Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Operation Jade Helm 15"

For a made-up military mission, Jade Helm 15 is impressively elaborate: The two-month simulation planned for this summer spans much of the southwest, requiring special forces from four branches of the military to carry out covert operations amid “hostile” territory in Texas, Utah and part of California.
In at least one of those states, hostility toward the operation has begun a few months early. Online and at in-person meetings, many Texans have expressed suspicion and outright opposition to the project. Some are understandably worried about how it’ll affect their daily lives, while conspiracy theorists claim it’s an attempt to institute martial law, possibly in collusion with Wal-Mart.


Like smoke in an opium parlor, the word swirls in my mind ... thicker here, thinner there ... seeming in one moment to be within reach only to dissolve and become out of reach in the next ... the word "validation." I once read that the Chinese referred to smoking opium as "biting the clouds" and in some amorphous way, I too am biting the clouds of "validation:"

Surely its needs and meaning are as concrete and palpable as a cinder block, but the moment I reach out to touch and control it, it dissolves and I am left bereft ... deliciously bereft... flowing with the flow ... dozing ... floating... no longer responsible and relieved to shed the weight of responsibility, of trying, of living a decent life: Fuck it! -- Just float.

I guess because the Vietnam War ended forty years ago in this month, the television has taken up the cause of recollection. Lots of World War II history. And then, more specifically, last night there were two more segments of Vietnam on the Public Broadcast System: "Kent State: The Day the '60's Died" and "Last Days in Vietnam" played back to back. On Monday, "The Draft" formed an earlier leg on this tripod of memory.

Forty years later, Vietnam veterans, like any others, are often well and truly haunted by the memories of loss and bloodbath and soul-searing stuff that no other man or woman can imagine. But Vietnam was also the first war the United States lost. And Vietnam was one of the first wars in which there was no palpable or immediate threat. Its foundations formed a basis for the "terrorist" mentality and preemptive war-making that prevails today: If someone shoots at you, you are inclined to shoot back; if someone might shoot at you, where is the validation for shooting him/her first? Is the "collateral damage" a pill the 'freedom-loving' United States is willing to swallow? Afghanistan and Iraq among others suggest that the train has left the station: The United States is indeed an exceptional country, but the willingness to infer that exceptionalism is an acceptable course of action is ... well, the opium parlor's delights beckon.

I dislike being sucked back into times I lived through and yet there seems no escape, so last night I sucked on my pipe and floated, floated, floated....

On Monday, May 4, 1970, a peace protest on the campus of Kent State University brought out the National Guard that fired 67 rounds (in response to sniper fire, the official story initially suggested) and killed four students. Nine were wounded. Students would later be prosecuted for their role in the rally. The National Guard was absolved. It was a time of deep and divisive opinion about the war. President Nixon referred to the ground-swell of nationwide participants as "bums." Police and National Guard troops faced off with rallies across the country.

But killing kids -- Americans shooting Americans? It was a step too far, even for some of those who bought into the notion that if Vietnam fell to the communists, could Amarillo or Dayton be far behind? Kent State brought out protesters everywhere ... before the war 'ended' and the peace movement dissolved back into the population, shaping and perhaps informing the women's rights movement or civil rights. But the war was lost and the peace had not been won: Killing kids was possible; don't fuck with us; we are the validated ones, the leaders of the 'free' world' and the war makers whose righteousness could not be questioned beyond a certain point without ....

Killing your kids.

And on my opium couch, I float ... feeling the willingness to kill our kids rising anew. Freedom of speech is a limited commodity and we'll shoot our own citizens to make the point. I do not think it is hyperbole to imagine the businessmen who run Washington will pull out those stops anew. Our flag deserves validation, don't you think? And if you don't think, we will help you think because our income depends on it.

During the Vietnam War, TV footage back home routinely showed flag-draped coffins being brought home. Day after day; night after night ... the American flag wrapped around oblong boxes in which young men were brought back. It was decorous and it was wearing and the policy makers learned their lessons ... nowadays, they say disingenuously, we will not intrude on a family's grief by showing their offspring's coffin. Coffins are off-limits, just as rambling, ranging reporters are off-limits during combat. War means death and dismemberment, but if no one sees it, it is not my responsibility ... and, on my validated couch, it is not true.

I was in the army at the time that John F. Kennedy began making the reality of the Vietnam War a possibility. "Advisors," the first soldiers were dubbed in the early 1960's. I was not shooting or getting shot at. My job was to translate intercepted telephone calls in Germany. It was a job and I did it. I did not feel linked. I too was, give or take a little, validated in my existence.

Kennedy was assassinated. I was standing at a window overlooking the military compound where I lived when someone told me. Later I got out of the army and wondered how much more effective the peace rallies might be if everyone showed up in a suit and tie. Mass movements frightened me, even then, so I didn't dip my oar in the peace-effort waters. Looking at the TV last night, I sort of wish I had. But I am still frightened of the mindlessness of groups, whatever the agenda. Or perhaps I simply want to be more applauded, more visible, less swallowed in the crowd.

Validation. I can feel the urge rising up at every turn. What might it be like if -- instead of seeking validation as a peace-monger or a war-monger or a money-maker or a Buddhist -- I did not require the warm clouds of validation from others. What might it be like if I simply did what I did and thought what I thought and took responsibility for it? True, it might be lonely, but is it any the less true -- seeking validation from others may accomplish wonderful things, but then I am left hanging and doubting and yearning for your touch. And in the end, there is still only what I believe or think or act on.


I have gotten lost in this blog post. I'd like to make it crisp and clear, but all I've got is associative clouds.

Validation ... better keep an eye on it. I don't care if you're right: I care if you're responsible. And the same goes for me.

If you say so and she says so and he says so and they say so, I must be right, right?

Killing kids -- ours or theirs, no difference. Validation in the Bible or Quran, the marches or the white-whining, the stock market or the banks, the politics or the Elks Club dinner ... validation until the validation runs out and it is time to get to work.

Biting the clouds.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Finn gets $58,000 speeding ticket


Check it out.

Compare the fallout from large fines for large wallets ... their country and ours.

"The Draft"

My karma seems to be on a war footing.

Last night, by accident, I tuned into "The Draft," one segment of a Public Broadcasting System trilogy. It made me cry a couple of times, but tears are cheap.

What does it mean to be a citizen of any country? What obligations, if any, attend on that circumstance? The United States has taken to the bully pulpit in the past on behalf of some lofty ideals -- "freedom" or "justice," for example. Freedom is good, but is there any personal willingness to pay a price for it? What price? What obligation? The questions are not abstract: They are personal.

Morality bangs American chimes, I think -- an overarching sense of decency and nourishment both for the moral individual and the people in his or her environment. But morality depends on having the time and energy to consider its ramifications. It is a luxury item and luxuries are not the lot of those who are underfed or undereducated, or writhing in poverty.

Watching "The Draft" made me think that my country, far from pursuing "the better angels of our nature," and far from holding out a beacon of hope and ease, would best find its umbrella statement not in lofty ideals like "freedom" but rather in a single word spoken long ago but not spoken often enough: "Business."

It is dispiriting to be called or drafted into a realm of lesser angels by policy makers of no wider and more fruitful vision. It is dispiriting to be offered little more than hypocrisy as a guiding light.

Yes, we may love God, but the god whose ranks we enter is a cheap date ... and we know it. To say we must fight the war because the war is what we're in short-circuits the energy and willingness to track the war back to its roots, the roots of vainglory and pocketbook.

I am so sorry!

Monday, April 27, 2015

the news I don't know

There is nothing like reading the news to drive home the understanding of how much I don't know. This is not to congratulate the news organizations for their ever-diminishing hard work, but rather to acknowledge the vast arena -- a veritable Gobi Desert -- of stuff I don't know about.

I first noticed this concretely at a time when Russia, which was then known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, had 13 time zones. The continental United States had three or four and yet less space/time was allocated to the USSR than might be granted to Rhode Island. How could this possibly be full coverage or, as the New York Times ballyhoos at its masthead, "all the news that's fit to print."

Thirteen time zones is a lot of territory. Something had to be going on there, but it was clear from the limitations of TV or newspaper coverage that I was not going to be told what it was. To the extent that I was informed by the news, it would be more accurate to say I was informed of what I did not know ... which, since I didn't know it, I was unlikely to complain about.

Anyway, as time passed, this appreciation widened until today I read the news, am more and less interested, but am occasionally reminded of all the shit I simply do not know. Politicians may rely on my ignorance and/or laziness in admitting it, but I dislike relying on it. Ignorance, from time to time, feels stupid when it's not downright harmful.

Kicking this snoozing understanding back to life this morning was a story that did not come out of the 13 time zones. Instead, it occurred in Nebraska, a place that, in my ignorance, might just as well be in one of the underreported faraway places:
LAS VEGAS (AP) — This much is certain: Two handcuffed inmates at one of Nevada's toughest prisons brawled in a hallway, and one ended up dead from several shotgun blasts. The other was declared guilty of murder, even though he never touched a gun.
It sounds like people treating other people as animals ... a characteristic that is equally deplorable among police and criminals. Man-made dog fights, cock fights and, for all I know, people fights ... but far away from my eyes or consciousness. Maybe in time zone six or time zone twelve.

It's not as if I could possibly know everything all the time, but the breadth and depth of what I don't know is awe-inspiring.

Perhaps it's the only reasonable thing I can, in a sense, know.

words create distances

Perhaps ....

The first thing to know is that words create distances and distances make people lonely.

"Silence" is one such word.

I always liked the Zen Buddhist teacher who observed, "Silence is golden and sometimes its color is pure yellow."

But, more seriously, if melting away the chasms of loneliness and putting the lie to something called "distance" is a courageous longing, I suspect that talking up a storm is not all that counterproductive as long as the premise remains ...

Words create distances and distances make people lonely.

Perhaps ...

Sunday, April 26, 2015


From Nikhil Roy's blog
I too have seen or imagined I saw the anguish etched in the words or on the faces of others. To detail its particulars is never enough and has a kind of self-importance that demeans the endlessness of that anguish coming from whatever source.

Is there a greater idealism than that which seeks to eradicate such anguish? I doubt it, but from time to time the sorrow is so enormous that I become as sad as a thoughtless idealist teenager.

How I wish I could....

But I can't.

And neither can anyone else.

The cherry on the sundae of anguish is imagining or pretending that doing away with anguish were an attainable possibility. Talk about salt in the wound to have to let things be, whatever the good-hearted efforts or sentiments.

The best I can do is retell the story of Gotami, a woman whose baby died. Gotami was anguished and in that anguish she was said to have gone to Gautama, the one often referred to as "the Buddha" of what is sometimes called "Buddhism."

Gotami begged Gautama to resuscitate the dead baby she held in her arms. Begged. Begged as only a mother might. Each time Gautama told Gotami he could not accomplish such a miracle, she was deaf to his words and began to beg all over again.

Finally, Gautama relented and told Gotami to bring him some mustard seeds from the first house she came to where no one had died. Gotami set off with a lighter heart: Surely she could find such a house, be given a few mustard seeds, return to Gautama and have her baby resuscitated.

And those from whom Gotami begged for mustard seeds were generous and giving. Each gave a little to this anguished woman. But when she asked if anyone had died in the house, her donors were startled: Of course someone had died there -- it was the way of the world.

Gotami did not give up. She traveled and begged, traveled and begged, and everywhere her reception was the same.

Finally she was spent, wrung out. She had reached to edges of her edgeless anguish. And so she returned to Gautama and looked him straight in the eye: "Enough with the mustard seed!" she said. "Give me the teachings."

It seems unfathomable that an unfathomable anguish should have no concomitant, edgeless fix. It is, after all, too much to bear ... there must be some relief, some answer, some balm. To stand by or simply accept or enter the fires anyone might imagine s/he was consumed by ... that would be horror heaped on horror.

What teachings are "the teachings?" As if the vortex of anguish were not confusing and unanswerable enough, so it is with the teachings that solve the anguish no (wo)man can solve. Some play the joy card, some embrace a gloomy outlook ... each Gotami is as trapped as the next.

Find the teachings.

Put them into practice.

Is there another option?


A hummingbird is seen in Soberania National Park, on Earth Day, when Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela launched a national plan to promote eco-tourism in protected areas of the country.[BBC photo]

Silvard Atajyan, 103, sits at home during an interview with Reuters in Yerevan, April 20, 2015. Now 103 years old, Atajyan remembers vividly when French soldiers saved her, her sister and their parents from the mass killings by Ottoman Turks that 100 years on has stoked tempers once again. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Saturday, April 25, 2015

missionary 'de-converted'

This is not new, but it was passed along again today and I found myself touched-to-tears once more by the tale of a fellow who set out to infuse a Brazilian tribe with Christianity only to be de-converted, so to speak, himself. Anyone daring enough to enter the realm of spiritual practice will know the kind of courage and uncertainty this man expresses so openly. His template fits any spiritual persuasion that is serious. In his case, Jesus in the desert had nothing on this guy for my money. The belief that promises to uplift must invariably be confronted as that which will send anyone to hell.

the shuddering earth

The shuddering earth:

Hundreds have been killed in a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in Nepal today -- a disaster occurring on the same day that British and other allies gathered to mark World War I's failed assault at Gallipoli -- a remembrance of devastation and failure and sorrow.
The Gallipoli campaign has resonated through generations, which have mourned the thousands of soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) cut down by machinegun and artillery fire as they struggled ashore on a narrow beach.
The fighting would eventually claim more than 130,000 lives, 87,000 of them on the side of the Ottoman Turks, who were allied with imperial Germany in World War One.
Every natural disaster of the sort in Nepal has elicited sympathetic responses from around the world. A laundry list of earthquakes since 1900 attests to the interest and sympathy. A similar laundry list of wars since 1900 seems -- as Joseph Stalin allegedly pointed out with his "one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic"-- not to generate much more than some ethical white-whining.

Somehow everyone can sympathize when nature takes a seemingly random turn and people are injured and die and the monuments to a civilized and civil society are upended. So much suffering. So much bereavement. So much difficulty.

And yet it is hard not to sympathize with nature's cleansing, if random, efforts. How civil and civilized is the consciousness that weeps for the dead and dispossessed and yet creates more and more and more Gallipoli's?

The passion for grisly horror seems endless.

As the postcard above observes: "We are quite used to the bullets, shells and Jack Johnsons and keep on smiling...."

inventing enemies

Stop inventing enmities,
Imagining that trees are trees,
Imagining all the me's and thee's,
Just stop inventing enmities.

The mourning dove
Creates the dawn
And is created in return.
Is this not what once
Was dubbed by enemies
As "bliss" or "love?"

Without enemies, there is time to spare for baking apple pies.

Friday, April 24, 2015

"War is America's Business"

Received in email was this pretty low-keyed chapter-and-verse essay about U.S. arms sales in the Middle East.

"Was is America's Business" collates a lot of perhaps wispy thoughts that float around in the mind when reading about the latest U.S. foreign policy adventure.


Around here, it's almost noon.

Pretty soon, the phone will ring.

I've learned my lesson, but that doesn't mean I won't react like Pavlov's dog, mentally salivating to pick up and be, perhaps, surprised or delighted.

Yes, I will pick it up, but I am in training now.

Now, when the phone rings at noon, I pick it up and say nothing. In return, I will receive a great blank of noiselessness. The voice-activated advertising spiel at the other end is not capable of coping. After thirty seconds, I will hang up.

The federal "do not call" option available on the Internet does not work perfectly or even well. I still get these junk calls. As with spam email, I wish in vain that no one could get through if there is no return address or phone number. Why should I want to be contacted by someone who refuses to extend the same courtesy to me?

Does it all boil down to courtesy?

Does courtesy still exist? I'm not sure. Since the world is moving too fast these days or I am moving too slow, I have felt forced to create my own Emily Post book of etiquette.

I grew up learning which glass or fork to use first when at an over-dressed dinner table. This information has precisely zero relevance in the world I currently inhabit. I opened doors for women, walked nearer the curb when accompanying a woman along some American sidewalk, learned how to kiss a woman's hand when in Army language classes, and how to fawn in various decorous ways when in the presence of my superiors.

Some of it was phony-baloney courtesy and some of it oiled the social wheels. It was good stuff to know even if you never used it.

But now?

Now, when an email opens with "Dear Friend," I am brought up short: Would any real friend address me as "friend?" What's the matter with the name by which my friends all know me? And why, when the writer has addressed the email to me, is there no usable return address? These days, a "friend" is no longer a friend, but rather someone to hold at arm's length.

Or delete without reading further. It was pretty discourteous at one time, but in the era of Facebook when people ask to be "friended" it's obvious that a friend is made of thinner tea -- an acquaintance, perhaps, or perhaps not even that since the connection only exists in an imaginative ether.

Is it discourteous to dismiss insistent introductions that begin "Dearest in Christ?" Actually, I don't mind those quite as much, mostly because of the ludicrous quality: If someone chooses to play the religion card, well, hell, I'm mostly a Buddhist. And the Nigerian petitioners who promise me a slice of $27 million ... well, at least their scams are out in the open.

The courtesies of the past do rise up from time to time. I don't ask even my sons why they insist on what I think of as the Yasser Arafat look -- three days worth of whiskers that somehow never turns into an honest beard. Nor do I bristle quite as much when every mother's son uses the word "issue" when they mean "problem" or lards his or her lingo with TED-talk cliches like "going forward."

Where I grew up, a reasonable command of English was a small courtesy.

And there are a hundred other ways in which I try to remain courteous without sinking into the Downton Abbey quicksand of refined class warfare. My latest version of Emily Post is not yet ready for publication.

Perhaps it never will be.

I do refuse to believe Facebook et al. do much more than emphasize the separation between perfectly nice people who lack the gumption to find perfectly good friends. And I decline to imagine that news media are in business to inform the nation's citizenry.

But I prefer to be as courteous as I can.

I can still kiss your ring if you insist, but I would prefer not to kiss your ...

Well, perhaps it would be discourteous to name.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

how to be a little less stupid

Will it stem the tide or reverse gravity? Being "less stupid" is no easy exercise, but a couple of pointers never hurt ... perhaps:
Sternberg and others are now campaigning for a new kind of education that teaches people how to think more effectively, alongside more traditional academic tasks. Their insights could help all of us – whatever our intelligence – to be a little less stupid

NASA image

Shadows from the solar eclipse are reflected on clouds over the Arctic Ocean in images captured by Nasa's Terra satellite on 20 March 2015

visit from a turkey buzzard

Even with the whistling fury abated, still yesterday's turkey buzzard floats and banks in my memory.

It was late afternoon, a time when the grackles -- or whatever they are ... the birds that crap on cars -- generally coagulate high in the as yet-unleafed branches of a tall tree across the street. I always imagine them convening prior to calling it a day, heading home and pulling the covers up around their ears. But yesterday, with the clouds scudding and the winds flexing their muscles like the precursor to some tragedy in an Oklahoma trailer park, there was no convention. All the birds were gone, by sight and sound. The wind, like Poseidon, ruled the realm and and roared ... and all the fishes were silent.

Zipping grey clouds, warmish, silence from the gallery ....

And there, alone in a place between playful and regal, a lone turkey buzzard seemed to make a playground of acrobatics ... floating on one invisible wind hillock or another, then sliding gracefully and at whooping speed to the left or right or straight down until it was time to lift once more, rescale the heights and begin again.

Turkey buzzards are not part of the neighborhood landscape in general. They can be found at the town dump further to the north, eeking out a living on what they do not consider "waste," but around here, it's sparrows and woodpeckers and crows and robins and cardinals and blue jays and an occasional red-tailed hawk. Turkey buzzards are a rarity, like some poor relative who lives in Kentucky and shows up once-a-decade for Thanksgiving dinner ... or perhaps a god who does not mix with the hoi polloi.

Whatever the truth of the matter, this turkey buzzard owned the skies that were to rambunctious, too dangerous, too threatening for more cautious, safe-sex, and cowardly customers. Swoop and bank -- the owner of all s/he surveyed, the last child on a richly-appointed playground, the last (wo)man standing after a furniture-splintering barroom brawl.

His/her flight path was playful and yet regal. S/he didn't seem to be hunting prey on the earth below. S/he seemed to be laughing a laugh no one else dared to laugh -- calling on the heavens to do their worst: S/he was ready...

Ready to laugh some more.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

religion and its atrocities

I wrote what follows as a comment on a Buddhist bulletin board and think it is worth saving either as a means of admitting where I stand or as a means of eating my words if necessary:
It's a sorry fact that the codification of spiritual endeavor (let's call it "religion") invariably makes religion complicit in atrocity and war. Trying to evade the lash of this observation is, in my view, both irresponsible and futile. Better to investigate and then, assuming you still want to espouse a particular religion, decide on your own personal willingness and understanding.
The above is clearly a broad brush approach. Short of concrete evidence to refute it, I will not retract any of it. In the last couple of years, I cannot tell you how many of Brian Victoria's meticulously-researched essays on the complicity of Zen Buddhism in the Japanese invasion of China I have read. During that same period, I cannot count the number of essays or news stories I have read about the pedophile atrocities in a variety of religious venues.
Religion, from where I sit, depends heavily on the stability provided by the state. The state is not in business to get into heaven and has a tendency to stumble into one hell or another. Suggesting that religion could somehow be free of the shadows cast by its protector is delusional.
It wouldn't surprise me in the least if somewhere or other the Buddha didn't say, whether implicitly or explicitly, "read 'em and weep." Not that the shadows tell the complete story of light, but light without the shadows ... what sort of impoverished religion is that?

Chase bars storage of cash

[In 1923] A woman burns German marks in the furnace to heat the home during the peak of the Weimar Germany hyperinflation.
Received in email today an Infowars article which suggests that JPMorgan Chase has begun banning people from storing cash with no "collectible value" in their safety deposit boxes.
As of last month, Chase has also instituted a new policy which, “restricts borrowers from using cash to make payments on credit cards, mortgages, equity lines, and auto loans,” writes Professor Joseph Salerno of the Mises Institute.
Since U.S. paper currency suggests that the bill is good for all debts, public and private, it sounds a little as if the bank were treading perilously close to usurping federal authority and/or perhaps somehow covering its ass in the event of an economic collapse.

Honestly, I don't know what it means, but since safety deposit boxes are assumed to be private in nature, it sounds intrusive to bar any use to which it might be put outside of explosive or toxic substances.

I hope someone will suss out more comprehensible facts on this subject. Google and Snopes were of no use.

soaring truth, applauded lie

Taking part in a soaring truth that then devolved into an applauded lie....

Anyone who has seen some living soldier or sailor receive the Medal of Honor -- the highest military award in the United States -- beholds something akin to embarrassment. Never have I heard one of them say much more than that s/he receives the honor on behalf of those who were no longer alive to receive what they more rightly should have received. These recipients, if I had to guess, are not about to turn away what has the potential to make their lives better. But neither can they elude the lash of reality....

To have been somewhere and experienced something that was in deadly earnest -- something completely off the charts in retrospect and yet, in the moment, was simply the only choice available, the only thing that could be experienced, the only thing among all the only-things -- this moment, this action, this right-now ... this ... inescapable experience.

And now, after the fact, we gather together to award this medal for what no man or woman can rightly claim -- the present that is now the past.

Taking part in a soaring truth that has devolved into an applauded lie ...

How much of spiritual endeavor is precisely -- and I mean precisely -- like that?

The line between exultation and dissolving in tears is a thin one.

spiritual life as luxury

An ex-Jesuit, shrink friend of mine once observed that the sense of loss and impoverishment felt by those who lacked worldly wealth was often mimicked among those with 5,000-square-foot homes graced by eight bathrooms and 14-car garages. When you have "nothing," it is much akin to when you have "everything" -- a hole in life's fabric, a quicksand in which to founder and flail, a vacancy and longing that begs to be mortared.

Since I was in the process of being therapized at the time my friend made his observation, there was no time to really go into the chapter and verse of how or why he felt there was such a similarity between the poorly- and the well-off. Nevertheless, the off-hand observation sticks with me and I tend to credit it because I tended to credit my shrink: He was not a feather-merchant or a white-wine critic: He thought things through as a rule, so ... same sense of unsatisfactory life, different circumstances.

And to the extent that this vaguely-defined observation holds water, I wonder what effect spiritual life has as an apparent life preserver. An old saw suggests that the poor have sex and religion for free. It's not entirely true, of course, but you get the drift: Fucking and the church are less expensive than another Rolls Royce and stand within reach of even the least wealthy. It doesn't 'cost' anything to be believe in whatever god is chosen and there is hope to spread on what may be hopeless circumstances. You don't have to prove it to reap its succor.

And after all the bathrooms and party drugs and successful board-room maneuverings and trophy spouses -- in a time when things start to get freighted and stale -- the wispy wonders of a 'wider reality' can be pretty enticing. It may not save your ass, but, on the other hand, maybe it'll save your ass.

Religion as a rich man's sport. A luxury item. That's what wonders me this morning. A poor man longs to be rich. A rich man longs to be rich in ways that, in their wispy wonder, are more credible and concrete than the goods his or her friends laud and admire.

A luxury item ... mostly a luxury item for white guys with time and money on their hands. A luxury item that relies on the poverty of those created by those cocooned in wealth. Naturally, there is a passing nod to the poor and the downtrodden, who may likewise be transfixed in the headlights of religion.

I can hear the philosophical instruments tuning up in this realm... "ah, yes, everyone suffers" etc. but what interests me is not so much what philosophical or religious Band-Aid might be applied but just the choice of what might be called an orange marmalade of possibility: It's delicious, of course, but as a meaningful diet, it pales.

Does it matter under what circumstances anyone digs into or merely sniffs the edges of spiritual life? I think not. Whether fad or life-saving fortress, it all depends on how deeply anyone chooses to dig in and find out. There is no criticizing the digging of others -- that would be a waste of energy. So if someone wants to get a religious tattoo or seek out some dank cave in the Himalayas ... OK.

But it's a rich man's sport, this spiritual stuff -- another pair of shoes in Imelda Marcos' closet of 3,000 pairs. Not better, not worse, no matter how beloved.


Go lightly.

Iconic or dime-store trinket -- never give up and go lightly.

And keep your eyes skinned.

man cited for shooting computer

Today began on a high note with an email from a friend who passed along the tale of a 37-year-old Colorado man who took his balky computer into an alley and shot it eight times. The wounds were apparently fatal. The man was cited for discharging a weapon within city limits.

I hesitate to comment on the story. The laughter and agreement potential comes in so many shapes and sizes that the story is like a magic stone that allows any and all comers, any and all appreciations.

Lord love a duck!

Eight times!

That ought to make anti-gun saints rethink their philosophies.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

creativity -- the rich and the impoverished

As to an old friend, I returned yesterday and began re-watching "Peaky Blinders," a Netflix TV serial done in tandem with or for the BBC. Wikipedia describes the series as "a British historical crime drama ... starring Cillian Murphy as a gangster operating in Birmingham, England, during the aftermath of World War I."

It is rich and full of human foibles, many of which are made more powerful by the fact that they go unstated. Very human, flawed stuff to which I have no difficulty in turning over my credulity. The humanity of it -- even if blurred on occasion by the accents reaching my ear -- is wonderful.

Simultaneously, as a soporific, I have taken to dawdling through "Foucault's Pendulum," before going to sleep each night. The novel by Umberto Eco is so unremittingly intelligent and abstruse that it is hard to imagine a sensible human being's having written it. It reminds me most of James Joyce and a remark I once made to my father (a wildly enthusiastic love of Joyce) after reading one story or another: "He's (Joyce) like a 99.9-percent efficient machine: It pretends to tell a story about people, but he (Joyce) doesn't love people." It is a critique I see little reason to revise and am comfortable appending to Umberto Eco.

But it is not the criticism or the scrumptiousness that a critic can find when s/he herself has accomplished nothing but snarky criticism that interests me. Actually, I am more astounded that a writer might go to so much trouble to sidestep the richness of humanity -- rich and messy and bubbling and unpredictable and flawed and soaring -- in favor of the cookie cutters of intelligence and control.

Why I continue to turn the pages of "Foucault's Pendulum" eludes me except in the sense that I simply cannot imagine how a writer could write about people and yet not be hoisted by his own petard ... lowered into the rich humus of a "Peaky Blinders" or some similar well of richness. To live in such a cold place, fictitious or otherwise, strikes me as impossibly, insanely ... afraid. Afraid and cowardly in a universe that requires down-and-dirty courage if it's going to be any good.

I sort of want to pray for the likes of Umberto Eco and yet know that there is a universe in which he is at home and praised ... and masturbation is better than sex ... and prayers are utterly useless.

political legerdemain

You knew it was coming, somehow, but the closer it gets, the more the American electorate can know it is getting screwed ... again.

It's only in the 'planning' stages (read, trial balloon ... can we get away with this one?) but potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush has let it be known that any campaign might delegate much of the responsibility for that campaign to a political action committee that can raise unlimited campaign funds.

Ever since George W. Bush was bought and paid for, the writing was on the wall: Since the political action committees have the dough, it makes sense to let them run the show and keep the candidate as an afterthought ... a bit of afterbirth.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Jeb Bush is preparing to embark on an experiment in presidential politics: delegating many of the nuts-and-bolts tasks of seeking the White House to a separate political organization that can raise unlimited amounts of campaign cash.
The concept, in development for months as the former Florida governor has raised tens of millions of dollars for his Right to Rise super PAC, would endow that organization not just with advertising on Bush's behalf, but with many of the duties typically conducted by a campaign.
And it's not as if the Democrats won't adopt the tactic if Bush gets away with it and the strategy proves effective. All these guys love their country and can prove it with an American flag lapel pin ... and a never-quite-full-enough wallet.

The money is too alluring for those who can't imagine doing something without paying for it ... the true mark of the bourgeois mind.

Monday, April 20, 2015

health care funding plan dismissed

A "Robin Hood"-style tax on financial transactionsto raise money for the public health system has been dismissed by the South Australian Treasurer.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) wants the Commonwealth and state governments to consider a 0.05 per cent tax on financial transactions....
"What is clear is that we do not want in Australia a United States-style funded health system," he said.

plotting a burial

In the event, it was my older son who more or less configured my mother's burial. When I mentioned to him yesterday that I was thinking of making the trip to the river where I had promised my mother her ashes would eventually go and asked if he had any interest in going, he said he thought we should all go -- all of my family. I had considered that, but wanted to give those concerned an escape hatch if it felt too disconcerting or disruptive in their lives.

My son was not insistent, but his framework seemed more settled than my own so ... OK. So now, the coalescing plan seems to be to go up next Saturday and ... and do what I'm not entirely sure, but at any rate keep a promise I made to my mother. My daughter said she would come. And my wife said that was what she had suggested from the get-go and my younger son ... well, I imagine he will be along for the family ride. Death is part of the warp and woof and can provide a maturing instructor, but there is something within me that resists the religious or philosophical formalities that would make things smoother, easier, more-falsely-anointed: When there is nothing to say, why say it? On the other hand, maybe saying it is OK.

And after the burial ball got rolling yesterday, the hammer of closing costs on my mother's death descended. The agency which had facilitated the care for my mother in her waning years -- more especially the very nice and competent man who took up the responsibilities -- sent the bill. I knew it would be something and I dreaded its impact on the fixed-income-two-kids-living-at-home-paying-for-a-new-furnace-daily-needs budget.

But finally, there it was in black and white: $12,000-plus. Where was I supposed to get that kind of money? My mother died in a relative penury, so she couldn't really help and I had relied on the agency to bring her a relative comfort and ease as she moved towards death.

Well, don't do the crime if you can't do the time ... or, perhaps, as you choose, so shall you be chosen. Hiring the agency was a choice and a good one, but a choice without a price tag -- present or future -- is juvenile. Yes, I am juvenile and panicky and far from the responsible person who wants to address and solve each problem promptly as it arises. I no longer have the social energy to be a grown-up ... so the black-and-white bill seemed to collapse whatever was left of my social lungs. A shitstorm of old habits rises up to nag and prod. I don't want to have to be responsible and I am responsible.

I hate the great vortex of circular whining that does nothing but make self-serving noise, and the whiner rises up and whines ... around and around and around. Who am I to be complaining, given the depredations that are everywhere visible and vile in this life? Shut up and get on with it: You're not starving or dispossessed; you have not lost every family member in the latest suicide bombing; you are not hungry and bereft. If you have enough energy to whine -- and there seems to be plenty of that -- then you have enough energy to be responsible. But I don't want to be responsible ... it takes too much literal energy. I want things to be done because I want them to be done and not because I have done them.

Oh well ... I've gotten my rocks off here a bit and this morning I will talk with the fellow who took such good care of my mother in her latter years. No doubt the conversation will cast a new light on the very black-and-white difficulty. I know, from past experience, that I will be responsible to whatever extent I can ... it's an ego thing ... but I hate being dragged back to a responsible stance when I want to relax on a cushion of well-that's-been-taken-care-of.

In 1917, British troops, stalled like the Germans along the Western Front, dug 21(?) tunnels beneath enemy positions at the Messines Ridge in Belgium and packed them with explosives. Those who dug the tunnels were often British miners who had earlier been rejected for military service. The two sides faced each other across a no-man's-land that neither could take. But when 19 of the tunnels were set off on June 7, 1917, the explosions were so enormous that the shock waves were felt at 10 Downing Street in London, 140 miles away ... and the Swiss recorded the event as an earthquake. The explosions were described as the most powerful up until the atomic bomb decimated Hiroshima. Advancing British troops found not only enormous craters in the earth and swaths of dead soldiers, but also soldiers who survived but were left disoriented and weeping at the hugeness of the omnipresent horror.

And I quiver?

Well, I guess you get what you get.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

taking pictures "forever"

"A camera powered by the light it uses to take pictures has been invented by American scientists.
"The camera generates power by converting some of the light falling on its sensor into electricity that is then used to take a snap.
"Theoretically the self-powered device could take a picture every second, forever."

'burying' my mother

Yesterday, as a means of keeping a promise I had not kept during the winter months, I asked my younger son if he wanted to drive up to the river where I promised my mother she would eventually be "buried." Ashes in the flowing river....

A small box with blue stickers reading "cremated remains" has sat on a nearby shelf while winter came and went. The weather was cold and slippery and I knew that approaching the river at Chapel Falls would be a dicey business, so I waited. My mother died Jan. 11 at 98.

My younger son said he would prefer to go today, but I have a hunch he might rather not go at all. The whole thing has a weird quality -- or anyway an off-the-beaten track element -- about it. Since I am not entirely clear in my own mind about what, if anything, the adventure is supposed to 'mean,' I am not inclined to press him with stylized or ritualized appreciations that a religious person might bring to bear.

First, it is a promise I made and I like to keep the promises I make. But after that, I'm not sure what to think/feel and have pretty much given myself permission not-to-know ... the thoughts and feelings will assert themselves when they are ready.

Second, I do like thinking my mother might like the setting and the simplicity of the setting and the uncertainty that lives under the human potential to control and understand. Knowing may be the habit but not-knowing is the human rule. Of course, my mother is no longer around to correct my appreciation of what her appreciation might be, so ... well, how can I go wrong?

Third, my mother was an honorable person and I wish to honor her. She wasn't always easy, but she was honorable. Chapel Falls strikes me as an honorable place.

Today is supposed to be a nice day and it would be nice to drive up to Chapel Falls. As a concession to the occasion, I think I will bring a piece of incense. Incense doesn't complain or explain or have a meaning.

But it smells good, even when it disappears.

early morning

At 4, some solo bird, like a pioneer woman getting up the wood stove, began a rustling, clunky chirp in a nearby tree. It was dark and she worked alone, making the noises that were necessary to the effort at hand... day approached and there was 'cooking' to do. I knew her sound but not her name. Others slept, but not for long.

Shortly before 4:40, there were about 30 seconds of small, erratic explosions as if someone had inadvertently set off a fireworks cache ... or maybe it was a gunfight to mark the denouement of a drunken night-before gone bad. Whatever it was, it was something messy and man-made.

By 5, the other birds began to stir and a very pale light touched the East.

Odd to think that when anyone wakes up, the refreshing freshness is utterly and sublimely whole ... as if the wakefulness touched some great "everywhere" and no one else could possibly wake up in this perfect way.

"No one else" ... and yet everyone the same.

What a racket the birds are making now.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

"God's Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz"

Given my lifelong personality traits, I suppose the hook was perfectly baited ... a Public Broadcast System presentation last night of "God's Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz." I can be enthralled by beauty, by music and by classical violin. The documentary dangled all those elements.

I once went to hear David Oistrakh play solo in a UC Berkeley gymnasium. The music was so beautiful that for me it was like staring at the sun ... I had to stop listening ... the alternative was to die through and through and I wasn't ready for that. "Enthralled" and miles beyond enthralled ... it was a blessing, a curse-laced realm: It was ... it was ... what it wasn't.

The documentary (provided in the PS below) on Heifetz (1901-1987) seemed to creep up on me and I despair to talk about it without offering the evidence of the documentary itself. The film does not yet seem to be available on the Internet and thus allow people to see for themselves if my pool of wonder and horror were warranted. I hate leaving out evidence, of telling (pablum reviews) without daring to show, but at the same time the program and its impact linger like a glimpse of God and/or a one-way ticket to hell offered in a seamless, undifferentiated land.

It's just a documentary, for heaven's sake!

But as I say, the hook was perfectly baited and I watched with mounting love ... it was horrific beyond naming and I could not avert my eyes. It was as if the light-drawn moth had indeed flown into the flames without finding the release of death.

Fractured memories of the documentary remain.

-- Of a man who had two failed marriages and three children he never paid attention to after the divorces.

-- Of a frightened boy, 10, left alone for days at a time by his father in a St. Petersburg apartment ... told to hide in a cupboard if anyone knocked ... brought to St. Petersburg from Vilnius because the great musicians were in St. Petersburg, although his mother said he was too young to leave home for tutoring.

-- Of what he told one associate was his greatest concert -- playing for a single soldier who stood beneath an umbrella in the pouring rain on a World War II battlefield: Just one person who dared the rain as Heifetz himself did. Of fellow violinists and acquaintances, all of them perceptive and in some cases accomplished, who tried their best to describe and remember and yet were so palpably inept even as they tried to put a good face on it and bring credibility to their praise and blame ... but it was like water off a duck's back ... beauty and art have no time or space for "genius" ... what a mockery that would be.

-- And of an image, somehow, of a man entering a crystalline city of soaring towers where he made a meal of those towers ... but every bite sent rending, slicing, tearing shards sluicing into his being ... killing him slowly and without regret and there was no turning back, no reprieve, no consummation because this note, this moment, was the consummation and no one of a sane mind would ever say so.

Maybe I will have the courage to watch this documentary again when it becomes available.

But probably not.

PS. Well, as expected, someone put it on the Internet later in the day and I watched it all over again ... and wondered what I had gotten so excited about ... a very odd sensation. Soaring is, in the end, just another form of flight.

Friday, April 17, 2015

lifelong learning

Yesterday, Massachusetts bestowed a "coach of the year" recognition on my son Angus, who is in his first year of coaching with the high school track team.

Northampton swept the western Massachusetts honors as Angus Fisher won in his first season with the boys team and Brandon Palmer won for his work with the girls squad...
Fisher shared the boys award with Amherst Regional’s David Thompson. Northampton won the state Division 4 title, while Amherst won the state Division 3 title.
Naturally there was applause to be handed out and I did so to the best of my ability, which is limited by the fact that I don't know a hell of a lot about track, but I do know something about my feelings for my son. Whether he makes a life as a track coach or finds another profession or hits the lottery, still I want him to move forward in a way that brings him peace. An award and a newspaper write-up is one small aide in the employment process that so often relies on the applause of others. In its crudest form, perhaps the rule of thumb is, "you wanna eat, you gotta kiss some ass."

As I congratulated my son, I could also feel myself going into a protective dad-realm, the realm where I have some experience from which my children might benefit. It's egotistical, I suppose, but I also think it is part of the parental warp and woof.

What made me edgy was the realm of praise and blame and the desirable nature of leading a life that was not dependent, pro or con, on the applause or catcalls of others. It's dicey. It's difficult. And if you don't address it, it will come up and bite you hard in the ass, I think.

Both in and between the lines, New York Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle (1931-1995) once admitted in a touching interview that the thing he missed most in retirement was the crowd, the throng, the acknowledgment, the overarching agreement, the reassurance, so to speak, of self. How, his words seemed to ask, could he know who he was if someone didn't tell him? And with no one around to tell him....

Not that I think Angus is necessarily going to fall prey to his latest accolade. He knows how to stick his toe in the sand and play the diffident card. "It is what it is," he has said to me on occasion, as if that fortune cookie could cover all bases and smooth out egotistical wrinkles. But of course it's one thing to say "it is what it is" and quite another to actualize it. How is anyone to actualize the wisdom of their lips? My guess is that a lot of hard work and failure is in the offing if anyone is to sidestep the danger of believing their own legend.

Let's get it straight. Success and accolades and applause feel good and seem to assert and support the social connections that being human implies ... yum, yum, yum. Deny this at your own peril, I wanted to tell Angus. Just don't fail to investigate it: Not rely on it, not deny it, just investigate it.

In 2009, airline pilot Sully Sullenberger was hailed as a national hero after he guided his passenger jet to a crash landing in New York's Hudson River. A flock of Canada geese had fouled the engines. All 155 passengers and crew were safely evacuated.

For days after the event, Sullenberger was written about, interviewed and praised ... volubly praised and deservedly so.

But at first, Sullenberger would have none of it. What happened, he said over and over and over again, was just "what we were trained for." He did not want to be burdened with the extraneous and to some extent false label of "hero." Like any sensible man or woman, he did not want to be separated from the rest of humanity, community and shared responsibility. You can hear the same plea from virtually every living recipient of the Medal of Honor, America's highest military award.

No one listened to Sullenberger, so eventually he was forced to investigate further than the praise that fell like raindrops on his life. And what he came up with was surprisingly adult, though still burdensome. "I came to the conclusion that people need heroes," he said approximately.

Yes, it has a yummy component, and yes, that component rests on an unexamined foundation, no matter what the encomiums announce. I can't help but think that praise for an investigative soul boils down, at some point, to hating what you also bask in and love.

If you don't allow it in, it will own you.

If you do allow it, it can likewise own you.

No one likes being a slave to someone or something else.

And it's not as if today's resolution of "it is what it is" will mow down similar weeds as they crop up in the future. Over and over the practice asserts itself ... the acknowledged specialness rising up, enfolding like sunshine and fading away ... leaving recipients gasping like a pod of beached pilot whales.

It's a tough learning curve, but the alternative is to morph into some version of an airhead Hollywood star, believing yourself to be what adoring -- or catcalling -- fans say you are. So delicious and yet, when the bedroom ceiling looks down impassively at 3 a.m., so harrowing.

Yes, it is what it is.

Now cut the it-is-what-it-is bullshit and make it so!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

message lost in the blowback?

Lost in the prop-wash of various bureaucrats' trying to cover their asses is the message an apparently-mild-mannered and completely open Florida mailman, Doug Hughes, tried to deliver to the Washington establishment when he landed his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn on Wednesday.

wistful, wishful thinking

Hop, stop, listen, peck -- the impeccable, imperious robins are out in force this morning.

They associate me, somehow, with a much-frayed wistful wish. As time passes, the wistful wishes have a way of receding: Travel to Afghanistan or the Orkneys or Tierra del Fuego hardly qualify as wishes any more, though once they did.

But that doesn't mean the world of wistful wishes is dead and gone. This morning, the impeccable, imperious robins make me wish wistfully that I could hear as well as a snow-diving fox in the arctic. And not just hear as well, but also partake of what is somehow a joyful, giggly swoop and dive into the whiteness all around. The fox, of course, is serious beyond solemnity -- this is survival, after all -- but in my ignorance, I laugh and delight and indulge in wistful thinking...

Joyful and somehow silly ... and somehow rousing up the irrelevant phrase, "muff diving."

Funny how in advance, wistful, wishful thinking beckons and is bright and oh-how-I-wish. But when put to the test, its reality delights in a whole new way and with a whole new repertoire of laughter and tears.

Once I read Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," a Beat Generation 'classic,' though not a very good book. It made my young man within chafe and champ at the jelled conformity I imagined was constraining my life at the time. I figured that anyone who hitchhiked long distances could be as free as I wistfully imagined Kerouac to be.

So I hitchhiked across America -- twice.

Naturally, it didn't work.

But, on the other hand, it worked just fine.

Muff diving in America.

the shortest distance

The shortest distance
Between two points
Is here.

But how would I know?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

eating bugs ... the ick factor

(AP) An increasing number of "entopreneurs" are launching businesses to feed a growing appetite for crickets, mealworms and other edible insects. 
These upstarts are trying to persuade more Americans to eat bugs, which can be produced with less land, food and water than other sources of animal protein.

monthly column... "Trust 'Nobody'"

This month's column was published today in the local Daily Hampshire Gazette under the headline, "Finding Uplift in a Depression-era Voice." When submitted, I used the headline, "Trust 'Nobody'"

Not least with a presidential election in the offing, everyone wants to be trusted. But there is too much information and too little corroborative evidence of trustworthiness. On the political front it is understandable if the reaction might be, “Duck and cover! Here come ‘hope’ and ‘change’ and ‘transparency’ ... again!”

And the same weary observation can be made about personal interactions.

But together with the skepticism that can turn to cynicism if you let it, there is the simultaneous desire to trust, to see in someone an exemplar of something substantive and decent and not just self-serving hot air.

For some, Gandhi or John F. Kennedy or Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr. or Marie Curie or Annie Oakley or Leon Trotsky or the Dalai Lama may be a heart-opening inspiration. And these headliners certainly proved their substance.

But when it comes to guys in the white hats, the human beings who make me want to applaud and offer my thanks and trust, no one stands out more sharply for me than Charles Monroe — a “nobody” whose quiet substance might serve well in these times.

Monroe was born and lived in New Marlborough, a Berkshire County community that boasts today slightly more than double the 500 residents of Monroe’s time. He was the “town mail clerk and philosopher,” according to a 1939 interview housed in the Library of Congress.

Monroe was interviewed as part of the Federal Writers’ Project, an endeavor instituted in 1935 as a means of putting spaghetti on the tables of teachers, writers, librarians and other white-collar workers who had been stretched thin during the Depression. And Monroe’s is just one of many such interviews with the “nobodies” of America, people who never made a headline even if they could read one.

Described as “a married man of about 50,” the mail clerk had “a twinkle in his blue, intelligent eyes as if he knew a very fine joke about the world which no one else is likely to suspect. He wears a dark Van Dyke beard; he is tall and slender; his clothes, though always clean, are apt to be worn rather carelessly, but this extraneous characteristic fits very well with the calm inner light that shines from his personality.”

The interview ranges from politics to village living to crime — each addressed by Monroe with a wry and gentle benevolence that does not skirt life’s difficulties. And yet one tale stood out for me.

“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 livestock. 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!”

The dirty work, of course, is not always so dirty. But it takes courage to corroborate a personal bias or philosophy. Courage to reflect and act. It’s may not be a popular courage, necessarily, or a headline-grabbing courage, but it is personal courage and I admire it.

I will concede that it is easier to honor and trust the dead who are no longer available to correct the praise or blame that may be heaped on them. But still, I admire what I imagine to be real courage, past or present.

Charles Monroe never promised me anything. He didn’t ask for my trust. He seems to have been a man who was both content and courageous in who he was.

And that is the reason I have chosen to trust Charles Monroe. Not necessarily agree. Just trust.

Thank heavens for the nobodies!

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears on the third Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Georgia sentences school officials

Nine school officials in Atlanta, Georgia, have been sentenced to prison following convictions for participating in an exam cheating scandal.
Judge Jerry Baxter called the case "the sickest thing that's ever happened in this town".
Three of those convicted received 20-year sentences, far harsher than the penalties asked for by the state.
Evidence of cheating was uncovered at 44 schools with nearly 180 officials involved.
Twenty-year sentences for teachers/administrators who, like teachers/administrators right across the country, are under the federal gun to improve academic achievement without, largely, concomitant funding or administrative support. Like My Lai or Abu Ghraib, the front line drones take the heat and the shapers of policy remain shielded and blameless and unpunished. And let's not mention the bankers and stock brokers.

At least Islamic State has the good (if twisted) grace to blame their depredations on the Quran.

Talk about "sick!" 

armadillo, mother-in-law shot

It was probably too much fun to pass up, but still, doesn't journalism have a responsibility to tell a well-researched story. I like the fun of what follows, but doubt that it's anything like the whole story:

LEESBURG, Ga. (AP) — Authorities say a south Georgia man shot an armadillo, but ended up accidentally wounding his mother-in-law when the bullet ricocheted off the mammal known for its hard shell.
Lee County Sheriff's deputies tell WALB-TV ( that 54-year-old Larry McElroy fired his 9 mm pistol at the armadillo Sunday night.
Deputies say the bullet killed the armadillo, but bounced off the animal, hit a fence, traveled through the back door of the mother-in-law's mobile home and the recliner in which she was sitting, striking her in the back.
McElroy's 74-year-old mother-in-law, Carol Johnson, suffered injuries described as non-life-threatening. Lee County sheriff's investigator Bill Smith said she was walking around and talking afterward.
Lee County Sherriff's deputies say McElroy was about 100 yards away from the home when he shot the armadillo.

speaking of love

Out beyond the twin peaks of joy and sorrow -- at the furthest reaches of either -- there is a cliff, I think. To call it "unutterable" is to limit and misrepresent it.

The soft and inescapable talons beckon.

A hunger compels the scene.

But does a Big Mac complain or weep or soar as it heads towards a sustaining destination? Does it cringe when there is no place to hide or weep with joy as teeth and tongue approach?

Over the cliff. Done is done.

Let us not speak of love.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Prélude n°1 aux tubes musicaux

Passed along in email:

the luxury of religion

I was skeptical, if not downright offended, when I first heard the notion that religious institutions were partly if not wholly dependent on and complicit with the state within which they plied their trade.

Not that I was abjectly in love with or devoted to those institutions, but I did take comfort in the succor such institutions could provide to the least among us... or anyway said they could ... or promised they would. The sufferings of the world deserved a helping hand, a reprieve and a champion from where I sat.

But over time, and with a bit of investigation, I came around: The ability of religion to ply its trade rests largely on a stable environment that only the state can provide. It is thus in the best interests of religion to promote the circumstances that assure stability -- i.e. the state.

The fly in the ointment is that where the state can provide stability, it can also do it in a way that sacrifices principle and therewith, the least among us. If you make a pact with your friends, you need to be aware of the depredations those friends are willing to commit. And more than be aware, take responsibility for.

A Catholic priest neighbor of mine once went up the chain of church command in an attempt to save the beloved Brazilian Indian tribe he ministered to from the timbering interests that were invading and decimating the forests the tribe depended on for food. Tony begged his hierarchy to bring its clout to bear on a government that needed the backing of the timbering interests. Naturally, he came away from the encounter deeply disappointed: No way was the church about to put its status and clout on the line. The Indians lost and I think Tony had his faith reshaped. The state might provide stability for the faith, but it also was willing to sell out its sometimes-principles.

Isn't it the same for individuals who lay claim to a profound or even just a shallow faith?

These days, beyond the unpleasant realities that inform the 'guiding' principles of a spiritual persuasion, I think of spiritual life as a luxury item. A luxury is something that does not speak to basic needs but is like icing on life's cake. It's a choice and has a certain deliciousness, but if it were withdrawn, still the basic needs and desires would exist. No one needs a yacht.

And beyond the contradictions and the luxury capacities of spiritual life, I think that deciding to espouse a religion really isn't worth much without assuming responsibility for the depredations of which that religion is capable.

It's bad enough that the institution may be a hypocrite. Is there some reason you have to be one too?


KFAR HAROEH, Israel (AP) — When David Hershkoviz was a child, he used to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of his mother screaming in her sleep, knowing that she was reliving the horrors of the Holocaust....
When his mother, Mindel, died two years ago, he wanted to carry on her legacy by bearing witness to the Holocaust. He found help in a first-of-its-kind course teaching the children of Holocaust survivors how to ensure their parents' stories live on.
So many years later, the vile deliberateness of the human capacity called the Holocaust lives on. Or anyway there are attempts to make it live on in the consciousness of those who never faced such a human blasphemy. The cruelty is unspeakable and thus there are the screams and the attempts to assure a legacy of remembrance and, perhaps, wisdom.

Screams... the sound that anyone can understand.


Again, I return in my mind to the screams in the night of those who have been placed within a human blasphemy and blast furnace. How many combat veterans rend the night with their screams? Will anyone assure that the understanding of their experience -- so deliberately couched in flag-draped policy decisions -- will live on and serve as a reminder? Are their screams less heart-felt and rending than those likewise placed in impossible circumstances ... the impossible circumstances that are all too possible?

Don't give me excuses! Don't imagine that a flag or government can excuse the screams of a later day! Screaming in the night is ... is ... is ... inescapable and vile and 'beyond the pale.'

I am not trying to demean one thing at the expense of another. I am trying to say that screaming and the implications of those screams is vastly touching. Who, in a sane mind, would impose on others the circumstances that would leave those others screaming?

Holocaust? You bet. Whether at a distance or closer to home. The only way to lay claim to wisdom is the be wise.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Norwegian farming

A song about farming in Norway has become a surprise hit on YouTube - but it's not just about the female choir and a wholesome rural idyll. Instead it's part of an intense debate online about the future of agriculture in the country.
I haven't got Clue One as to what the song is about, but its popularity (if true) strikes me as somehow indicative of times when there is so much information that the mind seeks relief in such plain accomplishments as raking and hoeing ... a release from the bug-squashed sense that wars and famine and the Internet are all so big and intractable and yet in-your-face that there is a longing to answer in the affirmative when a voice speaks up, saying, "yeah, sure ... but can you grab your own ass with both hands?!"