Sunday, July 31, 2016

photos from The Guardian

A child plays in front of work by the Brazilian graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra, who hopes to set a Guinness world record for the largest wall graffiti created by a single artist.  

Texas campus guns

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas will allow concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons into public university buildings, classrooms and dorms starting Monday, which is also the 50th anniversary of the mass shooting at the University of Texas' landmark clock tower.
The campus-carry law pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican legislative majority will make Texas one of a handful of states that guarantee the right to carry concealed handguns on campus.

a little rain

As by the magic that was once simply called "nature," the goopy, gloppy, viscous humidity of the past week has transformed into plopping, wallowing rain today. The cool that comes with it eases my sense of being hopelessly hand-cuffed ... the old fart whom the weather man advises to stay indoors when the humidity and air pollution reaches certain levels.

Perhaps it's too old-fashioned and smarmy, but...

Friday, July 29, 2016

fallen soldier's father addresses DNC

terrorist cops

A Canadian couple convicted in a terrorism plot will be set free after a judge ruled they had been entrapped in a police sting operation.
John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were found guilty of planting pressure cooker bombs at the British Columbia legislature on Canada Day in 2013.
A judge said police manipulated the couple into carrying out the attack.
The pair did not have the mental capacity plan the attack on their own, the judge added....
 "The defendants were the foot soldiers but the undercover officer was the leader of the group," the judge said.

today I was five

Awoke this morning with a pipedream that let me know I was still five and believed in a perfect Santa Claus.

In a brief few seconds floating up and away from sleep, I had a dog named "Sally" which had appeared in my house and was there to stay -- a short-haired, good-tempered, house-broken companion with a name that was both plain and sassy. Dropped off magically and without explanation. Someone or something knew I wanted/needed a dog and ... well ... voilà!

I wished I had a dog, probably a black or brown Labrador retriever and ... well, it would be companionable and my responsibilities would be minimal to non-existent.

I really wanted a dog.

My wife hit the nail on the head. "I'd just end up taking care of it," she said without rancor. And she was right, I imagine. But still .... Sally would be there to receive my touch and touch in return. "Sally" was all the good stuff and none of the down-side.

But for those few seconds, I was five and never would grow up.

And some lingering hopefulness knows I would never turn Sally away if she showed up.

first U.S. woman president-almost

Well, it's hers to lose, now:

[Reuters] U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton cast herself as the steady leader at a "moment of reckoning" for America, contrasting her character with what she described as a dangerous and volatile Donald Trump.
In the biggest speech of her quarter century in politics, Clinton on Thursday accepted the Democratic presidential nomination for the Nov. 8 election with a promise to make the United States a country that worked for everyone.
"We are clear-eyed about what our country is up against. But we are not afraid," she said.
She presented a sharply more upbeat view of the country than her rival Trump offered when Republicans nominated him last week, and even turned one of Republican hero Ronald Reagan's signature phrases against the New York real-estate developer.
"He's taken the Republican Party a long way, from 'Morning in America' to 'Midnight in America,'" Clinton said. "He wants to divide us - from the rest of the world, and from each other."

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"I asked if he would dance for me..."

Ishran dances in the mountains near Aparan, Armenia. Photograph: Antoine Agoudjian
In 1998, I found myself in Aparan, a large town an hour’s drive from Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. A local dance troupe was performing that evening, in the open air, with most of the suburb in attendance. The old, the young, everyone was present, sitting hunched on stools or cross-legged on the floor, transfixed. In the background, small mountains and jagged cliffs framed the scene.
As soon as I took my first shot, an old man approached me. Tears streamed down his face. He told me that his son had died. That he had been electrocuted, that he was his pride and joy, and that I looked just like him. He broke into sobs and moved towards me with outstretched arms. His name was Ishran.
I asked if he would dance for me, and he began dancing. The troupe paused and perched on an outcrop of rocks in the background. It was beautiful, not because the man is beautiful, but because he represents something deep inside the collective consciousness of the Armenian community: a celebratory resilience in the face of overwhelming loss.

plus-size male models

“The world is ready for larger men. Women are doing really well in the plus-size industry. Now it’s time for us blokes to follow them.”

"Ideals are peaceful. History is violent."

I suppose everyone's got way stations along the highways of their lives -- little rest-stop blisters where a driver can angle to the right, park, step out, stretch and be careful of the poison ivy ... a belief or assumption or ... well, a rest stop. No need to tussle and improve. Just a place to stop.

Last night, I was watching a pretty-gritty World War II movie entitled "Fury," the tale of a tank company taking on the Germans during the waning days of the war. And in one of those war-movie obligatory rest stops or overviews, the central character, a sergeant, observes approximately to a confused and frightened newcomer in his squad, "Ideals are peaceful. History is violent."

For a moment I was surprised. For a guy like me who has read reams of spiritual-life books of one kind or another, I too was content with this celluloid rest stop. It might not be entirely true, but it was close enough to being true so that I was content to rest and stretch in the comforting household furniture in my home.

Close enough. No need for a lot of discussion or dissection. No need for improvement. The highway was out there waiting, but this rest stop was settled ... or close enough to being the whole ball of wax to be the whole ball of wax. Or anyway, for me.

The gentle question attending on this rest stop -- I repeat, gentle -- is, what place is it in which what is peaceful and what is violent are simply set aside? Just no more high-speed connections and understandings and bright lights and shadowy gloom. What place is this that requires no effort or truth or falsehood?

I suppose others have their own rest stops, but this occurred to me as one of mine.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

waiting for my gorge to rise

The following was part of a Voice of America series of photos passed along in email:

The warning came just before this pic:

Given the warning, I was waiting for my gorge to rise. What conclusion shall I reach that it did not?

providing the triggers to pull

Eastern European countries have approved the discreet sale of more than €1bn of weapons in the past four years to Middle Eastern countries that are known to ship arms to Syria, an investigation has found....
He said groups fighting pro-Assad forces rather than Isis were struggling to access arms. “If you say that you are fighting Isis you will get whatever you want but if you say that you are fighting against the regime no one cares about you.”
Thank goodness the United States has a piece of this lucrative action.

Hillary for president

Former two-term president Bill Clinton, a man remembered in brief as a guy who got a blow job while in office, gave a 42-minute speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last night as he stumped for his wife -- Hillary Rodham Clinton -- who will be the first woman president of the United States. Hillary Clinton nailed down the Democrat nomination as its candidate in the 2016 presidential race last night. She, unless I am mistaken, is a good ol' boy in girl's clothes and will prolong America's winning formula of war in the Middle East.

The first woman president. Wowsers, on the one hand! But on the other, quoi donc?

Still, if I were remembered, I think I'd rather be remembered for a blow job than for the carnage and contrived fear that elects and re-elects American 'states(wo)men.' Hillary fought hard and with skill, but for what victory? To beat the sociopath Donald Trump? To outflank liberal Bernie Sanders?

At what point does the good of the nation fit in? Is there a principle or two within sight? I can't tell you how depressing all the talk of "trust" and "hope" is. Like the vice-presidency, it is hard not to put the political swooning where John Nance Garner put the second-highest political office in tha land: "The vice presidency," he observed, "is not worth a bucket of warm spit."

Everything seems a bit like one of those early Japanese monster movies in which the lip-syncing is hopelessly out of sync. OK, sure, we have a woman president. It's historic. Get over it and get to work. Stop living in the past and pretending to speak in the present.

Oh well ... I guess I just want to vent too.....

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

lightning strike

"A frame of the video shared by journalist Henrik Moltke shows the bolt striking near the top of the [Empire State Building] skyscraper [in New York City] Monday.
Moltke says he saw the storm approaching from his office window and captured the strike by balancing his phone against the glass. He says he "was just lucky."

purity the goal; impurity the rule

If keeping the rules can arouse an emphatic following, how then shall anyone address the proposition that purity may be the goal, but impurity is the rule?

Lying helps, I suppose, but outside of that ...?

white whale on the move

Perhaps the only thing more awe-inspiring than a book about a white whale is a white whale in the flesh. Personally, I could never hack the book.

"Migaloo sighting alert! He's famous for being big and beautiful and he's currently making his way up the east coast of Australia on his annual migration."

Monday, July 25, 2016

political candidates use songs without permission

Looking back on the Republican National Convention of last week, there was this ... some nice music:

the most beautiful woman in the world

On a whim, I typed into Google, "the most beautiful woman in the world." I really did not know what to expect, but the phrase intrigued me: Something within was quite sure there was such a person; on the other hand, I could not conjure that person up.

I only skimmed a few sites. And it was like looking at porn ... very cookie-cutter, repetitive and without imagination. The vast majority were pink people. The vast majority were pretty. The vast majority were not above 40 or below 18. The vast majority seemed to go to the same hair-dresser.

I could see why they had been chosen but balked that a search that included the word "beautiful" was set aside with such apparent ease. Where were the brown people? Where were the Nepalese or Tibetans -- the people I sometimes think are the most beautiful people on earth? Where were the elderly whose faces took my breath away ... or the kids? Where were the artful men?

Beauty is one of my very weakest spots and yet what it is I haven't got a clue. The best I can think of is that it is "to die for" ... literally. Music, art, people ... the air around me evaporates and I am left is some strange, well-lighted place. Birth and death are minor matters. There is just beauty.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

fiction as a soporific

As all things are footnotes to something else, so I found this footnote interesting ... and applicable:

The other day, while poking around in the old myth that people need seven or eight hours of sleep per night, I skimmed almost without noticing across the suggestion that when going to sleep at night, reading is a pretty good aide.

But not non-fiction, the suggestion ran -- read fiction.

Fiction slips you away to a credible-yet-wispy world akin to the anything-can-happen of dreams and thus segues naturally into the universe that, with luck, will shortly be a reality: sleep.

I'm not sure if it holds up as a generalization, but it certainly fits with my experience. It's not forced. It's light. It's like a puff of wind against the cheek ... a suggestion ... a hug-less hug somehow.

Anyway, I like it and it seems to be true, though it's a bit hard to tell with the increasing capacity to sleep at the drop of a hat.

busted with bottles

Maybe the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will be listening to a defense attorney in Michigan as he defended his client for collecting five-cent-deposit bottles in Kentucky and attempting -- or thinking of attempting -- to cash them in in Michigan where the return is ten cents per container. 10,000 bottles. Jail time possible.
The case will turn on whether Everidge’s conduct went far enough to say he “attempted the crime, rather than was he just thinking about it”, Henning said. “His lawyer is making this is a purely legal argument: ‘Yes, he had the bottles from out of state ... but he hadn’t gotten far enough yet. And therefore he has not committed a crime.”
“You can’t be punished for your thoughts ... the difference is between mere preparation and perpetration,” he said.

more U.S. war dollars

An interview with Ret. Col. and Boston University Prof. Andrew Bacevich takes on the topic, "Why Wars in the Middle East will cost the U.S. trillions more"

It's just audio and it is dense with historical linkage, but it certainly is an antidote of sorts to the cotton-candy offered up by the political establishment or media talking heads.

holding on loosens the grip

Holding on loosens the grip.

Iconic Spanish Civil War photo ... real or staged?

Iconic raising of the flag on Mt. Suribachi ... real or staged?

Both of the above have raised questions about their veracity. I do not intend to chase the tendrils and arguments. Instead I wonder, what is so necessary or important about "the truth?" If it's true, so what? If it's not, so what? Isn't it, in whatever instance, just true ... even if it's false? Does the truth shed any real light?

Yes, yes ... there are social niceties. There is importance. There is unspeakable cruelty and likewise kindness. If it's true, is it improved? If it's false, is it improved? Take it apart. Put it together.

This morning the old ad rattles around puckishly: "I coulda had a V-8!"

Is it true? -- holding on loosens the grip.

Friday, July 22, 2016

and you thought Christians had no sense of humor

Honest-to-goodness billboard put up by an Auckland, N.Z., church in 2009.

the two most important days of your life

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

-- Mark Twain

giving up your enemies

Every once in a while, along the mostly-forgotten and dusty shelves, an old truism will reassert its brightness despite the dust and age and assumption that the lesson has somehow been learned when in fact it has just been saved.

Last night, the Republican presidential convention closed up shop with nominee Donald Trump, a man of much volume and little discernible substance, exhorting an unfilled hall in Cleveland. This morning, there is a small sigh from where I sit: "At least it's over" and the sense of having to endure it all is given a bit of a rest.

It is tiring to endure and endure and endure. The obvious focus of that endurance is Donald Trump's disparaging of presumptive Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, but the whole political process in this presidential year -- Republican and Democrat -- is so wearing, so alien from the electorate that will pull the voting levers, and so shaming. Where is the relief? There is no relief. There is only enduring it all.

Donald Trump has no policies that I can name. But he can whip up a crowd with his naming of his enemy, Hillary Clinton... love to hate that woman! The crowd cheers. Trump is not ashamed. The crowd is not ashamed. The circle-jerk reaches, if not a crescendo, at least something yummy and pretty loud.

And it ain't just Donald. The winds of the times seem to be filled with the presumption that depicting and defaming an enemy is the same as knowing where your friends and relief reside.

God, what a wonderful feeling -- having an enemy. When friends become scant, relying on an enemy is such a support. Islamic State, communism, anything standing in the way of American exceptionalism ... oh I do love to hate. I do love to rely on it. Seriously.

But the very tendrils of doubt that dimmed the reliability of friends or principles in the past likewise eat away at the enemies of the present: They're wicked and I feel ennobled by pointing them out and relying on them, but ... drip, drip, drip....

And once more, as of a less dusty yore, I am thrown back on  my own fucking responsibility and endurance. 
It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern.
It is what I do and do not do -- that is my concern.
That comes from "The Dhammapada," I believe. But it doesn't matter so much where it comes from as it does whether it's true ... which it is ....

Dust or no dust.

Who dares to give up his friends?
Who dares to give up his enemies?
Who dares to endure?

I'm sorry that there is no other choice, but there is no other choice.

photo contenders

In the series Inside Out, Istanbul-based photographer Can Dağarslani blends two people with diverse architectural elements in the search for identity   
A mirrored building in the Osthafen area of Berlin, Germany

‘Taken in Agra, India. A vast majority of acid attack victims are women, with heavy concentration of such attacks occurring in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Shaboo faced an acid attack when she was just one month old, resting on her mother’s lap. The reason is unanswered. The attack killed her mother, and her father was sent to jail. Her brother was adopted by an aunt, who refused to take Shaboo in because of the stigma associated with these victims. Shaboo was adopted by an orphanage ashram in Mumbai, where she received the emotional and financial support to graduate college’

On 16 April 2014, the MV Sewol sank off the coast of South Korea. The tragedy claimed 304 lives, including 250 students on a field trip. Kwon Mi­hwa bursts into tears after taking down her son Oh Young­seok’s funerary portrait from the official altar. Still without answers and justice two years later, parents shaved their heads and held a two-­day march in protest, holding their children’s funerary portraits’

From expansive landscapes to intimate portraits, the top 20 images from each of five categories have been selected by this year’s jury, which includes representatives from World Press Photo, National Geographic, Magnum Photos and more. They will be exhibited at the 2016 EyeEm photography festival in Berlin on 27 August, where the winners will be announced

Thursday, July 21, 2016

stamping out democracy

I have no way of assessing how feasible or diabolically insane it might be, but this article about libertarian-leaning Peter Thiel and his hope that capitalism may one day stamp out democracy has a ring of credibility ,,,,

laughing at yourself

Am I wrong or am I just plain old again ...?

How long it has been since I ran into anyone capable of/willing to laugh at him/herself? It seems like forever. Sure, there are the phonies who self-deprecate with a preening gusto, but I mean really yuk it up.

Does it require intelligence to laugh at yourself? I half-hunch it does. Which makes me wonder if labeling those who cannot laugh at themselves "stupid" is a fair conclusion. To take something dead seriously ... and take the trouble to laugh.

It doesn't quite fill the bill, but it puts me in mind of a time shortly after Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" was published in 1957 and others of the 'Beat Generation' were banging their come-hither drums.

One evening, a friend and I went to a bookstore in Greenwich Village, the self-anointed bohemian quarter of Manhattan, and bought a book of Beat poetry. We were acolytes to what we perceived as a wondrous revolution of mores. Naturally, we wore all-black clothes.

Having purchased the book, we ambled over to an area plump with outdoor cafes and picked a table outdoors that butted up against the sidewalk. And there, espresso duly ordered and sipped, we ripped the book in half... and began to read alternating passages that had absolutely no relevance to the previously read passage. First I would read two or three poetic lines and then my friend would pick up the thread. Back and forth we read, straight-faced and, of course, loud. We were kool, we were dipped in the blood of the lamb, we were Beat! It was utterly ridiculous ... and in no time flat, passers-by on the sidewalk joined those among the cafe's other tables in listening to our oration. No one laughed, but we had the devil's own time keeping straight faces. No laughter. But applause when we finally stopped and put our scripts aside.

Secretly, in that long ago and far away time, I thought "On the Road" was not a very good book. But being the teenager I was, I didn't have the nerve to say so. All my 'bohemian' middle class friends thought the book was as a clap of thunder in the social skies. Everyone was kool and we were kool ... or anyway we wanted to be ... and perhaps we were.

But while laughing at ourselves and those who took everything so seriously, it didn't occur to me to wonder at the somewhat touching quality -- ignorant though it might be -- expressed in the throng. At the time, I thought it was all a great rat-fuck. Today, I see it as ... well ... human and not something to laugh at because I, after all, am human too.

I wonder if I will ever live long enough to laugh at that.

campaign buttons

The campaign buttons seem more reliable as a barometer of Republican presidential efforts than the people espousing their messages during the current convention in Cleveland:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

photos without guns

Trump wins GOP nomination

Donald Trump won the nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in Cleveland last night. One down, one to go: Hillary Clinton will win the Democrat nomination next week. Trump: A man who never met a principle he couldn't double back on. Clinton: A good ol' boy who can be counted on to prolong the wars in the Middle East even as the country she lives in sags.

Millions and millions of dollars spent on two candidates, neither of whom inspires any but the already-enthused. What principle is this and is it sufficient to the country each hopes to lead?

Sad, sagging times.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

World Whistlers Champtionships

And, among all the other things your mama never taught you ... there is the World Whistlers Championships:
(Reuters) Passionate whistlers gathered at a concert hall in Kawasaki, a city south of Tokyo, on Sunday (July 17) to compete in the World Whistlers Convention. Fifty participants from six countries - Japan, India, Australia, Korea, the United States, and Venezuela - showcased their tunes to judges in the hopes of winning a first-prize trophy. Some brought along their own musical instruments to accompany their whistling, but many kept it simple, using only their lips and a microphone. Participants had to choose either a classical or pop tune no longer than four to five minutes, and no shorter than two, to prove their skills. Judges listened closely for precision in pitch, rhythm, and tone quality, and deducted points for unnecessary breathing noises, or even inappropriate microphone height. Though it is not the first of its kind, the World Whistlers Convention was held for the first time this year to support whistlers and promote the art of whistling. Organizers said it will henceforth be held once every other year.
I can't seem to locate a recording of this year's contestants/winners strutting their stuff. The best I could manage to find was a collage of what happened in 2008. Be a little patient.

It reminds me, somehow, of the Japanese groups that gather to smell incense, be told the name of each in different rooms, and then be reintroduced to those scents to see if they can name each scent in turn. A small matter that can be raised to a high art form. Useless ... and yet....

Monday, July 18, 2016

constitutional exception


Cleveland police have asked Ohio Gov. John Kasich to temporarily suspend or at least tighten the state's open-carry gun law at least as it would apply to the Republican National Convention that began today. The governor later replied that he has no power to override a constitutional right.
"We are sending a letter to Gov. Kasich requesting assistance from him. He could very easily do some kind of executive order or something -- I don't care if it's constitutional or not at this point," Stephen Loomis, president of Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, told CNN. "They can fight about it after the RNC or they can lift it after the RNC, but I want him to absolutely outlaw open-carry in Cuyahoga County until this RNC is over." [emphasis added]
Does anyone else feel that they're reading "Alice Through the Looking Glass" in real time? Wasn't it just yesterday or any number of years gone by that the National Rifle Association proclaimed the right of every Tom, Dick and Harry to have a gun. Not just a "well-regulated militia," but everyone? And the Supreme Court finally agreed? And now, with the laws on the books, those who might be expected to support such constitutional rights backtrack? "I don't care if it's constitutional or not at this point...."

To have a gun and openly carry it ... except when the possibility for misuse becomes too compelling.

All of this is happening against a backdrop of at least two incidents in which shooters have targeted and killed police officers. And those incidents were preceded by a series of killings of black men by police under unclear by certainly suspect circumstances.

big heat

A great and shouldering heat outdoors.

Brown-bear big.

Not a follicle of doubt.

At ease as an ace of clubs.

So uncaring as not to uncare at all.

And I am small.

Not that the brown bear bothers with that.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

the bullet's track

There is something like a lullaby rising up out of this Guardian story about ammunition and guns and death and the randomness that passes by in the night like some long-haul tractor-trailer.
It pays not to think too hard about making bullets on the Winchester Ammunition production line.
“I know personally that I have blood on my hands,” says Birham, who has spent most of his adult life putting together the cartridge cases and lethal lead tips that take 35 lives a day in the US alone. “I’ve made bullets for civilians, for the army. Over the course of 25 years I’ve made millions of bullets. You can’t sit here and say not one of those bullets you have touched has murdered someone. All of us who made them have blood on our hands.”
But for all that horror -- and it's something -- the tale strikes me as less lawsy-lawsy and more ... more what? More time passing, perhaps. There's stuff that happens ... like early Thornton Wilder books. You can take it personally and the question has to be asked, "who wouldn't?" But also ... also ... also the sun travels from horizon to horizon. Life does not bemoan life.

"teachable moments"

"It was a teachable moment," Bill said the other day after I had told him some story about an experience when my kids were younger ... an instance in which I tried to bring some reality to the childish enthusiasms my kids were displaying. And it worked. And I was pleased with the outcome. And I told Bill about it. And he capped my description with, "It was a teachable moment."

And something inside me got cranky. "A teachable moment" is one of those I'm-in-control lines ... if you can describe it, then you have it under control. My bullshit-o-meter began to whine.

One of my favorite stories in Buddhism is the tale of Gotami, a woman whose baby died. She was heart-broken. Carrying the dead baby, she went to Gautama -- the man most frequently described by academics and monastics as "the Buddha" in Buddhism. Gautama had a good rep as a holy and wise man and Gotami imagined he might revive her dead baby. So she asked him to do so. He said what she asked was impossible and he couldn't do it. She didn't believe him. She asked him again ... and again ... and again. She was so desperate. But again and again and again Gautama said he couldn't do it.

Finally, however, Gautama changed tacks. He told Gotami to bring him some mustard seed from the first house she came to in which no one had died. And so, given her homework, Gotami set off. She knocked on door after door. The good people she met were all willing to give her the mustard seeds she requested, but when she asked if anyone had died in their house, they looked at her as if she were somehow deranged: Of course, someone had died there -- what did she expect?

Finally, Gotami returned to Gautama. She had learned a lesson. "Enough with the mustard seed!" she said approximately to Gautama. "Give me the teachings!"

Like Bill, the well-lubricated mind can leap on this tale like a cat on catnip! -- it was a "teachable moment," right? And this strikes me as OK for TED talks and religious instruction. But in reality ...?

In "The Varieties of Religious Experience," if I am not mistaken (and it has been a long time since I read it), author William James takes up the matter of religious conversion. And being a man with intellectual balls, he tells the tale of a man who had had a legitimate conversion experience ... when he was converted to gambling. (I can't believe I am making this up. It gob-smacked me at the time. But I haven't got what it takes to look it up and prove my point. Still, whether true or fabricated, I think it is true....)

A "teachable moment" is a slick observation. Gotami learned her lesson. But if the mind summons up the courage, I 1. think that any moment is precisely the same and 2. that what it teaches is not necessarily what the seeker set out to find: There is nothing to say that Gotami might have journeyed far and wide and come up with some other lesson ... maybe gambling for all I know.

And it is important to find this land of leeway and to be at peace with it. The most profound teaching can reach up out of any circumstance and offer profound insight ... or, equally, provide no insight whatsoever ... and it amounts to the same thing. Every moment is the "teachable moment" the well-lubricated mind insists on naming. Whether anyone will be taught or not is not a 'given' of some sort.

Who knows, maybe even teachable moments could turn out to be teachable moments.

Or not.

vice-presidential candidates

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, a man who has sold passion as principle and heaped shame on his nation, chose Mike Pence, governor of Indiana as his vice-presidential running mate in the run-up to the Republican convention in Cleveland starting tomorrow. Pence, as I get it, is a steady-eddy Republican with connections to donor money and an iffy run to be re-elected governor... a much-less unacceptable quantity among the Republican stalwarts than Trump. But his back-burner vice-presidential slot puts him clearly where Trump wants him -- on the back burner -- the warm bucket of spit the vice president generally represents. I wonder what Trump will do when he loses ... don the martyr's raiment ... swallow hemlock ... colonize the Caribbean....

This morning, for reasons unclear, I woke up thinking about Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton and whom she might choose a week hence for a running mate. And the person who came to mind was Colin Powell -- an unlikely candidate who has been secretary of state and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. A man with his credentials would probably see the vice-presidency as a come-down from where he had already been. Still, he insisted in my mind. He may have been taken in by the lies that led the U.S. to invade Iraq, but if I'm not mistaken, he was good enough to admit it. A man of consequence, somehow.

Just some useless noodling.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Sometimes it scares me, but I've been scared before.
Let me die in a standing faith
In hell.
No more masquerades.
No more petitions or promises
No more blue skies.
Relax and rest assured
Hell will not let you down
And in this provides the
Perfect mercy.

That's my best bet, but I've made bets before.
If I'm chasing my tail
Trying to sidestep hell,
What kind of odds are there
That heaven has any heft?

Get real.
Leave heaven to others.

move along, please!

Something quirky, something small, something huge, something ... something. But the only thing to grab my attention this morning was a cafe owner's complaint in "Dear Abby" that s/he was happy about the customers who lined up outside the cafe door, but felt that those who had had their coffee should move along to make room for others.

Really? Is that the contract: I sit down in a cafe and there is an unwritten time frame within which I am to enjoy my coffee? If so, isn't there some obligation to say so ... "sorry guys, no sitting here using your iPad or talking politics with a friend or simply people-watching?" If there is a time frame, how long would the customers keep coming?

It's not an easy nut: When I sit down, I agree to pay for what I buy. No one seems to have any problem taking my money. But when I lollygag or simply enjoy the populated to-and-fro, somehow I have become a table hog? If someone doesn't want me sitting at the table, there is an easy solution -- don't make the table available.

I'm back in Europe, I think. No flitty waiters pretending to give you additional service by taking an empty plate away when what they are really doing is pushing you along.

It is a tough nut, but I think the weight comes down on the business owner. Not every emporium needs to be McDonald's while masquerading as some touchy-feely 'cafe.'

Hard up for an interest topic this morning.

Friday, July 15, 2016

"make America white again"

In political news others might have missed and was brought to my attention ... together with a send-up bit of video counterpoint:
A Donald Trump-inspired congressional candidate has sparked [June 2016] outrage by plastering "Make America White Again" on billboards in eastern Tennessee.
Rick Tyler, an Independent running in the 3rd District that includes the city of Chattanooga, almost immediately started catching hell for his racist spin on the presumptive Republican presidential candidate's slogan, "Make America Great Again."
And as to the counterpoint:

things are getting wrecked

Of late....
First one black man is shot dead by a police officer ... just the latest in what seems like an unending laundry list whose particulars float only slowly -- if at all -- to the surface and leave the onlooker feeling that brown is not a color anyone might want to be where largely-pink men with guns are charged with keeping public order.

First one black man is shot dead.
And then another.
And then a black sniper targets and kills Dallas police officers.
An American-born man shoots and kills 50 in an LGBT bar in Florida.
And then a van driver plows into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice and leaves some 84 dead. There were said to be grenades and weapons in the truck. What's that about?
Donald Trump, a man of boisterous, self-referential passion and little if any discernible principle, is about to become the Republican nominee in the 2016 presidential election.
Income disparity is acceptable as long as I'm getting mine.

I would show the links to each of these events/observations, but it's tiring and adds to the sense that things are falling apart; things are getting wrecked. Let someone else look it up. I'm not making this shit up. And there is plenty more like it, all abetted by an Internet that has tsunamis of information.

It is a time, unless I am mistaken, to feel lousy in both wide and narrow senses. I am no longer interested in threadbare observations that "everything changes." I want a little peace, however ephemeral.

Instead, there is only the vague hope -- of which I am skeptical -- that singer and poet Leonard Cohen may be right:
There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.
I am interested in light, not poetic or religio-philosophical observations about it.

life after first grade

Is there life after first grade?

Sometimes I wonder -- as lately when, like jets of sunshine puncturing an otherwise overcast sky, two events seemed to draw me into the growing-backwards vortex.

Yesterday's probably packed more of a punch -- an out-of-the-blue email with someone I had, literally, shared a first-grade classroom with and down the street from whom I had once lived. We palled around in that long ago and far away.

Gordon Groland wrote out of the blue that he had had a dream about the two of us riding our bikes down a then-familiar road in New City, a community not far from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. We had had no contact in all those years. Gordon, like me, is now 76 and retired as a Chief Deputy District Attorney in Denver, Colo. His wife, an artist, is likewise retired. Four kids, all apparently doing well and Gordon admitting that he had some difficulty remembering what he had for supper last night.

So there we were, linked by email, most of our accomplishments in the rearview mirror, remembering (when we could) the dreams of the fist grade when becoming a lawyer or a newspaper reporter were all up ahead. So much important stuff now dimmed and dwindled to a dream or recollection of passing import. Is there life after first grade? The historical evidence says yes. The experiential evidence says, well-maybe.

Gordon's memory is better than mine. I remember him as a boyhood chum of no particular particulars. I do remember his family was the first I knew who had gotten a television set and I was invited to come and see it ... and I did... and I couldn't believe how badly Howdy Doody sucked. Gordon remembers particulars I do not and so I wonder whether, although we shared the same history, we are capable of recalling that history in a way more meaningful than a couple of strangers meeting on a bus.

The second jet of bright memory as closer to the present and yet far enough in the past to qualify as history.

Ives, my younger son, mentioned the other night that he might be interested in getting into the security business because, in some vague way, he liked keeping people safe. I said I would write to a Jim Smith, a guy with whom I had once been a fledgling reporter. Jim had gone on to join an agency whose name will not be named, spent a lot of time in one of the Central American countries, got out and got into the business of protecting individuals and property ... you know, a world of pirates, kidnapping, ransom, sheiks, well-heeled poltroons ... and I imagine whoever else might pay for protection and reclamation.

I wrote to Jim, got a brief note back and expect we'll be in touch again in this latter-day bright shaft of reconnecting light. But it felt funny. I remember Jim as a boyish reporter, of which I was, at the time, also one. And here he is, not quite as old as I but still on the down-slope of the important stuff, I would guess. Our sporadic contacts over the years never really blossomed, though they were always cordial ... and here we were, at it again. Another version of the first grade and the feeling that there is something vaguely ridiculous about imagining I ever graduated ... not ridiculous, in one sense, and yet quite ridiculous in another.

Quick -- what did you have for supper last night?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

one thing

One thing is good
One thing is better
One thing is best
When no thing seems
To get too lonely.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

U.S arms sales flourish

The U.S. government is on track to approve nearly $40 billion in foreign military sales in the 2016 fiscal year that ends October 1, down from $46.6 billion last year, a top Pentagon official said on Wednesday.... 
U.S. industry officials and top military officials have become increasingly vocal in expressing concerns about delays in approving fighter jet sales to U.S. allies in the Gulf and other deals.... 
He acknowledged that increased demand for U.S. weapons was creating strains for the government agencies that must evaluate such requests and then process the resulting contracts.
Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, may be a lying sack of shit from the U.S. point of view for accusing the West of terrorist support in his neck of the woods, but if arms sales are a yardstick, perhaps he has a point.
“The coalition has failed and has no real impact on the ground,” he said. “At the same time, countries like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and western countries which provide cover for terrorism like France, the United States, or others, cannot fight terrorism. You cannot be with and against terrorism at the same time.” 
I have a hunch it's not so much that Assad is a dictator that concerns the U.S. What does concern the U.S. is that he is not yet our dictator.

emperor to abdicate

Japan's Emperor Akihito has announced his intention to abdicate in the coming years, public broadcaster NHK reports.
The 82-year-old, who has had health problems in recent years, reportedly does not wish to remain emperor if he has to reduce his official duties.
He has been head of state for 27 years and his abdication would be an unprecedented move in modern Japan.

fiscal terrorism

Below is a column I had been working on when I decided not to do any more columns for the local Daily Hampshire Gazette. I just sent a note asking that what is below not be run tomorrow ... a suggestion I made several days ago. Now it's volte-face... from run-it to don't-run-it. I'm a bit tired and a free newspaper -- my payoff -- subscription is not enough of an enticement. Still, it's not the enticement angle: Getting my titties in an uproar about one thing or another takes energy and, further, the desire to see my name in (however small) bright lights -- to assert my part in some wider social stream -- carries less and less credibility. If you're not in the water, what claim can you make to being wet? It all feels sort of sad and sort of relieving.


I never did get a college degree. At 76, it's a little late in the game to be either flattered or flattened by this fact. It's just a fact that rests comfortably next to the rough-cut conclusion that a college degree isn't worth much ... unless you haven't got one.

But none of that means I cannot be upset on behalf of the college graduates who leave the halls of academe burdened by a debt load that has them constantly glancing back rather than looking forward. From where I sit, that debt borders on the criminal. Luckily, I have a solution to the problem. But more about that in a moment.

In late June, just about the time the University of Massachusetts at Amherst was considering raising its prices five to eight percent, Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Conn., announced that Massachusetts residents would henceforth be charged the same rates as in-state students -- a $2,084 price break. Besides Asnuntuck's attempt to address a dwindling national birth rate/income stream, I wondered whether students were staying away because they were discovering chinks in the glistening armor of a college education. True, there were gold-coast professions that required academic training, but what about "the (majority) rest of us?"

Currently in the United States, 42 million people owe $1.3 trillion [TRILLION, NOT BILLION] in student debt. This debt pool is second only to mortgage debt. And when I whimsically polled five or six twenty-something college grads on my block, I found that each of them was carrying some of the debt load, ranging from $27,000 to over $150,000. This was not some carefully-ignored, crime-riddled ghetto neighborhood problem that anyone could drive around. It was right next door. It was our kids and our future as a nation.

Less superficial than my own neighborhood whimsy, a Consumer Reports survey of 1,500 Americans with student debt found that 45% felt that college had not been worth the burden; 44% wanted to know how much student debt a person had before beginning a meaningful relationship; 28% delayed purchasing a house; and 12% delayed marriage based on student debt. Am I wrong or does that sound as if the shared values of a prosperous middle class were eroding? Home, family, and employment shudder in the face of the money stream being sucked out of what not so long ago were smiles and cheers and mortar boards tossed in the air.

Follow your dreams? What dreams?

Earlier this month, the internet's Center for Investigative Reporting ran a well-researched article entitled, "Who Got Rich Off the Student Debt Crisis?" In its forward, the article observed:

"A generation ago, Congress privatized a student loan program intended to give more Americans access to higher education.
"In its place, lawmakers created another profit center for Wall Street and a system of college finance that has fed the nation’s cycle of inequality. Step by step, Congress has enacted one law after another to make student debt the worst kind of debt for Americans – and the best kind for banks and debt collectors."

Should students pay their debts? Yes. Should they be forced to shoulder interest rates that typically range from 5.8 to 8-plus percent and benefit private firms rather than the government that is backing the loans? Should students be leaving college owing what amounts to a downpayment on a house without a house to live in? And how is it that a mortgage rate can be negotiated downward, but a student loan, to all intents and purposes, cannot?

We seem to be in an era when a rising economic tide does not lift all boats. Instead, it elevates all yachts.

But the yachts are rising at a price, if Christine Lagarde, CEO of the International Monetary Fund and hardly a card-carrying lefty, is to be believed. Yes, it is possible to suck the financial marrow out of the likes of college grads, but the social and economic result, Lagarde suggested in a recent speech, is a "new mediocre" in which neither those with boats nor those with yachts benefit. The entire economy slows and the nation is diminished because everyone is busy making the money for "another" yacht. When indicators point towards a "new mediocre," what room is left for an excellence that encourages the economy and its people to thrive and invent?

Well, here's my suggestion: Fiscal terrorism statutes. It is frightening to be in debt. Under fiscal terrorism laws, the Department of Homeland Security, which to date seems to have specialized in rounding up young people who barely have their acne under control, would be empowered not just to arrest and prosecute those sucking the financial marrow out of one-time students but, more important, to prosecute those responsible for creating the framework within which such milking of the cash cow is permitted.

In the same way that the RICO statutes are used to prosecute not just the contract killer who pulled the trigger but also the (wo)man who ordered that killing, fiscal terrorism statutes would root out those intent on holding so many Americans in financial thrall. No longer would it be enough to wear an American flag lapel pin and get re-elected. Under fiscal terrorism statutes, it would be a crime to terrorize vast swaths of right-next-door Americans and sell out a healthy American future.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

armed robber deflated

A New Zealand shop owner ignores armed robber...

A takeaway shop owner has spoken about how he “took away the power” of an armed would-be robber by simply ignoring him.
Said Ahmed of Christchurch, New Zealand, decided to finish serving a customer before walking away from the counter – while a masked man brandishing a handgun stood by.
Meanwhile ....
The EU has sidelined a call from its most senior diplomats in Jerusalem to step up efforts to halt trade with Jewish settlements in occupied territory despite Brussels’ repeated public protests that the settlements are illegal and threaten the prospects for a two-state solution.
Somehow, these two stories seem intertwined in my mind, though I'm not sure exactly how.

Monday, July 11, 2016

excellence, perhaps

I wonder if anyone else feels as I do that to mention an excellent product -- whether thought or product -- runs the risk of opening the door to 'winners' like Donald Trump who can cut the quality and improve the profit margin ... and that therefore it might be better not to mention such excellent notions at all.

The supermarket tomato springs to mind. It looks like a tomato, all wondrously red, but bite into it and you know in an instant that this is not the excellence of a tomato.

The Japanese, with the help of an American, W. Edwards Deming, turned their reduced-to-rubble economy into a power-house based on qualities of excellence that continue to this day. Perhaps some day, a Japanese person will help the United States create a similar atmosphere of excellence whose goal is not simply profit and winning.

Mediocrity is so tiring.

a few words about the word "cunt"

Essay in The Guardian:
At the risk of sounding like a right “CU Next Tuesday”, I think it’s high time we had a frank discussion about the use of the C-word in modern British English and how its usage appears to be increasing in recent years.
However, herein lies the anxiety of using the C-bomb. While I am very happy to use it (a little too liberally admittedly) in my everyday parlance, it still feels slightly shocking to see it written down and one is reminded that, for many, it is still the last word in offensiveness.
Furthermore, my mum is probably reading this and it would really upset her to see it in print. So for this reason, I’ll stick with the C-word where possible, rather than cunt....
I love the Brits for their ability to seem insufferably proper while managing to take things head-on and leaving their colonial offspring (Americans for example)sucking at the tit of impropriety.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

a half-assed job

Last night, because I said I would, I read a long-ish and wonderfully-well-researched draft essay about D. T. Suzuki and his involvement in Zen Buddhism and the promotion of totalitarianism both at home in Japan and abroad, among other places, in Nazi Germany.

D.T. Suzuki is/was an expositor of Zen Buddhism in the West. His works and work qualify him in many minds as being worthy of high praise, if not deification. And yet Suzuki aided and abetted the Japanese militarisms in China and on into WWII. Buddhism, of which Suzuki was an expositor of great stature, has a precept that says simply, "don't kill." But Suzuki worked hard to bring the spiritual purity of Zen to the aid of various wars and attitudes.

Anyway, the essay went on and on and on, adducing evidence that might be brought against any religion ... when it comes to war, god (by whatever name) is on our side. The state is to be defended. If mayhem and death are the price, then so be it -- lay on the icing, spiritual and otherwise.

I wasn't much of a copy editor. I couldn't get my mind in the game. I'm tired. Religion as a supporter of the killing it claims to prohibit is just one of those hypocrisies that is not going to end. Everyone wants to do what they want to do and they'll do damned near anything to be well-thought-of for doing it.

Oh well ... something else I did a half-assed job at. As once I cared and was outraged, now I may be glad that others continue to carry the baton. But it's too heavy for me.

bullfighter fatally gored

Spanish bullfighter Victor Barrio, 29, is [fatally] gored in Teruel. Photograph: Antonio Garcia/EPA
There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a Tiger
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
The passions that bullfighting can arouse are as sparkly as the ritual clothing of any matador. For it, against it ... passion.

All I know is that I personally dislike taunting and killing an animal in pursuit of a more glorious human reputation. I tried going once. Paid good money for tickets. And walked out before the first fight was over. I wish there were some similar recourse in the matter of war....

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Bahamas issues rare travel warning

The Bahamas issued a travel advisory for citizens planning to travel in the United States. Bahamians are predominantly brown. Racial tensions between police and African-Americans in the U.S. have been heightened by fatal incidents in the last week.
The government of the Bahamas has warned young men travelling to the US on holiday to “exercise extreme caution” when interacting with police, following the recent shootings of black men by police officers....
“We wish to advise all Bahamians traveling to the US but especially to the affected cities to exercise appropriate caution generally. In particular young males are asked to exercise extreme caution in affected cities in their interactions with the police. Do not be confrontational and cooperate,” the statement read.
“If there is any issue please allow consular offices for the Bahamas to deal with the issues. Do not get involved in political or other demonstrations under any circumstances and avoid crowds.”
And so advances the third-world status of the United States.

Luckily, the Bahamian feral pigs seem to be OK.

gold star award

I never was much good at awarding myself gold stars. I just wasn't trained for it any more than I was trained in bull dancing. The result of this lack of training means that of late I have waked up in the morning wondering in quasi-sadness what I had accomplished with one effort or another. The answer came back ... well, not much.

Forty or fifty years of interest in spiritual life for example and ... well, not much. Spiritual life may be marginally better than (in the wry words of a friend) "kicking baby robins," but not by much. I don't regret the time and effort expended, but it hardly warrants a gold star, a notch on my pistol grip, or a medal in a glass case. It would be nice to have a gold star, to feel that something had been accomplished but, well, I wasn't trained for it. Gold stars require a belief in the substance of someone else's belief and I learned early not to put much credulity in the applause of others. Still, I too would like one of those whining, life-has-meaning stamps of approval ... a pat on the back ... a "good job" where "good job" makes me cringe.



This morning, an old memory floated to the surface and seemed to qualify for gold-star status. Or, at least, I was willing to accord it that status.

At a time when I was hip-deep in Zen Buddhist practice, there were a couple of six-month gigs teaching basics to newcomers who wanted to join the zendo or Zen center I attended. Each week, once a week, a group would gather and we would practice chanting or bowing or other ritual that was part of the zendo's tableau. And it was during one such training period that I became chums with a young woman whose face had "Irish" all over it. Bit by bit, we got to know each other outside the confines of the training period. Damned if I can remember her name.

Anyway, bit by bit, she told me that she was at the zendo in part because she felt cut off from the Roman Catholic church she had belonged to for so many years. Somehow she felt stifled and thereby apostate in a religion she loved in a church she loved. She hoped that Zen practice might fill in the empty spaces she felt. I think she may have hoped I would lay out some Buddhist enthusiasm she could embrace, but I did the reverse. "Why don't you just go to church and take from it what you want? This is your life. The church is for you, not the other way around."

At first, she seemed shocked at the notion I put in front of her. The church, after all, was enormous and empowered where she was small and powerless. How could she assert herself in the face of such a force, such an institution, such a golden history? But bit by bit and repetition by repetition, I just kept saying the same thing: This is YOUR church and your love and no one can take that from you. Take from it what you like and leave the rest to whoever wants it.

She wriggled like a worm on a hook. I couldn't possibly be right. That's not the way her church ran. What the fuck could I possibly know? But she listened ... over and over ... again and again ... bit by bit.

At the end of the six months training at the Zen center, students in the class were welcome to sign on as full-fledged members. Most did not, but some did. Either way, the zendo was closed for a month or so for vacation and after that time newly-accepted members could return. By the time the zendo reopened, my Irish chum was no where in sight. I had instructed enough similar classes not to be either surprised or, especially, disappointed. Spiritual life is a personal quest and each has his or her own needs. It is not a cookie-cutter world.

Time passed. I forgot about my Irish chum until one day, walking down a Manhattan street, I saw her walking towards me. Our eyes connected and it was clear we were going to stop and say hello. But instead of just hello, she threw her arms around my neck and gave me a big hug. She probably said other things, but the thing I remember her saying was, "You helped me to return to the church I love."

And I felt like a million bucks. It was a gold star I could live with and credit. I was aware of the ironic possibilities -- busting my own butt on behalf of Zen Buddhism and the sole accomplishment I could point to was sending someone back into the arms of Rome -- but wasn't that more Zen Buddhist than my cookie-cutter versions of Zen? I think it was.

"Huffing and puffing Zen student gives Vatican a hand up."

Well, at least I accomplished one thing in 40-50 years.

Pamplona photo

Friday, July 8, 2016

opening fire on whose police?

The rest of us wait in stunned stillness -- awed and yet completely understanding what is so, somehow, incomprehensible. Civil society was supposed to be civil and yet the civility has gone out of things. My assumptions and hopes -- the ones held quietly on some back burner of my tapestry -- are shredded ... again. And my shit is nothing when compared with the constant suspicions and disregard ladled out to a brown-skinned man or woman.

The apparent assassination of five Dallas police officers and the wounding of six others greeted my news-cruise this morning and without even thinking, I felt I positively knew why and how it had happened. How much shit can the black community eat before someone says "Enough!" and opens fire? Wouldn't I? You bet I would... or at least I imagine it. Of course there is no "black community" any more than there are nothing but "Arabs" in the Middle East. There are people who find connections between one white-police-on-community-black killing and the next. I have no doubt that the stunned silence I feel extends to many of those who, like me, feel a lightning flash of understanding and agreement: If you piss in my face long enough, at what point do I piss back?
Protests were held in several other cities [besides Dallas] across the country Thursday night after a Minnesota officer on Wednesday fatally shot Philando Castile while he was in a car with a woman and a child. The aftermath of the shooting was livestreamed in a widely shared Facebook video. A day earlier, Alton Sterling was shot in Louisiana after being pinned to the pavement by two white officers. That, too, was captured on a cellphone video.
Imagine is Donald Trump were president.

Was it just yesterday -- yes it was -- that I told a friend about my National Guard son's upcoming gun class -- the one that would allow him to carry a weapon. And I said to my friend that perhaps I would ask my son to provide a shotgun to be on hand around the house. Why? Because I sense a war in which the good guys, the ones who might be charged with keeping me and mine safe, could be employed to suppress the otherwise law-abiding ... irrespective of color. Is this the best solution? Am I some National Rifle Association enthusiast/nut job. I don't feel that way, but history proves that where central authority feels its foundations tremble, it is likely to deploy the troops at its disposal ... not to assure civil society so much as to protect the confines of authority and power. Consider the Bonus Army of 1932. Consider the labor upheavals in the late 19th and early 20th century. The cops were employed on behalf of the employers. Civil society was a term employed by a well-manicured and decidedly uncivil group.

"Fuck you!" is hardly a civil argument, let alone a fruitful rejoinder. But where recourse dwindles, maybe a shotgun is not as stupid as it sounds. As the comic-strip character Pogo once observed, "We have met the enemy and he is us."