Saturday, February 28, 2015

California drought update

SACRAMENTO, Calif. –  The federal government said Friday it won't send any of its reservoir water to the Central Valley for the second straight year, forcing farmers in California's agricultural heartland to again scramble for other sources or leave fields unplanted.
Many farmers had been bracing for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's announcement as California's drought enters its fourth year. Some farms are exempt from complete cuts under California's antiquated water rights system dating to Gold Rush-era days.
California grows an enormous amount of U.S. produce. The drought, contrary to what East Coast states like New York or Massachusetts might think, is not an unaffecting, it's-their-problem event.

a case of the spiritual no-no's

I don't want to get into a latter-day pissing contest about it, but because I took some trouble to respond to a question about spiritual dishonesty posed on a Buddhist bulletin board, I think I will save it here:
is this a series of allegations that will bring the chickens home to roost, or merely another sensational flash-in-the-pan that will prove to be unfounded...?
Federica -- Your question is too narrowly focused, as if one or the other options provided some kind of 'answer' or 'explanation' of the issue. Having lived through three sex-and-power-based eruptions at the Zen center I once attended (and you may well ask why I hung around for three) ... and having seen how it all panned out in the end (from the 1970's to the present) ... well, I know that the bright-eyed devotees may be offended (it's not my teacher after all ... my teacher is yummy and enlightened and wise and kind and holy, etc. etc.) but the sociopathic-asshole gene is an equal-opportunity employer just as the supportive and loving and sincere gene is: It's not a matter of either/or; it's a matter of both/and. Should we write such behavior off? Absolutely not. But should we expect it to be solved with heart-felt get-togethers at which 'deep listening' and ethical manifestos evolve? Get real!

The Vatican, the Jews, the Boy Scouts, nunneries and monasteries, posh prep schools, well-heeled universities and for all I know Islamic State ... same stuff, different venue. Each example of off-the-tracks behavior may be heart-rending and cruel and hypocritical and infuriating ... but another TED talk and another avowal of transparency and regret simply won't cut the real-time mustard. No one, as far as I can figure out, can talk human nature to death.

Is my outlook bleak and pessimistic and too sweeping when it comes to spiritual adventure? I don't think so, but of course others seeking improvements and relief in their lives are likely to disagree... there is a personal necessity/insistence about praising whatever spiritual discipline 'I' follow: Why else should I take it up? My ethical and rarefied and pure way is the one true way ... it's the other guys who have the problem. :)OK ... knock yourself out... but at least take the trouble to investigate and find out what is true ... not true from my point of view, but true from your own.

Spiritual discipline does not mean being some kind of credulous, forelock-tugging wuss. Call out the hypocrites and damn all damnable behavior! Stick up for those who are wounded! Live the outrage! Play the psychological explanation card! Wax smooth and wise and understanding and at peace!

I can't tell anyone what to think or how to get around the cruelties of glowing gurus. Everyone has their own responsibility. My own bottom line is this: Religion is a lie (about like anything else) and it is up to the devotee to find the truth and healing properties within that lie. This may sound cynical, but I don't mean it with a cynical tone that a thoughtless atheist might employ. Lying is not a good idea, but how and why it's not a good idea is hardly contained in any book or text or religious group hug. It's worth some investigation ...

What are things like when they don't need fixing and we all do what we can to fix them?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Banksy in Gaza; Netanyahu due in U.S.

British street artist Banksy has brought his abilities to war-torn Gaza.

Is it ironic that the art show in the rubble seems to dovetail nicely with next Tuesday's appearance by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's before a joint session of Congress ... an event criticized both in Israel and the U.S.?

"heterosexual pride" spoof

When a senior Brazilian politician said there should be a "heterosexual pride" day, many in the country took offence. Now a video parodying the idea is proving popular on YouTube.

"baby boxes"

Baby box in the Czech Republic
In the U.S. descent into a stratified feudalism, Indiana may help accelerate the trend by passing a bill that would place "baby boxes" at hospitals, churches, police stations, et al. Distressed or impoverished parents could drop off unwanted newborns without fear of penalty in this latest version of medieval caring.
Indiana could be the first state to allow use of the baby boxes on a broad scale to prevent dangerous abandonments of infants if the bill, which unanimously passed the House this week, clears the state Senate. Republican state Rep. Casey Cox and child-safety advocates say they're unaware of any other states that have considered the issue at the level Indiana has.
Cox says his bill is a natural progression of the "safe haven" laws that exist in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Those give parents a legal way to surrender newborns at hospitals, police stations and other facilities without fear of prosecution so long as the child hasn't been harmed.
And so the cycle is nourished ... from baby box to orphanage to English, Irish and Australian investigations of the 'slavery' abandoned children have been subjected to by church and state. Opponents of the baby-box approach point out that such boxes sidestep concrete actions that might ameliorate conditions in which such babies are fostered ... eg. poverty, lack of education, etc.

Bit by bit, the civilized society that might lay claim to a civilized society devalues the lives of those who are not as well-heeled as those toasting their civilization.

PS. A spike in suicides among middle-aged men after 2007 has been linked to the economic downturn that is politely referred to as the "Great Recession."

The number of Americans between the ages of 40 and 64 who take their own lives has risen by 40 percent since 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And suicide rates for the age group have picked up markedly since the onset of the Great Recession, according to the report.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

shifting responsibility

In a world where personal responsibility is increasingly sidelined, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has added another layer.

Vilsack suggested to Congress yesterday that consumers worried about the genetically-altered food they were buying could simply look it up on their smart phones and thus save purveyors of goods from listing such ingredients on their boxes or cellophane wrappers.

The Food and Drug Administration handles most food-package labeling, so Vilsack's idea isn't an official proposal. But the agriculture secretary suggested it could head off the debate between the food industry and those who have pushed for package labels that identify GMOs.
What is it that encourages individuals and industries to avoid standing behind what they produce and to provide the evidence?


I'll probably never arm-wrestles the topic into a newspaper column, so I guess I will let it out of the starting gate here ... in the privacy of my own slovenly home... the question of trust.

As far as I can figure out, there is an unremitting desire to feel the warming waters of trust. It soothes the soul. It warms the cockles. In the midst of uncertainty trust is relaxed and at peace with something or someone. Trust is a place or time where doubt is erased and comfort kicks in. I'm talking gut-level stuff here, not dictionary stuff.

An Internet dictionary offers this partial approach:
-- a feeling of confidence in someone that shows you believe they are honest, fair, and reliable
-- confidence that something is safe, reliable, or effective
Trust. Cops want it and so do criminals. Politicians court and sometimes lie in order to cement it. Spouses and religious devotees may lay claim to it. Farmers and stock brokers and young mothers and old codgers all seek out little and large homesteads of trust. To trust may prove dangerous, but the alternative of distrusting each and every segment of life that comes down the pike is both exhausting and impossible.

There's just got to be something trustworthy and even if there's not, still ... well ... I guess each picks his or her own version. Buddhists trust, for example, that all things change and their sometimes smug assertion is hard to contradict. But is it trustworthy?

A resting place. Someplace that requires no energy. A bit of peace. Just one small moment that devolves drip by drop into this moment -- a point at which the matter of trust is irrelevant.

There have been people I trusted. And on the sociological big screen, I used to trust the U.S. Supreme Court and the magazine "Consumer Reports." Maybe the Buddhist "enlightenment" is worth trusting, but how could I know that without first being enlightened?

It's a strange duck, trust.

Guantanamo clusterfuck

If Islamic State wants to delight in the corruption of its enemies, I think it has no further to look than the clusterfuck trial under way at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo prison in Cuba. The U.S., a country that might like to present itself as a model of justice for all (wo)men has yet to clearly define its role in holding "suspected terrorists" without recourse to what the U.S. Constitution provides for -- the right to a speedy trial.

Since the prison opened in 2002, 779 prisoners have been held; 644 released or transferred; and 122 remain (I'm not quite sure how that math computes, but it is the assertion of the linked site). The charges against the prisoners have and continue to vary, but almost invariably, what was frightening and heinous about the original charges has turned to dust the moment any particular case came anywhere near courtroom adjudication. The prosecutorial authority has been unwilling in many cases to reveal its sources or the bases for the original oh-so-awful allegations. This seems to be the best that the U.S. can muster -- heartfelt, righteous, frightening blither unsubstantiated by the facts required by any decent legal system. The U.S. is reduced to saying what it is against instead of proving what it is for.

Today, on National Public Radio, there is a good report on one egregiously long and unfocused trial proceeding. It makes clear what is true in the whole mishegas -- that Nero (the U.S.) fiddles, Rome, in the person of flesh and blood men, burns. Here is the lead to the NPR story:

This Sunday marks a dozen years since Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in Pakistan — and seven years since Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann announced formal charges against him, alleging Mohammed was the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ever since, the United States has been working to try him and four other men on death penalty charges at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Now, one of the biggest cases in U.S. history may also become the longest. And it could be years before what's being called the "forever trial" even reaches the trial stage.

 Do individuals, even with the bloodiest of intentions, deserve to be imprisoned, kept from the homes and families or any semblance of a "free" lifestyle. Dick Cheney and other exceptionalist neo-conservatives might argue that they do deserve it. But the question remains as to whether the U.S. deserves Dick Cheney et al.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

East Coast seas rise 5.04 inches

In the news...
-- Sea levels north of New York City rose by 128mm in two years, according to a report in the journal, Nature Communications.
-- In a report, Amnesty International urged the United Nations Security Council to relinquish its veto rights in some cases pertaining to human catastrophes.[Talk about "when pigs fly...."]
Instead, the council's five permanent members - the UK, China, France, Russia and the US - had used their veto to "promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians....
-- Drones have appeared over landmarks in central Paris for the second night running and police are no closer to knowing who is operating them.
There were five sightings by between 23:00 on Tuesday and 02:00 (01:00 GMT) on Wednesday, French media report....
Flying drones over Paris at night is illegal and daytime flights require authorisation from the city.
Five drones were seen the previous night in similar areas, including the Eiffel Tower and above the US embassy, close to Place de la Concorde.
-- STEPHENVILLE, Texas (AP) — A Texas jury has rejected theinsanity defense of a former Marine in the deaths of famed "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle and another man.
After a two-week trial in which jurors heard testimony about defendant Eddie Ray Routh's erratic behavior, including statements about anarchy, the apocalypse and pig-human hybrids, they convicted Routh Tuesday night in the deaths of Kyle and Chad Littlefield at a Texas shooting range two years ago.
If Routh were insane, of course, my own sanity would come into question ... I, who put him on his glorious and patriotic path by funding, whether through inertia or willfulness, the 'peace-keeping' role that led the U.S. to take up arms at the drop of a hat.

heat in the house

This morning, the low rumble of what used to sound like a Sikorsky jet engine emanating from the basement is gone. Instead, the radiators are giving off reassuring can-do clicks and hisses but there is no roar from afar.

Yesterday, the plumbers came and installed a new boiler in the basement -- something to replace the old battleship of a furnace that bit the dust last Friday. The job is not yet complete -- and there is the question of precisely how much of a financial bullet we will have to bite -- but for the moment there is heat in the house.

Some part of me -- some long, long habit -- feels at a loss without the smooth rumble that would rise up when the heat went on. It's "better" of course, but sometimes "better" doesn't really feel better.


Perhaps because I have not been frivolous enough in my life, last night I bought an airline ticket to South America. In keeping with my belief that if you want to visit a foreign country, you should generally skip the big cities -- cities are all the same and it is in the countryside that the small, specific red blood cells of a nation are forged -- my destination was to be 'out there' somewhere ... out where the grass is green, the houses sturdy and a quiet man tended his sometimes-willful pigs or small bank or well-tended church and the world was flat, perhaps. I bought the ticket on the spur of the moment and I was planning to go "now."

As dreams go, this one was flavorful and packed with a wish that is highly unlikely ever to be fulfilled. When awake and when thinking about distant destinations, South America is a place I know little about and as a result have little interest in. Imagine that -- cavalierly writing off a whole continent. But it was that ignorance that allowed me, for a change, to be frivolous ... if only in a dream.

On the one hand, I suppose it takes a kind of courage to be frivolous, to range spontaneously away from terra cognita and into the realm of just do it. On the other, individuals who give over to every whim and whimsey strike me as ... well ... frivolous and weak-tea and probably cruisin' for a bruisin'. I suppose that each side of the coin can look with a wispy longing at its shadowed obverse.

Caution to the winds!

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Trust, leap, let the music take you, giggle within ... and be frivolous!

South America, here I come!

If only in a dream.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Italian Twitter tweaks ISIS

Passed along in email and probably warranting a particularly grisly fatwa. Tweaking The Prophet -- peace be upon him -- is one thing. Laughing at his self-styled expositors is quite another!

cold weather

Minus-14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-25.5 Celsius) at 6:45 a.m. today.

Even the wood stove in the front room is having a hard time keeping up.

A new furnace, after the old one crapped out last Friday, is due today or tomorrow.

If it stays this cold, even the expense begins to contract in the mind.


Without its overlays of "gloomy" or "depressing" or "miserable," the word "dismal" popped up this morning as if a person had walked into a room, approached a piano and idly hit a middle C.

It was not negative or positive. It just had a flavor and richness all by itself. There was vast potential that could follow in its singularity and yet, for the moment, it was its unadorned singularity that was somehow pleasing.

Like "shit," "dismal" felt like a tailor-made suit jacket -- smooth and silky and perfected in every way. What a flavor! Small and enormous all at once, inescapably present and yet smiling a small smile at the future ... "dismal."

This is not a topic to talk about, perhaps. The toxicity of academia crouches for the kill. The whines of the multitudinous mind are not far behind. Everyone wants a piece of the action and "dismal" gets no respite. Instead, it is attached and assessed and freighted with meaning. No reason it shouldn't, but this morning I like it alone and untouched and complete without complement. "Dismal."

I once saw some very large paintings in the Guggenheim Museum -- the 14 Stations of the Cross 'depicted' as black lines on white canvas. Très abstract. They irritated the shit out of me because the simplicity stood scant chance of transmitting itself to the on-looker and art that doesn't dare to be flawed and transmit strikes me as bullshit. While looking at the pictures, I ran into an artist friend of my mother's and expressed my irritation ... I really was pretty pissy. She tried to chill my jets by suggesting "well, perhaps it is an arrogance of simplicity."

As arrogant as "dismal" or the abstract 14 Stations of the Cross may be, still I suspect everyone has pinpoints of understanding or words or music or gestures that are teeny-tiny of themselves and yet resonate, rich and nourishing as horse manure. Backtracking into the future. Before the Big Bang. Something all by itself, unadorned, and yet reaching the furthest reaches like an angel.

OK, I've ruined it and the delight of "dismal" has been duly compromised and sullied. It's not exactly sad or something to communicate. It's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Maldives leads the 'terrorist' charge?

 Perhaps fender-benders will be the next stop on the way to the coveted "terrorism" label.

MALE, Maldives (AP) -- Police on Monday dragged the Maldives' former president into a court, which ordered his detention throughout his trial over a decision to arrest a senior judge three years ago.
Mohamed Nasheed was arrested Sunday and charged under an anti-terrorism law.
He was brought to Criminal Court for the first hearing, and was dragged into the courtroom after he resisted police attempts to stop him from speaking to journalists gathered outside.
The three-judge panel gave Nasheed three days to name his lawyers.
The Maldives government says the anti-terrorism law covers not only violent terrorism, but a wide array of actions against the state. (Emphasis added)

"proud to be a peasant"

With one of the puniest budgets in France's top division, Guingamp can't splash the cash like some of the mammoths — Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain being the prime example — it competes against and humbles from time to time.
Out here in one of the most unlikely backwaters of top-class football, in a Brittany town of 7,300 inhabitants, where fans attend games wearing jerseys marked 'Proud to be a peasant,' euros and cents are counted in before being counted out.

the Oscars

"Fear is the condom of life. It doesn't allow you to enjoy things," [Director Alejandro G.] Inarritu said backstage at the 87th Academy Awards.

His movie, "Birdman," won the best-picture Oscar at last night's ceremonies and he credited its success in part to a fearlessness required in creativity.

I just thought it interesting that someone might say something interesting at the Oscars extravaganza.

secrecy and police surveillance

Passed along in email this morning was this Washington Post story about dwindling privacy rights accompanying advances in police surveillance ... specifically, a drug bust in which the defendant received a reduced sentence because police did not want to have to publicly show the technology that allowed them to catch him.

Trickle-down secrecy: First NSA says it cannot detail information that allows them to catch bad guys (and more than occasionally breaks down the wrong front door in the process) because to do so would compromise 'national security' for an as-yet-to-be-redefined 'nation.'

Local police, not to be outdone, take up the argument and pretty soon the argument will become ensconced: We can't tell you what we're doing, but trust us, it's for your own good. To prove the point, the drumbeat of 'terrorist' possibilities increases in the media together with self-congratulatory tones: "See -- we caught a fourteen-year-old who got pissed and said she was going to move to Syria or 'kill' _______ (fill in the blank)."

Sunday, February 22, 2015


A friend was kind enough to read an early draft of the most recent newspaper column I wrote and to give it the sort of critique I like ... not mealy-mouthed with praise followed by criticism but just plain here's-what-I-don't-like-and-why. It stings a bit, but it also refocuses the eyes.

And one of his critiques was that in a variety of ways the column wasn't "authoritative" enough -- that it skirted authority with levity and the tangent did not appeal to him.

One of my greatest and most impossible-to-attain dreams in writing is to offer a point of view that will not demand or beg for the reader's agreement but rather will encourage the reader to think his or her own thoughts. But of course it is impossible not to intervene: I choose the words, the order. I create the context. I am god ... which is probably one reason why a lot of those who write, write.

With my impossible dream, I dislike "authority" because it implies I could know better about the reader's thoughts or whimsies or entire lifestyle. Telling someone they are full of shit is not the same as their actually being full of shit.

And into this mix is a beaten-down neurotic component ... something out of childhood perhaps ... a world in which I cannot be the authority because someone or something else is the authority and I would do well to remember it.

And then of course there is the authority that is the authority because s/he demands that the world take and knee and bless his/her name... purloining the ideas of others, passing them off as his/her own, and requiring thanks from all quarters.

But after all is said and done, "authority" feels like the word "authentic" to me -- a realm to steer clear of whether for neurotic or any other reasons.

It never ceases to amaze me that those who are convinced that they would not bow to anyone else's authority are nonetheless willing to kowtow to their own.

browsing the news

Hands-free tomato server
-- A good example of why I might be inveigled to move to Canada arrived this morning with the story of a Canadian member of parliament who made a hasty exit when he found that the bargain-basement underpants he had bought were too tight ... and later admitted it. Politicians with the ability to laugh at themselves strike me as a rare and desirable breed, especially here in the U.S. where the mummified solemnities of a John Boehner or the unrelenting viciousness of a Dick Cheney can be exhausting.

-- More magnetic, somehow, than the Academy Awards that are to be passed out tonight were yesterday's Golden Raspberry Awards. Maybe I'm just grouchy, but the Academy Awards seldom seem to celebrate quality, daring and imagination ... something to make the tears flow, whether in laughter or sorrow. I guess majority-rules creativity is easier than creativity. Anyway, there are the Razzies to lighten the load a bit.

A faith-based comedy about the true meaning of Christmas was the big winner at the annual Razzie Awards. Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas won four awards, including worst picture and worst actor, at Saturday night's 35th Golden Raspberry Awards ceremony. The tongue-in-cheek show, which celebrates movie-making mediocrity, took place a short walk from the venue for Sunday's Academy Awards. Razzie winners, who rarely turn up, get a $4.79 gold-spray-painted trophy.
--  And then there are the curses that have kept the Chambal River region in India a wild and polluted and austere and bandit-strewn place. Perhaps because it seemed to depict a 'simpler' way of life, I read this longish story from start to finish. I haven't a clue what drew me in and I'm not sure that I learned anything 'useful,' but it carried me. Sometimes the predictable cruelties and bloodshed need a little down time.

-- And for off-the-wall possibilities, "dig in to this list of light-and-geeky links that Data Dive has compiled from the week that was." From the greatest class pranks in all of history to the quietest places in America to the hands-free, tomato-serving machine ... there is something refreshing here.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

lifted by memory

Anyone who has stood chest-deep in the ocean knows the feeling of the soft, rolling, rounded, unfoamed, unremarkable waves that roll in and gently lift the body in their passage ... a small defiance of an otherwise defined gravity, an ahhh that is hardly worth remarking and yet has a remarkable welcoming softness.

And so it has been in the wake of my mother's death and, I guess, the obituary that appeared in the New York Times. People seem to have come out of the woodwork -- relatives, school chums, fragments of the past in the form of notes noting my mother's passage. Yesterday, it was a note from someone I went to grade school with -- grade school for Christ's sake! The day before that it was a distant half-cousin -- or some other indistinct relationship. Each remembers bits of what I may not recollect at all or, if I do, it really is a dusty book on my memory's shelves.

There is a sweetness to it all -- a melody of sorts. I learned in my upbringing to not-remember things since remembering was almost invariably painful. But remembering is not so bad. It is nice to think that my mother's obituary can be written by those who knew her only through one incident or two. I'm not up to the task, but these small notes seem capable. Somehow, I want my mother to enjoy some applause and perhaps smile. 

Other bits of 'memory' also seem to assert themselves as well. The plug-in radiator I once used to warm the zendo on bitter days has been moved inside the house and now cozies a room that otherwise might be cold in the absence of the furnace that crapped out yesterday. It's a good tool, even if it never really did much good during zazen or seated meditation... I did a lackluster job of insulating the zendo when I built it, but now the radiator can strut its stuff in a better-insulated house. Welcome back.

And this morning I received a New Yorker article from a chum about a renewed interest in psychedelics as a means of easing anxieties and opening out a narrowed mental focus, not least in the matter of sickness and death. The article tripped a memory switch that recalled reading a plump book about the wonders of psychedelics when it came to breaking through neurotic difficulties. I read it in the 1970's or early '80's and rushed off to a psychologist I was seeing. I was excited about the possibility that all the talk therapy might be cut short with the application of chemistry. Jack, a savvy ex-Jesuit, talked me down and I never did try psychedelics, though I can't remember his arguments and appreciations. He wasn't against it, as I recall ... just skeptical enough and cognizant enough of the bad trips that might result so that I kept visiting him and growing whatever muscles I could in the face of my demons of the day. Maybe he just wanted to income stream I represented, but I discount that because I loved him as an honest broker. Whatever the case, I never took "the blue pill" but now its good reputation seems to be on the rise once more.

And then, through what self-flagellation I'm not sure, I picked up "The Name of the Rose" for a re-read. Its intellectual viscosity is as lulling as a rounded, passing wave. How delicious the mind can wax.

Things come around again -- I guess that is what these small, lifting waves of memory underscore this morning.

Softly. No big deal -- hardly the action-packed, piercing observation that might backbone a decent blog.

Friday, February 20, 2015

"What ISIS Really Wants"

Islamic State's insular demand that it become all things to all men is nicely parsed in readable English in Graeme Wood's essay in the March issue of The Atlantic: "What ISIS Really Wants." The essay was passed along in email today and makes for informative reading, given the lackluster, us-against-them reporting and policy-making in so many halls of western power.

I admit to feeling a bit pole-axed: The essay is longish and introduces a host of characters and ideologies. By the time I finished, I felt as if I had been a participant at Coney Island's hot-dog-eating contest... a mind overstuffed with good information that I couldn't hope to digest ... but I was bloated.

Nevertheless, since war seems to be in the inevitable cards, I also felt a little less stupid, a little less under-informed, a little less slap-dash. Islamic State, it seems, is done a treacly injustice when some claim its religious foundations are bogus or corrupt. It is religious; it is grounded in Islam; and claiming otherwise amounts to an unwillingness to investigate.

And there is more and more and more ... does this jewel lack for facets to twinkle in the author's light? The essay is well done, but just because I can read it doesn't mean I honestly understand or can swallow yet one more hot dog. I can only hope that others -- whether politician or pundit -- will take Wood seriously.

Wood has fulfilled an idle wish of mine -- that someone, anyone, might take a serious look at the views of those who are acclaimed as "insane" or "enemies." Aside from anything else, well, perhaps the bloodletting will be a little less casual.

The trouble with insanity, of course, is that it can be so eminently sane and must, in some sense, be treated as sane if sanity is the desired result. Knowing how intricately scary Islamic State can be somehow makes it a little less scary.

busted furnace and a birthday

Today, with the temperature at two degrees and a frost-bite advisory on the weather channel, the old furnace decided to leak water, ker-chunk ominously and create a theme for the day, which also happens to be my younger son's 21st birthday.

The former is to some extent my own damned fault for not being more attentive to the boiler's water supply/needs, but fault at the moment is not first on the agenda: Getting it fixed is. So there are a couple of calls out to plumbers whose answering machines are on the job at 6:30 in the morning. Hurry up and wait.

My son's birthday is somehow a marvel, which is another way of saying I am strangely or not so strangely inattentive. How did he get to be that old? What happened during all those years that preceded this birthday marker? What does he know that I don't ... and vice-versa? He is flesh of my flesh and somehow I am unable to get a handle on my flesh. Calling it a "blessing" or a "marvel" irritates me because it explains none of what I want -- foolishly or not -- explained. I would rather be confused than lied to and there is something confusing in the air.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

what I fear

Of all the things I fear -- and given a chance, it seems I am capable of being afraid of damned near anything -- one of the most fearsome is my own capacity for group-think. As a human being, I too would like to be welcomed in, to be part of the human warp and woof, but the capacity to bid for belongingness by agreeing without much thought to a much-praised and widely-held sentiment ... well, yes, I am capable of that and it scares the crap out of me.

I'm talking about experience here. LaRochefoucauld's witty maxim is more than a witty maxim: "The intelligence of the mass is inversely proportionate to its number." In one sense, the more people who get behind one notion or another, the stupider they get. Yes, it's witty. But it also speaks to a comforting laziness and irresponsibility that excludes and harms others. I fear it in myself.

In Paris, a black man is pushed out of a subway car by a group chanting "we're racist, we're racist and that's the way we like it." In Washington, President Barack Obama tried to take the high road by praising American willingness to embrace its immigrants and not fall prey to the kind of violent extremism that has marred the peaceful nature of Islam. In the Middle East, the Islamic State -- an organization much beloved by American exceptionalists and neo-conservatives -- beheaded 21 Coptic Christian men four days ago. This was followed by the unconfirmed report that 45 men were rounded up by Islamic State participants and burned alive in Anbar Province in Iraq.

My younger son, a member of the National Guard, wrestles with the warm invitation of his friends to excoriate "terrorists" who are almost invariably brown and live somewhere else but could conceivably do damage at home -- a popular notion sold wholesale by those whose jobs depend of defining and repelling one enemy or another.

And of course it's not that much of this rising tide of bomb-'em-back-into-the-Stone-Age doesn't have some basis in fact. There are some seriously egotistical and dangerous situations and people. But I fear the comfort of a rising social tide. I fear the agreement that is too lazy to investigate these evil acts, the herd mentality that is so invitingly cozy.

And I sympathize with the Tibetan Buddhist monk who, after the Chinese had reclaimed Tibet as its own though force of arms, named the thing he had most feared during the invasion: "I was afraid I might lose my compassion."

"Compassion" has a slightly squishy feel to it, liguistically. But I think fearing the loss of a willingness to think and investigate and reach a conclusion that does not rely on the beliefs of others -- no matter how beloved -- is more my ballpark.

I guess there is something to be said for my fear. But close upon its heels comes the realization that there is a diminishing chance I will have the energy to overcome it. My energy only reaches so far.

the 'emptiness' of things

Perhaps it is the coarse, fact-based cruelties so easily set aside or relegated to a whispered status that makes me remember again small story from the Associated Press. I wish I had saved the original story, but I haven't. Still I remember it with some warmth.

Once upon a time, on a Saturday night, I was skimming the wire service stories at the newspaper I then worked for. It was my job to keep an eye skinned for stories that might be worthy of the next day's paper and it was inevitable that I would skim stories that wouldn't make the cut. The small AP story -- no longer than six or seven paragraphs, fell into the latter category.

Datelined somewhere in Russia, the story told the tale of a man who had created quite a gathering of followers who subscribed to and even adored his appreciation of life as being essentially "empty." All things, this man asserted, were baseless from the get-go and that premise meandered out into a wider spiritual appreciation of life ... of which he was the exponent and guru. Anyone on the spiritual circuit knows the type if not the particular flavor.

Anyway, different from other expositors of the true faith, this man told his followers that as a means of proving the emptiness of all things, he himself would stand on some nearby railroad tracks at a time when a freight train passed by on a daily basis. He would stand in its path ... and remain unscathed ... because, after all, things are by nature "empty."

This man was good to his word. He stood on the railroad tracks as the freight train approached. He did not move.

The AP story did not give any details as to the funeral arrangements.

The spiritually-inclined or credulous mind, of course, may run off into much-faceted defense of the "emptiness" of all things: Clearly things are empty, but this man was merely badly in tune with the greater depths of a deeeeep understanding. The incredulous mind snickers, "Asshole!"

I kind of like this guy. At least he had the decency to put his world to the test instead of feeding credulous adherents into some spiritual woodchipper. Everyone deserves the freedom to be a doofus in his or her own life. Everyone deserves a chance to fuck up by his or her own numbers. How else is anyone to learn ... even if it is just one last lesson? I admire this guy, jackass though he might be, because he did not -- at least in his one grand act -- subject others to his tomfoolery.

This morning, in email, a friend passed along an article about covering up child abuse in the world of Jehovah's Witnesses. Whether in the Catholic Church, the synagogue, the flossy prep school or whatever other well-intended organization, the pattern of addressing child abuse is the same: Let's keep it in-house; don't call the cops; the institution is more important than the discomfort or terror of individual members; the behavior isn't really all that bad.

Reading the article, I could feel my mind simultaneously crouching in horror and yawning. Been there, done that. Heard the story again and again and again. I have a pigeon hole for that situation. It's vile, but ... well ... how long can anyone dwell on 'vile?' The same goes for 'virtuous' and 'wondrous.' The mind runs out of focus and caring. And yet the coarse realities really are coarse and the depredations really do deserve to be tied to some railroad track. The wondrousness really is wondrous but ... oh well ... a religion or cult is the best second-hand pigeon hole available... let's get together and tell each other how wondrous the wondrousness is and thus maintain the wondrousness of it all, the emptiness of it all, the coziness or coarseness of it all... and ain't we grand!?

My guess is that there is a desire for improvement, for happiness, for peace. My guess is that such a yearning, to the extent anyone wants to exercise and realize it, seeks out mentors and insignias and institutions that point the way. My guess is that in the learning process, everyone gets it wrong and is run over by one freight train or another: The coarse and in-your-face is really coarse and in-your-face; the wondrousness and beauty really is wondrous and beautiful.

But it is, as the Hindus put it, "the razor's edge" and smothering coarseness with beauty won't work any better than smothering wondrousness with what is coarse. The two instill each other and there is no escaping it, assuming anyone wants to make the effort.

What's the answer?

My own preference runs along the train tracks of what my Zen teacher told me when I asked him what the purpose of a zendo (place for Zen practice) was and moreover, what the hell he saw his role as. Wasn't he supposed to promote Zen Buddhism?

"No!" he said emphatically. It was not his job to make Zen Buddhism flourish as an insignia or cure-all or 'authentic' institution to which he would woo more adherents.

What then was his job?

"I teach them for zazen," he said of the students who practiced with him. His job was to encourage students to practice. To focus on their own lives and see the truth for themselves. His job was not to be famous or make Zen Buddhism famous.

All this may sound yawningly boring, very yeah-I-know-that.

But the older I get, the more I am impressed with anyone who seeks out the honest railroad tracks of an unfettered and unrestricted life.

Coarse is just coarse, wondrous is just wondrous... and it's not as if love had anything to do with it.

Whoa Nellie! What a trip!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Warren Buffet and friends

And, in the I-don't-understand-investment-ground-rules department, there is this today:

(Reuters) - Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) on Tuesday disclosed a 5 percent stake in agricultural equipment maker Deere & Co (DE.N) and said it shed a $3.74 billion investment in oil company Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) as oil prices plunged.
The changes were among several that Berkshire made in its common stock investments in the fourth quarter, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing detailing the conglomerate's domestic equity investments as of Dec. 31.
Berkshire began accumulating the bulk of its 17.1 million-share stake in Deere, worth $1.51 billion at year end, in the third quarter of 2014, but had not previously disclosed it. The SEC often lets Buffett quietly accumulate large stakes to deter copycats. (Emphasis added)

Brian Victoria column

It's that time of month again -- time to submit a monthly column to the local paper. Every time I do it, I can hear Albert Camus' inaccurately-remembered observation, "Most men climb onto the cross in order to be seen from a greater distance." Vanity is unattractive and I am vain ... read 'em and weep.

This month's column is what it is, but when it got done, I realized that it had allowed me to write a little about something that I had wanted to write and didn't quite dare -- some sort of summation, however inadequate, of that part of my life that had been devoted to spiritual endeavor.

Some part of me wanted to run naked through the town square and relax ... being naked is hardly a novelty since everyone is naked under all those clothes. Covering up is such a chore and yet how much of my time has been devoted to it ... as for example with spiritual endeavor. Anyway, I think you might know what I mean.

Here's the column that appears in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. I print it out in addition to linking it because I don't know how long the paper keeps such things:


My friend Brian Victoria, a Zen monk and author of "Zen at War," is a pain in the patoot. But because he is a pain in the patoot, I know him as a friend I value even though the two of us have never met.

At 75, Brian hangs his hat in Kyoto, but his background is littered with academic credentials that show he has been at home elsewhere around the globe. Through whatever confluence of events, Brian has taken to sending me rough drafts of sometimes academic, sometimes popular papers he is due to deliver or publish. He asks for my opinion and whatever corrections I might care to offer.

The "pain in the patoot" part arises from the fact that Brian always writes about the same thing. Over and over again: Same thesis, different venue. How I wish sometimes that his emails might contain some reference to a fiery romance with a pole dancer or a newly-acquired affinity for worm farms or almost any other topic -- any topic other than what he does write about....

The dishonesty and hypocrisy that can adorn religion like a halo.

From where I sit, Brian's closely-researched pieces are as patient as I am impatient. "OK!" I sometimes want to scream. "I agree! I get it! Now what else is new?" I've tried to say this to Brian -- tell me about the pole dancer! -- but he drones on like Jiminy Cricket, the voice of conscience in the fairy tale "Pinocchio."

What a pain in the patoot! At a time when I am slowly disengaging from 40-plus years of interest in spiritual life, Brian calls me back. It's like getting home to discover you have stepped in dog droppings while out for a walk. The smell lingers.

Adam Fisher ... once
Once I too stepped into formalized spiritual life -- practiced hard, flunked out of a Zen monastery, wept in sorrow or frustration, meditated for hours on end, waxed ecumenical, was blindsided by insight, believed until believing no longer applied, swooned, felt blessed, lived through sex scandals, was lifted up or cast down, and laughed when common sense kicked in. I am not sorry for any of it.

But now? Well now there's no escaping the lingering and annoying aroma of a past whose latter day conclusion is more or less that human beings are often uneasy and suffer and deserve a helping hand. But to imagine that that helping hand is faultless is a fairy tale I decline to subscribe to, not because it's "wrong," but because it doesn't work. And it is at this intersection that Brian and I meet and, I think, agree.

From 1937 to 1945, the Japanese invaded, occupied and enslaved large portions of China. After the Japanese attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941, the invasion of China was largely folded in to what became World War II. And it was during this time that Zen Buddhism showed itself -- contrary to its own precept against killing -- as a willing ally, cheering on the imperial reasoning whether indirectly or directly.

"Buddhism," Brian says implicitly again and again and again, "needs to own up to its involvement with and support of Japanese militarism. And Buddhism is hardly alone."

Though Brian's observations often rely on the past, they are clearly relevant in the present.

No spiritual persuasion wants to be accused of the very misdeeds its creed decries and the result of attempted denials, whether in Zen, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam or any other persuasion, is some pretty fancy footwork as a means of eluding the lash of dishonesty or hypocrisy.

This is Brian's arena. It is an arena whose seriousness I applaud because my own view is that if religion -- by which I mean personal and intimate and experience-based conviction -- cannot shoulder the "bad stuff" to which it is party, it has no honest business laying claim to the "good stuff," the "holy stuff," the "ineffable stuff." For my own purposes, the bottom line is, "All religion is a lie. Its sole value lies in the truth individuals can personally discover and actualize within it."

But of course it's not easy to acknowledge a complicity in the bad stuff (the killing, lying, cheating, stealing, etc.); it's not easy to agree with and commit to the old cartoon character Pogo when he observed "we have met the enemy and he is us."

It's not easy or polite to wonder that a military chaplain might swear allegiance to country first and God thereafter or to flinch at the notion that God might be on 'our' side. It's not easy to embrace the fly in the ointment and yet, without the fly, what good is the ointment?

Brian's repetitive drum beats, backed up by far more meticulous arguments than my own, are a pain in the patoot. I will read his pieces, however cranky they make me. I am happy to have him as a pain-in-the-patoot friend. Luckily, he seems to have heeded the words of an old Zen teacher who once encouraged his students "not to be too virtuous: Too much virtue makes people crazy." Brian offers the facts and generally sets aside the anointed posturing.

As Jiminy Crickets go, Brian is not half bad.

But laziness sometimes overcomes me and I do wish he'd tell me about the pole dancer. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

relax -- NSA's got your number

As usual, Reuters does some very good reporting:

(Reuters) - The U.S. National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world's computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives.
That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programs discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations.

no taste

-- Penguins can taste only sour and salty food, scientists have discovered.
A genetic study suggests the flightless birds lost three ofthe five basic tastes long ago in evolution.
Taste is critical for survival in most animals, but may not matter in the penguin, which swallows fish whole, say researchers in China and the US.
-- I guess because I said I disliked being told of atrocities without some evidence that would allow me to judge for myself, a friend sent along a very slickly made video alleged to be the work of Islamic State and showing in edited detail the recent beheading of 21 Egyptian Christian Copts. The video is embedded in an article here. I watched it and felt my guts twist. Even edited, it was vile.

 I asked my younger son what he thought of posting it on my blog. "I talked with mom about that," he replied. "She said that posting such a thing only gives them (Islamic State power). Don't post it." And certainly that is one aspect. Other aspects include that it is in bad taste, it is inflammatory from a number of points of view, and, and, and ... it's awful and reprehensible from a human perspective.

But there is another part of me that thinks there needs to be some willingness to address the killer within and how fortunate anyone might be not to exercise it ... while keeping in mind that the possibility is very real and very present and very mine.

During the Vietnam War, television viewers were shown clusters of flag-draped coffins and occasional collections of body bags -- the natural off-spring of Mother War. By the time the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan came around, the politicians had learned their lesson and barred photographs of coffins "as a matter of consideration for the families." That was bullshit, but of course it sounded good.

With that as a contributor to my background, I am extremely leery of atrocities that are kept under good-taste wraps. If those who support those who create and maintain the latest war cannot look on what has been wrought in their name, in what way is their patriotism and courage and righteousness not suspect? Is it really credible to say, "I wouldn't do that. I am civilized."

True, I am not the Islamic State (yet). And true, I get as angry as the next fellow at ignorant slaughter under the whatever banner of righteousness. But to wall myself off from my honest potential as a human being ... well, how's that workin' for ya?

My gut says there is a human compact that lives deep within. Humanity is shot through with responsibility, one to the next. This accounts in part for the gut-wrenching nightmares that combat soldiers can suffer after their return home. What is within (never mind the ethical smoke and mirrors) says "don't kill others; that's just killing yourself."

But since the human compact is broken again and again, a part of me really does want to rub noses in what has been wrought and will be wrought again.

I wish good taste worked better. And I wish I had more of it. And I am dubious about posting anything so disgusting and wasteful and sad.

I hate it ... and, obviously, I did it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

everyone knows that

A friend passed along in email an article about a woman who appears on her posting to suggest that mothers band together and force the removal of dinosaurs from the academic curricula their small children are subjected to. "Please, do what you can to get dinosaurs taken off the curriculum," she writes.

The well-educated may cluck and deride this woman (a reincarnation of Sarah Palin, perhaps), but, reading her plea, I was somehow touched ... frightened, but touched. The whole of her plea is written in reasonable tones. She cares about her kids and knows other parents do too. True, she makes blanket assertions without a shred of evidence brought to bear, but you can sort of sympathize ... the basis of the assertions is that "everyone knows (or ought to know) that."

What I found touching was that someone who appeared to be honestly ignorant and drawing conclusions from that ignorance was receiving no apparent help. Everyone was so busy accentuating their own better understanding and deriding hers that ... well, she was left holding the same bag she had picked up in the first place. True, corrective suggestions might slide off her like mercury off a table top, but ....

And I couldn't help but think that this woman's heartfelt ignorance is the stuff Americans are treated to in the U.S. Congress... or some liberal- or conservative-cult convention.

Everyone knows that.

toasty cold

Half an hour ago, at 6:45 a.m., it was minus-five degrees Fahrenheit (minus-20 centigrade) in this neck of the woods according to the weather site on the Internet.

Cold enough to defy the word "cold."

Is there anything which, if left to its own devices, does not mock the descriptives it can be subjected to?

Naturally, there is a frenzied search for the kindling of description.

It keeps things warm.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

snowy landscape

Like blobs and dustings of dandruff, the snow falls and is blown and swirls and alights and flies and ... was it ever really summer?

More and more and more and more until you might think there could be no more, but like some nightmarish dream or reality, there IS more.

As usual at this time of the month, I am working on a newspaper column and running my neurotic schtick. Because there is little to nothing that really catches my fancy (the "indecency" of yoga pants knocked gently at the door), I have fallen back on recent email correspondence with Brian Victoria. The lead line seems to be, "My friend Brian Victoria, a Zen monk and author of "Zen at War," is a pain in the patoot."

The thesis allows for a little space in which to shoot my mouth off about my own ambivalence towards goodness and decency and kindness and so-called spiritual life. Good intentions and even good actions have so many unintended consequences -- some of them quite good -- but the willingness to rely on their goodness and the unwillingness to embrace their badness makes me skeptical and, I'm afraid, too crotchety by half.

If I have a hard time nourishing the patience that will allow my children to make mistakes I have already addressed, why should it be any different outside the immediate family?

Oh well ... one thing you can say for confusion: It keeps you busy.

The road to heaven is the road to hell ... get used to it.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

who am I? I am your cake

The same assured willingness to believe that "I know who I am" seems to lose its footing when the question is asked, "who are you?" When challenged or assessed, the knowledge of who I am seems to depend on the story told in any current moment. Just now, I am 'x.' But wait! Now I am 'y.' And yet again, I am both/and or neither/nor. And still there is an assured voice whispering, "I know who I am."

Rivulets of thought put me on this frequency which may be observed as "juvenile" by the adults in any given audience.

A cousin's recent email observed

The most pathetic funeral I’ve ever attended was for a woman in a former church of mine. I didn’t know her, but her daughter sang in the choir with me. The priest hadn’t known the deceased, either, and the only thing he could scrape up to say about her was that people enjoyed her cakes.
The implication seemed to be that a deceased person would better be remembered for a wider litany of accomplishment -- actions and events that mourners could somehow sink their teeth into. But what is the matter with being remembered for your cakes? Is this really some lesser feat or praise than hiking the Appalachian Trail or inventing a better wheel? Isn't a good cake, one that brings delight to the tongue, really quite nice and worth remembering? Most people accomplish small things in life, many of which they cannot even remember themselves, let alone lodging in the memory of others.

If I cannot quite pin down who I am or was, how could some poor priest or funeral director or even endeared relative be expected to do better?

One of my favorite object lessons in the matter of assessing who I am resides is a YouTube video called "Thought Moments." It's really quite a simple documentary: The narrator poses ten questions to ordinary people. The questions range from "What is your name?" to "What do you love?" to "What is beautiful?" to "Why is the sky blue?" It sounds very simple for those who "know who I am" and it may seem simple when written down. But the looks on the respondents' faces, the long pauses and their searching eyes reach down inside a viewer like me. It's all very simple -- who is the I of which I am so assured? -- and yet endlessly complex and somehow jolting. The film seems to ask gently, "If you're so certain, why are you so uncertain?"

In Utah, the House recently passed a bill that would allow firing squads to carry out death sentences. As can be imagined, there were and remain strong opinions and both sides of the issue, which has yet to pass the Senate or receive the governor's signature. There is nothing like adjudicating death to bring out a strong sense of "who I am." Some culprits seem to deserve killing. Some not. But making a law about taking life draws all parties closer to a topic that is generally kept on the back, I-know-who-I-am burner. An actual piece of legislation puts the subject matter "in your face," a place that I who know who I am would prefer it not be put.

"I know who I am" is another of those don't-ask-don't-tell annoyances.

And yet sometimes -- though not habitually in a U.S. Congress that approves funding for the latest executions in faraway lands -- there are men and women who decide to address things squarely, even if the result may be unpleasant.

In 1939, Charles Monroe gave an interview to the Federal Writers Project. Monroe, of New Marlborough, Mass., was a mail clerk who was described as "not a man of wealth or education," but was considered, at 50, a leading member of his community and something of a philosopher:

I try to be a good citizen by performing certain public and personal duties which most of my friends would throw up their hands at if I suggested they perform along with me. In my opinion there's too much 'passing the buck' going on today. I don't like many of our laws - capital punishment, for instance - but since I'm a voter and a sustainer of our form of government, I of course automatically make myself as responsible as any other individual in the upholding of our laws. As a sort of an 'accessory to the fact' I once forced myself to attend an execution down in Sing Sing prison where my brother-in-law holds a good job. It was an ugly business. One witness fainted and another vomited, and it was a big relief to get out of there. I felt like the executioner myself, as I was partly, for the fact that we do not press the button or cut the rope doesn't let any of us off.
But if I can't convince you that I was a killer in that instance, you'll have to grant that I'm a killer of pigs and cattle, for I've often helped farmers butcher their live stock. I've done this to satisfy my own conscience, for I'm a meat eater, and being a meat-eater, why shouldn't I assist with the dirty work? You smile!

 At least Monroe, different from me or most members of the Congress that represents me, made an effort to look into the matter of "who I am."

Was he successful? Did he fail? I have no way of knowing. I do know that I admire him for putting on the front burner some of what generally remains unspoken and unaddressed. And perhaps, if nothing else, he came away from the experience with a greater sense of humility and honest perspective.

Death, of course, is a somewhat grisly eye-catcher of a topic. But how about the hundreds of other aspects of life, whether joyful or grisly, that swim like silver fish through any daily waters?

I know who I am?

There is no avoiding the question.

And, on a guess, I would say there is no way of answering it.

Perhaps I will bake a cake today.

Friday, February 13, 2015

drought and extraterrestrials

At the same time that serious scientists are pointing to the risk of a prolonged drought in the Southwest and Central Plains states here in the U.S., other (I guess they're serious) scientists are suggesting the human race get off its duff and send messages to what may be aliens in outer space.

A mega-drought would mean that even Republicans might run short of food and water so perhaps a denial of climate change deserves to be revisited.

I once heard the scientist and prolific writer Isaac Asimov say that he doubted there was 'intelligent' life elsewhere in the universe but that if it did exist, it was conceivable that it would exist in a form outside human comprehension ... something like "rivers of thought," he said.

Who is it who imagines that making new friends (if friends they turn out to be) makes much sense when the human race seems incapable of making friends with itself?


"Perfection" is strange.

Anyone, in any field, might strain and sweat and sacrifice and go a bit bonkers to attain it, but once having reached the agreed-upon heights, what, precisely, has anyone got? Are they better off or more august or any warmer under the bed clothes on a cold winter night? Do splinters beneath the finger nail hurt less? Does the face in the bathroom mirror assure "the fairest in the land?"

I'm not trying to insult great expertise, but I do wonder how those with such expertise handle the perfection they have attained.

Once upon a time, my step-mother bought a Dachshund which the family named "Miles." This was long before my older half-sister married Tony Miles and had two children. Anyway, my step-mother bought the dog and brought it home and then found herself facing a conundrum.

Miles came with papers attesting to his American Kennel Club status ... which is sort of like getting canonized, I gather. He was a friendly dog I was reminded of this morning because the Westminster Kennel Club dog show is scheduled in New York this weekend. How "Westminster" and "American" kennel clubs relate, I don't know, but both seem to be about pedigree and perfection and that sort of thing.

Accreditation, as always, does not come cheap, so I imagine my step-mother had shelled out a sizable sum for a precious dog that was precious-er than other dogs whose ticket had not been punched. But, having picked up the dog with its accreditation documents, she brought it home and, voila! -- it was just a dog that liked to romp and play and run and shit just like any dog. It might be credentialed, but credentials don't mean much when it was time for a walk.

My step-mother's conundrum was this: Would she let the dog run free outdoors -- without chaperone -- or would she husband its credentials and keep it tucked away inside the house? Finally, since she had two daughters to raise and enough work on her plate, my step-mother did the obvious: She treated Miles like a dog and a pet.

And Miles didn't seem to mind. He liked chasing cats and playing fetch about as well as the next dog.

Funny about the attainment of perfection: To aim for it is very human. But no one seems to have come up with an adequate approach to "be careful what you pray for because you may get it." Those who do seem to attain it can be known as inexpert when they keep their dogs in the house -- cherish their credentials and status and expertise. But those who honestly attain something like perfection are probably like Miles ... looking for a cat to chase ... a perfect pastime.

How would you feel if all around you said you were perfect? How enjoyable is that ... not to mention untrue?

Isn't it unkind to suggest anything or anyone might be perfect?

On the other hand, how could anything or anyone be other than perfect?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

René Auberjonois

Since we played together as kids and delightedly attended Saturday afternoon movie matinees together and then mimicked the swagger and competence of the western heroes on the silver screen, it was a peculiar sensation to receive an Internet note from René Auberjonois.

Yesterday, René made a surprise contribution to the zendo roof fund here -- a job since completed, but whose costs still gnaw at my pocket. Out of nowhere, René made a contribution and offered words of condolence on the recent death of my mother, whom he knew. Perhaps he read about her in the New York Times.

On seeing his name, my mind skipped back over René's apparently-busy and successful acting career to a time almost seven decades ago. We were kids and it is strange to be reminded that there was a time when we were indeed kids. I didn't really remember much, but I did remember that René had wanted to be an actor at a time when I was still toying with the childish notion of being a cop or a fireman... in short, had no clue as to what I might want to be.

And here, yesterday, somehow the past fast-forwarded over all other intervening successes and failures and brought me back to a mysterious "then." I was happy for René and his Broadway/Hollywood/television curriculum vitae, but I was not entirely sure how the past -- the 'real' past we had spent together -- and present were linked or whether they even should be linked or could be linked and yet most assuredly were linked.

It was just a peculiar feeling: How did the 8- or 10-year-olds that we were ever turn out? Others might refer to jobs and families and travels ... but somehow that doesn't answer the very simple question, "how'ya doin'?" ... how's the 10-year-old I once knew? I wonder about René.

Hell, I wonder about me.