Sunday, November 30, 2014

bottled water

Passed along in email:

adieu theaters and stores?

When I was a kid, a "good" Saturday was one on which my mother might drop me off at a movie theater with a friend to see a double feature, two or three serial adventures, several cartoons, Movietone News, and three or four movie previews. It was five hours or more of pure bliss.

One of the thoughts I used to have was, "wouldn't it be neat if you could watch movies at home?!"

And, as if to answer my prayer, along came TV. TV did not supplant the movie theater experience at first.

But these days, the rise of the Internet and the mediocrity of Hollywood and the pure price of the movie house has left theaters increasingly out in the cold. When was the last time I went to a movie theater and come away feeling it had been worth the ten or more dollars for the experience?

It feels as if movie theaters are on a path to extinction.

But today, the same is true for bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. Why go to a store if the on-line shopping experience is both faster and cheaper than fighting the crowds, wasting the gas, and paying more? The downside of Internet shopping, of course, is that the quality of the goods cannot be gauged: Things may look good, but their color or materials or manufacture can also be second-rate, to say the least. Suddenly the convenience of the Internet is the inconvenience of sending things back. Not every store has the integrity of an L.L. Bean, whatever the advertising claims.

And if bricks and mortar stores disappear in the face of the Internet onslaught, isn't this one more respect in which the Internet promotes a self-involved and cut-off life experience? Not that shopping promotes a high degree of social connection, but at least there is a presence of actual-factual human beings.

No more movie houses, no more stores: Letting the imagination run to the extremity of the situation (unlikely), it feels like a new and improved Dust Bowl in which the green pastures of humanity become less and less real and more and more a dispiriting pipedream.

judging a cover by its cover

Every once in a while, usually quite by accident, I bump up against something I have made in the past and before the thought arises that "I made that," there is the thought that "I like that; it's kind of kool." And even, "I wish I'd made that."

And so it was today that I bumped into the book I had once pieced together. It was the cover that caught my eye as it sat in a stack of unattended books I was leafing through.

"That's pretty kool" arose at light speed before the critic could get in his licks. I liked it. And then I realized I had designed it and so, contrary to a considerable body of evidence to the contrary, I was kool as well ... even if it was in the past.

Mind you, it didn't make me want to READ the book. That would have been pushing things. But the design pleased me and I was willing to judge a cover by its cover.

woman plays WWI combat role

• French aviatrix Marie Marvingt, also known as the ‘Lafiancée du danger’, was the first woman in the world to fly combat missions. A world-class athlete who won multiple prizes in skiing, cycling, fencing, shooting and luge, she initially disguised herself as a man and joined the infantry. Once outed as woman, she was removed from the front and volunteered with the air force, flying bombing routes over Germany.  When she died in 1963 she was the most decorated woman in the history of France.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

snarky prospects

The closer Monday's operation comes, the less equanimity I feel.

It's not so much that someone is going to enter my body in an effort to improve my health prospects. I am a great believer in the anesthesiologist and his/her ability to ship me off to la-la land while the doctor plies his trade and removes a node on the right lung.

No, the wind that rattles the shutters on this house is the post-op pain and healing and being in an even deeper thrall to this aging body. Two things: 1. It's b-o-r-r-r-i-n-g and 2. I really don't see getting hurt as a desirable prospect ... a prospect I might once have balanced favorably against the prospect of getting somehow "better." A part of me carps, "better than fucking what?"

I'll do it, of course. I'm in too deep now. But I am thinking increasingly of swearing off both doctors and hospitals. It's too late. Let it ride. It's more peaceful that way.

The chickadees skitter from snowy perch to cleared sidewalks below and return to their snowy perch on the bushes inside of which they make a home. That's interesting. The Canada geese honk on their blue-sky highway. That's interesting... not b-o-r-r-r-i-n-g like analyses of "denial" or "fear of death" or other sage applications.

I do want to remember to say thank you to the doctors and other personnel attending to my physical being before the operation: Perhaps that will take some of the curse off my crabby behavior afterwards. Snarky... that's the word I'm after.

loneliness and the wall

In the practice of Zen Buddhism, some students sit in zazen meditation while facing a wall. Their eyes are open, their bodies still and the breath comes and goes.

In life -- the "life" that is somehow not zazen -- human beings likewise face a wall. The moment comes and the moment goes and there is no getting out of it. Whether someone is a Zen Buddhist or not makes no difference: The wall of inescapability is in-your-face whether the eyes are open or closed. Whether delightful or depressing, there is nothing special about it -- the wall.

Just sitting here thinking that I am happy to have (however incorrectly) given Zen practice a try. Zen supports men and women in their sense that investigating the inescapablity is worth the price of admission. In the past, there may have been a lot of trying to escape or trying to hold on and here is an exercise that promotes a simple investigation. It's a habit worth cultivating, I think -- investigating the wall in front of your nose.

Formal Zen practice is pretty weird on the surface -- creating a time when there is less activity, less fight-or-flight. I remember having the crap scared out of me the first time I entered a zendo/meditation hall and saw forty or fifty people sitting still and straight ... a social setting without the social give and take that is more common in group settings. It scared me and drew me in simultaneously.

At the time, I think I was hoping to escape ... escape uncertainty, escape disappointment, escape fear, escape The Loneliness and latch on to some more delighting and safer haven. The wall didn't mind my shenanigans.

Oh well, this is starting to sound like one of those Buddhist come-to-Jesus, snake-oil talks and that's not what I wanted to convey. I just wanted to say that when it comes to the wall, Zen Buddhism was a useful thing to practice ... for me. It offered a tool on and off the meditation cushion. It never broke down the wall and as a result, it broke down the wall... or maybe not.

And I am grateful, if you can say such a thing and sidestep the smarm. Better, perhaps, would be to say, as the Dalai Lama once observed, "it can't be helped."

Friday, November 28, 2014

Dostoyevsky and today's moral fantasy

An interesting BBC article suggests links between present-day "terrorism" by states committed to eradicating "terrorism" and 19th century Russian novelist Feodor Dostoyevsky's view of a tsarist world that had inflicted itself on his own life.
What Dostoyevsky diagnosed - and at times suffered from himself - was the tendency to think of ideas as being somehow more real than actual human beings. It would be a mistake to imagine that we haven't also fallen into this sort of delusional thinking. The wars the West has fought in the Middle East over the past decade and more are often attacked as being little more than attempts to seize natural resources, but I'm sure this isn't the whole story. A type of moral fantasy has been just as important in explaining the West's repeated interventions and their recurring failure.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

other times, other memories

As part of an writer profile in today's local paper, the author was said to have gone to an 18th century graveyard in Beaufort, N.C., where, among other things, she noted a worn wooden marker that read (in toto):


George Sand observation

Ran across this today and enjoyed its quiet force:

snowy Thanksgiving

Five or six inches of snow fell yesterday, making today's Thanksgiving-highways that much more congested and infuriating. As usual, my wife and sons will (it's quite early in the day) probably head to New Jersey and a get-together with my wife's kin. I don't travel well or have the energy for long social encounters, much as I may enjoy them initially.

A slice of  yesterday, 8:30-11:30 was given over to pre-op bureaucracy at the hospital where I will have my operation on Monday. Long, bland halls; deliberately flavorless rooms; few, if any, windows; much talk about what 'will' happen as distinct from letting it happen and then getting the hang of things based on experience. The older I get, the less gracious I become in these circumstances: I don't mind if someone has a job to do, but I do wish they wouldn't do it around me. 

My crabbiness was ameliorated towards the end of the day when the pulmonary surgeon who will remove what may or may not be a small cancerous node on my right lung actually called up. We hadn't yet met because the surgeon I was originally assigned to "no longer works" at the hospital and the doctor who called became the pinch hitter. I hadn't cared much for the original surgeon. The doctor who called offered a pleasant flexibility and humor that is unusual (my experience) in the world of surgeons. We chatted. I asked a few questions -- most notably, how long I am going to be kept at the hospital. The doctor made no promises but said his experience with similar operations averaged out a two days. I appreciated his willingness to take a swing at the question even if he couldn't answer the question fershur. I asked the question at all because the conviction is pretty strong: Hospitals sap patients of an interior healthiness that contributes to physical health or healing. I realize it's a conundrum (you have to watch over the body in some quite mechanical ways), but I see no reason not to trim the sapping aspect as much as possible. Get me out and under the sky, and I have a feeling I'll heal much better. But I felt much more at ease after talking to the doctor. He feels like a mensch.

From where I sit, there isn't a philosophy or situation in the world that wouldn't benefit from laughter. But confected smiles are worse than Ebola.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

a little wisdom in Israel?

(Reuters) - Israel's president has said a bill promoted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would anchor in law the status of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people runs counter to its founding fathers' vision of equality for Arab citizens.
The bill comes at a time of high tensions in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, where a dispute over access to a religious site sacred to Jews and Muslims alike has ignited Palestinian streets protests and lethal attacks on Jews.
"The formulators of the (Israeli) Declaration of Independence, with much wisdom, insisted the Arab communities in Israel, as well as other groups, should not feel as the Jews had felt in exile," President Reuven Rivlin said in a speech on Tuesday.

healing where wounds are encouraged

Pen Farthing, a former sergeant in the Royal Marines, is reuniting soldiers with the stray dogs they befriended while serving in Afghanistan. Farthing's nonprofit, Nowzad Dogs, has helped more than 700 soldiers from eight countries.
(CNN) -- Staff Sgt. Edwin Caba served in Afghanistan for nearly three years. Like his fellow soldiers, he longed for a sense of normalcy during his tours.
"We'd spend hours not sleeping, and rushing to eat meals, and staying on guard," said Caba, 26.
When a litter of puppies was born on the base where Caba served, the animals provided just the relief he needed.
"You walk in, and the dogs are wagging their tails, jumping on your legs and so excited to see you," Caba said. "You forget that you're halfway across the world, in a desert, with hostile things going on."

suffering as the resistance to pain

To the extent that definitions ever helped anyone to take a leak in the morning, one of the definitions I have come to like is the definition of "suffering" as "the resistance to pain."

I guess I am using the word "suffering" as a Buddhist might, although, with advancing age and facts on the ground, it hardly seems necessary to add the word "Buddhism."

True, the definition above is irritating since there are so many juicy bits to "suffering," so many tears that are wet, so much caring for self and other ... and the word "resistance" suggests an act of will and control where a lack of control is so clearly a key element in complaints about "suffering."

Social righteousness may raise its head and suggest that if there is no resistance, everyone turns into an uncaring blob of existence ... everything serene and taciturn and uncaring. But that would just be more suffering, more resistance.

I wonder what is left when it is impossible to resist and impossible not to resist.

"Going with the flow" is certainly a money-maker, but tends to leave its participants flopping desperately, like a fish on the dock.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

religion as a competitive sport

Yesterday, my older son was pleased to be named track coach at the local high school. As I understand it, that makes him some sort of honcho over events like running, hurdles, javelin, shot put, discus etc. Besides being flattered for him, I also wonder to what extent the position is one of those jobs where people get snookered -- nice title camouflaging bureaucratic drudgery.

It also made me bite off and munch the idea of religion as a competitive sport.

I don't mean this in some sort of snarky, critical sense, though heaven knows there's plenty of my-pecker's-longer-than-yours, one-true-faith posturing. What I mean is the inability or unwillingness to see my spiritual persuasion as other than goal-oriented ... get to heaven, get enlightened, become a martyr, etc. Sometimes the approach is crass; sometimes it's subtle and corrupt as a nobleman.

Competing with others is fairly easy to see and address. Competing with myself -- shooting for some brass-ring improvement and the like -- is more confounding. It rests on a lack of faith that whatever spiritual persuasion I have espoused really has any meat on the bone -- that I must keep propping it up and praising it and meeting its demands in order for it to have a real worth.

And perhaps that's the bottom line of religion as a competitive sport: Worth. As long as my persuasion needs to be somehow worthy, to that extent I will be mired in a world in which religion will deserve every snarky criticism it receives.

Competitive sport may be a place to start -- the books, the words, the adoration, the practices -- but it hardly seems capable of crossing any experiential finish line.

Monday, November 24, 2014

rewriting the tax code

Passed along in email (from Huffington Post)

Economists Say We Should Tax The Rich At 90 Percent

 America has been doing income taxes wrong for more than 50 years.
All Americans, including the rich, would be better off if top tax rates went back to Eisenhower-era levels when the top federal income tax rate was 91 percent, according to a new working paper by Fabian Kindermann from the University of Bonn and Dirk Krueger from the University of Pennsylvania.

The top tax rate that makes all citizens, including the highest 1 percent of earners, the best off is “somewhere between 85 and 90 percent,” Krueger told The Huffington Post. Currently, the top rate of 39.6 percent is paid on income above $406,750 for individuals and $457,600 for couples.
Fewer than 1 percent of Americans, or about 1.3 million people, reach that top bracket.
Here is the conclusion from the report, charted:
marginal tax rates

What you’re seeing is decades of a more or less strict adherence to the gospel that tax cuts for the highest income earners are good. The trend began with President Kennedy, but his cuts were hardly radical. He lowered rates when the American economy was humming along, no longer paying for World War II and, relative to today, an egalitarian dreamland. To put things in perspective, Kennedy cut rates to around 70 percent, a level we can hardly imagine raising them to today. The huge drops -- from 70 percent to 50 percent to less than 30 percent -- came with the Reagan presidency.

In comparison to decades of cuts, Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama each raised taxes at the top by a historically insignificant amount. Obama also proposed modest tax increases, raising taxes on families making more than $250,000 from 33 to 36 percent, and on individuals making more than $200,000 from 36 to 39.6 percent. These increases failed in the House.

A 90 percent top marginal tax rate doesn’t mean that if you make $450,000, you are going to pay $405,000 in federal income taxes. Americans have a well-documented trouble understanding the notion of marginal tax rates. The marginal tax rate is the amount you pay on your income above a certain amount. Right now, you pay the top marginal tax rate on every dollar you earn over $406,750. So if you make $450,000, you only pay the top rate on your final $43,250 in income. (emphasis added)

A very high marginal tax rate isn’t effective if it’s riddled with loopholes, of course. Kindermann and Krueger's paper is also focused solely on income, not wealth, and returns on wealth are how the truly superrich make a living.

Despite these limitations, Kindermann and Krueger say that a top marginal tax rate in the range of 90 percent would decrease both income and wealth inequality, bring in more money for the government and increase everyone’s well-being -- even those subject to the new, much higher income tax rate.
“High marginal tax rates provide social insurance against not making it into the 1 percent,” Krueger told The Huffington Post. Here’s what he means: There’s a small chance of moving up to the top rung of the income ladder, Krueger said. If rates are high for the top earners and low for everyone else, there’s a big chance you will pay a low rate and a small chance you will pay a high rate. Given these odds, it is rational to accept high income tax rates on top earners and low rates for the rest as a form of insurance.

This insurance takes the form of low-income people paying dramatically less in taxes. “Everyone who is below four times median income” -- that’s about $210,000 for households -- “pays less,” Kruger said.

The paper assumes that tax rates won’t stop a future Bill Gates from wanting to start Microsoft. Instead, what it finds is that labor supply among the 1 percent would decline -- translation, they would work a little less -- but it “does not collapse.” That’s because of who the authors assume makes up the top income bracket: celebrities, sports stars, and entrepreneurs -- people with innate talents that are hugely rewarding, but only for a short period of time. They only have a few years to use their skills to make most of the money they will ever make. High tax rates don’t lessen their degree of desire to be productive, the authors said.

Krueger described the phenomenon like this: “How much less hard would LeBron James play basketball if he were taxed at a much higher rate? The answer is not much. “James knows he only has five years,” or so of peak earning potential, Krueger said, and so he will work to make as much as he can during that time. If high income tax rates robbed the would-be 1 percent of their stick-to-itiveness, the paper’s conclusions would change.

And so whether you agree with this paper’s conclusion comes down, to a certain extent, to what you think of the 1 percent of income earners: who they are and why they make so much money. Over the last few decades, a huge portion of the rapid growth of the very highest incomes relative to the rest of us has been driven by rising executive and financial sector pay. The question, then, is if confronted with a vastly higher tax rate, would Jamie Dimon still behave like LeBron James.

Beat Generation artifacts

Jack Kerouac, 1962 file photo
LOS ANGELES (AP) — It's been called the letter that launched a literary genre — 16,000 amphetamine-fueled, stream-of-consciousness words written by Neal Cassady to his friend Jack Kerouac in 1950.
Upon reading them, Kerouac scrapped an early draft of "On The Road" and, during a three-week writing binge, revised his novel into a style similar to Cassady's, one that would become known as Beat literature.
The letter, Kerouac said shortly before his death, would have transformed his counterculture muse Cassady into a towering literary figure, if only it hadn't been lost.
Turns out it wasn't, says Joe Maddalena, whose Southern California auction house Profiles in History is putting the letter up for sale Dec. 17. It was just misplaced, for 60-some years.

Like the ivy leaves that grow slowly over the once-new university buildings, the past shape-shifts with the passage of time. I forget how many times Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" was rejected by publishers before one of them took the plunge in 1957, but I can remember reading the book when it first came out and thinking that I could see both the energy and inspiration the book provided AND why the publishers had shied away from it.

In Greenwich Village where I hung out with friends, there was a lot of excitement over espresso and cigarettes: Kerouac had broken some conformist boundaries, we all agreed, and we were all of an age to be skeptical of, if not outraged by, boundaries. I don't specifically remember anyone describing the book as "good writing," but I suppose they did: If you like something, it's good, right? I liked the book but wasn't convinced it was all that good.

Now, of course, the ivy of time has grown and Kerouac et al have grown into an intellectual blob described as the "Beat Generation." Following on the heels of the safe and sane, white-picket-fence conformity that followed the gut-wrenching uncertainties and sorrow of  World War II, the beats helped to throw open the doors of imagination and possibility ... and paved the way for the flower power hippies who would follow in their wake ... as well as a school system and lifestyle that turns out dumber and dumber graduates.

As Cassady was an inspiration to Kerouac, so I count Kerouac as an inspiration of my own. But it was nothing literary, for me. His inspiration led me to hitchhike across America twice. Looking back through the ivy leaves, I am happy and a bit surprised I did such a thing. But at the time, and in the event, it was plain as salt: Hitchhiking, like doing a military tour, is only interesting and elevating in retrospect. Hitchhiking is predominantly a matter of patience -- waiting and patience, two pretty good exercises.

Kerouac climbed into a bottle and pointed to wider vistas. I packed a small, dime-store suitcase and stuck my thumb out. Both are now capable of growing some handsome and overblown ivy, for my money.

Funny how the ordinary becomes noteworthy as time passes. Just look at the artifacts up for sale in auction houses.

where the rubber hits the road

Anyone interested in the intersection of American business with bloodbath-prone countries could do worse than watching "Firestone and the Warlord," a Frontline documentary that digs into the question of Firestone's complicity in various wars in Liberia. At one time, Firestone owned the largest rubber plantation in the world in Liberia and provided the bulk of America's tires at a time when motorized vehicles were becoming indispensable.

The company, bought out by the Japanese and rebranded as Bridgestone, saw little or nothing wrong with the financial and moral support it implicitly gave to the power-bent rebels. Their reasoning was based, it seems on A. profit and B. the argument that their organization benefited people who might otherwise be destitute.

I found the video interesting for the clash of templates ... the moral questions of 'using' those who are poor and less savvy vs. the profit questions that make the rich richer and the poor only marginally better off. Firestone did some good things (medical, schooling) for those it touched. But it also funded a philosophical and actual warlord with enormous amounts of blood on his hands.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Gordon Bok

There are a lot of his 12-string folk songs I like, but here are two:

Japan woos youthful recruits

Taking its cue from the United States, perhaps, or from historical trends that refuse to be silenced...
(Reuters) - Japan's military is wooing new recruits with images of smiling soldiers posing like pop stars in a series of photo books and DVDs that tap into youth culture.
Glory, adventure, heroism, patriotism, doing what under civilian law might incur a long prison sentence or the death penalty ... how sexy and grown-up and powerful is that?!

Was it ever different?

lie/cheat/steal in banking

You always knew, but a scientific study has confirmed ...
(Reuters) - - A banking culture that implicitly puts financial gain above all else fuels greed and dishonesty and makes bankers more likely to cheat, according to the findings of a scientific study.

"Peaky Blinders"

Watched the second season of "Peaky Blinders" yesterday. The Netflix/BBC TV serial is a wonderful turn-of-the-20th-century outlaw adventure in England. The characters are etched in ways that American TV serials seem hard-pressed to emulate. The filming is classy.

Worth a look for those inclined.

workers kill plantation owner

Asked about piracy off the Somali coast, a security official commented to an interviewer, "If you do not share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you." I always liked that line and wondered to what extent American capitalists might take note.

In India, the workers on a tea plantation killed the owner over unpaid back wages. Wages had not been paid for two to three months. I suppose western business executives are savvy enough not to let wages lag, but the expectations in this neck of the woods are higher and thus the provocations do not need to be so life-threatening before someone picks up a club.

a naked man fell through the ceiling...

BOSTON (AP) — A naked man fell through the ceiling of a women's bathroom at Logan Airport on Saturday, then ran out of the restroom and viciously assaulted an elderly man while he was still in the buff and bleeding, before being arrested, state police said.
You'll be relieved to know that the man has not yet be charged with terrorism, though having someone fall through your ceiling and go on a rampage must be pretty terrifying.

of swine and varlets

Overnight, the weather seemed to loose its chilling grip so that, by 5:30, the temperature has been reported at 15 degrees warmer than it was at the same time yesterday: 32 degrees today and I could feel the warmth as I sipped wake-up coffee on the porch.

Small things of the past floated into view as I woke up, turned lights on and shuffled over to fire up the computer. Small matters that brought a smile to my interior lips but would be unlikely to delight anyone else:

-- Hanging on the wall over the computer is a framed label from a meat packing house: "SWINE" is written beneath an etched picture of a pig, which may or may not be described as smiling. The label was a present from an old and now-dead friend, Bill McKechnie III -- a guy with whom I enjoyed the quirky and whimsical matters in life. He knew I'd like it and he was right.

Besides the picture itself, I like to know that I know the word "swine." Somehow "swine" is delicious, sort of like "shit!" or "varlet." A "varlet" is defined on an Internet dictionary as "an old word meaning a 'dishonest man.'"

Old words suit me better than sincere words like "moving forward" or questions whose answers begin with the word "so" -- both of them trendy these days. "Swine" and "shit!" and "varlet" have meat on a bone I find tasty. Like family, they go generally unnoticed until, like this morning, their pleasing qualities assert themselves for a moment and then are gone again.

-- When it comes to the upcoming 'lung cancer operation,' I remembered together with the "swine" of the past and present a horoscope prediction I once received outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

It was a sunny day and the museums be-fountained front sidewalk was littered with strollers and small-bore hawkers and, like me, people-watchers. Among other things, I was always fascinated by the very-small children being pushed in carriages. They looked here and looked there and had the attention span of a drug addict ... their eyes gorged themselves briefly and with an indifference that might have been sensible or might have been born of ignorance. But when they were strolled past the fountains, they became fixated. Their eyes did not shift to some new topic. They stared and stared ... what was that about? I didn't know but the question was tantalizing.

Tucked into the passing crowd, was a nut-brown man offering to do horoscopes for $10. He sat on a chair, another empty chair accompanying him and his sign. I was interested, but not $10 worth of interested. Finally his voice reached out to me, offering to do a reading for $5. I sat down in his chair.

He looked up my birth-time-date-place in (I think it's called) "The Ephemera," a book telling the positions of stars and planets in earlier times. And then he began his sketch of my life. He told me I would meet my future wife near to home: I met her in a shop 100 yards from my apartment. He told me other things as well, including my life span. When he finished, I asked him about spiritual adventure, which, at the time, I was heavily immersed in. He looked at me and laughed as if I were a foolish child. "Oh," he said between chortles, "Enlightenment in this lifetime. No doubt about it. No doubt about it." I figured he had a very flimsy appreciation of "enlightenment" and set it aside, though I admit some part of me was under-the-Christmas-tree pleased.

But there was the matter of when I was going to die: "83 to 85" he said without solemnity. I figured, based on actuarial tables of male deaths, that this was a pretty good guess, one he might have gotten from actuarial tables. But there was a soupçon of doubt: Perhaps he was working from some other basis of knowing, one not dependent of actuarial tables. I had paid $5 for this sort of half-credited ooooeeeeooo and I was getting it.

The point of all this recollection was its link to the upcoming operation. Whimsically, it occurred to me that if 83-85 was my shut-down time, was there really a reason to take painful steps towards preserving or life-extending? If I were younger, perhaps I would not ask such a question, but, at 74, when the imagined or real deadline is within spitting distance ... well, what's gained from an operation on balance? A chance to live longer? Longer than what? Longer for what? I like my comforts as well as the next fellow and would dislike being hospitalized or as a friend puts it, "drugged to the tits," but is this actually an activity for something or is it merely another means of preventing something else ... something like life, for example?

All of this, at a lesser length, came along this morning on the wings of a whimsy. In the same travel kit as "swine." Who knows -- maybe all of this is just some sexy denial process and when the actual factuality of death comes along, I will be desperate for some mystical or medical magic. But that time is not now.

Just now I am gently pleased to be among the swine and varlets and the ability to exclaim, "oh shit!"

Saturday, November 22, 2014

released from Guantanamo prison

MIAMI (AP) -- A Saudi citizen who has spent the past 12 years detained at Guantanamo Bay has been released as the U.S. continues attempts to whittle down the prison population at its base in Cuba.
The Pentagon said Saturday that Muhammad al-Zahrani was sent to his homeland based on the conclusion of a parole-like board that has been re-evaluating whether it is still necessary to hold some of the men as prisoners.
Al-Zahrani will take part in a Saudi rehabilitation program for militants.
He is the 13th prisoner released from Guantanamo Bay this year and the seventh in just the past two weeks. Officials have said there will be additional releases in the coming weeks as part of a renewed push to close the prison where 142 men are now held.
The vagueness of this 'news' story is mind-boggling. 1. Held for 12 years without any judicial redress? 2. What specific charges were made and who underwrote the legitimacy of those charges? 3. On what basis did someone suggest "rehabilitation" might be attained? ... oh hell, pose your own questions.

Put yourself in Al-Zahrani's place. Imagine you no longer lived in the United States and had a right to judicial hearing. Then compare the reaction to 'terrorist' arrests of those even thinking about violent possibilities or philosophies in the United States.

Perhaps there was a good reason to "detain" (imprison) a man for 12 years. But without stating those reasons, without saying much more than "trust me," the incarceration speaks poorly of prospects for American citizens.

seeing the ocean for the first time

A 100-year-old woman got her wish and saw the ocean for the first time. With four children, Ruby Holt had always been too busy picking cotton and working in a shirt factory and trying to make scanty ends meet in Tennessee.
"I've heard people talk about it and how wonderful it was and wanted to see it, but I never had the opportunity to do so," she said....
"We don't have nothing like this in Giles County."
 Seeing the obvious for the first time -- what a pleasure.

operation date set

Not that it can hold a candle to the U.S.' ramping up of combat operations that were supposed to be on the wane in Afghanistan, but this week, a call from the doctor's office fixed the date on which I will have an operation on the nodule on my right lung -- a nodule whose exact cause cannot be named, but must be labeled cancer even if no one knows for sure.

Dec. 1 has been set for the "procedure" which is an operation with a nice name. For four or five weeks, there have been tests for this and tests for that to make sure the heart and body can take the stress involved in the operation. Now, although the heart is less than it might be, the decision has been rendered to take a wedge-shaped bit of lung, together with the nodule which can only be biopsied after it is removed:\.

There is no need to open the entire chest, as I understand it. The tests that preceded and kind of danced around the actual problem are now pretty much over and I am grateful: The downside of having the specific operation (statistically I gather it has a 95:5 life/death batting average and I gather it hurts a bit) begins to pale when I go for one test after another without actually going after the offending arena. The scariest part, to the extent that there is one, is any time I have to spend in the hospital, a place I have come to see as exerting a negative effect on anyone's spirit.

"Comparisons," the old saw once had it, "are odious," but it is hard not to somehow compare my life with the life of those who are in the line of fire at the whim of governments and politicians that can see the upside of perpetual war. It is hard not to indulge in a bit of odiousness.

Oh well, maybe a shower will help.

Friday, November 21, 2014

British ad stirs many minds

OK, so it made me cry -- a British advert that is currently arousing pros and cons. The ad tells a truncated story of what is commonly called the Christmas Truce during World War I. Various sorts of purists argue that the Christmas ad by Sainsbury's grocery chain is disrespectful and historically inaccurate. But the punchline is enough for me: "Christmas is for sharing." Moreover, those who take issue with the ad do not seem to take umbrage at the endless truncated and corrupt advertisements for militarism and expansionism that clot the television and Internet ("heroes" "democracy" "drones" "Army strong" "terrorism"). It's nice to see a little p.r. for something more peaceable.

Millions killed, maimed, and wounded within and without. Real flesh-and-blood people. Your kin and mine. For what? My guess is "for profit," whether Democrat or Republican.


PS. And here's folk singer John McCutcheon's song about the same topic: "Christmas in the Trenches."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

the 'inclusion' racket

For whatever reasons, I seem to have circled back to the old aspect that might roughly be described as "inclusion in Zen Buddhism." How come there are not more minorities, more women, more poor people, less educated -- more people who are not a bunch of middle-class white guys and gals with too much time on their hands? The question, usually stated less baldly, can really bring on a case of social discomfort: Doesn't the kindliness of Buddhism mean that I should exert myself and my practice (however wobbly it is these days) to put a more palatable welcome mat out in front of Zen Buddhism's door?

My answer is no.

This doesn't mean I haven't tried the techniques of tacking on psychology or social action or even hugging teddy bears as a means of inducing others to try what I consider a very good tool in anyone's battle against uncertainties or attempt to find a bit of peace in this lifetime. As I look back, I see this as a thinly-veiled acceptance of the Christian culture in which I live -- a Christianity that encourages its participants to sell the Tupperware of 'the one true faith.' Oh yes, it may be much subtler and more accepting and better dressed in Buddhist terms, but it's pretty much the same shit on a different day.

I have nothing against psychology or philosophy or social action. They can be very good tools. But individual lives are not credibly eased in these realms, and so I maintain some doubt that Zen should be dressed up in such clothes as a means of sucking outsiders in and seeming to make Zen more "inclusive" or, on a personal level, somehow better.

Zen, to my mind, is inclusive, but it is not inclusive because anyone says so or offers a cozy potluck supper on Saturday. To suggest otherwise is to set up a barrier where the object of Buddhism is to clarify if not remove all barriers. Naturally, a little social intercourse is part of the spectrum but imposing a feels-good inclusiveness can really screw the pooch over the long haul.

It is one thing to speak your piece and quite another to imagine others need convincing.

Bottom line, as best I can figure it: Trust the suffering. Selling blue sky when the sky is blue hardly seems sensible, not least because it doesn't work and those whose relief and release are the point are more likely to miss the point ... or not.

As New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel (or maybe it was catcher Yogi Berra) said: "If people won't come out to the ballpark, you can't stop them."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Zen" and "awakened"

Elsewhere I was reading the words of someone who said that it was hard for would-be Zen students to find the circumstances in which to interact with someone who was "awakened."

I have a lot of sympathy for this longing -- to keep company for a while with someone who has cleared the weeds and planted a little peace. For a time things can be so confusing, so unprotected, so lonely. Crossing the threshold and deciding to give spiritual endeavor a serious try is not for sissies. Everything that went before needs a more careful attention and anyone can find him/herself in a widening pool of regret. The old stuff is impossibly heavy and the new 'Zen' stuff is impossibly bright.

What I wouldn't give for a teacher! Please, please, please!

I too have squirmed and yowled and praised loudly as a means of trying to subjugate an ineffable brightness. I have wept with joy ... literally. I have found myself in places that are impossibly impossible and been scared to death or dancing.

An "awakened" teacher or chum would be an incredible blessing... someone to be "Buddha" to my stumbling efforts.

Everyone works through this at his or her own pace, framing the issue in a way that seems to make sense from wherever "here" is.

I think Zen is a lucky endeavor in this realm. It is lucky because while it makes room for people who insist on speaking of "enlightened" or "awakened" individuals, still it does not fall prey to such bright lights. Go ahead, imagine what you like; turn "Zen" into some feel-good gimcrack; worship and weep and laugh; seek out an awakened teacher; be a Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Jew ...

But Zen offers to right the foundering ship with the practice of zazen or seated meditation. It's not sexy or monastic or awakened -- it's just seated meditation. Sit down, sit straight, sit still, shut up, and focus the mind. Just do it -- don't praise it.

Yes, supports like "awakened" may be cozy and psychological analyses may cuddle up to "Zen." Go ahead. Knock yourself out, but practice and see what happens.

How the hell could you designate an "awakened" person as "awakened" if you weren't awakened yourself? This would amount to a public-relations form of spiritual practice ... you better, me worse, without ever examining the premise of the conclusion. Zazen is a real benefit in this regard.

It sure is nice to have company, but it's also nice to get down to the most factual common sense.

gun sales in Mo.

In Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere, gun sales are on the rise in anticipation of a grand jury decision about whether a white police officer (Darren Wilson) should be tried in the shooting death of an unarmed  black man (Michael Brown).
"We're selling everything that's not nailed down," owner Steven King said. "Police aren't going to be able to protect every single individual. If you don't prepare yourself and get ready for the worst, you have no one to blame but yourself."

As yet there has been no widespread violence, but, in keeping with a burgeoning militarized outlook in the nation, the governor of Missouri has already called out the National Guard ... which probably helps gun sales even more. I thought states of emergency were declared after the emergency began. Is the governor's action statesmanship or pandering? I'm inclined to think it is the latter.

The grand jury is still pondering a situation that is woefully familiar. But those who fear that Wilson will not be indicted and brought to trial forget the pretty-much-true witticism of prosecutors everywhere: "I could indict a ham sandwich." Grand juries are not about balance: They are about investigation. Others may feel that the grand jury will do its white-guy duty and shield the officer. I doubt it: The justice system has its kinks but ... well, I suspect an indictment will be forthcoming.

It strikes me that the governor's pre-emptive calling out of the National Guard sends a couple of unintended messages. If a black, white or polka dot community gets put up against a wall -- if justice is too plainly missing or felt to be missing based on accumulated fact -- well, isn't that a time for action, a time that implicitly concedes the racism the minority community feels is true. If the justice system is so skewed that ordinary citizens feel that hitting the streets is the only option ... well isn't it time to balance the scales of justice? Such questions are pie in the sky, of course, but if you can't trust the justice system ... well, bleah. It is shameful, whatever the outcome of the case.

November column -- addiction

Here is the column I submitted and which is likely (it's quite early around here just now) to appear in the local paper today. It's what I wrote; the editor tweaked one thing and probably found another title. I imagine I prefer my warts-and-all to his:


Last week, both of my sons attended a talk by former Boston Celtics player Chris Herren, who gave his first-person account of an addictive past -- from alcohol to pills and on into the lost-and-found universe of heroin.

If I had to guess, I'd say the talk blew their socks off.

This was not some TED talk about the vital ecological role of the warthog in Mesopotamia. This was not another virtue spiel from adults who wanted kids or other adults to be educated or somehow 'better.' This was intimate, personal and honest. And its subtext was quite simple: You can be yourself -- honest instead of employing a lot of social camouflage in order to be compliant and right. The road might be bumpy, but it was OK to be you.

I didn't attend the meeting held at Northampton High School, but was glad my boys had: The looks on their faces told me something important had happened.

"He was a straight shooter," said one son, without elaborating.

His words and the look in his eyes took me back to a time when my own sense of relief and epiphany rose up after I encountered some straight shooting that helped to unravel my own unspoken knots within.

Then in my early 20's, I returned from a two-year military stint in Berlin to find my mother sober.

It was 1964 and she had become a member of Alcoholics Anonymous during my overseas stint. She joined AA to address both her addiction to booze -- which to this day constitutes the biggest drug problem in the United States -- and her simultaneous ingestion of prescription drugs.

As someone who had lived in the hellish confusion that addicts can inflict on their loved ones, I was happy she was sober and said of course I would go with her to an AA meeting. But I was nervous about going.

At the time, drunks were categorized in my mind as self-absorbed. They, like any addict, were invariably and voraciously self-referential. Many were unwashed bums who lay rumpled and dirty in alleys. They covered themselves with newspapers. Their dripping noses went unnoticed in their self-induced stupor. The bottom line in my mind was a resounding and youthfully moralistic "ick!"

But the meeting my mother chose to take me to blew my socks off. First of all, I had never seen so many $1,000 suits or single-strand real-pearl necklaces in one place -- a church basement that reeked of very, very expensive perfume and top-drawer education.

More important, after the three speakers had said their piece, I knew that if church had been like that when I was a kid, I would have been in church seven days a week. This was unvarnished honesty.

Each speaker provided a sigh of relief -- the kind of relief I imagined I saw in my sons' faces last week: Here at last was someone who told a human truth that heretofore had been buried inexpertly beneath social niceties. By telling their own sometimes harrowing stories, these speakers provided me with a potential permission to be honest in my own life. Honest and human instead of just compliant and right.

As a parent, I have learned that some of the best lessons my children have learned did not come from me. Coming from someone in the 'real world,' the lessons I might long to transmit cannot be dismissed as "the old man off on a rant."

Neither of my sons has a pharmacological drug problem. But each is capable -- like anyone else at any age -- of fulfilling the old drug-addict mantram (cq), "if one's good, two's better." Money, clothes, cars, power, possessions, philosophies and religions -- each may provide a happier life in some instances and yet if that happier life relies on being "someone else," it becomes an addiction that is bound to be flawed at best and deeply debilitating at worst.

"Be yourself:" Two little words that are so easy to say and yet requiring hundreds of false starts, including, for some, the hellishness of chemical addiction. "Be yourself" poses a question I do not wish on anyone, least of all my sons, but it is a question that life imposes, like-it-or-not: How, exactly, do I "be myself" and live to smile about it?

No one can tell my sons and yet there are suggestions -- not some Tooth Fairy "the answer," but suggestions. Chris Herren provided a few suggestions and I am grateful to him and to all those who organized and made his speaking engagement possible. Straight shooters are educators in the deepest sense. Agreement and disagreement are not the point. Virtue is not the point.

Honesty is the point. Personal, intimate honesty.

There is an addiction potential in honesty, but as a starting point for a less uncertain life, it's pretty good.

So thank you Chris Herren and thanks to those who made his appearance possible. Any friend of my sons is a friend of mine.

And thanks to anyone who does what s/he can to break the downward spiral of trying to be someone else.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

addiction column

Spiritual adventure is sometimes likened to a spiral staircase: The aspirant climbs; s/he is repeatedly at the same place as s/he was at another time -- but 'higher'; I guess this is another way of saying, "same shit, different day." With luck, new perspective improves what is "the same, but different."

And even setting the 'spiritual' to one side, maybe all of anyone's lifetime is like that ... like some kid dressing up in clothes found in a neglected attic ... there are blue things and red things; shoes and boots; coats and hats ... it's all brand new but it's the same old kid.

Today I have to work on the newspaper column that is scheduled to run locally tomorrow. I try to come up with something 'new' for the columns, but, increasingly these days, each seems to be a bit stale, reflecting bits and pieces of the past which, of course, is never really past.

The column is rough-drafted, but not yet out the door, so I have to try to smooth it out -- a small tale of my two sons who went to an open forum at which former Boston Celtics (basketball) player Chris Herren depicted his descent into addiction -- from booze to pills to heroin. I could see the effect the talk had had on my sons: Both seemed lighter and brighter; they were gratefully convinced in a way that all the virtue talk in the world could not convince; they trusted Herren because of his honesty and simultaneously learned that they too could be honest instead of secretive. "He was a straight shooter," one son said without elaborating.

Whatever epiphany seemed to have struck my sons, I too had been in their shoes ... an addicted mother who had joined Alcoholics Anonymous, took me to a meeting, and the three speakers who delivered their sometimes harrowing tales and suggested implicitly that, among other things, it was OK to be yourself, to be honest and confused instead of compliant and right.

It was a blessing. Not that I had the courage to implement what I understood, but only that the possibility existed and the actions of others suggested I might do likewise. There was a lot of confusion to sift through, a lot of residual pain ... but it was OK to be yourself, warts and all. Being compliant and right may be socially desirable, but it can also tear a person limb from limb.

All addictions are pretty much the same -- self-referential in pursuit of peace that never comes because they are self-referential. Whether the condition is a physical ailment or a character flaw hardly makes any difference, the effects are the same.

Anyway, I've got to get cracking on the column....

Monday, November 17, 2014

the Judas Iscariot approach

Sometimes the moral posturing just runs off the road map from where I sit.

U.S. President Barack Obama has termed the beheading of American aid worker Peter Kassig an act of "pure evil."
President Barack Obama confirmed Kassig's slaying after a U.S. review of the video, which also showed the mass beheadings of a dozen Syrian soldiers.
The 26-year-old Kassig, who founded an aid group to help Syrians caught in their country's brutal civil war, "was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity," Obama said in a statement.
Politically, Obama's statement may be understandable: Who wouldn't cringe at such a deliberate and grisly demise? Who would not weep for the victim or his family? Who would not SCREAM about the circumstances that promote such atrocities?

What person claiming to be a human being would not give anything to undo what has already been done? The answer to that question is, plenty of people, up to and including the president who claims a high moral ground and talks the human talk while sidestepping the human walk, however hard and complex.

The Judas Iscariot vision is hardly limited to the president. The beheading of Peter Kassig is horrific. The beheading of a dozen Syrians is an aside: They weren't Americans -- you know, the ones building up and committing armed attacks in the Middle East. Americans, the ones who made the word "terrorism" the lingua Franca of world leaders everywhere. "Terrorism" -- what a great way to con people into allowing "pure evil" as those in power seek to silence and subjugate those who do not agree with them.

Oh well, I could go on and on about the terrorists who decry terror. It's just that the unexamined use of "pure evil" ... well, what a nice bit of evil to add to the traitorous mix.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

whores get busted; johns unaffected

In a probe of military fraud here in the United States, there is a striking parallel to the age-old conundrum of whores standing in the docket while the johns walk free:
In a period when the nation has spent freely to support wars on multiple fronts, prosecutors have found plentiful targets: defendants who bill for services they do not provide, those who steer lucrative contracts to select business partners and those who use bribes to game a vast military enterprise.
Those little fish in the estimated $30-to-$60 billion in fraud are punished. The pimps are too big to fail.

before oil in Arabia

Once upon a time, before oil had been discovered in the Arabian peninsula and Britannia ruled the waves, divers in such places as Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi staved off a grinding poverty by diving for pearls, according to a BBC article.
"Yusuf was ready to dive. He took his basket, holding it by the rim, and [twisted] one leg about the rope with the stone. Down he went, down, down. I could watch him drop three, four fathoms. Then he was gone."
So wrote Australian explorer Alan Villiers, describing a pearl-diving expedition off Kuwait in 1939, in his book Sons of Sindbad.
"How long he was down! There was silence aboard. [Then came] a slight tug [on the rope] and the tender was hauling in fast, hand over hand. It was a long time before I saw any sign of Yusuf, deep below. A smudge became the blurred outline of a man.
"Here he came, breaking water at last. His basket first, well-filled with oysters, then his old head with an arm thrown up to shield his water-tired eyes from the glare of the sun. He blew once, like a whale."

anti-war video

This was passed along in email... a somewhat shrill indicator of anti-war sentiment that nevertheless hits some nails on the head. Oldish, but I just saw it:

(Reuters) - The U.S. military's ability to stay ahead of technology advances by other countries and respond to multiple crises around the world is already in jeopardy and will get worse unless mandatory budget cuts are reversed, top U.S. officials warned on Saturday.
(Reuters) - American forces have begun advising Iraqi troops in the western Anbar province, the top U.S. general told Reuters, in a faster-than-expected expansion of an operation that is central to its campaign against Islamic State.


If my crotchety appreciation is any measure, the central usefulness of the computer lies in its capacity to inform its users 'accurately' about what day of the week it is.

The swift and well-informed may pooh-pooh this minor function on an apparatus which does everything but take a leak for you, but at 74, I find knowing the day of the week helpful: Not imperative, but helpful. Also it gives a false sense of connectedness: It's less lonely.

Yesterday, for example, I traveled through perhaps two-thirds of the day under the assumption that it
was Sunday. The only thing that forced me to rearrange my mind was the pill dispenser that harries so many of those beyond a certain age. I had taken the "Sunday" pills instead of "Saturday." Since the dosages were the same it was no-harm-no-foul but having missed out on a perfectly good Saturday caused me, not for the first time, to stop and think.

It is disquieting to forget what has so long been assumed. How can anyone defeat the loneliness of experiential being without the tendrils of common understanding ... as for example what day of the week it is? Well-dressed wise men will say that designating days is "tentative" (implying en passant that they are not afflicted), and intellectually it makes perfectly good sense: This moment is this moment and that's all. But the fact is that my whole life has been premised to some degree on my agreement with you: Today is "Sunday" and to forget "Sunday" is to be distanced from you and to be, in some sense, less caring or cared for.

Pills and forgetfulness are probably the learning curve that the elderly are consigned to. And make no mistake, it is a learning curve. What is it like to forget the "Boer War" or "the American Revolution," or "the invention of the wheel or steam engine" or "the name of my favorite actor" or "the outrageous fortune" of one social trend or another? What is it like to encounter a situation or thought process that once evoked a profound sense of love or anger and, whaddya know -- it's just not as moving as once, just not as connecting and less lonely?

At first it is disconcerting. But with practice and as time passes and the forgetfulness persists, well, this is the farm you are stuck with. Past perceptions and appreciations are like sea gulls disappearing in the fog over the bay: They're there somewhere, but where, exactly, is not so clear. Once I knew it was "Sunday," once I knew it was "horrific beyond naming," once I knew that one of Russia's last czars employed a six-foot American black man to open the throne room door. It's disconcerting -- up to and including panic -- to forget what binds me not only to you but also what defines and binds me to myself.

Obviously these observations mean little or nothing to those who know today is "Sunday." But others, I think, get my drift.

And as I plod along on my own learning curve, I have noticed that things work out pretty well when I remember the old stand-by, "if you don't know, ask." There is nothing wrong with not knowing, but there can be a lot wrong with not asking ... if knowing is what you're after. And a little at a time, not-knowing is not really all that bad. Is Sunday improved by "Sunday?"

Today, I am keeping up with the Jonses: It's Sunday, although, of course, it may not be.

Friday, November 14, 2014

opening up

Pringles potato chips
One of my sons called the speaker a "straight shooter." The other said it was "the best talk I ever heard." Both were referring to a motivational talk given at the local high school yesterday by a former Boston Celtics player named Chris Herren -- a fellow whose life had been decimated by alcohol, pills and eventually heroin. He's clean now.

I only read the newspaper account -- which was pretty much what you'd expect. What I hadn't expected was the sense of lightness that seemed to pervade my sons' appreciation of the talk.

There seem to be times in life when the unasked questions and visceral uncertainties get addressed as if out of the blue. Something inside lets go or opens up or something. It feels like a blessing: Finally, someone understands what I have been afraid to enunciate, let alone address.

Neither of my sons has a chemical addiction, but there is a lot of social pressure out there. Both my sons are graduates of the high school where Herren spoke, but this was what I think of as first-class education ... someone, not a parent, who tells his or her harrowing tale and loosens the knot I feel when wondering which path to follow. Suddenly, honesty is not so scary....

And a sense of lightness enters on little cat feet. It's better than finding $100 on the sidewalk: Suddenly, it's OK to admit the true truth, even if it's just a passion for Pringles.

I spent a couple of hours doing a first draft of this month's newspaper column about it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

on the wry side

Passed along in email:

terrorism -- U.S. vets sue banks

(Reuters) - Wounded U.S. veterans and family members of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq sued five European banks on Monday, seeking to hold them responsible for shootings and roadside bombings because they allegedly processed Iranian money that paid for the attacks....
The lawsuit was brought under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, a 1992 law that permits victims to bring private suits against alleged financiers of militant operations.
It may not get anywhere, but I think this suit is on target.

chilly times

The dawn came up tinged with pink in anticipation of ... well, who knows, but the Midwest is getting clocked by a bout of cold and snow and here in the East, we await our turn. Windshields are rimed with frost and the need for more layers of clothes asserts itself. High, high in the sky a couple of contrails are pink as clouds.

There is mayhem and sorrow aplenty around the world, much of it generated by greed and importance.  I am happy there are people willing to do something about it, though I do wish state-sanctioned killing were not so predominantly part of the solution.

In the street, the local rabbit sits still as salt before moving on. Soon enough, perhaps, the sauntering chickens may make an appearance. I have no news or views worth reporting.

Oh wait ... Thich Nhat Hanh, 88, the second most influential Buddhist after the Dalai Lama by some reckonings, is in the hospital with a brain hemorrhage. In France, I think. The announcements are so delicate that the actual danger is hard to assess, though the delicacy suggests death may be the outcome.

Funny how the only way to judge the impact of one hero or another is for that hero to get out of the way ... die, or something similar.

catching up with a comet

A brand new image shows the view from the Philae lander of the surface of the comet (BBC)

DARMSTADT, Germany (AP) — Landing with a bounce after traveling 4 billion miles, a European spacecraft made history Wednesday by successfully reaching the icy, dusty surface of a speeding comet — a cosmic first designed to answer big questions about the universe.
Ten years to make the trip to an object traveling at about 65,000 mph, synchronizing speed and location and finally landing a probe ... it's nice to think someone can risk the risk and be patient for the results and then succeed in a billion-dollar-plus project that doesn't kill anyone else.

I can't pretend to understand the science, but I can admire the man or woman who takes a bold step and exercises a terrible patience awaiting results ... and not quitting or cutting corners.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

autumn fields

Fodder awaiting harvest

Filling the farm-animal trough

Where your Thanksgiving comes from

cheating rewarded ... sort of

It is hard to read this BBC essay on university students in India who feel they have the right to cheat and not wonder about A. the growing number of Indian faces on the American (media, medical, business, etc.) landscape and B. the extent to which universities in the U.S. likewise fudge the education they provide.

I seriously doubt that India is alone in its quandary, but that doesn't make the quandary any less dispiriting.

Look at spiritual endeavor and the success stories that evolve out of what amounts to cheating ... great rafts of intellectual and emotional confetti passing for what might evolve from a practice that can be pretty hard.

When I was a kid, teachers would despair of the wiseasses who sat in the back of the classroom, shot spitballs and did their damnedest not to do the homework. "If they put as much energy into studying," the teachers would intone, "they'd be the smartest kids in the class."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

letting the past be past

Letting the past be past news:

-- Generally, I skim three news sites early in the day -- MyWayNews (largely AP stuff); the BBC, and Reuters... The New York Times is too proprietary and The Washington Post is a mess, so I generally skip them. Today, not one of them provided a Veterans Day story in its headline offerings. With so much 'we-need-more' war in the present, perhaps it is understandable that recollections of past anguish should be relegated to a back burner.

-- In a sign the U.S. may be rethinking its somewhat arrogant intrusions, the State Department has begun a pullback in covert 'democracy' efforts in hostile countries. It's probably not a bad idea, but it does open the door to more violent initiatives -- the stuff that creates 'hero' veterans -- as I see it.

-- An Associated Press story points out that some have escaped the increasingly painful wealth gap by moving out of the hometowns that nourished them: There are jobs to be had ... but elsewhere. "Home" has always been a tricky business, but there is a nostalgia for the places where people learned to ride bicycles.
-- A review of the handling of allegations of child abuse by prominent figures [including politicians] has found no evidence that records were deliberately removed or destroyed.
Ministers asked the head of the NSPCC to examine how the Home Office dealt with files alleging abuse from 1979-99. (Bracketed info added from elsewhere)
-- This morning, my wife said I had taken to getting up in the middle of the night. In the past, getting up meant staying up somehow. Now, by contrast, I have completely forgotten my middle-of-the-night trips. Completely forgotten ... it's unnerving, not least because I take a pain pill during the foray and I don't like taking pills without attention and recollection.

Monday, November 10, 2014

lunch with relatives

Yesterday, my sister (half-sister actually and my favorite relative), brought her 90+ mother, my stepmother I think, west from the Boston area and the three of us had lunch. My stepmother wanted to see me and my sister is keeping an eye on her as time passes and age creeps up.

"Lunch" was pleasant and talkative and social ... the kind of affair that is at once pleasing and exhausting. Where once we sailed through the social niceties and bits of affection and points of interest, now there was some ghost as well, as if at the end of some exhalation, a time to relax and pay no more attention. In the mix somewhere was the understanding that this might be our last meeting ever and... well ... how had that happened when the mind was so full of memories and weavings of other times?

I found myself wanting to offer something -- some bit of social contribution -- and I did, but I really didn't have much and what I had hardly seemed of much use. Nor, for some weakened reason, did I really want to offer it -- to confect a social story when society had more important fish to fry.

Lunch was pleasant and interesting. It called me to an earlier time and I was not entirely sure I wanted to go.

Today I go to the pulmonary surgeon to get some reading on the lung-nodule she is treating as cancer until proved wrong. A biopsy is in the offing, but what to do once the biopsy is parsed is the topic of our meeting. Good news, bad news ... I do get tired of medical news.

As if hearing my whine, a squadron of Canada geese honked by this morning. I never get tired of them.

PS. Saw the surgeon. The agreement is to do a wedge-biopsy excision of the nodule and four days plus or minus in the hospital. The operation has a 95% batting average as I get it. Time spent in a hospital is right up there with firing squads in my book ... bad for your health.

So it goes.