Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Otter Creek

Like all friends, I guess, Bill McKechnie and I would, now and then, share and embellish and wallow in some whimsical future. And such was the case when I went to visit Bill in Chiefland, Fla., in 1980.

Bill in whimsical mode
At the time, Bill lived in Florida and I lived in New York and I scraped up the money to fly south and visit him. We had both been German linguists stationed in Berlin in the early 1960's and remained friends though our geographical paths diverged. Bill got into collectibles/antiques/junk racket after trying unsuccessfully to follow his father's footsteps into professional baseball and I strayed into book publishing, then news reporting and then apartment painting. Bill was a laughter person -- someone whose mind could light and delight on anything and, like as not, turn it into humorous grist. I lived at the other end of that spectrum -- serious to the point of boredom -- but likewise intrigued by whimsical associations that could link anywhere and anything with anywhere else and anything else. Bill's humor could drive me nuts as my seriousness could drive him nuts ... a couple of nuts ... a couple of friends.

Anyway, this morning, for reasons I cannot fathom, I woke up thinking about Otter Creek, a mostly
abandoned collection of houses Bill took me to visit in Florida. His vision -- which I embraced -- was that we would buy this ghost collection (neither of us had much money) and become legends in our own minds. I could be mayor and he could run the local whore house ... or vice versa ... or we could race goats ... or, since Otter Creek, or what we saw of it, was literally a ghost community, we could do anything we wanted, create any atmosphere we liked, rule like kings in whatever kingdom we decided to create.

No one lived in the Otter Creek we ambled through. Whimsy was about all that was left. And so we whimsied for a couple of hours, moving between and among the structures that someone had once taken some care to construct in order to ... in order to what? I'm sure Bill told me -- he had a history streak -- but I haven't got the energy to research my own journals. Wikipedia has stuff, including ghost tales.

I think Bill and I both liked Otter Creek, aside from anything else, because of its name. It was a plain name, a functional name, a name unembellished and in that lack of embellishment, somehow strong and straightforward and admirable. Someone had worked hard to create and nourish this place and now ... well, there was something eerie about what had been carefully crafted and now was cast off whole ... without even the decency of a funeral pyre.

Maybe that's the lot of the dead -- dead houses, dead people, dead empires --: To be at the mercy of whimsical travelers. And bit by bit whimsy overtakes us all.

Goat racing still appeals to me.


Excuses, excuses ....

Others may be content, but I am not, when harmful behavior -- behavior which may benefit one point of view but hurts or frightens others in the neighborhood -- is written off with phrases like, "oh, that's just an aberration" or "you don't understand," or "one rotten apple does not mean all the apples are rotten."

Vatican pedophilia ... it's just an aberration.

Collateral wartime damage ... it's for the greater (American, Islamic, etc.) good.

A flourishing economy raises all boats ... and leaves some splintered on the gimme rocks.

I find it offensive (and have no doubt done the same) that the person or movement that makes its best efforts to do something "good" cannot acknowledge that that very movement or philosophy is simultaneously responsible for wounding and sometimes fatal spin-offs. It's like some grade-school claiming "the dog ate my homework." Idealism is dangerous -- alluring, but in the end, self-serving and dangerous.

What brought this to mind was this article, passed along in email -- the tale of a Polish priest who, while running a retreat for kids in an attempt to "explore God" instead scared the crap out of them with a mass exorcism. The story lacks meat on the bone, but even as it stands, it's a good example of the excuses-excuses approach:
School children have been left screaming and sobbing after a priest carried out a mass exorcism on them at a religious camp.
The 1,000 young people, from schools in the town of Gryfice, north-western Poland, were attending the three-day camp to help "young people explore God and devote themselves to spiritual renewal through prayer".
But instead of singing songs and praying, priest Tomas Wieczorek, 37, was more interested in exorcising their demons and replacing them with God.
The sensationalist story does not get into the excuses, but you can hear them hovering in the (in this case) Roman Catholic wings. This guy is just a wing-nut extremist in a well-intended movement that targets a better, more peaceful and more consonant way of life; sure, some slip through the cracks ... blah, blah, blah.

Where -- in this situation or in personal life -- is the adult who says, "Yes, I am responsible as well for that harmful activity or set of activities and will not attempt to cover it up with well-intentioned treacle. It is part of the human capacity to create not just what is good, but also, simultaneously, what is vile. 'Vile' is not made any less vile by beating the drums of goodness. I will try to do better. That's "I," personally."

At a time in my life when I read a lot of books, I once came up with a formula for the sorts of novels I enjoyed most. That formula was "good + bad = good." I recognized it was a bit too facile, but it was pretty close. What I did not delve into too much was that the latter "good" was simply that roulette number on which I was willing to place my bet ....

And then correct as necessary.

Monday, March 30, 2015

"you can't bullshit the silence"

Yesterday, a college student who had recently transferred to the University of Massachusetts which is not far away, came by to snoop some of the local Zen landscape. We looked at the poor old zendo and then went out for coffee.

Adam -- his name as well as mine -- seemed to be inclined to the outdoors, was studying landscaping and had been on a number of adventurous trips, one of them to Alaska where a part of the adventure was to take a tarp and some supplies and spend two days alone in the whiteness. The adventure was part of what put him on a Zen-snooping path, he said.

Imagine that: Absolutely alone, with nothing but cold and white and silent for company.

And the words just popped out of my mouth: "You can't bullshit the silence."

Just hearing the tale second-hand made me wonder about 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, whether fairy tale or not... the strange and inescapable moment when each person hits a wall and none of the devices work any more. Is it God or is it Satan and....

Is there a difference?

the wondrousness of human birth

I wonder if, in their tracking of Buddhist spoor, a house cat, elephant or humming bird might accord with the occasional assertion that being born human is a rare and wondrous thing -- something to be cherished and nourished and used to best advantage.

Among Buddhists, there are times and places in which such an assertion is made. I wouldn't contradict it, certainly, but I notice that the ones making the assertion are generally human beings and one of the things I have learned in Buddhist training is to take a little skeptical care where my own judgments, however scrumptious, are concerned.

And so, when I hear my fellow human beings asserting good or bad news about the human condition, I feel a little as I do when I hear that the Vatican plans to investigate instances of pedophilia in its ranks or that the police department will handle "police brutality" cases: Is there no other source, one not so cozily aligned, to render a sensible point of view? In-house investigations aren't always the same as "in reality."

And if there is not, am I wrong to wonder if this isn't a bit like a teenager admiring his or her reflection before a high school prom at which s/he really wants to look good? "'O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'"

I am aware that there are men and women of great learning and, for all I know, great accomplishment, who will extol the good fortune of being born human -- how rare! how fortunate! -- but how much of this is worth crediting?

The best I can figure out is that if it is true, it's true. If not, then not.

And the house cat, elephant and humming bird may be the exemplars worth heeding.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

elephants in Delhi

Elephants are revered in Hindu culture and they have been making appearances at weddings and functions in the Indian capital for generations, but their presence on the streets of Delhi may soon come to an end.
The government is no longer issuing new licenses to elephant keepers who are struggling to look after the animals in the growing city and environmental groups say it is time working elephants were taken off the streets.
For some reason, the framework of this situation reminds me of the anti-abortionists who deplore abortion with much high-moral-dudgeon breast-beating, but seem to have strikingly few adopted children.

Those proposing to withhold elephant licenses have education, jobs and income and can afford to be 'kind' to elephants ... which I applaud since I like elephants. But it is interesting that the same humanitarians cannot extend similar kindness and try to eradicate the poverty they would insure with their kindly philosophies.

Elephants do not deserve to be chained up and manipulated.

Do people?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

laying cinder blocks

Passed along in email was what, for me, was a heart-swelling bit of magic that I cannot imagine either the magician or many in the audience will swoon for as I did:

sick day

A sick day for me today.

My son says, "Let's be fashionable and call it Ebola."

criminal ingenuity

In the world of criminality, I suspect that the public perception (as on TV) is turned on its head: Whereas criminality is often portrayed as wily and inventive, I think the majority of crooks probably fall into the desperate-dope department.

True. the stock brokers and bankers have got ruses slick enough to quash and elude punishment from the politicians paid to make laws for stock brokers and bankers, but in the wide-screen panorama of crime, wile and guile are more rare than common. For every Bernard Madoff, there are myriad crooks who accidentally leave their driver's licenses at the scene of the crime.

But every once in a while the guile does seem to be true, as for example the case of Neil Moore, who was being held on remand in England, accused of taking almost two million pounds that were not his. Neil, according to a BBC story, apparently got tired of his time waiting behind bars and emailed documents to his jailers that convinced them to let him go on bail. After three days, the ruse was discovered and Moore surrendered, apparently without fuss.

Did he do it just to show that it could be done? I don't know, but the ingenuity appeals to me.

Friday, March 27, 2015

bright and noisy people

I've probably seen this before, but I saw it again today and thought it worth keeping:
Light travels faster than sound, which is why some people appear bright - until they open their mouths.

the wiles of the samurai?

 A frothy and not terribly interesting article from the BBC, "Get Lost in Japan's Ancient Samurai Town," includes without further elucidation this paragraph:
Then I recalled something Nagashima had said on the tour: “To defend Kanazawa, the Maeda clan encouraged the samurais to focus on arts and craftsmanship instead of fighting. That way they did not pose a threat to the clan with the highest power, and so were not invaded. As a result, there was actually almost no fighting in Kanazawa for 400 years.”
Of all the courage any warrior might display, is there anything greater than setting aside the passion of an elevated persuasion?

irascible goose

For the second day in a row, out the front door, I could hear but not see a group of Canada geese flying north in their springtime ritual. The clouds and rain may camouflage the flight, but the noise is somehow reassuring ... as long as they don't land on my lawn.

I wonder if there is another creature for which the word "irascible" is so well tailored. Geese strike me as unendingly cranky. And if they crap on your lawn ... well, ick, and not just "ick," but an arrogant, me-first "ick" that defies all critics: This is MY universe!

Still, as guardians of the keep, as watch dogs around many an ancient fortress, was there any more reliable alarm than a gaggle of geese? "Get the fuck out of my territory!" they would announce to all comers, foe and friend alike. Guard dogs might sleep, but not the geese.

At a distance and in their chorus, the passing geese smooth the cowlicks of my mind: "God's in heaven and all's right with the world." But up close and personal -- "Get thee behind me, Satan!"

Thursday, March 26, 2015

can you identify this medal?

Pictured blow are the front and back of a medal that was among my mother's effects. I assume, but don't know, that it belonged to my grandfather (my mother's father). He was a captain in World War I, though where he served in Europe I am not sure. I figure the medal -- if that's what it is -- is either English or French. Any help appreciated.


Perhaps to make up for a lifetime of not crying -- of internalizing any tears I might rightfully have shed -- now I seem to be learning to cry. And it doesn't take much.

Yesterday, a friend sent a video (appended to this blog) of a blindfolded brown, bearded man standing on a Stockholm sidewalk, arms open, with a sign at his feet proclaiming himself a Muslim who was willing to trust all passersby and asking if they would trust him. 142 people stopped and gave him a hug and a few warming words. And it made my eyes well up. I'm aware of the bad shit people can run on each other -- the cruelties and unkindnesses in the name of one philosophy or another -- and I suppose that filled-to-the-gills awareness was part of why I cried. How simple and how equally true of human beings ... overt kindness that loses its savor when anyone waxes poetic about it, but of itself is compelling and lovely.

President Nixon with troops
Earlier in the evening, I was watching a television program called "Democracy Now," a somewhat frumpy news source that digs into the disasters and responsibilities for them. Interviewed was Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh, who had written an article about revisiting My Lai 47 years after a squad of American soldiers entered the Vietnamese village and slaughtered nearly 500 women, children and the elderly in a wilding pursuit of the "body count" that was all the military rage at the time ... the more bodies, the more the Americans could measure their progress in a guerrilla war they were hard-put to quantify or, in the end, win.

And a single aspect of Hersh's horrific researched recollections was a single soldier who had been ordered to "take care of" a group of women and children. At the order of a lieutenant, the crowd was herded into a ditch and, as usual, the kids were playful and the GI's played too and gave them candy. When the lieutenant returned, he was angry and pointed out to one soldier that he had been ordered to "take care of" the residents, meaning, in mafia or CIA speak, to kill them. And on hearing the order, one soldier who had horsed around with the kids began to cry ... and followed orders.

Back in Kentucky, an old woman (the mother?) greeted Hersh when he came to visit one of the My Lai Americans. She said the vet Hersh was looking for was inside, minus one leg. Before Hersh entered the house, she whispered to him "I sent them a good boy and they sent me back a murderer."

It was too much for me and I began to cry.

Earlier still on TV was a television serial called "NCIS." The episode concerned several young Afghan women who were separated from their families in a bid to escape the violence of their land. And by the end, a mother-character who had not seen her daughter-character in so long, who had lived without knowing whether the flesh of her flesh was still alive, was reunited with her daughter. A fucking TV serial ... and I cried.

I'm not trying to make a federal or psychological-breakthrough case for crying. I'm just noticing it and thinking vaguely that the contorted stiff-upper-lip approach has its share of vast misfortunes.

Tears speak the unspeakable and the unspeakable is one of the few things worth knowing.

my mother's apartment

Of course it's a grisly, rainy day today -- yesterday I got my wife's car washed.

And today, in a great piece of generosity, my wife and older son took off in a U-Haul van, bound for New York and picking up those items in my mother's former apartment that we might wish to keep. The trip and effort are outside my energy bomb zone.

Just what we don't need around this house -- more stuff -- and yet there is some compulsion to find it needful or sentimentally desirable or perhaps financially advantageous ... and even if it is none of that, to cope with it. Paintings, photos, papers, a bit of jewelry, a television, two vacuum cleaners ... and various other knicks and knacks. The only things I find myself vaguely drawn to are things I see as "beautiful."

The bureaucratic necessities of my mother's death seem to spurt like blood from a severed artery -- not all at once, but pump-pump-pumping in accordance with a still-beating heart.

And so, besides the physical items in the apartment where my mother lived, yesterday there were the papers necessary to relinquish that apartment to the property owner, a job that required scanning and signatures and ... left me confused even as I got them out out the door in a form that I hope will meet the management company's satisfaction ... an email and a hard copy. I hate paperwork, probably because I feel somehow overwhelmed by its tendrils. There is some ancient-habit compunction to be socially adroit, which is something that requires an energy I dislike mustering.

And then, with luck so to speak, later today there will be all that stuff to find room for around an already-overstuffed house when my wife and son return. No doubt it too will settle in and collect dust and be part of the overcrowded panorama, but looking forward to it ... bleah.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

a little blind trust...

Received in email:

Islamic State, U.S. join forces?

Whimsically, I wonder if the American public could take a load off  President Barack Obama's manipulative shoulders by stating in an as-yet-non-existent poll whether they thought the U.S. would join the armed fracas in the Middle East.

My bet is that a majority would state that, whether they liked it or not, the U.S. was going to become embroiled, add "boots on the ground," and receive a new influx of flag-draped coffins and "wounded heroes" who needed tending to. D'oh!

The U.S. will join Islamic State in the rush to kill Americans.

It's time-consuming to have the commander in chief constantly reconfiguring U.S. policy. Yup, the troops are coming home. But wait! Maybe we should send in more troops ... it's in the country's national interest.

The fact is that it is easier to make war than to create peace. And since re-election is the name of the political game and since war creates an atmosphere that no flag-waving patriot would dare to dispute, my hunch is that the public already knows what Obama wriggles to re-explain: We're going to be there a long time and your (but not my) offspring will pay the price.

One small example:
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday granted Afghan requests to slow the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and said he would maintain a force of 9,800 through the end of 2015 while sticking to a 2017 exit plan.
Why waste time dancing around what 'everyone knows' is going to happen? Any serious person knows that history is routinely ignored when it comes to things like fighting in Afghanistan. Stand up, speak up and shut up!

It would be nice if the politicians' kith and kin were folded into the arms-bearing mix.

banning email

Email can also have a direct impact on corporate bottom lines by distracting workers from role relevant tasks to deal with unimportant messages....
“Email is a very selfish tool,” explained Burge, who now runs a Dublin-based consultancy called Get Organised. “People dump tasks into each other’s inboxes without thinking about whether they are being considerate.” The result is that “you become a slave to your inbox checking your email first thing in the morning until you go to bed.”


Without attaching any magical-mystery-tour adventure to it, I wonder to what extent surprise is needful in life. I mean, you know, nice, unexpected surprises ... not the thorns and thickets kind.

Based on a couple of surprises this morning and the sense of smiling within, well ... I like a nice or challenging surprise now and then. It's fresh and refreshing ... and never mind the bloviating about everything-is-a-surprise-all-the-time, everything-changes elements and sermons. I like the smile of it all ... fuck the lecture.

This morning, I had an email note from -- I am not making this up -- Adam, a fellow who appears to be organizing Buddhism as it pertains to students at the nearby University of Massachusetts/Amherst. Would I be willing to have Black Moon Zendo (the backyard meditation space here) listed; would I be willing to give a talk; would I be willing to be part of the Buddhist organizational mix?

I like being bamboozled in a way that forces me to reassess something I have done in the past. Mostly, people seem to worry that their bad deeds will catch up with them. I have the same -- or perhaps worse -- fear that my good deeds, if that's what they were, will dispense banana peels (not rose petals) in my current path. Translation: After so many years of interest, I had to reconsider one aspect of my life ... something 'serious' ... it was a surprise. "You made your bed, now sleep in it!"

Adam's note was a challenge. Given the popularity of talk-the-talk Zen, I don't really expect any response to the email riposte I sent him. But in shaping that response, I had to go over ground I generally ignore these days ... stuff that, like the autumn leaves in an almost-spring backyard, is there, but I ignore in general. In one sense, I am a kid all over again and if I squeeze my eyes tightly enough, then, of course, things disappear ... and pigs will fly.

OK ... it was a surprise and I kind of liked being put on my answer-the-email mettle.

Earlier, in the land between sleep and waking, there was the brown boy of perhaps 10 or 12, lounging on the beach, playing J.S. Bach on an electrified lute. I had survived a tsunami and was looking out to sea: I didn't know but what another huge wave was coming when I heard the music and turned to see where the music was coming from. The boy was relaxed and smiling and the sassy-ness of the situation -- an electrified lute; a lute that is usually so British-tea proper -- filled me with delight. "I'll be goddamned!" I said to the boy. "It's for you," he said with a sweet smile.

It was a surprise and I could feel my surprise-longing gas tank filling up. Hot damn! I wanted the moment to last and last, its freshness scrubbing me clean inside and out. But then the balance between sleep and wakefulness shifted and the boy -- my surprise boy -- disappeared.

Ah, but it was grand in its time.

Gossamer-light as a feather...

Surprise! You're asleep.

Surprise! You're awake.

Surprise! You're smiling ....

Or at any rate, I was.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

don't do that!

How exhausting it can be, at a certain age, to assess and digest and react to the various woes of the world. One of the difficulties is that it has all happened before and, at a certain age, the repetition becomes numbing in its familiarity.

"Don't do that!" some parental voice within orders, but of course "doing that" is part of the human panorama and someone, somewhere, is bound to "do that" in a full certainty that it has never been done before and the outrage has never been felt before.

A brand new depredation that is old, old, old. The past becomes present and the present is gloomed with the ever-deepening suspicion that -- yes, Virginia -- it will happen again. "Don't do that" is every bit as tiring.

Yesterday, on the car radio, I was listening to the tale of some musicians from Mali who had felt forced to relocate when extreme Islamists took over the north of the country and imposed a sharia law that included the banning of all music save that which was deemed Quranic. Musicians were beaten or their instruments destroyed ... it was time to get out of Dodge. So they left.

I am not a big fan of the party line which condemns an Islamic State without acknowledging the role Americans played in creating these "terrorists." It's too facile by half. But yesterday, I felt an enormous sadness that a movement that laid claim to spiritual roots would bar the door to such a human and human-making pastime as music. Religion has a long track record of twisted manipulations ... does it really need one more?

Music. You can sort of see where the power-brokers are coming from. Music is without borders or control. The heart yearns and swoons and refuses to be caged. It soars; it does not soar on schedule or according to a belief system. You can see where the power-brokers might find a threat.

And yet the inhumanity -- despite my certain age -- struck home like an ice pick through the heart. I didn't much care for the Mali quartet's efforts, but the principle -- the music -- was very important to me ... to fly, to soar, to be inexplicably bigger and happy ... how could these bearded assholes not know what came before their contrivances of power?!

It made me sad, sad, sad.

Sad enough to rouse up a distaste for the vileness that religion, twisted or otherwise, can impose.

Terrorists masquerading as salvors are a dime a dozen ... here, there, everywhere.

Turn up the music.

Monday, March 23, 2015

front and back

It was only recently that I learned my first-ever, heavy-duty girlfriend had died of lung cancer last year. Like all deaths of contemporaries, there was the irrational jolt of thinking that, since she was part of my historical fabric, things had gotten out of whack ... I should die first because she was part of my fabric. It was fitting that I should die first. Irrational, as I say. Our romance, come and gone, occurred over 50 years ago.

But stumbling across this event that had passed my by made me recall that I had once asked a mutual acquaintance what it was about me that this young woman liked. And the acquaintance replied without further explication, "your back."

The answer had struck me as curious then and continues to strike me as somehow strange. I never did verify the information, ask my romantic partner if it were true.

How could someone like me for my back when I spent so much of my time trying to improve my front -- my looks, words, actions ... all that stuff I could see and assess in a mirror. I couldn't see my back, but someone else could. How could I take credit or preen or feel proud of myself for what was unseen? Answer: I couldn't.

And since I have had a hard enough time being satisfied or proud of what was in front of me during my life, it was all doubly-confounding ... what the hell was back there that was magnetic or admirable or worth praising? No matter how fast I spun around, I would never be able to see and assess and perhaps feel better about myself. Maybe if I knew, I would be more at ease, more self-confident, more 'happy like everyone else.'

And then I wondered if everyone didn't have the same difficulty -- being in possession, so to speak, of what could never be possessed. It was like having money, but you couldn't put your hands on it or put it to any use.

Working so hard to manufacture and manicure a good front only to find that it is your back that excites applause and a welcome mat ... how weird.

I guess.

Curses! Cursive again

It may be one of those old-fart concerns that can't hold a social candle to, say, an Apple watch or the latest hooker footware being marketed to women as 'fashionable,' but I kind of like the idea that Nevada is assaying a bill that would make it mandatory for grade-school kids to learn cursive handwriting.

Of course, the first snarky thought into my mind was, "Hell, I'd be happy to think they learned to read anything at all beyond Twitter feeds and Facebook," but that's too knee-jerk crotchety. Cursive strikes me as a useful tool. Not some tool to adore, but a good tool to use so ... why not learn a little?

There is something saddening about feeling it necessary to introduce a bill about handwriting, but that seems to be the tenor of the age -- wrangling about very basic things while chattering up a storm about how civilized and well-educated we all are ... put a man on the moon but opening the door to some new and improved war or other feckless, well-shod pastime: My life and desires are far to important to be burdened by or bothered with useless discipline.

I guess I took the same stance when basic Latin was a requirement in schools: "What the fuck for?!" my assured mind asked of a dead language. Still, to the best of my knowledge, Latin was never a matter for legislation.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"she is completely innocent"

The capacity to be wrong is perhaps mirrored step-for-step by the capacity to be right, but the capacity to be right does not confer the laurels of righteousness and an imperial destiny to claim dominion. Being right does not mean being entitled.

Although the example is but one of innumerable examples of the dumbed-down ruthlessness of the latest 'majority,' still the mob-murder of Farkhunda, 27, in Afghanistan has poignancy:
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan woman who was beaten to death by a mob was buried in Kabul on Sunday, her coffin carried aloft by women's rights activists.
Hundreds of people gathered in northern Kabul for the funeral of 27-year-old Farkhunda, who like many Afghans is known by only one name....
Some Afghan officials and religious leaders sought to justify Farkhunda's killing, alleging that she had burned a Quran.
But at her graveside, the head of the Interior Ministry's criminal investigation directorate, Gen. Mohammad Zahir, said no evidence had been found to support those allegations.
"We have reviewed all the evidence and have been unable to find any single iota of evidence to support claims that she had burned a Quran," Zahir said. "She is completely innocent."
 Like a lot of others, perhaps, I would give a good deal to undo the death of Farkhuna, whatever her crimes, whatever her innocence. But that's just my sentiment. Farkhunda is dead and a grisly death it was ... enraged, expressing a majority sentiment of the moment, and insane. The mob was convinced it was "right" even as the news story asks the reader to put that mob in the "wrong."

And from the comfortable distances at which I and others sit, it is easy to be right -- to criticize a mob mentality and then ... and then ... and then take one more step into the realm where -- like exceptionalist philosophies everywhere -- there is a right for which an individual might wish to create another mob ... a critical mass ... a world of "we've got it right where the heathen hordes got it wrong." They are backwards and barbaric and, really, I am not like that ... and if you don't concede my point, I will gladly make war on your neck of the philosophical woods.

I admit to thinking of Dick Cheney and other neocons in my own United States. Exceptionalism, whether democratic or Islamic State -- is still exceptionalism and its outcome is littered throughout history like confetti on Broadway after a World Series win.

Group-think can have some good results, but its bad results are palpable. I don't think there is much that can be done about it except, perhaps, to acknowledge and scale back the inner tendency to promote a personal exceptionalism that can seek like Genghis Khan to dominate the nearest world ... and collateral damage like Farkhunda ... well hell, if my righteous way rises to its rightful pinnacle, the collateral damage is worth it. But please notice that the one judging the fitness of the sacrifice is not the one who is sacrificed.

Sometimes I get sick to death of exceptionalism ... especially my own.

It may be impossible to be "completely innocent," but I think it's worth a try.

is it "spring" yet?

My wife reported that the neighborhood skunk had taken up residence under a backyard shed. She wanted to stack up rocks to deny the animal shelter. Me, I figure that like the cats and squirrels and rabbit that traverse the backyard, everyone -- from stinky to stinkless -- needs an occasional pit stop.

In the brilliance of a nippy, sunny morning, it is impossible not to make false deductions. The neighborhood woodpecker is working his or her ass off in some magical but audible distance. Sparrows are flirting and making whoopie on the telephone wires. A lone, winter-plump squirrel lope-hops up the street ... out in the open, not yet in the trees, testing, perhaps, the season. The Chickens of Valley Street, as I have dubbed them, are not in evidence, but I just know they're out there somewhere.

From all this and the wind in the high trees, I deduce something called "spring."

The universe of the TV is lifeless with megachurches, new discussions of old topics, sports recaps, advertising, and other season-less mold. Strange how the panning shot of a megachurch resembles the fans packed cheek-by-jowl at "March Madness," the college basketball tournaments currently in full swing.

Perhaps God is, in the end, "nothing but net!"

But don't tell the skunk that.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

on the edge of dreams

Yesterday, a friend sent me an email encouraging a wider universe and more specifically me to find the moments of joy in each day. I wasn't much in the mood at the time and generally tend to recoil these days when the "good" and "moral" and "joyous" is applied like marmalade on the English muffin of human events.

It's not that I don't like what is good or moral of joyful -- I do -- but I have had about enough of the salesmanship which, as with religious belief, tends to do nothing so much as to underscore the doubt-strewn evil, immoral and sorrowing circumstances that occasioned it. Enjoying joy is one thing; talking about it is like sucking a mouthful of soggy dandruff. Oh well, I guess I don't like being reminded of what I too have been guilty of.

Anyway, waking up this morning, I was attacked by two unreasoning bits of joy and thankfulness. They hovered on the line between dream and wakefulness and so their randomness seemed sensible and OK.

The first was a marveling joy to have lived at a time when there were pencil sharpeners, Not electric ones, but hand-cranked and miraculously engineered. An honest invention that really was practical and useful and trimmed the waste that occurred when trying to sharpen a pencil with a jack knife. I marveled at the spiraling gears that rode around the pencil shank and turned out a wonderfully pointy product. Somehow, the pencil sharpener was as honest as a hand-shake -- no frills, to talk of goodness or morality or marvel ,,, just honest and decent... and miraculous.

Somehow the magic of a pencil (how does anyone shape the graphite and inject it into a wooden shaft?!) did not enter my joyous bomb zone. It was the sharpener whose magic was probably sharpened in the memory of trying to sharpen a pencil with the jack knife that everyone carried as a matter of course when I was a kid. Sharpening a pencil with a knife can be done, but it requires the kind of patient energy a kid might rather spend on bike-riding.

A pencil sharpener ... wowsers! ... thank you very much.

The second jet of joy was the thought that in my lifetime I had probably known one or two people who were intelligent without being stupid -- a rare combo. I'll admit I couldn't name names, but somehow the faith was there ... yes, I had known one or two and it was a piece of wonderful luck. I didn't have to prove my faith, It was enough to have it.

So it goes on the edge of dreams.

Friday, March 20, 2015

idolaters and iconoclasts

Posted this elsewhere but thought I'd put it here as well:
With an associative nudge from @zenguitar, it crossed my mind that both idolaters and iconoclasts make the same cheap-date mistake by imagining there is either something to build up/preserve or destroy/tear down. Each is forced to posit the mirror image of its stated desire in order to give meaning to that desire. The same is true of belief and disbelief.
And so, for example, the intellectual (as distinct from experiential) understanding of the encouragement to "kill the Buddha" falls on its face because in order to destroy the "Buddha," the "Buddha" must first be created. This sort of activity, whether for idolaters or iconoclasts, believers or unbelievers, has a long and ornate history. But just as there is no getting around how much fun it is (and what could be fun-er than my own importance?), there is also no getting around the fact that neither idolatry nor iconoclasm, belief or disbelief, works very well when it comes to creating a sustainable peace.
Intellectually and emotionally, idolatry and iconoclasm may sound good. But where the rubber hits the road and the loneliness of the bedroom ceiling at 3 a.m. comes calling, the ineffectiveness is apparent. Buddhists sometimes call it suffering.
My own view is that it is through practice that idolatry and iconoclasm, belief and disbelief, lose their footing. They're not bad exactly. They simply don't fill the sustainable-peace bill.
It is in the experience of practice that building up and tearing down lose their savor. Instead, what is useful is used. What is useless is discarded.... for the moment. Need a religion? Go ahead -- talk it up, preserve and protect. Need to get out from under the strictures of a religion? Go ahead -- set it aside. Need others to agree with your point of view? Go ahead -- ask them or lecture them or whatever floats your boat. Need to live life without an applause meter? Go ahead....
But practice and a little at a time the experience is likely to supplant the virtues that once demanded attention. With experience, there is no option other than to kill the Buddha, but it's no longer such a big deal. In fact, experience may put quite a jolly smile on your face and that's hardly the mark of a so-called nihilist.
Obviously, all this is just my take.
What do you think?

"lifeless" toddler returns to life

In a survival story his doctors call extraordinary, a 22-month-old Pennsylvania boy whose lifeless body was pulled from an icy creek was revived after an hour and 41 minutes of CPR and has suffered virtually no lingering effects.
Gardell Martin came home from the hospital on Sunday, and his doctors said Thursday he has made a full recovery.

spiritual camouflage

Yesterday seems to have been a crabby day, a less soothing day, a day when I had had enough of the sweet-melody wand that anyone (including me) might wave over life's difficulties. Crabby, in this instance, on an Internet bulletin board called "NewBuddhist," where, as is common on such discussion boards, a fellow was having a family problem he declined to give much detail about. Clearly he wanted support and clearly he wanted to stick to a "Buddhist" context -- some deeply-wise solvent that might untie his knots.

But the to'ing and fro'ing of the discussion got under my skin after a while ... and ... these eruptions happen from time to time and are probably worth noting. Generally, I am sympathetic to the barbed wire problems that others have. But sometimes ... well, sometimes I guess I get fed to the teeth with my own peachy-keen 'concern' ....
I vote with @federica ... only in somewhat less polite language: Fuck karma! Fuck Buddhism! Where there is a problem -- even one as raw and touching as this one appears to be -- it's time to stop hiding behind the spiritual skirts of "karma" or "Buddhism" and pretending that an explanation is any sort of real solution.
Is it hard? Sure it's hard! You know the old saw, "Your life is so difficult that it has never been tried before." So...
You may not want to get naked on this bulletin board, but you'd better get naked with yourself. The alternative is to spend your life trussed up like a Christmas goose with words like "Buddhism" and "karma." Seriously, the hangman's noose is preferable to this kind of oozy-goozy camouflage.
One step at a time. Fall down as necessary. But if you really want to play Buddhist, you are going to have to burn your face off.
Best wishes.
I stand ready to take my "wrong speech" lashes and won't retract a single word.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

spiritual life -- the nutshell

After enough years of practice and affection, it seems reasonable to ask for a summation of any given interest: What nutshell punchline would you offer to those evincing a similar interest for the first time? What hand up? What warning?

In Zen Buddhism, for example, one of the old guys suggested
          Do good.
          Refrain from evil.
          And purify this mind.

And that's pretty pithy -- a decent admonition if ever there was one.

One of the flies in the ointment of pithiness, however, is that the longer the experience and affection, the greater the age. It's not a sob story, just a fact. And the older and 'wiser' and more toothless anyone becomes, the less likely it is for pithy stuff to taste very good. The pithy bit may not be exactly wrong or stupid, but it doesn't roll with assurance off an assured tongue.

And so, in the process of challenging my own tongue when it comes to a spiritual affection and sometimes-furious practice that has lasted for years and years, the honest-injun best I can come up with when offering a blessing to those setting out on a spiritual path is this:
Go out and sin some more.
This admonition may not sit well with those who are boisterously 'kind and caring,' but when you get to be my age, perhaps there will be a foundation worth standing on. Just don't come mewling to me when "goodness" comes a cropper.

Veterans Day

Passed along in email:

the mystery of a real ring

Aside from the mystery of the 9th-century ring unearthed in Sweden and marked "for Allah," there are some nuggets of interest in this Washington Post story that could have used some editing/rewriting.

For example, glass was new to Vikings but long-known in the Middle East where the ring probably originated; the Vikings prized silver over gold; and there were some not-entirely-complimentary observations about the Viking visitors:
"They are the filthiest of all Allah’s creatures," the Arab writer wrote in the 10th century. "They do not purify themselves after excreting or urinating or wash themselves when in a state of ritual impurity after coitus and do not even wash their hands after food."

can you hear me now?

A visitor peers into US artist John Baldessari's Beethoven's Trumpet (With Ear) Opus #133 at the Art Basel fair in Hong Kong.  (BBC)

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama meets with Jappanese royals.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

the Iditarod and a little music

In honor of the thousand-plus-mile Iditarod dog-sled race in Alaska -- and with a tip of the hat to Dallas Seavey who won the race today with his dad coming in second -- perhaps it is a good time to drag out the old folk song called "The Frozen Logger," The song is fun -- the kind of fun I don't think any of the Iditarod mushers enjoyed.

Temperatures during early days of the race were recorded at fifty-below-zero (-45.5 Celsius).

a test for American Jews?

There are a guesstimated (2012) 5.4 million Jews in the United States, a country of about 318 million people (2014) and if I had to guess, I think I would say that Benjamin Netanyahu's fourth-term re-election as prime minister of Israel yesterday is likely to increase the religio-political work load for each one of them.

In a tightly-contested race I can't pretend to understand, Netanyahu pulled out all the stops shortly before the election and said flat-out that he did not favor and would not promote as "two-state" solution to the Israel-Palestinian frictions. The statement was widely seen as a bid to inspire nationalist/conservative voters to pull the lever for "Bibi," a tactic that appears to have worked.

But now that Netanyahu has made his bed, it will be up to the rest of us to sleep in it. By dismissing the Palestinians and asserting Israel's exceptionalism, Americans inclined to be sympathetic to Israel find themselves skating on increasingly thin ice. The slaughter of Palestinians (who are hardly without flaws) is becoming hard to overlook ... even in America. The same ruthlessness that once guided Adolf Hitler to slaughter Jews now appears -- in every news story that goes unwritten --  to inform Israel's own policies ... with a little help from allies like the United States, whose air waves are lop-sidedly attuned to the poor-little-Israel (armed to the teeth) agenda.

If indeed Netanyahu tells the 'peace process' to go fuck itself, the willingness to support Israel ... well, I guess I am just tired of what is admittedly ordinary bullshit ... the kind that kills people for sport ... sport that is lovingly referred to as "freedom" or "protected rights" or some other well-dressed excuse.

Oh well ... our Islamic State is better than your Islamic State.

picking a winner

And the winner is ....
Scientific studies show people want to be associated with success and that our self-esteem grows when we're part of the "in" crowd. Walk one well-dressed job candidate through the door, then follow him up with a schlub, and the studies show the majority of us favor the person who appears more attractive, almost regardless of their credentials. But take that same dynamic into a sporting contest, where it's a scraggly No. 14 seed against a polished No. 3, and the perceptions change.

monthly column -- female Jesus

Here's this month's newspaper column, a somewhat fizz-less reprise of something written recently. Because the computer tower is in the computer hospital at the moment, I have no access to other, more peppy ideas I store up on a folder there. Oh well ... I handed in my homework, which appears under the headline, 

"What would (a female) Jesus do?"

NORTHAMPTON — Having been forced by his own father, a Presbyterian minister, to memorize great hunks of the Bible by candlelight, my father came to abominate religion. He took pleasure in jousting with the theologically informed since he had much the same ammunition in his well-stocked magazine as they had in theirs.

Later, when the lights came on, he took up the religion of the intellect and taught Shakespeare at Smith College for many years. On the side, he was an enthusiastic acolyte of James Joyce.

But there was a time as well when he proposed to teach a course on the Bible as literature, which was approved for trial and fell flat on its face because, of course, religion is often such a personal matter (pro or con) that it excites an understandably personal reaction – something distinctly different from the distances imposed by literary analysis.

To treat the Bible as a mere story — well, duck and cover. Not for nothing did the etiquette-prone advise our forbears to “never discuss religion or politics at the supper table.” These were topics that pressed the belief buttons and belief was never a matter of proof or certainty or, for that matter, good digestion. Better to enjoy belief than enjoin it.

Last week, Northampton High School put on its version of “Godspell,” a musical that opened in New York in 1971 and ran for years. It was a toe-tapping musical that wove bits of the New Testament together and created songs to go with it.

It had laughter and tears and was too good-natured for even the grumpiest of grumpy old men to dislike. It was a bit like a calliope – what’s not to like?

But the strange delight I felt in reading in the Gazette that the high school had chosen this play derived not so much from the play itself as from the fact that the school had selected a young woman, Hayley Hemminger-Martin, to play the role of Jesus.

As someone who lives in a Christian country as a non-Christian, I try to understand my environment even when I don’t agree with or enjoy it. And I could imagine some of my Christian friends quietly grinding their credulity-filled teeth. Not enough to bring the matter up at the supper table, mind you, but still ... a female Jesus?

I hesitate to bring this matter up, not least because I live in a Valley that is rife with politically correct thinking, and political correctness is almost as unconvincing to me as its smug mirror image.
True, I dislike the patriarchal histories that cloak most religious efforts. True, women have often received the short end of the social stick. And true, I am prone to agree with comedian George Carlin when he said that clearly God must be a man because no woman could ever have messed things up so badly.

But more seriously, since I live in a Christian culture and feel it my responsibility to know something about the religious culture in which I live, my Zen Buddhist background has always made me feel somewhat sorry for the youthful insistences of the Christian religion.

Why, for example, must Jesus be depicted as an impoverished white man when, as the Los Angeles Times once reported with considerable historical back-up, he was almost certainly a sinewy, brown, middle-class fellow who spoke three languages in order to pursue his business interests? Why must Jesus be boxed in in any way? Sure, it’s good for the calendar business or the stained-glass window market, but seriously?

Rich or poor. Tall or short. Male or female. Is the message changed by any of this when the adherent chooses a pay attention to that message?

A female today, a male tomorrow. Ain’t that “Godspell?” You go, girl – whoever and wherever you are.

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears on the third Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at genkakukigen@aol.com.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"a lowly peon like me"

At one point in "The Name of the Rose," a novel I continue to nibble at like a mouse on Swiss cheese, the protagonist declares, "Books are not to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but what it means, a precept that the commentators of the holy books had very clearly in mind. [A]s for the literal truth... we have yet to see  ... what original experience gave birth to the letter."

Yesterday, with my computer at the repair shop and being reduced to using a laptop I don't use comfortably, I went for a blood test that happens periodically. I was feeling pressed to submit something for the column due to be published Wednesday and most of my ideas were stuck on the computer that was getting fixed. I couldn't summon up a fresh idea and so I asked Anne, a nurse who takes my blood, what topic she would like to address if she were writing a column and could sound off at will.

"You're asking a lowly peon like me?!" she replied, as if someone who wrote an occasional column were too elevated and credible and accomplished to compare, let alone find fodder in, her modest-by-comparison. "You up there, me down here," she said implicitly, although I was actually asking a literal, help-me question.

On the drive home, I found myself wanting to take Anne and shake her by the shoulders. No! No! No! Anne knows nursing and is conversant with her life. I know a little about writing and am somewhat conversant with my own. To claim an inequality is as wrong-headed as to claim an equality. But there is something to be said for ironing out the various wrinkles in life ... this life, not that life.

And as I chewed this cud on the way home, I realized that there is no transmitting this quite useful information. Each finds out -- when s/he does -- at a time of his or her own choosing. Until then, go ahead a bash your head against the wall.

OK ... I got home and rechewed an old cud about the high school's production of "Godspell," Got the column out the door. More second-hand stuff, just like relying on "The Name of the Rose" as a jumping off point for this blog entry. Bleah.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Emmett Coyne's racism column

Emmett Coyne,a good acquaintance, a Roman Catholic priest, and the author of "The Theology of Fear," wrote this linked commentary for a Florida newspaper in connection with the segregation recollections that have gone on over the last week.

One of the books he cited in his commentary was a book about lynchings that included the observation,
"The best part about it was the burning. The hanging kills too quick."
Sometimes looking in the mirror just means throwing up.

computer tune-up

The computer is away for a tune-up. I am trying to work on an old laptop, which has a way of making me feel as stupid as I am.

With luck, the other machine will be home by Tuesday.

Friday, March 13, 2015

break all the mirrors

Strange how, once you start dissecting the particulars of any given group or movement, things are no longer either as assured or pleasant as originally portrayed.

Islamic State is no exception:
Fearing [Mosul, Iraq] might simply empty of civilians, or that fleeing residents may join the fight against them, the Islamic State extremists are imposing tough measures to prevent people from leaving their territory.
And the unwillingness to look in the mirror is hardly limited to groups or movements. Your group or philosophy may be nuts from my point of view, but my group or philosophy remains gilded and serene. It's as if the vampires had ordered all mirrors destroyed and the order was carried out.

Who is not an exceptionalist?

before the light of day

Quieter than tip-toes,
A half-moon slips across
The eastern sky.
Soon it will be dawn.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

making sure Americans can't (not won't) vote

Republicans must be in awe of the 140-year-old Supreme Court ruling that bars four million Americans from voting... just think of all those Mexicans!

Iran views U.S. Republicans

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's supreme leader said Thursday that a letter from Republican lawmakers warning that any nuclear deal could be scrapped by the next U.S. president is a sign of "disintegration" in Washington.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the letter a sign of "the collapse of political ethics and the U.S. system's internal disintegration," according to the official IRNA news agency. It was the first reaction to the letter by Khamenei, who has the final say over all major policies.
 The U.S. has been intent on raining opprobrium down on Iran based, ostensibly, on the notion that Iran is working to create a nuclear bomb. U.S. sanctions have hurt the country.

 As far as I know, any (even-American) dissection of Iran's nuclear-bomb capability -- and the country claims to be developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes -- shows that in order to make a bomb Iran has ten or more years of research and development in order to make the bomb a reality. "Imminent threat" is not credible. And then there's the question of why Israel should go unscathed under the American microscope. Or Pakistan. Or France, for that matter -- a country that derives 75% of its energy from nuclear power AND has the bomb. The selectivity seems to suggest the U.S. has other motives for using Iran as a punching bag. Oil, perhaps. Or Israeli pressure? Or a power base in the Middle East?

Whatever the case, I have a hard time disagreeing with Iran's leader, even if he is just another political liar like the Republicans. The Republican letter -- even if they do hate having a black man in the White House -- is beyond the traditional pale. Traditionally, foreign policy is a no-go zone for responsible lawmakers: If the commander in chief says so, that's it, and the nation deserves better than Republican undercutting and carping. The Republicans really have demeaned the country by pretending they are simply mentioning matters of fact.

There is something almost as fanatical as the Joseph McCarthy hearings of the 1950's in the Republican interference-passing-as-patriotism. And there seems to be no latter-day counterpart to Joseph N. Welch, who interrupted Sen. McCarthy's marauding insinuations of communist affiliation aimed at numerous people with, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

Perhaps decency and shame and country are just things of the past and Iran's supreme leader has a valid point.


Perhaps because I write a monthly column for the local newspaper, I seem to be incapable of getting a "letter to the editor" printed. No one has given me a reason why this should be, so I am left wondering whether multiple publications in a month's time might imply favoritism or my letters are too long or too illiterate ... or whatever the reasoning is. I don't mind if there are rules that cut me out, but I do wish someone would tell me the rules.

The occasion for this whine came yesterday when there was a front-page story about the local high school's selecting a young woman to play the part of Jesus in a production of "Godspell," a play I thoroughly enjoyed a hundred years ago when I saw it on Broadway or in Greenwich Village or wherever. So I wrote a letter which appears to have reached the dust bin once more. I kind of liked the letter, though, so here it is:

To the Editor:

It is a little hard to decipher why it should delight me so much, but I was tickled pink to think that Northampton High School had chosen a young woman for the role of Jesus in the upcoming theatrical reprise of the jolly "Godspell."

True, it rubs my fur the wrong way that religions through the centuries have been so unimaginatively and unremittingly patriarchal in composition. True, women have historically gotten the short end of the social stick. And true, I agree with comedian George Carlin's pointed observation that clearly God must be a man because no woman could ever have messed things up so badly.

But none of that or any of the other socially-righteous argumentation really factors into the delight I felt in the page one story that appeared March 11 in the Gazette. I loved "Godspell" when I saw it on Broadway a lot of years ago. It was a toe-tapper and a sing-along-er and, well, it was like a calliope -- who could vote against it?!

But more seriously, since I live in a Christian culture and feel it my responsibility to know something about the religious culture in which I live, my Zen Buddhist background has always made me feel somewhat sorry for the youthful insistences of the Christian religion. Why, for example, must Jesus be depicted as an impoverished 'white' man when, as the Los Angeles Times once reported, he was almost certainly a sinewy, brown, middle-class fellow who spoke three languages in order to pursue his business interests? Why must Jesus be boxed in in any way? Rich, poor; tall, short; male, female ... is the message changed by any of this when the adherent chooses a pay attention to it?

A female today, a male tomorrow ... ain't that "Godspell?"

You go girl!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

alcohol gets another leg up

As if the leading ingredient in the United States' biggest drug-addiction problem needed support, powdered alcohol has won approval here in the U.S. of A.

NEW YORK (AP) -- The maker of a powdered alcohol says his product has gained approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
The product, dubbed Palcohol, had received the greenlight briefly last year before the bureau said the label approval had been issued in error. On Wednesday, bureau spokesman Tom Hogue told The Associated Press the issues had been resolved and the product was approved. But Hogue noted that states can also regulate alcohol sales in their borders.
Just add water, I gather.

armor-piercing bullets survive ban plan

OK -- say you are out in the woods during hunting season and suddenly you spy a 12-point buck wearing a flak jacket. You've got a clean shot but ... how the hell are you supposed to bring him down without armor-piercing bullets?

Well, luckily or otherwise, a proposed ban on some types of armor-piercing bullets was riddled to death after more than 50 U.S. senators fronted the objections of Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) enthusiasts.

"If law-abiding gun owners cannot obtain rifle ammunition, or face substantial difficulty in finding ammunition available and at reasonable prices because government entities are banning such ammunition, then the Second Amendment is at risk," the senators said in the letter.
Much as I might wish my country were as civilized as Great Britain, where gun ownership and use is curtailed and even most the cops don't wear guns, still, there are 90 guns for every 100 residents in this land of 319 million, so the chances of civilization are unlikely-to-none, I figure.

But worse than being slightly dispirited by this observation is the whispering thought -- perhaps too extreme for some -- that having access to armor-piercing bullets may actually be a good and needful thing. Not because of any buck in a flak jacket and not for any righteous and enraged opposition to infringing constitutional rights, but because, increasingly, I can imagine a time when the government might deploy the troops under its command against its own citizenry.

Defending profits and barring the disbursal of wealth and bringing a populace to an ever-more-constricted living standard can only be quietly advanced in Congress for so long before someone -- some "kook" -- says, "Enough!" And if enough people agree that enough is enough, there is likely to be a reprise of the bloody labor conflicts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Eventually, the brokers with shot cuffs and lulling orations will make one refusal too many and it the barrel of a gun may become the only recourse.

And they're the ones with the metaphorical and literal flak jackets.

a good liar

Sometimes, even before it lights up the heavens, lightning strikes and there's no doubt about it. And there's no escaping the danger it might pose for others. Like belladonna, its curative nature is equally a deadly poison.

This morning, the summation of my long interest in spiritual life came like curative lightning:

"It made me a good liar."

No doubt about it. And within the flash, there was, for however brief a second, an honest smile. Nothing snarky or slick or "Zen" -- just a warm, hit-the-nail-on-the-head, smooth-without-wrinkles smile.

And of what use is this flashbulb of information?

Absolutely none -- seriously -- though its capacity to poison any 'shared' well is palpable and no fucking joke.

"Beyond perfection" is perfectly OK ... mess with it at your own curative peril.

What a bald-faced liar!

But is there anyone who doesn't enjoy a good smile?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

warm wishes ... anonymously

Written in a small, literate, ornate and somewhat shaky hand, I received an anonymous birthday card yesterday. It was addressed to "Adam Eustis Fisher." No one uses my middle name outside some persnickety governmental agencies. The card's sole identifier -- though what identity I wasn't sure -- grew up around the postmark: "Manchester, N.H." Without a signature, the note said, "Happy Birthday, dear Adam" and signed off  with "An admirer and, ever so briefly, an acquaintance." The picture was a pointillist representation of something called "Breakfast in the Open," a calming and decorous scene in which ladies wear long dresses.

Briefly, I wracked my brain for literate acquaintances who might plug into a New Hampshire post office. It was no use. Equally briefly, I wondered why someone conveying a warm sentiment would want to remain anonymous.

OK, it was a mystery and as birthday presents go, mysteries are pretty nice. But the energy or desire to solve them seems to trickle away with the passage of time.

But what it did make me think of was all of the unnoticed or unidentified ways in which anyone affects the people and events in his or her life. Literally zillions of minuscule gestures or words that are overlooked in the effort to pursue more creative and telling efforts. A raised pinky, a quick wink, a half-smile, a narrowing of the eyes, a poorly-sung song, an unheard whisper ... zillions and zillions of small-potatoes expressions that are forgotten or overlooked because to note each of them would be impossible. And yet, even so, others may find solace or fear or love or sorrow or delight or thanks or anger or who-knows-what-heavy-weight implication or importance.

I guess the best that can be said for all this is, "it can't be helped."

Monday, March 9, 2015

"why does time always run forwards...?"

Ran across what I considered a spectacular BBC article/(lecture?) entitled "Why Does Time Always Run Forwards and Never Backwards?" by Adam Becker. It is literate, accessible and a mind-bender whose ramifications I cannot pretend to understand.

But the delight I felt at having found it cannot be overstated ... even if I remain as dumb as I was before I found it.

birthday adventures

To mark my 75th birthday, of course, a solar plane took off today from Abu Dhabi, UAE, in an attempt to fly around the world unaided by fossil fuels. The flight, like the birthday, would be a "first." Likewise it is an experiment whose outcome cannot be known.

Of each, I wonder, "How the hell did that happen?!"

As if to keep things in perspective, the U.S. et al attacked an oil refinery held by Islamic State in Syria. Islamic State, a high-profile enemy-du-jour for the U.S., funds some of its military operations through oil sales in subjugated territory as it marches towards an imagined "caliphate" in the Middle East.

Oh yes, and by the way -- one less oil refinery not only dents Islamic State's income but also means that the over-supply of gasoline that has depressed U.S. prices at the pump, will be 'threatened' and consumers can expect to see prices rise up anew. Oil companies that have laid workers off may be seeing a light at the end of a constricting economic tunnel. Thank God! -- isn't it worth killing a few people if the profit margin is enhanced?! Gas prices in the U.S. are expected to average $2.33 per gallon in 2015 after ranging above $3 per gallon in 2013.

War-for-profit -- the same-ol'-same-ol'  my nation continues to stoop to, in much the same way I have stooped to the passage of time.

And today is the first full day of Daylight Saving Time ... a resetting of clocks to one hour ahead of what they were at the same time the day before. Hence, an hour has been magically "lost" and profit is marginally boosted.

Sorta like birthdays -- you leap ahead only to find yourself strangely at a loss.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

a reality check for Netanyahu and the U.S.

On an election tour, Benjamin Netanyahu came to the United States last week and pissed off U.S. President Barack Obama by addressing a joint session of Congress. He was adamantly opposed to any agreement between the U.S. and Iran in the matter of (potential) nuclear weapons (which Isreal has in reality). For nuclear-armed Israel, Iran is an enemy ... and who in the U.S. Congress would dare to question Israel's assertions? These are guys and gals who, like Netanyahu, want to get re-elected.

Anyway, Al-Jazeera raises some interesting questions when it comes to the facts surrounding Netanyahu's assertions.

lawmakers shield broadband profits

Al-Jazeera has a pretty nice take on how legislators side with cable companies to withhold competitive broadband services from the public.
A look at the legislative process in some of these states, however, reveals very close collaboration between the cable industry and lawmakers where the primary goal is simply to protect private companies from public competition.