Saturday, April 30, 2016

a "World Championship"

Marco Fu

As far as I can see, here is a story about a "World Championship" that manages not to mention the sport involved within the story text... a very odd omission from where I sit.

Still ... snooker ... how about them apples?

148 discarded diaries

148 discarded diaries...
Whose are they?
Is there anyone without such a collection, whether there are diaries or not?
What can anyone learn from the diaries of another?
A lot, it seems
But then, "a lot" of anyone's life is never complete, is it?

Friday, April 29, 2016

moving Israel to Texas

In a BBC article that differentiates "Zionism" and "anti-Semitism," the following detail was tacked onto a British Member of Parliament who had been suspended for a variety of otherwise unspecified reasons:
"It follows the suspension of Bradford West MP Naz Shah after it emerged she had once suggested, among other things, that Israel should be moved to the United States."
I don't suppose even entertaining the idea is allowed within certain circles -- too implicitly "anti-Semitic" dontcha know -- but it does suggest one rivulet of thought in a Europe which is often less sanguine about Israel than the United States can be.

It tickles the mind ... move to where in the United States, precisely? Texas? Wyoming? Maine? New York? What would the effect be on the frictions of the Middle East? What would the effect be on, for example, Texas? If it happened, would Israel be allowed to keep its nuclear weapons? How well would Benjamin Netanyahu fare? In order for Israel to maintain its righteousness, would a certain number of Arabs need to be relocated as well?

A useless train of thought, perhaps, but sometimes useless thoughts are worth the thinking.

"what do you want?"

"I want my loved ones and myself to be happy"
There are times when it is best to keep things simple, and that's just what Les Monaghan has done for The Desire Project.
Based in Doncaster, he simply asked a bunch of strangers: "What do you want?"
With support from the Arts Council England, the results have been put on display in the Frenchgate Centre, Doncaster.
"The project became led by the answers that subjects gave," says Monaghan....
Monaghan also points out that, of the 150 on show, only one wanted a commodity.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The current exhibit may be quite good and fairly provocative, but when it comes to the full impact of asking people simple questions they might think they could answer adequately, nothing beats "Thought Moments" from my point of view:

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Brave New World redux

And, in the ever-encroaching strangle hold of a real-life Brave New World:
A man has been held in prison for seven months after failing to decrypt two hard drives that investigators suspect contain indecent images of children.
A court order says the man will remain jailed "until such time that he fully complies" with an order to unlock the password-protected devices.
The US man, who has not been charged with possessing illegal images, is appealing against his detention.
If I've got this right, authorities expect the man to hand over the evidence they suspect would warrant a jail term while all the time holding him in jail for not handing it over.

Talk about Kafka-esque.

Unspeakably corrupt.

Welcome to the Third World country of America.

genealogy munchie

Puttering around with "genealogy" this morning, it occurred to me that genealogy tends to underscore the truth that the deeper you dig, the less you know.

Or, more precisely, the more you become aware of what you don't know.

Genealogy -- to pick on that topic for a moment -- pretends to tell the tale of one person or another. Born, died, kids, where they lived, what they did by way of profession, etc. But the fact is that no man or woman would agree to be summed up by any of those markers. There is always so much more.

Having a one-legged pederast as a forbear may be interesting, but it doesn't tell you whether this person was any good with a yo-yo.

Contrary to what is taught in classrooms, there is nothing wrong with not-knowing. But it is important to know and perhaps acknowledge that you don't. The alternative is a kind of smug arrogance that hardly matches with any sort of 'truth' that genealogy might pretend to deliver.

The smarter you get, in one sense, the dumber you become.

forgery, witches and a curse

How does a tiny Spanish village of just 62 souls come to be excommunicated in its entirety and cursed with a spell so strong that only the Pope can lift it?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

something to be said for concentration

David Levenson’s photographs capture the UK at leisure:
A lady sits engrossed in her puzzle magazines in a cafe, oblivious to the length of her cigarette ash

the screw turns ... some more

The screw turns ... who's getting screwed these days:
-- Tehran police chief Gen. Hossein Sajedinia recently announced his department had deployed 7,000 male and female officers for a new plainclothes division - the largest such undercover assignment in memory. Authorities say the division, which started work last week, will patrol major Tehran streets and intersections, policing transgressions including harassment against women and excessive car honking and engine noise.
Critics fear the unit's main focus, however, will be enforcing the government-mandated Islamic dress code, which requires women be modestly covered from head to toe.
-- Venezuela's government has imposed a two-day working week for public sector workers as a temporary measure to help it overcome a serious energy crisis.
Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz announced that civil servants should turn up for work only on Mondays and Tuesdays until the crisis was over.
Venezuela is facing a major drought, which has dramatically reduced water levels at its main hydroelectric dam.
-- And, in the feckless and endless and substance-shy U.S. presidential primaries that, like the government's promotion of "terrorism," threaten never to end ....
Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton rolled up wins in Northeastern states on Tuesday in a major show of strength and immediately turned their fire on each other in a possible preview of a general election matchup.
To the extent that the popular presidential-wannabe Bernie Sanders represents another step in the amorphous discontent of 2011's "Occupy Wall Street" demonstration ... it strikes me as interesting that the fervor excited by Sanders banner, much like the fervor of the 'occupy' movement, still lacks a specific agenda. But the fervor is not to be denied or discounted. And to the extent that this is true, I think Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are drinking from the same undeniable trough.

Now if only the issues weren't treated to a back-burner status, perhaps the electorate would be a little less screwed.

-- And, in a story now as familiar (damn near word-for-goddamned word) as the police shooting of unarmed black people in the U.S.:

Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian woman and a man on Wednesday, saying they had tried to stab security forces at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank.
In the last half year, Palestinian attacks have killed 28 Israelis and two visiting U.S. citizens. Israeli forces have killed at least 193 Palestinians, 130 of whom Israel says were assailants. Many others were shot dead in clashes and protests.
Police said the woman, holding a knife, and the man walked rapidly towards police and other Israeli security guards in a vehicles-only lane at the Qalandia checkpoint outside Jerusalem.
"Police called on them several times to stop. When they kept advancing ... the officers neutralized the terrorists," a police statement said.

relying on the unreliable

Humming in the morning fog....

If all things change, then all things are unreliable. It's not a threat and it's no cause for snarkiness, it's just the way things are, isn't it?

But just because all things are unreliable is no excuse for being unreliable. Make a promise, keep a promise ... or anyway, do what you can. Why? Because things look better/feel better in the bathroom mirror.

"All things are unreliable" just means I am unreliable. It may be a difficult pill to swallow, but maybe that's what life is about -- swallowing that pill without recourse to threats or snarkiness. Life is more interesting than I thought: Read 'em and weep.

And yet weeping is out of line. It's too self-serving and unreliable. There is some gay-ness to the "interesting" that life provides. Sort of like skipping. Use it, enjoy it ... life is more interesting than I thought.

What other option is there than to rely on the unreliable without falling into that trap.

I think Pete Seeger was pretty close....

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Suzanne Vega

Got a request today to use a photo my mother took of author Carson McCullers. I think the idea was to stick it on a Suzanne Vega album cover. I was not familiar with Vega's music, so I looked her up and ran across the above -- a song I liked quite a lot.

dwindling of the gods

What if there were a war and nobody came?

What if there were a church and nobody came?

In a local story about a Congregational church that planned to close up shop, there was the following today:
Daly, the church’s pastor, said the situation the church has found itself in has become more common in recent years, as interest in churchgoing or worship among the younger generation wanes. Daly said much of his professional career since he was ordained in the 1970s has been consisted of going to struggling churches and trying to find ways to help them survive or figure out the proper course of action.
“It’s sort of difficult to quantify, but for me, one of the most compelling and powerful reasons (behind the trend) is the culture,” Daly said. “That source of solace or support and encouragement is not, in any cultural way, to be found in the church — it’s elsewhere now. There’s lots of goodness, but it’s not being associated with the church like it was in the ’50s and ’60s."
It's not as if the atheists had won. Rather, there seems to be a diminution in the credibility reservoir... sort of like relinquishing cap pistols or dolls in favor of some more brightly-polished penny. There is nothing especially mean-spirited in it. It's just old hat and old news and, well, it doesn't ring the church bells it once did.

Having given so much time over to the life of the spirit, I find this diminution of interest simultaneously mildly unsettling (old age will do that for you) and perfectly understandable in the sense that beliefs have a limited shelf life, no matter how ornate they may be or what foundation they are based in.

I do have a sense that a life without "God" does not mean the search for "God" has gone inert. The unsatisfactoriness that Buddhists speak of may not have a lot of spiritual tassels, but that doesn't mean the edgy and sometimes etched uncertainties have been laid to rest.

Voltaire was not mistaken: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

If you doubt this, check out the atheists.

No God? Thank God!

teaching moments

In college, I once took a course in 19th century literature. The course included some -- or maybe just one -- of the works of Thomas Carlyle. The title I remember was "Sartor Resartus," but what I remember more than that was how much I hated the book. It was far too much artifice and far too little art as far as I was concerned. Boy, did I hate that book.

The teacher of the course I had signed on for, a kind woman with greying hair, took to meeting with me informally ahead of class on any given class day. We'd both arrive five or six minutes ahead of time.

"So, Adam," she might say as we stood outside the classroom waiting for it to empty so that her class could enter, "did you do the homework assignment (read some pages of "Sartor Resartus")?

And invariably I would have. Education isn't about ingesting the pleasant alone and, more than that, I knew she would be waiting for me outside the classroom, inviting me to toot my enraged horn.

"Yes," I would say.

"And what did you think?" she might ask.

And that was my cue to sound off -- to spew as much vitriol as I might care to.

It did not occur to me at the time that in order for me to hate the book as much as I did, I would have to read it first ... which was the object of the teacher's effort. So, coming in a sneaky back door, she was teaching me about Thomas Carlyle, an author I sincerely hoped would rot in hell.  (Don't ask me to remember what I hated. All I can remember is that I did hate it.)

Looking back, I think she was a pretty savvy teacher. It was OK with her if I hated it as long as I could bring compelling evidence to my diatribe. In those days, you had to be able to prove your point, not just emote about it. Opinion was fine, but emotion alone was for feather merchants.

And still is.

On the one end of the spectrum, emotion. On the other, intellect....

My mother once took several faltering steps towards getting a Ph.D. in Shakespeare, possibly because it was the topic of my father's academic career. My mother took those several courses and then quit because there was no room she could find for the love she felt for Shakespeare. A Ph.D. was all about commas and semi-colons and parsing and intellect ... and there was a piece of her that simply said "no!" She loved Shakespeare and hoped with an advanced degree to love him more.


Once upon a time, I used to love going to the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The art works are displayed against walls that rise up or sink down in a spiral. I loved the Guggenheim because whatever the exhibit, still I flat-out loved the building and so could never be short-changed.

But one day, on entering, I paid the admission and, just beyond the admission booth, found myself in front of a counter where some bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed twenty-something was offering to rent me a hand-held tape recorder that she promised would "explain" the art works currently on display.

My jaw dropped. "Explain" art????? What sort of bullshit was that? Either the artist could and did communicate with the onlooker or s/he did not. It was an intimacy that no Dr. Phil could co-opt or explain or improve. What sort of cowardice did that tape recorder exemplify ... JEESUS!

The twenty-something told me with a straight face that the aural add-on would enrich the experience of the paintings, that it would bring substance and content and ... I walked away from her. Her chatter simultaneously enraged and shamed me. I did not want to be caught around anyone who might believe the claptrap she was spewing.

"Improved" art ... bite me!

"Explained" art ... get a fucking job!

Only of course there are millions of good-hearted people who believe this tapioca approach ... all slippery-slide-y and sounding so caring and....

And it still makes me want to hide under the bed. Give me art that loves me and invites me to love it back. Even when it fails, at least that is a success. Take the dulcet tones and stick 'em up your ass: This is my heart you're talking about.

Monday, April 25, 2016


Given the scallywags who seem to turn up regularly in the organizational ranks of various charities, perhaps my visceral skepticism and subsequent unwillingness to reach for my checkbook can be ... well ... if not exactly forgiven, at least softened a bit. If donations to a 'good cause' underwrite a 10-day vacation in Barbados and swath the adventure in excuses about how it will help the organization, I bridle: How many in actual need might have been helped by the price of a plane ticket and a suite and whatever other add-ons? 

But then the evidence of people in need starts to mount up, my doubt dwindles and I can no longer refrain from lending some small hand.

But I do so with skeptical banners flying. I want to know what percentage of the donated buck goes directly to the person or people who make my heart ache. Some charities really do bust their chops trying to pass along the good will. Others seem careless and carefree about booking a vacation-land ticket for one executive or another.

In the past, I have been convinced enough by the Heifer Project that puts the practical means (goats, cows, pigs, chickens) into needy hands. Mind you, I didn't have much to give, but the philosophy appealed to me enough to oil up my check-writing arm.

And the same wash of conviction overcame me this morning when reading the local paper about a three-times a week free-meal program hosted by something called MANNA. The umbrella organization seems to bring Christian bells and whistles with it, but I can overlook the spiritual add-ons when the local dining experience is right up my alley: No one should go hungry in the world's richest nation; people are encouraged to come back for seconds and even take home a doggy bag. Food ... directly ... to the hungry.

No one is stupid enough to ask a hungry person why s/he is hungry. It's enough to know that s/he is. And further, it is enough to know that for those who have enough, it is never quite enough if that "enough" cannot be shared with others. To me -- Donald Trump notwithstanding -- feeding those who are hungry is as obvious an American quality as mom and apple pie... and never more so than in a political season rife with candidates talking about and defining an American way of life.

I'm not the most charitable person in the world and I certainly wouldn't bask in some spiritual limelight based on what little I did give, but if someone says they're hungry, my first reaction is, "Let me check the fridge."

I'm off to find the checkbook.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

naked as ....

Caught between my mental teeth like a stringy bit of asparagus is a quote attributed to Cicero in an article about Mary Beard, a current-day British classics teacher who reminds me that the word "rapscallion" cannot be applied solely to men.

Cicero's line: If we are not ashamed to think it, we should not be ashamed to say it.

What a challenge. What a -- perhaps -- truth. What man or woman would not feel the resonance of such an encouragement? The secret and sometimes not so secret longing to pass unencumbered and undressed through life. How wonderful might that be? And, simultaneously, eeeek! 

 How tiring secrets and camouflage become. What might it be like to lay ALL your cards on the table?
The "eek" quotient, at first blush, relates to how much weakness, how much vulnerability, others might find in the flaws so carefully camouflaged.

But I think there is a greater fear still than the tender vulnerabilities that might arise in saying what anyone might prefer to hold back in silence. And that fear is huge. It is, quite simply, that there is a sneaking suspicion that if I were to tell the damnable truth, if I were to expose my vulnerabilities and mistakes ... no one would give a shit and that would be worse than damnation. Who would I be if life simply yawned and said, "so what?" Isn't that worse than the death anyone might pretend to fear? How could I be someone if I were merely a bit player? It is not a pleasant prospect: Rather a damnable sinner and camouflage weaver than a ... a ... a ... what?

Yes, to go naked would be lighter and less constrained by quite a lot. The layers of camouflage and artifice can weigh mightily. I may beg to be free ... right up to the moment when freedom is offered on a silver platter.

Sorta like Plato's cave dwellers who claim to want the light but cling like fury to the shadows.


Passed along in email:
Victorville, CA –  A Barstow, California woman is claiming that an accident she caused on the highway was related to an image she saw of Jesus in her Kit Kat candy bar. Marlo Thomas, 33, says she was traveling south on the I-15 when she suddenly began craving sweets. “It was like a feeling out of nowhere, I felt like I needed some sugar,” said Thomas. “I unwrapped the package, took a bite, and couldn’t believe what I saw. It was Jesus! I mean, right there, Jesus in my candy bar! It was like he was telling me I am chosen. So I closed my eyes and started praying, thanking Jesus for His revelation.”

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Mary Beard interview

Every now and then I see a story about someone I would like to know ... not often ... and Mary Beard is one such person. A shit-kickin' woman.

armed fashion

As if the thin-lipped and thin-limbed austerities of runway models were not enough to dispel a warming heart, Kazakhstan appears to have upped the ante and then, with the trigger fingers, re-upped it:
Models present creations by Kazakhstan's design house ABZAL during Kazakhstan Fashion Week in Almaty, Kazakhstan, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Friday, April 22, 2016

people talk too fast

Is it just because I'm an old fart or is it actually true?

People these days talk too fast.

I notice it on the TV business and other news shows where limited amounts of time/space are clearly in play. But I notice it elsewhere as well -- people talking fast as if, were they not to do so, the import and impact of what they had to say might somehow be dissipated.

This Twitter-approach to speaking has the opposite of its intended effect on me: I can't hear anything because there's too much of everything else standing in the way.

Oh well, it's probably an old-fart thing.

shooting human beings of which I am one

Like American exceptionalists underscoring "terrorism" again and again in an effort to keep the riff-raff in thrall and the profits rolling in, tales of police misconduct against largely-black citizens form a latter-day background drum-roll that, over time, tends to dwindle into a hum and then is taken as an assumption-du-temps -- a new-normal not worthy of more etched investigation. Right, cops shoot blacks ... tell me some new news.

And then, once in a while, a well-written story cuts through the hum-drum laziness of my mind and depicts a detailed cruelty that is compounded by bureaucracy and ... and ... and something inside snaps: "This ... is ... outside the pale. It is wrong. It is ugly. It affects human beings of which I am one!"

Today, this Reuters story -- complex, yet clearly written -- caught my eye:

Years before Black Lives Matter protesters roiled the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, police officers in New Orleans killed two residents and maimed four others on a small bridge on the first Sunday after Hurricane Katrina.
In a courtroom in a New Orleans federal court Wednesday, four of the shooters and one of the supervisors admitted their guilt for the first time. The road to that admission was tortuous, for the families, for the city and for the New Orleans Police Department, in a case that stands among the most significant police civil rights abuses in the United States.

soccer/football beyond David and Goliath

If Leicester City win the Premier League, it will be one of the most captivating British sport stories in years. But how does a football-mad Englishman living in the US explain its importance to Americans?

mind-controlled drones

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Wearing black headsets with tentacle-like sensors stretched over their foreheads, the competitors stare at cubes floating on computer screens as their small white drones prepare for takeoff.
"Three, two, one ... GO!" the announcer hollers, and as the racers fix their thoughts on pushing the cubes, the drones suddenly whir, rise and buzz through the air. Some struggle to move even a few feet, while others zip confidently across the finish line.
The competition - billed as the world's first drone race involving a brain-controlled interface - involved 16 pilots who used their willpower to drive drones through a 10-yard dash over an indoor basketball court at the University of Florida this past weekend.
With every step of this sort, I simply cannot help but wonder, what happens when the electricity goes off?

time to be awake

As in the freight yards when two impossibly large and impossibly quiet freight cars are inched closer and closer together until at last, with a the importance of an industrial clash, they couple and are ready to travel in a bonded and unified direction, so is the travel from sleep to wakefulness, it seems.

Inching, inching, inching
Quiet, quiet, quiet
Until there is no longer any denying or escaping...
There is a link -- CRASH -- though it is impossible to parse what, precisely, is linked to what.

 It is time to be awake.

Awake requires the searching out of well-worn habits to delineate what up to that moment had been comfortably and comfortingly undelineated in the night. Wake up? What for? If it ain't broke, why fix it?

I search out luxuries to lubricate the transition, small grist for the "awake" mill: Strong, black, caffeinated coffee and a cigarette are one such luxury, one such habit, one such lubricant. The possibility that I won't have to cook supper is -- however unlikely -- another.

Others come awake in other ways, I imagine. But I have my doubts that a sense of grudging is absent. There is something contrived and energetic about being awake and contriving takes energy that has all the earmarks of being wasted.

Here is a land in which the fleet of mouth rattle off trite observations about "who" is asleep and "who" awake. They are sincere and very tiring ... in much the same way that those who proclaim their willingness to surrender to the night are fatuous and wise.

"Sometimes," it is said, "all we are left with is words."

"Fuck off!" I sputter in reply.

"Sometimes," rather, "all we are left with is silence."

And if this is true, why pester and nudge? Just crash and be grudging, I guess.

It really is delicious to hear the silence as those enormous freight cars inch closer and closer and closer and...


sometimes life is like that

Passed along in email:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

what it ain't

If what it ain't
Is what it is,
What is it?

the queen at 90

Queen Elizabeth II is seen walking in the private grounds of Windsor Castle on steps at the rear of the East Terrace and East Garden with four of her dogs, clockwise from top left: Willow (corgi), Vulcan (dorgie), Candy (dorgie) and Holly (corgi), in this official photograph released by Buckingham Palace to mark her 90th birthday, April 20, 2016. c2016 Annie Leibovitz /Handout via Reuters
Twelve U.S. presidents, but only one queen in all that time ... celebrating her birthday on the same date Adolf Hitler might have. I wonder to what extent the dogs may be credited with Elizabeth's longevity.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

redesigning US currency

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Harriet Tubman, an African-American abolitionist who was born a slave, will stand with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin among the iconic faces of U.S. currency.
The $20 bill will be redesigned with Tubman's portrait on the front, marking two historic milestones, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced Wednesday. Tubman will become the first African-American on U.S. paper money and the first woman to be depicted on currency in 100 years.

hard times variously described

Same day, different news:

-- 330 million people are being affected by a drought in India.

-- American film icon Shirley Temple's 9.54-carat diamond ring failed to sell at auction house Sotheby's because it did not attain the reserve bid: The best anyone was willing to do was $22 million. The ring was valued at $35 million.
-- Hundreds of people are feared to have drowned in the southern Mediterranean last week, in what would be the deadliest migrant shipwreck in months.
A repurposed fishing boat overloaded by smugglers with up to 500 Africans hoping to reach Italy from eastern Libya may have sunk, survivors told the UN refugee agency.
Every once in a while the ho-hum, it-were-ever-thus of disparities is wiped away in my mind and the grotesque nature of those disparities rattles my cage.

monthly newspaper column

Monthly column ran today in the local paper under the headline "No Meetings of Minds on Meetings."

As the winner of a 1965 Nobel Prize in physics, Richard P. Feynman was once asked what winning the prestigious award had meant to him.

“It means,” he replied, “that I no longer have to go to meetings.”

Anyone who knows his job and knows how to do it may smile in agreement with Feynman’s only half-humorous response. For the informed and competent, meetings of longer than 10 minutes relate as much to ego as they do to substance. Meetings may not rise to the level of a crime against humanity but they certainly have something in common with being buried alive in a casketful of eels.

What brought this crabby train of thought to mind was a March 29 article in the Gazette which noted that 17.5 percent of Amherst’s 19,840 voters approved the creation of a Charter Commission to snoop potential revisions in the current Town Meeting format. The commission was given two years to investigate, formulate and suggest.

Oh boy! A meeting about how to hold yet more meetings: My snark-o-meter went into overdrive.

But some things are unavoidable in life – and meetings, like death and taxes, may be one. Since I do not live there, I cannot and do not pretend to know all the facets of the issues Amherst will confront as it studies the possibility of a revised charter.

I do know that the age-old tug-of-war between the Greeks’ “demokratia,” or rule of the people, and “aristokratia,” or rule of the elite, will require meetings and more meetings and still more meetings. Each persuasion will tug at his or her end of the same rope.

Too little democracy and the least among us will be shamelessly overlooked. Too much reliance on the will of the majority and lynchings, both literal and metaphorical, become possible. Too little elite leadership and the ability to get things done will founder. Too much focal-point power and the guys wearing American-flag lapel pins will continue to bamboozle the rest of us.

Meetings simultaneously exemplify both the idiocies and the wisdom of our species: On the one hand, “many hands make light work;” on the other, “too many cooks spoil the broth.” On the one hand, “strike while the iron is hot;” on the other, “look before you leap.” “Democracy,” like “love” and “pornogr aphy,” seems to have as many meanings as there are people to use the word.

English Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, approximately, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest.” And it’s hard to take issue with his observation, in Amherst or anywhere else. But what irritates me more than Churchill’s aptness is the recognition that there is bitter medicine that comes with his conclusion. That medicine, in Amherst as elsewhere, is spelled, “m-e-e-t-i-n-g-s.”

Yes, those who participate under whatever charter will have to sit through the thinly veiled orations of people in love with the sound of his or her own voice. Yes, there will be another plea for the lowly salamander. Yes, someone will propose a vote on whether everyone hates war. And western Massachusetts, being what it is, is bound to want to discuss another roundabout.

Is there any escape, any way that each and every democratic voice might be awarded a Nobel Prize and thus be exempted from get-togethers that conflict with everything from the kids’ soccer game to favorite TV shows? And once exempted, is there any real chance that the one-(wo)man-one-vote voice will still be heard?

I doubt it. The make-believe “connectedness” touted on Facebook simply cannot hold a candle to a flesh-and-blood encounter. I may hate and grumble about the contrived sluggishness of meetings as much as I like.

But simultaneously, I take my hat off to those who can get off their stupid cell phones long enough to sit down with their neighbors and forge – however imperfectly – a bit of what actually counts.

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

the middle way

Let us not speak of "the middle way."
As a monk, when asked,
The middle way
Just means the extremes.

Let us not speak of the middle way.
But rather let us summon
Our energies and do
What we can
To be kind
To daisies.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

the small, useless moments

Expertise is the inability to acknowledge
what you don't know.
But things even out: What you don't know is
the inability to acknowledge your expertise.
What, if anything, is the strange blessing of totally useless information? If it's a blessing, it must have some use since blessings are made up by human beings and employed to their benefit. It's an odd arena.

-- There was a time when, while seated facing a wall in a 20x60-foot Zen meditation hall, I had no need to peek at the doorway to see who was entering. I could tell from the rustle of the robe or the near silent tread of the bare feet: I knew who had just entered the zendo to join a morning or evening meditation.

-- In that same zendo, over time, I came to know within a maximum of two or three seconds when the sitting period had run its 40-minute (the usual single-sitting period) course. I was capable of being right on the gnat's ass in this matter.

-- During this same period of Zen practice, there was a period when I might wake up in the morning and know -- for sure -- that I was going to run into someone I knew that day. Not precisely whom ... just that the meeting would occur in the multi-million-popuated New York City. It was highly unlikely in empirical or mathematical terms, but it never failed to be true and had a kind of fun to it.

I hesitate to mention these minuscule happenings in a spiritual life context. I really don't want anyone thinking that I think strange stuff happens only if anyone signs up for some religious-context lifestyle. I do not believe that. What interests me is the minutiae that might occur in anyone's life ... little bits of quasi-inexplicable expertise that crops up like irreverent dandelions, often in quieter moments ... stuff that breaks ordinary molds and yet, so what?

As I look back on the incidents in my own life, I wonder 1. what other minutiae I may have overlooked and 2. why should I count them a blessing when they are so far in the rear-view mirror. I am pleased that I was allowed to live them, but why should I be pleased ... really, there was nothing special ... except that they seem to feel special. Who gives a shit who entered the zendo? Who cares if you can know 40 minutes down to the very second? And if you know you're going to meet someone and then do, well, so what?

In practical terms, it's all pretty much impractical information. Impractical and yet enriching. What a nice quiet little hoot. And, simultaneously, how lucky anyone might be to slow down long enough to experience life outside the practical and empirical boundaries that more often shape daily life.

Slow down. Learn something of absolutely no value. It strikes me as invaluable and I have a hunch everyone has opportunities -- quite aside from a spiritual format -- to peek out or peek in and assess the totally useless information that seems to hum aimlessly in the background. It won't put spaghetti on the table and yet is answers some small hunger.

I'm not writing this well.

Oh well.....

PS. As a footnote, I can not longer perform those above-named activities that once formed a part of whatever expertise I had.

Monday, April 18, 2016

happy endings

Boy meets girl. Boy meets boy. Girl meets girl. Girl meets cowboy. Boy meets werewolf.
These are just a few of the romantic situations you can find in The Ripped Bodice, an all-romance bookstore that recently opened in Culver City, California.
It is the first of its kind in this country and watching the report on public television, I had an instant reaction: This is going to work ... big time.
[A]ccording to Bookstats, 46% of romance readers read at least one book per week.
All the upturned literary noses in the world cannot change the longing for a happy ending. How often does a happy ending actually happen in life and yet how many efforts are bound and determined to find a happy ending? How many excellent books about rural poverty in Maine do you have to read before the need for some glowing satisfaction (never mind if it's phony-baloney) rears its head?

Maybe it's just my old-fart gene, but I think The Ripped Bodice is going to soar.

at worthington

Worthington house ... where many an enjoyable time was spent in the long ago. It's now for sale and I went to visit.

first Pastafarian wedding

The world’s first Pastafarian wedding has been held aboard a pirate ship in New Zealand.
Pastafarians belong to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (CFSM), which the New Zealand government approved to conduct legal marriages in 2015.
The church – which was founded to satirise American religious fundamentalism – believes a god made of spaghetti and meatballs is just as likely as other gods. According to its website, its only dogma is “the rejection of dogma”.

"a soldier of the Revolution"

Judging by his gravestone in the Gate Cemetery -- a small arena carved out of the woods in Worthington, Mass. -- Capt. Thomas Moore was not about to let the latter-day versions of Twitter get the best of him. He too had an abbreviated message, although it is hard to imagine that his brief statement didn't have some very concrete background supporting its assertion:
A soldier of the Revolution
The statement, whether it was Moore's or that of those who buried him, resonates and echoes and has the kind of force that only the passage of time can impart. A soldier of the revolution that succeeded. A soldier of the revolution that at one time stood on very wobbly feet, searching for the will to sally forth and die if necessary in the face of the governing British and their guns. The battle over whether to fight or not was far from easy, but eventually the farmers and merchants, whether wobbly or flag-waving, did in fact take up arms against the status quo. Imagine that: A soldier of the revolution. Against a relatively pastoral status quo.

Against the status quo that is so much less challenging. Against the status quo that sees women and children playing and conversing and unendangered. Against the status quo which helped to grow the crops and people of this colony, this home, this sweat. Against the status quo that is relaxed, whatever the depredations of the governing body. Bad-mouthing those governors now is easy. How hard it must have been in Capt. Thomas Moore's time.

Moore can rest easy. His race is run. His team won the day. How many revolutions, wobbly from the outset, wither and fall apart or simply lose? Look at Islamic State. Look at Bernie Sanders. Look at Donald Trump. The Kurds. Look at any of the revolutionaries of the Middle East: Which of them will find respite beneath a similar gravestone: A soldier of the revolution. What a Tweet.

And what a place to lie -- a minuscule graveyard that is as neat and neatly clipped as the white-walls above a soldier's ears. Other gravestones are far less august ... almost imperial. Many of the women are recognized only by their first names, followed by their husband's full name. They were not exactly chattel, or so it seems (no slaves seem to be buried at Gate Cemetery). But neither were they exactly free-standing individuals. I once heard the speculation on a history show on TV that in earlier times, women did not marry for love but rather, "it seemed to be that they loved because they were married."

Gone now, but not quite.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

the limits of well-remembered history

"If memory serves...." the thoughtful person might begin. And yet no one balks, no one calls out this softly insistent suggestion. The fact is that when it comes to serious matters, memory does not serve. No one, I suspect, is ever fully or even well-served by the recollections of others.

The American philosopher George Santayana once observed that "those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The implicit chiding of this remark is often regurgitated as a means of disparaging the thoughtlessness of those dwelling in the present.

To my way of thinking, this is not only unkind, it is also flat-out wrong: No one remembers the past with enough effectiveness to sidestep the repetition by others of mistakes once made. Remember it or don't remember it -- the repetition is written on the human DNA. The statement implies there might be another, more sensible and peaceful outcome associated with the recollections of the past as they are passed along. Nothing could be further from the truth and pretending otherwise is arrogant and unwise.

Does anyone remember the Holocaust of World War II in ways that can short-circuit future genocides of a similar sort? Jews may claim such recollections do change the course of history, but I think they are whistling past the graveyard. The horrific nature of events suffered by others is simply not sufficient to inform and forestall the present and its desires.

Does anyone remember the slaughter of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks?

Does anyone remember the rape of Nanking?

Does anyone remember the Rwandan genocide?

Thoughtful and caring minds may leap into the fray and assert that the horrors are fresh at hand -- and then retail a laundry list of particulars that seems to indicate that later generations are not remiss. "Yessiree -- we remember. Yessiree -- we care." Having read the books and studied the history, it is beyond the human pale to imagine such depredations could possibly be repeated. We learned our lessons and will most emphatically NOT repeat them.

And then they are repeated.

But laying claim to understanding based on history cannot clear the bar of human experience. I think it would be more honest to put George Stantaya's (and his somewhat arrogant supporters) on the back burner. Of course people are going to repeat history. It's one of the things they do best/worst. Anyone who lays claim to not being a fool or an asshole has yet to examine his or her own foolishness ... or asshole.

Best to be a little gentler when assessing the human tableau. Yes, you and I and anyone else are bound to repeat history, mistakes and all.

If there was anyone who was a bit closer to the truth than Santayana, I think it was probably American humorist Will Rogers:
There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.
Leave aside the "reading" and much of what passes for "observation," and I think Rogers is pretty much right.

the price of "the good life"

Was there ever a generation that did not have its dreamers -- the people yearning for some better and possibly simpler and more straightforward lifestyle?

Well, I have my doubts that anyone can learn anything from someone else, but this BBC story gives first-person appreciations of those who set out to live a simpler and self-sustaining lifestyle -- "the good life" -- in the 1970's. It's not quite as good as I'd hoped, but there are whispers of the kind of learning anyone faces where the rubber hits the road.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

the rule of lawlessness

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- As four men sat in prison for a murder they didn't commit, records show that state investigators sent proof of their innocence to a North Carolina prosecutor, but he never revealed it to the convicted men.
He didn't have to. Nothing in North Carolina's legal standards requires a prosecutor to turn over evidence of innocence after a conviction.
The four, along with a fifth who also was convicted, were eventually cleared through the work of a commission that investigates innocence -- but not until they'd served years in prison, including several years when a judge says the prosecutor and sheriff "did nothing to follow up on" another man's confession.
The rule of law and the rule of lawlessness seem hopelessly entwined and it is frightening ... and not just to the black men and women who enjoy the fruits most. The arising of America as a Third World country is tended and nourished by those who are often given to flying the flag and touting the rule of law even as lawlessness gains its footing.

Is it any wonder that the raucous amorphous chorus swells, and takes on a formless form similar to this recent email:

Sometimes it is hard not to think that presidential candidate Donald Trump cannot possibly win the presidential nomination.


Because he has already won.

random thought ...Hillary

Chatting in my head about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the line popped up:
She has all the personality and animal magnetism of a tongue depressor.

clip from "Fargo"

I'm not sure how well it stands up on its own, but I found this scene from the 1996 movie "Fargo" very touching.

Friday, April 15, 2016

photo I liked

The following photo, with the overline "WINGED CREATION," appeared on page 1 of my local paper today ... and knocked my socks off. Some photographers can find the heart (kokoro) of their subject; some snap photos.

Kiara Black, 10, throws a paper airplane made during a beginners
origami class Tuesday at the Westhampton Memorial Library.

texting in movie theaters

Texting at the movies is usually annoying and usually banned. But the CEO of the giant movie theater chain AMC says maybe it's time to rethink that.
AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron floated a trial balloon in an interview with Variety at CinemaCon, a film industry trade convention, saying the chain has considered adding showings where using your cellphone will be allowed.
The reason?
"When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don't ruin the movie, they hear, please cut off your left arm above the elbow," Aron told Variety. "You can't tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That's not how they live their life."
I hesitate to denigrate the words "sniveling" and "dumb" by applying them to this scenario.

PS. The next day (today) AMC withdrew the idea.

religious nationalism in Israel

A Jewish soldier prays.
These days, in the arenas where religion and warfare are folded into each other, the 'terrorist' Islamic State is often the first entity that comes to mind. In Islamic State, God and brute force live cheek by jowl, each reviving and elevating the other. It's a hellish but heady mix, one that those who oppose Islamic State are often hard-pressed to disentangle: Kill the infidels! Why? Because they do not have a good bead on the one true God or his commandments.

However confused and confusing the mix may be, still, even the opponents of Islamic State have to concede the enthusiasm engendered by mixing God and military action. Soldiers' enthusiasms can be aroused by a resounding cheer of "Allahu Akbar!"

And the Jewish state is apparently not immune to a tactic -- military or religious -- that builds a blood-warming response. Jews too bring with them the tamped-down understanding (kept carefully in the shadows) that anyone who is not a Jew is an infidel and probably deserves to be trampled under foot.

And now, according to a Reuters story, religious zeal is claiming an increasing home in the Israeli military.
Nowhere is the growing clout and reach of religious nationalists in Israel more apparent than in its military. Some have begun to push back.
If "God" will make soldiers more compliant and enthusiastic, why would anyone keep "God" out of the mix?

Napoleon Bonaparte wrote of such enthusiasms:
The moral is to the physical as three to one. ... An army's effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined.
He also wrote:
If you had seen one day of war, you would pray to God that you would never see another.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

the things in the room

Like a curtain hanging in the window of an emptied building ... and being idly towseled by a passing current, there are memories that hang and billow and seem to have no particular context. They simply are and they are gentle, but they seem to have no object for their kindness. They are just kind and the daylight plays within them.

Such, perhaps, is a line I once read in a book about psychology. My teen-aged years were a wracked time and I read a lot of psychology in hopes of annuling the raw cruelties of my time.

I would have been 15 when I read the line -- perhaps from a book called "Language and Schizophrenia," but perhaps not -- attributed to a "patient." The line stuck with me and towseled me and to this day, I do not know why it qualified the speaker as a "patient." No doubt there was a context that I failed to remember. But maybe not. Psychology aficionados tend to be a little crazy themselves so maybe the "patient's" line simply didn't jibe or towsel in tune with the interviewer's window frame.

Anyway, the line was: "The air is still, here -- the air between the things in the room. But the things themselves are no longer here."

Needless to say, all the psychology books I read when I was 15 and 16 didn't do much to make me more sane, but I am grateful that that single line attached itself like some bold limpet to my memory. Its soft fluttering, whether sane or crazy, lingers and lulls me... luffing, fluttering, waving hello or perhaps goodbye.

Before the rising of the linguists and etymologists, what a good word "ephemeral" is.

Inky outwits his captors

And now for something completely different:
"An octopus has made a brazen escape from the national aquarium in New Zealand by breaking out of its tank, slithering down a 50-metre drainpipe and disappearing into the sea."

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

one-percenter touts Bernie

I haven't got the intellectual savvy to parse or assess this, but I thought it was interesting.

I'm the real-life Gordon Gekko and I support Bernie Sanders

the price of being right

In the organ-recital department this morning, my right ankle, which can let out with yelps of knifing pain, really does need a doctor's attention. The flocks that crap on cars have made an appearance and, in observance of long-standing tradition, have begun crapping on cars. And there is writing that needs to be done.

Otherwise, it's rainy and I found this article about believers who segued away from an imperious belief system quite touching.

Is there anything, spiritual or otherwise, that cannot be titled, "the price of being right?"

Monday, April 11, 2016

jail the planners!

JERUSALEM (AP) — A 12-year-old Palestinian girl who was imprisoned after she confessed to planning a stabbing attack in a West Bank settlement will be released early, Israel's prison service said Monday, capping a saga that drew attention to the dual legal system in the West Bank.... An amateur video clip shown on Israeli TV showed the resident asking the girl, who was wearing her school uniform, whether she had come to kill Jews, and she said yes. She later pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter in a plea bargain and was sentenced to 4½ months in prison.
Even more than the facile reporting that details Palestinian knife attacks in which understandably concerned Israelis shoot the attackers dead (tally since October 2015: 160 Palestinians; 26 Israelis ... who in his right or even enraged mind brings a knife to a gun fight?) ... even more than the glib gobbling of aggrieved Israeli pablum ... is the worldwide willingness to arrest, incarcerate, or torture people who are allegedly PLANNING one kind of mayhem or another.

The same stuff is happening in my country, so I am far from willing to claim the high moral ground: People who plan or conceive of bad things are open to arrest or worse.

Lord, I do hope the government doesn't find a way into my brain and its imaginative activities! I realize I probably deserve to be locked up in order to assure the safety of a society made edgy by those who claim to want to protect its citizens ... but the dictatorship potential is really more than I can stomach easily.

If you are planning something naughty ....

And the U.S. complains about the rigidities of the Islamic State.


Posted the following on a Buddhist bulletin board thread about lying this morning and thought I would paste it here as well:
I have come around to the view that precepts are not descriptors of what anyone could or would actually do. Rather they are descriptors of good advice everyone will ignore or act contrary to from time to time.
By this yardstick, it is impossible not to lie ... not least because language describes experience and there is no such thing as experience that can be adequately described. By this yardstick, everyone is lying all the time and the best anyone could do about it in a search for truth would be to shoulder the responsibility and recognize that living life in approximate ways (lies) is neither satisfactory nor pleasant.
But even here, there is a fly in the ointment: How is it possible that life -- yours, mine or anyone else's -- could ever be approximate? No one is 'approximately' alive. Even those who fall victim to so-called living-in-the-moment and all the chit-chat that goes with that are constrained to admit it: No one is 'approximately' alive.
And if any of this holds actual-factual water, then truth and lies are not so very different. Not the same, mind you, but not so different either. This is the realm of what the Hindus call "the razor's edge."
It's much too sharp for me .... and besides, I need another cup of coffee. :)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

praying to go to hell

I got what may have been my first concrete introduction to Christianity while playing poker on a ship out of New York and bound for Naples. I was 11 and the boys I played poker with came from some place south enough so that when we landed in Italy, their Dixie twang rolled off my tongue as well.

The ship -- the "Excalibur" -- was a mixed-use vessel that had one square swimming pool, a ping-pong table, and a space for shuffle board. There were passengers, of which we were three, but otherwise the ship carried freight. Soon enough, everyone got his or her sea legs. The boys had taught me how to play poker and we played for pennies.

And one day, when I was holding a pair of aces and feeling pretty cocky, we laid our cards down and one or the other of the boys had me beat ... three twos or whatever it was.

"Gawd!" I groaned.

Suddenly everything became quiet in our midst. There was a sea change. You could feel it. And then one of the boys gave voice to the silence.

"Please don't take the lord's name in vain."

His straight face and level tone let me know that this was a serious matter for him. In my head a voice said, "are you shitting me?!" Luckily the sentiment remained closeted in my head. I waited for him to say more, but he didn't.

Don't take the lord's name in vain was another universe from my own. I didn't know much about God and the like, but what I did know was mostly contrary and laced with the intellectual snickers planted by parents whose intellect wielded power. But these were my friends and friends were more important than being snarky. I did what I could not to take the lord's name in vain... and marveled vaguely that there were universes about which I knew little or nothing but I could tell they were important to the beings who inhabited them.

I guess this recollection came back today because last night it occurred to me as curious -- the whole heaven-hell construct that some Christians can adhere to with a fury. Not all, but some. I have known Christians who are convinced that there are two options -- heaven or hell. The good people go to heaven and the bad people go to hell. They yearn for heaven and are perfectly willing to leave others in the "left behind" category of souls who just plain could not cut the Christian mustard. They are the damned from the point of view of the un-damned who have yearned for and attained celestial heights.

What occurred to me as odd was that if someone were a Christian -- a persuasion based in charity and kindness -- why would they not beseech whatever heavens they believed in to send them to hell rather than heaven? Isn't hell the place where those "left behind" are most in need of succor and salvation? Isn't this the matrix in which those who were unstained by sin could do their most palpable good? Isn't this the arena, in short, where Christianity might truly shine?

Instead of a tough-shit approach to the damned and the sinners, isn't hell the place any Christian might want to attain?

I don't know: I just seems to me that hoping to attain heaven and praising it volubly goes four-square against the grain of the format from which that desire arises.

I guess it's the same for other spiritual persuasions as well.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

when dad is no longer dad

Sir Anthony Montague Browne
Justin Welby
Talk about something to scramble the eggs of self-perception: It turns out that the Archbishop of Canterbury, top gun in the Anglican Church, was not the son of the man he had always thought of as his father. Instead, with 99.9779% probability, he was the one-night-stand offspring of Winston Churchill's private secretary.

On the one hand, who was actually his dad cannot undo or rewrite the upbringing of the Most Reverend Justin Welby, 60. On the other, what memories, what joys, what anguish must be rewritten in Welby's memory banks now that whisky salesman Gavin Welby
Gavin, Jane and Justin Welby
(deceased) has been supplanted by the late Sir Anthony Montague Browne?

What does anyone do -- what can they do -- when the presumptions of a lifetime -- so easy, so assured, so concrete -- are thrown into a cocked hat? Suppose your dad were not your dad. Suppose your mom were not your mom. Would anything change? How could it help but change ... but change how? Unless I'm wrong, such revelations contain about equal parts of plain-as-salt and somehow-unsettling.

Bring out your weird-shit-o-meters.