Monday, February 29, 2016

a bit of Donald Trump fluff

Snapped off the following bit of fluff a couple of evenings back and submitted it to The Guardian on a whim. Since, on reflection, the submission strikes me as highly unlikely, I thought I'd inflict the cotton candy on the more forgiving space here:


Americans can genuflect with the best of them when the mere mention of "Downton Abbey" or some other aristocratic tableau is brought to bear. There is something so soothing and elevating and downright dignified about all those well-scrubbed and well-heeled and well-controlled denizens of the social stratosphere.

And although I have sworn off the opiod of "Downton Abbey" in its latest seasonal incarnation, still I find myself longing for that sense of dignity when listening to the political hullabaloo here in the United States.

If there were ever a man better suited to everything the European aristocracy might look down upon, I can't think of one better than Donald Trump. Not only is he obscenely rich, but he manages to fold in a stupidity that is truly mesmerizing. Oh, and did I mention loud? Donald Trump is unabashedly loud in stark contrast to the almost-Japanese reticence of the upper-crust Brits or French.

The man is an embarrassment to the country I belong to. Somehow I imagine the French as being particularly catty and I can't say that I blame them. On the other hand, it was the French who managed to build the 500,000 square feet of Versailles with precisely zero toilets as we know them today. The smell was pretty potent, much as Donald Trump's brickbats are.

Where is the dignity and careful consideration that hunger and education and healthcare and employment and the endless munificence of war deserve in my wishful mind? I don't give a damn where anyone goes or doesn't go to church: Aren't there issues deserving of Lord Grantham's fictitious gravitas?

I think there are.

But I am also somewhat schizophrenic. On the one hand, a little suave certainty, delivered in measured tones, would go a long way to speaking to the whole nation as opposed to addressing some raucous constituency that is fed up with the Lord Grantham wannabes of the past. On the other hand, the ingrown blindness of a lineage that rarely sees beyond its cosseted being has a kind of stupidity that is likewise galling: Scratch the surface and reveal the incestuous politesse that rides roughshod over honest difficulties.

In the midst of the blitzkrieg that is Donald Trump, there is a part of me that loves "Cinderella" and other fairy tales that live happily ever after and have a certain quiet dignity and kindness to them. The tones and notes of the 'good ol' boys' in their good ol' ties calls out to me. And to remain aboveboard, yes, there still is a part of me that thinks anyone with a British accent is, ipso facto, smarter than I am. True, George Orwell, that pin-wielding gadfly in the balloon factory, is a hero of mind, yet even he knew the fine art of five-course silverware. How else could he be so effective?

Is there a middle ground in all of this -- some dignified person not given to bouts of mindless volume on the one hand or consumed by an underlying insistence that "l'état, c'est moi" on the other?

I considered suggesting we give the colonies back to the Brits, but that seems a harsh possibility. So perhaps the answer lies in borrowing someone like Michael Kitchen, an actor whose TV persona as Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle in "Foyle's War" was credible and quiet and firm ... and could think.

Yes, I think he would do quite nicely.

I just want someone to lie to me with a British accent.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

leg- and ass-room

Yes, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton trounced Bernie Sanders in South Carolina Saturday. Yes, the wracking obscenity of human migration is unremitting even as the bombings abate in the Middle East. Yes, an Indian man fatally slit the throats of 14 family members.

Yes, there are a lot of serious stories out there.

And yet what caught my attention was the tale of Democrat Senator Charles Schumer who has vowed to try to pressure America's airlines and provide enough legroom/assroom on their flights.
The New York Democrat told The Associated Press the airlines have been slowly cutting down legroom and seat width....
Schumer said the average distance between rows of seats has dropped from 35 inches in the 1970s to a current average of about 16.5 inches. He argues that the requirement is needed to stop airlines from shrinking seats and seat pitch, the distance between rows of seats on airplanes, even further.
It's the small and practical stuff -- the lies allowed to go unchallenged -- that can stick in a disaffected craw. "Chocolate" cake that is barely chocolate ... that sort of thing. If no one can get the little and obvious stuff right, what hope is there for the big and complex matters?

It seems unlikely I will ever ride in a plane again, but I applaud Schumer in his quixotic quest. He will in all likelihood be shot down by airline donors (we paid for your political victory, now it's time for you to pay us back), but at least there is some passing nod to those for whom government was once confected ... you know ... the suckers.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

if a holy man were holy....

If a holy man were holy, would he think of himself as holy?

It seems unlikely since thinking of himself as holy would smack rather of arrogance than holiness.

And if a holy man did not think of himself as holy, by what fiat would others be correct in ascribing holiness to him?

What a peculiar matter.

Utterly frivolous and yet serious too since individuals can contort their lives in countless ways in the search for a holy -- not always religious -- home.

the Orkneys

North Ronaldsay is the last of the Orkneys, the northernmost island before Shetland and Fair Isle. Around 50 people live here full time, plus another 20 or so second-homers. Nearly all the full-timers are well into retirement age, which means that Muir and a handful of others do all the jobs because there’s nobody else – and because he loves this place with the whole of himself.
Most residents are past retirement age and most do multiple jobs and sometimes the wind is so strong it can knock a man flat. Currently there is one student in the school.
Maureen appreciates the size of the island and the opportunity for more family time. Plus, she says, “I like not having loads of supermarkets and shopping centres around me, because the kids grow up not thinking that they need to have something. It’s not that my kids don’t have junk, but they don’t get it in a constant stream. Other kids seem to need it like they need air. I wanted them to know the difference between needing it and just wanting it. And also to open their minds up to something different. If they’re living in a place where there aren’t loads of kids, whatever they decide they’re interested in, they don’t have to clear it with their peer group. It shows them it’s OK to be different. You can’t help but be different as the only child at the school – but it means that being different in other areas of their life isn’t such a big leap.”
Billy Muir, 77, a man with at least 20 jobs.
 It is one thing to talk the talk and another to walk the walk. But for those who walk, it is just walking, isn't it?

animal lovers

In the generalized conversational sense, dyed-in-the-wool "animal-lovers" almost invariably manage to excerpt from their tableau of affection at least one species. And you can sort of see why. Human beings, which are animals as well, can really be a pain in the patoot.

On meeting a dog or cat or falcon or elephant, there is a sense of relief: None of these is likely to lay out the scritchy-scratchy nuances of relationship or thought that human beings can. There is a bottom-line fuck-you to animals. They are what they are and they don't pretend to be anything else. You know where you stand. You may not like it, but there is a relief involved: The wiles of the Medicis are not a factor, however sneaky a Manx cat may be.

The entirely facile generalization above warrants a critique that any animal-lover may have close at hand, but which of us has not met the ass-over-appetite lover of cats who would clearly rather consort with felines than with a boyfriend or girlfriend? Intimacy is messy. 'Animals' are neat as a pin. They receive all attributions with a kind of blase certainty: Love 'em, hate 'em, extol or denigrate 'em and still they go about their business which, on occasion, rubs up against human perceptions.

On the one hand, wouldn't it be nice if human beings were as straightforward?

On the other hand, the human self-aggrandizement of animal-loving can get a bit cloying.

Not to the animals, of course.

Their hash is settled.

Fuck you ... in the sweetest tone of voice, of course.

nature photos from Guardian

A couple of Guardian photos of the week:
A saltwater crocodile encounters an oriental whip snake in the rainforest of West Java, Indonesia.

Friday, February 26, 2016

10 Great Ways to Embarrass Your Children

Even if they are never employed, there are some smile-worthy suggestions here.

fun and done

Like the neighborhood bunny that occasionally crosses the street outside my house, an idea for a bit of writing inserted itself in my mind yesterday and then insisted on being actualized. It was a little strange since the latest approach to writing is one of withdrawal rather than engagement.

Anyway, I wrote it up and submitted it to The Guardian, all in a couple of hours. It's just a bit of opinionated fluff, but finding the impetus to actually do it and then send it out was kind of fun. The prospects of publication strike me as small, but I liked submitting something to a publication I like.

The words seemed to pop onto the page without hindrance. So it used to be with writing stuff, but lately there's a sense that sweat and contrivance are necessary and sweat and contrivance are more energetic than I want to be.

Anyway, I got a computer-generated response that said there was a flood of submissions and I should not hold my breath. And that was fine: I felt no compunction to hold my breath in the first place. The old "one and done" encouragement had been replaced with a cousin, "fun and done."

A piece that found a hook in latter-day politics: "Lie to me with a British accent."

Thursday, February 25, 2016

riotous life in Death Valley

Parts of Death Valley, the driest place in North America, have exploded in a riot of color with a rare “superbloom” of millions of wildflowers....
The unusual spectacle, unofficially dubbed a superbloom, has been triggered by a series of storms in October that brought heavy rainfall to parts of the park, including a burst of 3in of rain in just five hours. Death Valley normally averages just 2in of rain a year.

getting things wrong

Somehow this day came on as "wrong" for me.

"Föhn," a word for which I have had a strange affection since I first read it (I think) in some Isak Dinesen/Karen von Blixen novel, does indeed refer to a warm wind, but the wind is not, as I had thought, moist.
A föhn or foehn is a type of dry, warm, down-slope wind that occurs in the lee (downwind side) of a mountain range.
I had wanted to use the word to describe the balmy breaths of this morning's dawn, but the definition of the word -- the dry quality -- defeated me. It was and remains moist today, no matter how softly warm.

As far as things to be wrong about go, this was a minor matter except to the extent that my affections felt miffed.

And then there had been some hope that there would be no latest version of yet another raid by the Gestapo-prone Israel. But no... I was wrong again: There it was, another terrorizing of another family under the guise of defending against a 'terrorism' in which Palestinians always brandish knives and Israelis fire guns and no one seems willing to call Israel out. Guns against knives and a scoreboard that reads like this:
Twenty-eight people have been killed on the Israeli side in Palestinian stabbings, shootings and car ramming attacks, while at least 166 Palestinians have been killed, including 119 people said by Israel to be attackers.
Perhaps part of the reason for not calling out the Israelis is that if someone did question the "terrorism" defense in Israel, Israel might rightfully point to the terrorism foundations in the accuser's own backyard. Whereas if I don't tell on you and you don't tell on me, our effectiveness -- like that of the Gestapo -- remains convenient and effective for both of us.

It might be thought that with the treatment meted out by the Nazis and Israel's understandable demand that that treatment be remembered ... that Israel would take a lesson in what NOT to do, what NOT to become. Instead, the treatment of the marginalized and demeaned Palestinians seems to show that the lesson learned is the precise opposite. Ah well, I guess the world can take comfort in the fact that Israel has not yet constructed any ovens.

And while on the subject of Nazi parallels -- and the 'wrong' gloom that that can convey -- looking at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, a millionaire real estate mogul, sends out some probably imprecise echoes.

Before Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany ahead of World War II, the aristocractic military class was dismissive of the upstart déclassé corporal so boldly angling for a power he did not deserve. How could he possibly be taken seriously, this bourgeois twerp who lacked the dueling scar on the cheek that so many aristocrats displayed? It was unthinkable. The man lacked what we might think of as a "Downton Abbey" sense of fitness and honor.

Trump -- who has not written the kind of blueprint book that Hitler did -- continues to consume the news columns with his electoral victories. No one asks him point blank for policies that might effect his bold statements (a wall between the U.S. and Mexico; the shutting down of immigration inflows, etc.) No one says he is a man without honor or caring for the country he claims to want to lead. Everyone crosses their fingers ... surely this vagabond must fall away from the political race ... but he doesn't. And the 'honorable' crowd is left with egg on its face... spotlessly upright but with egg on its face.

Oh well ... the grey day just seemed grey this morning.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

a nightmare realized

A three-metre long carpet python has attacked a six-year-old boy while he slept in the mid-New South Wales coastal town of Macksville.
The boy's mother Tammy woke to a "terrifying scream" and ran into the bedroom to find the snake wrapped around her son Tyler's belly.
If it weren't true, it's almost enough to remind me of an old Saturday Night Live TV skit that centered around a "land shark."

utterly naked

There’s nothing like an edgily sexual role to shake up the reputation of a former child star – as Daniel Radcliffe discovered in Equus (Credit: Equus)
No getting around it -- naked has its allure. But when it comes to sexy in general, it is what is covered that is sexy; what is naked is just, well, naked. Strange how people will run off to see others who are naked and yet, on arrival, be almost-gallingly disappointed.

I guess what brought this to mind was a BBC story about nudity on stage.
There’s nothing like the promise of naked flesh to shift tickets. So twigged Mrs Laura Henderson, owner of an ailing West End theatre in the 1930s – and she also got around the stage censor by promising that her cast of nude young ladies wouldn’t move a muscle. The Windmill soon became the most popular theatre in town, its static, classical tableaux of de-robed lovelies proving more of a draw than any song-and-dance routine. Bare bottoms, it turned out, meant bums on seats – and the theatre was the only one not to close during World War Two.
Anyone who has had an orgasm knows that there is a difference between being utterly naked and just being naked.

news pandering

My wake-up ritual in the morning is pretty much the same each day: Take the obligatory pills, make coffee, have a smoke and some small exercise regimen and then spin through several wire services to get a sense of the day's news.

The last-named exercise begins with the Associated Press. It's the biggest, even as its quality dwindles. And the daily AP index item that galls me the worst each day is entitled "10 Things to Know for Today." It's lead-in reads, "Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today." This mawkish pandering appears to lend a hand to the busy and intellectually-challenged generation that feels naked without a smart phone of some sort. In fact, I suspect it is a desperate plea for plummeting advertising revenue: I'll just pretend to have your best interests at heart.

News, from where I sit, is a series of stories, chosen by editors who make their decisions consciously. They don't claim to be right or complete. They bite the bullet and make a choice. The reader is tasked with deciding what is important and what is not. One thing is for certain: The choice is not determined by what anyone else thinks or talks about... or, perhaps it is to some extent, but making a personal decision based on what someone else thinks or says is a fragile sort of existence in the end.

I read the Associated Press, the BBC, Reuters and The Guardian. I would read the Washington Post (which has a command of ordinary language) or The New York Times (whose self-referential outlook is a bit much to stomach) but there are too many hoops and not enough pay-back. 

Closest to my cup of tea is United Networks, a compendium of stories that, while narrow, simply puts the stories in headline form and links to the stories themselves. It is up to the reader to stop and bask. The narrowness of its links becomes a bit wearing, but at least it lacks the Fox News sniveling for attention.

Bit by bit, the old yardstick of who-what-when-where-why-and-how that used to guide news stories devolves into stories that are top-heavy with innuendo and a pretended ability to see and report not just (if ever) on what has happened but also on what will happen. I call it asshole reporting... a Department of Homeland Security approach.

My opinion is not so much important. What I do count as important is how stupid the next generation insists on being and which organizations will pander to that stupidity.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

chills, thrills and goosebumps

Just an interesting article about goosebumps.

stories crossing the border

Of all the various forms of accolade my mother's written work has received since she died and I was put in the position of fielding copyright correspondence, none has been quite so satisfying as the requests that seem to emanate from what feels like "out of left field."

Today, for example, there was an email from Czech Radio Prague seeking to jump through the copyright hoops that would allow a reading (on Czech radio???!!!) of "Mr. Death and the Redheaded Woman."
I’m writing to you on behalf of the Czech Radio Prague which would love to broadcast a radio reading of Mr. Death and the Redhead Woman [sic] by Helen Eustis. Would you please advise who holds the copyright, whom to negotiate the terms with?
How far and wide a good story can travel. The fact that the story came from my mother is not so much the point. The point is, she loved and sacrificed for stories and the result was, among other things, Czech Radio Prague. There appear, as well, to be readings on the Internet.

Nothing beats a good story.

You go girl!

Gloria Steinem interview

In my slipshod mind's eye, I see Gloria Steinem seated next to Dorothy Parker at an Algonquin Club gathering. Never mind that I have a very limited knowledge of either Steinem or the Algonquin Club. But in a Guardian interview, Steinem reiterates a line I think worthy of the pepper-pot Parker:
If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.
Right ... fucking ... on!

Vienna's pros and cons

Ah, Vienna.

On the one hand:
Edin Mehic was fined €70 ($77) for belching while standing close to a policeman in the city’s famous Prater Park.
On the other hand:
Vienna is the world’s best city to live in; Baghdad is the worst, and London, Paris and New York do not even make it into the top 35, according to international research into quality of life....
The study examined social and economic conditions, health, education, housing and the environment, and is used by big companies to assess where they should locate and how much they should pay staff.
Decisions, decisions.....

Monday, February 22, 2016

God vs. chocolate ... and the winner is...

Sheikh Jalaleddin al-Saghir took aim
 at Iraqis’ immoderate love of ‘Nestle’ –
 a generic term for chocolate bars.
 Photograph: Pierre Albouy/Reuters
Like any other religion, Islam can be top-heavy with solemnity. To an outsider, things like Sharia Law and entities like the religion police and the habit of wrapping up its women can seem ... well, maybe "perilously neurotic" is too much.

But if you want a test of religious conviction -- a challenge that any religion might benefit from -- look no further than the the metaphorical and literal raspberries directed at the Muslim cleric who suggested that the faithful cut back on their profligate spending on chocolate.

There it is ... the cat is out of the bag: In a contest between God and chocolate ....
Iraqis have ridiculed a cleric who said in a sermon that people should cut down on chocolate bars to fight the economic crisis....
A video of the sermon, in which Saghir suggests Iraqis could save 70% of their salaries if they tried a bit harder, has since gone viral, drawing widespread online anger and derision.

Mideast arms sales rise

At least the arms-makers are not going hungry:
The international transfer of weapons to the Middle East has risen dramatically over the past five years, with Saudi Arabia’s imports for 2011-15 increasing by 275% compared with 2006–10, according to an authoritative report.
Overall, imports by states in the Middle East increased by 61%; imports by European states decreased by 41% over the same period. Britain sold more weapons to Saudi Arabia than to any other country. Saudi Arabia is also the biggest US arms market and buys more American arms than British, the report shows.
Sell 'em weapons then despair of peace....

warm days

A couple of unseasonably-warm days with skitter-skattering of sparrow perched on the hedges, heads shifting left and right as if considering whether it were too early to begin gather the bits and pieces with which to construct a nest.

Also a smattering of the birds that crap on cars ... grackles or whatever they are.

It's early for housing starts, but, given global warming, who knows?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sufi-tinted images

A dreamy series of Sufi-inspired images: ...

Somehow the series reminds me of the Indian chief in the old movie "Little Big Man" -- a chief who was wont to express his enthusiasms by saying, "My heart soars like a hawk."

time etc.

Time is just what happens then
And timelessness what happens now.
Either way, there's no escape....
Assuming anyone could find the cage
In the first place.


Soft and smooth and uninsistent as a mouse belly, I storytell this morning and everyone is just a rainbow. Rainbow literal; rainbow metaphorical. So colorful. So inclusive. But as I say, uninsistent: Beauty and comfort are not the point.

And at the end of the rainbow is a pot of gold. Which does not yearn for that pot of gold, a guaranteed treasure that could hardly be called a treasure since it is so personal/impersonal? Day after day, moment after moment ... seeking the gold at the end of the rainbow. A surcease and resting place, colorless and rife with color. At ... last!

At last a place where beginning and end are whipped together like egg whites. Is the end the beginning or the other way around? Death is minor. Birth is minor. But the twinkling.....

Ah, the twinkling. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Umberto Eco dies

Umberto Eco
I guess it is what a man or woman loves in the small moments that draws me close, fleshing out whatever accomplishments may have accompanied a lifetime. Yes, there are the accomplishments, which may be formidable, but without the love or scones or devotion to checkers, I feel somehow defrauded by any post-mortem descriptions.

Of the three obituaries of Umberto Eco I read this morning, only one even mentioned he was married and none said anything of children or friends. Eco died Friday in Milan at 84. The philosopher/writer was perhaps best known for "The Name of the Rose," which was later made into a moderately good movie with Sean Connery. The book, though less so than "Foucault's Pendulum" that followed, was injected and laced with intellectual curlicues, medieval lore and partially-translated Latin snippets. He also wrote widely for magazines and newspapers.

He was quoted as saying he wrote [novels?] "for masochists," an apt observation if ever there were one. How dense, how comfortably distant, how intelligent, how largely scone-less... another (from where I sit) example of the desire to talk whatever difficulties life presents to death.

And yet he was also quoted as saying
"It's only publishers and some journalists who believe that people want simple things," Eco said. "People are tired of simple things. They want to be challenged."
I kind of like that. But I wonder at the challenges that are accepted in any given life. Shall it be the intellectually ornate stuff that seems to fill the road ahead, the Gawd-I-wish-I-were-as-erudite-as-Umberto-Eco stuff? The talk-it-to-death stuff? The stuff that seems to hold out a promise that if you talk long enough and precisely enough, things will magically fall under your control?

How many, I wonder, accept the greater challenges that come from within -- the questions that are far from chiseled and clipped and carefully combed? Sure, they're simple, but complexity hardly defines a realm in which true answers emerge. What a bit of diversion is intellectual complexity when seeking to evade the gnawing of a challenge like, "How can I be happy?"

What challenge does anyone willingly take up? Will it be the easy and ornate or the plain and unadorned. It's nice to be smart, but the cowardice always whispers in complexity, I suspect.

Friday, February 19, 2016

a little luxury

A little luxury is luxurious....

Last night, my daughter treated my wife, my younger son and me to dinner at a restaurant with an Italian name. I wondered whether the waiter, an American kid if ever there were one, had changed his announced name to "Carmine" to fit his environment.

How nice to have someone else cook the food, serve the food and clean up after the food... and the only real exercise included eating and talking. I could get used to that ... not to mention that the chicken Marsala was pretty good.

My mother once imagined that the greatest change in the 20th century was the loss of servants. Perhaps she had a point. On the other hand, she may have been off by a mile.

porn industry dodges a bullet

California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health rejected proposed regulations Thursday that would have required actors in all pornography films statewide to use condoms....
The problem, several speakers said, is that a large segment of their audience loses interest in a film when they see actors with condoms. "Like it or not, there a very real market demand for condomless sex," said one woman who identified herself as a sex worker.
Keeping things real in an unreal world....

Thursday, February 18, 2016

habituated to short-and-sweet

There is something grotesque about reducing blood-curdling human tragedies into short-'n'-sweet observations and yet when the mind is confronted with what it can do little or nothing about, I suppose it's also understandable.

And even when something does not rise to the level of a "tragedy," the abbreviation process invariably kicks in: Nothing is really as simple as the 141 characters of Twitter.

When it comes to the abbreviation process, and when it comes to the human tragedy that shows itself in the mass migrations in the Middle East, my mind finds its rest-and-relaxation point in the words of the Somali security officer who once observed, in connection with the piracies off his country's shores:
If you do not share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you.
I cannot really do much for the wretchedness playing out in the miasma of poverty, wealth, hunger, sickness and all the rest of it. Sharing poverty strikes a note I can hear. It seems to fit, so I allow it to fit so that then I don't really have to think.

I don't feel smug about my fortune-cookie surrender. But I admit I feel somehow lighter ....

I guess laziness will do that for you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

waning Catholicism in Ireland

The Roman Catholic Church is losing its unchallenged footing in Ireland, but for the moment, its control of primary education remains intact. The most Catholic country in the world is setting aside its reliance on the Vatican. The priest-abuse scandals no doubt fed the flames, but I wouldn't be surprised if just plain education (a la the Internet, for example) weren't more causative of the decline.
“The church is no longer in the ascendant. And once we get a system of education that isn’t dependent on religious patronage, its influence will wane further. There is political momentum on this, and the policy makers cannot ignore it any longer.”

monthly newspaper column

This thin bit of gruel ran today in the local newspaper under the headline "Crystal Ball Follies Across America."

It is not entirely clear to me why Madame Zuzu’s fortune-telling parlor should excite more legal and personal animosity than a political system that positively encourages its practitioners to pretend they can see into the future.

Wouldn’t it be more even-handed if politicians, like the fortune-tellers of Pennsylvania, were legally required to advertise their endeavors as being “for entertainment purposes only” if they wanted to remain on the right side of the law?

As State College, Pa., lawyer Matt McClenahen put it in an email, “Calling [fortune telling] ‘for entertainment purposes only’ creates plausible deniability. It is akin to an escort saying in an ad ‘any money exchanged is for my time and companionship and not for sex.’ Here in PA, the police do not seem at all interested in enforcing the law against charging money for fortune telling, communications with the dead, etc., whether or not the psychic uses the ‘for entertainment purposes only’ disclaimer. In fact, a lot of cops do not even know it is illegal. I suspect a lot of the psychics do not know it is illegal either.” 

Here in Massachusetts, the statutes make no implicit or explicit reference to the plausibility of fortune telling. Instead, fortune tellers are granted free legal sailing as long as they have obtained a license. 
Telling fortunes without such a license can cost up to $100.

Personally, I like Pennsylvania’s willingness to suggest its skepticism with the use of the word “entertainment:” Where fortune-telling is just a bit of fun, there is less need to exercise the heavy hand of either credulity or the law. But perhaps Massachusetts took a more cautious approach as the state considered the potent fortune-tellers lobby.

Whatever the case, it still strikes me as unreasonable to look skeptically at Madame Zuzu while listening with credulous awe to the political debates or stump speeches in the run-up to the 2016 presidential vote.

How much difference is there between communing with the dead and foreseeing what will happen “after I am president?” There is a difference between taking any of this seriously and recognizing that it is “for entertainment purposes only.” 

On the political front, consider trickle-down economics, the theory that what benefits business interests and wealthy individuals must trickle down and benefit the working man. To the best of my knowledge, there is no supporting evidence that such a thesis is actually true. Instead, as suggested by the International Monetary Fund, “[I]f the income share of the top 20 percent (the rich) increases, then GDP growth actually declines over the medium term, suggesting that the benefits do not trickle down. In contrast, an increase in the income share of the bottom 20 percent (the poor) is associated with higher GDP growth.”

How significantly different is trickle-down economics from Madame Zuzu’s promise of a tall, dark stranger in your future? The only economics involved in either prognostication seems to be that you will end up paying for it.

Nor can the left rest on its smug laurels. How different is Bernie Sanders’ “change we can believe in” and Madame Zuzu’s channeling of Uncle Harry’s voice from the far side of the grave? People can and have believed anything they like and if the past is any indication, belief has not proved to be a guarantor of solutions.

Where both fortune-tellers and politicians are legally obliged to wear a “for entertainment purposes only” button, solemnity can take a holiday and people are less likely to get royally duped.

There are those who may argue that Madame Zuzu is not a serious woman — that she is getting rich based on the gullibility of others; that she has no wider purpose and agenda; that she isn’t civic-minded; or that she is a fraud and civil society deserves not to get defrauded.

Try rereading the above paragraph while replacing “Madame Zuzu” with a favorite politician.

Civil society deserves not to be defrauded and yet, in the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections, so much energy is given over to asking for the truth while demanding to be lied to.

“No one can predict the future” is not just a figure of speech.

But it sure can be fun.

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

where the 'spoof' ascends

A spoof is roughly a humorous exaggeration or reweaving of a trend or fact. It relies for its humorous effect on a shared or presumed understanding that is carried to an extreme in search of rueful laughter.

Yesterday, a friend sent along the video posted below. It seems to be a spoof and yet what fell in on me like a brick wall was the question, "What if the shared or presumed understanding no longer existed and the facts of the spoof were all that remained?" What if well-intentioned ignorance and idiocy were the norm and a saner and more thoughtful world were simply a bit of insanity?

The thought scared the crap out of me because it meant that my connection with others was once more being diminished. My 'sanity' was in serious question. My presumptions -- cultural, intellectual and emotional -- were flat out wrong.

Naturally, I recoiled from the vortex of fear this premise nourished. I came up with soothing, intellectually-refined explanations ... TED-talk twaddle ... and yet, I have to admit it, the fear lingered and smirked.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

break up the banks?

It wouldn't surprise me if the guys with cattle prods and water boards were lined up outside Neel Kashkari's door in the wake of the newest Fed policy-maker's suggestion that Congress break up the nation's largest banks.

No wait!

I 'misspoke.'

Guys with manicures don't beat anyone up. Do you have any idea what a good manicure costs these days?! Someone will find a perfectly gentlemanly way to undermine and discredit Kashkari. The banks will remain intact and the taxpayers will be allowed to wait for the next bailout invoice to be delivered.

Whew! That was close!

angst kindling

The sense that despite all rosy prognostications to the contrary the global financial picture is far from rosy got a boost this morning:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Eight years after the financial crisis, the world is coming to grips with an unpleasant realization: serious weaknesses still plague the global economy, and emergency help may not be on the way.
Sinking stock prices, flat inflation, and the bizarre phenomenon of negative interest rates have coupled with a downturn in emerging markets to raise worries that the economy is being stalked by threats that central banks - the saviors during the crisis - may struggle to cope with.
Yup ... we're probably going to get screwed again by the people whose manicured education and lifestyle brought us the first "Great Recession" in 2008. The masters of sweet talk and bitter pills are not responsible, of course: Suck it up.

But, as if financial instability were not enough, a friend sent along this far more agitating thesis the other day: Finances are not the number one global catastrophe waiting in the wings. Water is.
When the World Economic Forum, a Swiss non-profit dedicated to “improving the state of the world,” released its annual Global Risks Report last year it cited “water crises” as the number one global risk in terms of impact. This is significant because for the past 8 years, the number one global risk in terms of impact had been financial in nature (either asset price collapse, fiscal crises, or major systemic financial failure), but 2015 was the first year that saw a climate related issue top the list of risks....
According to the results of the Twente study, the water scarcity crisis is significantly worse than previously assumed.
Since my body is at least 60 percent water and since water has a tendency to evaporate, the scarcity of water combined with the buying up of water resources (that's what a manicured education and lifestyle can encourage the buck-savvy to do) puts a high flame under my neurotic and forward-looking tea kettle.

It may be consoling and/or infuriating to think of families dying of dehydration, but generally, I suspect, it is my 60 percent that rules the politically-concerned roost when it comes to resources that might benefit something called "mankind."

photo exhibit

The Winners & Finalists of the 2015 Exposure Awards will be exhibited 19-22 May 2016 at Somerset House, London.

Monday, February 15, 2016

brassieres with a real lift

Police in Sydney have seized methamphetamine with a street value of more than A$1bn ($700m; £500m), much of it hidden inside gel bra inserts.
A Chinese man and three Hong Kong nationals are facing life in prison after the seizure.
Authorities said the 720 litres (160 gallons) of liquid methamphetamine was sent from Hong Kong.

a little voter education

Passed along in email:


Sunday, February 14, 2016

RIP Antonin Scalia

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died yesterday at age 79, apparently of natural causes. With one exception, the intellectual twerps along the Republican presidential campaign trail were quick to call on President Obama to allow the next president to appoint a successor.

I don't know much about Scalia outside the allegations that he was a somewhat flamboyant conservative. But I do harbor some leftover wishful thinking that the Supreme Court is one of the few credible institutions left in American government. These are guys who, more than most, dig into precedent and try to unravel that which makes legal sense. Legality does not mean that the decisions are somehow "right." It does mean that someone is thinking about the topic in more than a superficial way, and, while flawed, perhaps, the court decisions are still better than what those concerned with their own ox are likely to come up with as regards national policy.

Scalia was a man who was proud to have pushed along the premise that citizens could keep guns in their homes. He favored capital punishment. A father of nine children and unapologetic Catholic, he was against the abortion decision, Roe v. Wade. These, among others, are not views I much like. But because the Supreme Court is charged with making final decisions and because I like to think the justices think about things, I am more or less willing to accede to what I disagree with. And if I disagree, I consider it a more honest fight when challenging the supreme court than, say, challenging Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, whose halo-polishing interferes with serious discussion.

As far as I can figure out, GOP candidate Jeb Bush was the only Republican candidate to say Barack Obama was within his rights to appoint a replacement justice. The other candidates fear that Obama, like other presidents before him, would appoint a liberal to replace this flamboyant conservative.

I feel some strange sense of loss in Scalia's death, not least for his willingness to encourage Christians to show some grit when he mused, "We must pray for the courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world." Christians can scare me, but Scalia's validity stands firm in my mind. To enter dangerous, core-issue territory excites my admiration even as it fears the collateral damage.

Ah well ... I'm too uninformed to be a worthy critic or apologist. I guess I just miss the passing of what I assume are men and women of substance. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

News: "Is Your Toothbrush Betraying You?"

The financial services giant Morgan Stanley has agreed to pay a $3.2 billion fine for its creation of mortgage-backed bonds. If anyone is like me, they don't really understand the meaning of the agreement, but applaud the fact that an imagined "fat cat" might be called to account for doing something that screwed the rest of us.

There have been other stories of a similar sort in the past. No individuals are ever put on trial and -- the part that gets me -- no matter how big and satisfying the fine, no news story seems to winkle out and print precisely how much such companies made with their ill-gotten gains before they are called to account.

If Morgan Stanley was fined $3.2 billion but made $10 billion in its adventure, that sounds like pretty lucrative business to me: What are a few insults and a fractional payout when the income return is so satisfying? It's kind of a big-screen version of saying how many "jobs were created" without saying what sorts of jobs they were and what jobs the people filling them had before they went to work at Burger King or K-Mart.

What once may have been "news" is relegated to a strange and squishy -- but useful -- silence.

But a lack of probing the news also makes room for and time for brisk and bumptious tales with headlines like, "Is your toothbrush betraying you?" or "Lettuce -- the whole story" or "the secrets of dog-walking."

Hard-hitting pablum surrounded by loud delivery systems.

parsing monogamy

For many of us, marriage is special. The idea of a lifelong bond between two people is accorded legal, spiritual and cultural significance throughout much of the world. Whether we are religious or secular, a permanent monogamous relationship can feel sacred.
So when we hear about animals that form lifelong bonds, our "aww" factor goes into overdrive: "How adorable! Gosh, we could all learn a thing or two from those shingleback lizards".
But for all the romantic novels, love songs and soppy greetings cards, monogamy remains more of an ideal than a reality.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Chinese journalism not

“Freedom is very important – it is the most important thing – but we don’t have it in China, especially in journalism,” he said.
“You can’t write what you want. You can’t interview who you want. And even if you do, you can’t publish it. Working in the Chinese media feels like you are wasting your life.”
Reporters, editors and publishers in the West may snigger at the enforced mediocrity of Chinese news media, but a closer look at the hometown news-delivery system may be a bitch-slap they would do well to heed.

How we once laughed when intercepting communist political data in Berlin. The "Department of Agitation and Propaganda" was a real bureau inside what was then East Germany.

Agitation and propaganda ... check your appointment book. It's filed under "freedom of the press."

Facebook suffers a setback

PARIS (AP) -- Facebook lost a crucial legal battle Friday as a Paris court ruled the social network can be sued in France over its decision to remove the account of a French user who posted a photo of a famous 19th-century nude painting....
It means a French court will now be entitled to hear the case of a 57 year-old Parisian teacher and art lover, whose Facebook account was suspended five years ago without prior notice. That was the day he posted a photo of Gustave Courbet's 1866 "The Origin of the World," which depicts female genitalia.
The Bible observes that we are all born between "piss and shit," and somehow piss and shit end up getting a bad rap. It reminds me of the old logic joke, "All tables have four legs. My dog has four legs. Ergo my dog is a table."

the rise of 'art'

When he was alive, my friend Bill McKechnie and I enjoyed various small and large shards of companionship, among them the vow to go and see positively every "spaghetti western" movie made by Sergio Leone... low budget films about the old American west shot in Italy.

These were, for the unanointed, movies with a huge kill ratio, almost zero character development, and a lip synch quality that left a lot to be desired. They were the movies (1960's and '70's) in which the American actor Clint Eastwood made his celluloid bones ... movies like "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" and "A Fistful of Dollars" and "For a Few Dollars More."

Bill and I once rushed to Broadway to catch an early showing of one of these movies and before the opening credits had finished, a total of 32 people had been killed. I counted. There were strange bits of historical accuracy in the movies, but by and large they were kind of Italian versions of Japanese monster movies. Bill and I laughed a bit and enjoyed a bit. The intertwining of serious and ludicrous was an interest we shared.

What brought this to mind was a lonnnnng BBC Magazine piece entitled "The Lasting Legacy of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly." Filed in the "culture" folder, the article approaches the movie with the sort of gravitas writers might apply to Shakespeare... its camera work, its music, its enduring je-ne-sais-quoi. I don't begrudge a writer his need to put spaghetti on the table, but there was something strained and concocted and over-the-top about this tempest-in-a-teapot analysis. From where I sat, the movie was just a shoot-'em-up bit of testosterone fantasy. Cut the crap!

Only of course today's chachkies are tomorrow's antiques of great price. Just hold onto something long enough, let the dust gather and ... well, it'll show up on Sotheby's auction block surrounded by praise from effete little men. Shakespeare wrote wonderful soap operas before high school English teachers got hold of him. Now, of course, he is ahhhht ('art' with a little cilantro) and students grind their academic teeth in a vain attempt to enjoy iambic pentameter.

Somehow, this run-in with the deification of Sergio Leone sits cheek by jowl with an encounter a couple of days ago with the 19th century artist JMW Turner. For whatever reasons, I was puddling through Internet reproductions of his work and, in painting after painting, I felt my socks being blown off. A master of light, the effete little men may say. But where love comes calling, poets fall into disarray. I was beyond smitten. I was consumed. I was breathless.

Not that Turner was a chachkie in his time. He was well regarded and required no application of laudatory dust and lust. But as I sat there imbibing and drowning in his work, I felt as transported as perhaps the BBC writer wanted me to feel about Leone. But Turner took me to a place that was beyond the mere "beyond." I was like a man hanging from his period-on-the-sentence noose ... no words possible even if words were possible.

My sensations cannot be shared or forced down anyone's cultured throat. I love, you love, he/she/or it loves. But there is something to be said for the observation that "if you're going to love God, please do it some place else." Artfulness ain't art.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"on the cusp" of things

Only in retrospect, I guess, can anyone say with suave assurance that a particular time or place was "on the cusp" of becoming something else. No one with two brain cells to rub together says such a thing of the present because the empirical evidence of what the future holds is not yet assured to anyone other than TED-talkers and politicians. "Something else" takes its own sweet time. Yes, this day is no doubt the gateway to some "something else" tomorrow, but what, precisely, is beyond the door jamb will take a bit of patience... or arrogance.

When I was a kid in New York City, not everyone had yet purchased a refrigerator. As a result, the ice truck still made its rounds and sold great chunks to apartment dwellers who still relied on "ice boxes." In the same vein, those apartment dwellers often had small cabinets that hung outside a back window -- cabinets in which to store milk and fresh vegetables and other foods that lasted longer when kept cool.

The ice man came and the rag man came (soliciting whatever cast-offs had accumulated on some closet floor); and the coal man sent swishing rivers of blackness down chutes that replenished supplies in apartment-building basements; and a man who sharpened knives would park his truck and call out
loudly for potential customers; and, later in the day, when children were out of school and parents returned from their work, a man with a portable organ and a monkey would stand in the street playing tinkly music while the monkey jumped around and apartment dwellers threw change into the street.

In summer, the brick oven that was New York would sometimes get relief from tanker trucks passing by and spraying water into the hot, hot streets. This served to wash down the gutters, but it also sent out a glow of coolth that would rise up through the open apartment windows that had not yet invented air conditioning. Not all of the telephones were single-party lines, so there was a politesse that existed: If someone were on the line when you picked up the receiver, you did not listen in on your neighbor's conversation ... except, of course, when you did... and many phones had specific rings that indicated incoming calls ... two long rings and a short, perhaps, to let you know the call was for you.

As often as not, men wore ties, no matter how tattered their clothing. And men wore hats which they tipped to ladies passing ... or perhaps just of their acquaintance. Horse-drawn wagons were not common, but nor were they rare. The mail came twice or maybe three times a day. World War II, already in full swing in Europe, was just gathering momentum in the United States... and I was fortunate to have a blue tricycle made of metal.

All of it and more like it was not "on the cusp" of anything. It was just the way things were.

Now, of course, I can see that my childhood environment was on the cusp of whatever evolved in its wake. I can indulge in a wispy nostalgia or remember the medicines that did not exist or wonder how anyone got along without the Internet.

But I cannot look forward with the same assurance that I look back at the cusp of things. Surely I am once again on the cusp of something. What it is, I haven't a clue and could never possibly have one ... which makes me wonder why anyone outside TED talkers and politicians would even mention such things.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

my vote is for sale

Political navel lint.

Yesterday's New Hampshire primary is over. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump (Democratic and Republican candidates respectively) won ... big time. And yet the whole thing makes me think that a crowd-funding effort might draw even more votes.

Will someone please set up an auction site in which people can add their names and, with full-frontal honesty, sell their votes to the highest bidder? There is something so perfectly numbing and dumbing about the political charge for the White House that I would rather walk away with a few bucks in my pocket. That way, at least I would have something -- some substance where I don't feel so ground-down and unappeased and unenthusiastic. Instead of a sense that political navel lint is my lot, at least I could buy a Starbucks coffee.

Make me an offer. Any offer at all will do.

And, passed along in email:

censorship as the new normal

Sorry, we can't ban everything that offends you – video

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Atlas for president?

Presidential candidates may be in a dither about who can capture the most votes in New Hampshire today, but for all the spending and posturing and evading and cheering in the nation's first primary of 2016, what concerns me more directly as I skim the news wires is the fact that Atlas is looking for a new home.

Who ever heard of a rabbit -- and we're not talking "Alice in Wonderland" here -- that can grow to be the size of a six-year-old child ... let alone such a rabbit in need of new digs?

Atlas and friend.
I freely admit that my interest in Atlas, who is still growing, opens me to the same charge of "airhead" I might once have leveled at those I considered insufficiently informed or interested by the serious matters of the world. Perhaps, in the recesses of my mind, I would like to vote for Atlas to run my country or anyway bring some straight-forward perspective to life ... eat, sleep, grow, snuggle and, no doubt, multiply. Atlas doesn't pretend to be serious while offering up frivolous nostrums and solutions. Atlas IS serious.

And he reminds me of the old silly, "Question: What's the best way to catch a rabbit? Answer: Hide behind a tree and make a noise like a carrot."

The presidential wannabes seem determined to make noises like a carrot, but they simply don't convince me. And besides, they're not snuggly in my book.

PS. When my older son asked an 18-year-old at the college where he coaches why the younger man was supporting Donald Trump, the multi-millionaire who leads the Republican pack in New Hampshire, the young man looked at him in some astonishment, as if the answer were obvious. Then he replied simply, as if to a naive child, "He's a celebrity."

Monday, February 8, 2016

fresh air for sale

Increased air pollution around the world is giving rise to a bizarre new industry known as Air Farming where bottled fresh air is sold to consumers at a premium.
It may sound like the next big gimmick, but the idea of buying crisp, country air in a jar has proven very popular in heavily-polluted cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
In fact, people are paying upwards of $160 for a single jar of air.

"I. am. not. terminal."

After four years of living with a diagnosis that she was "terminal," an ailing woman reported on a Buddhist bulletin board I inhabit that she had been "misdiagnosed" and 
I. am. not. terminal.
At which point, as anyone might, she burst into tears.

It makes my heart ache to imagine the sandstorm of confusion such an event might create. The initial hammer blow, the one that upended so much in the past, is reversed. But with that reversal comes the realization that although I am not "terminal," still I am "terminal." The decisions reached within the realm of the misdiagnosis still apply ... but are delayed. "Eeek!" gives way to "ahhh!" ... sort of ... but not really.

I wonder if it might be a useful addition to medical school training -- to tutor would-be physicians in the mandatory admonition to all patients that "you are going to die ... your condition is terminal." Of course it might be too depressing for enthusiastic med students. And that's to say nothing of what it might be for patients. But seriously, consider the bitch-slaps life has delivered in the past: Were they more or less salutary over time? Was the truth ever less true because it went unattended?

I don't know. But I wonder.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

fast talk, improved communication?

Sometimes I feel as if everyone were talking too fast in a vain attempt to underscore and complete their point ... if you say it fast enough, then perhaps I will receive the message before I think to shut you down. Or perhaps it is just that I have slumped into an Eeyore mode of sluggish thought and am unwilling or unable to keep pace with the slick and swift.

Yesterday, a friend sent this along:

My first association was with a tobacco auctioneer whose leafy Esperanto leaves me gasping in the dust:

one picture is worth....

If, indeed, "one picture is worth 10,000 words," I wonder what the 10,000 beginnings to this picture might be:

sweet music

In the corners, the sages speak softly, parsing the tender places of the universe.

On the dance floor, the fools twirl and laugh and delight in their partners.

How tiresome the talk of sages and fools where the music is so sweet.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

insistence on trust

Jean Shepherd was a saucy writer and radio raconteur whose novel "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash" was published in 1966. I was not alone in the late nights when I would listen to his radio monologues that challenged various bits of America's conventional wisdom.

Looking back, rightly or wrongly, I see both the conventional wisdom and the challenges to it as a natural outgrowth of the hellish uncertainties that had been World War II. War challenged the comforting and unexamined trust that peace can instill.

But the rigidities of that trust could be and were stultifying and Shepherd called them out. He was, in his time, a bad boy when so many were trying to reclaim the goodness and ease that rests on trust. White picket fences and an idealized family unit were such a relief in the wake of so much horror. Shepherd was a skeptic and, in his time, I was a teenager and therefore a skeptic as well ... though my skepticism was far less informed and well-stitched and fun than Shepherd's.

Trust and skepticism ... but mostly trust is where my mind wanders this morning. In Shepherd's time, the Internet had no footing and as a result he was among the lone and lonely voices that pointed out a needful skepticism. But nowadays -- 50 years after "In God We Trust..." -- there is so much room and reason for skepticism that it feels as if the shoe might be on the other foot: Is there no where and nothing in which to trust? Is there a visceral demand (the one 2016 presidential wannabes would love to tap into) for a trust that will be requited? Will people shed blood in order to assure some version of that trust, whether or not it is warranted?

Skim the Internet for institutions in which Americans have lost faith and the list goes on and on and on and on. Here's one example. Schools, politics, banks, Washington, doctors -- poll after poll finds a dwindling faith or trust. The military fares better than most, but not that much better.

But if you doubt everything, what do you trust?

Do you trust the doubt?

Is it trust-worthy?

What interests me is the real, rather than slick, answers. Is Tennyson right: "'Tis better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all?" Is the longing for an undoubted assurance worth even the price of being another duped fool? For many, I suspect, it is, although no dupe ever thought of himself as a dope.

Skepticism has its wiles, not least the come-hither invitation to be skeptical of skepticism.

Doubt all you like ... insist on trust.

What a merry-go-round.