Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rinzai and ice cream

Woke with an odd-ball couple of thoughts joining the dance. They were connected and came as a couple, however somehow bizarre -- like Napoleon Dynamite perhaps -- they were.

First came the burnished observation of the Zen teacher Rinzai ... reasserting with clarion certainty its d'oh: "Grasp and use, but never name." Bright and hot as oxyacetylene fire ... let's say no more of it.

And as its companion, present but unexplained, came the notion that it has been eons since I had some real ice cream ... real, homemade, untouched by swooning hands ... ice cream. Would I like it if I had it? I don't know, but suddenly I wanted to try it an find out ... but where can anyone get real ice cream these days? And no, I am not about to make it.

Fragments ... shards ... Napoleon Dynamite's ice cream... welcome to the dance.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

rent a monk

In Japan, as I understand it, there is a saying: "You may be born Shinto, but you die Buddhist."

Shinto is the most popular religious persuasion in Japan, but Buddhists seem to have a lock on the death industry. As anywhere else in 'civilized' society, death can be pricey business so perhaps it is natural that Amazon has begun offering rent-a-monk services at more affordable prices ... a business model that simultaneously helps to shore up the dwindling support that Buddhism is experiencing in Japan. Monks have to earn a living too, after all.

It is hard to suggest that anguished individuals should not be succored in that anguish. Who would not hold the hand of the grief-stricken? But at the same time, there is something tawdry about religion's seemingly invariable leverage that is brought to bear: Death is sorrowful; religion weaves a tale to ease the woe; religious institutions flourish. Nothing wrong with that, right?

And the answer is, probably not. There is nothing so good that it cannot be manipulated and the same, in reverse, goes for anything so bad. But too, institutions have a way of getting lost in their own legends -- touting the institution at the expense of the original message, marginalizing sorrow while claiming to commute or eradicate that sorrow. Theology and superstition take hold. Chinese restaurants are cluttered with good-luck representations of Buddha and the mind is not far behind. It may be childish, but we are all childish when faced with anguish. Get thee behind me, bad joss!

It is no doubt my own arrogance that wonders and writhes and questions the "yoga" students with their buff buns and abs. Don't you want to know what got all this exercising off the ground? And don't the Buddhists likewise want to know what mechanisms nourished the death industry in Japan? What kernel is this? Aren't you curious?

Asking others to be curious because I have been curious is arrogant. But I sit here feeling fortunate to have been curious and willing to take a swing at some sort of answer. Hatha yoga is more than a good ass ... or is it? Buddhism is more than hand-holding ... or is it? As spiritual persuasions dwindle and wisp away, I feel fortunate to have taken a shot at it. Insisting that others might be well-advised to take a similar shot at it ... well, hell, I could have been a Christian if that's all I ever wanted.

Dwindling away.

Rent a monk.

It's a curious business but I suppose that sunsets are likewise curious.

Friday, January 29, 2016

shark feasts on shark

It ain't Walt Disney's version of nature as a shark makes a meal of another shark at a Seoul aquarium.

going home

It's hardly a new observation, but it popped up this morning in the form of one of the touchstones of my trained and tamed youth: "Comparisons are odious."

What occurred to me as a result was that, no matter how exciting the adventure may be, still, there is no reason to travel to the Hindu Kush or some other exotic clime -- wherever you are is an entirely adequate starting place on the journey home. The only requirement is that the spirit be willing to examine and examine and examine some more. "Comparisons are odious" -- where will that take you? Answer, anywhere -- but most notably home to a place where the palm is emptied of all it held, all it examined, all it learned from.

The emptiness is inevitable as the traveler moves from the wise or merely slick "comparisons are odious" to the experience that informed the words. No one can hold experience. Experience is no man's lap dog, however much palaver is brought to bear.

If you want to to home, then start anywhere ... literally. Don't imagine that there is or even could be any improvement. Just gather up your spiritual skirts and go ... home.

I gotta admit the idea of the "Hindu Kush" is pretty alluring.

Oh well.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

adult police work

Police in the Netherlands kicked in a door in response to an emergency call - only to realise the "terrifying screams" that had been reported were actually the sound of a man singing along to opera....
Police released details of the incident in a Facebook post. They said everyone concerned had laughed about the matter.

happy endings

The other night, I found myself watching a version of "Cinderella" on the TV. My channel-surfing just paused as the age-old fairy tale unfolded. Yes, I knew the ending and yes, I could remember most of the particulars on the way to that ending, but I paused anyway and let the story unfurl before my eyes. There was a happy ending in the offing and lately I have been drawn to happy endings: What the hell, they're part of the potential too and besides, they make me feel good even if my widest experience suggests that crediting happy endings is frequently a fool's errand.

I didn't much care if I were immersing myself in a lie. Every now and then it's pleasant to be lied to and warmed: Most of the subjects I imbue with "truth" are quite fabulous as well, so why shouldn't I at least wring a little contentment out of this lie that doesn't pretend to be a truth?

I like feeling happy. I am tired of feeling sad.

Go ahead and lie to me.

Someone will be along shortly to disabuse the treacly and convinced. And in the meantime I can lay down the burden of a sharpened set of wits. Happy endings -- literally -- are getting the best of me lately. I am unlikely to lie down and spread my legs to those who sell me treacle (or terror either, for that matter), but when I'm doing the selling, well, that is increasingly OK with me.

Who said "dotage" was a bad thing?

brought down, raised up

A friend wrote yesterday to say that a totally paralyzed right leg and a partially-paralyzed right arm had laid her up in the hospital for several days but that now she was on the mend, comparatively speaking.

What is there to say about a life that visits such circumstances upon its actors? "Benevolence" and "malevolence" may produce income for churches and other tale-weavers, but at some point there is a let's-cut-the-crap moment, even for those jerking off in the breeze as they intone, "it is what it is."

I am sorry when I hear or see that others are afflicted. I guess that derives from feeling sorry when I experience my own weights and freights. But who cares where it derives from? It's what I feel and that's just my business.

Brought down by sorrows.

Raised up by joys.

Pass the Dramamine.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

artificial intelligence beats Go champ

An artificial intelligence program has beaten the European champion of the board game Go. The program beat the champ five games to nil.

As for Go:
The rules are simpler than those of chess, but a player typically has a choice of 200 moves compared with about 20 in chess.
There are more possible positions in Go than atoms in the universe, according to DeepMind's team.
It can be very difficult to determine who is winning, and many of the top human players rely on instinct.

perfect memory

The idea of having a perfect memory makes me edgy on the one hand. What an incredible burden. But, on the other hand:
Veiseh even thinks his condition has made him a kinder, more tolerant person. “Some say ‘forgive and forget’, but since forgetting is a luxury I don't have, I need to learn to genuinely forgive,” he says. “Not just others, but myself as well.”
I wonder if there would be less bloodshed if those promoting a resort to war were endowed with the ability/necessity of remembering previous horrors.

Also I wonder what such a capacity would do to "time."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

bullfighter in hot water

A Spanish bullfighter has ignited a minor firestorm of criticism for posting a picture of himself as he practiced fighting a bull while holding his five-month-old daughter.

Said Francisco Rivera Ordóñez:
There is no safer place for her to be than in my arms. This is Carmen’s debut, the fifth bullfighting generation in my family. My grandfather did the same with my father, my father with me and me with my daughter Cayetana, and now Carmen.
Child safety and a general distaste for 'fighting' unarmed animals makes up the bulk of the criticisms. Of his style and expertise, one Spanish critic said, "Rivera’s faced a lot of bulls, and for that he deserves credit. But he’s boring to watch; he has no aesthetic merit."

I have only seen one bullfight. With luck, I will never see another. While I dislike white-whiny complaints about bull fighting -- in about the same measure as I dislike mojo-laced defenses of the activity -- I found watching an actual fight so viscerally repugnant that I had to leave the arena where I had hoped to sense a bit of what Ernest Hemingway et al. could go on and on about.

Man contrives a situation in which he faces death and feels that much more alive... grow up!

Besides the taking of a life after goading an animal with the help of several other armed men, I dislike the implicit and explicit demand that this activity should be honored and acclaimed. Sure, it takes more balls than I've got but, on the other hand, I don't want my courage defined by such contrived means. A storied and honorable profession? Sorry, I can't buy it. Killing as a means to eat I can see. But killing as a means of flonging your dong...?

If someone were to open a sunny arena and introduce one bull and one man and invite them to interact as a show of honor or worship or skill ... that strikes me as possible, if still a bit self-centered.

Author Mary Renault wrote a novel called "The King Must Die" in which the bull-leaping of Crete played a heart-pounding role. Now that struck me as ballsy -- if a bit looney -- and honorable.

Monday, January 25, 2016

farewell, book-reading

As the books on my shelves take on an undeniable and yet mysterious irrelevance, here comes the BBC Magazine to take a stab at parsing and particularizing the dwindling, dwindling, dwindling of paper volumes. What, if anything, does it portend? Naturally there are still enough people who were weaned on paper books to cry out, "the sky is falling," but since it's actually happening ... well, what about it?

The first thought into my mind is that if information is widely available on the Internet ... who cares? The answer to me is, how will anyone know anything if the electricity goes off? But perhaps that's a minor concern. I do sense a dumbing down, a lack of critical thinking that has fallen off into well-heeled bias and belief, but I haven't got the energy to find out if my bias and belief holds water.

What was that John Fowles novel in which a small segment is devoted to a future time in which a shopping list is unearthed and becomes a kind of Rosetta Stone to the past ... replete with ordinary comestibles like balogna? Or did I make that up?

I can't really enter this fray with much gusto. I do know I'm glad I won't be around for the denouement.

Wikipedia ... hurry up and ... know?

As a teenager, I can remember going to the library as a means of doing a particular history (or whatever) homework assignment. There I would dig out relevant volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Encyclopedia Americana  and perhaps one or two other more family-oriented encyclopedias as a means of amassing data. I would read them all and then let the information percolate in my mind before attacking the homework assignment. It was not always easy, but I was under the impression that research required sweat and varying points of view were my responsibility.

Of course, I was more of a believer when I was a teenager. As such, the Encyclopedia Britannica was the gold standard -- a set of volumes which had an unresearched reputation for bringing together the best researchers available and then vetting their product to a fare-the-well. If the Encyclopedia Britannica said so, you could more or less take it to the bank, however viscous the writing might be. The Americana was not far behind. And behind that there were the World Book or Colliers or other home-library reference works ... more accessible, perhaps, but more dubious as well. Just because something was accessible did not mean it was true ... or anyway that was my thought. It did not really cross my mind that just because something was difficult, the information was therefore more credible or true.

Information in these encyclopedias came from on high. There was no Internet and an encyclopedia's sales rested on the kind of credulity I was willing to offer ... whoever was writing these things were the top of the heap, the smart guys, the guys and gals who had spent years combing the topic at hand.

Today, of course, there is one part of me that snickers at my naivete. But another part of me longs for that credulity that was once: I might not know something, but there was someone who had spent long hours and did know. It was possible to get an answer worth knowing. Someone, somewhere had expended the blood, sweat and tears to which I was becoming privy. They were not feather merchants.

Nowadays, there is Wikipedia -- the Internet encyclopedia to which all and sundry are welcome to contribute and correct. The doofus and the dandy are as welcome as the meticulous researcher.
Those who can access the site can edit most of its articles. Wikipedia is ranked among the ten most popular websites, and constitutes the Internet's largest and most popular general reference work....
A peer review of 42 science articles found in both Encyclopædia Britannica and Wikipedia was published in Nature in 2005, and found that Wikipedia's level of accuracy approached Encyclopedia Britannica's. Criticisms of Wikipedia include claims that it exhibits systemic bias, presents a mixture of "truths, half truths, and some falsehoods", and that in controversial topics it is subject to manipulation and spin.
When I look something up on Wikipedia -- and look it up, I do -- there is no knowing if I am receiving the benefit of arduous hours or beer-pitcher conclusions. True, the measurements and other concrete factual data may not be open to manipulation, but the impact and meaning -- and the sense that I am getting the straight skinny -- is ... well ... wobbly. If anyone can contribute, and if a democracy of thought-equalities is asserted ... well, what sort of answer is that? I want an answer; I do not want a democratic answer.

Like anyone else, I imagine, I love Wikipedia and its easy access and quick rejoinders. But I also have a hunch that to the extent I put my faith in what I get, I am descending into a watered-down realm where agreement is the yardstick of truth. If everyone says so, what has that got to do with the truth?

The good think about my uncertainties is, of course, that I have learned to be uncertain -- a lesson I was not capable of when going to school. Schools rely heavily on answers. First the answers, then the ambiguities.

I guess I am just wondering to what extent Wikipedia lends its wonders to a widespread dumbing down. Dumb and dumber ... and the question, as always, becomes, how much research am I willing to exercise in the search for whatever truth I may seek.

Gawd, laziness is comforting and delicious and experts are more appealing that five-dollar whores.

And it's not as if just because everyone says so, they are necessarily wrong.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

glass bridges

Architect Keith Brownlie, who was involved in a glass bridge for The London Science Museum, said that the appeal was "thrill".
"It is the relationship between emotionally driven fear and the logical understanding of safety," he said. "These structures tread the boundary between those two contrasting senses and people like to challenge their rational mind in relation to their irrational fear."

a lucky rabbit's foot

I haven't seen one in a long time, but for some reason, the good luck conferred by carrying a literal rabbit's foot seeps into memory. What an odd oddment it seems, vaguely grotesque on the one hand and yet perfectly understandable in a world where talismans still hold a wispy sway. What is this need for good luck ... or bad luck either, for that matter? A crucifix, a coin, a rabbit's foot ... all of them and more like them can act as touchstones that suggest a rebalancing the scales of good luck and bad. What's that about?

Wikipedia says among other things:
In some cultures, the foot of a rabbit is carried as an amulet believed to bring good luck. This belief is held by individuals in a great number of places around the world, including Europe, China, Africa, and North and South America. It is likely that this belief has existed in Europe since 600 BC amongst Celtic people. In variations of this superstition, the donor rabbit must possess certain attributes, have been killed in a particular place, killed by a particular method, or by a person possessing particular attributes (e.g., by a cross-eyed man)....
Humorist R. E. Shay is credited with the witticism, "Depend on the rabbit's foot if you will, but remember it didn't work for the rabbit."
Unless I've got it wrong, there is no proving that a talisman confers positive good luck. But the important part seems to be that there is no proof that such talismans do not. So ... "what the hell" seems to be the order of the day: Carrying a talisman may not help, but it doesn't seem to hurt either, so why not? No one can prove that there's life after death, but they can't prove that there isn't either, so why not carry and be faithful to, for example, a crucifix? Why life after death might be unquestioningly thought of as somehow "good luck" is not a topic for investigation.

In nosing around this subject, I am not inclined towards the narrowed and superior eyes of the brilliant onlooker who can do no better than to say, "superstitious piffle!" The brilliant too have their talismans, but there are agreements not to mention the talismanic facets of their brilliance.

Talismans ... what would you do without them? On the other hand, what would you do with them? If the talismans dropped away, would my ass fall off? If they didn't fall away, would my ass be any more surely affixed?

I guess what brought this to mind was that an interest in spiritual life has talismanic components ... or at least at the beginning it seems that way. But over time, and with investigation, if religion is seen as a talismanic warding off of death's incomprehensible reaches, there are at least two possibilities: As death nears, grasp the talisman more tightly for good luck; or, as death nears, feel the talisman slipping away ... did you ever really need it? Is there really a demarcation between good luck and bad?

What the hell -- incomprehensible things deserve a place in a sunshine that does not attempt to interfere with something called "good luck" or "bad."

Saturday, January 23, 2016

the downside of "mindfulness"

With so much money to be made in the "mindfulness" realm, you can sort of see why employers and individuals alike have granted it a growing cachet. In one way, it's an embellished version of the quick-and-easy "take a chill pill." Who wouldn't like to be more at peace, whether at home or on the job?

But together with the upside potential, there is a definite downside aspect and, to my mind, neglecting the latter is dangerous. Yes, I'm aware of the hordes of people who would like to reduce spiritual life to an explicable, psychological direction. That's just one of the attempts to remain in control and talk pretty. But there really are negative aspects as this Guardian article points out.

I know there will be a hundred yes-but's with which to address the problems raised in the article. Nothing that's any good doesn't have a serious potential for something bad. But the willingness to concede the downside aspects can sometimes be drowned out in the desperate effort to heal many wounds. [I once knew a fellow who tried to commit seppuku when he found that he could no longer sit cross-legged in meditation ... he was found on his bed in a pool of blood and was, luckily, saved.]

Spiritual adventures really can be very good tools. But they are not toys that make children feel better or workers more serene. They have the power to clarify and the power to immerse in darkness and an unwillingness to concede either potential is no joke.

I'm posting the article not as a means of 'debunking' mindfulness or spiritual practices, but by way of what I consider a good reminder.


Bernie Sanders ad

So much of what passes for conversation rests on what pisses people off that it's sometimes hard to slow down enough to realize how wearing it is to be pissed off. It is more pleasant to be pleased, to love something. And all of this may account for the vociferousness of those who are deeply in love with sports teams: Somehow, however sappy it may be, it's acceptable to love and rise up for a baseball or football team. Even manly loud-mouths who hate the socialists they could not define on a bet are willing to allow for the passionate pleasure that has no meaning and yet can mean so much.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders loosed the above political ad a day or two ago. It is aimed at  early-primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire. And after the implicit and explicit pissed-offed-ness of other political ads, there is something ballsy about it ... a willingness to invite people to love something despite the fact that politics, by definition, is bound to come around and bite you on the ass... the ad suggests you can love America, perhaps, without finding someone to disparage.

Sanders has made his agenda pretty clear in the past. The willingness to post an ad that doesn't twist or mangle some social difficulty and present a solution to it is somehow a relief ... and a smart move ... however smarmy or treacly it may be. By comparison, the ad hardly mentions the candidate, let alone his opponents. It mentions the people who are going to vote ... the ones who may be baseball fans and fans of their country and the potential to live life in some moderately happy way. Whatever mention of Sanders is made is trumped by the ordinary actions of ordinary people ... people who are not happy to be pissed off at every turn.

It's a risky ad, I think. But worth the risk: It outflanks the political process without complaining about it. There are no sly jibes or righteous poses ... now that's ballsy.

Not to mention the fact that this old, smarmy fart likes the Simon and Garfunkel music.

Friday, January 22, 2016

a W of sorts

Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) unlawfully retaliated against workers who participated in strikes in 2013 and must offer to reinstate 16 dismissed employees, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled on Thursday.
 Labor-sympathetic minds may delight, but my memory of the National Labor Relations Board is that its structure is such as to defend management, not labor.

with the queen's consent....

"Fusilier Llywelyn has completed basic training under Goat Major Fusilier Matthew Owen, from Anglesey, and his first duty will be to lead a parade at an event to commemorate the 1879 Battle of Rorke's Drift."The regiment said he was chosen following an "arduous survey" of the wild herd and he had stood out after demonstrating "more promise than the others"....
"The Royal goat tradition began in 1844 when Queen Victoria presented the Royal Welch Fusiliers with its first one, but it is believed the animals have been part of parades since the 1700s."

passions at a wedding

It's not entirely clear to me what this gone-viral video of  Maori haka dance at a wedding is about but it is full of heart. The accompanying story leaves my brain addled and looking for context.

Wikipedia says: "War haka were originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition, but haka are also performed for various reasons: for welcoming distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals...."

Oh well, something magnetic on my mind's dinner table.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

looking for my lamb bone

Perhaps because nothing has edges, I like to think I can drive the point home in my own life -- run a reality check and come to some easy terms with what is easy.

And it was in this regard that I wondered this morning where my lamb bone was. Someone in future will find it and pitch it on the scrap heap, but to me, that lamb bone is important. I wonder where it is.

No doubt it is in some sloppily-saved collection of tools ... in the basement, maybe, or at the bottom of a tool box. The lamb bone is around somewhere and even if I knew where, I would be unlikely to use it as in the past. Still, it was a good friend once and spoke to the matter of edges that don't exist.

The lamb bone is precisely that -- a lamb bone saved up after a roast long ago, boiled to clean away any clinging meat and then placed among the chisels and hammers and files and sandpaper. I used it in some of my less-than-perfect carpentry adventures. I never was a very good carpenter, but I built several tables and I built the zendo and I built shelves and ... well, I enjoyed it and the lamb bone was part of the mix.

The bone itself is about ten inches long and knobby at each end with a shaft of bone between those knobs. It was something I used as a finishing tool. A ninety-degree edge on a piece of lumber; is "perfect:" But run a lamb bone over it and that razor-sharp perfection moves towards age and grace and warmth and, in my mind, a realistic beauty. The bone and its residual oils do what others might attempt with sandpaper: Run the bone along that edge and it presses the 90-degree "perfection" inward. It is rounded in the smallest and most smooth way.

Ninety-degree perfection is merely perfect. A lamb bone can perfect that and, in my eyes, dovetail with the edgelessness.

These days, there seems to me to be too much perfection and not enough edgelessness.

I wonder where my lamb bone has got to ... not that I have the energy to use it any more. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

digesting the obvious

Sometimes I wonder how many times what has been obvious all along needs to become apparent once more and finally, finally enter the heart.
Some 10,000 years ago a woman in the last stages of pregnancy met a terrible death, trussed like a captive animal and dumped into shallow water at the edge of a Kenyan lagoon. She died with at least 27 members of her tribe, all equally brutally murdered, in the earliest evidence of warfare between stone age hunter-gatherers.
The fossilised remains of the victims, still lying where they fell, preserved in the sediment of a marshy pool that dried up thousands of years ago, were found by a team of scientists from Cambridge University.
The evidence of their deaths was graphic and unmistakable: the remains, which include at least eight women and six children, show skulls smashed in, skeletons shot through or stabbed with stone arrows and blades, and in four cases, hands almost certainly bound.
Slaughter, warfare, violent death ... and all of it in a Kenyan landscape rich with food sources for all. Nevertheless, there was slaughter in that day even as there is slaughter today. The tender heart is appalled and repulsed and yet it is hard not to wonder -- however difficult it may be -- if the sentiments are a half a step off the beaten path of what is more obviously human.
The study’s co-author, Prof Robert Foley, is marginally more optimistic about the human condition: “I’ve no doubt it is in our biology to be aggressive and lethal, just as it is to be deeply caring and loving. A lot of what we understand about human evolutionary biology suggests these are two sides of the same coin.”

song from the movie "Babe"

It probably won't mean much either to those who once saw the 1995 movie "Babe" or to those who didn't, but I ran across this clip in which the normally-reticent farmer lets loose a song that expresses his silenced love for his sickened pig -- a pig, like other animals in the movie, that speaks and is trained by the farmer to herd sheep. The movie sounds sappy when described, but because it was not churned out of some Walt Disney smarm factory (the Aussies know how to make movies), it's just a wonderful, go-ahead-and-be-a-kid adventure.

Even today the lyrics get to me: "If I had words/To make a day for you/ I'd sing you a morning/ Golden and true...."

enraged juvenile

The older I get the more juvenile I become. Like some self-absorbed child in the supermarket checkout line, I stamp my foot and holler as if my mother had denied me a candy bar ... in all these news stories I see day after day, WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE GROWN-UPS?

Of course the people and events I am hollering about all lay claim to the same yardstick I wish would get addressed -- these are people who think they are in fact grown-ups. I, from my increasingly juvenile standpoint beg to differ ... big time!

-- Sarah Palin has announced she will support Donald Trump in his Republican bid to become president ... or anyway become more notable in the public eye. Sarah Palin ... where the fuck are the grown-ups?! Donald Trump ... where the fuck are the grown-ups?! Both of these people fall into the dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks category and yet here are the media and other agencies taking them seriously ... as a means of showing 'balance' in news reporting, I guess. The 24-hour news cycle means that there is not enough data to fill the space so ... well, every juvenile snippet is worth the time and effort to take seriously.

-- In Iraq, "the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been reduced to rubble, yet another victim of Islamic State’s relentless destruction of heritage sites it considers heretical." I'm sorry, but wrecking other people's day dreams is juvenile and cruel. Some adult needs the capacity to step in and say "no." The news media might once have done that, but the news media no longer have the integrity.

And there are other examples of stuff that leaves me stamping a five-year-old foot.

As with most "grown-ups," the definition of what qualifies as juvenile varies. Mostly, I think a line should be drawn at death: If you cannot act on the premise that no one wants to die and hence killing is a line-draw-er, what sort of kindergarten world is this? If you cannot acknowledge the importance -- and, yes, flaws as well -- of what will support and nourish the nation, isn't this an idiocy worth stamping a foot about?

Choleric and juvenile ... just stop it, for Christ's sake!

Be more like me!

Give me my chocolate!

In my dreams, right?

monthly column

Below is this month's somewhat dough-y column for the local Daily Hampshire Gazette. Scalpels are no longer my strong suit.


On Jan. 4, the Gazette ran a front-page picture of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders as he made a weekend appearance at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The candidate was shown surrounded by galvanized, sign-waving supporters whose placards read, “A Future to Believe In.” The photo bore a big-type over-line that quoted Sanders’ saying, “People want change.” 

On that same Jan. 4, the BBC ran a lengthy investigation into the widely believed tribal tales about a minute but horrific fish that swims in the depths and shallows of South America’s Amazon River.

Tales of the candiru appear to find their origins in the early 19th century. Briefly, the candiru, which is real, is said to seek out a man’s unwary urine stream, follow its airborne up-current course to the source, enter the penis and feast from within. With time, the fish may work its way up to the bladder, where, if unchecked, an excruciating death can result. Remedies vary from amputation to herbal teas.

Ladies, do not feel left out. You too are reputed to be at risk if urinating in the Amazon. One variation of the candiru legend is that the fish are attracted by the mere scent of urine in the water. But when it comes to emphasis and balance, it is men who have told and embellished the “history” of the candiru and we all know how men feel about their exceptional apps.

In all of this, the BBC’s question was: Is any of it even remotely true?

At no point does the BBC report flatly discount the ravages attributed to the candiru. Instead, the article amasses enough circumstantial and logical evidence to allow Marine Biologist Stephen Spotte to conclude that the likelihood of a candiru swimming up an arching urinal stream and then actualizing its horrific mission is “about the same as being struck by lightning while simultaneously [being] eaten by a shark.” All of this brought me back to Bernie Sanders and his enthusiasts ... of which I am one.

Isn’t it true that there are some stories or assumptions that are so alluring that no amount of reason can dislodge them? “People want change.” The line swims upstream in the mind and is every bit as enticing and benevolent and convincing in its hopes as the candiru is in its largely unsubstantiated depredations.

“Change,” to borrow and corrupt a line from Beatle John Lennon, “is what happens while you were busy planning for change.”No one can foretell the future, so believing in an envisioned tomorrow is more a matter of personal choice and socially cohesive enjoyment and less a matter based in a quantifiable reality. What is for-sure is as deeply important as it may be deeply flawed. But how many are willing to take a personal responsibility for the folk tales and fishy stories about “change?” 

For my money, Bernie Sanders addresses matters that are more like national issues and less like insulting folk-tale vulgarities or religious posturing. Education, taxation, climate, jobs, income disparity, infrastructure and the willingness to create yet another war are honest issues in my mind and Sanders touches on them without telling me where he goes to church. If morality or political integrity could actually be deduced from church attendance, what sort of story would that tell?

Anyway, I like Bernie Sanders, but I am old enough not to love him.

Nor is politics the only realm in which fish stories get their hooks into a wide swath of public approval. Consider the “War Department” and its comforting transition to the “Department of Defense.” Or perhaps a “life insurance” industry whose very existence relies on individuals’ willingness to drop dead. Or the bevies of ecclesiastics who say their “god is unknowable” and then proceed to tell you all about him/her/it and add, perhaps, that they are the only credible link between what is unknown and those who wish to know it.

Isn’t it important at some point to step away from warm and wonderful fish stories and ask who is generating this warmth, this truth, this euphoric sense of for-sure?

Think back four years to the last presidential election and the “future you can believe in.” 

I have nothing against a good fish story, but I wonder if it is a basis on which to make serious decisions. Your sense of “change” may be similar to or dissimilar from mine. Either way, an unwillingness to step away and take responsibility for my own fish stories is to invite dissatisfaction and worse down the road.

For the moment, then, I say, “Go ahead, Bernie. Tell me a well-intentioned fish story and I promise to applaud. But I also promise to run a reality check on the wily progress of yet another much-applauded fish.
Meet him now or meet him later, the devil — my very own devil — is in the details.

And without precautions, perhaps my devil can even swim upstream.

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears on the third Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at
To read the BBC story, visit

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

rethinkng addiction

Passed along in email:

largest prime number ... for now

A computer in Missouri has discovered the largest known prime number, 274,207,281– 1. It is about 22 million digits long, 5 million digits longer than the previous largest known prime, which was discovered in January 2013.
Prime numbers are numbers that are divisible only by themselves and one, such as 2, 3, 5, 7, 11 and 13. The search for the highest known prime is a long-established mathematical quest, of interest now more as a test of computing power rather than for any practical use of the number itself. It’s a fun challenge too.

oh... my...god !!!!!!!

Tonight, at last, all of us can sleep better....

-- Sarah Palin, the one-time vice-presidential candidate and in some eyes the hands-down first-place contestant in any dumb-and-dumber political pageant, has decided to endorse Donald Trump for U.S. president.

-- And, as  if that weren't breath-taking enough, Pyongyang announced that North Korea has invented a hangover-free alcoholic beverage.

I double-dare anyone to make up a fiction more stunning than these two (apparent) bits of fact!

This is heavy-duty SERENDIPITY!

How long will we have to wait before someone taps Kim and Sarah for a June wedding?


Worries ....

I worry for my daughter.

I worry for my son.

Worry takes a lot of energy, much of which has dwindled over time.

I do it anyway.

elite decisions

Under a headline that reads, "A world divided: Elites descend on Swiss Alps amid rising inequality," Reuters offers this story this morning:

Politicians and business leaders gathering in the Swiss Alps this week face an increasingly divided world, with the poor falling further behind the super-rich and political fissures in the United States, Europe and the Middle East running deeper than at any time in decades.
Just 62 people, 53 of them men, own as much wealth as the poorest half of the entire world population and the richest 1 percent own more than the other 99 percent put together, anti-poverty charity Oxfam said on Monday.
Significantly, the wealth gap is widening faster than anyone anticipated, with the 1 percent overtaking the rest one year earlier than Oxfam had predicted only a year ago.

Isn't it nice and isn't it consoling that the "elites" should address a problem of their own making? I just know things will get better ... as long as none of their oxen get gored.

And you thought NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) was a whine reserved for the less affluent.

"Gulf War Syndrome"

By denying that something's going on, the government's behaving in a way that's morally wrong. They're not respecting the people who went to war for this country and continue to suffer.
Gulf War Syndrome has a name and it has certifiable symptoms that plague swaths of those who participated in the Gulf War of the early 1990's. And yet no one has been able to nail down the cause-and-effect that might allow for treatment, according to a BBC Magazine article. Is it psychosomatic? Is it physiological? No one in 15-plus years has nailed it down.

Veterans, as is so often the case, are left twisting in the wind -- receiving benefits in some cases, but still feeling like shit and marginalized.

If you don't look, it's not there. Veil heaped on veil.

When it comes to war, I can't think of a better up-summing than the old, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time." The only difficulty with that, of course, is that veterans do the time while criminals wring their policy-making hands and claim to 'protect' us with yet another conflict they refuse to take responsibility for..

Monday, January 18, 2016

braving the flames

A man rides a horse through the flames during the "Luminarias" annual religious celebration on the eve of Saint Anthony's day, Spain's patron saint of animals, in the village of San Bartolome de Pinares, northwest of Madrid, Spain, January 16, 2016. According to tradition that dates back 500 years, people ride their horses through the narrow cobblestone streets of this small village to purify the animals with the smoke of the bonfires. Picture taken January 16, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera

sex education

There is something crisp and enjoyable about the secret-laced reflections of a sexual health nurse.
... I will never, ever, laugh at your junk. I’ve seen enough genitals now to know that we are all truly unique. No one has a flawless lady garden, and despite what many like to believe, the perfect penis does not exist. No, not even yours. So go ahead, wax your flaps, bleach your anus, tattoo the entire cast of Fraggle Rock down there if you wish. But don’t do it on my behalf, I’m just here for the diagnostics.
The article in The Guardian is written by "anonymous" but has the ring of authenticity.

'the fix is in'

Somewhat blurry allegations suggest that match-fixing has been part and parcel of the world of professional tennis. No names seem to have been named nor dates supplied but the data amassed by the BBC and BuzzFeed News have jostled yet another fan-based presumption of unblemished athletic activity. The Tour de France, track events ... and now this. Is there nothing that isn't other than what it seems? It's depressing ... and please save your TED-talk breath!

But I suppose there's a bright side in a manner of speaking: Oxfam reports that "62 people in the world had as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population [which totals roughly 7.3 billion]." Those who find nothing deeply dangerous about this should by all means vote for or throw their support behind the American presidential candidate Donald Trump. Not that Trump's political star needs burnishing as the political primaries gather steam, but I doubt he ever met a vote he would turn away.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

wealth disparity

The richest 1% now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined, according to Oxfam.
It uses data from Credit Suisse from October for the report, which urges leaders meeting in Davos this week to take action on inequality.
Oxfam also calculated that the richest 62 people in the world had as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population.
It's not exactly new and yet it still takes your breath away.

My guess is that anyone who imagines there isn't going to be a blood bath is living in Disneyland. This time the "terrorists" are well-groomed ... and far more frightening.

just a bit of magic

It may feel like some odd serendipity when it is nothing more than a bit of dreamy imagination, but the above image, passed along in email this morning, seemed to dovetail gently and appropriately with the chance encounter with the word "scry" yesterday.

To the best of my knowledge, I had never seen the word "scry" before. At first blush, I wanted to save it against a day when I might once more play a game of Scrabble. But then there was the definition and various descriptions:
Verb: scry; 3rd person present: scries; past tense: scried; past participle: scried; gerund or present participle: scrying:
-- foretell the future using a crystal ball or other reflective object or surface.
Magic, magical, fairy tale, oracle, superstition, folklore, tea leaves, truth-is-weirder-than-fiction, Tarot, gullible ... all this and more like it floated gently. It beckoned, as does the picture. It was enjoyable.

It did not make me wish to insist it was true and it did not make me wish to insist it wasn't true.

To see the same thing in a different way is magical, somehow. And a simultaneous and quasi-hidden meaning ... well, wouldn't it sometimes be fun to pull back the veil and find ... who knows what? Perhaps there is a veil, perhaps not: Either way insistence on either magic or lack of magic seems to fall short of some not-quite-other truth.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

writer's whine

As the rain plip-plops on the aluminum window sills, I growl and grumble and feel flummoxed.

The format of the column I want to write this month is sketched in the mind, but fitting the pieces together within it is all snaggle-toothed and messy.

I do not believe in "complex subjects." I do believe that if the subject is not well-enough known it can be excused as "complex."

So I go over and over things, shortening the sentences and applying other tweaks. Maybe I am simply wrong-headed in whatever proposition I am trying to support. Some things really are just garbage.

But I persist ... and gnash the teeth I wish would close neatly.


Friday, January 15, 2016

uncharted territory

Every moment is uncharted territory.

No where, perhaps, is this more evident than in old age, when there seems to be more time to live the reality and less energy to give a TED talk on the nostrum.

Literally, uncharted territory. No one knows what's coming "next" or "then." And, as well, no one knows what is "now."

If I don't know, what the hell is this insistence on thinking or acting as if somehow I could elude or sidestep or outflank this rock-solid reality? If every moment, present or future, is uncharted territory ... well, isn't this a good realization and a time to revise the energies expended on pretending that my thoughts, words and deeds were ... uhhhh ... meaningful?

And much as anyone might revise the "meaningful" label, so too s/he might revise the "meaningless" toe tag.

It's as if life sat comfortably by a crackling fire and observed without rancor, "It's none of your goddamned business."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Pastafarian gets his wish

A man in Russia who identifies himself as a 'pastafarian' has won the right to wear a colander on his head in his driving licence photograph.
Andrei Filin is a follower of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - a light-hearted United States-based faith which satirises organised religion.
Mr Filin said that the kitchenware was part of his religion
In other countries, such observances have likewise been allowed.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster and disciple Pastafarians was apparently invented in 2005 by Bobby Henderson as a counterpoint to the dismal array of religiosities otherwise available.

poor get .....

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The income gap afflicting major U.S. cities goes beyond the problem of rising paychecks for those at the top: Pay has plummeted for those at the bottom.
Many of the poorest households still earn just a fraction of what they made before the Great Recession began in late 2007. Even as the recovery gained momentum in 2014 with otherwise robust job growth, incomes for the bottom 20 percent slid in New York City, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Washington and St. Louis, according to an analysis of Census data released Thursday by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

Nikki Haley

For reasons as flimsy as a milk-weed seed, I like South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, the Republican who offered a counter-point to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday. In my flimsy mind, Haley provided some welcome counterpoint to the utter flatulence and Islamic-State rhetoric of other Republican presidential hopefuls. True, she is carrying some negative baggage when it comes to education and health care, but at least she seems to be someone who can think about and defend her positions. She seems to care about the country. It doesn't hurt that she is a handsome woman.

Some Republicans have dubbed Haley as apostate when it comes to representing Republican values ... which, as far as I can figure out, the minority Republicans have yet to enunciate in a coherent and convincing form. By calling out Donald Trump (the leading Republican contender at the moment) and his various vulgarities, Haley speaks well of a Republican party that conceded four years ago that it needed to widen its magnetism to include minorities and women.

Haley may not be as smart as the Democrats' darling, Elizabeth Warren, but she strikes me (based, as I say on evidence I have no inclination to bolster) as a person, like Warren, of substance. I like to think that even the party I dislike cares something for the country -- the whole country -- it seeks to administer.

Some small voice in my ill-informed mind says, "Nikki Haley for President!" It isn't going to happen and if it did, she would get stomped. I wouldn't be surprised if she got a vice-presidential nod, behind some candidate more deserving of a VP profession.

It's all pie in the sky, but in this fleeting and ill-informed moment, I like Nikki Haley.

And now I have to work on my column....

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

human rights lawyer arrested

And in the nobody-rich-ever-got-that-way-by-being-nice category, there is the story of Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu.
Chinese authorities have formally arrested China's most prominent woman human rights lawyer, accusing her of subverting the state, her lawyer said on Wednesday, as part of a crackdown on activists who have helped people fight for their legal rights.
The lawyer, Wang Yu, was taken into custody last July and accused the next month of inciting subversion and "causing a disturbance".
On Wednesday, Wang's mother received a notice, dated Monday, from police in the northern city of Tianjin, said Wang's lawyer, Li Yuhan. Tianjin police declined to comment when reached by telephone.
Wang is the best-known human rights lawyer targeted in an unprecedented nationwide sweep by Chinese police last July, during which hundreds of lawyers were detained. A formal arrest usually leads to a trial and conviction by China's party-controlled courts.
Here in the U.S., China is paid the most fawning interest as an economic behemoth. No problem with that, perhaps: China is an economic behemoth. But the country's implicit and explicit bid to be seen, therewith, as progressive and fair and constitutionally-grounded is belied over and over again.

Another great culture brought low by its own imagined greatness. "Causing a disturbance," my ass!

a dumbass gene

Indian comedian Kiku Sharda has been arrested for mimicking a popular religious guru.
The actor has been sent to judicial custody for two weeks for allegedly hurting the "religious sentiments" of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's followers.
Sharda mimicked the guru in a TV appearance on 27 December.

The comedian apologized, but a spokesman for the guru's ashram was quoted as saying, "you cannot commit a crime and apologise. The law has no such provision."

So much for the compassion that wends its way through some spiritual persuasions.

Why is it that people or institutions who claw their way into the human spotlight seem to be invariably endowed with a dumbass gene that is astounded when some dare to question or spoof their ascendancy? Religion is pretty good at this, but is hardly alone.

"golden years"

Without, for a moment, getting sucked into encomiums or diatribes, I wonder who came up with the phrase "golden years" and what truth they were trying to express or repress.

Seriously, who manufactured it and what did it mean?

"Golden" has a positive spin to it, so there was something happy in the phrase. But what happiness was known or envisioned? Was it simply not-working, a time after retirement ... after spending a third of a lifetime in gainful employment? Was it seeing the kids out the door? If either of these are "golden," what qualities were ascribed to the times that were not golden?

It's peculiar.

Or was it perhaps a 'truth' based in the 'truth' that a thing is true if enough people say so ... or if I say so?

Was it a sop to the recognition that energies tend to flag, the body pulls in its hard-working horns and the unanswered question looms, "Now what?"

Why are these times "golden?" Is it an expression of fear and confusion or is there some positive golden-ness happy quotient the creator had in mind?

"Golden years" feels a bit like a person who has watched too many family sit-coms and become convinced that there actually are people who resolve rending issues in 30 minutes ... and how come I can't do that too? I'm not sure that's true, but it sort of feels that way.

Was the creation of "golden years" an assertion of maintaining control in the same way anyone might imagine they had had control during the non-golden days past?

Minus the crabbiness or the hallelujahs, I just wonder. Who made up "golden years" and why?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"God is for everybody..."

Denied entry to temples and forced to use separate wells, low-caste Hindus in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh first tattooed their bodies and faces more than 100 years ago as an act of defiance and devotion....
Ramnamis, as the followers are called, first wrote the Hindu god Ram’s name on their bodies as a message to higher-caste Indians that god was everywhere, regardless of a person’s caste or social standing. Now 76, Tandon’s purple tattoos have faded over decades under the harsh sun of his village of Jamgahan. In the nearby village of Gorba, Punai Bai, 75, spent more than two weeks aged 18 having her full body tattooed using dye made from mixing soot from a kerosene lamp with water.
“God is for everybody, not just for one community,” says Bai....

pissing off the vegans

It has clocked up over 400,000 views on YouTube since it was uploaded just two days ago and has gone viral on social media, but not everyone is happy with the latest lamb ad from Meat and Livestock Australia.
The ad features SBS newsreader and social media sensation Lee Lin Chin as she masterminds a plan to bring Australians home for Australia Day so they can eat lamb.
However, one particular scene has already been the subject of dozens of complaints.
It shows a team of special agents breaking into a New York apartment and using a blow torch on a table when the occupant protests that he is vegan.
Families are being ripped asunder and children are starving to death at the hands of the governments that rule their territories in the Middle East and elsewhere. Millions are migrating into a stressed and confused Europe, not to mention drowning as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea with the help of Shylocks who charge what the market will bear. There are fires and earthquakes and shortages of water. And everywhere there are well-dressed men who lay claim to doing their humanitarian best while perpetrating the inhuman worst ... it's exhausting and I am grateful to those who try to mitigate such scenes.

And I take refuge in the small kerfuffles that have some element of ludicrousness combined with a grasp-ability. A respite from serious thought ... of which I am decreasingly capable or willing.

Aside from anything else, the ad above is resoundingly professional, even if I don't quite get it. 


To say I understand it would be a stretch, but the idea that the old incandescent lightbulb might be ripe for a new application after having been beat out by the new-and-improved CFL or LED version ... well, I guess the old fart in me likes discoveries that hark back to a time when I grew up and survived the wasteful, dangerous and morally questionable conditions of my surroundings ... which then turn out not to be all that bad.
US researchers say they have developed a technique that can significantly improve the efficiency of the traditional incandescent lightbulb. These older bulbs have been phased out in many countries because they waste huge amounts of energy as heat.
But scientists at MIT have found a way of recycling the waste energy and focussing it back on the filament where it is re-emitted as visible light.

getting it right

No doubt it is true -- two wrongs don't make a right.

But then there's the question of whether two rights don't make a wrong ... as for example,

Ben Franklin once opined, "Early to bed/ And early to rise/ Makes a man healthy/ Wealthy and wise."

To which my now-dead friend Bill McKechnie appended: "Early to bed/ And early to rise.../ And you never see any of your friends."

Monday, January 11, 2016

zero and infinity ... ski slow

Too egotistically, perhaps, I suspect there comes a time in life when a man or woman has learned enough: The plate is full of all the nourishment needed an adding more requires too much effort for too little result. Little and large, all the wisdom and all the ignorance is in hand to complete the jigsaw puzzle. When that time is, I have no clue.

For example, there was a very minute moment when I was about 12. I was skiing on a public slope with my classmates. It wasn't much of a hill and it was hard to get up the speed that injected the excitement and whiz I loved.

On one walking return to the top of the hill, a man I did not know called me to his perch prior to his own run down the hill. There was nothing insidious about it, he just called me over to where he stood and said without preamble or epilogue, "Look, kid: Any asshole can ski fast. It takes a good skier to ski slow."

The word "asshole" caught my attention. Adults didn't generally talk that way to kids in that time. And after my attention had been grabbed, there was the substance of his observation: Was it true? I wanted to find out and spent the rest of the skiing time experimenting. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time falling down, something I seldom did when I skied fast.

The essence of that bit of advice, I sometimes think, dogged me for the rest of my life. Any asshole can go fast, but what happens when you go slow? What happens when the bling is set aside and ... and ... and there is just this one very slow, very deliberate, very invisible-making activity?

The echoes of this query were all very real. They touched me. I was willing to be touched by them. Maybe, as some will suggest, it was just another snazzy way of peeking at death, but it didn't feel like that. If this was death, it was alive-death, not just some religio-philosophical fire cracker. Ski slow and see ... but see what?

Sometimes I think the world is divided in two -- those who are wooed and won by infinity (what's beyond that?) and those who are wooed and won by zero (what's before that?) Yes, I too looked at the stars or counted some bigger and bigger and bigger numbers, but I was always wooed and won by zero... by skiing slower and slower and slower until ... is this or is this not skiing? What ... is ... this?

These are just some bits on nourishment on my plate -- stuff I return to from time to time like old friends. But they are so old now that, although I find them nourishing and companionable, I no longer fidget as once. Others, I can imagine, could give a shit about all this, but they probably have their own bits and pieces of a smorgasbord they are willing to accede to.

Enough is enough. No need to add more on a plate that is already heaped high.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Afghanistan's "ghost soldiers"

With friends like this, who needs enemies?
Afghan forces are struggling to man the front lines against a resurgent Taliban, in part because of untold numbers of "ghost" troops who are paid salaries but only exist on paper....
He estimates that some 40 percent of registered forces don't exist, and says the lack of manpower has helped the Taliban seize 65 percent of the province -- Afghanistan's largest -- and threaten the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Those men who do serve face even greater danger because of the no-shows. In the last three months alone, some 700 police have been killed and 500 wounded, he said.

out for dinner

This morning, I feel a bit like a camel that has loaded up on water prior to a desert crossing after my younger son and I went out for a too-expensive and too big meal that we both enjoyed.  It seems that last night's good food -- which someone else prepared and for which someone else washed the dishes -- is lying doggo in my stomach, waiting to be used.

A lot of money and a good meal. Haven't done that in a coon's age. Chatting and munching is a fun pastime.

Came home and got transfixed watching the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cincinnati Bengals (18-16) in a very-cranky and excitingly-sloppy football game that kept me up way past my bedtime.

Such are the adventures in the land of old farts.