Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Hearts in Atlantis"

A flavorful shard of story-telling ... that's how I found "Hearts In Atlantis," a movie lifted from Stephen King and with Anthony Hopkins as the sole big-name performer. Nice photography, but if I were asked to say what it was about, I'm not entirely sure, but it was softly moving. Critic Roger Ebert wrote that "Rarely does a movie make you feel so warm and so uneasy at the same time..." and that's close enough for me.

educating the well-off

WASHINGTON (AP) — Education is supposed to help bridge the gap between the wealthiest people and everyone else. Ask the experts, and they'll count the ways:
Preschool can lift children from poverty. Top high schools prepare students for college. A college degree boosts pay over a lifetime. And the U.S. economy would grow faster if more people stayed in school longer.
Plenty of data back them up. But the data also show something else:
Wealthier parents have been stepping up education spending so aggressively that they're widening the nation's wealth gap. When the Great Recession struck in late 2007 and squeezed most family budgets, the top 10 percent of earners — with incomes averaging $253,146 — went in a different direction: They doubled down on their kids' futures.

surveillance takes root

Surveillance misdirection:

(Reuters) - Documents released by the U.S. government show it views an executive order issued in 1981 as the basis of most of the National Security Agency's surveillance activities, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Monday.
The NSA relied on Executive Order 12333 more than it did on two other laws that have been the focus of public debate following the leaks exposing U.S. surveillance programs by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, according to the papers released by the ACLU.
The ACLU obtained the documents after filing a lawsuit last year seeking information in connection with the order, which it said the NSA was using to collect vast amounts of data worldwide, "inevitably" including communications of U.S. citizens.....

Alex Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney, said in a blog post published on Monday that the documents "confirm that the order, although not the focus of the public debate, actually governs most of the NSA's spying."
"Congress's reform efforts have not addressed the executive order, and the bulk of the government's disclosures in response to the Snowden revelations have conspicuously ignored the NSA's extensive mandate under EO 12333," Abdo wrote.

John Cleese on "stupidity"

Passed along in email:

Monday, September 29, 2014


For 50 years, I have saved the following missive in a journal I kept in 1964 while I was part of a top-secret-oriented army unit in Berlin.  Misspellings and all, the sheet appeared in my mailbox -- and everyone else's as well -- without further explanation. In an atmosphere of paranoia that secrecy can instill, it was just one more reminder of the fealty owed to the government we worked for.

Then as now, I had no desire to broadcast my country's secrets, however boring they might be. But simultaneously, there was no way I was going to rat out my friends from whatever country. Further, keeping a dear-diary journal (travels, parties, hangovers, culture, getting laid) was not something I was willing to give up.

The sheet infuriated me then but it also helped me to recognize that matters of "principle" could not be allowed to rely on the agreement or disapprobation of others. There really were guys in polyester slacks who had identification folders to flash under your nose before they started an interrogation. The implications of that sheet scared me, but they did not scare me quite enough.

Principles that are based on poll numbers are a just bling-studded uncertainty ... or perhaps cowardice.

Kind of like spiritual endeavor, I suspect.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"The Last Mile"

Passed along in email. I can imagine strong reactions. I kind of liked it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

invisible ... uh .... stuff

If it's invisible, where is it?
Scientists at the University of Rochester have discovered a way to hide large objects from sight using inexpensive and readily available lenses, a technology that seems to have sprung from the pages of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter fantasy series.
Cloaking is the process by which an object becomes hidden from view, while everything else around the cloaked object appears undisturbed.
The amount of energy that goes into revealing or concealing things in this life makes me wonder if the ultimate accomplishment would be just to address those things as they are.

Now you see it.

Now you don't.



Friday, September 26, 2014

the Jon Stewart network

Since the television networks and other 'news' outlets can't seem to offer much more than tits, ass and unrepentant fluff, perhaps it is time to consider making Jon Stewart a network of his own ... as exemplified briefly by this collage/clip sent along in email.

Yes, children, there was a time when people asked the obvious questions and suggested there might be another side to the story....

test result

Today is probably the day on which I will receive confirmation that I have lung cancer. Up until this point, there have been tests and suppositions, but the PET scan Monday will confirm what has merely been believed up until now.

The head-honcho cardio doctor said before the scan that the nodule on the right lung was small and treatable and just getting started and so, comparatively speaking, things are looking up.

I have a hunch that sub rosa, a part of me is anxious and crabby and disbelieving and wishful. There are all sorts of tests and doctor visits lined up irrespective of the PET scan outcome -- treating the matter in a worst-case-scenario format.

Besides whatever unspoken anxiety, it's nice to see the sun shine today.

"Hard Times"

Though it was first published in 1854, the plaintive resonance of "Hard Times Come Again No More" seems to find a home in every succeeding year and economic circumstance. There are myriad presentations of the song, but I ran across Kate and Anna McGarrigle (et al.) this morning and liked it.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he was told of the plot by Baghdad, and that it was the work of foreign fighters of the Islamic State group in Iraq. There was no immediate comment from Washington or Paris, and al-Abadi's assertion could not be independently confirmed.
Asked if the attacks were imminent, he said, "I'm not sure." Asked if the attacks had been thwarted, he said, "No." Al-Abadi said the United States had been alerted, and that the suspects included extremists from the United States and France who were fighting for the Islamic State group in Iraq.
"Today, while I'm here I'm receiving accurate reports from Baghdad that there were arrests of a few elements and there were networks from inside Iraq to have attacks ... on metros of Paris and U.S.," al-Abadi said, speaking in English. "They are not Iraqis. Some of them are French, some of them are Americans. But they are in Iraq."
He made the remarks at a meeting with journalists on the sidelines of a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly.
The Islamic State extremists' blitz in Iraq and Syria prompted the United States to launch airstrikes in Iraq last month, to aid Kurdish forces who were battling the militants and to protect religious minorities.
In addition to the brutality Islamic State has visited on the people in Iraq and Syria, western leaders have voiced concern that the group would move its terror operations outside the region.
This week, the U.S. and five allied Arab states expanded the aerial campaign into Syria, where the militant group is battling President Bashar Assad's forces as well as Western-backed rebels.
Where there is no verification or plausible logic (what threat does IS pose to the mainland USA, eg. and what proof is adduced?), a little hoo-rah background (likewise unexamined) will suffice.

People laugh at the governmental interference with the media in China or Russia ... but their laughter seems to be ill-informed.

I guess agitation/propaganda pays better and doesn't require as much thinking....

Follow-up story from Reuters.

new and improved not-war

As the U.S. cranks up its latest war in the Middle East -- bombing oil targets in Syria, claiming the assault is not really a "war" and generally laying the groundwork for another decade or more of violence that is easier than economic constructiveness -- various other idsies and odsies caught my eye:
Suffolk Downs officials says live thoroughbred racing will end for the season — and most likely for good — on the first Saturday in October.
..... WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to announce Thursday that it is granting permits to seven movie and television production companies to fly drones, an important step toward greater use of the technology by commercial operators, said attorneys and a company official familiar with the decision.
...... INCHEON, South Korea (AP) — The Qatari women's basketball team withdrew from the Asian Games in a protest against international rules that ban players from wearing Muslim headscarves in competition.
I'm not sure quite how, but all of this feels as if a reality-show lifestyle is more important and credible than a reality lifestyle in which horses and jockeys sweat, people are responsible for the activity of the drones they employ, and the women beneath the headscarves are just as competent or incompetent as they might be without them.

If I remember correctly, when the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler stood out on Berlin's chancery balcony in 1933 to proclaim his ascendancy as chancellor, there were only some 200 people listening in the streets below according to then-reporter William Shirer. One of the reasons for so sparse a turnout for a man whose later propaganda films would be packed with cheering throngs was that in 1933 the citizenry could still vividly recall the horrors of World War I ... and Hitler made no secret of his militaristic goals. Those memories did not stop World War II any more than the fruitless ten years the U.S. has used in Iraq is likely to inform the U.S.

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2014/09/23/6142193/suffolk-downs-to-close-oct-4.html#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Vatican arrests former archbishop

Passed along in email yesterday was this Australian news account of the Vatican's first-ever pedophilia arrest of a former archbishop.
Jozef Wesolowski, a Pole who was defrocked by a Vatican tribunal in June, was placed under house awaiting a criminal trial, the Vatican said in a statement.
Jozef Wesolowski
Whether the arrest represents a sea change in the Vatican's thinking about its child-molesting priests or whether it is yet another damage-control ploy is hard to guess, but the arrest certainly would have been impossible several years ago when the Vatican used its vim and vigor to defend itself, assert its righteousness and avoid the social lash that society can lower on child molesters.

Perhaps the arrest was in aid of staving off worse repercussions. Or perhaps it represented a more open and responsible approach to a problem the church has strained to evade.
Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, vowed zero tolerance against Roman Catholic clerics who sexually abused children.
Last May, he called such abuse an "ugly crime" and likened it to "a Satanic Mass".
In July, he told victims of sexual abuse the Church should "weep and make reparation" for crimes he said had taken on the dimensions of a sacrilegious cult.

Inner Mongolian drought

Inner Mongolia and America's West seem to share a problem -- increasingly intense drought.

I suspect the trickle-down economists are snapping up access points and will give the rest of us a terrific bargain when the time comes. The idea that water sources might be staked out for the public good is ... well, it's probably not 'feasible.'

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

full/unfull life

The local newspaper ran the first of a three-part series on a woman's deliberate steps to die today. At 90, Lee Hawkins had had enough and so, in consultation with family and others, let go of food and drink. Today's article represented the second time the Daily Hampshire Gazette had taken a space-gobbling approach to Lee Hawkins' death. The first time said she was thinking of trying it. The second time said she succeeded. Lee Hawkins died Sept. 2.

As a former newspaper person, I have to admit my first reaction to today's appreciation was ... irritation. Dying is hardly what you'd call news ... or was it? Would there be any room for news in the news outlets if each person's death were recounted in such caring particulars? It made me wish a more serious approach had been taken.

But it also nudged my somewhat blurry memory banks and brought up two touchstones: 1. At a time when trust was more commonplace in the U.S., the "most trusted man in America," newsman Walter Cronkite, once observed, "News is not about how many cats did not get up on the garage roof." Everyone dies. Since everyone dies -- or 2. as my Zen teacher's teacher put it, "joins the majority"-- it seems a bit much to assess death, per se, as a news-worthy event. This is not to deny the sorrow or other reactions of those left behind, but it is to include death within life ... an inclusion that those left behind too frequently would prefer to sidestep.

Fearing death -- whether by hymn or philosophy or religion or nonchalance -- is fearing life, and fearing life is not to live fully. But not living life fully is nevertheless a full life, I suspect.

It's a strange conundrum, fearing what you might die to preserve.

separating apples from apples

In the course of reinvigorating its wartime footing in the Middle East, the United States and its allies are starting, as usual, with the comparatively 'distant' bombing campaign used in the past. As yet there are "no (very visible) boots on the ground." The object of the bombing is the Islamic State, a militant Islamic body whose numbers are not numbered and whose attractiveness is always treated as bogus and cruel and inimical even as it somehow gains adherents who are also not numbered.

In the course of rounding up the latest 'coalition of the willing' -- countries willing the lend a supportive hand in the attack on IS -- the U.S. has solicited help from Iran, a country which, six or eight months ago, was roundly attacked by the U.S. for trying to make the kind of uranium that might be used in an atomic bomb. [Scientific studies I cannot immediately find suggest that even if Iran did make a nuclear weapon, it would probably take at least 10 years. Further, no one in the U.S. suggests that we squeeze or vet a sovereign Israel in the same way.]

As to Iran, it seems the bad guy on the could-be nuclear front can be the good guy when it comes to routing the Islamic State. The two cannot be linked, the White House has asserted in a statement that might make a Jesuit's jaw drop:

[White House Press Secretary Josh] Earnest said the effort by world powers, including the United States, to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program is "entirely separate" from President Barack Obama's attempts to build a coalition against Islamic State.
"The United States will not be in the position of trading aspects of Iran's nuclear program to secure commitments to take on ISIL," Earnest said, using an acronym for Islamic State (IS).
Let's not compare oranges with oranges.

Cloud 9 noodles

A Chinese noodle shop owner has admitted to lacing his wares with opium poppy seeds, in an apparent effort to keep customers coming back, it's reported.

Monday, September 22, 2014

a third breast

Snopes, the site most likely to investigate and debunk unusual human claims, has yet to debunk the tale of a Florida massage thereapist who had a third breast added to her body as a means of getting her own "reality" TV show.
“I got it because I wanted to make myself unattractive to men. Because I don’t want to date anymore,” she said.
“Most guys would think [the extra breast is] weird and gross. But I can still feel pretty because if I wore makeup and cute clothes, I can still, you know... feel pretty.”
I don't know what to think when this was passed along in email, though I wonder why anyone would bother with fiction and a world full of so many facts.
Third eye, third breast, third ...

How different is this from a U.S. Congressman wearing an American flag lapel pin?

PS. 9/24/14: As you probably suspected, it all turned out to be a HOAX.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

the atmosphere is collapsing

If anyone wanted to depict a ranging catastrophe, would there be better words than those attributed to Omar Jose Gonzalez, the 42-year-old veteran who scaled a White House fence on Friday and got to a door before being barred.

Authorities described him as "armed" because he had a pocket knife, but would a skilled soldier with 13 years of combat experience show up at an assassination with a pocket knife? It doesn't scan in my book.
Gonzales, of Copperas Cove, Texas, allegedly jumped the White House fence along Pennsylvania Avenue at 7:20 p.m. Friday, then crossed the North Lawn and opened the mansion’s front door before being apprehended by a Secret Service police officer standing guard....
According to court documents, Gonzales told Secret Service agents after being apprehended that the “atmosphere was collapsing” and that he had to tell the president so he could warn the public.
Crazy or sane, deluded or clear-eyed ... that's a hell of a description.

student debt dissolved

I don't have any way of verifying the assertions of this article, but it certainly is interesting in its ways of addressing the usury of student loans.

the Ig Nobel awards

[Sept 18, 2014] The 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony introduced ten new Ig Nobel Prize winners - Each has done something that makes people laugh then think.
Winners travelled to the ceremony, at their own expense, from around the world to receive their prize from a group of genuine, genuinely bemused Nobel Laureates, in Harvard's historic and largest theater. 1100 improbable persons filled the theatre, and the whole affair was broadcast live.

The full list of winners this year:
PHYSICS: Kiyoshi Mabuchi, of Kitasato University, Japan, and colleagues, for measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that's on the floor.
NEUROSCIENCE: Kang Lee, of the University of Toronto, Canada, and colleagues for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.
PSYCHOLOGY: Peter Jonason, of the University of Western Sydney, Australia, and colleagues for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.
PUBLIC HEALTH: Jaroslav Flegr, of Charles University, Czech Republic, and colleagues for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat.
BIOLOGY: Vlastimil Hart, of the Czech University of Life Sciences, and colleagues for carefully documenting that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth's north-south geomagnetic field lines.
ART: Marina de Tommaso, of the University of Bari, Italy, and colleagues for measuring the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, rather than a pretty painting, while being shot [in the hand] by a powerful laser beam.
ECONOMICS: The Italian government's National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.
MEDICINE: Ian Humphreys, of Michigan State University, US, and colleagues, for treating "uncontrollable" nosebleeds, using the method of nasal-packing-with-strips-of-cured-pork.
ARCTIC SCIENCE: Eigil Reimers, of the University of Oslo, Norway, and colleagues, for testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears.
NUTRITION: Raquel Rubio, of IRTA, Spain, and colleagues, for their study titled "Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

lease on life and death (pix)

Anti-war protesters hold up signs as U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel takes his seat to testify at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 16, 2014.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A grave cleaner holds the mummified body of a woman during exhumation works at the Verbena cemetery in Guatemala City, April 17, 2013. If a lease on a grave has expired or not been paid, grave cleaners will break open the crypts to remove and rebury the bodies. Any remains that have not been claimed are packed into plastic bags, labelled and stored in mass graves. Bodies that have been stored in the upper crypt are exposed to dry and sunny conditions which means they do not decompose and instead become mummified.
REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez
Children are pictured on the hills on the outskirts of Kathmandu, September 16, 2014.
REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
A Syrian refugee child eats inside his family's tent at an informal settlement in Deir al-Ahmar, Bekaa valley, Lebanon, September 16, 2014.

gay-friendly mosque

A Muslim academic has opened a gay-friendly mosque in South Africa, despite receiving death threats and fierce criticism from parts of the local Muslim community.
Women will also be allowed to lead prayers at Taj Hargey's "Open Mosque" in Cape Town.
Whatever other difficulties the story may suggest, it makes me wonder:

If equality were the goal of any religious persuasion, and if that goal were somehow attained, would/could the religious persuasion any longer exist?

I have a hunch that's one of those questions you're not supposed to ask.

outfoxing a crocodile

Being attacked by an crocodile may not be everyone's idea of a nightmare, but for those afflicted, there is this consoling story of the "slightly tipsy" 20-year-old Australian who was dragged under by an crocodile and had the presence of mind to poke the reptile in the eye.

writing departs

Recent physical difficulties that demanded attention seem to have broken the back of what once was a through-and-through habit of writing ... and crediting it. In a literal sense, words and juxtapositions and frictions that might have formed the basis for one thought oasis or another have lost their pop and defeat the capacities that are left. I can opine and think about, but the writing part -- once convincing and occasionally beautiful and full of sass -- is limp as a used condom.

I kind of miss that verve and attention and excitement and verbiage, but, given circumstances of the present, I am forced into the widespread habit du jour -- too many people telling others what to do and how to do it and not enough people to heed or care about such 'sage' or 'amusing' counsel.

For example, a news story this morning asserts that the CIA has decided to stop spying on its America's allies. The story suggests the CIA was somehow embarrassed or felt that its effectiveness had been dented by the CIA's privacy intrusions. The source of this story is kept secret, but the Associated Press seems to see nothing collusive about printing it as if it were true. My reaction was, "Who makes this shit up and what media outlet is not ashamed to spread it around?!"

In earlier times, I can imagine writing a whole lot about the personal or political Joseph Goebbels program of lying repeatedly until someone believes it. And there always is someone to create the lies and someone willing to ingest them. Religion, politics, war, love, wondrous good and heinous evil. There is no imperative to tell them or deconstruct the scenario ... being alive means deconstructing various kinds of shit ... and/or believing it ... and one (wo)man cannot tell another.  Writing about it is .... what? ... sort of eh or needlessly intrusive, however 'caring' the tone of voice.

The writing has gone away. Maybe, like a $20 bill or a dog turd, someone will find it in the gutter and make use of it. But I sort of wish I were once again more convinced -- or anyway less unconvinced -- by the melodies and arabesques of writing.

Oh well, you can't unthink a purple cow.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"The Roosevelts..." sort of

Watching segments of documentarian Ken Burns' 14-hour "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History," I am drawn in inconsequential ways into the past ... imagining things about other times and I might be right or I might be another inattentive fool.

Am I wrong, or did Burns forget to footnote the fact that the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1919 killed 50-100 million people worldwide. News outlets in Germany, France and the United States were kept on a short leash when reporting a disease that affected one-fifth  of the world's 1.8 billion. World War I killed 16 million. Spain was allowed to report on the epidemic, which meant there was a sense that Spain was disproportionately affected and hence the name "Spanish flu" got traction.

It's not that the illness occurred on Teddy Roosevelt's watch and he might have done something, but as an historical fact that must have been affecting, I wonder why no notice (unless I missed it) was made of it. But as I say, my reactions were more associative and thin than focused and fair.

More inconsequential still was the effect the still photos of a time span from the late 1800's to the middle of the 1900's seemed to have:

Was I wrong or were those photographed in an earlier time skinnier on average than today's well-flabbed population? I really don't know, but they seemed to be leaner and tougher even in moments of great incapacity. No breasty, botoxed, chatter-box 'housewives.' Fat people were "fat" instead of somehow "challenged."

Perhaps people were skinnier because Sigmund Freud had yet to gain ascendancy. Dissimulation was as popular as ever, no doubt, but its popularity and the wealth required to display it were not so prevalent ... or am I making that up? Does a hungry man have time or energy for pretense? His hungry eyes are hungry, aren't they?

People wrote to the president (FDR) in the reasonable expectation that he might write back or lend a hand where he could.

But columnist George Will, one of the narrators, gets off a good one in Burns' documentary:
"Building on the work of the first Roosevelt, the second Roosevelt gave us the idea, the shimmering, glittering idea of the heroic presidency. And with it the hope that complex problems would yield to charisma. This," Will declares during one episode, "sets the country up for perpetual disappointment."
I can feel the liberals squirming under that lash, but I can also feel the appropriate aspects of the remark: The appropriateness touches the latter-day conservative as well ... no shits and giggles and wool pulled over the eyes, perhaps, but a grand and wafting display of pusillanimous that is stunning in its selfishness.

news snippets

Bits of news --

--  Scotland voted  Thursday not to secede from its union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. By a comparison I am probably not equipped to make, the Scots seemed both enthusiastic and civil in their electoral proceedings, as if they could honestly honor the disagreement of others. Maybe Americans who had political opinions could take a lesson from the Scots.

-- The police-state fervor seemed to gain ground Thursday when the Australians sicced 800 officers on  residents based on a rumor that there was a Islamic State plot afoot to behead Australians and put it on the Internet for propaganda purposes:

800 officers employed.
15 people detained: 
Two of the 15 people whom police had detained Thursday have been charged. Nine were freed before the day was over, and the rest released on Friday.... 
Hundreds of Muslims in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba protested the raids on Thursday night, with speakers accusing the government of exploiting public fear in a bid to get contentious counterterrorism laws through Parliament. (emphasis added).
Prime minister Tony Abbott described the raids as "a show of strength," not overkill.  The Aussies "thwarted a plot" that might occur. For some reason, I thought the Aussies might not fall for that politically efficacious ploy. Silly me.

Samier Dandan said police need to reveal
their evidence that led to counter-terrorism
raids. (ABC-TV)

The Muslim community said that the police should reveal the evidence that it used as the basis for its raids.

Silly Muslims.

800 officers; untold man-hours of work; 'thwarting' the terrorist that is part and parcel of every mind; and two suspects who might -- just might -- be guilty of something, if only thinking. The bang for the judicial buck seems dubious at best. The bang for the political buck is more compelling, however corrupt.

Perhaps as a means of proving that governmental action were crucial,
Security is being upgraded at the Australian parliament following "chatter" suggesting extremists could target it for attack.
PM Tony Abbot said Australian Federal Police would assume responsibility for security at the site in Canberra.
The move came a day after major anti-terrorism raids took place in Sydney.
"Chatter" suggests "extremists" "could" be plotting ... so beef up security and trim the rights package.

And isn't it nice to hear that France has joined the United States in its air strikes against IS in Iraq? It's dicey, of course, pretending that "boots on the ground" aren't in the offing, but the U.S. is manfully employed trying to thread that needle.

-- The p.r. has been pretty unrelenting and today, the Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba finally goes on sale at the New York Stock Exchange. I read the other day that Chinese investors looking to protect/enhance their money were not buying Chinese real estate. They preferred Manhattan, which is largely for sale.

It's a good rule of thumb, I think: Any time there is a sense of wealth and entitlement (stock market, economy, next-door neighbor), it pays to look around and see who's getting screwed and whether it's worth it to be party to that screwing.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

literal and metaphorical beheadings

Clearly, you don't need a diploma to be an ignoramus, but that that doesn't make the achievement any less disheartening.

On the wider stage, Republicans, Democrats and whoever else can hoist a flag is clambering for a renewed military presence in the Middle East ... even after 10 and more years of failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Terrorism" is easy -- peace and jobs is hard. Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Rick Perry ... roll out the red carpet for the neo-cons, whatever their diploma.

Of course there is an enemy du jour. Once it was "al Qaeda." Now it is the "Islamic State." Obama wants to eradicate this idiot-creep organization which, in essence, doesn't sound all that different from a number of righteous American organizations and individuals willing to see other parents' children interred. Literal beheadings are usually preceded by metaphorical ones ...

It's not always easy to trust the news media and their reporting (thank you Fox News, among others) but the Orlando News Examiner reported Thursday that ISIS has banned the teaching of math, social studies, sports and evolution.

Must these organizations, wherever they are, insist on equating "God" with the stupidity and knock-on cruelty of the human species?


Passed along in email:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

taking a lesson from Lithuania

With winter and its invariable crop of potholes en route, a group in Lithuania has taken the bull by the horns ... government lethargy is not enough; the fatality rate from potholes is almost double in Lithuania what it is in the rest of the EU... so ... if you can't get 'em fixed, find a usefulness for these lurking dangers ... as for example, swimming, fishing, snuggling or brushing your teeth.

September column

The following appeared in the local newspaper (The Daily Hampshire Gazette) today. It was titled, "The timeless appeal of the unvarnished truth." A little dippy, but there it is.
NORTHAMPTON — At a time when my daughter was not much taller than a door handle, the two of us would sometimes walk to a nearby park in Springfield where we lived. My daughter had pretty much gotten the knack of walking, though I would carry her when she got tired.
In the park, which was spacious, we would pass a couple of hours feeding the ducks, watching the tennis players or patting the police horses corralled there. And along the way, sometimes I would tell her stories. She liked Babar and Aladdin as they appeared in books and videos but sometimes I would just plain make stuff up.

“Keep an eye skinned for the leaf sharks,” I said to her one day as we waded through ankle-deep leaves.

She looked up at me, checking my face for tell-tale signs of a joke. I tried to keep a straight face.

“Really,” I added, “they’re pretty sneaky. Sometimes they’re hard to see. They have sharp teeth, so keep your eyes skinned.” My daughter looked down at her feet. She surveyed the surrounding sea of leaves. You could almost see the implications working themselves out in her head.

Finally, her eyes returned to my face.

“Serious and serious, papa?” she asked.

Who knows where the phrase had come from, but “serious and serious” was a code that had evolved between us. “Serious and serious” was as much a command as it was a question. It carried with it a requirement: Whatever the topic was, you had to tell the truth when the other person asked, “serious and serious?” The Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus did not fare well under these rules of engagement.

But there was more to “serious and serious” than the obvious. “Serious and serious” meant you had to tell the truth as you knew it. It was not a truth to excuse with some irresponsible, group-hug, pass-the-buck, “because everyone says so.” It was not a truth that would be improved or dismissed according to the latest poll. This was a truth which very well might be untrue but it was the truth you were willing to take personal responsibility for ... and acknowledge if you turned out to be wrong.

“Serious and serious” was about integrity and trust and love.

“Serious and serious” might be a willingness to wonder whether George Bernard Shaw’s “youth is wasted on the young” had a natural corollary in “old age is wasted on the elderly.” “Serious and serious” in a mid-term election cycle might mean looking back at the “transparency” and “change” and “hope” that had likewise been promised years ago.

“Serious and serious” might mean finding the line at which liberal values merge and mingle with a conservative cruelty ... or vice versa. A decapitation or two can speed that process.

“Serious and serious” meant verifying whatever truth anyone chose ... without holding back or shirking the implications.

And why bother with all this investigative effort that mom or dad once performed on a walk through life’s leafy park? Wouldn’t it be easier to let others determine and enunciate the truth?

If living life according to the majority made much sense, suicide would be the only option: What greater majority is there than the dead?

That’s a pretty gloomy outcome.

But maybe living among leaf sharks and approval ratings is enough to make the kid inside any of us wonder what it would be like — just this once — to take a run at the truth.

It might not be true, but there is nothing fabricated about the effort.

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at genkakukigen@aol.com.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

honor the elderly

Pope Francis has announced that he will celebrate a Mass in St. Peter's Square on Sept. 28
to honor the elderly -- "part of his long-standing belief that old people shouldn't be shut away in retirement homes but should be cherished for their wisdom and experience."

Surely there are cultures that honestly do honor their elderly, but it certainly is not the custom in a lot of western societies. So, while the elderly may take some solace from the pope's suggestion, still there is the invariable return to the same ol' same ol' ... lonely, weakened, ignored, victims of a younger society, etc.

Around here, one of the things that crosses my mind is that the cherishing of wisdom and experience needs to find its own roots -- within the elderly person who might otherwise feel ignored and cast aside. 

This is no small requirement, but I simply do not see another way for such cherishing and wisdom to take credible root. Relying on others for such cherishing is like waiting for the sun to rise in the West. 

It is possible to shame others into better behavior, but as a long-term strategy, this technique is bound to lose traction.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

where did THAT body come from?

It felt a bit like parole, my son's driving me -- just for the hell of it -- to a local swimming hole now shut down as winter approaches ... just to get out and see some water taking its slow-motion time, doing whatever it is doing. "Outside" is such a good idea in my book and my son was patient as I enjoyed the sunshine, the shimmering, darting minnows, the reflections ... and all of it away from the protective and bleakly-concerned confines of the house. Parole.

The light was fresh. The air was light and tonight the first frost is predicted.

We stopped at the swimming hole; I barefooted in the shallows; my son took pictures I was unaware of (where did that body come from?) and then we went on to the golf driving range where my son's power and youth and capacity stood in stark contrast to wherever this "that body" came from.

And it made me wonder about my son: Where did that body come from?

It wasn't a deep or philosophical or spiritual thought: The sun was too bright and the air too sweet for that sort of nonsense. I didn't begrudge the passage of time any more than I begrudged the passage of the flowing water. It was just  something to notice ... a greyed and wrinkly bag of bones and a full-throated, smoothly-muscled, knock-it-for-a-loop frame of reference ... a two-fer situation addressed by the same easy-going, no-need-to-answer-it question: Where did that body come from?

It was all as curious, somehow, as it was obvious.

A lovely day.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

shadow of the wishbone

Rationally, wishbones and other soothsaying artifacts, are ridiculous. How is a chicken bone or a rabbit's foot or a coin or even a piece of the "one true cross" supposed to insure good fortune in the yet-to-come? Rationally, we're smarter than that.

And yet, what a long and compelling shadow the ridiculous casts. No matter how many times Charlie Brown tries to punt the football, still, Lucy pulls it away at the last moment and Charlie Brown ends up on his butt...again.

You hoped and believed and set aside the doubts that accumulated based on previous experience and ....

Aargh! Sometimes it's easier to believe what is unbelievable and stupid is smarter than smart because it feels better ... the shadow is too compelling and butt bruises seem to fade into the distance.

photos from Reuters

Serena Williams bounces a ball as she serves to Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during their women's singles finals match at the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, September 7, 2014.
REUTERS/Adam Hunger
A handmade sign to deter trespassers hangs in the front yard of Fernando Rivera Jr.'s house in Brownsville, Texas September 2, 2014.
REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius reacts as he listens to Judge Thokozile Masipa's judgement at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, September 11, 2014.
REUTERS/Kim Ludbrook/Pool
Former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush laugh on stage during a Presidential Leadership Scholars program event at the Newseum in Washington September 8, 2014.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Friday, September 12, 2014


The nut-brown doctor said this afternoon that she hoped it would take four to six weeks to winkle out whether a nodule on my right lung were cancerous and to do something about it.

Medically, she is forced into a worst-case-scenario mode and to assume that, though small and potentially-treatable, the nodule is indeed cancerous. It might turn out to be benign. This cancer template comes on top of a series of other heart-related treatments that currently need fine tuning.

Cancer. I may be in denial, but there is something quite factual in it.

But also, I missed my nap today, so I can't really muster the energy to be frightened or depressed.

I suppose a good night's sleep can rectify that.

with thanks to the CIA

Never let it be said that the CIA is unwilling to do its part to 'protect' an American nation of 318 million people spread out over 3.71 million square miles.

A BBC story that lacks any internal substantiation asserts today that "the Islamic State (IS) militant group may have up to 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria - three times as many as previously feared. (italics added)"

The story is part of a wider set of announcements gearing up for U.S. military action in Syria and environs. On Wednesday, president Barack Obama announced, for example, a willingness to use American air power to help root out and destroy the IS -- Islamic State -- movement. By some convoluted logic, IS poses a direct threat to the United States.

As with al Qaeda before it, few if any specifics attend on IS' nefarious intentions in Cleveland or Mobile. The media provide enough information to frighten people, but not enough to inform them. It is easy to blame Osama bin Laden for the terror attacks in the United States on Sept 11, 2001, but it is less popular to recall that after the attacks, bin Laden denied any involvement despite previous attacks for which he gladly shouldered the public-relations responsibility. Only later did this leader of an organization guesstimated to number 200-2000 claim responsibility.

Let's see: If IS numbers 50,000, that means that the danger to U.S. 3.71 million citizens may exist, but also can be called small ... small enough to stop using paranoia as a means of running a government. True, diversionary tactics (tactics that cost untold millions) can divert attention from difficulties that actually afflict the nation, but still ... just because fear is a possibility does not mean it is credible or deserves to detract from serious problems.

Fear is so earnest and easy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Buddhist music = more and better rice

Farmers in a village in East China's Fujian Province have claimed that Buddhist music playing in the fields has helped them to increase their rice production.
Output in Liangshan village went up by 15% after residents installed 500 lotus-shaped speakers in the rice paddies to engulf the crops in a wave of soothing mantras, the Global Times newspaper reports. Local authorities say the musical rice fields also yielded larger grains, while the silent paddies with no music suffered from pests.

fondly held conviction

A bit fluffy-headed, but ...

What kind of (wo)man would not examine with care a circumstance or event that formed the basis of a belief that led to action that would be harmful to others?

I guess the answer is, damn near everybody. At some point, the mind calls for decisiveness and damn the contrary torpedoes, those bits and pieces of uncertainty or doubt that touch a fondly-held conviction or belief.

Still, even if there is no perfect certainty ... still I think it's worth examining: The greater the potential harm, the more thorough the examination.

On Sept. 11, 2001, passenger jets were crashed into New York's World Trade Center towers with devastating effect. Today memorial gatherings were held. Since 9/11, the carelessly-examined word "terrorism" has been given a big boost. After an investigation that left significant questions unanswered...

... last night, U.S. President Barack Obama OK's bombing strikes inside Syria and Iraq as part of a "relentless effort" to root out an Islamic State movement accused of extremism and, by some convoluted measurements, poses a threat to the United States.

Like Japan's invasion of China in 1937, there are always "good reasons." America has its reasons. The Islamic State has its. Whether those reasons are carefully or carelessly examined can help measure the depth of the folly to come.

And that goes for the good stuff as well... the utterly personal stuff.

Reactions to Obama's announcement.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

more war ....

Thirteen years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, this was supposed to be a season of relief, with Iraq managing on its own and most U.S. troops finally ending their combat duty in Afghanistan. Instead, Americans are bracing for another upsurge of military engagement in a region where one war blurs into another. Across the world, a generation has now grown up amid this continuous conflict, and there's no end in sight.
In 2009. U.S. President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

sesshin with Eido Shimano shut down

A Zen sesshin/retreat in progress at a Jesuit center in Switzerland has been halted after the Jesuits found out it would be hosted by Eido Tai Shimano.

Below is an excerpt of a letter from the director of the LaSalle-Haus describing what happened.

The retreat of Eido Shimano was not part of our program. The European Rinzai Sangha had rented our guest house and our staff was not informed about the coming of Eido Shimano.

Being a catholic retreat centre we have very strict rules regarding misconduct.

After having been informed of Eido Shimanos coming to our center and being aware of the fact that he is a a controversial figure regarding issues of misconduct, I informed him personally, that he had to leave our center which he did a day after the sesshin had started.


Tobias Karcher
 A more detailed look at the misconduct to which Karcher referred can be found on the Shimano Archive.

nacht und nebel

After World War II, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the George Cross for her valor, but during her training with the Special Operations Executive, she was described as “clumsy”, “pretty scared of weapons”, “not over-burdened with brains” and with “an unstable and temperamental personality.” 

Noor Inayat Khan
Whatever the truth was, Noor Inayat Khan was able to transmit vital information to the British during her brief underground life in occupied France. She outlasted many of her radio-transmitter colleagues, whose shelf-life was usually no more than six weeks before being rounded up by the Germans. Records would later show that she never gave information to her interrogators. 

Sold out by one of her own compatriots, she was eventually sent to a concentration camp in Germany, consigned to what he captors referred to as "nacht und nebel," (night and fog) Hitler's decree that aimed to ferret out those who resisted in conquored lands: "The decree was meant to intimidate local populations into submission by denying friends and families of the missing any knowledge of their whereabouts or their fate. The prisoners were secretly transported to Germany, vanishing without a trace." 

All of this and more like it was depicted more clearly on a public television program I watched last night. And a part of what I found interesting was that this 100-pound woman was the offspring of an American mother and a Sufi father, the latter of whom imbued her with pacifist tendencies, an encompassing view of human beings, and a vision of spiritual life that brought all persuasions together. Her spiritual life was not just an afterthought.

Noor Inayat Khan was, perhaps, deeply spiritual ... and became a spy.

And how true is that progression for anyone committed to spiritual practice -- a deep personal conviction and practice that leads the devotee not to being a monk or nun or other spiritual functionary but rather to expressing themselves according to time and circumstance and personal persuasion? It occurs to me that spiritual devotion is like the joker in a deck of cards ... it goes with any other card and redoubles or fulfills its meaning. Standing alone, a joker shows potential, but it is only in tandem that its light grows bright.

For a long time, I used to think that the only way to express an understanding of Zen Buddhism was to become a monk. Spiritual practice was the most important thing in the world and being sidetracked by other adventures was frivolous by comparison. How could anything hope to outshine the importance and clarity and universality of spiritual adventure? I was pretty damned serious....

Serious enough to sign up at an American monastery with an eye to becoming a monk. I was lucky enough to recognize within a couple of months that I was wrong: Whatever 'spy' lurked within began to clamor for a reality check. I was no monk. I might be less certain of what card I did want to attach this joker to, but monk-dom, while a perfectly understandable direction, was not for me.

Maybe there's a generalization in all this ... or maybe not. Maybe one thing to remember in serious spiritual practice -- the kind that grimaces at feather-merchant lip service -- is that the objective is to be who you are; to stop trying to be who you're not.

Easier said than done, perhaps. But ... do it anyway. Why consign a perfectly good joker to a world of night and fog?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

money and morality

Turkey is unlikely to sign any energy deals with Israel for the construction of a gas pipeline to Turkey because of a deepening political rift over Israel's Gaza offensive, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Tuesday.
Ties were severely damaged following a deadly raid by Israeli commandoes on a Turkish yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists defying a Gaza blockade in 2010. But Israeli firms had more recently held fruitful talks with Turkish private companies and energy officials as part of a tentative rapprochement.
However, Israel's Gaza offensive in July that killed more than 2,000 people undermined those efforts and infuriated President Tayyip Erdogan, who likened Israel's actions to those of Hitler.
Hitler apologists praised his building of the autobahn and other industrial advancements. Why do I suspect that Erdogan may likewise be persuaded in the end?


Like mist, health and age insist. It's not as if there were some mean intent. They just seem to seep and curl into a scene that once bubbled with intent and importance. What once were assumptions bump into questions posed by a dwindling interest and competence. The medical professionals who are there to "help" and "improve" may be very good at what they do, but their very doing inches the mist into nooks and crannies of what once were easy-peasy assumptions.

What will you rely on when there is nothing to rely on? Or, not exactly "nothing" -- the mist is something, after all, but what it is seems to be just what it is ... reliably unreliable as it slips across the green fields of the past. Tiring, infuriating, panicking, nuzzling ... the mist comes quietly but lacks even silence. To mention it is to risk whining, but what the hell, a good whine now and then seems to go with the territory.

Sometimes I imagine I will turn some corner and be consumed by a concern with spiritual life or political skulduggery or something not quite so misty. Maybe so -- you never know.

Monday, September 8, 2014

"Fort Apache the Bronx"

Thirty-three years after it first came out, the movie "Fort Apache the Bronx" brought itself into my mind yesterday. I wondered how it would hold up over time, this tale of a police precinct, its problems, its corruptions, its cruelties and kindnesses. So I watched a bit and thought that in its way, it was more convincing and on-target than the latter-day approaches to racism and poverty with their sometimes oozing understandings.
The movie is woven with "niggers" and "spics" and bits of random despair and death that seem explicable and yet the neatness of a blog or caring analyst fall flat ... just like real life. The movie was roundly criticized in its time.

Making nice about what is palpably not nice seems to add one more layer of not-niceness to an honestly not-nice mix. Where survival in a racist setting is the game, how helpful is it to wail, "Oh lawsy, lawsy! Racism is on the loose!"

Cops getting by in a cruel environment. Hard-pressed and largely poor residents getting by on the scraps their society made available. When everyone is corrupt by necessity, what happens to the meaning of "corruption?"

The movie may be a bit brittle around the edges, but it also has some gut-level honesty that feels refreshing ... if "refreshing" is exactly the right word.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"distinguished colleagues"

Distinguished colleagues.

The luminous mind cannot be called luminous and therefore we are foregathered today to cast our shadows.

From the shadows we cast our light, imbue the universe and, without putting too fine a point on it, screw the pooch.

This raises the question, to what extent, if any, can shadow and light inform and fulfill the empty places of the heart? If this is some sort of cosmic joke, then who is laughing? And where laughter is absent, what presence fulfills its promise?

It is not just what casts the shadow that is or might be of interest or importance. There is also the matter of the surface against which luminosity -- the essential essence -- could reveal itself. Library shelves and monastic cubby holes are filled and yet when they are emptied, who can say what shadow that will cast? The layman bangs his thumb; the wise man whines.

Coming from near and far, we foregather.

Is that really what light and shadow had in mind?

I know you will figure it out ... that is the nature of being distinguished.