Saturday, October 31, 2015

election day

There's an off-year election around here next Tuesday. As usual, my ignorance of both candidates and their issues is enormous. I am too old to be ashamed, but that doesn't mean I can't think about voting and elections. I sent what follows off to the newspaper, but it's a bit of writing that should have been conceived some days ago in order to consider publication.

Here's the mumbling:

When Election Day rolls around, my kids' eyes glaze over with a long-suffering patience that reads "old fogey:" They know I will encourage them to vote irrespective of their clear impression that their vote will make precisely no difference, so why bother?

And anyone reading these words may think that they are about to be harangued with yet  another flag-waving, goodie-two-shoes encouragement that blathers on and on about the "greatest country in the world" or "a privilege and responsibility that goes with citizenship." But patriotism does not impress me much: Too much of what passes for patriotism relies on deriding someone else's point of view.

Yes, I plan to vote on Tuesday, but that vote does not mean I believe in the latest versions of enunciating promises no one is likely to keep -- platforms with the same "transparency" and "hope" and "change" we heard about during the last voting cycle.

I am going to vote not because someone else says I "should" be a responsible citizen who takes the trouble to investigate the issues and familiarize myself. I'm an average guy who is busy enough and really am unlikely to get my dander up about some wayward salamander or the veiled hypocrisies that waft through any government. I am as lazy as my kids ... don't pester me with vague virtues. Tell me the price of bread will drop and you have my attention.

But despite all of my lackadaisical understandings, still I plan to vote. National, local ... yes, I will vote. I plan to vote because Election Day offers me a concrete opportunity to reflect and acknowledge my participation in the environment where I live. Failure to acknowledge this participation -- whether it's a vote for president or a vote for the dog catcher -- is a mark of stupidity and I already have enough stupidities to cope with.

Election Day may be another (wo)man's patriotic delight or idiotic bit of uselessness, but for me it is a time to take a personal responsibility I cannot elude. Lazy or energetic, informed or ignorant, social activist or unredeemed couch potato -- this is the environment I am part of and contribute to. Not to acknowledge and accept responsibility for my world -- as, periodically, on Election Day -- reduces me in my eyes.

It's a personal preference and I will continue to play the old fogey with my children because I don't want them to waste time trying opt out of who they actually are.

Grow up! Vote.

Friday, October 30, 2015

"no boots on the ground" ... again

The phrase "lying sack of shit" springs to mind, but that is so uncouth and so inflammatory and so emotional that I won't say that. I won't say "lying sack of shit."
The United States disclosed plans on Friday to station the first American boots on the ground in Syria in the war against Islamic State fighters, saying dozens of special forces troops would be sent as advisers to groups fighting against the jihadists....
In Washington, U.S. officials said the small special forces contingent in Syria would work with local "moderate rebel" groups to fight against Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and that it should not be considered a combat mission.
"The president has been quite clear that there is no military solution to the problems that are plaguing Iraq and Syria. There is a diplomatic one," White House spokesman
Josh Earnest said in Washington.
He said the special forces' mission would be to "train, advise and assist" local groups.
Making clear they would number fewer than 50, he added: "I think if we were envisioning a combat operation, we probably would be contemplating more than 50 troops on the ground."

In 1961,
Following a meeting between President John F. Kennedy and South Vietnam envoy Nguyen Dinh Thuan, an agreement is reached for direct training and combat supervision of Vietnamese troops by U.S. instructors. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem had earlier asked Kennedy to send additional U.S. troops to train the South Vietnamese Army. U.S. advisers had been serving in Vietnam since 1955 as part of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group. There would be only 900 U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam at the end of 1961, but in accordance with President Kennedy’s pledge to provide American military assistance to South Vietnam, the number of U.S. personnel rose to 3,200 by the end of 1962. The number would climb until it reached 16,000 by the time of President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963.
By the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975, 58,000-plus American troops had died. The war was prosecuted largely under the banner of "the domino theory" -- a postulate that argued if one country in a region went communist, other nearby countries would do the same.

Once it was communism used as leverage in prosecuting military intervention and a good deal of money-making. Now it is "terrorism." The scare effect as well as the wobbly logical underpinnings for an exceptionalist raison d'être is much the same, but of course a later generation has not been well enough educated to recognize a rerun of old television shows and old mendacious policy making. To a new generation, it is a new excitement.

Naturally, the global situation is "more complex" than an expletive-based fortune cookie like "a lying sack of shit." Do I have a better solution? Nope. But I see no reason to lie through our teeth when "boots on the ground" are clearly "boots on the ground."

Who would call out anyone as well-dressed and well-spoken as White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. Who would consider pointing out that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck and Earnest, for all his earnestness, is quite simply a lying sack of shit.

But of course it is not his children that may be shipped into harm's way. It is -- or might easily be -- mine, which is one reason for my raucousness, obviously. Still, even if I had no children, the facile, clean-finger-nailed delivery and the bloody implications would turn up my volume.

Sometimes I wish these clean expositors of ersatz national policy would just stop lying to me. No biggie -- just stop lying.

hello, I'm you...

A man has spoken of the "total weirdness" of encountering his doppelganger on a flight.
Neil Thomas Douglas boarded a flight on Thursday night and came face-to-face with his lookalike.
Mr Douglas, a photographer from Glasgow, said: "Everyone around us had a laugh, we took a selfie and that was it."
The selfie was posted on Twitter and has been retweeted thousands of times.

spiritual cowlicks

Because I remember how juicy it was to sit down with an actual-factual person when considering spiritual endeavor, I have agreed to talk with a college student intent on some Buddhist homework assignment. People are so much more interesting and confounding than the smooth waters and apparent control offered by a book. And people are the interesting part ... control, in the end, is too unsatisfying.

But there is some irony in the situation in that a homework assignment entails bringing a smooth and soothing agreement to spiritual stuff. Premise: If we all agree then the truth of the matter is affirmed. Flesh and blood people are not smooth and agreeable ... that's what brings zest to the situation. Flesh and blood people stick out around the edges, like some collection of cowlicks.

I await the enunciation of words whose meanings I don't really know -- things like "ethnography," smoothing, soothing and purring words. OK, I'll stand the gaff because it is part of a greater education that I like and have given a whirl in my life.

But I do wonder what's the matter with messy ... with cowlicks.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

the opportunity to be wrong

If you're given the opportunity to be wrong, I think you should take it.

When did being right ever account for much?

Since there's not much choice in the matter, you might as well embrace the opportunity that will embrace you in any case.

Or is there a better way?

no dis-assembly required

The talisman turkey of Thanksgiving is still far from the dining room table, but already the Christmas 'cheer' is beginning to appear. Lights and Santas and music and red bows are outside and in around here.

And, much as I dislike the retail feeding frenzy, I have pretty much learned not to fight it: Christmas is always "coming," right?

Toys fill the shelves and I thought idly the other day of the harried parents who might traverse the aisles looking for something to wrap and tape and put under the Christmas tree. How grateful might they be if they came across some toy or gadget that bore the label, "No Assembly Required."

Assembly is enough to take the joyful surprise out of Christmas, not least because the directions always seem to be written by some very bright student in the backwaters of Calcutta or anonymous industrial complex in China ... an English which does not translate well into instructive English.

"No Assembly Required" means there will be no impenetrable instructions to follow. Amen to that -- mom and dad can kick back, drink their coffee and let the kids have a good time all by themselves.

"No Assembly Required" -- ahhhhhh.

And by extension, I wonder if there might not be a label on the package referred to as "this life" or "my life" ... another easer of confusion and frustration, another smoother of choppy waters. Here comes this life in a box marked, "No Dis-assembly Required."

How's that for a two-edged Christmas present?

penalty for Chinese students

A professor in China has invented a taxing new way of preventing students from turning up late for his classes.
Wang Sijun, who teaches at a university in Sichuan province, has been giving tardy students a complex character to write out on paper 1,000 times.
The Chinese character for "biang", is made up of 56 pen strokes.
The word holds no meaning but local media said Mr Wang drew inspiration for it from the name of a noodle dish he had while visiting Shaanxi province.
The two students so far penalized in this way were so overwhelmed that they begged the professor for an alternative mercy...

Talk about a "core curriculum.

I wonder if this has any linkage with China's reversal of its one-child per family policy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

loop-tape blues

There are a gazillion solvents and unguents and prayers aimed at mollifying the loop-tape glums that can rise up on any given day. They all offer solace and perhaps they work ... the breath, the God, the meditation, the ... whatever it is. But sometimes the loop-tape glums cannot be stilled; they just seem to segue back to the beginning and begin all over again ... a Moebius strip of angst or anguish and, for the moment, that's where things are, no angels need apply.

I was emailing with friend in a gloomy place this morning and besides commiserating a little, all I could think of was this: Don't try to solve it, but do take a break .... really, just a break after which the loop-tape gloom can resume.

A break as in:

No, it doesn't fix anything. Of course it's frivolous by comparison.

But it is a break.

rent-a-womb in the crosshairs

India's government says it plans to ban surrogate services for foreigners wanting babies, a move likely to hit hard the booming and lucrative industry.
Ranks of childless foreign couples have flocked to the country in recent years looking for a low-cost, legal and simple route to parenthood.

elderly thief sticks with what she knows best

"ATLANTA –  Ten years ago, when she was 75 years old, Doris Payne swore she was done with a lifetime of pilfering jewels across two continents. Several arrests later, in 2013, she said again that she was leaving that life behind.
"Police say Payne, now 85, is at it again: She was recently arrested and charged with pocketing a $690 pair of earrings from a Saks Fifth Avenue department store at a mall in Atlanta's upscale Buckhead neighborhood."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

bacon takes its licks

Unless I'm mistaken there is at least one delicious touchstone that has yet to be called into scientific question, i.e., you can't screw yourself to death.

In the meantime, however, it seems that no touchstone of the past has not encountered a point at which someone will point out the deleterious and potentially fatal effects of what once was thought nourishing without blemish or caveat.

Yesterday's warning about bacon and other processed meats' being culpable and possibly cancer-causing is the latest case in point. It is impossible to read such a story and not reflect on the number of bologna sandwiches or plates of bacon and eggs I have eaten over the years. But worse still is the realization that, at my age, the threat posed by bacon is unlikely to dissuade me from eating still more in the future.

Bacon ... oh shit! Is nothing sacred?

another guided meditation

Passed along in email ... not for the verbally faint of heart:

editorial surprise

A surprise is always welcome. It kind of scrubs your mental scalp. And yesterday, a phone call did just that ... "from out of nowhere...."

After I retired from the newspaper in 2009, I thought I might pick up a few bucks doing free-lance editing. I had a book-publishing and newspaper-writing set of credentials to offer, so I concocted an entity called "Write it Right" and threw it out on the pond of the Internet. No one bit, so after a while I just let the whole idea lapse into obscurity.

But yesterday, I got a call from a 70-year-old fellow who was excited about a book he had written and, after rummaging around on the Internet, landed on my long-forgotten name. Richard wanted to shape is opus for publication. And what was it about? It seemed to be a book about the confluence of religion and science. It was going to really shock the world ... perhaps even blow religion out of the water. His conclusions were earth-shattering in his mind. Ponce de Leon had nothing on him!

I did my best not to get involved in the details. Richard's excitement was as palpable as any lonely-traveler's when at last he finds a directional marker. I knew the loneliness and didn't want to discourage the enthusiasm, but the topic (the Apocalypse was in there somewhere and his view of religion seemed to stop at Christianity's shores) sounded about as nourishing and fulfilling as a bowl of Rice Krispies.

We chatted. I enjoyed the surprise. He, I think, enjoyed some long-sought company. I was not about to tell him that whatever his idea was, it was hardly new, hardly shocking, hardly revolutionary. I was not about to tell him how much disinterest it aroused in me.

I loved his enthusiasm.

I loved the surprise.

It was a nice little encounter and I think we separated on friendly terms after I told him to get someone to transfer the hand-written manuscript to a disc.

Imagine being so enthusiastic. "Eureka" is hardly a word that gains impact as age advances.

october column

Several days later than the "third Wednesday of each month" I was originally given as a deadline, here is the column I passed in for October. It's a bit of a mish-mash -- lumpy and full of too much railing effort -- but it's what I had so...

Actually, when it started out, it was going to be a column about my own imperfect gun-control stance: I would like guns more closely monitored and perhaps even banned, but there are also, secretly, times when I dearly wish I owned a gun and was better prepared for the neo-con terrorists gathering in their exceptionalist masses on the horizon.


NORTHAMPTON — At $35,000 per weapon and $55 per round, the XM25 “smart grenade launcher” is scheduled for renewed testing by the U.S. Army early next year. And the BBC article detailing the capacities and wonders of this weapon caught my eye recently because it seemed to offer a small window on what my tax dollars buy.

Some 8-year-old macho male hormone just knew I’d want one of these babies if I were in combat.

Called “revolutionary” by one of its proponents, the XM25 allows combatants to program their ammunition to explode at a predetermined distance. This means a grenade can be set to go off just after it passes through a window or over a trench: No need to hit the target directly — an airburst near-miss is close enough to be fatal.

With an effective airburst range of about 700 meters (that’s 2,296.59 feet), there are obvious advantages for the shooter who is not forced into close proximity with his or her target. Still, even proponents concede drawbacks.

As one analyst put it, “[The XM25] is by nature quite indiscriminate — you can’t see behind the cover of what you are trying to shoot behind. Yes, you can shoot the grenades behind windows, for example, but you’d have to be very, very sure that [the target aside] there was no-one else in the room.”


The BBC article does not detail how anyone can be “very, very sure” at a distance of something more than a third of a mile. But I have a hunch that if bullets were emanating from a particular window or doorway or trench and if those bullets were aimed at me, the imperative to be “very, very sure” might diminish rapidly. Women, children and other noncombatant bystanders?


And it is at this juncture, with the XM25 as with other matters in life, that policy-wonk double-speak kicks in.

I’m like anyone else: In my life, I’d like to be credited for the “good” stuff I do and be absolved of the “bad” stuff. I too would like to look in the bathroom mirror and be pleased: “What a handsome, thoughtful, compassionate dude!”

Enter “collateral damage,” a phrase devoid of personal responsibility. No one is at fault. “Collateral damage” is the price of doing the business of war, sexless and without a face. Perhaps it is “patriotism” or perhaps just “war,” but where the negative fallout kicks in, applause is notably absent.

It is under the “collateral damage” umbrella that my 8-year-old can take refuge and claim the medals for the “good” stuff while eluding criticism for the “bad.”
On Oct. 1, a 26-year-old gunman shot and killed nine people at Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Oregon. Nine others were wounded. It was just the latest in a litany of school shootings that have “shocked the nation” ... or at least shocked the nation until the shock wore off and the nation prepared for the next school shooting to “shock the nation.”

In each instance, hanky-twisting solutions are offered and forgotten. In each instance “mental health” or “background check” cards are played and everyone cares. Sort of.

In the United States 319 million people own a guesstimated 270 million to 310 million guns. Gun ownership has an enthusiastic fan base and none is more enthusiastic than the National Rifle Association. Gun ownership has been ruled a constitutional right and while other nations may be shocked by America’s principles, America is not.

And with the principle of gun ownership as deeply entrenched as the blasé willingness to pay taxes for the likes of the XM25, I wonder if it is not a good time to revisit the double-speak of “collateral damage.”

Perhaps instead of “collateral damage” and its ability to mute the screams of those not immediately targeted, some thought should be given to calling “collateral damage” what it is, namely, “collateral responsibility.” If the NRA and fellow enthusiasts are willing to assert the universal principle of gun ownership, isn’t it time to shoulder the “collateral responsibility” of slaughter on the Umpqua campus?

If I pay my taxes with the regularity of a good American, how long can I hide behind the double-speak notion that I am not complicit in the impossibility of being “very, very sure” that innocents are harmed? Is there a philosophy or religion that does not deserve equal scrutiny and responsibility?

How long, in short, can I go on claiming like some third grader that “the dog ate my homework” and that I get a free pass because my intentions are pure or my flag is more brilliant than yours?

Roughly speaking a belief is something that benefits the believer. Principles — as for example the principles of the Constitution — benefit a wider range of individuals and demand a self-examination that is not always pleasant. Believers are a dime a dozen.

Principled people do not have it so easy, since collateral responsibility does not always shine brightly from the bathroom mirror.

At 75 years old, I am no longer 8. Perhaps it is time to stop insisting the dog ate the homework I didn’t do.

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton and writes a monthly column. He can be reached at

Monday, October 26, 2015

listening and seeing

I must have been six or seven when the first television set showed up in our neighborhood. As it happened, the set was purchased by the family of my sometimes playmate Gordon Groland and I was invited over to see this new marvel.

From afar and without having seen it, I was simultaneously wowed and smug. Wowed at the notion that movie-like creations could be viewed at home without having to wait for the weekend and a Saturday movie matinee that included two movies, four or five cartoons, Movietone news and previews ... a five-hour gluttony of visual pleasure. Wow ... at home!

And smug at six or seven because I had long imagined and wished and pleaded with the universe to make such movies available at home and here some grown-up had obviously fulfilled one of my long-held and dearest wishes. Grown-ups were not so obtuse as I sometimes thought they were. I was "right" and this invention proved the point. I liked being right ... but that was before I actually saw the television in action.

On the afternoon in question, everyone gathered around a large box with a small screen. Someone no doubt fiddled with the antenna to clarify the black-and-white picture. We were going to watch something called "The Howdy Doody Show," an amalgam of children's programming that included ventriloquism and the dummy, Howdy Doody.

After watching it, I never asked to go back and see it again. The marvel of technology could only impress me for so long. After that it became a one-line joke. I looked for the substance that excited me at the movies and ... it wasn't there. It was puerile, this six- or seven-year-old thought. How could grown-ups screw the pooch when they had such a wonderful story-telling tool in hand? Millions of people loved Howdy Doody. I thought it sucked.

In my house, my mother would read me fairy tales and other stories. We would sit on the couch, she would read and I would sail away into some edgeless, wondrous realm. I floated, I soared, I cringed ... I didn't just listen to it, I WAS it. There were the unexpurgated stories contained in "Grimm's Fairy Tales" or "The Wind in the Willows," or even the whole -- the whole damned thing -- of "Frankenstein." I listened and allowed my mind to fill in at will the transmitted tableau. I was part of the story I heard. The colors, the scowls, the speed ... I made it all and added it to the tale.

And the same was true for the magical realm of radio. True, there were the girlie soap operas of weekday afternoon radio, but come 7 p.m. or so and on Saturday mornings, the good stuff would come on: "The Green Hornet," "The Shadow," "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon" and "The Lone Ranger." I listened. Here is the voiceover introduction to "The Lone Ranger:"
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!
It was an invitation I never spurned. Return I did and in ways that television could never provoke. Television was visual and hence limited. Radio was aural and as such unlimited. I liked the unlimited, the wide horizons, the invitation to join the story and soar. Howdy Doody was inane by comparison. Listening to some sci-fi or horror drama, I can remember being transported or scared shitless as the radio disgorged its universe. My mind wept and excoriated Dr. Frankenstein at the cruelty he inflicted on his creation; it applauded and felt vindicated when Sergeant Preston got his man.

Listening, lounging, flexing, stretching languorously like some wake-up cat ... I stuck with radio and the voice that read the tales for a long time. I never asked my mother to please-please-please get a television set. Television, even at six or seven, was a wonderful idea poorly applied. And yet not really poorly applied: Visual stuff truncates by definition... or at least often enough to warrant a broad-brush generalization that loses its savor on examination.

Listening is more like the Miracle Gro I prefer.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

there's hope for Utah

The tallest and largest structure ever built in Zaqistan, the Monument commerates 10 years of independence. Erected in September of 2015 by Zaqistani citizens.
Those who may wonder what Utah has to offer aside from well-provisioned doomsday bunkers and perhaps a few multiple-wives advocates, may be heartened by the news:
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) –  A New York man is building his own sovereign nation called Zaqistan on a remote piece of land in Utah.
Zaq Landsberg has created a yellow-and-red flag, official-looking passports and a border patrol gate guarded by a giant robot sentry for the realm, KSL-TV reported.
"The conceptual goal is I want it to become a real country," said Landsberg, its president. "I mean, that goal is not going to happen. It's impossible, but going through the motions, (I'm) trying to make that happen."
He's even created a motto for the land of Zaqistan: "Something from nothing."
 Landsberg's web site includes pictures of the plastic wild flowers that remain unaffected by the harsh climate and a Victory Arch dedicated to some unspecified victory.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

sperm shortage in Australia

Fertility clinics in South Australia say they are struggling to keep up with an increasing demand for donor sperm.
They said rising infertility rates along with a greater number of same-sex couples and single women requesting treatments have contributed to the shortage in donated sperm supplies.
Repromed Fertility Specialists general manager Dr Hamish Hamilton said more sperm donors are needed, but numbers had been steadily declining over the past decade.

the loss of servants

My mother was a lot of things, but stupid was not one of them. So when she observed that "the greatest change of the 20th century was the loss of servants," I absorbed it and assumed it came from a wider perspective that I lacked.

I was not really interested enough at the time to ask her for further detail and so today am left with a bald and bold statement for which I have little or no supportive data. I can take a shot at agreeing or disagreeing (World War I and the flu epidemic of 1918 come to mind as social levelers) but then I run out of energy and kind of wonder about sweat shops and steam engines. And then there's the question of what to do about the actual, if not precisely institutionalized, existence of servants that persists to this day.

"Servants" and the loss thereof has a kind of arrogant feel to it as if the person observing the loss might be personally aggrieved -- and thereby biased -- at having to prepare his or her own supper. But bias, whether true or false -- does not interest me so much as the generalization itself and whether it might be warranted when issuing from the mouth of someone who was not stupid.

Yes, there can be raging against the night of "inequality," but how then does the sotto voce longing to be ruled fit in? What if that too were lost?

I suppose the whole matter takes more energy than I've got. Trying to pinpoint what, precisely, a "servant" is would be necessary if I wanted to determine the impact of the loss.

Oh well.....

Friday, October 23, 2015

the day when 90% of the women went on strike

"Forty years ago, the women of Iceland went on strike - they refused to work, cook and look after children for a day. It was a moment that changed the way women were seen in the country and helped put Iceland at the forefront of the fight for equality.
"When Ronald Reagan became the US President, one small boy in Iceland was outraged. "He can't be a president - he's a man!" he exclaimed to his mother when he saw the news on the television."[BBC Magazine]

giving satan his due

[Associated Press] An Israeli human rights group has released security camera footage showing several Israeli soldiers beating and kicking a Palestinian man for several minutes as he lies curled up in a defensive position on the floor of a storage room.
Israel's military says it is looking into the incident.
The group B'Tselem said Friday that the footage is of an Oct. 6 incident in the West Bank town of el-Bireh. The group says 25-year-old Ansar Aasi was at work in the storage room when clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers erupted nearby.
The video begins with him carrying a box into the storage room. He is then seen standing at the door, looking outside. Suddenly, Israel soldiers rush toward him, beat him repeatedly and drag him outside.
B'Tselem says Aasi required medical treatment and was detained for five days after soldiers alleged he had thrown stones. The group says he was only released after police viewed the security camera footage. [emphasis added]
An aberration? Please sell me a bridge in Brooklyn!

It is heartening, of course, to see that three or four well-armed and well-accoutered soldiers can subdue a nineteen-year-old stacking toilet paper.

TAVARES, Fla. (AP) -- A South Florida man is threatening to sue Lake County if officials pray during a commission meeting but don't allow him to give a satanic invocation.
Chaz Stevens, a self-described atheist, tells local news outlets his request this week is part of his "Satan or Silence Project." His goal is to persuade elected officials to either drop prayers before meetings or allow him to lead a satanic prayer.
Commission Chairman Jimmy Conner says he won't allow the request.
In the past, Stevens has helped sway several cities to have a moment of silence before meetings instead of a prayer. He says he will consider filing a lawsuit if Lake County denies his request.
Conner says he'll rally churches to raise money for a defense, should he need to. He has no plans to forgo the invocation.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

the job

As far as I can figure out, bullshit and wisdom flow downhill in about equal measure.

The job is to distinguish the one from the other.

news from a "contributor"

Huseyn Iskhanov was a general in the Chechen army which fought a bloody war against Russian troops (Supplied: Kim Traill
It is an interesting change from potatoes, reading a free-lance contributor's story about the mish-mosh of interests in Syria, Russia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, ISIS ... you know, all that stuff that defies the well-groomed punditry of the well-groomed news outlets.

The story from Kim Traill is not so well-lubricated, perhaps, but it contains what feels like honest news considerations ... the tough and complicated stuff that comes out of human intercourse. It feels closer to facts and further from journalistic fantasy.

invasion of venomous snakes

And you thought you had problems....
Alice Springs snake handlers are being run off their feet after an outbreak of the slithery serpents, which have invaded homes in "huge numbers" during a burst of warm night-time weather, including one that ended up in a household fridge.
"They have come out in huge numbers, all in a big rush," said Rex Neindorf, the director at the Alice Springs Reptile Centre.
Warm Australian September nights apparently led to the invasion.

As an addendum, the story notes, "About 90 per cent of snakes found in people's homes in Alice Springs are venomous, and they can be attracted to refrigerators."

It gives the whole notion of a "midnight snack" new zest.

China bans golf for party members

The Chinese Communist Party has banned all 88 million of its members from joining golf clubs, in its latest update of party discipline rules.
Extravagant eating and drinking, and abuse of power, are also formally banned, said Xinhua news agency.
Talk about misdirection! Let's concentrate on the lordly perks and ignore the systemic issues that nourish corruption in any large group. I wonder to what extent the Chinese people buy into this nonsense. Isn't it all a bit like complaining about U.S. bankers' and stock brokers' juicy year-end compensation envelopes while ignoring the cogs and wheels that allow a continued and continuing wheeling and dealing?

No golf???!!!

Talk about dying and going to hell!

And as if that weren't enough, "The Communist Party has also rephrased a previous clause banning adultery and mistresses."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

the Donald Trump of Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked controversy on Wednesday, hours before a visit to Germany, by saying the former Muslim elder in Jerusalem convinced Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jews.
The rest of the world may claim to be worried by one reckless state after another possessing nuclear weapons, but I wonder that no one seems to list Israel in a similar corral with North Korea, Pakistan and whoever all else thinks that big weapons are a get-out-of-jail-free card for a big and reckless mouth.

Everyone -- media, talking heads, academics, etc. -- seems so ginger and polite when Netanyahu comes up with his latest Donald Trump-ism. Why? Day in and day out, Muslims (and Palestinians by extension) are squeezed and degraded under Israel's superior-might rule ... and yet for every five stories about an Israeli stabbed and several retributive slayings by a righteous Israel, there is barely a brief about the houses taken, families displaced, jobs withheld, travel restrictions imposed ... the apartheid that is a reality.

Every photo op I see shows Israelis in body armor and carrying automatic weapons and backed by armored vehicles, while the best a photographer can come up with for the 'terrorists' is a guy with a knife or a rock or a Molotov cocktail. Here's a small example of the imbalances at play.

Isn't it time to call this nitwit out? Sure, he can get away with it ... in the same way that Donald Trump can get away with his ill-conceived assertions. Politicians get in the first licks and it is up to the rest of us to clean up and clear up the subsequent mess. But is this government, let alone good government?

Arabs have their texts that call for the eradication of non-believers, Israelis included. But so do the Jews, though as I understand it, the text (which I am too lazy to look up) is not widely promulgated in the obedient-dog West. In the United States, even by the most generous count, there are something like six million Jews in a country of 319 million people. And yet this tail has the capacity to wag the dog, not least with its perennial counter-point "anti-Semitic" defense used on all those seeking a reasonable account. Let me see ... a nuclear armed Israel barks in tandem with the United States at an Iran that has no such weapons because Iran might -- though not any time soon -- be armed in a similar way and Iran has no love for lovable little Israel.

Anti-Semitic, my ass! Here is a man, the son of an historian, claiming that a Muslim leader put the idea of the "final solution" into Hitler's head. Ergo the Holocaust. Ergo Muslims (and by extension, Palestinians) are responsible for the Holocaust. It is unspeakably self-serving and corrupt. Oh, and did I mention that it's also untrue?

The exceptionalism of Netanyahu -- like the exceptionalism of Dick Cheney or Islamic State or whoever -- is on the table and it is taking lives in the name of some faceless, ill-considered vision. Can't we just round up the exceptionalists, give them Wyoming or something, and let them sit around stroking each-other's pecker?

If Netanyahu can dream, I figure I can too.

PS. And here's a bit of Netanyahu's dream scape.

diaphanous bloodbath

In the diaphanous yet strangely ferocious realms between sleep and waking this morning, there was this beast that came calling ... red of tooth and claw:

My younger son could, in this inescapable world, spell every word perfectly. E-v-e-r-y word. The assertion was all around me, inescapable as a bayou sweat. It was incredibly, incredibly sad and I could not escape. The loneliness was everywhere and sad-sad-sad. No amount of struggling could throw it off. Gawd!

In reality, I do not know that my son is an especially good speller, so there was a dream-like fancy to the whole thing. No doubt there was some sense in which I was the son in this diaphanous bloodbath, though my capacity to spell is medium at best. It was the horror that clung and insisted and let me know there was no recourse but to wake up and serious up.

It was a grisly greeting on a grey day.

monthly column ... not

Fidget and fuss, fidget and fuss ... an email this morning let me know that the monthly column would be printed on some other, unspecified date ... but not today as planned. Being as it's not a column I like much, it doesn't matter a lot. But it does throw my fidgeting and fussing into another perspective.

The title I prefer but the newspaper may not is perhaps the best of a bad bargain: "The Case for an Implausible Deniability."

beyond best friends

Passed along in email under the quote, ""When I look into the eyes of an animal I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul." ~ A.D. Williams

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

the Elysian Fields of the tallywacker

This morning on a Buddhist chat board, I found myself interested in a tongue-largely-in-cheek appreciation of penis size as, for example, represented in "The Creation of Adam" by Michaelangelo:
Ever the helpful servant, the Internet coughed up a myriad of appreciations of the pecker in the arts. Skimming down it made me think that even in the august realms of art, man has far too much time on his hands when it comes to making up philosophies and meanings.

Still, when it comes to story-telling and self-aggrandizement, the penis as a focus for explanation seems as good a starting point as any. What a wondrous and disastrous piece of gadgetry that is.
Greek culture has left a legacy in terms of portraying penis size as small in art. Although Greeks have demonstrated an interest in the genitals, but they were not preoccupied with size. This coincides with the nature of the Greek art as Greeks considered a large phallus to be humorous, and their art was supposed to be austere. In the arts, small penis identified the ideal or intellectual aspect of the human male, whilst in theatre for example, the person playing the "fool" role wore something like an oversized phallus to indicate his stupidity, the idea being he was therefore closer to animals and less human than his opponent.
The Jesuitical tendrils of meaning and understanding positively pour forth from one appreciation of the penis to another. But as always, with all stories, the question stands adamantine at the finis point: What would you know if you knew it?

"Finis?" ... really?

Big pecker, little pecker; heavens rife with gods or devoid of holiness; church and state in peace or at war; a mountain of sorrow or bright flash of wondrous joy; elevate or demean it; be smart, be stupid; find meaning or lose it ... what would you know if you knew it?

Oh well. One thing you've got to give stories ... there's no shortage and they can be a lot of fun. I, for one, wish I had been the guy/gal who made up the word, "tallywacker." It's a smile word in my book and I like to smile.

Monday, October 19, 2015

unh, unh, unh

The monthly column is due by tomorrow. Seven hundred and fifty words, give or take, was once a stroll in the park -- sort of like playing fetch with a small, happy dog. Now it becomes increasingly a weight and freight and besides all that it is larded with what feels like repetition, as if there were nothing that carried a bright freshness. In the near future, I will have to stop committing to the exercise and yet, because in the past I have committed, I will follow through just now.

That's what I will work on in the still-darkness embattled by the mediocrity of light bulbs this morning ... rising early in order to be repetitive and stale. Is mediocrity a curse to which everyone is subject or is it simply the way of the world, the plain-Jane of a reality I am too lazy to play fetch with.

At least 4:30 a.m. has a freshness.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

your credulity and mine

Credulity is a strange and enticing commodity. From merchandising of commercial products to religious fervor -- a strange and enticing commodity.

Now the massive retailer Amazon is suing 1,114 unnamed 'false' reviewers of its products, claiming that the bogus "good reviews" tarnishes their good name.
Amazon is taking legal action against more than 1,000 people it says have posted fake reviews on its website....
Amazon says the 1,114 defendants, termed "John Does" as the company does not yet know their real names, offer a false review service for as little as $5 (£3.24) on the website, with most promising five-star reviews for a seller's products.
It has always marveled me that companies appending "reviews" to their web sites might expect people to believe them. Why would a company append a rotten review? Of course, occasionally they do post negative feedback, but it is almost always overwhelmed by glowing encomiums. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that readers do in fact find credibility in those reviews.

Why? Why would I believe something like Angie's List,  a thriving business that promises to hook homeowners up with reliable craftsmen. The answer -- from plumbing to spiritual need -- is that I want to accomplish something and would prefer not to be bamboozled ... therefore I place my trust in one 'reliable' source or another. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.

But what is missing from this formula is one salient fact: I can marshal as many facts and reviews as I like, but in the end it is simply my choice, my gut and my responsibility to take this risk. Praising or blaming others runs out of steam: This credulity is mine; there is no sure thing; so cross my fingers and leap into the fray ... my fray.

I'd love to be able to blame you for my credulity -- whether warranted or not -- but in the end, the Anglican theologian Charles Williams was right: "People believe what they want to believe." Pivotal words -- "what they WANT to believe."

greeting from God

Passed along in email:

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Alice's Restaurant"

My older son and I were idly discussing this and that a short time ago when somehow it came out that he had never heard or even heard of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant." Somehow this revelation caught me flat-footed -- left me utterly incredulous ... and clearly in an old-fart mode. I was almost in awe of the notion that someone could not be familiar with the light-hearted and serious anti-war screed ... where in fact, of course, I might rather have been in awe of the fact that the tune was tattooed on my DNA. It was like not being familiar -- even a little bit -- with Beethoven.

JEEEEE-SUS! My mind drooled with incredulity ... and then, of course, I had to listen to it again and recognize that although it was clearly dated, it was equally clearly a classic in my book.

Vietnam gaining steam, a literate artistic community, an ability to laugh ...

Well, so it goes. And here's the original:

bits and pieces


-- Roughly speaking, belief benefits the believer but principle is what comes around, now and then, and bites you on the ass. "Benefits you" is not principle's prime directive. But in the too-much-information age of the Internet, belief has slowly but surely taken the place of principle. Now, what anyone believes is what they believe principle consists in... and if you don't believe it, they will shove it down your throat or kill you, whichever is more convenient.

-- In the world of 'caring' parents, there is sometimes the admonition to fisticuff-prone children: "Use your words." The implication is that talking things out beats beating the shit out of anyone. And it's not a bad premise. But it is also interesting, in this realm, to note that "why do you think you hit Johnny" has replaced the simpler and more relevant "don't hit Johnny."

-- "Use your words." This morning it occurs to me that for my whole life I have accumulated and used words with the underlying understanding that words might corral real understanding. Since words are what we've got, you can see why it might be true. You can credit the fact that words oil the social wheels or can do that. But this morning the presumption occurred to me in reverse: With all the evidence in hand, why should I believe such a premise? A lifetime full of words and real understanding simply will not sit still for that sort of game. It's all OK ... it just doesn't happen to be true from where I sit this morning.

-- My region is chock-a-block with 'institutions of higher learning' (read "colleges") and as has been common from time to time in the past, I got an email today from a young woman at a local college asking if she might snoop my groves in the matter of spiritual life. It's a homework assignment and why I should continue to salivate like one of Pavlov's dogs when the bell rings, I'm not sure. I respond within: I would like to help. For heaven's sake, why? I'm not the kind of person who is a good or even especially gracious teacher. I refuse to do the party-line Buddhist thing, which is what homework assignments call for. I can relate my experience and thoughts -- and god knows I can wring the talkative wash cloth dry -- but I cannot subtly accede to the manhandling of others in pursuit of some well-lubricated bid for salvation. Yes, there is discipline and hard work and even, perhaps, some goodness to it all, but playing the Buddhism-as-bondage card makes me want to ralph. Yup -- it's the only choice there is (to buckle down and dig way, way in) but it's a choice best avoided. I'm not good at this stuff. It is enough to remember, "the hard stuff is easy; it's the easy stuff that's hard." Oh well, I sent a return email warning the young woman with the homework: C'mon over and have a cup of coffee and I'll be happy to help you ... lie to you ... encourage you.

What is this 'help' response thing?! I suppose I can write it off as being similar to having brown eyes -- what other choice is there? -- but that seems pretty facile.

-- The chimney sweep is coming today to prepare the wood stove for its seasonal efforts. The wood is stacked thanks to my wife, son and one of his friends. The morning is chill with more in the offing. My neighbor's garden has been cleaned and cleared of all but a few remaining plants -- kale, raspberries, a couple of cold frames -- and there are fallen leaves trickling and tickling down the street. The only thing the stove lacks is a dog to curl up in its environs. I guess I'll be a dog.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

bang for your buck

At $35,000 per weapon and $55 per round, the XM25 "smart grenade launcher" is slated for renewed testing by the U.S. Army early next year. How the weapons industry managed to flog this weapon on the BBC beats the hell out of me, but the article seems to offer a small window on what the local tax dollar buys. You just know you'd want one of these babies if you were in combat.
The XM25 "smart grenade launcher" lets combatants set its ammunition to explode when it reaches a set distance.
It means a grenade can be set to go off just after it passes through a window or is just over the target's head, without having struck an object.
One expert called it "revolutionary" but warned there were risks involved.
With an effective airburst range of about 700 meters (2,296.59 feet), there are obvious advantages for the shooter who is not forced into close proximity with his or her target. But...
"It is by nature quite indiscriminate - you can't see behind the cover of what you are trying to shoot behind.
"Yes, you can shoot the grenades behind windows, for example, but you'd have to be very, very sure that [the target aside] there was no-one else in the room."
The article does not detail how anyone can be "very, very sure" at a distance of something more than a third of a mile. But I have a hunch that if bullets were emanating from a particular window or doorway and if those bullets were aimed at you, the sense of "very, very sure" might diminish rapidly.

Women and children, beware! "Collateral damage" is the phrase used to cover that about which we, the taxpayers who make such weapons possible, cover our tracks and ease our conscience.

And you thought there was a diminishing bang for your buck.

bridge players dealt a financial blow

LONDON (AP) -- Legions of bridge players in Britain may feel they've been dealt a rotten hand after a court decision endorsed an earlier ruling that the popular card game is not a sport....
The decision will affect possible lottery funding for bridge tournaments.
Advocates for bridge had claimed that Parliament recognizes "mind sports" that build mental acuity.
Disheartened bridge advocates say the "old fashioned" definition means that model airplane flying is viewed as a sport while bridge is not.
Not least, the decision was based on whether a sports enthusiast breaks a palpable sweat.

How unfair life can be.

And how much simpler to browse and enjoy and ponder the story of a card game at the expense of what might be called serious news, as for example this Associated Press brief (awaiting updates, perhaps, but run nonetheless minus explanation) about an "erroneous" claim feeding the fires of conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

JERUSALEM (AP) [Oct 15, 6:22 AM (ET)] — An erroneous claim by Mahmoud Abbas that a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by Israelis has fueled new Israeli allegations that the Palestinian leader is inciting to violence.
Perhaps I haven't had enough morning coffee, but the story does not detail by what yardstick the claim was in fact adjudged erroneous... or the no-doubt counter-claim that it was not erroneous. To my mind, this is a serious matter because people are in the process of dying as a result of such agitation-propaganda.

But in the midst of all this, I realized that I did not have the energy to sink once again into serious news, serious oversight, serious elevation of mediocrity in news reporting. I'd rather read about bridge. My energies have been trumped by the onslaught of half-baked news-gathering and presentation.

Excellence ... just wait a while and someone is bound to fashion a cheap knock-off, something that looks and sounds consequential and fine but is, in reality, a misuse of the powers accorded to the agency offering the knock-off.

It's cruel and it's infuriating but cruelty and infuriation require energy and a capacity to expend that energy. Even an excellent tale leaves loose ends, so loose-ends become the acceptable yardstick.

Spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs ... that's easier.

PS. Here, be it said, is the follow-up AP story, which is more fulsome, but does not allay my original questions. Is there some excuse for running an inflammatory half-baked story in the first place?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

raise the Israeli banner!

Eight Israelis have died in a string of stabbings, shootings and the stoning of a car, while 29 Palestinians -- including 12 identified by Israel as attackers -- have been killed.
And as a result
JERUSALEM (AP) –  The Israeli military began deployinghundreds of troops in Israeli cities Wednesday to assist police forces in countering a wave of deadly Palestinian shooting and stabbing attacks that have created panic across the country.
It's not a new story, just a newer version of an old story. But as I read it, I can't help but wonder how it might seem if the roles were reversed and Palestinians deployed hundreds of troops to quell the implicit and explicit violence perpetrated by Israel in its barely-concealed apartheid policies.

But of course the Palestinians do not seem to have recourse to the vast array of armaments Israel can and does bring to bear. Palestinian minions are shown throwing rocks or Molotov cocktails or are accused of brutal knife attacks. An occasional ill-aimed rocket seems to be their top-drawer military weapon.

"Don't bring a knife to a gun fight" and yet Palestinians do bring a knife despite the body armor and automatic weapons and tracked vehicles and gimlet-eyed rocketry. What injustice do the Palestinians imagine (or in truth) need to redress at such a cost? Does Israel seek to address such questions or do they prefer to wipe out what offends their "right to exist?"

The life-for-a-life attitude always seems to tilt three-to-one in favor of the better armed Israel which likewise has a more united propaganda front. The western press writes blithely from the Israeli point of view. Israel is fond of pointing to the Arab states with a policy of obliterating Israel and yet is curiously silent on its own mandate to eradicate its own version of 'infidels.'

Oh well ... I can't pretend to know better. But the arrogant imbalance is all a bit like the observation about pornography: "I may not know what it is, but I know it when I see it."

And to think that the arena of Arabs and Jews was once a place where Muslims and Jews got along without outbreaks of militaristic fervor on either side. Who upended that situation?

'learning' filial piety

It just seems to be one of those human phenomena -- what initially gained currency based on love and concern and perhaps a bit of fear runs out of lovable credibility and is transformed into an arm-twisting ritual, one in which children and 'ignorant' adults are trained to do the 'right' thing because ... well ... once it was loved and that love is irrefutable in its benevolence.

Think of the Saturday-morning Christian door-knockers. That suggestion may not be quite fair since Christianity is not yet mature enough to sidestep its mandate to convert others, but it gives some sense of the phenomenon: I'm going to convince you for your own good ... of which I am more aware than you.

In China, a beauty salon chain has implemented a policy of deducting from employees' wages and sending the money to aging relatives. The object of the exercise, which has excited some discussion, is to instill "filial piety," which China claims to revere. What was once borne lightly becomes a should-do burden: What was once love is now enforced.

Morality dwindles into ethics. I suppose it is possible to teach someone to love but it has a tinny, rigid ring to it. Love opens its arms to enfold and embrace and the training closes those arms as a means of opening them. Goodness and peace are praised and in that praising goodness and peace go begging.

On the other hand, there is the tale of the professional mourners (in China, I think, but maybe Japan). These are the women hired to stand at the grave site with the bereft and stunned kin. The women are paid to keen and cry. Their wails fill the air until, at last, those whose grief is bottled and incomprehensible find the mechanism with which to free their own sorrow.

Maybe it is possible to learn filial piety. But its potential to turn into lock-step ritual is never far away. As the Hindus put it, here is a "razor's edge." Maybe it is possible to love God (by whatever designation) by pretending to love God. And maybe it's just another corporate scam.

Your life, your choice.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

when naked is not enough

OK, so it's another nail in my you're-getting-old coffin: Playboy magazine has decided to delete pictures of nude women starting next March according to The New York Times.
“That battle has been fought and won,” said Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”
How wonderfully in-your-face the nudie pix were in their time! And now, like nudity itself, there is something redundant about it all. That's right, folks, we're all nude under the clothes and the variations in revelation are strikingly few. As some Zen Buddhist teacher put it once when asked about sex and spiritual endeavor, "It's just penises and vaginas, isn't it?"

Having been convinced for a long time that "sexy" was better defined by what you don't see than what you do, I feel vindicated in some sense. On the other hand, the naughty-ness quotient was so scrumptious that it's sad to see the nudies go. Yes, ladies, the male stash of raucous hormones is not always even-tempered and equality-driven.

And, when you think about it, the idea that a naked body is all there is to nakedness is an overstatement by any honest measuring stick.

Ah well ... sic transit gloria mundi.

Monday, October 12, 2015

hermit in England

Like any good hermit Rachel Denton rises early in the morning to tend to her vegetable garden, feed her chickens, and pray.
But the former British nun, who has pledged to live the rest of her life in solitude, has another routine that sets her apart from her society-shunning brethren - she has to update her Twitter account and check Facebook.
Unlike other hermits, such as a man discovered in 2013 living in a wood in the United States having spent 27 years without any human contact, Denton has embraced the Internet age.
The Reuters sketch of Denton seems somehow to stretch the boundaries of what a "hermit" might be, but then what wouldn't stretch those boundaries? Denton's explanation seems as good as any:
... I am a hermit but I'm also human.