Friday, July 21, 2017

into Trump's swamp

In the long-ago and faraway, when candidate Donald Trump inveighed against and vowed to drain the "swamp" that had consumed Washington, the gridlock was palpable. Republicans said no to pretty much anything they could get their hands on and the Democrats had no plan B for defeating the Republican strategy. "Swamp" seemed an apt term.

But now, as president, Donald Trump is busy cobbling together his own swamp ... a many-colored banner that extends from climate change to cuddling with Russians to NAFTA to healthcare to stabbing his own appointees in the back.

And within the Trump swamp slurry that has yet to see a single piece of legislation after six months in office, comes another piece of skunk weed as served up by The Independent:
A bill that would criminalise boycotts against Israel has been signed by 45 US senators and 237 congressman.
The so-called “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” would impose fines of up to $250,000 (£192,000) on any US citizen “engaged in interstate or foreign commerce” who supports a boycott of Israeli goods and services.
The US has long defended Israel in territorial disputes in the Middle East, even as the Israeli military has expanded into areas assigned to the Palestinians by international law.
This position runs counter to that of the United Nations, which claims Israel’s settlements in occupied Palestinian territory have “no legal validity”, and “constitute flagrant violation of international law”.
Folded into this would-be law is a maximum million-dollar-fine and a 20-year jail sentence for anyone who signs on to such a boycott. Once again, bonny Israel has got the United States by the short hairs.... On behalf of an Middle Eastern ally (read nukes and publicity) and its own self-referential president.

Based on who's doing the counting and how they are counted, there are a high-side-estimated 10.5 million Jews in an America of 323 million people. Based on those numbers, it seems fair to say that the tail is wagging the dog when it comes to the proposed anti-boycott measure.

But this persuasion leaves me open to the ever-popular charges of "anti-Semitism."

Does anyone remember the time when the term "anti-Semitic" referred to a group wider than the Jews? ... i.e. Middle Easterners of Semitic origin ... including Arabs? Merriam Webster Dictionary agrees with the anti-Jewish leaning for "anti-Semite" and yet defines a "Semite" as "a member of any of a number of peoples of ancient southwestern Asia including the Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs." Based on the latter, a lot of Jews might be called anti-Semites, I guess.

Oh well, I don't much like Israel's apartheid policies when it comes to Palestinians... even if those policies are linked to the dollar-donating potential for U.S. politicians.

PS. In which regard, the unpublished-in-the-U.S.(?) "The Israel Lobby" by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (2006) may be of interest:
For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.
Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

O.J. Simpson gets parole

There is something fitting, in this era -- or is "epoch" a better word? -- of Donald Trump that former football star O.J. Simpson should be granted parole after eight years of a 33-year prison sentence. If there ever were a man likely to fit into a growing pantheon of sociopaths that counts Trump as its emperor, Simpson is the man.

But of course he is chastened and reformed and ... all the other blah-blah that frequently attends sociopaths' activities.

Even at 70, I doubt that Simpson has what it takes not to seek out the limelight, even if it includes criminal activity.

Of course, I could be wrong. He was acquitted of killing his wife and did his time for a stickup in Las Vegas ... stealing back what he called his own stuff.

volunteer and get reprimanded

A Canadian pensioner built a set of stairs at his local park for just C$550 when the city estimated it would cost at least C$65,000 ($51,500, £40,000).
But instead of a thank you, Toronto has blocked off access to the steps and asked Adi Astl, 73, to take them down.
Looks like a pretty sturdy set of stairs to me. I guess the whole matter needs to be filed under "no good deed goes unpunished."

a resting place or two

The soaring languors of stupidity, so similar to the smug lassitudes of intelligence, can loll and linger in the summer heat, waiting as in some Falkner novel for a combustion that will lift all camouflage as an evening's entertainment nears -- a lynching, perhaps, at which grown men will delight.

The possibilities of intelligence say nothing about putting those possibilities to the test, but it is nice to think they exist and might show themselves in an altered reality.

Stupid or smart -- the contentment either might afford is pleasant as the glass of lemonade sweats.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trump deconstructs U.S.

Let The Guardian do it:

Six ways Trump is 'dismantling' the US after six months in office 
Trump has been paralyzed on healthcare and tax reform, but his administration has been active in eroding safeguards and protections elsewhere
It has been rattling around in my head and aimed mostly at me that the liberal constituency in my country is largely composed of self-satisfied whiners when it comes to Donald Trump. Hurling brickbats like "shame" and "irresponsibility" and other criticisms is LITERALLY like criticizing a wall. You can't convince a crazy person s/he is crazy and you can't speak to people who lack a sense of shame about shame. They simply cannot hear you any more than a wall can hear the most heart-felt critiques. If someone is simply incapable of hearing you, this puts the onus on the one screaming, "You're deaf, for Christ's sake!"

To apply the word "shame" or "irresponsible" is to assume the target also has a sense of what is not shameful and what is responsible. And these are qualities Trump and his merry band of old white men simply do not have. Why should they feel shame for what they are forever telling us they are not responsible for.

Once upon a time there was such a thing as the "wood pile" -- the destination of any youngster scheduled for a whupping. But mincing liberals like me lack the stomach for the smack-'em-upside-of-the-head directness which seems to be the only alternative. It's too Republican, dontcha know.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

writing about not writing

Instead, it's like driving through Nebraska -- everything flat and green in all directions and a highway that reaches string-straight-ish to the horizon, though with several 90-degree turns to accommodate the property lines around massive farms... this is the way it has been of late when it comes to writing, that almost-lifelong habit that has stalled. There are ideas, as ever, but they insert themselves sotto voce ... no big deal, more of the same, however bloody and unjust.

Yesterday, for example, seven years of Republican carping about the health care Barack Obama shepherded through Washington -- the Republicans promised to repeal and replace it if elected ... which they were -- came crashing to a halt when two Republican senators withdrew their support from a Republican health care bill meant to replace Obamacare. The current president, Donald Trump had promised in his campaign to get rid of Obamacare. Republicans cheered. But then Trump backed away from his promise when it became apparent his version of healthcare was to give the wealthy more wealth and deprive the needy even further. That, and the fact that something more than 20 million might be caught without healthcare. The Republican bill flopped yesterday and any minute now I expect the Schlockmeister, Trump, to find a way to elude responsibility for failing to deliver on his campaign promise.

For seven years, the Republicans bitched. And now, with both houses of Congress and the presidency in their hip pocket, they can't accomplish anything. Democrats, meanwhile, can't find a message to counter Republican ineptness. Perhaps they are too wrapped up in their gloating.

The effect is wearing. Or anyway it seems like a fog ... like driving through Nebraska.

Simultaneously on the healthcare front, Reuters reports that rural hospitals are closing down and pose increasing health risks.

In Somalia, the internet came back after a three-week absence.
Officials and internet providers attributed the problem to a commercial ship that they said cut an undersea cable.
Major companies reported millions of dollars in revenue losses. University studies were disrupted.
The internet outage also complicated efforts to combat a nationwide drought that has half of the country’s 12 million people in need of assistance.
One single cable and an entire country is thrown into disarray. One single healthcare policy and the gridlock that has described Washington over the last few years is even further gridlocked.

And as I write about all this -- partly as a nod towards an old habit that has been losing steam -- I reckon someone will figure things out ... sort of ... maybe ... but writing about it is strictly a pissing-into-the-wind activity.

OK ... today I have decided to see if I can make potato salad, an endeavor I have failed at in the past (it never came out as lip-smacking good as I wanted) but will try once again. It's got a lot of wicked stuff I like ... potatoes, mayonnaise, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar, mustard ... at my age, dolorous warnings about cholesterol simply cannot compete with a tasty wickedness.

Beats the diaphanous satisfactions of writing all to hell.

Monday, July 17, 2017

dressing up for mom

A video about a man in his fifties who has been dressing as a woman for 20 years "to help his mentally ill mum cope with the death of his sister" is being widely shared on Chinese social media....
He told Pear Video that he started dressing as a woman after his mother began to show signs of mental illness following the death of her daughter.
He added that his mother was immediately convinced that her daughter had come back.
"She was so happy, so I kept doing it," he said.
"I've basically been living as a woman ever since," he added. "I don't own any men's clothing."
There is something peculiar about this story, but in the end, I guess everyone gets by as best he or she can.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

let's get naked ... or not

Even as TV movies edge closer and closer to penises and vaginas -- what is sometimes called "pornography" -- it does seem to be a good time to take a little stock.

Naked is as boring in the end as it is nifty.

Anyone who has been what we here in the U.S. sometimes call "skinny dipping" (going for a swim in the buff) can attest to the strange sense of freedom that goes with it -- as if the all-over coolth and wetness imparted a nifty sense of internal relief that matches the external lack of clothing.

But the disapprobation of nakedness imputed to porn takes on a kind of sluggish boredom when viewed in the various offerings on the internet. Yup, they're naked. Yup, it looks like they're 'doing it' in front of all viewers. And yup, it's pretty much the same from one video to the next. Porn is naked and seems to consist of one endless blow job compounded with a few other antics. What may be sexy at the outset turns pretty prosaic in larger doses.

Naked is not the sexy part. It is the clothing -- the secrets -- that rouses the horn dog that gets excited.

What I find interesting about all this is that so many people (unless I am mistaken) take up one secret or another as they go through life and only with experience wish to God they could be free of their own fabrications. How wonderful it would be to speak the truth in words the soothe the caged beast within. And I am not talking simply about sexual constrictions. Trying to look good, whether socially or in the bathroom mirror, is tiring. Why not simply tell the truth and lighten the load? Why not get naked?

Why not? Because nakedness is boring in one sense and the salt and pepper afforded by fabrications is more interesting ... sexier. But one lie leads to the next and the weight can become unbearable.

Nakedness may be boring, but the clothing is not much better. Screwed if you fabricate, screwed if you don't ... something like that.

Who can thread this needle, if needle there be?

Just noodling.

saving a life

"I thought she was dead," my wife said of a young woman whose friend had rushed into my wife's work space yesterday asking urgently for Narcan, the opiod overdose medication.

My wife works in a pretty static medical office. She helps to facilitate the visits of those appearing for treatment of muscular difficulties. It's pretty much rehabilitation paperwork ... insurance companies, making sure the forms are in order ... and here came a woman desperate for high-end, do-it-now medical help.

My wife went to a car where another young woman lay slumped and groggy. After ascertaining that the young woman in the car was not, in fact, dead, my wife began talking to her and hitting her. Open your eyes! Look at me! The not-yet-corpse complied while others called for emergency services.

Eventually, it all worked out. The patient was picked up; my wife warned the desperate friend, who had needle marks on her arms, to take a lesson from the situation; and things settled back to normal; there was paperwork to do.

But everything, I imagine, had changed. My wife had assisted in saving a life that was in danger of being lost. This is serious stuff. How does that square up with the hum-drum office life, the boring stuff, the ordinary stuff ... how do you process an emergency and then return to a point where there is no apparent emergency?

At third hand (hearing the tale from my wife), it sounds as if an earthquake had occurred.

Saving lives has its consequences.

"Serious" is a strange word.

Friday, July 14, 2017

farewell Daily Hampshire Gazette

It was the first place, at age 14, I had ever had anything published (a letter to the editor) and now, at 77, it is likely the last. The Daily Hampshire Gazette is a strictly local paper that, like a lot of others, is drip-drip-dripping into the ether. If, in fact, "all news is local," the Gazette was once a pretty good purveyor of news. Nothing too sexy or harsh or upsetting, mind you, but still.... 

Since I am an old fart who likes having a hard-copy of the paper, it saddens me that others like me should be subjected to the Gazette's desperate moves to maintain income -- cutting staff, dwindling substance and just plain stupidity. Where the printed word once held a revered seat, now it is lost in a miasma of greed and lackluster opinion and coziness.

In the Gazette, articles are increasingly badly written and increasingly meatless. And the rewriting is not much better (eg. a first-reference to a source may allude to the last name of the speaker, but skip his or her first name anywhere in the story). The deepening sadness I have felt came to a head two days ago when a headline and over-line of a sports story that referred to Frontier Regional High School spelled "Frontier" two different ways. I wondered if a gofundme campaign might provide the money hungry with a copy editor or just an editor.
And no, I am not going to do all the research and winkle out the other errors to prove my point -- that is the newspaper's job.

Hard-copy newspapers are still making money, obviously, or they wouldn't continue publishing. I have heard, but don't know, that they are making something in the annual range of 10%, a profit margin that is not as juicy as the good ol' days when they made 20% or better (right up there with nursing homes). But the wolves are at the Internet-advertising door and the Gazette, among others, has resorted to safe-sex reporting ... police blotter, press release, library improvements, another article about Emily Dickinson who has already been done to death long after her death, a store to patronize or whose passing is mourned, a lost parrot or gerbil, reporting on what "will" happen when no one can predict the future ... nothing that would upset or really inform anyone.

Truth to tell, I don't know if my sadness about the paper has to do with the paper -- a medium I once worked in and have a decidedly soft spot for -- or if it has to do with my own demise. I just hate seeing the paper go down the toilet so ignominiously. Everyone's got to die, but how about dying with something resembling honor?

Bit by bit the penny-saver mentality takes hold; the quality of the reporters diminishes; the excuses are all in place...

OK. I still get the Gazette for free based on a monthly column I once wrote -- I wrote the column and the paper gave me a year's subscription ... pretty big of them, right? -- but sometime in the future I will be informed that the paper's largesse has expired and the subscription rate, if I want to continue getting the paper, is 'x.' At which point I will decline to pay with some regret. But the regret will be based on the fact not that I will lose an old friend but rather on the fact that the newspaper was very helpful when firing up the woodstove in winter. Seriously, what will I put under the kindling?

The old folks like me who cherish a hard-copy paper are going to die off. How soon thereafter will The Daily Hampshire Gazette roll over and turn its building into a bowling alley or fronton? Well, the money guys will figure it out.

The above is not very well organized. A bit helter-skelter. But that's the way it is with sadness.

lioness nurses leopard

Dr Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organisation which supports Kope Lion, told the BBC the incident was "truly unique".
"It's not something that I'm aware has ever happened before between large cats like this," he said.
"We know there are cases where lionesses will adopt other lion cubs... But this is unprecedented.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

another heart-warmer

Alaska bride surprised by her late son's heart recipient

Increasingly, it is stuff like this that gets to me. Label me "Cream Puff."

digital trade-off

An Australian cattle worker whose thumb was severed by a bull has had his toe surgically transplanted in its position.
Zac Mitchell, 20, was injured in April while working on a remote farming property in Western Australia.
"A bull kicked my hand into the fence," Mr Mitchell said of the incident.... Mr Mitchell will need more than 12 months of rehabilitation, but he plans to return to farm work.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

humane solutions?

Assuming anyone takes an interest in the news, it is impossible to escape these days from the Schlockmeister, U.S. President Donald J. Trump and his family and his supporters. There are so many locusts in the sky that honest issues like healthcare and tax reform are blurred and re-blurred. And of course it is not Trump's fault that nothing gets done. God knows I can't pretend to get it all straight, even to the point of coming up with a nice tangy bias. But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate/dislike the confusion.

And the Washington Post has an interesting compendium (that goes on and on and on and on) about the whole multi-faceted clusterfuck ... a couple (though not the only) of whose observations resonate where I sit:
THE BIG IDEA: The Trumps are congenitally unable to take personal responsibility....
In a sense, the Republicans fit Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn rule about Iraq: ‘You break it, you own it.’ Republican leaders, from Paul Ryan to Reince Priebus, allowed Trump to break the Republican Party and now they own the consequences.
There was an era in which "parlous times" had some meaning.

It feels these days as if American political arena were far beyond that.

Is there a humane solution?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

assistance where needed

Just because it's a heart-warmer doesn't mean it's not a heart-warmer ... people unknown to each other linking hands to assist a family grabbed by a Florida rip tide.

Schlockmeister Trump could learn a thing or two from this small tale as he pursues his repeal-and-replace healthcare agenda.

economics as a religion

The Guardian's "long read" ... funny how belief can gum up the works.  I can't claim to have read every word, but it smells right as an hypothesis.

How economics became a religion

Its moral code promises salvation, its high priests uphold their orthodoxy. But perhaps too many of its doctrines are taken on faith. By

Sunday, July 9, 2017

when Walmart left town

Economic, social, nutritional and other sorrows abound in the kind of coal country a campaigning Donald Trump once gave hope to. Walmart left town and the effect seems almost more pervasive and disastrous than the downside potential of a big-box opening 10 years ago.
When Walmart left town, it didn’t linger over the goodbyes. It slashed the prices on all its products, stripped the shelves bare, and vanished, leaving behind only the ghostly shadow of its famous brand name and gold star logo on the front wall of a deserted shell.

The departure was so quick that telltale signs remain of the getaway, like smoldering ashes in the fireplaces of an evacuated town. Notices still taped to the glass entranceway record with tombstone-like precision the exact moment that the supercenter was shuttered: “Store closed at 7 pm, Thursday 28 January 2016.”
This is a story that feels as pervasive and threatening as the smog in Beijing. It is to weep for.

gifts from a Zen past

In the long-ago and faraway, there was a fellow who showed up here to dip his toe in the Buddhist waters. I imagine we went to the zendo and I put him through the physical paces. Perhaps he came more than once. I don't remember. Then we lost touch.

Recently, when he learned of my fading activities in Zen, he asked if he could have some small momento from the zendo which was his first contact with Buddhism. I saw no initial harm, but then, I realized something else and wrote to him as follows:

Dear D -- Your request for some small momento from the zendo here has been rattling around in my mind. On reflection, I have changed my mind:

I will not give you some statue or bell or other piece of Buddhist bric-a-brac for your altar. That would be a cheap date. Instead, there is this:

1.  Pick a small spot on the altar where the proposed gift might rest. Just some small space. Pick it.

2. When regarding that space in future, consider what might or might not fill it.

3. That is all ... except ....

When my teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa, died, he was abbot of Ryutaku-ji (monastery) in Japan. To the best of my knowledge, he did not name any Dharma heirs prior to his death. In Zen Buddhism, teachers often recognize one or more students as an equal or better. And this 'failure' on Kyudo's part is precisely what I consider to be his greatest gift to me. I cannot begin to say how thankful I am. Mind you, I have no way of knowing precisely what his intent might have been. I am not a mind-reader. I am just a student whose gratitude is his own business.

And associatively: I think it was Huang Po/Obaku who once stood before the monks he was training and said, approximately, "There is no such thing as a Zen teacher." One of the monks stood up and challenged him: "Master, how can you say such a thing when you are standing in front of us and teaching?" And Huang Po replied, "I did not say there was no such thing as Zen. I said there was no such thing as a Zen teacher."

Take good care of yourself.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Troll's Penis resurrected

Its former glory ....
Crowd-funding has allowed for advancing restoration of the "The Troll's Penis" in Norway.
A penis-shaped rock formation in Norway that was apparently knocked down by vandals last month has been restored to its anatomical glory.
Scaffolding was used to hoist up the protuberance, which is reported to weigh about 12 tonnes (12,000kg.)
The restoration operation was funded by a crowdfunding campaign which raised about 227,000 kroner ($27,000).
But tourists will have to wait a week before they can see the formation in order to allow it to fasten properly.
Finally!!!!!! Penises and trolls get some respect!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Trump's ethics chief pulls the plug

The US government's top ethics watchdog has announced his intention to resign, after repeatedly clashing with President Donald Trump.
Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), will leave his post on 19 July....
Mr Trump will now be able to choose his own ethics director to replace Mr Shaub, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Donald Trump had an ethics chief????

Who knew?

I sure hope Trump's choice is another old, rich white guy.

PS. Am I making this up or are more and more news stories referring to Donald Trump as "Mr." Trump?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

the yearn for sperm

No doubt there are elements left out of this BBC story, but there is something about it that strikes me as cockeyed:
Professional women are freezing their eggs due to a "dearth of educated men to marry", a US study has claimed.
Yale University researchers suggested an "oversupply" of graduate women left them struggling to find a partner and "desperate" to preserve fertility.
They said the "man deficit" was worse in countries where more women were going to university, as in the UK.
The researchers interviewed 150 women who had frozen eggs, of whom 90% said they could not find a suitable partner.
It is hard not to infer that there are some smart sperm out there somewhere just waiting to link up with some equally smart eggs. This strikes me as second-rate sorcery -- a vision that plants its flag in nature and brushes aside nurture. How well-educated can a well-educated woman be if she subscribes to such an hypothesis? If you were a smart man, would you want to mate with a woman holding to this sort of outlook? And what about personality -- male and female -- that contributes to what is often called "family?"

Until someone tells me more, I am inclined to call it bullshit. Frozen for all eternity, perhaps, but bullshit nonetheless.

same stuff, different colors

If, as I believe, it is impossible for a human being not to move (death doesn't count ... at that point a human being ceases to be a human being and becomes worm food), is it likewise impossible for a human being not to be still?

Stillness and movement -- same stuff, different colors.

curling with Donald

A not-quite-perfect metaphor for the Donald Trump ascendancy cropped up in my mind today: curling. Except for the fact that the attendants with the brooms PREcede the stone, it fits. Take a look

Donald Trumps tweets his load and the media and politicians and avid supporters scurry to straighten out his trajectory ... make it sound sensible or senseless until the tweet runs out of steam and

It's time for another tweet and more frantic sweeping.

This is my government at the moment. If only it could take a lesson from those who know how to curl.

letter to the editor

As it appeared in today's very-local Daily Hampshire Gazette:
Like a lot of other preening liberals, I suspect, I never thought I would find myself applauding the deep-pocket funders of the Republican constituency currently in charge of ‘my’ country. But the other day, I couldn’t help but feel inspired. Doug Deason, an influential GOP Texas donor, declined in straightforward language, to write any more Republican-bound checks until those in power got something done.
“Get Obamacare repealed and replaced; get tax reform passed,” Deason said in an Associated Press story about his message to GOP leaders. “You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up.”
Deason said he had encouraged nearly two dozen other check-writing donors to follow suit. It’s not that I agree with the Republican agenda which shows all the ritual signs of advantaging those whose advantages already make my head swim. It goes deeper than that. Briefly, I am sick of waking up in the morning and feeling that the greatness of my country is drip-drip-dripping away in the hands of a group of self-absorbed and well-heeled people who care about little and love even less.
I don’t need to agree with those in charge, but I would prefer to respect them. That is part of my country’s greatness – a sense that this land is not just some self-aggrandizing sandbox in which to make money and win applause and frighten people who are already frightened. It is nice to have a government that can do and not just undo. It is all so wearing, grinding, and dispiriting. But Mr. Deason has inspired me to get involved.
I have decided to supplement my retirement income and produce bumper stickers of the sort that remind people who’s in charge. First up, a slight twist on an old favorite: MAKE AMERICA GREAT — FOR A CHANGE. -- Adam Fisher

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4

It's "Independence Day" in the United States. Once, the plucky colonials took up arms against an oppressive motherland, England... and won.

Do you suppose the Brits might take us back if we asked nicely?

Weighing Donald Trump in the balance makes me think they wouldn't.

It's time to celebrate, according to the calendar.

Ancient Roman vs. modern concrete

From The Guardian:

"Why Roman concrete still stands strong while modern version decays
Scientists have cracked the secret to Roman water-based structures’ strength – and findings could help today’s builders."

old age

What is it like to get old.

Well, for one thing, it's brand new.

As with anything brand new -- never been tried or experienced before -- old age requires practice.

The difference now is that practice cannot yield success. Success is out of action's equation. Why? Because the student is already old. No need for success. In fact, success would deter or flummox practice.

So what then does this brand new aspect, when practiced, yield?

Why practice at all?

I don't know, but old age seems to require practice.

Monday, July 3, 2017

John Oliver on local TV corruption

Anyone who thinks that "agitation and propaganda" is the mewling accusation of a liberal longing for the good ol' left-leaning days of journalism really needs a dose of what John Oliver offered up this week.

Why do I have to get this kind of news from a comedian?


Perhaps "home," like "love," is a word whose meaning is as plain to each person as the nose on anyone's face and yet whose meaning cannot be nailed down. Is it simply a place where an individual grew up, even if being grown-up carries with it its own tickling tendrils of vagueness? Is it a place of perpetual welcome, of safety, of nakedness and lost socks? Is it a place to which each might long to return or perhaps steer clear of? Is it a place where the truth can be told as it cannot in other venues? Is it a set of circumstances that cannot be improved ... or can?

Everyone knows what s/he means by "home," I suspect, and yet when asked to say what, precisely, is known, the answer resounds off surrounding peaks ...

"Wubba, wubba...."
From The Guardian: "The man who went on a hike – and never stopped walking
MJ Eberhart – AKA Nimblewill Nomad – has become a legendary figure among fellow hikers, even having his toenails surgically removed to prevent infection"

Sunday, July 2, 2017

photos from The Guardian

From The Guardian:

taking a stab at music

Not an entirely explanatory Guardian article, but "why is it that abstract patterns of sound mean so very much to human beings?"

dead, gone, but not forgotten

The Brits prove once again that there is something to be said for a long lineage in which people's quirks were memorialized on headstones.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

getting back to ... what?

Watching the Public Broadcast System's news commentary last night, NYTimes columnist David Brooks hit a nail on the head for me as he and presenter Judy Woodruff (long may she flourish) and syndicated columnist Mark Shields struggled to digest President Donald Trump's latest dislocations of a government that rules the country.
... [T]he big question for me is, do we snapback [sic]? Do the norms that used to govern politics reestablish themselves after the Trump administration, or are we here forever?
And I hope, from the level of outrage, that we have a snap back. But the politics is broken up and down. And Trump may emerge from a reality TV world that is much more powerful than we think. And there is the prospect that this is where we are, which is an horrific thought.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Horrific thought.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it is that.
Trump supporters may bridle at the notion of "snapping back" or anything like it. What?! -- and go back to the same ol' same ol' of backslapping among those whose foremost concern is getting re-elected ... the same ol' kiss-ass shills who represent the best government money can buy?! We like this guy who talks straight and kicks ass.

The problem is, of course, that he doesn't talk straight. Where once he would make a wall along the Mexican border a number-one priority, there is no wall. Where once repealing Obamacare was a target in his inaugural sights, the Republicans are awash in confusion and disaagreement ... which impinges on the tax relief promised to those who are already much-relieved of taxes... the ones who have bought the best government they could.

The country is being handed over to a politburo that spends more time trying to figure out how to extol or genuflect to our venerable leader than it does getting jobs back to coal miners who are now flipping hamburgers, if that. Our decencies have become indecent: We don't play kissy-face with those who concern themselves with scientifically valid climate concerns.

And, as Brooks intimates, we may already have gone too far down the braggadocio road to ever return ... even to the sluggish swamp-riddled corruption of yore.

Indecent. Morally bereft. And if someone were to put Trump in a broom closet or simply shoot him, what martyr's huzzahs would cement his legacy? Every moment the media spends trying to explain or deconstruct the president is a moment of success ... any publicity is good publicity. And the rest of us get used to news that has no news in it ... only Donald Trump.

the shadow's light

Wouldn't a shadow, then,
In one small puff,
Release the light
It had cozied for so long?

And likewise the light
Its shadow?
Nothing special,
Just one small puff.

On a plain of
Shadow and light,
It's time to go,
Or let go, perhaps,

The will is gone
The game is done
Light and shadow
Confess at last.

Here one small puff
Makes honest sense
Where sense-makers
Have all gone home.

Friday, June 30, 2017

ethics and morals

I have always thought -- without too much thinking -- that ethics were the rights and wrongs executed in public.

Morals, by contrast, were practices set within and exercised in private, as when addressing the liar in the mirror.

Trying to sort this out according to internet sources is a twisty-turn-y road, one that leaves me stuttering, "In a hundred years, who'll know?"

And with Donald Trump as president, a hundred years seems a bit long.

my kinda gal

Celeste Barber has 1.8 million Instagram followers, who delight in her parodies of the fashion world. Photograph: Celeste Barber 
The Guardian article that brought this comedienne to my attention includes a send-up video clip of a yoga practice in a doorway. I can't seem to grab it and put it here, but it's too good to miss. Scroll down.

PS. And then, not in the article, is this politically-incorrect take on adoption.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

poems of Iberia

A BBC article that caught my eye focuses on the cross-cultural poetry of Iberia 1000 years ago. A sampling:
1. The multiple troubles of man,
my brother, like slander and pain,
amaze you? Consider the heart which holds them all
in strangeness, and doesn't break.

2. Could kings right a people gone bad,
while they themselves are twisted?
How, in the woods, could shadows that bend
be straight when the trees are crooked?

3. Luxuries ease, but when trouble comes
people are plagued for the wealth they've accrued.
The peacock's tail is spectacular --
but it weighs him down on the day he's pursued.

Noah's ark and the tourists

It's a little hard to get a handle on the subject, but it seems that the replica of Christianity's Noah's Ark is not drawing in the throngs that caused Kentucky and its officials to pony up what some are describing as a $100 million support structure. Where Kentucky got $100 million to fool around with beats me, but apparently Ken Ham, the creationist whose vision inspired the building sells a fine brand of creationism. Ham lays blame for the faltering financials at the doorstep of atheists who prayed (you heard right) against the project. The theme park opened, if I get it right, in July of 2016.
Built with the same measurements God gave Noah in Genesis 6:15, the ... ark is the largest timber-frame structure in the world. It's just over 500 feet long - one and a half times the length of a football field - about 50 feet tall, and 85 feet wide.
The organization behind a tax-payer subsidized “replica” of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky is blaming atheists for tax-payers getting fleeced by the project. Creationist Ken Ham built the $92 million Ark Encounter project in Williamstown, Kentucky. The “dismal failure” of the project has backers lashing out at “intolerant atheists” for mocking the return on investment taxpayers have received. “Sadly, they are influencing business investors and others in such a negative way that they may prevent Grant County, Kentucky, from achieving the economic recovery that its officials and residents have been seeking,” complained Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis.
I wonder if putting a "Trump" label on the project would turn its fortunes around.

Whatever the case, I think the topic positively insists on the use of the word, "bizarre." Also to recall the words of the Anglican Charles Williams who once wrote, "people believe what they want to believe."

Lord, the need to believe in something grand and sweeping -- and I don't mean solely among the less-thoughtful -- is compelling. The Kentucky ark lies somewhere between touching and terrifying, between lulling and ludicrous. Snippy atheists don't impress me much more than Ken Ham. There is something human, and therefore partly insane, about it all.

The Japanese have a tradition of honoring great failures -- a tradition I think deserves a second look.

grown-up stuff

With Donald Trump backing artfully away from the imminent failure of the Senate to "repeal and replace" former President Barak Obama's Affordable Care Act -- one of Trump's signature campaign promises to which he is about to claim no affiliation ... it's the Senate's fault dontchaknow -- I found myself yesterday watching my own scale of importance get revised....

Last week, Steve came around to replace the storm door leading to the kitchen. The door, like a lot of American products, is flimsy and poorly engineered, so Steve had to come back to adjust it. There was one more tweak needed, so I called Steve last night to remind him. I was irritated by the need to repair what was to all intents a brand new door. The idea that the consumer should have to worry about the capitalist cheapskates was galling: How is the consumer -- caveat emptor -- to know about storm doors? Isn't the purveyor responsible for the quality of the product s/he wishes to sell as a means of putting spaghetti on his/her table?

Steve's business card says "Service you can trust." I prefer to trust... right up to the moment that the product proves untrustworthy. Yes, I was feeling cranky.

But when I reached Steve and asked him not to forget about me as he geared up for a vacation down south, he told me it had been a hell of a day. He wouldn't forget me, but he had just put his mother in a nursing home in the wake of a stroke several months ago. "She isn't going to like it," he said wearily.

And somehow Steve's announcement wiped my slate clean of the crankies. How could my complaints measure up against his confusion and sorrow? Playing Donald Trump, I guess I could have thought "Fuck him -- he didn't do the job he promised implicitly to do. It's my money he has taken." I wasn't forgiving his debt to me, but I was getting a perspective that put my money and my cares in the shadows.

In Steve's boat ... besides putting a loved one in someone else's care, there is the matter of your own mortality and, perhaps harder, the realization that you are now the only one left to play the grown-up. When all the grown-ups dissolve and you are the de facto grown-up ... well, how does anyone do that? Is it by yelling and bullying? Who will believe that I am a grown-up? I certainly don't.

I can hear the grown-ups saying all kinds of grown-up things about apples and oranges and Steve owed me a decent door. I can play that game, but ... well, it just didn't have the self-important force it might have during a TED talk.

To me, it felt better to feel less cranky and the care about something worth caring about. Not that I don't want the door fixed, but if the door were the price for relieving the stress of death or uncertainty, I'd live with a flimsy door in a New York minute.

So much for my uncalibrated scales.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Serena Williams

Neat pic of tennis champ Serena Williams.

bumper sticker mentality

If I had the disposable income, I think I would create a cottage industry with the help of a bumper sticker that read: 


            *******                   *******

                   FOR A CHANGE

scientific blue chips

Another field I knew nothing about -- the rewarding role of publishing scientific journals in the world of science ... a science which seems to get short-changed in the publication process.
Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?
It is an industry like no other, with profit margins to rival Google – and it was created by one of Britain’s most notorious tycoons: Robert Maxwell. By Stephen Buranyi
It's a long-ish read from The Guardian, but it sounds to me like a sophisticated game of Three Card Monte.

And you thought you weren't getting short-changed. :)

Monday, June 26, 2017

nothing left to buy? think again

$185 paper/money clip
Good design, it is said, should render an object invisible. Until you whack a designer logo on it, at which point it becomes the opposite: a talking point, a must-have, and (in this instance) the only Prada item that you could conceivably afford.
That, we’ll hazard, is the thinking behind its oversized silver paperclip, a snip at $185 (£145), and the latest in a litany of designer accessories inspired by the mundane and the everyday. In fairness, it’s a money clip with a logo, but everyone knows money clips are for rich people (people who deal exclusively in notes) so the irony is still there.
Imagine -- for some people this is serious stuff.

Republicans urged to ... uh ...act

Why do I have this sense that Republican difficulties will probably be ironed out by Democrat ineptness?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) -- At least one influential donor has informed congressional Republicans that the "Dallas piggy bank" is closed until he sees major action on health care and taxes.
Texas-based donor Doug Deason has already refused to host a fundraiser for two members of Congress and informed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., his checkbook is closed as well.
"Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed," Deason said in a pointed message to GOP leaders. "You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There's no reason you can't get this done. Get it done and we'll open it back up."

women live longer; men....

I wonder if it's true that women live longer than men because women sacrifice for life while men sacrifice for ego (the stuff that puts food on the table) ... and life is more interesting than ego.
Although the gap in life expectancy had started to narrow in the 1970s, the overall death rate is again climbing, particularly for white American men, making it essential to understand why the state of men’s health is going from bad to worse.
Buddhists, among others, frequently give ego a bad rap and it certainly deserves investigation, but to suggest that ego is without its uses is a step too far. It takes a toll, telling so many half-truths, bolstering and waxing boisterous and locking horns.

I don't know. I just wonder and figure my half-baked speculation is as possible as some BBC quasi-scientific speculation. Probably not, but it might make for a beer-drinking topic.

the IS in Israel

A high-profile body that liaises between Israel and the Jewish diaspora has reacted with fury at a decision by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to in effect abandon a plan to allow men and women to pray together at the Western Wall.
The Jewish Agency has cancelled a gala dinner with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and is to discuss the ramifications of the decision at a meeting this week.
The Israeli cabinet decided on Sunday to scrap a compromise agreement made 17 months ago, which was intended to resolve a battle lasting more than a quarter of a century over equal rights for women praying at the Western Wall.
The longer I live, the more I appreciate the ethical potential of spiritual life and the less I appreciate its unwillingness to dig deeper and, common-sensically, set aside spiritual life in favor of a life that could not be un-spiritual if it tried.

If you have a god, it is wiser to stop picking his/her/or its nose in my opinion. God, after all, is fine and ascertainably 'true' ... or 'untrue' ... so stop mucking about. Practice, clarify, don't be believer-lazy ... get with the program.

The stupidity among smart people is a marvel of sorts.

PS. As a possible addition to the cheering section, the White House has broken with a 20-year tradition and decided not to host a Muslim meal that marks the end of Islam's Ramadan ... a quasi-fasting ritual of the religion.
For the first time in over two decades, the White House did not host an Iftar or Eid celebration dinner to mark the month of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month when Muslims fast during daylight hours....
Iftar dinners inviting prominent members of the Muslim community to break their fast at the White House were continued each year during the administrations of both President Bush and President Obama.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also broke with tradition by not hosting an Iftar dinner at the State Department during Ramadan, as has happened for the past two decades.
Building bridges and building fences ... how about it?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

shaking the foundations

I had thought my neighbor Doreen was going for a brain-cancer operation yesterday, but instead I heard her talking across the street on her porch, ambled over and learned that the operation (remember to call it a 'procedure') had been bumped to Tuesday and she had returned. She, her mother, and another neighbor were chatting.

Doreen had a newly-minted C-shaped and stapled scar in the vicinity of her left ear and another shorter scar high on her forehead, at her hair line. She seemed to be in fine fettle -- chatting and touched by all the attention she was getting (there's some worldwide prayer circle rooting for her, among other things). When I asked what the doctors had told her, she said, "They got it all."

The cancer had migrated from her lungs, for which she had an earlier ... uh ... procedure. Steroids kept her pepped up. She was not allowed to take a shower and other indignities circumscribed her newest lifestyle, but ... she had the energy to keep up a good face. Had the doctors 'got it all?' I don't know, but I hope so.

After a while, the two of us were alone on her porch and Doreen said she always enjoyed talking to me. She said things had changed -- her priorities ... the stuff she considered important. She couldn't really nail it down, but her words made me think that something inside was shuddering, sort of like jars on the shelves that tinkled in an aftershock earthquake: The jars stayed in place, but it was clear they might fall and break and ... life's presumptions and assumptions were not so easy or assured.

I think everyone has a reality motor that hums below with surface of social being. It's the way things are and everyone knows it, but it takes a jolt of some sort to float it to the surface. It's nice to have assumptions and presumptions and go about life's business dressed in some affable underwear. I don't want to linger over my health and its fragility. It's boring and nothing gets done and yet ... well, there it is, insisting, in the wake of an aftershock.

Well, I guess that's the way of things: If you don't think about or address death, that's no reason why death will decline to think about or address you. It really is annoying ... thinking about health and what to do to preserve it. Since others do not yet pick this particular nose, thinking about death puts people at a lonely remove from the general flow of social interaction. And you can't unthink it. Worse, you cannot fix it: Everyone knows the truth when they hear or live it. So, if previous assumptions are tinkling on the shelf, how do I reach the false assurances I once commanded? I want to believe and yet, all of a sudden, belief simply doesn't cut it.

Things are clearer than they once were but clarity does not assure relief and release. Certainty, even when fabricated, is so much cozier than uncertainty. Shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits ... as George Carlin might say. The best I can figure is that when something is inescapable, the only useful activity is to go towards it....

Not that that solves much of anything. :) Revamping a long-standing habit like belief is exhausting just to think about and yet ... what other choice is there?

Friday, June 23, 2017


A once-in-a-lifetime offer is a bit of hyperbole describing something special, isn't it?

Birth -- unless you are into multiple lives -- is a once-in-a-lifetime offer. It only happens once.

Death -- unless you are into multiple lives -- is a once-in-a-lifetime offer. It only happens once.

In this realm, birth and death are special -- a shiver-me-timbers possibility or actuality.

But if birth and death are so special, why are they happening all the time and in the all-around? Look around. True, you or I may only get one shot at it, but that doesn't seem to constrain birth and death. Birth and death seem as common as salt. Is that special?

My Zen teacher's teacher, Soen Nakagawa, once commented, "There is birth and there is death. In between, there is enlightenment." I never did get to ask him what he could possibly mean by "in between." Would I have understood his answer? Would it have been special?

Another once-in-a-lifetime offer, I imagine.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

remembering beauty

I have always been a sucker for beauty: It can lay me out. It is, quite literally, something to die for. But what is it? I don't know and still, I am a sucker for beauty.

-- Before she died, I once begged -- and I do not beg -- my younger sister to play the piano for me. She admitted that she played, but said she only played for herself. I begged and begged to no avail. Why did I begs?
In earlier times, when she and my older sister had no married lives or children, I one day heard both of them ... downstairs ... taking piano lessons.
My older sister got all the notes right. It was good.
My younger sister got the same tune wrong and yet, and yet, her playing made my heart soar. There was passion, there was love, and there were errors that made absolutely no difference. Beauty does not mean perfection.

-- I have seen numerous beautiful statues of Gautama the Buddha -- wonderfully carved, expressive, yummy. And yet there is only one I really remember. It was made out of what was clearly a piece of fire wood. Blackened by time, with chisel or knife marks entirely apparent. Someone, somewhere, had sat down and done that work, perhaps after a long day of work. It was chunky and clunky and it pierced me to a place I cannot name.

-- Once, at the University of California at Berkeley, I went to a gymnasium to hear the violinist David Oistrakh play. He was not my favorite violinist. He stood beneath a basketball backboard that had  been folded up to create space around this virtuoso. I sat in an uncomfortable folding chair along the upper track section of the gym. Oistrakh stood alone with his violin in a place whose acoustics were poor at best. And he played. And the music was so beautiful that it was like staring at the sun -- there came a time when I simply could no longer listen. I had to stop ... had to for reasons I cannot name. I was being sucked into some ineffable forever. I was being burned alive with beauty.

-- In Berlin, I went to hear the great guitarists Andre Segovia and Carlos Montoya. First came Segovia. He entered the stage and sat in the chair provided. He sat and he waited. He waited until all whispering and coughing and fidgeting had died away. He insisted that it die away. He was the maestro and he demanded reverence for his achievement. It was an uncomfortable series of moments. Finally, he played something classical and recognizable. He didn't miss a note. There was applause and perhaps an encore. When Montoya entered the same stage some months later, he reminded me of a rumpled sock at the bottom of the laundry hamper. His music was folk-based, dance-based. Montoya paid no attention to coughs and whispers. He played and let the music do the talking. It made me feel like a dog rolling over on a lawn -- all waggy-tailed and wiggly with delight. The audience seemed to feel the same. Again and again the audience called him back. Everyone was in love with the man who recognized and loved the music. Again and again they would not let him go. I too was wild to have him return. Finally, he came out one last time and spoke in English because he did not seem to speak German. "I am tired," he said approximately, "but let me play some scales." And he did -- hammering-on scales that did nothing more than go up and go down ... and honest to Christ, I thought the concert hall would collapse with the adoration of the applause. Me too! Me too! Take me too!
-- Once, when deeply immersed in the brown-rice circuit of spiritual practice, I had a friend who was into shiatsu. She asked if she could practice on me. Sure, I said, not quite sure if shiatsu or some more intimate connection were in the offing. And she began and continued and continued and bit by bit, I was a goner. Was she just beginning or had she ended? There seemed to be no edges to what was happening. If someone had put a snub-nosed .38 behind my ear and whispered, "this is it," I would have been forced to agree, "this is it ... shoot me now."

-- In a largely-empty art gallery, I was staring at a painting of a mountain. It wasn't a very good painting, but it had swept me in. And at just about that moment, I heard the fruity, ersatz voice of the gallery owner behind me, crooning, "Beautiful, isn't it?" And I was suddenly enraged. I was within an ace of beating the shit out of him. I hated... hated... hated ... But what did I hate? Don't talk ... don't move ... don't praise ... just DON'T!!!

Which is precisely what I am doing here. And yet I want to remember that there have been these times and others like them when everything came together or fell apart or whatever ... and took me with them.

Not you. Just me. 

Thank you... and apologies.