular kidnapping, she was hung out to dry while those most responsible -- big-name players -- were left untouched.

As told in the McClatchy article, De Sousa's tale has no counterpoint. There is no rebuttal. There is no support. There is no denial. But the specificity of her arguments and recollections and depictions have a ring of truth: If they were not true, surely someone would come forward to call her a liar to her face. If the State Department and CIA and FBI and president's office found some egregious and self-serving flaw in her story, wouldn't they try to clean off the mud she had thrown on their clothing? Perhaps not. Perhaps it is easier to pillory De Sousa and Manning and Snowden using back-channel ruses and defamations ... put 'em in jail, cut off their livelihood, mete out the punishment that might have befallen those who meted it out.

De Sousa's story certainly puts the lie to "going through channels" for anyone wishing to say something serious.

what does God believe?

I would like to ask someone who believes in God ...

If you believe in God, does God believe in something?

If so, what?

If you say His/Her/Its beliefs are set forth in the Bible, Qur'an, Vedas, Talmud or other text, does that mean such works encompass all that He/She/It believes?

If not and if the beliefs unstated remain unknown, can anyone lay claim to believing in the true God?

Does this make you wonder if ascribing beliefs to God is a bit too narrow for anything that might reliably be referred to as God?

If, at this point, you fall back on "faith" as a means of filling in the unknown bits, what is it precisely you have faith in and on what basis do you call it God?

And if you decline or are unable to answer such questions, is it unreasonable for others to question your status as a 'true believer?'

On the other hand, if you do not credit your God with the narrow confines of belief, in what way do you credit him/her/it?

I don't mean these questions as crabby or contentious. I'm just curious.

pope in Brazil pix (Reuters)

Nuns, and a priest, take pictures as Pope Francis arrives at Sao Joaquim Palace in Rio de Janeiro, July 26, 2013.
REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
Pope Francis poses for a picture with the Brazilian military police outside the Metropolitan cathedral in Rio de Janeiro July 25, 2013. Pope Francis is on the fourth day of his week-long visit for World Youth Day.
REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
A pilgrim cries next to her husband as they pray inside the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil's patron saint, in the city of Aparecida Do Norte, 165 km (103 miles) east of Sao Paulo July 23, 2013. Pope Francis will visit the basilica on July 24.
REUTERS/Nacho Doce
Pope Francis greets the crowd of faithful from his popemobile in downtown Rio de Janeiro, July 22, 2013.
REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
Riot police officers fire tear gas during a protest against the visit of Pope Francis, near Guanabara palace in Rio de Janeiro July 22, 2013.
REUTERS/Pilar Olivares
Pope Francis walks with Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff upon arrival at Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, July 22, 2013.
REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

"stupidity" -- some appreciations

Ran across this Internet site this morning. It seems to be devoted to quotations about stupidity... several if which caught my eye:
"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."
-Bertrand Russell

"When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of- he always declares that it is his duty."
-George Bernard Shaw

"It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid."
-George Bernard Shaw 

"The only thing that ever consoles man for the stupid things he does is the praise he always gives himself for doing them."
-Oscar Wilde 

"One must be a little foolish- if one does not want to be even more stupid."
-Michel de Montaigne 

"shared secrets," the oxymoron

On a sunny, early Sunday morning, before the advent of cell phones, I was walking down a street in New York when I came upon a man sitting on the sidewalk ... slumped/splayed/leaning against an apartment building. He seemed to be in his 40's, was filthy and he was out cold. Uncombed hair, three or four days worth of whiskers, and a half-dried rivulet of mucous emanating from his nose. His grubby plaid shirt was misbuttoned. From between his spread legs, an etched trickle of urine headed for the gutter, then petered out like some arroyo in Texas.

Since New York is a place of upscale and low-brow addicts of all kinds, the sight was not that unusual. But what caught my attention was the man's face. It was grey in the way that dying or dead people's faces are grey. It was the grey-ness -- the death -- that made me look around for a cop or a phone booth from which to call one. No shops were open, so I couldn't go in and ask to borrow the phone. Still, I felt with insistence that I had to do something so I set off at a brisk walk, circling the nearby blocks, looking for a phone, looking for a cop, looking for an open establishment that might have a phone.

It was no use.

Finally, I circled back to my starting point, only to find that although the urine trail was still there, the man was gone. Apparently he was not as dead as I had thought he might be or become. Addiction is a killer, but that doesn't mean it kills anyone all at once.

Last night on television, two commentators were reviewing the week's news -- news that included aspects of both the Bradley Manning trial and the on-going saga of Edward Snowden. Both men have revealed government secrets and both men are in deep shit. Secrecy, one of the commentators observed, is like a narcotic -- the more you have the more you want. Yes, the other said, but without secrecy, there are probably a lot of things -- important things -- that wouldn't get done.

As a public policy debate, we could probably drink beer and eat chips all night long and never get anywhere on the matter of secrecy. But as a matter of personal policy ...?

No one has to be Japanese or British to know the heady nature of secrecy. Secrets are power ... power to defend, power to attack, power to be powerful. Secrets separate and seem to enhance the knower even as they place the unknower at a disadvantage. Secrets assert control. Spiritual life, politics, war, academics ... all make a pretty good living by employing secrets. And let's not forget just how much damned fun there can be in knowing a secret.

It is strange to notice that a secret cannot be a secret unless it is shared. Yet once it is shared, how can it any longer be called a secret? Or, as Dorothy Parker once observed more or less, "How can we expect others to keep our secrets when we can't even keep them ourselves?" A "shared secret" is an oxymoron... unless, as is often the case, anyone wants to assert power and control. Whether this is a grey-faced narcotic or a bubblicious blessing ... pick your secret poison.

It is the secrets within that interest me more than the public policy secrets that narcotize or inspire. How many secrets does anyone keep from himself as a means of asserting control and separation and enthronement? How wise are such secrets? Sometimes, perhaps it is secrets that allow anyone to function during a perfectly ordinary day ... because if the secret came to light, things would dissolve into ineffective chaos. Psychologists make a good living enticing these secrets into the light. Secrets may be quite useful in one sense, but they burden the keeper, sometimes into a grey-faced stupor.

Well, I'm just prattling... wondering if it is not a good idea to keep as many secrets as anyone might like, but to be wary of keeping secrets from one's self. A world without secrets ... is such a thing actually possible? I doubt it, but I do think the place to find out begins in the bathroom mirror. What is, after all, actually secret? I may want to keep a secret from you, but is it necessary to keep things secret from myself? Why? Or, why not?

Why is the sky blue?

It's a secret.

Friday, July 26, 2013

the unexplained hum

An unexplained hum is driving people batty around the world ... and it's not as if they were all batty.

things come apart at the seams

Listen, you little wiseacre: I'm smart, you're dumb; I'm big, you're little; I'm right, you're wrong, and there's nothing you can do about it.
Was there ever a better summing up of parental annoyance than these lines delivered by bone-head father Harry Wormwood (Danny DeVito) in the whimsical-yet-pointed movie, "Matilda?" And what person has not played a similarly-insistent parent to his or her sometimes fractious inner child?

Personally or in social settings ... the decision has been made -- no if's, and's or but's! Without a steadied course, a determined course, a decided course, a principled and abiding course ... well, things would come apart at the seams, wouldn't they?

And indeed they might.

The only problem is that, like it or lump it, things do come apart at the seams. Which is not the same as saying that the principled and determined agent won't put up a cranky, assured and sometimes cruel fight. The cruelty is often adorned with the trappings of kindness and reason and law.

-- In Russia, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of "Pussy Riot," has been denied a bid for parole. Two members of the "Pussy Riot" band were jailed after an anti-authoritarian performance in a Russian cathedral in February 2012.
In denying her bid for parole, the court said Tolokonnikova had not yet repented of her hooliganism and should remain in her penal colony. "A similar ruling was delivered against Maria Alyokhina on Wednesday." Apparently the protest song against Russian President Vladimir Putin -- together with the worldwide outrage at the imprisonments -- still rankles and demands principled parental redress.

-- In Fort Meade, Md., the defense is scheduled today to give its closing arguments in the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, a soldier accused on a variety of counts after having stolen and disseminated secret documents. The government/military has refused to provide transcripts of the case -- a refusal which might give the American public a better basis on which to judge whether its freedoms were being infringed. As a result, a stenographer has been placed in the audience to do what other courts do routinely and create public documents. The transcripts are expensive and are seeking public support. Manning, who has been in jail since 2010, is going to be found guilty. The only question is how guilty and with what penalty from the government he offended. We are a nation of parental laws ... laws we need ... but whose laws and to what end?

-- In Russia, another American leaker, Edward Snowden has so far eluded capture by his cranked-off country. Will he make it to a country offering asylum and if so, will he really be safe from the plausible-deniability crowd seeking to mete out punishment? In Germany, President Joachim Gauck, a man with little power but great moral authority, took the trouble to distance himself from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has indicated to the U.S. she will not give Snowden a refuge. Gauck said plainly that men like Snowden deserve respect for defending freedom.

May 4, 1970, Kent State University
One of the questions that crosses my mind in the face of these high-profile public matters is this: Why does it always seem to be the kids who stick their necks out? Of course it's not always the kids (Daniel Ellsberg and Marine Corps General Smedley Butler come to mind), but somehow it seems to be the kids (whether within or without) who drag the smooth and soothing and demanding elders into a revised kingdom. And I guess I have to admit that at my age, almost anyone looks like a "kid." Nonetheless my mind still asks ... why is it the kids who must be shot down, literally or figuratively, in an attempt to get their elders -- who may have fought long and hard to shape their principles -- to loosen the reins? Is there some reason that honestly adult adults might not do that of their own accord?

Things come apart at the seams. Without format, things are too chaotic and potentially cruel and, most important, scary. But what of the alternative ... is format any guarantor of actual-factual peace? With or without format, things come apart at the seams. It's not a plot and it's not something against which successful battlements might be raised. Things come apart at the seams.

Wouldn't this fact be worthy of investigation and perhaps revised applications? Since nothing -- from the holiest of spiritual encouragements to the most vile of heinous acts -- is immune, wouldn't this suggest some consideration? Since, moment after moment, everyone steps into a 'future' that cannot be known (steps off an inevitable cliff even as they insist on some solid and well-groomed ground) ... isn't loosening the reins a bit more realistic and, who knows, perhaps more peaceful?

I don't think it has to be a noisy revolution, but I guess I do think that some revolution, some sedition, is necessary.

Things come apart at the seams.

Who sez so?

What seams?


                                          Within or without,
                                          Selling out to a sell-out crowd,
                                          Only a defeated man goes to war --
                                          How else could vict'ry taste so sweet?

                                          While all along the wooded path
                                          The bluebells sound a gay applause
                                          For tear-stained passages
                                          They cannot -- 
                                          Nor ever could -- 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bradley Manning closing arguments

In Fort Meade, Md., the prosecution has offered its closing arguments in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, 25, a man accused of a litany of charges after stealing a cache of secret documents and being arrested in May 2010. He has been in jail ever since. The defense is scheduled to give its closing arguments Friday.

The trial has been largely ignored by mainstream media. Today, however, there was this interesting observation from Kevin Gosztola, a man who, if I am not mistaken, is one of the rare few to attend all the sessions in a trial that touches the bedrock of American freedoms and governmental overreach. The majority of the media that might have defended the public was no where in sight until today:
9:40 AM EST There are 54 members of the media here to cover. The military public affairs have decided to treat us all like we are suspects. A TSA-style checkpoint now exists at the media operations center. It had not been this way previously.
Military public affairs had us all sign “new ground rules.” We had lined up outside the media operations center and waited. I was in line for close to an hour before finally getting inside.
A military police officer with purple rubber gloves began to go through my backpack. I tried to pull as much out of the bag that I could to speed the process. He had wands but that was not used. He asked me if I had any electronic devices and I said no. That was apparently sufficient.
I went to my seat and prepared for court to be gaveled into session. As I waited, for a period, there were military police officers patrolling the aisles checking for anything suspicious.
In the wake of the recent decision in the Trayvon Martin death, people were outraged that the underlying issue of racism in America should have been kept out of the court proceedings. In the case of Bradley Manning there is almost no similar, widespread dismay that the government has accused one of its citizens of doing harm without outlining specific instances and details of what that harm was. Manning is going to jail while the government (and its media) is getting a free ride.

It seems a bit much to me...

At least in a democracy.

interconnectedness and separation

Lightly ... lightly ... lightly ....

Hanging around with minds (my own included from time to time) that insist on asserting "the interconnectedness of all things" can be a trial. It's sort of like sitting in a well-scrubbed living room while some big blowhard of a fisherman tromps across the carpet in muddy boots: It's big, it's brassy, it's 'wise' in ways that test a sane man's patience.

The bigness and brassiness and wisdom, of course, relate to earlier times when there had been a palpable mistake in crediting and acting on the premise of "separation." Nosireebob! -- I'm not gonna get tricked by that sucker any more! Tromp! Tromp! Tromp! I've got the keys to paradise now and I'm not letting go! Ahhh ... the interconnectedness of all things.

But as there is great daring required in the actualized revision of the "separation" thesis, so, I think, there is once again great daring required in "the interconnectedness of all things." Is it necessary to assert what is true when it is true ... or is this just another version of The Fear Factor? Is it necessary to refrain from asserting what is true when it is true ... or is this just another version of The Fear Factor?

Lightly ... lightly ... lightly ....

Do separation and interconnectedness have much to do with it?

Around here this morning, the heat wave of the past week has suddenly broken and my feet are cold. My 'wise' mind counsels patiently, "Get some socks, stupid!"

sex in the old-age home

Every once in a while, common, human and caring sense raises its head in the midst of what passes for common, human and caring sense.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

odds on Edward Snowden and Prince Wayne

MOSCOW (AP) - National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was given a document on Wednesday that allows him to leave the transit zone of a Moscow airport and enter Russia, a state news agency said.
Since the Brits are reputed to be willing to place wagers on damn near anything, the story made me wonder what sort of odds Snowden was being given. My question was: What are the odds that Snowden will ever reach a place of safety (or at least asylum) beyond the reach of one pretty pissed-off American government? My own feeling is that the Americans will either kidnap or dispose of him in some manner that includes "plausible deniability."

I couldn't find any odds that answered my question directly, but Paddypower Sport was willing to take bets on where Snowden might be on Jan. 1, 2014. The oddsmaker seemed to favor Russia as the most likely place with odds of 1/40 or only one dollar/pound/whatever earned for every forty dollars wagered. Second place was reserved for the United States at 10/1  ... or ten dollars earned for every one wagered. Venezuela (12/1), Hong Kong (20/1), Nicaragua (20/1) and others followed along. The UK and Germany were the longest shots, both at 125/1. Based on the site, the odds seemed to be available until July 28, 2013 ... at which point I suppose they will be revised or reposted.

It wouldn't surprise me if the United States moved up in ranking as time passes.

Whatever the case, I find something more compelling about a British oddsmaker than the talking-head analysts with their furrowed brows.

But I guess that just proves what a lazy-bones nitwit I can be.

PS. And for those in a betting mood, odds on the names for the recently-born British prince are, according to The Telegraph:
George, the name of Prince William’s great-grandfather, King George VI, became favourite with odds of 2/1 being offered by Paddy Power.
James, with odds of 5/2, Alexander, at 8/1, Richard, at, 9/1, Louis, at 11/1, and Henry with odds of 12/1, followed it in the top five favourites.
Outside bets are for Boris, at 100/1, Simon and Lloyd, both 125/1, and you can get odds of 250/1 on the royal baby being named Wayne.
"Prince Wayne" has a ring to it, but a late-afternoon announcement made it official with "George."

"a good Buddhist" or "a good person?"

Every now and then, the old-timey bit of praise can be heard: "She is a good Christian woman" or "he is a good Christian man." I'm not picking on Christians, here, but rather reflecting the country I live in, which is largely disposed towards Christianity when something called religion is in play. Perhaps the same line crops up in Mecca or Jerusalem or Mumbai or Kyoto, employing appropriately revised religious popularities of the realm.

Is the purpose of Christianity to be a "good Christian?"
Is the purpose of Islam to be a "good Muslim?"
Is the purpose of Hinduism to be a "good Hindu?"
Is the purpose of Judaism to be a "good Jew?"
Is the purpose of Buddhism to be a "good Buddhist?"

The smoothly quick-witted may see the direction of the question and respond, half-derisively, "no." My view is that they would be right, but smooth quick-wittedness is not really responsive. Spiritual life is as messy and mixed-message as any other form of life. Quick wits may be lovely, but they seldom produce much peace.

As far as I can see, the purpose of Buddhism (using just one example) is not to train "a good Buddhist" but rather to suggest the capacity to be "a good person." Good Buddhists everywhere may hoot with ill-concealed smugness, "yeah, but who is that person?" The Buddhist agenda addresses this question as well, but it is up to individuals to winkle out a satisfactory answer ... an answer that has almost nothing to do with something called "Buddhism" ... or any other agenda, for that matter.

Which is more important -- to be a "good Buddhist" or a "good Christian" or to be a "good person?" I suppose, in one sense, this is a trick question because a capacity for discipline and depth and peace requires a training ground. Buddhism or Christianity or any of the others offer that training ground. A training ground that can be pretty serious and pretty determined ... a balls-out effort... the kind of effort that might lead anyone to say things like "s/he is a good Christian" or "s/he is a good Buddhist."

I guess part of what led me into this airy-fairy realm was various bits of lately-received information about the Vatican squirming to maintain its force in the face of some pretty awful scandals or the Zen Buddhist exemplars dancing their own version of the same dance as a means of upholding the goodness of their realm. Good Christians. Good Buddhists. Good training grounds. And, as the cartoon character Charlie Brown used to exclaim, "Good grief!"

Does Buddhism teach people to be "good Buddhists?" In one sense, perhaps. But in another sense it is all too cozy and fabulous by half. There is excellent training ... and then ... and then ... how many segue into a comfort zone of "Buddhism?" Is that really Buddhism? To answer too quickly is a foolish business ... there is an enormous human longing to have company, to be supported and warmed and convinced and settled. The sangha is one of the trio of jewels extended by Buddhism after all ... 'authentic' Buddhism, to hear some tell it.

There is excellent training aimed, roughly speaking, at coping with the various leg-hold traps that life can provide. Train hard, train hard, train hard ... examine and probe and dive deep... freedom and peace do not come cheap. But is one leg-hold trap really better than another? Is one comfort zone really more peaceful than another?

To dismiss good training grounds would be silly. But to embrace them as sure-fire would also be silly. Since being silly or foolish probably forms the cornerstone of why anyone took up a spiritual adventure in the first place, who wants to nourish that realm? Is standing on the two feet already under anyone seem too scary, too lonely, and, possibly, too powerful? Probably ... isn't that why we have good Christians and good Buddhists and good Muslims and all the rest?

But what other choice is there when it comes to walking? It's just these two feet and a bit of effort ... the kind of stuff any good person might exercise. No point in stumbling into new and improved leg-hold traps if you can help it.

Be a Christian.
Be a Muslim.
Be a Hindu or Jew or Buddhist.
Be good at it.

But relax. Use what is useful. Don't imagine or insist it could ever use you.

Jibber-jabber ... drink coffee, kiss the dog, plant cucumbers if you like.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vatican criminalizes pedophile leaks

JULY 2013 - Pope Francis brought the Vatican's legal system up to date by criminalizing information that is damaging to the Church. A closer look to the new laws revealed that the pope has made it illegal to report pedophile priests....
“They know exactly what they’re doing,” claims Fabrizio Perona of Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper. “They just thought nobody would notice. The Church wants to impress the world by getting tough on sex crimes, but they criminalized leaks, which is the only way anybody would ever discover their crimes. It’s genius, if you stop and think about it.”
Just about the time anyone thought the words "heinous" and "grotesque" had run out of steam, some added bit of information stokes the fires anew. It has come to the point where self-important stupidity is no longer a viable excuse.

Let's see ... criminalizing the reporting of what in another venue (and certainly from the victims' point of view) would be a civil crime: Is this the justice of the Roman Catholic Church -- criminalizing the reporting of a crime? And then excusing the (in)justice with the assertion that matters will be handled in-house ... when all the evidence that has thus far come to light suggests that 'handling' the situation means hiding or covering it up. In what insane world could such an institution be considered holy or caring? If he were alive to do so, Franz Kafka would probably be ashamed of his mediocre attempts to convey human horror.

Here's the Associated Press version of the story.


In the scrubbed, grey cool of this early morning, a tan rabbit stood still as salt in the middle of the 
street ... then hopped away. It was a new and refreshing sight in the wake of last night's rain ... newer and more refreshing than anything else that came to mind.

Last night, I stayed up past my bedtime and  bs'ed with my son. Today I feel a bit run-over and wrung out as a result. The usual salty snacks of thought seem to be out of commission for the moment.

So, in keeping with the usual writing habit, I will wuss out and borrow what I wrote responsively on a Buddhist bulletin board earlier. It's what I can manage ... chewing pre-chewed food:
Everyone feels regret.
I repeat, everyone feels regret.
The weight of regret is measured according to the desire to be free from regret.
No matter what Santa Claus or Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy is implored, still, everyone feels regret.
Practice builds the muscle necessary to be at ease with what cannot be escaped.
 Hardly the kind of information a bunny needs.

Monday, July 22, 2013

with bated breath

In London today, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is reportedly in labor with her first child,
the third in line to the British monarchy. There are throngs awaiting word ....

Similar, if not larger, throngs are gathering in Rio de Janeiro in anticipation of the arrival Pope Francis on his first overseas trip.

Anticipation: How many times, in ways little and large, has anyone waited with bated breath ... I mean really, THIS is exciting!

No matter how often the baby is born and turns out to be, after all, just a baby, and no matter how often a high profile man arrives in white robes only to be, after all, a man ... there seems to be an almost-wracking need to ... to ... to ... wait with bated breath.

Is this exciting or what??!!

PS. The delivery of an unnamed boy occurred this afternoon. There was, as far as I could figure out, NO other news on the six o'clock version of the BBC news here in the colonies.

good workers

Yesterday, standing in the supermarket's "express" line -- where, as usual, some woman up front had waited until the last possible moment to fish the coupons and cash from the bottom of her disorganized pocket book -- I noticed that the similarly-irked fellow ahead of me had a couple of aging tattoos.

As a means of passing time, I asked him if he looked back on the tattoos -- one of a perky girl wearing a sailor's hat, the other of an anchor -- with regret. I asked partly because two of my three kids seem enamored of body art and the tendency leaves me somewhat stymied: Why mess with a perfectly good body?

The man said no, he didn't regret them. He had sneaked into the navy at 16 and got his tattoos in 1949. He conceded that, like a lot of others in his generation, he had been drunk at the time he got them, but he didn't regret them now, even as his skin lost its tautness and the sassy sailor girl lost her sass. He had gone into the navy, learned discipline, came out a pretty skilled boxer and a more disciplined person, decided to go to college, went, fell somewhat short of a Ph.D., became a state representative, bought a farm and raised his kids to feed the animals before they did anything else after school. "All my kids turned out to be good workers," he said without bragging.

Up ahead, the one-woman bottle neck completed her business -- the only business worth worrying about -- and the "express" line began to move. Everyone behind her seemed to have learned the lesson she taught... had their payment methods in hand and turned out to be "good workers" ... which meant everyone benefited.

gilding your lily

Somehow, I tripped over a Zen Buddhist web site yesterday and found myself reading a lot of Zen-speak I haven't heard in a while. Très Mumonkan. Très Blue Cliff Record. Little shards of conversation between one person and another, each encouraging the other with words that didn't make much ordinary sense, but pointed to a profound wisdom or understanding or something like that.

As someone who was brought up, so to speak, in these environs, I sniffed the site with the vague interest a dog might bring to a fire hydrant s/he had previously pissed on.

The Master [Lin-chi] went to see Feng-lin. On the way, he met an old woman.
"Off somewhere?" she asked.
"Off to Feng-lin," the Master said.
"I think you'll find that Feng-lin isn't in right now," the old woman said.
"Off somewhere?" said the Master.
The old woman walked away.
The Master called after her. She turned her head, whereupon the Master walked away.
 It made me think of two things:

1. Gautama, the man widely cited as the springboard for something called "Buddhism," is frequently quoted as saying, "I teach only suffering and the end of suffering." Not Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, or Islam ... just suffering. And not not-Buddhism, not-Christianity, not-Hinduism, not-Judaism or not-Islam either ... just suffering. First the cake, then your favorite icing. Imagining that anyone might escape a format ("I'm spiritual but not religious") is pretty much the same as shouldering that format: Knock yourself out... but don't lose sight of what precedes the format ... the unsatisfactoriness, the not-quite-peaceful, the raging sorrow, the ... whatever it is. Does anyone need Gautama to know that things might be less freighted? Does anyone not-need him? Isn't Gautama a bit like sitting down to a fried egg and being handed a pipe wrench with which to eat it? Just don't lose sight of honest nourishment.

2. And then, having plotted and practiced a course of action, whatever it may be, doesn't there come a time when the question needs to be asked: What makes anyone think that the much-sought wisdom that might alleviate and ease will be any less cumbersome and confusing and foolhardy than the delusion and ignorance that preceded it?

Sometimes there is laughter. Sometimes there are tears. It may take enormous courage and blinding effort, but the only possibility I can imagine is:

Don't gild the lily.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Two days ago, I mentioned on this blog that I was thinking about asking for donations because times were a bit tight. It is not something I do lightly.

To my surprise and delight, not 30 minutes after the mention, someone made a donation of $2. The fact that someone -- someone I didn't know -- would take the time and make the effort aroused a pure yummy of thank-you. Imagine that! (There was no return address so I couldn't say thank you then. I say it now ... thank you.)

Still swimming in wonder and weird delight, I drove to the supermarket later. On the way out of the parking lot, a homeless man was standing at the stoplight. He had a cardboard sign describing his plight, but it was difficult to read. I saw the word, "please" ... and called him over to give him half of what I had received ... $1.

Today, during zazen, the incident popped up again in my mind. I was on a wonder-rather-than-greed frequency. And from my vantage point while sitting, I could see the donation box that hangs in the zendo because a woman once came to sit and cussed me out for not having a place to make a donation. So I built one (unmarked) and hung it up. It got very little use, probably because I made a zendo rule a number of years back ... no donations until you have come at least three times ... and then we can talk about it.

But this morning I remembered the check sitting untouched in the donation box. It has been sitting there since 2005 and is probably worth nothing now. For all I know, it came from the woman who cussed me out about having a donation box ... a check for $100.

What a lot of money that seems like today. But it also seemed, in its time and for different reasons, to be a lot of money then ... too much money. I had built the zendo on my own hook, was working at the time and ... well, $100 was too much then.

After a few years'-worth of using the zendo, when a couple of serious students showed up, I laid a tithe them ... $5 for each time they came. I laid it on them because it is my feeling that there should be a level playing field in the zendo and those who visited deserved to know that as they got (a place, a teaching, an understanding or whatever), so, precisely, they gave (a place, a teaching, an understanding or whatever). And even if they didn't understand or even as they were unwilling to accede to a level playing field, that didn't mean the playing field wasn't level. $5 was enough to make a small point. It's easier than sitting for free. Thinking things are free (or not free) is irresponsible and Zen practice (or living life if you prefer) is best savored in a responsible manner.

This morning in the zendo, I seemed to be sitting in the midst of gifts for which I could not say thank you. Statues on the altar, incense smoke, flower in the vase, flickering candle light, a $2 donation, a check that had lost its meaning ... I D-double-dare-you to say "thank you," Adam.

But I couldn't.

So I sat.

spiritual confetti

I posted this bit of spiritual confetti on a Buddhist bulletin board and thought I would put it here too:
I used to find it very comforting in one Vedanta temple or another to see the words from the Vedas: "Truth is one. Wise men call it by many names." Soft, enveloping, comprehensive, inviting, hopeful ... well, I was in a warm-fuzzy phase and needed support and thought I was getting it. And perhaps I was in that particular time: I wanted hope and belief and I received it.

I cannot speak for anyone else but what I found was that hope and belief simply won't cut it. It's like talking about a sneeze without sneezing, a laugh without laughing, love without loving, being devoted to porn without ever getting laid. Experience trumps belief and if experience is what anyone wants, then practice is the means... sometimes delightful, sometimes depressing, sometimes awesome, sometimes awful ... p-r-a-c-t-i-c-e.

In order to practice, you've got to be willing to be a jerk, to be inept, to be a stumble-bum and a klutz. Don't worry, no one else will know: Everyone else may think you're kool and accomplished ... but you need to set aside the kool and the savvy and start being who you are. And everyone stumbles as they begin any practice ... bike riding, carpentry, spiritual endeavor, no different. The object of spiritual practice is not so much to succeed. Rather it is the willingness to fail and begin again ....

Just begin ... and continue. Why? Because experience trumps belief and hope. And it puts your feet on the ground ... for a change.

End of rant.

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas, a woman reporter who covered 10 presidents over five decades, died yesterday at 92. The fulsome yet ginger praise attending on her death is not what I have in mind by mentioning it ... the oh-boy-I-liked-her-values-and-want-you-to-imagine-that-therefore-I-have-shiny-values-too sycophancy.

Yes, Helen Thomas asked the questions the White House press corps learned not to ask -- the questions a Detroit housewife might ask; and she thought the job of the press was to be a pain in the ass on behalf of those who paid the bills but were denied a voice; and she was a woman in a man's game; and she was, enfin, a small oasis in a dry and self-serving land. But her standout quality to me was in suggesting what had been forsworn by others ... the willingness to lose everything on behalf of a story without which democracy became more cozily undemocratic.

In the wish-I'd-done-that department, there was Thomas' question to George W. Bush, the man Thomas considered "the worst president in all American history." Her question: "Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war?" Even those reporting on the question later managed to truncate her words, to segue into commentary that implicitly depicted Thomas as a batty aunt you couldn't not-invite to the party. Thomas had dared to fly into a fire that other reporters might admire from a 'thoughtful' distance, but the blue and immolating heat was too much for them.

Thomas was unrepentant and perhaps delighted a bit too much in her unwillingness to repent. She made no secret of her disdain for the shot-cuff press corps that pimped for political agendas, the Downton Abbey establishment that had an ever-lengthening list of excuses for not serving the democracy of the country. Their refrain: "If we ask the hard questions, our sources will cut us off from access to information and we won't be able to do our jobs." It is not quite as corrupt as the Chinese view of media as a tool of agitation and propaganda ... or maybe it is, but it is ever so much smoother, more reasonable, more self-serving. Joseph Goebbels was a Cub Scout by comparison.

Thomas' own liberal, whirling-dervish mouth got her into trouble when she suggested that Israeli Jews  just get out of Palestine and return to Germany, Poland or the United States, places, she implied, where Jews were more rightfully "at home." The Downton Abbey constituency bared its usually-concealed fangs on that one -- and Thomas 'quit' her job as a Hearst columnist. 

I never much liked Thomas' work. I didn't dislike it, but I wouldn't seek it out as I might seek out the offerings of Molly Ivins, a hard-nosed columnist who did her homework and only then suggested there was something lunatic in the works. I never got the sense that Molly Ivins would sell her tale as a means of elevating her own stock or that she would name the assholes without seriously considering that they might not be assholes. Not that Thomas struck me as another self-promoting blogger-turned-White-House-shill. I just didn't cotton as much to her stuff. 

I have no doubt that Helen Thomas did some wonderful things. But the thing that impresses me is not what her body of work says about her -- it's what her approach and body of work says about the rest of us. 

Luckily or not, I think the Internet is bringing the shot-cuff, Downton Abbey, agitprop approach to news to its knees. Sound bites and pancake make-up and vast income masquerading as news-gathering is being challenged. It may be hard to ferret out the facts (a job once alleged by news organizations), but the opportunity exists, however confounding it may be. Asking ALL of the questions is what the housewife in Detroit does. 

Helen Thomas helped.