Wednesday, July 30, 2014

diving giraffes

Passed along in email:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

out of the hospital

Out of the hospital today after a week's stay. Came home with a bushel of meds and a laundry list of good and sometimes well-intentioned advice and I am exhausted. Heart and liver seem to be of interest. I am grateful for well-wishes and thankful for those held in reserve. Thank you, everyone.

I see Joshu Sasaki died in the week's meantime ... there always seems to be a "meantime."

I see no one has discovered who put up the white flags on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City over a week ago. They ran DNA tests. The cops came out with guns ... but somehow no one could get the story. One of those robotic, buxom newscasters with shoulder-length hair and a sense of self that would do Gaza and Israel proud commented about the flags, "we are not amused," as if perhaps her wisdom would flush the perpetrators.... who turned out to be....

I see Israel and Gaza are talking once again as if they really did care about a ceasefire.

Across the street in the 4:30 afternoon light, a gaggle of small brown sparrows seemed agitated by the fact that some of the flock had become trapped behind the screening on a neighbor's porch. There were birds on the outside of the screens while others fluttered within -- as in a rich man's airy collection. I called over my neighbor since I could not walk across the street and asked him to let them go.

And he did.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Some news...

To the readers of my father's blog,

I am here to inform you that he has been hospitalized with some stomach pain that has been ailing him for weeks now. Everything seems to be alright as of now, and the doctors have a plan to get everything back into control, however he wanted me to write a little post about it.

Angus Fisher

Monday, July 21, 2014

waste not, want not

Perhaps he said it, perhaps he did not: Either was Ben Franklin is often saddled with the bon mot, "Waste not, want not."

And wherever it came from, my father was a devotee: He never threw away a perfectly good gin bottle.

Instead, when his supply grew low, he would make a connection with a chemistry professor at the college where he taught, pour the gallon or so od 90+% alcohol in the bathtub, mix with water, add a little juniper juice brought at a local pharmacy, stir and decant into the old bottles. No one ever knew ... or if they did, they didn't complain.

Likewise, he had a walk in closet for his clothes. He never threw old ties away. Instead, against the entire six- or 8-foot-back wall was a wire on which he hung his ties, year after year. Sure enough, ties that had outlasted their fashion statement would be replaced shortly by ties whose new-and-novel became new and novel once more.

I wonder how many spiritual adventures are like that.

Friday, July 18, 2014

ties that bind

"A giant yellow rubber duck floating on Nanming River in China's south-west Guizhou Province has reportedly been swept away by floodwaters just months after it exploded on display in Taiwan.....The duck has been on tour since 2007, popping up in cities including Sydney, Sao Paulo and Baku as a way of bringing people together."  
The Israelis and Palestinians are at it again, brought together in a conflict that as usual seems to put the body count at something like 20-30-40 or more Palestinians killed for each Israeli. On public television the other night, a long-time negotiator said neither side really wants peace because peace would involve self-sacrifices neither is willing to make.
"MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Move over, pot brownies.
The proliferation of marijuana edibles for both medical and recreational purposes is giving rise to a cottage industry of baked goods, candies, infused oils, cookbooks and classes that promises a slow burn as more states legalize the practice and awareness spreads about the best ways to deliver the drug."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

the "good person"

 I dislike borrowing, but this seemed worth borrowing:

We should do good for the sake of goodness, not in order to become a 'good person.'
If you are a 'good person,' then you will suffer.
Just be a human being. Otherwise you will always be annoyed by those who are not 'good people.'
The Buddha taught non-attachment. We should not even be attached to goodness because it leads to suffering.
-Ajahn Chah


YOSHITAKA HAMADA - Daily Hampshire Gazette
Jessica Russell pets "Scout," a mix of poodle and Australian Shepard, during the Blackberry Lane block party in Northampton Saturday, July 12, 2014.
Will someone please tell me when a dog becomes a "mutt," the word I always understood to mean (a la an Internet dictionary) "a pet dog, especially one that does not belong to a particular breed?"

Does it depend on the neighborhood you live in? Does it mean that some aspect of the animal has been blessed by the American Kennel Club, the premier ring of doggie desirability here in the U.S.?

Does it matter what color the owners are?

When slicing the canine lineage pie, does "a half" rank higher than a "quarter." And how do you measure, genetics being what they are?

Is a "mutt" your dog but not mine or vice versa?

If I own a Ford and you own a Rolls Royce -- is my dog a "mutt" and yours a "mix?"

Is a "mix" a polite way of saying that some aspect of this mutt is pricey but another aspect ... well, hell, who knows what happens behind the woodpile late at night?

And, at the other 'end' of the spectrum, how would you know that something was authentically pure without the mutts of this world to authenticate it?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

top military dog

As the purveyor of the following pointed out, the U.S. can't seem to win the war on drugs, can't seem to care well for the sick, can't seem to educate our children, can't win the war on 'terror,' can't reform economic imbalances and can't ... well, fill in the blank.

But we can:

age wasted on the elderly?

Because I have been off my feed, the following is a newspaper column I won't pass in (too much of a mess and no energy to correct) for publication tomorrow, my 'regular' day:

Youth is wasted on the young.

The Irish playwright and wag George Bernard Shaw once quipped, "Youth is wasted on the young."

A similar barely-concealed resentment was woven into a recent email I received from Janet Asimov, widow of the prolific American writer Isaac Asimov.  I had sent Janet a couple of suggestions about movies I thought she might enjoy watching.

She responded promptly. "mostly, I read, which is also difficult because my vision is certainly not what it used to be. I don't think you are in your eighties yet. Be warned -- they are not fun."

As if to bolster Janet's and Shaw's tart and somewhat snarky appreciation of old age, there are the one-two-three-four... stories per week in the Gazette about antidotes for encroaching age -- a tai chi class here, a little gardening there, some golf, a yoga class, travel, time with the grandkids, a lecture, a stint as a volunteer, another appreciation of approaching death; a diet that includes chocolate and a hundred other ways to remain active and connected and relevant and fun and ... young. Energtic trianers with hand-stitched shoes and an insistence on using the word "we," assert at every turn: youth is good,  healthy, improving and, in the end, fun-er.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with any of these activities. But the quiet question that remains unanswered is, if old youth is wasted on the young, is old age wasted on the elderly?

Maybe it's a little like the pregnant woman.

For all the wonder and delight and perceived blessing of her situation, a pregnant woman may be forgiven from time to time for feeling cranky as hell about this caboose at the front of her freight train. What she wouldn't give to roll over in bed at night! And in the same breath, perhaps an elderly person can be forgiven for feeling something similar: There's no escape but that doesn't mean the longing to escape doesn't come calling. As Janet observed, not everything is "fun."

And it was in this vein that I revisited Mr. Shaw and his resentful wit: If youth is wasted on the young, is it possible that old age is likewise wasted on the elderly? I guess I think it is.

Old age slows things down. Mentally and physically, things grow less do-able even as the recollection remains of a time when doing and improving and fun were all the rage. And the recognition can lead to a case of the blues that no peppy thirty-somethings can squelch with their newspaper good news. 

There is no escape, but what might happen if, instead of trying to escape, the energies were put elsewhere?

The American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., once observed, "It is not what's wrong with the world that really scares people. What really scares them is that everything is all right."

Those who are religiously-inclined may hear such an observation and bunker down in their belief system: "God's in heaven and all's right with the world." Those who are psychologically-inclined may see in King's words a recipe for a passivity and lifelessness.

But setting aside the facile critiques, I think this is the realm in which advanced age may find an opportunity. What would things be like if anyone stopped insisting on improvements and fun? What would it be like to stop imagining that "change" was something to effect [cq] and instead was something that simply happened? Isn't this the way things actually happen anyway? Isn't it time to get with the program?

It is easy to write about a change of perspective, but less easy to make real. Suddenly, the activities that anyone chooses are simply activities that they choose. Some are fun. Some are not. Things change and insisting that they change according to a schedule or social agreement is extra. Working to improve things is fine: Expecting they will be improved is unnecessary. Fun is lovely, but an insistence on fun is for ... the young.

In advancing years, the energy may be less, but the capacity for wisdom is increased. Marginalized by energy does not mean marginalized by reality. No point in wasting old age on the elderly.

Or, put another way, just because you are indispensable to the universe does not mean the universe needs your help. 

It takes more discipline to have what you've got than to wish for what you have not got.


Friday, July 11, 2014


"Flâneur" popped up, enticing as a morsel of cheese on a rat trap, in the newspaper yesterday.

What is enticing is its tapestry of meaning that varies from user to user:
The terms of flânerie date to the 16th or 17th century, denoting strolling, idling, often with the connotation of wasting time. But it was in the 19th century that a rich set of meanings and definitions surrounding the flâneur took shape.
So ... is a flâneur an idling dolt with too much time on his hands or a secret sage on the prowl? By this time, with copious essays to support the view, a more approving description has taken shape (no one wants to be called a Lazy Bones), but I prefer to keep at least one foot in the camp that suggests another idjit is on the loose.


After the better part of three years in the army in the early 1960's, I was given the usual pep talk about all the advantages I might enjoy if I "re-upped" (signing on for another three-year hitch). My mind, however, was pretty much made up: I really did not want to work for an organization from which I could not be fired.

But sub-rosa, another understanding also asserted itself. I had  been in Berlin for almost two years. I had been trained to speak the language. There had been some wonderful and not always decorous times. I liked Berlin but ....

Friends and acquaintances who were getting similar pep talks were also weighing their options. One guy wanted to get out of the service, travel to Africa and become a mercenary soldier. Another fellow had a girlfriend with whom he wanted to remain. And the large majority just wanted to get the fuck out.

But there was another, somehow surprising, revelation that snuck up on me: I missed my homeland. Flag-wavers may say "d'oh!" but I had a comic-book idea that somehow I was a world-traveler, someone who liked to go places and do things and learn all sorts of stuff: I was not tied down or dependent on the country of my birth.

The revelation popped out of my mouth unbidden one evening when I was talking with a buddy about getting out of the service and going "home."

"I want to live somewhere where I can say 'the Lone Ranger,' and make an instantaneous connection."

And from that single sentence, a hundred-hundred other restful connections asserted themselves ... slang, punch lines, baseball, politics, religion, books, Boy Scouts, poor beer, music, Hollywood, a kind of youthful boisterousness that goes with a lack of history ... I guess it qualified as "culture" or something close to that. The more I thought about it, the more I felt I had to be honest. And the more I relaxed ... OK, I was stuck with the American farm ... just try not to fuck it up too badly or create too much harm.

Going home.

I guess the thought crossed my mind because today the BBC had a small article asserting that NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden was likely to have his yearlong visa extended in Russia. I felt sorry (based on my experience) for Snowden and grateful to him. Most principled positions these days seem to be tossed away like Kleenex at the end of a good blow. Sticking with it, gutting it out, paying the price, and bearing the criticism of 'true' Americans takes grit when it is not busy being insane.

Imagine (from my point of view): In order to be a patriotic American, you have to live in another country. I would like to apologize to Mr. Snowden and tell his terrorist, neo-con critics to stick it where the sun don't shine.

lightening the load

"Meaning" tends to obscure meaning. Check it out.

But just because it obscures meaning does not imply that it is "meaningless" either: That is just more meaning, more confusion.

None of this is meant as a threat or a challenge or some wubba-wubba philosophy or religion. It's just a means of suggesting that the load might be lighter.

medical upshot

A friend wrote to say he was worried and hoped I felt better. Kind thought. I wrote him back and am loath to pick my nose further on the subject:
Thanks, buddy. Went to the hospital for an MRI after telling at least five people in distinct English that I was willing to go through the doughnut-shaped machine, but not the tube. When I got there, the tube was waiting, my claustrophobia kicked in and the test went down the shitter. Only LATER did anyone say that the doughnut was for a CT scan, not an MRI. This struck me as a poor practice of medicine, given my clarity on the subject.

Anyway, now I am waiting to hear if there is some other way to winkle out the desired information without scaring the holy crap out of me. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

sick day

Sick day. Gotta get to hospital for MRI and whatever all else.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

problem for peckers

Decline in rooster fertility has not yet inspired the makers of chicken Viagra that I know of, but the problem is probably not one that consumers are likely to be happy about.

uplift and downdraft

As elsewhere, what follows is just some noodling. It is not an invitation to pity party or a pick-your-nose bit of depression.

Lord knows there is something uplifting about uplifting stories and lord knows I have squirreled them away like nuts against the coming winter of whatever sort.

From nudges to tapestries, uplifting stories and events float and inspire and fill in thorny negative spaces with soft possibility.

For example, yesterday, a friend sent along a video clip about sharing pizza -- a little tale that rose above the grey grasping and self-involved activities below. The clip is titled "60 Seconds That Will Change How You Think." It was touching in one sense.

I also found it, as I increasingly do with uplifting stories, vaguely depressing. First of all, any sixty seconds will change the way you think and second, in order to be lifted up, there is the implication that you are lifted up above something without which the "uplift" would lose its meaning. Ergo, by offering up the good news, there is an underscoring of the bad news ... the good news is ipso facto the bad news.

And beyond that, there is the empirical fact that there is some wondrous stuff in life and some positively shitty stuff and that mentioning either detracts from the richness that each has to offer. Anyone might want the good news and be averse to the bad news, but that doesn't seem to put a dent in the flow of good news and bad.

Yes, I know there are a hundred tender-hearted reasons for uplifting pointers. The confusing of compassion with uplift exists in this realm. It feeeeeels good, ergo it is good. But ... but ... but ....

Sometimes a voice erupts unbidden within: "Give it a rest, for Christ's sake!" Enlightenment, emptiness, true nature, compassion, heaven, hell, sharing pizza .... do it or don't do it, but quit insisting on uplift.

PS. I'll save the uplifting wags some key strokes: "Very uplifting!"

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

pearl du jour

Passed along in email, this bit of bang-on-and-utterly-confounding wisdom:

Perhaps there are pearls before swine and then there are pearls before pearls.

terere obande

Here's some African music I like from, among other things, "The Interpreter," a pretty good thriller-romance-action movie.

Tastes like chocolate mousse.

the answer

I dunno:

If everything is the answer to everything, can we stop asking questions now?

Monday, July 7, 2014

skipping zazen

Sunday, a day when I generally leave a little niche for zazen in the zendo, came like any other yesterday.

On this Sunday, for the first time in years and years, I didn't do zazen. Little and large, the determination that pointed the way in the past was simply not there, though I could feel it feeling a bit bereft.

I could make excuses or give explanations, but excuses and explanations never explained much.

Time passes. Things come and go. The special and unspecial eventually rest and flow and ... well, I just thought I'd mention it.

Same, different ... the forecast says it will be hot today.

the underbelly of perpetual niceness

Passed along in email today was this psychological observation that those inclined to be nice all the time were wide open to group-think cruelty.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


It would take a more energetic researcher than I to pull it all together, but the bits and fragments float around in my drug-addled brain and seem to create one of those horrified high-volume teenagers who has just discovered that adults are hypocrites... lots of horror, lots of sincerity, lots of outrage, but little connective tissue or reflection. Another Facebook featherweight.

So be it ... chalk it up to notes I may or may not return to in some saner time.

-- In the United States, fortune telling is not illegal. Various states have made various attempts to curb aspects of fortune telling that nourish fraud, but overall fortune telling is not illegal. This is because, among other things, it's not just Madame Zuzu and her crystal ball who employ fortune telling: Philosophies, religions, and any number of grand and not-so-grand plans all find footing in the same desire -- to see into the future. Naturally, that desire can be dressed up and put forth in more and less 'logical' ways, but the bedrock fact remains: No one can see into the future.

It's what might be called a living paradox because although the well-heeled intellect may agree whole-heartedly that no one can see into the future, the longing of the heart to do precisely that will not be stilled. Whether it's politics or personal, Madame Zuzu demands attention ... and is frequently willing to perpetrate a wide range of frauds based on the knowledge that Madame Zuzu is alive and kicking in every human breast. Let me sell you a bridge in Brooklyn; let me sell you a wondrous future; let me tell you about heaven or hell ....

-- Was there ever a group more delighted in the demolition of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, than that small band of neoconservatives inching its way into the fabric of American political life? They had had their setbacks, but now the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz must have been dancing in the aisles as if it were Christmas, New Year's, and the Fourth of July all in one. Even as the towers collapsed and other same-day damage was inflicted, their stock was given an enormous boost. A godsend!

Neoconservatism is defined in part by Wikipedia as, "Neoconservatives frequently advocate the "assertive" promotion of democracy and promotion of "American national interest" in international affairs including by means of military force." Under the administrative term of George W. Bush, for example, the U.S. gave legal legitimacy to the "pre-emptive" war, meaning it was acceptable to attack those the U.S. thought might attack them or otherwise do them damage. On a wider tableau, neoconservatives asserted, in essence, that we were the good guys and we would all be better off if others agreed with us. But it wasn't always easy to convince the masses that the neoconservative position was correct. The demolition of the World Trade Center towers helped to establish what would happen if the U.S. simply left others to their own devices: The "terrorists" would take over and we'd all be in the soup. God bless the "terrorists."

Across the ocean, radical Islamists (whose names I simply have not got the wherewithal to look up) were likewise pleased. The demolition served their own sometimes-faltering purposes as well. For years, they had hoped the masses might see the corruption and rot that western culture bred in their societies. Like the neoconservatives, they had an overarching vision of a pure and righteous state. The Quran would be the cornerstone, people would follow the rules and ... well, that's the way Mohammed would have wanted things. Their vision slowly emigrated to the use of violence in hopes that people would see more clearly. What the people saw, of course, was blood, blood and more blood. A heroic blow in New York, while bloody, took aim at the satanic forces of the west where they lived rather than just down the street. How about them apples?

Neoconservatives pleased. Radical Islamists pleased. Each had a convenient enemy, a spur to their directions. The two needed eachother and were joined at the hip. Both could implement increasingly restrictive policies as a means of keep corrupting influences at bay. Both were terrorists pointing the fingers at terrorists. No one was ashamed.... what the hell, the blood wasn't theirs.

-- Once upon a time, U.S. politicians promised a "chicken in every pot." Now, with the rise in U.S. terror tactics, they promise "a wolf kept from every door." Nothing constructive gets done, but at least the population is (uhhh) safe while not doing it. In 2011 the Department of Homeland Security was allocated a budget of $98 billion. Its total financial infusion since it was created in 2001 is not something I can find. In that time, the exact number of suspects arrested under terror statutes is likewise unclear. What is clear is that a infinitesimal number was ever convicted for the crimes they  were alleged to have committed. With spending of something less than a trillion dollars over a ten-year period, certainly the fear factor has risen even if bang-for-the-buck has not. When was the last time anyone spelled out the "credible threat" that precipitated that latest blood-letting? When was the last time anyone looked carefully at the when and how of the creation of "al Qaida," a strawman figment of American law enforcement. Big Laden was a money guy. He financed operations, but had no organization of his own until he was given one in a U.S. courtroom.

-- Sometimes I wonder how long it will take before I am sitting on the couch, hear a knock on the door and, when I open it, am greeted by six well-armed men who tell me that because I have invested in General Electric stock, and because General Electric makes war toys, I am therefore a contributor to an unacceptable level of anti-government militancy. The men will be wearing balaclavas because that seems to be the de rigeur fashion for terrorists.

-- If the future cannot be known, do we need to spend so much money and throw away so many liberties in pursuit of that goal?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Ian and Sylvia

Got stuck on the old folk duet Ian and Sylvia tonight and although it's certainly not everyone's taste, I do like songs that sing/make up stories or, in the last case, depict history raw and gritty:

sick, drugs, rubber bands

Sick for the last few days.
A mind like a box full of rubber bands ... boing! boing! boing! ... in no particular order.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I want to be a Buddhist

There must have been a time when I wanted to be a Buddhist. I say this with some assurance and yet cannot remember when it was or what it was like. I infer it from other adventures in which I was once an enthusiastic beginner and, well, you know, wanted to be counted as part of the club or membership or clan or whatever.

At that time, I imagine, I thought that the acknowledgment of others, whether personal or by way of some ritualized stepping stones, would do the trick. I needed to accumulate the requisite stamps of approval and then at last I would be -- and could be assured that I was -- a Buddhist. Up until that time, I was sort of a Buddhist in waiting -- doing what I could, but still lacking some seal of approval.

But as time passed, it became clearer: Being a Buddhist was not entirely based on what you did and it was certainly not based entirely on what you said. You could believe your socks off, crank up the compassion voltage, or collect paradoxes without end and ... and that wasn't quite it ... so what the hell was it?

Now, of course, I don't really have an answer for all this. But I don't like playing the sloppy-seconds card that declines a label because, well, you know, labels are uh-oh.  Labels are as useful or useless as no-labels, so we can let that one slide.

Even if there were an answer for all of this, I doubt that it would improve a cup of coffee. The best I can come up with is that I am a Buddhist if that's what you'd like me to be ... but sometimes not, as well.

Knowing you're a Buddhist....

Not knowing if you're a Buddhist....


"What is America for?"

Like a tortoise that has barely lifted a forefoot as the hare zooms into the distance, I am left slow and flummoxed by the question, "What is America for?" The analogy is not meant to suggest I have a wiser and more winning answer: It is merely to suggest that I am slow.

The question was posed recently by NYTimes columnist David Brooks, who is one of those bright University of Chicago grads and also a man who, in my eyes when I occasionally see him on television, appears to have a kindness in him. Who knows if it is true or feigned -- it's just the way he seems to me: A certain kindness.

It was an article by Harvey J. Kaye that brought Brooks' query to hand. I have no clue who Harvey J. Kaye is, but his article is literate and thoughtful and posits the notion that 'we' must answer Brooks' question, which was delivered in a column entitled "The Spiritual Recession: Is America Losing Faith in Universal Democracy?" Both articles were long on sweeping vision -- and had a kind of grandeur that would have done Louis XIV proud and d-double-dared you to question or balk... this was Important Stuff.

And who knows, maybe it is. All I know is that I got stuck in the starting gate when reading the question, "What is America For?" Brooks' punchline response was, "if America isn’t a champion of universal democracy, what is the country for? A great inheritance is being squandered; a 200-year-old language is being left by the side of the road." Kaye's punchline had a grand solemnity without going anywhere: "We need to articulate America’s democratic purpose and promise anew and remind ourselves and our fellow citizens what it means to be an American."

When I read, "what is America for?" the first thought into my head was, "What is France for ... or Antarctica either?" Must there be a purpose? Who says so and to what extent does that encouragement find its basis in reality and to what extent is it nourished on a diet of self-importance ... a self-importance that smells suspiciously like exceptionalism? Are things really for something? And if you argue that without utility, meaning is lost, my question is the same: Who says "meaning" imparts meaning or that without meaning, communication goes to hell in a hand basket? If I say, "pass the croquet mallet," you don't hand me a crescent wrench. Are France, Antarctica or even dandelions for something?

I'm still stuck in the starting gate. The hares of wisdom have long since disappeared over a near hill. The Important Stuff is not for the slow of gait. I'm stuck wondering if a discussion like this has much meaning without at least a nod to the premises on which it rests. Are things important just because I say they're important? Everyone does that, I imagine, but it's quite a step to say that because it's-important- because-I say-it's-important and posing a necessity for agreement. While a lack of agreement may mean that things will fly apart, isn't that the price life imposes ... no need to be dishonest about it. Democracy is a wonderful thing ... and then sometimes it's not. Societies are approximations that require a tuck here and a tuck there as time passes. A lock-down vision doesn't work very well ... except on paper.

I'm not trying to bad-mouth "what is America for?" It's an ordinary question, one that fits neatly into the Important Stuff category... a mountain peak from which anyone might hold forth, with or without a University of Chicago education. But its premises slow my step.

Which is not to say I'm going to wuss out and not take a swing at it ... that's what Important Stuff is for, right? -- to take a swing and laugh in the mirror.

So what is America for? My swing is this: America is to allow others to love.

Is this a hopelessly grand and squishy and unrealistic response?

It probably is, but I don't think anyone could know that for a fact without first giving it a shot.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Will Rogers

I was looking for a pick-me-up and settled on Will Rogers:
-- Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
-- There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.
-- I guess there is nothing that will get your mind off everything like golf. I have never been depressed enough to take up the game, but they say you get so sore at yourself you forget to hate your enemies.
         -- Why don't they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years Americans would be the smartest race of people on Earth.
-- Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock.

summer growth

In my small universe, perhaps the most compelling fact is that the corn across the dike is, as prescribed, "knee-high by the Fourth of July." It's a small bit of sanity, somehow, in a wider world teeming with facts:

-- Not for the first time, the people in charge of surveillance programs in the United States (NSA et al) have written themselves a clean bill of legal health. Maybe the programs could use a tuck here and a tuck there, but in general the rules meet criteria interpreted by the people implementing them: Some very real threats (never specified, of course) have been thwarted.

-- In California, one of the nation's most important agricultural regions, water is so scarce that the price has gone through the roof. Water, like food, is important enough so that perhaps we will come to thank god for the surveillance techniques -- and the body armor that goes with it -- of an increasingly militarized government structure.

-- The leader of a self-proclaimed caliphate in the Middle East has called on Muslims throughout the region to flock to him and -- using violent means -- help set up a region that is immune to the corruption he sees on every hand. Will someone please tell me how exceptionalism, whether in the U.S. or England or France or China or Japan or the Middle East has ever managed to do much more than nourish dictatorship and leave an endless trail of literal or cultural mangled bodies in its wake? Well-dressed or clad in rags, the arrogance is always the same.

-- The U.S., which has a moderately good football/soccer team, lost a 2-1 match to Belgium yesterday in the World Cup games being held in Brazil. The game between Switzerland and Argentina (1-0 Argentina) was more exciting in my eye.

Anyway, the corn seems to be doing OK on this viscous July morning.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

American Taliban

Passed along in email .... a video 'report' on one wing of the American Taliban.

Neo-conservatives like Irving Kristol, Dick Cheney and others shoulder an agenda briefly described as:
  • Cutting tax rates to stimulate the economy
    To neocons it is the economy, not the tax cuts that should be emphaszed. Neocons believe a balanced budget isn't as important as creating an environment within which people can thrive. Kristol believed shouldering the burden of budget shortfalls sometimes is the price of a good economy.
  • Enforcing morality to create a more civil society
    Like social conservatives, neoconservatives believe US culture continues to sink to new lows of vulgarity. Like most social conservatives, neocons believe government has a responsibility to restore faith and values to society. Unlike social conservatives, however, neocons don't subscribe to the notion of America as a Christian nation, but instead embrace all faiths that have strong moral emphases.
  • Aggressive nation-building and the exportation of democracy as a fundamental foreign policy
    Neoconservatives believe the way to combat terrorism and extremism is to implement democracies in emerging nations and assist countries in adopting democratic governments.
The last aspect depicts the sense of American exceptionalism that it is hard not to compare with the Taliban so frequently excoriated.

court rules on contraception

The Supreme Court struck down a key part of President Obama’s health-care law Monday, ruling that family-owned businesses do not have to offer their employees contraceptive coverage that conflicts with the owners’ religious beliefs.
The decision deeply split the court, not only on its holding that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects some businesses from offering contraceptive coverage but also on how broadly the ruling will apply to other challenges in which businesses say laws impose on their religious beliefs.
Here is the ruling.

spiritual importance

On the computer screen here, there are various icons that represent "shortcuts" to sites I use frequently or want quick access to. A shortcut saves a bunch of extra steps that will likewise take me to a desired destination, but, well, I'd rather get where I want to go with as few add-on's as possible. Why head south when I want to get north?

I think there may be a similar shortcut available in religion or spiritual life. It boils down to this: The only reason religion is serious is because I take myself seriously.

I make this assertion not as some contrarian scallywag, but rather as someone who thinks there is something seriously worth knowing about religion/spiritual life and that something does not respond well to anything less than a person's best honesty.

At first blush, anyone who has conceived an interest in religion or its practices may be offended to hear that "the only reason religion is serious is that I take myself seriously." The assertion runs afoul of a subrosa text that may sound something like, "great big God and little ol' me," "unalloyed enlightenment and stumbling, deluded me," "heavenly realms and I'm stuck in hell," "bright blessings while I feel cursed," "compassion unending as my selfishness abounds," "unspeakable brightness while I mutter in the shadows," etc. And all of this is frequently couched in spiritual texts whose wisdom flows off the page and into my heart like .... yum: I feel safe -- or anyway safe-ish -- and invited and warmed. Whatever my choice, it is big and I am little, it is smart and I am dumb, it is attainable ... or anyway worth a shot.

The adroit and often well-dressed may rise to the bait, purring like Cheshire Cats: "Yes, the only reason religion is serious is because I take myself seriously, but the question is, "Who am I?"" Those who take their spiritual life seriously would be wise to leave this additional deflection out of the equation.

For the purposes of discussion, "I" am simply the person who goes to the supermarket, types on the keyboard, makes money, gets pissed, prefers one car over another, feels anxious and uncertain as circumstances demand, shower, laugh with friends, buy a new pair of shoes and on and on ... all of it without ever asking anything: I know who I am even if I don't know who I am. I take this "I" seriously ... and, I would argue, you damned well should, assuming spiritual life is on your to-do list.

True, the tinsel of religion is appealing. True, there are well-dressed scions who make a good living from its sagacities. True, it is nice to have someone holding your hand, even if their other hand is in your back pocket. "I" need help and am not above asking for it.

And there is no reason not to ingest whatever help is offered. But ... the premise needs to be understood, at least from where I sit: Religion is serious because I am serious ... there is no other seriousness. It may sound self-centered and off-base and miles from the glittering halls of heaven or profound understanding, but it is simply the truth and religion responds well to the truth that any individual might bring to it. After all the trumpets and finery and wily paradoxes and holy humming ... well, what is it that is seriously serious about all this?

An ego trip? That doesn't work.
Not an ego trip? That doesn't work either.

Oh well ... I have a doctor's appointment this morning and haven't got the wit to see this argument out. It just strikes me as a sensible shortcut: The only reason religion is serious is because I take myself seriously.

Shortcuts get you to where you want to go. It's not always pleasant, but it has the advantage of being true.