Thursday, June 30, 2016

where the gods convene photos

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

mildly dirty joke

Read on a Buddhist bulletin board:

A backpacker is traveling through Ireland when it starts to rain. He decides to wait out the storm in a nearby pub. The only other person at the bar is an older man staring at his drink. After a few moments of silence the man turns to the backpacker and says in a thick Irish accent:
"You see this bar? I built this bar with my own bare hands. I cut down every tree and made the lumber myself. I toiled away through the wind and cold, but do they call me McGreggor the bar builder? No."
He continued "Do you see that stone wall out there? I built that wall with my own bare hands. I found every stone and placed them just right through the rain and the mud, but do they call me McGreggor the wall builder? No."
"Do ya see that pier out there on the lake? I built that pier with my own bare hands, driving each piling deep into ground so that it would last a lifetime. Do they call me McGreggor the pier builder? No."
"But ya fuck one goat.."

"Who Got Rich Off the Student Debt Crisis"

... a very, very good piece.

At a Senate hearing in 2014, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, quizzed the head of the Federal Student Aid office, James W. Runcie, about the government’s loan income.
Warren: “My question is … where do those profits go? Do they get refunded back to the students, who paid more than was necessary for the cost of their loans? Or are they just used to fund government generally?”
Runcie: “They are used to fund government generally. They do not come back specifically into the program.”
Warren: “We’re charging more interest than we need to run the student loan program, and there’s no mechanism to refund that money to the students. …  I don’t think the student loan program should be designed so that it’s making profits for the federal government.”

ferreting out bullshit

Interesting, if long-ish, article in The Guardian. One of the punchlines of "Why Bad Ideas Refuse to Die" is:
It is important to rethink the notion that the best ideas reliably rise to the top: that itself is a zombie idea, which helps entrench powerful interests. Yet even zombie ideas can still be useful when they motivate energetic refutations that advance public education. Yes, we may regret that people often turn to the past to renew an old theory such as flat-Earthism, which really should have stayed dead. But some conspiracies are real, and science is always engaged in trying to uncover the hidden powers behind what we see. The resurrection of zombie ideas, as well as the stubborn rejection of promising new ones, can both be important mechanisms for the advancement of human understanding.
Ferreting out bullshit is not for the lazy or the faint of heart.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

foul-mouthed witness?

A prosecutor in Michigan is considering whether the squawkings of a foul-mouthed parrot may be used as evidence in a murder trial.Glenna Duram, 48, has been charged with murdering her husband, Martin, in front of the couple's pet in 2015.Relatives of the victim believe that the pet African Grey, named Bud, overheard the couple arguing and has been repeating their final words....Mrs Duram is accused of shooting her husband five times before turning the gun on herself in a failed suicide attempt.Mr Duram's ex-wife, Christina Keller, now owns Bud. She believes that he has been repeating the conversation from the night of the murder, which she says ends in the phrase "Don't shoot!", with an expletive added...
Lillian Duram, added: "That bird picks up everything and anything, and it's got the filthiest mouth around."
Mr Springstead [prosecutor]said it is unlikely the bird could be called to the stand to testify as a witness during a trial.

George Will quits GOP

In the midst of the swirling no-substance chaff infusing the U.S. presidential race, conservative Washington Post columnist George Will, said last Friday that he had disaffiliated himself from the Republican party. Will credited both Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan with helping him to make his decision.

There was a time in the past when I would read Will's columns as a means of knowing, roughtly, what the enemy was thinking. He was intelligent -- sometimes overbearingly so -- and maintained the old values of researching what he was talking about. Of late, I have found him too murky-without-purpose, but that's my problem. Will can think, which is more than can be said for a lot of Republicans who currently have a choke-hold on the country. Will seems to honestly feel the country is worth maintaining and advancing ... but a lot of caterwauling is not necessary, and second-hand opinions are not policy material or should be counted among serious thoughts.. Will is sober in ways that can give sobriety a bad name.

Will is not some air-head Republican who will roll over and spread his legs for assertions based on nothing more than a passing belief. He's a guy worth listening to, however lazy I have become about listening to him.

drifting away

I have never been beautiful enough to don and maintain the implications of the American Indian (Hopi? Navajo?) observation that "all around me is beauty." The fact that I cannot escape does not change anything.

But for all that, I have made contact with drips and drops of the inescapable. About like anyone else, I suspect -- moments so clear and clean and unencumbered that beauty -- for lack of another word -- takes on an imperative to seek and find and capture or recapture.

I have never been beautiful enough. Which is not to say I have not petitioned and pleaded ... and yet simultaneously feared: If things were profoundly OK and, more, beautiful, well ... there is a death of sorts in there somewhere and death makes me squeamish, even as it beguiles.

A slight smile, a violin note, a handshake, a painting hanging in no particular grandeur, a dog's tongue against the cheek, a farewell wave ... beautiful in the moment yet unable to make it linger and last. I have never been beautiful enough to be beautiful.

I guess what put me in mind of all this was a song that arose out of the Internet screen:

A petition. Perhaps not your petition or mine, but a petition nonetheless.

Monday, June 27, 2016

the richness is gone, the house remains

My wife is going through a bad patch at work -- feeling the pinch of yuppy-young managers who think that making employees feel fearful is the mark of leadership. The situation brings out my Islamic State desire to chop off some hands or worse....

My son is enduring a personal bad-patch upset. I can tell because his sometimes-sullen willingness to generalize about the people around him is on the back burner. His footing is not so firm. When things hurt, the bullshit of "people think" or "everyone feels" gets a new and improved perspective ... same for the young, same for the old, I think.

My own ability to meet and greet the heat of the last few days sets me back in a bad-patch arena.

As the song once observed, "my get-up-and-go has got up and went."

And so, when my stepmother let it be known on Friday that she would have liked it if I came up to a nearby hilltown community to help with the last vestiges of moving out of a house her partner owns, I just couldn't bring my sympathies to bear. The house was the scene of many family get-togethers over the years, but now it is about to be sold. Gathering there one last time would be an exercise in confused sadness: All that love and energy and effort and now, in the end, it is just a house. No, I would not go ... I was just too wrung out.

Just a house. Just a person. How does that happen? The richness dissolves, the house stands ... and ... and ... and ... do things improve or get somehow solved because there is some sad or happy recollection? I do not want to listen to heartfelt or allegedly heartfelt recollections. My own are confusing enough in that gone-baby-gone way.

"A problem shared is a problem halved." Is that so or is it just another bit of whistling past the graveyard?

The richness is gone. The house remains.

Someone will think of something wise to say. Luckily, I will not be around the hear it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

photos from the Guardian

Lauren Hernandez competes in the women’s gymnastics championships

Saturday, June 25, 2016

run over your car with a tank

Lousy merchandise?

Political stunt:  (Can't find embed code, but here's the clip.)
Lazarus is proposing tougher penalties and the establishment of an independent ombudsman to help Australians who buy new cars that turn out to be poor quality.
“According to [consumer group] Choice, 75% of new car buyers experience some major issue with their cars in the first five years and of that 15% don’t get their issues resolved, which I think is poor form from the manufacturers.”
I'm not sure of the last time I asked my car to stand the test of an on-coming tank, but I am willing to applaud the focus on poor quality.

Scottish dancing

Scottish country dancer Mairie McGillivray, 16, dances on the beach at Bridgend as she poses for a photograph on the Hebridean island of Islay, March 11, 2014. A second Scottish independence referendum is "highly likely", First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday, raising the prospect that the United Kingdom could tear itself apart after voting to leave the European Union. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

the polygamy possibility

Another perspective on polygamy:
Love doesn’t just come in pairs. Is it time that marriage laws come to recognise the fact?

That some people choose polyamory in order not to cheat on their partner brings to light a striking contradiction about monogamy in the west: adultery is rife. Pallotta-Chiarolli points out the irony that mainstream media almost accept affairs as a social norm. “But when it comes to ethical non-monogamous relationships… this is considered [abnormal].”

ask and answer

Of all the lumps in a sometimes-rocky road of life, maybe one is this -- too many people asking questions to which they imagine they have or could have the answers.

... Which itself is an answer of sorts and thus hardly serves to smooth the lumpy way.

If don't-ask-don't-tell doesn't work and ask-and-answer doesn't work much better, what works?

Here we go again....

Friday, June 24, 2016

Ralph Stanley, bluegrass patriarch, dies

Ralph Stanley of the Clinch Mountain Boys and bluegrass patriarch died yesterday at 89.

architectural what-if's

U.K. exits European Union

With all the political savvy of a clothes pin, I can hardly claim the right to comment on the United Kingdom's vote to divorce itself from the European Union. I thought yesterday's vote would be to remain part of the union. In the event, voters signed the divorce papers and from where I sit, it feels like war... again. But as I say, my sense of the growing divide between wealth and poverty, the rise of feudalism, and the bureaucrat-instilled fear may be ill-informed and perhaps mediocrity will not necessarily prevail.

Still, with real estate tycoon Donald Trump strutting the American political hallways and spouting uninformed bullying gibberish,  perhaps it is time for those who work for a living to reclaim some larger portion of the economic pie. "If," the Somali security officer once said, "you do not share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you."

The rise of mediocrity. The enthroning of self-referential ignorance. All hail, Israel.

I think I should return to clipping the sheets to the laundry line.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

slightly weird, slightly wonderful promo

"augmented eternity"

I suppose that one of the 'fears' about dying and death goes something like this: "You mean I spent all that time scratching and scrimping and gathering coherent information and in a nanosecond -- poof! -- it's gone!? What a waste!" Of course I don't want to think of my life as a waste, so having it go "poof!" is not pleasant.

But now comes the suggestion that the "poof!" factor can be overcome. I'm not entirely sure whether that is more or less depressing than the alternative.
Researchers at the MIT Media Lab and Ryerson University in Toronto believe that by applying artificial intelligence to all the data we produce each day, we may be able to transfer our thoughts to a virtual entity that not only survives our physical demise but continues to learn as new information is plugged into it.
This 'advance' is being quaintly dubbed "augmented eternity."
 “Your physical being may die, but your digital being will continue to evolve with the purpose of helping people and maintaining your legacy as an evolving being.”
Do I really want to live forever just because I'm scared of the "poof!" factor? There's something grotesque about it, though I'm not sure I can put my finger on it.

It just feels somehow eeeeeuuuuuuuwwwwwwww! Death may be scary, but isn't it somehow, likewise, a relief from all that scratching and scrimping?

jousting with women

Nicky Willis is one of the leading female jousters on the European circuit
Women will join jousting competitions at English castles for the first time this summer, English Heritage has confirmed.
Female knights will battle against male counterparts at Bolsover, Kenilworth, Pendennis and Carisbrooke castles.
The grand medieval joust competitions see the knights on horseback, dressed in full armour and armed with a lance.
Traditionally, no women took part in jousting tournaments as all the elite knights were male.
Strikes me that even without armor and other accoutrements, women can be pretty formidable opponents. Not that there's any reason they shouldn't slice off a piece of the "boys' toys" pie.

excellence and mediocrity

If I had to guess, I guess I'd guess....

Excellence implies a willingness to fail.

Mediocrity merely entails a willingness to succeed.

Somewhere, somehow, choose excellence.

This wispy trail of thinking seemed to springboard from a TV news segment last night that featured Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund. The IMF issued a report whose parameters I am not equipped to assess, but if Christine Lagarde is on TV, I'll admit my bias towards watching: Bar none, Christine Lagarde is the best-dressed policy wonk on the world stage; she speaks intelligently without referring to what I sense is a tough-as-hard-tack core; and ... well, I enjoy her company even if I suspect it. I'm biased: She's a hottie ... and she reminds me of the old advice, "don't bring a knife to a gun fight."

And here she was last night talking about the IMF report that said among other things:
Despite the ongoing expansion, the U.S. faces a confluence of forces that will weigh on the prospects for continued gains in economic well being. A rising share of the U.S. labor force is shifting into retirement, basic infrastructure is crumbling, productivity gains are scanty, and labor markets and businesses appear less adept at reallocating human and physical capital. These growing headwinds are overlaid by pernicious secular trends in income: labor’s share of income is around 5 percent lower today than it was 15 years ago, the middle class has shrunk to its smallest size in the last 30 years, the income and wealth distribution are increasingly polarized, and poverty has risen.
And somewhere in her responses on public television news, she used the "M" word when referring to the United States I live in. "M" for "mediocrity."

Excellence is the best anything could be. Mediocrity is the most anyone could get out of something... a something too often defined by someone else. Lagarde did not make a federal case out of it. No Bernie-Sanders or Donald Trump harangue. But in measured and mellifluous tones, she laid the possibility on the U.S. doorstep: Mediocrity would drag down a quite resilient U.S. economy, so it was worth the expense to raise the quality bar.

With local graduations in the near-past around here, and with the tsunami of cookie-cutter news stories detailing the encouragements of one speaker after another, I wonder how many will "follow your dreams." How many have dreams that go beyond success and please absolutely no one (perhaps) but the dreamer? An excellent chicken soup. A fine ice cream. A well-clipped hedge. A marriage made not in heaven but in the present. A single, agile step around some dog shit. A breath ... just one ... excellent!

No one says, "follow your mediocrity," but so much of life can seem dedicated to precisely that proposition. What one excellent dream is on the radar so compellingly that failure is no where in sight? Isn't that important when it comes to ineffable riches? Just one small thing or perhaps a big one ... but excellent for all that.

Yes, the price is extravagant. People may call you arrogant or insane. But just once, just one thing, just one excellent thing ... what the hell, you can always fall back on mediocrity and no one (except you) will be the wiser. Is that the sort of personal economy anyone really wants to claim as home?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

a coupla redheads

Laura Hunter, and Highland Cow Molly, prepare for the Royal Highland show at Ingliston showground

"Brexit" from John Oliver

"Fuck the European Union"
which is arguably less witty than the 1959 Kingston Trio doing

"They're Rioting in Africa"

lights out

At about four minutes to six, this morning, there was some sort of explosion that echoed in the neighborhood. Whether it was "up the street" or "down the street" or "behind the house" or "in front of it" was not entirely clear, but the net effect was the same: The lights went out.

The lights, the phone, the computer and every other electricity-dependent item -- kaput. This meant I was forced to revise my morning rituals. I could not read the news wires I usually did. I could not write on the computer. I could not warm up an overnight-stale roll for breakfast.

So I sat on the porch in the morning light and did what I usually reserved for later -- read the paper. The paper holds less and less news in narrower and narrower focal lengths so I couldn't assess what was happening in much of the rest of the world. I considered writing by hand, but my handwriting has disintegrated over time and now the dis-use comes back to haunt me ... now I write like some doctor signing a prescription ... carelessly, arrogantly, indecipherably.

All else failing, I went back to bed and held a book up to the nearest window so I could read a little and then doze. Old farts get to do that, so I did it.

Around 8, there was some sort of ka-chunk and the lights returned.

It was not reassuring enough to erase my exposure to my advancing inadequacies.

Reminded me of a bait-and-switch video offered by The Guardian entitled, "The Weight of Light," which suggested in its teaser that a way to create light for those otherwise consigned to kerosene or darkness in the tropics might now see at night ... study for school, view family members, come out of a darkness that consumes everyone. The premise was enticing, but the solution has not yet been found. I felt gypped by the teaser, though interested in the engineering efforts. How dark the darkness!

a church-prone point of view

A letter to the editor of the local Daily Hampshire Gazette today:
The foundation of church is its people. Many people today are sad that churches are closing. Unless people start attending church, more will close.

Catholics are actually required to attend Sunday Mass. This requirement can be met from 4 p.m. on Saturday to Sunday evening and there are many times to go.

It doesn't make any sense to belong to an organization and not go there. Many people say God is everywhere and that is true but Jesus said where two or three are gathered in my name I will be there. Jesus went to pray at the synagogue.

The keys to heaven are in church attendance. The best thing you can do for your children is bring them to church.

Your child's religious education is more important than their college education.

Many people say they will let the children choose their religion when they are adults. Do they say this about everything else, like brushing their teeth or going to public school?

A lot of people want their family baptized and buried in a church but if you don't go in between, the church might not be there for the funeral.

Come and visit your place of worship on a regular basis. It is very uplifting.
                                                                               -- NOREEN BEEBE

I'm not sure why I liked this letter. I don't entirely agree with it, but I don't disagree either. I think I like the straight-forwardness. It's canted according to the writer -- like any other bit of assertion -- but it's not raucous. Christians can give me a terrible case of jock-itch with their sometimes well-camouflaged clamor. This did not.

Whatever ... I thought enough of it to copy it word by word out of the hard-copy newspaper since the paper's web site did not have it up yet.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Jesus' "wife" redux

A scholar says the bit of papyrus is probably a fake ... but, if I had to guess, "probably" is not yet "certainly" and the sheer fun of toying with the notion that Jesus might have had a wife is too beguiling. The sociological, philosophical and economic ripples can nourish an almost giddy excitement in a realm that otherwise might slump into flat-beer, grimly-educated doldrums.

Did he have kids? Did he fuck for fun? And what impact does his lack of celibacy have on the whole woven tapestry called Christianity?

This is juicy.

But the papyrus is probably bogus....

Yum. Yum. Yum.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sunday, June 19, 2016

life imitates art in San Salvador

San Salvador, El Salvador
A contestant performs in a living statue contest
Photograph: Jose Cabezas/Reuters

a kindness

Passed along in email:

Father's Day

Father's Day.

I hope others have a clearer bead on what that means than I seem to... and that it is a time of some joy.

Having never been a father before, the arrival of fatherhood left me gob-slapped at first. What was anyone supposed to do? I had no clue. And somehow, as one child turned into three, I still had no clue. No one seemed to have taught me ... or maybe I was a slow and inattentive learner.

I wish, somehow, that I could have done better, but if you lack a base line -- "I had no clue" -- the question becomes "better than what?"

And further, wishing I could have done better suggests that I might have done worse. But, once again, the question becomes, "worse than what?"

My kids are all pretty good people and I am glad for that. As yet, their difficulties do not seem monumental and I still wish I could make things better for them. What role did I play in their past? Honestly, I must have played some role, but laying claim to the particulars seems to be impossible to grasp and name.

The secret world of being a parent includes the axiom, "parents are made to make mistakes." The axiom is one that separates the parent from the single person, who may still be busy thinking that not-fucking-up is a real possibility. Parent-dom takes the starch out of the well-starched shirt of individuality.

And none of this jibber-jabber brings me any closer to understanding what a father is, what being a good one might entail, and what harm has been left in my wake. I hope it's not too much, but I'm not about to assume that. One of my mistakes, perhaps, has been to lean too far towards my potential and real errors and to brush aside a few honest accomplishments.

So it goes.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

the night, the nuns, the swag ... the mystery

Aside from anything else, good lead sentence:
José López
The sight of a middle-aged man throwing sacks of cash over the walls of a convent before dawn was always likely to attract attention in the quiet Buenos Aires suburb of General Rodríguez.
But what started as a neighbourhood curiosity on Tuesday morning has since grown into a nationwide political drama that threatens to tarnish the legacy of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and complicate relations between the Argentinian government and the Catholic church....
He was with the nuns – in their 80s and 90s – and surrounded by the bags he had thrown over the fence. These, and a red carry-on bag, turned out to be filled with wads of plastic-wrapped dollar bills and other valuables. In all, he had $8.9m.
Sounds like the "Lincoln's doctor's dog" potential best-seller as told in Argentina.

free assault rifles

Guns in America ....
A New Hampshire car dealer is offering everyone who buys a car a free AR-15 assault rifle, a type of weapon similar to the one used in the Orlando LGBT nightclub massacre.
Mike Hagan owns Hagan’s Motor Pool Auto Repair and Sales in Rochester. He says he’s given away four AR-15s and one 9mm handgun, an option for buyers who don’t want the rifle.

lap-dog press corps

And, when it comes to a manipulated freedom-of-the-press corps....
[W]hen representatives of Western governments come to China, we are seeing a media conference model which appears even less accountable than the sessions provided by the Chinese Communist Party.
The offering during the recent visit by United States Secretary of State John Kerry was a classic example of this phenomenon....
[I]t is not hard for China's leaders to think: "Well, there you go. Why should we behave any differently to anyone else? What's more, we understand the need to control the press. The difference is that we don't pretend that we're not doing it."
How we used to snicker at the communist model that included a Department of Agitation and Propaganda. Anyone snickering now has got another snicker coming.

Friday, June 17, 2016

a bit of counting

In the interim
Between first and last,
The 10,000 things arise.

And oh how I wish
I could count to one.

"Sam Stone" - John Prine

A much younger John Prine sings a song I had never heard and wish I had:

nature's phenomena

Nature's phenomena ....

-- In Austrailia, gazillions of spider crabs have convened off Melbourne.

The Middle East has been the worst hit by significant rise in sand and dust storms, with major impacts on human health, United Nations scientists say.
Iran and Kuwait are the most affected countries, largely because of sand and dust blowing in from Syria and Iraq.
Mismanagement of land and water amid conflicts in the region has been a key factor, as well as climate change.
The medical aid charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says it will no longer take funds from the European Union in protest at its migration policy.
MSF singled out the EU's deal with Turkey under which Turkey agreed to take back any migrants who crossed the sea to Greece in smugglers' boats....
"MSF announces today that we will no longer take funds from the EU and its Member States in protest at their shameful deterrence policies and their intensification of efforts to push people back from European shores," the group said in a statement.
US rock star Meat Loaf has collapsed on stage during a concert in Canada.
Video footage from Thursday's concert in Edmonton shows the singer, whose real name is Marvin Lee Aday, falling on stage during his performance....
He was performing another hit, I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That), when he dropped his microphone and fell to the floor, video footage showed.
This last just drew me back to the fact that although I don't much like Meat Loaf music, I am utterly erased in the long, long, long "I Would Do Anything for Love." It is as a symphony for me, as much as friends may scoff at my questionable taste. To write and perform such a piece and then keel over dead strikes me as a full and worthwhile life.  Music to play the Big Bang Theory by.

... tender
...the world
... gawwwwwd!

untrustworthy monthly column

Below, more or less, is the monthly column I submitted to the local paper this month. It's flimsy and weak from where I sit, but it was only a couple of days ago that I realized I had failed to meet my third-Wednesday-of-every-month deadline and rushed to correct the error... neglecting in the process the old rule, if you're not sure of what you're saying, don't say it. Oh well, mediocrity is like old age ... stuck with the farm. Which doesn't mean I have to like it. I am interested in "trust," I had a few snippets kicking around and I used them.
Once, as an apartment-painter in New York City, I asked the prolific writer and scientific whiz kid Isaac Asimov for a letter of recommendation. I said that some of my would-be customers asked for such recommendations and I figured Isaac's fame could help me land a job and put spaghetti on my table.

Both of us were chuckling as we went into his office where he batted out the recommendation. What a ridiculous exercise. It was like asking a politician to suggest who might be best suited for the office s/he wanted: Would the applicant provide anything less than the most sparkling endorsement?

But I needed to eat and pay rent and if letters of recommendation were the way to play the game, I would play. Still, petitioning Isaac made me wonder about those who seem willing to trust the endorsement of others more than -- or even as much as -- they trust their own. Trust is an odd thing to hand over to someone else.

I felt comfortable asking Isaac for kudos, manufactured or otherwise. I had painted for him and his wife, the former psychiatrist Janet Jeppson, on several occasions. During lunch breaks filled with comfortable, laughter-stitched banter, I usually had some question I wanted to ask Isaac (what is zero? or what is the greatest-unknown in science? for example). The conversation almost invariably ended with his saying, "I wrote a book about that. Wait a sec -- I'll get you a copy." And he would.

Trust, however vague, is the realm in which anyone might hope to relax, to feel assured, and to feel safe. Strange to notice that distrust entails the same characteristics. Donald Trump, for example, instills trust in those who rest assured in distrust  

And trust, like the conversations with Isaac, can inspire wry laughter. Sometimes it's downright ridiculous. Consider the "life insurance" whose existence lacks all meaning until a dead body shows up. Wouldn't "death insurance" be more appropriate? Or consider the two-by-four which has not measured two-inches-by-four-inches for years. Or consider the "Defense Department" which changed its name from the "War Department" although making war remains its central concern despite the "defense" it may lay claim to.

Yes, there is the ridiculous. And then there is the serious. This is a season that angles for our trust. Trust Bernie. Trust Hillary. Trust Donald. Nor is it just national politics. Trust the mayor.  Trust your neighbor. Trust your friend. Trust your enemy. Trust your spouse. Trust Angie's List. Trust the government.

And there were serious aspects to trust as an ingredient in the apartment-painting business. Over 13 years as an apartment painter, I learned that potential customers were invariably reduced to their own best guess: Did they trust me? I tried to be trust-worthy: I never missed an appointment or if I did, I called to explain why. I didn't kick the cat or steal the flatware. I showed up on time. I must have done a pretty good job because one woman flew me to California to paint her house out there and I received several calls from former customers in New York after I had moved to Northampton: "It's just the living room," they might say.

But trust was a two-way street. Not only did my customers need to trust me. I needed to trust them. Over those 13 years, I learned that I really didn't want to work for people I disliked. Money was important, but so was an amiable environment. I learned, roughly, to steer clear of rich people: People who were rich didn't get that way by being nice. Further, doctors, lawyers, priests and cops were dubious prospects because each of those professions entailed a dynamic in which the customer needed someone to be his or her god. And if enough people ask you to be god on the basis of what you know and what they don't, there is a tendency to start believing you are god ... which is never a good sign.

I never did put Isaac's letter of recommendation to use. But I kept it as a reminder of a good chuckle and a sense that however compelling the longing for trust may be, still, it's a best-guess world in which the answer, right or wrong, lies no further away than your own gut.

And when it comes to being trust-worthy myself, I'll stick with the small and smiling prayer, "May I  become the person my dog thinks I am."

Thursday, June 16, 2016

the 8-week long "boring" Australian elections

SYDNEY (AP) -- The election campaign underway in Australia is often summed up by the local media with the following words: "A marathon." ''Endless." ''Exhausting." That endless, exhausting marathon lasts a whopping eight weeks — an eternity for Australians who cannot conceive of the years-long campaigning Americans are subjected to by their presidential candidates....
"And so we are back with our boring campaign. Two decent people — Turnbull and Shorten. ... Both dedicated to winning the middle ground; to finding policies that most of us can live with," he wrote. "I don't like everything they stand for; you don't like everything they stand for. But it's not a winner-takes-all contest. Australia will still be there, enjoying the things we've enjoyed under both sides of politics: 25 years of continuous economic growth, a mostly achieved balance between freedom and fairness, the rule of law, multiculturalism, a fondness for each other.
"Boring? Yes. Lucky, aren't we?"

forgetting the Orlando massacre

Last night, about 1,000 people gathered here in Northampton outside City Hall as a means of expressing their grief and anger at the mass shooting in a gay bar in Orlando, Fla., that began at 2 a.m. Sunday and left 49 people dead. [Police Department photo]

Northampton is largely known as a gay-friendly destination, so the sympathy is understandable in those terms. But the sympathy, for the moment, is not limited to those who share the sexual leanings of those killed and injured in Orlando. There have been gatherings across the country in preparation for forgetting about the whole thing ... again.

Slaughter is slaughter and people are people. Not perfect people or imperfect people, just people. People come first on any humane yardstick. Agendas, of whatever sort, come later. You don't need to be homosexual or heterosexual to know that.

I have to say that I am somehow embarrassed by my fatigue. I am just plain tired of the arrogance that attends on one group or philosophy dictating to another. Whether my neighbor fucks doorknobs or is bound and determined to revise his or her sex ... well, as long as the direction is not palpably harmful ... so the fuck what?! And to those who suggest any of this is against god's will, I wonder if they ever stop to consider that imposing their version of god's will might equally be apostasy in the eyes of someone worshiping another god. Righteousness and outrage ... I have to admit it tires me out.

Please yell at someone else.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

age and idiocy, age and genius

You'd think...
You'd think...
You'd think...

I mean, wouldn't you think that at the age of 80 or greater there would be a certain smoothness based on decades of experience ... of trial and error ... of just-plain ground-down ... of seeing and having seen? Sure, it may be a presumptuous presumption, but still ... wouldn't you think?
An 80-year-old man killed an 81-year-old man in a cemetery, then led police on a car chase before officers fatally shot him, Rhode Island authorities have said.
John Cloud of Kingston, Massachusetts, and Edward Acquisto of Tiverton arranged to meet on Monday evening in a Tiverton cemetery, where Acquisto was known to go to read his Bible, Tiverton Police Chief Tom Blakey said at a news conference.
I suppose that trying to correlate age and understanding is miles too simplistic for the human animal, but still there is some teenaged desire to have a simple understanding of a complex world.

The only conclusion I can draw is that idiocy, like genius, knows no age.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Vanessa Redgrave

There is all sorts of news today and I skim across it like a sandpiper speeding down the beach ... zip, pause, zip, pause. There is the slaughter in Orlando, the Siamese twins of obesity and malnutrition, the pairing of the potential British exit from the European Union and the daunting, undimmed catastrophe of Middle Eastern migration... and so much more. Somewhere, someone is killing someone else, but you knew that and so did I.

And then, without forcing anything, I come up against a person of substance, a person with sand, a quirky and unrepentant person and it's like falling into chocolate mousse ... or like a dog wiggling all over because it's so glad to see you. Is it because she's old and I'm old? I don't think so. I think it's the brass and how it twinkles, even if the article is a bit rumpled.

Actress Vanessa Redgrave. Even at the distance imposed by the written word, I get a sense of glee. The world is not entirely a hopeless wreck. Somewhere, there is someone like Redgrave to pin your ears back even if she is doing nothing more than being herself ... a person of sand and substance, a person who can bring the heat and stand the heat, a ... the only word I can think of is mensch.

I read the article from end to end, despite all of its written rumples. Here was something I wanted to know without really knowing what it was I wanted to know. Like a woodstove in winter, it was toasty and reassuring ... at least you're not going to freeze to death right now.

She reminds me of the observation, "Just because you are indispensable to the universe does not mean the universe needs your help." She is Vanessa Redgrave -- that's all. And the universe is better for her.

Monday, June 13, 2016

"The Empty Brain"

Passed along in email was this article ... which I found riveting, even if I'm not sure I understood it all. The good news is it's written in English. The bad news is that I'm not smart enough, even if I positively loved it.

.................................The Empty Brain..........................
Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer 
By Robert Epstein in Aeon 

A couple of excerpts:

-- ....there is no reason to believe that any two of us are changed the same way by the same experience.
-- We are organisms, not computers. Get over it. Let’s get on with the business of trying to understand ourselves, but without being encumbered by unnecessary intellectual baggage. The IP metaphor has had a half-century run, producing few, if any, insights along the way. The time has come to hit the DELETE key.


The Zen Buddhist teacher Rinzai (died 866, birth date unknown) once admonished his listeners approximately: "Your whole problem is that you do not trust yourselves enough."

Now there's a statement to fuck up a wet dream: On the one hand, those seeking a bit of peace and respite and understanding come pretty quickly to the realization that their whole problem is that they trust themselves too much and, as a result, run into an unending number of brick walls -- proof positive that trusting yourself is far from trust-worthy. On the other hand, here is a guy who reputedly has a handle on things encouraging students to do the very thing that dropped them in the quicksand in the first place.

Well, knock me down and color me floundering!

None of this might matter much if it weren't for the fact that trust -- assuming you can wrest it away from the TED talkers and other caring mealy-mouths -- and the desire for it are so insistent and so overarching. It's almost as if there were something woven in the DNA ... birth, death and in between, trust.

At the shallow end of the pool, there is the political arena of the 2016 presidential race. Trust Hillary. Trust Bernie. Trust Donald. But where the waters are deeper and more subtle, trust friends, trust spouses, trust platoon sergeants, and, yes, even trust enemies. Cynics who may count themselves as worldly beings trust their skepticisms. Optimists trust in a bright today and brighter tomorrow.

On the one hand, it's all pretty airy-fairy. On the other, it's bed-rock stuff: Trust and the demand for it. You can hear the demand in the smile-raising prayer, "May I become the person my dog thinks I am." What is it that dogs know and human beings seek?

Trust is, among other things, a place to rest, a place in which to feel assured, a place to be safe. It's bright and clean and lacks the doubt that can infuse the daily grind. It's a place which fends off surprises -- the friend who does something utterly inimical or the enemy who does something undeniably loving and kind.

Deeper and deeper the waters run until distrust and trust run into each other, infuse each other, find sourcing in each other. The longing to settle the matter -- whatever the matter may be -- once and for all natters and nags an is always just out of reach. God, what I wouldn't give for a little peace. Is there no resting place this side of the grave?

Rinzai hit the nail on the head. The matter comes down to trusting yourself AND the fact that trusting yourself is a fool's errand without first settling the matter of who, precisely, this self is. It's not a Buddhist thing; it's not a philosophical thing; it's not profound or shallow ... it's just what needs to be done if the demand for a trusted and trusting place is to be actualized.

No one likes the bathroom mirror, but in the end, what else is there?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

hot dog news

Heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali was feted and buried last Friday, in the same week when former secretary of state Hilliary Clinton became the first woman to be a presidential candidate for a major American political party. And around here, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a darling of left-leaners like me, is going to hold a meeting today around the corner and up the street.

Somehow there is little or no time to sip and savor the events of the time. Everything is like a hot-dog eating contest on Coney Island -- just shove another one in and swallow it in a mad dash for some gold medal that will mark a vast collection of untasted happenings. To slow down and savor is to risk being overrun by the hoard that likewise collects endless input.

The price of everything and the value of nothing.

The first thought into my head about Warren's visit: There will be a traffic jam on Conz Street where the veterans hall venue is located. Remember that if you run any errands. And after that, the thought that Warren's visit will praise Hillary in an already liberal environment and (now the important part) try to convince die-hard Bernie Sanders followers to release their death grip on Sanders' liberal agenda and vote for Hillary ... no sense in giving sociopath Republican Donald Trump any leeway. Hillary will win the presidency and if she doesn't know enough to thank Donald Trump, she'll be a bigger fool than I think she is. What she may do for the down-ticket candidates -- those seeking to dethrone state and federal Republican incumbents -- remains to be seen.

Another hot dog ... and another ... and another. All with little or no sense of flavor or satisfaction or surcease.

tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe ... pounce!

Tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe ... pounce!

I wonder to what extent the activities of this life are -- directly or indirectly -- an attempt to somehow capture and tame life -- to net it like some rabbit and stuff it in a gunny sack, to encapsulate it, stuff it in a back pocket, and claim it as being under control ... and then walking on, at last content.

I think this is probably pretty common, not that it matters much.

But to the extent that the observation is correct and perhaps compels the seeker, I think there is an all-too-obvious fly in the ointment -- so obvious that overlooking it takes an act of will the seeker is willing to expend.

In order to lay the snares of philosophy or religion or just plain mental masticating in an effort to tame the beast called life, you have first to be alive. Sneak up on things all you like. No matter how swift or wily or well-versed anyone might be as s/he laid the traps for life, still life would have beaten the seeker to the punch and the entire exercise amounts to claiming to see when seeing is what anyone already does.

Just because it sounds idiotic -- and perhaps is -- is no reason to scoff at the heart-felt searches for the 'meaning of life' or whatever anyone wants to call it. After all, people have to do something and idiocy is a perfectly acceptable pastime, I'd say.

Still, it's a bit peculiar, sort of like your loveably dotty aunt searching for the glasses on the bridge of her nose.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

"legal name fraud"

Scores of posters have appeared around the UK warning of "legal name fraud". What does this mean and who is paying for the adverts?
This story has all the earmarks of one deserving the expostulation, "WTF???" Is it serious? Is it silly? Is it sane? Is it nuts? Does it have a meaning? Or lack one?

Don't expect an comprehensible explanation in the story.


the wealth of nations

It has been a difficult summer for India.
Drought and a searing heat wave have affected an astonishing 330 million people across the country.
But this summer also marks the 150th anniversary of a far more terrible and catastrophic climatic event: the Orissa famine of 1866.
Hardly anyone today knows about this famine. It elicits little mention in even the densest tomes on Indian history.
There will be few, if any, solemn commemorations. Yet the Orissa famine killed over a million people in eastern India.
So cultured, so educated, so refined, so self-anointing -- what fulcrum of wealth does not arrogate wondrous descriptions to its realms? Yet which has the steel to count the cost? The latter-day televised raiment of "Downton Abbey" is woven on a loom well hidden behind carriages and salad forks. The Brits in India are hardly an exception. Rather, I suspect, they are the rule.

To conquor is easy. To rule takes grit.

Is it possible that a nation without shame can be called a cultural beacon?

Friday, June 10, 2016

if Charles Koch thinks things suck....

Charles Koch
The Russian attempts to subdue Afghanistan lasted the better part of a decade (1979-1989). Eventually, they picked up their toys and went home, not least because of U.S. support for the Afghan "rebels." The U.S. among others applauded the retreat of the godless communist horde.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2002 (after confecting a link between the 'terrorist' attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the somehow naughty Afghans) and still hasn't figured out a way to get out ... 14 years later. Will someone please tell me how the Russians should be dubbed the "dummies" in this scenario? Trying to subdue Afghanistan, for whatever purpose, has proven impossible over and over and over again. You don't need an Ivy League education to point this out.

But apparently an Ivy League degree is not enough to convince the policy-wonks and politicians in Washington. It is politically easier to sow fear -- let's have a war -- than to sow solutions ... and still people send their kids to 'elite' schools.

AP reported yesterday, "the White House has approved plans to expand the military's authority to conduct airstrikes against the Taliban when necessary, as the violence in Afghanistan escalates..." Translation: Inject new energy/troops/American blood into a flagging cause. If you can't sow peace, double down on war. It scares the shit out of people and a scared-shitless electorate is good for political longevity.

But wait.

Politics as usual may have taken a hit yesterday when Charles Koch, one of two "Koch Brothers" whom liberals love to lambaste for funding right-wing causes, announced that he was putting his money behind an "end the divide campaign." Koch's action accentuates the utter disarray of a Republican establishment that has painted itself into a pusillanimous and mean-spirited corner: If you ain't white and male and well-heeled, you ain't Republican. Koch said he was sick of the ad-hominem tenor of the political battleground and hoped there might be some issues both sides could discuss.

If Koch is doing this, things have got to be really bad. 

"The Legend of Thunder Butt"

If McKechnie were alive, he would understand. Instantly and without further ado, he would understand and dive into the excitement and wonder. The two of us might sit in some cafe in Paris or Berlin, the almost-summer sun warm, the beer cool and the women's breasts so admirable after a winter of warming camouflage and now on display ... he'd get it with a single, out-of-no-where mention...

"They don't know much," he might say. "They're still trying to make sense of the paintings and petroglyphs."

"Imagine that! Thousands of years earlier than the thousands of years old that earlier discoveries uncovered. And all of if just a couple of feet under the Creole/Lakota/Navajo dwellings. I wonder if the later tribes were aware...."

"They didn't find any bones."

"Yes, but the bones are implied in the tales told."

"Imagine that ... some kid out hunting and trips into a hole and a civilization is brought back to life."

"I hear Zinderman is coming from Zurich."

"There is evidence that they sang songs and danced."

"But who the hell were they? They don't yet fit or connect. Maybe they were a one-off."

"No culture is a one-off."

"It's only been six months. They need time to study and evaluate."

"Yeah, but I read they already are shaping a story and calling the whole thing "the Legend of Thunder Butt."

"I wonder if that is supposed to be humorous -- some kind of frustration at the questions unanswered -- or if it relates to some reality."

"Apparently, there really was an entity or chief or leader or something. The glyph is there, but how to translate it is not yet sure. And no, it's not just some trumpeting asshole."

"Neighbors are not entirely happy that their pigs have been walled off from their accustomed spaces ... all in the name of civilization and study."

"Thousands and thousands of years ... imagine that! Is it more or less important than the Large Hadron Collider."

"The collider looks to the future. The legend looks to the past. Is there a difference? Either way it is ignorance that provides the spice."

"Let's let Zinderman figure it out."

Of course the conversation with McKechnie would be far less limited and starched than what is above. These were times when everything was on the table and it didn't matter what was imaginary and what was real. They were times of slip-sliding without apology. Bill would know that silly was OK and serious was OK and everything was on the table. Proof was not the point because proof would limit the ramble. Bill would know.

But Bill is dead.

And in his place, as if by compensation, across the street this morning, a ground hog wanders contented on my neighbor's lawn. S/he seems at home and unafraid. Nibbling at grass tips here and there. No one is up yet, but s/he is up.

I wonder if s/he is working on the Legend of Thunder Butt.

I doubt it, but when have my doubts ever proved much?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Desmond Tutu's daughter

The daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mpho, says part of her was "stripped away" when she had to relinquish the Anglican priesthood over her same-sex marriage.....
Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth followed her father into a life in the Anglican church, but when she decided to marry the woman she loved, she had to leave.
What a wonderful thing: Four kids between them from previous marriages; one an atheist, the other religious; one pink, one brown; one lives in Amsterdam, the other in Cape Town ... if a high school student made the details of this story up, s/he could pretty much expect to get an F for non-credible story-telling.

Sometimes it's hard not to want to take formatted religion by the scruff of its starchy neck and shake it rudely: "Get a fucking life, will you?!"

Verazano ... we know it's wrong, but....

In this July 19, 2009 file photo, the Australian naval frigate HMAS Sydney passes under North America's longest suspension bridge.
Despite a new petition drive to make it right — the bridge is named for 16th-century Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano (two Z's) — the state authority that controls the span has stubbornly held to the one Z position it's taken for years: We know it's wrong, but we're not changing it.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials say it would simply be too expensive to change all the signs, brochures, maps and websites. Changing the name of New York's Triborough Bridge to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in 2008, for example, reportedly cost the state $4 million.
We know it's wrong but we're not changing it.

How many governmental and personal aspects of life does that cover?

Buddhist foolishness

Two or three hundred years after the Buddha died, a group of monks got together and swept up the orally transmitted memory of his words and "Buddhism" was off to the races. It was sort of like Christianity, I guess -- a gaping hole between the sayer and what was actually said. Jesus or Buddha may have said what was later alleged, but the time lapse called the accuracy into question for all save the most devoutly idiotic.

Idiocy is not a deal-breaker in spiritual life. Everyone molds and shapes and lies. The question that really matters is, does the confection pan out in reality, in practice, in action. If it does, fine. If it doesn't, fine. No need to slather on the holy writ or 'incontrovertible truth' ... the point is, does it work?

So, two or three hundred years after the source of the alleged data died, a format appeared. Some committed themselves to finding out if that format was/were true. Others just lolled in their beliefs.

One of the go-to books in Buddhism (very popular) is "The Dhammapada," a collection of the alleged teachings of Gautama. And in the P. Lal translation are the approximate words, "If you find no equal/ Or better in life/ Go alone:/ Loneliness is preferable to the company of fools."

With two brain cells to rub together, the first question into anyone's mind when reading such words is, "What fool would be foolish enough to judge another a 'fool?'" The question encourages what sometimes is camouflaged as "compassion:" Go easy on your brethren on the path; everyone goes over bumps and makes mistakes in this life; to see one is to be one. It sounds good, but I have never learned to be very good at it. If someone is a nitwit, I am willing to be branded a nitwit as a means of earning the right to call someone else a nitwit. It's a failing, I suppose, but it's a little late now for this leopard to change his spots.

I guess what brought this to mind was the presidential race here in the United States. Everyone wants to be well thought of even when they clearly lack the substance on which a good opinion might be based. What evidence is there that one candidate or another is working on behalf of the electorate whose vote s/he seeks? How much of what is being said is said simply as a statement the candidate hopes the electorate will not check? How much of it is self-serving twaddle?

In an age of yuppie conformists, it is hard to find a (wo)man with sand, with substance. Rarely do these feather merchants get called out. Why? Because it takes too much energy for too little payback. And yet once in a while, in one venue or another, the conformist and his foundation is called out. Take, for example, this snippet from the 2007 movie, "Charlie Wilson's War."  

It gets so tiring to deal with people who think they've got it right because others agree with them. No need for experience or perspiration -- the rules are the rules and "we" abide by them while others surrender themselves to the twisting confusion of actually finding out.

I would like to think I was a more kindly soul, but the fact is that after all these 'Buddhist' years, I am not. I can only swallow so much of correct and approved beliefs before I resort to a sometimes enraged loneliness. Those who can't don't bother me. Those who won't and yet insist on being highly regarded in a world of conforming tapioca turn me into a candidate for a charge of Murder One.

Loneliness is no joke. I get it. But my patience only extends so far. And then ... and then ... "will you please stop fucking around?!!!!"

Naturally, I am not a fool....

He said, foolishly but without regret.