Thursday, November 23, 2017

the wide, wide world of bullshit

I don't know that I need to read a whole book about it, but this Guardian excerpt was pretty enjoyable:
From inboxing to thought showers: how business bullshit took over
Vacuous management-speak is easily laughed off – but is there a real cost to talking rubbish?

the Jewish ... err American... conspiracy

And when it comes to letting a cat out of the bag -- not entirely, mind you, but close enough -- there is the case of and Israeli diplomat who goofed:
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A top Israeli diplomat was rebuked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday for suggesting that American Jews have a poor commitment to service in the U.S. military....
“Most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan or to Iraq,” [Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely] said on i24 TV news on Wednesday.
According to a 2009 survey published by the congressionally-mandated Military Leadership Diversity Commission, an estimated 1.09 percent of the members of the U.S. armed forces are Jewish. The Pew Research Center estimated in 2013 that Jews make up about 2 percent of the U.S. adult population.
Naturally, Netanyahu rebuked Hotovely, who is in other times a Netanyahu ally. "Anti-semitism" was shoehorned into the critique. Israel has too much riding on its links with the U.S. to have some upstart rattling the financial apple cart.

But my feeling is that Hotovely's observations do not need to be reined in -- they need to be expanded beyond their Jewish flavorings to include a majority of Americans of whatever religion. Congress -- remember when they represented the country? -- has not mustered the nerve to declare war in the Middle East where it is fighting "wars" if the media are to be believed. Dead American bodies are being shipped home under a decorous and politically-useful anonymity. And the Veterans Administration copes with wounds that may be worse than death. It sure smells like "war" to me. Isn't it time that those who know how to don cuff links commit their spawn or ... get out?

if it doesn't work, do it again

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan/KABUL (Reuters) - As U.S. and Afghan forces pound Taliban drug factories this week, farmers in the country’s largest opium producing-province and narcotics experts say the strategy just repeats previous failed efforts to stamp out the trade.
U.S. Army General John Nicholson, who heads NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, announced on Monday a new strategy of attacking opium factories, saying he wanted to hit the Taliban “where it hurts, in their narcotics financing”....
“The Taliban will not be affected by this as much as ordinary people,” said Mohammad Nabi, a poppy farmer in Nad Ali district in the southern province of Helmand, the heartland of opium production.
“Farmers are not growing poppies for fun. If factories are closed and businesses are gone, then how will they provide food for their families?"
According to Wikipedia, opium production in the land of America's longest war, Afghanistan, has risen each year since the U.S. invasion of 2001.  "As of 2017, opium production provides about 400,000 jobs in Afghanistan, more than the Afghan National Security Forces."

When the Taliban, a scurvy lot to say the philosophical least, were in charge, such production was banned. And it worked. So it seems that the U.S. in all its wisdom is attacking the only group to have successfully achieved what the U.S. claims it want to achieve. Does that count as "enabling" and supporting the heroin trade?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

sex -- the feeding frenzy

In the long ago and faraway, when the Soviet Union was so big that it had 13 time zones, I used to wonder at the muffled coverage accorded to that behemoth by The New York Times, a newspaper whose motto was, "All the News that's Fit to Print." How could so little be accorded to so much? How could nothing of note be happening in so much inhabited space? Was "Moscow" really the alpha and omega of Soviet datelines? The word "arrogance" did not cross my mental lips at the time ... this was The New York Times, after all.

A little of the same awe crosses my mind lately as one sexual allegation after another is laid at the feet of powerful (mostly) men. Every day, there's a new member of the club. Politics, sports, business, medicine, religion ... and I seriously doubt that the no-name women are included or assuaged.

The allegations are decades old, perhaps, but enough disparaging of women appears, for the moment, to be enough... and it makes an easy news story ... the feeding frenzy ... whose facts are probably true, but it's still a feeding frenzy that tends to blunt the very cause it seeks to air. I hope it benefits the women who have come forward and whose courage I applaud.

Day after day.

Here's a truncated laundry list.

And it's hard not to wonder what is happening in the other time zones where news organizations are now assiduously not looking. It's sort of like a blackout: What a great time to rob a bank.

"manipulative cowardice"

"Manipulative cowardice" -- the tart observation came unbidden into my mind after a phone call I received yesterday from a woman seeking information about a woman who used to run a Zen center here in Northampton. It was a cold call: I didn't know the woman calling and was forced to say that I was pretty much out of the Zen loop of teachers and centers and various activities. I did point her towards various sources that might help her.

I might have shut the conversation down sooner, but I spun it out partly because I was interested in my own reactions.

The caller's voice was top-heavy with that treacly and little-disguised self-congratulation of being willing (and by extension able) to help others. She pressed the go-to buzzers of "mindfulness" and "being centered" and "enlightenment" and "we" and ... well, you get the drift. She had practiced for ten years, she said, and had written and lectured and ... well, you get the drift.

It was nothing I hadn't done myself at one time, so I was equipped to recognize the activity. What interested me was the fact that her observations and threads yesterday failed to surprise or even irritate me very much. Who knows what will inspire whom to find out something useful ... or useless: there's not much difference?

I did stop her when she got around to the word "we" and said I wasn't much interested in what "we" did or thought, but I was curious about what "she" did or thought. Yes, I could sympathize with the unwillingness or inability to speak a singular truth or appreciation. But not to give a gentle nudge to the "manipulative cowardice" -- the need to be buttressed by some amorphous and presumptuous group that agreed with you -- seemed unkind. She paid my query little heed. She was neck-deep in her formulae and, well ... sometimes that the way things are... having an answer or explanation or improvement for everything.

OK ... let 'er rip. No one can outflank or sweet talk life into submission. Talk as much as you like. Be as "kind" as you imagine you are. Life is not a place that offers or promises safety. It's just life.

Anyway, I wasn't as irritated as I thought I might be. I listened and I asked if she had ever thought of giving it all up and then listened to the answer "we" might long to hear and she could round up kudos for.

Without disrespect, it was a bit like listening to a drug addict who, despite his or her best efforts, simply cannot put a cork in the self-referential miasma. Calling it "cowardice" is a bit too tart, perhaps, but it's in that neighborhood, I think. And "manipulative?" Well, everyone (did I just say "we?") has to put spaghetti on the table.

I was pleased I wasn't more crabby. Being crabby presupposes that my own lift-off yardstick in spiritual trekking ("I don't want to convince anyone else; I just want to know -- for me -- whether spiritual adventure is bullshit or not") is somehow correct or without confused flaw.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

forgotten places photos

The first historic photographer of the year awards showcase the world’s very best historic places and cultural sites from across the globe, capturing everything from the most famous national treasures to obscure and forgotten hidden gems. Here, the photographers tell the stories behind their pictures
A couple I liked:

Wat Mahathat is a 14th-century temple reduced to ruins in 1767 when the Burmese army invaded Ayutthaya. Over time, a tree has grown around one of the remaining stone Buddha heads, such that it is now completely enclosed by its roots with only the face peeking out. Mathew Browne  
Just outside Uyuni, Bolivia, trains were abandoned decades ago and left to rot at 3,656 metres (11,995ft). Built by the British, the railway transported minerals to the Pacific coast until the mining industry collapsed in the 1940. Pamela Jones

burned out doctors

That crap blocking your arteries may well be attributed to a waxing "burnout" among physicians.
Some leading healthcare executives now say the way medicine is practiced in the United States is to blame, fueled in part by growing clerical demands that have doctors spending two hours on the computer for every one hour they spend seeing patients....
[R]esearchers have shown that burnout erodes job performance, increases medical errors and leads doctors to leave a profession they once loved....
Experts define burnout as a syndrome marked by emotional exhaustion, cynicism and decreased effectiveness. Many burned out doctors cut back their hours to cope, and a disturbing number commit suicide....
[P]rimary care physicians spend more than half of their 11.4 hour workday performing data entry and other tasks, according to a September AMA/University of Wisconsin study published in the Annals of Family Medicine.
To manage, doctors often finish work at home in the evening, a part of the day known as “pajama time.”  

Monday, November 20, 2017

2nd cataract

... 'procedure' today ... a three hour wait for a 15 minute operation.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

sticking up for journalism

I am a fan of The Guardian. On the whole, it is my go-to source of world news not least because it seems to espouse journalistic values I appreciate. Remember "the other side of the story?" The Guardian ain't pitch-perfect, but at least it tries.

Currently, there is a "long read" (and be forewarned, it is long) by The Guardian's editor-in-chief, Katherine Viner: "A Mission for Journalism in a Time of Crisis."

For the newsies who read this site, I recommend her essay as a nice assessment of news in our times ... or perhaps news whose underpinnings I approve of. It made me feel good in a time when feel-good is alternatively too easy to come by or too incredibly difficult to find.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

quirky laws in U.S. states

sticking up for the sacred

An Irish Catholic priest does not appear to be just another whiny Christian.

The Rev. Desmond O’Donnell simply suggests that his flock get with the times and acknowledge the fact that "Christmas" is devoid of sacred meaning. For this reason, O'Donnell has suggested that Christians stop using the word, according to a story in The Guardian.
'We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that.'
O’Donnell said he is not seeking to disparage non-believers. 'I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer.'...
O’Donnell said unless Catholicism addressed the reality of what the word Christmas has come to mean, 'secularisation and modern life will continue to launder the church...'
Just because some things aren't sacred doesn't mean all things aren't.

Friday, November 17, 2017

religion as a buttress and bulwark

I think Julia told me her boyfriend's father, who died recently, was a Seventh Day Adventist. As a result, Julia told me in a phone conversation, her boyfriend had, growing up, lived in a lot of different countries as his dad pursued a course of spreading the good word.

But the death was a lingering, languorous one fraught with pain. But worse than the painful indignities that dying visited on the dying man was the fact that his lifelong faith did not sustain and succor him. The family was aghast. The dying man, father to Julia's boyfriend among others, railed against the religion he had followed in lock-step all of his life. It was as if he were saying to his God, "Why are you visiting this pain on me when I have been so faithful to You?!" He ranted and forswore what had once been so dear and his near kin were reduced to trembling: Wasn't religion a means of addressing death in good spirits? Wasn't it a bulwark and a buttress? The old man was adamant in his ire according to Julia. How this affected Julia's boyfriend she didn't say, but it must have been a surprise at a minimum.

Strangely, as one who had spent close to 50 years embracing spiritual life, I found the story consoling.

I had called Julia because, in the distant past, she had been a brick when it came to piecing together my book, "Answer Your Love Letters: Footnotes to a Zen Practice." I knew nothing of internet vagaries and Julia knew the codes. More than that, she was willing to put them at my disposal. The book would never have been published without her hard work.

In the course of collaboration, I learned that Julia was also an artist whose work and mind I liked. It was a recollection of that fondness that prompted my phone call: I thought she might offer some good input on my idea to create a peacenik button saying "If you really want to honor our veterans, stop making them." I thought I might scrape together the money to have the button printed up in bulk and then distributed for free ... maybe at VFW halls.

But it had been a long time since I talked to Julia and in the years gone by she had come to the conclusion that although she hated the man called Donald Trump, she was happy with what he had done in Washington. "I can only watch Fox News now," she told me without rancor as she got around to why she would not help me with the button. She was among the angry who felt disenfranchised and dispossessed by the government that was meant to represent her. Despite all the years gone by, I had expected her to be on my liberal page in the present as she had been on my liberal page in the past. Life has a way of disregarding the fondest of expectations.

And so we segued into other topics as people of our age can. I am 77 and Julia is in her 60's, I think and neither of us is interested in a teen-ager's shouting match. Age softens the edges that righteousness can sharpen. Anyway, we took a slow curve into other realms ... stuff like her boyfriend's father and his cranky demise.

The old man died without a good word for the religion he had folded himself into with gusto. The course correction seemed horrific to those who gathered around his death bed. A sorrow. A betrayal. And yet ....

To me, it seemed a blessing. Or anyway it seemed to bless my waxing sense that the purpose of donning spiritual life in the first place -- the sole nourisher, in fact -- was learning the ability and understanding that comes/came with divestiture. Far from leaning on some staff of reassurance, a believer is best served, especially when confronted by death, when all reassurances are set gently aside.

Think of it: No baby ever slid down the vaginal pipe attended by religion or spiritual preference. The sole capacity of the newborn is the capacity to suck, to nourish itself, and to live. Religion and its precincts were add-ons -- succor for the suckers who already know how to suck. This is not meant as a criticism of spiritual effort, which has many fine attributes, nor of God. It is an acknowledgment of the way in which human life unfolds. Each is born in his or her time and the Post-It's are glued on after the fact -- the habits and capabilities and successes and failures and all the other little notes that shape the person who could use a little reassurance from time to time.

Not for a moment would I disparage another's spiritual leanings. Atheism, like credulity, is pretty simple. I would only suggest that as the child once outgrew boots and clothes as winters passed, so the clothing of spiritual life might face a time when it was appropriate to put all reassurances aside. No need for anger or for joy.

It is simply what happens when the reassurances lose their assurance...

With an assurance that only death can provide.

black-and-white newspaper

The old third-grade puzzler used to ask, "What's black and white and red/read all over?" The answer was "a newspaper" until color was introduced into newsprint and the puzzle lost its zip.

Around here, a three-hour power outage two days ago means that the newspaper has been delivered in throwback black-and-white both yesterday and today. Somehow the lack of electricity messed with the capacity to print color photos and graphics.

The drab results put me in mind of a time when I thought the introduction of color to newspapers was too gaudy and couldn't last. Now, my habit of looking for color reveals itself.

Something to whine about ... thank god.

donations for a bird-flipper

Passed along in email was this today: The woman who flipped Donald Trump's motorcade the bird and was subsequently fired when she admitted her role has rounded up the better part of a $100,000 GoFundMe effort to support her valor.

What I'm waiting for is a dollar amount her former company -- the one which fired her -- is going to have to shell out. Talk about dingbat idiocy. At a minimum, the CEO ought to be fired for lacking the skill and foresight to know the results of a hoo-hah patriotism. Would you want a skill-less dimwit like this running your company?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

15 corrupt convictions thrown out

Leonard Gipson, one of 15 convicted men, talks to reporters after a judge in Chicago threw out the convictions Thursday.
CHICAGO (AP) — One by one, the men told the same story: A Chicago police officer would demand money from them. And if they didn’t pay, they would find themselves in handcuffs with drugs stuffed in their pockets.
A Cook County judge on Thursday threw out the felony drug convictions of 15 black men who all say they were locked up for no other reason except that they refused to pay Ronald Watts.
It was the largest mass exoneration in memory in Chicago.

gifts from China

My across-the-street neighbor Joe and his wife Pat returned from China yesterday. I had thought they were to be gone three weeks but it turned out to be two. Joe brought me an unasked-for calligraphy from a monastery known for having sent monks to India who then brought home the first scrolls and texts of Buddhism. Joe said the souvenir calligraphy wished good fortune or some such for "adam." A nice thought ... and he told me he had brought as well a pebble from the Great Wall, which I asked for but was stashed, for the moment, inside Joe's house.

asked to be kept in solitary confinement

The man who asked to be kept in solitary confinement.

the "First Church of Artificial Intelligence"

Passed along in email today came this article about a start-up church of artificial intelligence.

My first snarky reaction was, "Go out and play in the street!"

But then, because someone is bound to buy in and because there may be something to buy into, I responded to my friend who sent it along:
Will it be benevolent, will it be belligerent, can (wo)men shape and control it ... ??? Questions abound and I am suspicious of anyone (including me) who says s/he is capable of seeing the outcome. One yardstick I have started using lately is the question "Does it fold in failure?" AI doesn't seem willing to fail ... which makes it inhuman ... not to mention boring and, from a human standpoint, malevolent.

It is interesting how, in one way or another, articles try and try and try again to get a handle on the whole matter -- as if an explanation were going to explain, and hence control, this brave new world.


escape from exceptionalism

The exceptionalism of the many.
The exceptionalism of the few.
Without what is exceptional,
What would any of us do?

Perhaps the upshot is that pigs have been and will continue to be oink-meisters.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

the seal of confession?

In August, a commission investigating child abuse in the Catholic church of Australia recommended that any failure to report suspicions of child sex abuse to the authorities should result in criminal charges – even if the discovery was made within the seal of the confessional. “We are satisfied,” the commissioners wrote, “that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behaviour in order to deal with their own guilt.” The archbishop of Melbourne’s reply was unequivocal: the seal could not be broken, and if that meant going to jail, well, so be it.
On the one hand, how wondrous to be absolved of child abuse or any other catastrophe.
On the other hand, how horrific the hidden fallout.

Who would not give a lot to feel/believe the weights might be taken or fall away?
Responsibility is a crucifixion and you don't need to be a Roman Catholic to know that.

democracy ... kind of

Report on global democracy:
Globally, progress has been made in nearly all of these measures over the past 40 years, meaning public institutions are more accountable and representative than ever before. But the impartiality of governments remains unchanged.
“This has been the most difficult thing for democracies to tackle since 1975 to today,” said Ebead. “The sophistication with which democratic backsliding [into autocratic systems] occurs within countries has gone up over the past decade. In the past, democratic backsliding in a county would occur in the form of a coup d’etat or classical electoral fraud with the stuffing of ballot boxes.”
Such methods are still used, but governments also have access to new technologies that can allow them to manipulate voting systems.

power outage

From shortly before 9 a.m. to shortly before 12:00 p.m., there was a power outage in the neighborhood ... or, if my neighbor is to be believed, from Worcester to all of western Massachusetts.

What writing I had planned on the oh-so-electrical computer was thrown into a cocked hat.

But there was water (gravity) and gas for the stove.

Things were quieter without the electricity. Strange how something intrinsically silent can make so much noise and ease the clangor by its absence.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Verbal flatulence. Was there ever a time without it?

Joining the old-timers "we" and "one," these days in seemingly every verbal venue, the word "so" has added its smarmy song to the verbal-flatulence chorus. These days, questions asked by interviewers are answered, in preface, by the word "so."

Why did the cat get up on the garage roof?

So, it seems that the prospect was just too irresistible.

What color is the white house?

So, white has always been the preferred color of a majority of houses.

Why is the sky blue?

So, the sky has its devices....

How does it happen that "so" has joined the verbal flatulence realm?

So, if everyone is doing it, it's cozy and social and sounds thoughtful and offers a moment in which to reflect so, I dunno.


So, why not?

So it sounds dumber than a box of rocks.


Just so.

news missing, warmth remains

The warming sense of community once exuded by the local newspaper has faded into barely-veiled advertising and safe-sex press releases about various "boards" and "officials" in this small city's small newspaper.

And yet, with winter in the offing, the Daily Hampshire Gazette still delivers a warmth in its capacity to fire up the wood stove. It's not the same warmth of news reporting, but I do appreciate the wood-warmth even as I miss the news-reporting that the newspaper once provided a bit of.

In an era of safe-sex and dwindling-dwindling-dwindling news -- the capacity to turn over rocks for the benefit of readership -- I guess paying for a little kindling has to be expected.

Merchandizing by merchants -- what the hell else did I expect?

Viva the Donald Trump motif!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Modigliani -- rapscallion and wunderkind

"He was the ‘ravishing villain’ who drank, took drugs and bed-hopped his way around Paris. But Modigliani’s nudes – warm portraits of confident women – caused a revolution in painting"

traveling in China

As I sit here writing, my across-the-street neighbors, Joe and Pat DeBlase, are touring China.

Imagine that.

I'm not sure why it pleases me as much as it does. I don't wish I were there in their stead.

But it does please me.

virtue meets its maker

Two snowball fights and I am not sure I've got the energy to retail them, but here goes....

The first came in perhaps the second grade, maybe 70 years ago. At the public school I attended, there was one "gang" -- a kind of club which, like other clubs, relied in part for its definition to the people it excluded. It was good to belong to the "gang," the in-crowd, and saddening not to.  Glasses and freckles and girls, perhaps, qualified for exclusion.

But one day, bolstered at home by Pete Seeger's Almanac Singers and the willingness to fight the good labor fight on vinyl records, I gathered all those who were outside the gang and challenged the gang to a snowball fight in the school parking lot during recess. There was a great mound of plowed snow and we made our stand on top of that heap. We may have been outgunned by numbers, but we had the virtue of the underdog (in my mind) and we had elevation. These, I imagined, would see us through to a victory that would leave the gang in the shade.

Only of course it didn't. Once the fight started, it was clear that recess could not end soon enough. Virtue and all, we got clobbered. When it was all over, the kids with freckles, glasses, physical challenges and verifiable stupidities remained excluded. The gang was intact.

Some years later, in the 6th or 7th grade at a boarding school of some 50 students, a group of the best arms available (twelve of us perhaps) challenged the rest of the school to a snowball fight. We had built fortifications up near a wonderful drift. We had laid in pre-made snowballs. We felt confident the best arms could flatten the mere rabble.

Well oops again: What seemed like the entire rest of the school (including teachers) turned out to meet our challenge. The best arms were not good enough for the seething numbers. We got clocked. It was a kind of precursor to the Vietnam war at a time when most of us had never heard of Vietnam.

What wondrous visions and hopes I brought to those snowy battles. What should happen surely would happen. Only it didn't, and looking back, what shudders me worst is the recognition that such good lessons should be blithely ignored as time passed and decency and virtue still sang their siren song.

Sometimes I wish I'd turned out smarter, but it's too late now.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

where politesse can spell death

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Women are less likely than men to get CPR from a bystander and more likely to die, a new study suggests, and researchers think reluctance to touch a woman’s chest might be one reason.
Only 39 percent of women suffering cardiac arrest in a public place were given CPR versus 45 percent of men, and men were 23 percent more likely to survive, the study found.

the parched Ogallala aquifer

DENVER (AP) — The draining of a massive aquifer that underlies portions of eight states in the central U.S. is drying up streams, causing fish to disappear and threatening the livelihood of farmers who rely on it for their crops.
Water levels in the Ogallala aquifer have been dropping for decades as irrigators pump water faster than rainfall can recharge it.
An analysis of federal data found the Ogallala aquifer shrank twice as fast over the past six years compared with the previous 60, The Denver Post reports. ...
Also known as the High Plains Aquifer, the Ogallala underlies 175,000 square miles (453,000 square kilometers), including parts of Colorado, Wyoming Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. That’s one of the primary agricultural regions of the U.S., producing $35 billion in crops annually.

thinking man's existence

Or, as Descartes might have put it, "I want, therefore I am."

move over "opiod crisis"

Among the possibilities of something that's labeled as "bad" is the fact that it can always be "worse."

In the United States, the feeding frenzy that has greeted the "opiod epidemic" has been trumped in Canada by the seizure of 42kg of carfentanil in the basement of a house in a well-manicured Toronto neighborhood. Said one researcher, “Carfentanil is about 100 times more toxic than fentanyl and about 10,000 times more toxic than morphine.”
Lab tests eventually revealed 42kg of the substance to be carfentanil – a drug the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has described as “crazy dangerous” and which authorities in the US have flagged as as potential chemical weapon. The local police force had unwittingly stumbled across what is believed to be the largest volume of the opioid ever seized in North America....
Developed in the 1970s as a tranquilizer for large animals such as elephants and bears, the synthetic opioid has also been studied as a potential chemical weapon by countries including the US, China and Israel. It is thought to have been deployed with disastrous effects when Russian special forces attempted to rescue hundreds of hostages from a Moscow theatre in 2002.
But it only burst into public view last year after officials across North America began to warn that it was being cut with heroin and other illicit drugs, leaving a rash of overdoses and deaths in its wake.

a little stupidity

Are interesting people more interested?
Not necessarily.
Are interested people more interesting?
Not necessarily.

I guess you take what you git and another wannabe fortune cookie goes down the drain. Another stupid question for which there are only stupid answers. An imponderable.

Still, I'm kind of interested.

I never said I wasn't stupid.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day

Remembering combat veterans.

Let me be clear from the get-go: I have absolutely no personal experience of the raging sorrow and enveloping fear and screaming slice-and-dicing reality of combat and the wounds sustained by those who have lived and outlived it. I have no experience: Imagination is mere arrogance, however it grovels and praises and thanks.

Zip. Zero. Nada. Nothing ... that is the extent of my bona fides. I can rightly be accused of being as oozing liberal wimp. I might wish I knew more and combat vets might wish I knew more, but the fact is, I don't know more, however much I may blubber and fume. Yeah, I was a pencil-pushing spy for three years, but I never was in overt combat.

But that doesn't mean I can't allow myself a rasher of wrath.

Today is Veterans Day -- a time to remember those who were lost to combat and war and other widespread insanity and self-congratulation.

There are no doubt many ways to remember those who fell in the old men's wars that sent young men to die and be horribly scarred. I am thinking of only two of those ways: 1. Service and 2. Servitude.

The bunting is on display here in the U.S. and in other countries around the world. At first, this date marked the ending of World War I -- the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh month. Peace, so to speak, broke out. These days, with so many subsequent combat missions in the past, World War I is just one among the many markers set by old men who seldom if ever put themselves in the line of fire, however much their fingerprints are on the trigger.

Service -- yes, we honor the sacrifice, and sorrow for the loss and wish we could weep the tears young men were constrained to weep. God, I am so sorry. It must be said that young men are not without their enthusiasms for the kinship wars welded. Like those waving the flag along the parade route, they too would like to come away with something (like peace) that made some sense. But when they recall what cannot be escaped in the dead of night, "service" is not a bulwark that holds up well.

Service -- blessings be upon it.

But that service has another name that fits as well -- servitude. The old men who concoct and conjure wars have always sent others to do the dirty work they convince themselves is warranted. The law of the land is the law of the battlefield. Let the kids do it ... they're enthusiastic enough and stupid enough to be led by their elders ...whose children seldom serve. It is in the old men that the levers of power and policy reside and it is they who exercise their "good judgment" and waste the children instead of insisting they grow up straight and sound and peaceful. True, peace is a more daunting mission because it means so much more than 'the absence of war.' But if the old men cannot exercise their good judgment in the name of nourishment and peace, will someone tell me why it is not they, rather then the kids, who should be cut down.

Servitude -- in the service of money and lip-service glory: Do we want our kids to grow up to be a mewling merchant willing to sell off patrimony for the blood of sons and daughters? Yes, the old men can hold the young in thrall and some of those young people will join up enthusiastically ... but let's check the finger-prints on the triggers of this world and deal with the evidence as it deserves.

Servitude has been tried. It even works. But its capacity to nourish decency and principle ... well, bring on the feudal past... and never imagine that service and servitude are the same thing.

change ... again...oops

Strange to think -- not criticize or improve necessarily, just think -- how much of this life is devoted to finding some aspect or touchstone that does not change at the same time that the slick and slippery 'philosopher' within seeks and growls and yearns for something unchanging.

Love, joy, understanding, enlightenment ... the words and longings roll off the mental tongue ... you know, the 'good' stuff and the cloying TED talks that seek to enshrine and assure some unchanging certainty.

Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it too! What a piss-cutter.

I am as guilty as the next fellow and yet this morning I wonder how much I might have accomplished with all that endeared groveling to the unchanging if I had simply gotten with the program: Everything changes; relief is not the point. Just think -- "I coulda had a V-8."

I recall the very moment in college when, as someone newly-entranced by "philosophy," I ran into some philosopher who advocated for "change." I was in heaven: Here at last was THE Rosetta stone of answers in my unspoken search for The Answer to Everything. Everything I looked at or experienced was always in flux. Everything changed. How delightfully true was that???!!!!

But then -- oops! -- I was tumbled ass over appetite by the realization that if everything changed, that meant my then-relationship with my latest girlfriend was bound -- as I dearly did not want it to be -- to change as well. Well that would never do! I spent long hours trying to write in an exception for my girlfriend. I wanted the delight (change) AND I wanted my girlfriend (unchanging).

Oh well ... another in a long line of ooops-es in the hopper. But did I learn my lesson?


Literally, forgetaboutit.

Friday, November 10, 2017

toast my tootsies

A brisk and bristling breeze has overtaken the day.

It makes old sods like me wish that someone would impose global warming ... NOW.

Alternatively, I suppose we could have summer ... which I seem to have missed.

without which...?

Start the day with a little laughter:

And perhaps a little music:

Thursday, November 9, 2017

time warp/brain fart

Now, at 8:52, I have finally gotten things sorted out.

When I went into the other room six or eight minutes ago to rouse my wife and find out if she were going to work, I told her it was 8:30.

"You're right," she said groggily. "It is 8:30 night."

I have been operating as if morning were in full swing when in fact it is not.

Oh well, what's 12 hours between friends?

It's another excuse to sleep, I suppose.

the changing face of politics

Color, gender, ethnicity ... Tuesday's elections contained some historic wins.
Wilmot Collins

Perhaps newly-elected Helena, Mont., mayor Wilmot Collins, a one-time Nigerian immigrant, hit the nail on the head when he said,
The country is still not what Mr. Trump wants it to be. ... The citizens of this state and this city where I have lived for the past 23 years have spoken and they are saying we want the best candidate. They’re not looking at color, at background and creed.
Or newly-elected councilwoman Janet Diaz of Lancaster, Pa., who said at the outset of her race, "We need a government that looks like the people it serves ... that looks like its constituents."

Anyway, we can hope, I suppose.

Ban Ki-moon prods U.S.

And a tip of the hat to former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who on Tuesday delivered what I assume will be a wildly disregarded speech in which he urged the United States to get off its ass and adopt universal health care.
The former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called on Americans to pass universal health coverage at a speech in New York City on Tuesday, marking a dramatic intervention of world leaders into the US healthcare debate.
Ban called on the US to stop “powerful interests” from prioritizing “profit over care” as part of a global delegation pushing the US to adopt a publicly financed health system similar to those in other wealthy countries.
The US spends more on healthcare than any nation in the world, yet 28 million Americans still lack care....
Of the 25 richest countries in the world, the United States is the only one without universal health coverage.
Far be it from the Democrats, who are licking their chops over what they may imagine will be mid-term election victories, to take up this effort without equivocation.

Look, Jane -- those are the Democrats.
Those are the Democrats running for office.
Those are the Democrats who already show many signs of shooting themselves in the foot.
Those are the Democrats...
See the Democrats run from the issues as even their Republican brethren have before them.

burglar's remorse?

A little girl's puppy has been reunited with her family, seemingly returned by the same thieves who stole her.
Sasha, an eight-week-old Labrador, was taken during a burglary in Melbourne on Monday morning - along with a laptop, an iPad, and some jewellery.
The family told Australian news outlets they were "devastated" at the loss of four-year-old Maia's "best friend".
But on Thursday, Sasha was discovered in the garden, apparently dropped there by the remorseful thieves.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

fossil fuels bet against renewables

All the gushing enthusiasms in the world cannot yet overcome the balance-sheet realities of fossil fuels when compared to their slim-trim renewable-energy counterparts:
Even as governments and environmentalists forecast a peak in oil demand within a generation - and China and India say they may eventually ban gasoline and diesel vehicles - leaders of the world’s biggest oil firms are not buying the argument that their traditional business faces any imminent threat.
How much of the oil companies' assessments is based on wishful thinking and how much is based on reality is not entirely clear, but the fossil-fuel business seems primed to linger a bit -- or more than a bit -- longer.

Polish solution: Make (out) like a bunny

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Polish government is urging citizens to go forth and multiply like rabbits.
The health ministry of Poland, which has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, has put out a short video praising rabbits for producing many offspring.
PS: Can't embed the video referred to ... which is in Polish ... but whose sparkling message is pretty clear.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

the power of 'the bird'

Ahhhh, enlightened management!

Passed along in email as well as floating around the news wires is the tale of/column about a woman who flipped off (gave the middle finger to) the presidential motorcade, told her bosses about it, and was promptly fired.
On Halloween, after Briskman gave her bosses at Akima, a government contracting firm, a heads-up that she was the unidentified cyclist in the photo, they took her into a room and fired her, she said, escorting her out of the building with a box of her things.
“I wasn’t even at work when I did that,” Briskman said. “But they told me I violated the code-of-conduct policy.”
Aren't there ANY grown-ups out there?

homosexuality? dominance? snuggle?

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Recent photos taken in a Kenyan wildlife area show a rare sight: a male lion mounting another male lion in what resemblesa sexual act but is possibly a way of showing dominance....Paul Goldstein, the photographer who captured the images in Kenya’s Maasai Mara reserve in August, said many other species are known to engage in such behavior and that, for example, he had seen giraffes doing it.
“It was just a dramatic thing to see,” Goldstein said of the male lions. He said he was astonished by a Kenyan media report in which Ezekiel Mutua, a Kenyan official, said the lion behavior was “not normal” and made remarks critical of homosexuality.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Clinton, Brazile and a dash of sexism?

I don't/can't generally keep up with political confetti, but there was something about the Nov 5 story of former Democratic National Convention head Donna Brazile and her book (due out tomorrow) that caught my eye although it was not the focus of the brush fire Brazile has apparently stirred up:
Former Democratic National Committee head Donna Brazile writes in a new book that she seriously contemplated setting in motion a process to replace Hillary Clinton as the party’s 2016 presidential nominee with then-Vice President Biden in the aftermath of Clinton’s fainting spell, in part because Clinton’s campaign was “anemic” and had taken on “the odor of failure.”
In an explosive new memoir, Brazile details widespread dysfunction and dissension throughout the Democratic Party, including secret deliberations over using her powers as interim DNC chair to initiate the process of removing Clinton and running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) from the ticket after Clinton’s Sept. 11, 2016, collapse in New York City.
Brazile writes that she considered a dozen combinations to replace the nominees and settled on Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), the duo she felt most certain would win over enough working-class voters to defeat Republican Donald Trump. But then, she writes, “I thought of Hillary, and all the women in the country who were so proud of and excited about her. I could not do this to them.”
Brazile paints a scathing portrait of Clinton as a well-intentioned, historic candidate whose campaign was badly mismanaged, took minority constituencies for granted and made blunders with “stiff” and “stupid” messages. The campaign was so lacking in passion for the candidate, she writes, that its New York headquarters felt like a sterile hospital ward where “someone had died.” [Washington Post, Nov. 4, 2017; emphasis added throughout]
Dawdling into the past doesn't appeal to me much. 2016 has come and gone. And so perhaps it is just a personal leaning that wishes Brazile had taken the counsel of her "anemic" assessment. And further, that reporters had picked up on the comment that she "could not [replace Hillary Clinton]" at the expense of all those excited and proud American women supporters. What did that mean? Was Brazile falling prey to the notion that women voters deserved to be thrown a sexist bone because of the bad historical treatment they had received? Did she imagine women voters were really that superficial? How would her statements be greeted if the word "men" were substituted for "women?"

Of course, Brazile's second-hand account may be fobbed off on her need to have a back-up plan if Clinton's illness were more than the pneumonia that was subsequently used to describe her fainting fit.

Full-frontal concession: I held my nose and voted for Clinton. She struck me as one of the good ol' boys in girl's clothes, but I didn't think Sanders could win and I wanted to vote against Trump. Clinton, I guessed, would prosecute America's longest war in much the same way her mentor predecessors might and doing something about student debt or income disparity or health care was more a talking point than a reality check for her. But she was an awful flat tire as a campaigner and candidate.

So I hate to think Brazile gave in to a rah-rah version of the women's vote. I would rather think her motives were tactical ... but obviously I am not sure. Clinton was anemic and sterile and Joe Biden struck me then and now as a better mouse trap.

But it's over... except as the Democrats do what they can to shoot themselves in the other scaredy-cat foot in 2018.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

living off -- way off -- the grid

Ambling and shambling among the pipe dreams, perhaps there is this from The Guardian:
Wild at heart: how one woman and her husband live out in the woods
For seven years, Miriam Lancewood and her husband Peter have lived a nomadic life – she is the hunter and he is the cook. Now they’re walking across Europe to Turkey, with a tent and little else.

know a little, ignoring a lot

A story keeps rattling around in my brain this morning -- of a time when I worked at a logging camp in Oregon when I was 19. There were several dangers associated with the work. These included carelessness with the dynamite used to uproot stumps and the driving of Caterpillar bulldozers that dragged newly-cut logs to the trucks that would cart them away. Since the terrain was steep, bulldozers occasionally tipped over and killed the driver... misjudging the angle of a hill and how much traction might be available was no small matter.

One day, I was talking to one of the Cat drivers and asked him how the dangers of tip-over were avoided. He said that newcomers were not the problem: They were aware of how much they didn't know and tried hard to learn ... they were careful, not careless. Old timers were similarly careful because they had been around long enough to realize that however much they knew, there were still things to learn and be careful about. The ones who got killed were the guys in the middle -- the ones who had learned a little and were convinced they had no more to learn. They were cocky and lazy and every now and then, they paid with their lives. I guess that story holds true for a lot of situations in life -- imagining everything's settled when in fact the learning never ends.

I'm really not entirely sure who is more dangerous -- the ones who know or the ones who don't. Either way, I'd prefer not to be rolled over by a Caterpillar.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

reviewing ... everything

my [non-existant] dog

Of all the prayers I know -- and I suspect I know quite a few, assuming I could muster the energy to search them out -- the one I like best for its good nature and practicality is this:
May I become the person my dog thinks I am.
Forty or fifty years of huffing and puffing around spiritual life and, well, that's it.

Now all I need to do is get a dog.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Charles Monroe ... again and never enough...

First, today, it was some writing and then I got wrapped up in rereading Charles Monroe's interview with the Federal Writers' Project in 1939 and was lulled-and-rocked-rocked-and-lulled from beginning to end. At the end of it all, I felt as if I were ready to burst out of a chrysalis and become, perforce, a beautiful butterfly.

A lullaby of small-town life and industrial-strength spirit ... if you have the time.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

menstrual art in Swedish subway station

Graphic artist Liv Strömquist’s series of enlarged felt-pen sketches have been on display at Slussen station for the past five weeks. The Night Garden shows cartoon birds, cats, trees, naked men – and women with unshaven legs and visible menstrual blood.
 It is hard not to sympathize with one tweeting critic who wrote: “It is not enough to get [your period] once a month,” tweeted another. “Now you will be reminded every time you jump on the subway.”

AI's failures ... kind of

If I were to take my pick, I guess I'd guess that the single most shuddering aspect of Artificial Intelligence is its cold-bloodedness -- the inability to accede to the frailties of its current 'master,' i.e. (wo)man. AI doesn't make mistakes and has no sympathy for a world that does.

So perhaps AI would be less upsetting if failure were built into its constitution. Failure, I might argue over a lot of beer, is (wo)man's greatest accomplishment. Creators like to claim a closeness to their creations, dontcha know.

But it would be tricky:

If failure were programmed into AI, that would be a success ... which is not a failure.

On the other hand, failure to program failure in would be a failure ... which is not what AI is programmed for.

Oh fuck it! The dog ate my homework!

another side of the Balfour diktat

Another point of view, this [Palestinian] one largely ignored by those clothing themselves in righteousness and tactical advantage:
Today we mark the centenary of the calamitous Balfour declaration. In 1917, with a few paragraphs and a stroke of his pen, the British foreign minister, Lord Balfour, unleashed historic forces that changed the fate of an entire people and a whole region. He committed a grave sin: promising the homeland of one people to another.
In the interest of candor, I have to admit a soft spot in my heart for the author of the article, Hanan Ashrawi, a woman and politician who seems capable over time of straightforwardness.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

ignorance as the spice of life

The first notable seasonal white rimes the local rooftops this morning. It melds strangely with the fog that slips in and out of the street. The tree of the hanging squirrels across the way is losing its leaves on its furthest tips. No sounds of Canada geese fill the air. It's chilly.

Last night, I had a sweet potato, among other things, for dinner. Or was it a yam? I don't know. What's the difference between a sweet potato and a yam? I don't know. I could look it up, but choose not to.

Ignorance, after all, is the spice of life.

Guardian series on AI

The emerging field of artificial intelligence (AI) risks provoking a public backlash as it increasingly falls into private hands, threatens people’s jobs, and operates without effective oversight or regulatory control, leading experts in the technology warn.
At the start of a new Guardian series on AI, experts in the field highlight the huge potential for the technology. ...
“We are clearly in brand new territory. AI allows us to leverage our intellectual power, so we try to do more ambitious things,” he said. “And that means we can have more wide-ranging disasters.”
One commentator in the above-linked story suggests that it is imperative that the benefits of AI should somehow be made "fair."

Does anyone else feel that "f-bomb" should no longer refer with tut-tut dismay to the word "fuck," but instead be reserved for the duck-and-cover moniker "fair?" The use of the word "fair" reminds me of the word "free" and its associated caveat: "If someone tells you something is 'for free,' grab your wallet."

collateral (marital) damage

MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani police arrested a newly married woman on murder charges after she allegedly poisoned her husband’s milk and it inadvertently killed 17 other people in a remote village, a senior police officer said Wednesday....
Tajak said the woman obtained a poisonous substance from her boyfriend, Shahid Lashari, last week and mixed it in milk for her husband, who refused to drink it. But the woman’s mother-in-law later used the tainted milk to make a traditional yogurt-based drink and served it to 27 members of her extended family, who fell unconscious and were hospitalized.
Seventeen people died and 10 were being treated in a hospital, he said.
Somehow this reminds me of the U.S., which once said Syria's leader, Bashar al-Assad, had to go before any peace initiatives could gain traction. Assad subsequently used nerve gas on those (remember the rows of children's bodies?) who opposed his regime and bombed the shit out of others and now, miraculously, the U.S. is working with Assad against ... uhhh ... you know, the wicked, nasty, and largely unexamined "terrorists" of Islamic State. And here I thought Donald Trump was confusing.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

the "shame" card

I wonder if it's true or whether it is just an effort to concoct another fortune cookie:

The corner stone of all religious life amounts to little more than the capacity to be ashamed of personal short-comings. Since trying like fury to cover up and camouflage (praise and blame) doesn't work very well, acknowledging those short-comings is a natural option, which is not the same as saying it's necessarily easy or even possible.

It can be a bit of a bummer: Covering up, acquiring the 'good things' in life, talking the good talk, has a way of going awry and yet meeting failures and bruises doesn't really provide a cure-all either. It seems an endless skein and yet those who cannot or do not acknowledge their short-comings are less human for it. Or maybe I just mean I'd prefer not to hang around with them.

A Zen teacher (can't remember who) once said, "in order to do this practice, you must feel shame." "Shame" of course is one of those fifty-cent no-no's in the culture where I live. Books are written about how deleterious "shame" is, how everyone is hard-wired for a fruitful joy. It's a cottage industry at a minimum. It's probably better not to call it "shame" since knee-jerk fixer-uppers are just waiting to pounce with another tome.

Whatever the negative implications, still I think that those who can stand the gaff of whatever shame assails them have an odds-on chance of being nicer people.

But that may be a bit too facile, a bit too fortune-cookie-esque.

Monday, October 30, 2017

cataract surgery

Today's adventure....

Sunday, October 29, 2017

the "non-pretty working classes"

           Kathy  Burke: Self-described "member of the non-pretty working classes"          
Sassy, saucy and very competent Kathy Burke, a British actor and director of whom I had never heard until this morning, makes me wonder, together with other trends, whether the era of pretty-people-on-the-silver screen isn't winding down. I honestly wonder if all those enthusiastic virgins (is anyone a virgin any more?) who set out for Hollywood with dreams of becoming a star are not dissolving. Is it possible that in the near future, wannabe stars will be turned away because they are just too pretty?


Look at the influx of fraught and flawed and pale actresses invading ... esp. movies on the internet. They're such a relief, but when the relief becomes a tsunami of 'real people,' who knows, maybe it'll be same-shit-different-day. Movie makers are too often copy-cats. Bleah. But in the meantime, maybe character development will be dragged into the mix... sort of like the 1940's when movies were 90 minutes long and characters actually changed.

I like this tide -- if tide it be -- quite a lot, but will admit that I am having some trouble keeping up with the fraught and flawed types -- they too have a similarity of looks and caring and fragility. True, it ain't boobs and platinum hair and rugged jaws with five-o'clock-shadow, but the similarities among the lately-evolved breed can flummox this old duffer.

What-ever.... it's fun to know there's a go-fuck-yourself trend out there somewhere. How could anyone not love a woman like Kathy Burke who said, "It’s other people that tell me I’ve got a face like a smacked arse."