Monday, October 31, 2016

ghost story

It came up plump and soft as some small dust devil on a dirt track -- not threatening, not stinging, just soft and present as I drove to the convenience store yesterday to pick up cigarettes and cooking oil. Idly, I turned on the radio for the four- or five-minute drive and there was this male voice that seemed capable of rousing up some sleeping piece of my underbelly's underbelly. It wasn't raucous and it sought no group-hug agreement. It was just a piece of me that slept mostly and now, with the voice coming out of the radio, woke and stretched and purred and drew me to it. It walked daintily outside my more usual demarcations, tiptoeing as cats seem to do ... outside the lines ... and it made me happy.

I only got bits and pieces of the tale -- the drive was short -- but today I will try to nail down the whole segment -- call up public radio stations to get the whole picture -- the picture of what was clearly a ghost story. A quiet story. I want to listen to the entire willy-willy, the complete dust devil that folded me in and took me beyond the lines. I do not look forward to the research, but I'll make the effort: It's not often that something can take me beyond my blithely-overlooked lines and make me purr and make me happy.

Roughly, in the tattered four or five minutes ... a male voice, perhaps in its 30's or 40's recounted the tale of an immigration service to which he belonged. The mission seemed to be to corner and turn back immigrants trying to enter the United States from Mexico. The arena for the endeavor was so black at night that the car you got out of might be invisible after four or five steps away from it. Not even the Indians, who had peopled the area for hundreds of years, went to this dark, dark place.

And then there were bits and pieces about the immigration agent who had died previously showing up to turn back groups attempting to get to the United States. One group stood stock still and wept at the sight of him. One group was told where to find water. And one group declined, at a line-up, to identify the prime suspect in a smuggling operation until shown a picture of the dead agent. And in the end, the smuggler who had led to the immigration officer's demise fell from a cliff and died at the behest of the would-be wraith.

Bits and snippets and snippets and bits in the four or five minutes of my travels. It purred in my mind. It roused my credulity. It sought no argumentation or agreement. It crossed the lines and expected no crowd-sourcing on the far side. Is it true? Is it false? These seemed somehow minor matters. It was crossing the line and rising up and stretching and purring and ... the world is a wide, wide place.

I will see what I can find out.

PS. Here is the segment that appeared on the radio.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

noodle mania

And you thought Nathan's competitive-hotdog-eating was something.

if you can't grow peace, grow war

I think I've posted this before, but I see no reason not to post it again since the presidential election is over and more (politically advantageous) war is in the United States' menu.

There's no draft - only 1 percent of the population is in the military. The government isn't levying special taxes or issuing bonds to pay for the fighting.
And all of this "war" – drone strikes, Special Forces deployments, air strikes and aircraft carrier deployments - is happening with very little public scrutiny, critics charge.
Rosa Brooks, a former Pentagon staffer and author of "How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon," argues that U.S. citizens and lawmakers should shake off fears of appearing unpatriotic to challenge the U.S.’s unchecked, unilateral and covert military activities abroad. If that doesn’t happen soon, the United States may have to pay for the dangerous example it's setting for powers like Russia and China, she says.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

articles on death and sex

Couple of nice articles:
Less oleaginous than 'the caring' many when speaking on the same topic, author Margaret Drabble goes softly into the good night of what is called "death." Says she, "I am not afraid of death. I worry about living."

And then, natch, there is "The Story of Sex" ... whose illustrations I plead guilty to liking, even if the topic seems laced with both intelligence and good humor. Or maybe I am just pleased to finally hear that "sexual intercourse began in 1963 (“Between the end of the ‘Chatterley’ ban / And the Beatles’ first LP”)" The book is not entirely silly, I take it, but that it should include silliness speaks well for its serious aspects from where I sit.

class picture

forty miles from nowhere

The most remote of the British Isles is home to northwest Europe’s largest seabird colony, cliffs taller than the Empire State Building – and to one of the world’s eeriest ghost towns.
In a world over-puffed with information and a good deal of infamy, an almost-entirely unpeopled St. Kilda seems to slow the pace and suggest that things once had a beginning. Not The Beginning, mind you -- that would be intemperate -- but a beginning when hefted rock created shelter and perhaps a wash of hernias.

There's no returning to a sylvan beginning without inflicting demagogic wounds, but coming close or closer seems to warm the bones on the cold nights of strife and argumentation and advancement.

Where I live, a nine-year-old girl was killed Friday when she got caught up in the school bus that had dropped her off. Nine is a time of tickling and giggles and hugs and wobbly attempts on a two-wheeler. Or may be. And reading that headline, I would give a good deal for a magic wand that would trade my life for hers. Perhaps in my children's lifetimes, some such magic will arise, but it is not yet ... but perhaps St. Kilda is a bit closer to the mark.

The sleazy U.S. presidential election is winding down towards Nov. 8 when, with some luck, the presidential election will evaporate a bit. In Syria, the deliberate bombing of a school and the children in it is horrific beyond horror and yet with so many horrors, the capacity for horror is overstretched, worn out and somehow shaming.

Why then not take my small, fanciful break and wonder at a place so far from everything? It's a minor foolishness, seeking out a place that slows the pace and nuzzles up to the beginning or beginnings. The ground is, if only for a nanosecond, somehow firmer.

Friday, October 28, 2016

who's a carnivore?

It's probably not on anyone's ethical front burner, but ...

If a vegetarian eats a vegetarian is s/he a carnivore?

If a carnivore eats a vegetarian ....

You never know when you'll survive a plane crash in the Andes, right?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Muslims help rein in Christian kerfuffles

Restoration work takes place on the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Photograph: National Geographic/AP
Thoughtful, caring, compassionate, wise, charitable ... the list of glowing adjectives rolls out for Christians like a rosy red carpet. It's nice, in a world full of so much strife, to find someone who's halfway decent.

And yet it is not just Monty Python who can tweak the Christian tableau.

Here is the BBC tale of the excavation of the site where Jesus was allegedly laid out after his crucifixion:
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the heart of Christian quarter of the walled Old City, covers the assumed site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
Six denominations – Latin (Roman Catholic), Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Copts – share custodianship of the cavernous church. Bitter disputes over territories and responsibilities have erupted in the past, sometimes involving physical altercations.
In a sign of the distrust between the different denominations, the keys to the church have been held by a Muslim family since the 12th century. [emphasis added]
Lord, there's a blue-ribbon award in those words somewhere.

vote early ... or not

When I was a kid, there was no TV. At the end of the school day, I liked to come home, turn on the radio and listen to soap operas -- continuing sagas of one kind or another. I loved stories and the soaps told stories that even a second-grader like me could understand. There was, however, a fly in the ointment: The shows kept splicing in advertising. Ads would disrupt the flow of the stories I wanted to hear and one day, I hit on a second-grader's solution: I would do as the ad invited, ship off my 25 cents (a whole week's allowance) for flower seeds and THEN, of course, the ads would stop interrupting MY shows. There would no longer be the need for ads since I had bought my fair share.

Needless to say, my logic was flawed: The flower seeds arrived, I spread them without care in the back yard ... and the ads kept on coming.

This morning, I am considering how I might splice in an early-voting possibility at City Hall. I'd like to get it out of the way because I suspect the presidential election day, Nov. 8, is likely to produce a crowd at the polling place. But flickering to the side of my fears is the notion that if I vote early, the drum-beat of mindless politics will somehow end; I will have paid my dues and the news media that has proved itself a lickspittle to the electoral posturings of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will shut ... the ... fuck ... up!

Yes, I'd like to vote early: My choices feel stark: Vote against Trump, a sociopath nitwit who has tapped into a legitimate strain of voter discontent but has yet to lay out a single policy; vote for Clinton and 15 more years of politically-useful war in Afghanistan. It's not a delightful scenario, but if voting early will ease the sense of mild depression, a smog of sick air afoot in the land ... what the heck ... I'll do it.

And of course my voting will do precisely zero to affect the underlying story that goes on and on and on and on ... the one that neither candidate speaks about ... the country both claim to want to lead ... the country whose wars sap the national piggy bank and cast a nation into third-world status.

Luckily, more or less, there is the question on the ballot that asks whether Massachusetts should raise the cap on the charter schools in the state. Charter schools take money from public schools and create specialized and innovate schools outside the purview of school committees and the like. I favor innovation in schools ... all schools. Pulling an end run around the public school system fires up my desire to vote against it.

Against ... there is a lot of "against" in the air these days.

Me too.

Nonetheless, hope springs eternal, I suppose. In Inner Mongolia, responsibility for some 200 fatally-poisoned swans was laid at the doorstep of unnamed "poachers." Nevertheless...
Tian Yangyang, from environmental organisation Let Birds Fly, told the Sixth Tone website that many poached swans end up in restaurants in China, some of which offer "swan feasts" on their menus.
Despite the fact that many poached animals are killed with poison, "most people believe eating wild animals is healthy," he said.
A swan feast ....

Eat your poison, dear.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

the Pirates of Iceland

A party that favours direct democracy, complete government transparency, decriminalising drugs and offering asylum to Edward Snowden could form the next government in Iceland after the country goes to the polls on Saturday.
Riding a wave of public anger at perceived political corruption in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and the Panama Papers scandal in April, Iceland’s Pirate party looks on course to either win or finish a close second.

A "crowdsourced" constitution ... now that would be interesting ... if not suicidal.

a day without eating

With the aptness of the Zen saying, "A day without work is a day without eating," I am beginning to see why people give up food.

then-and-now photos

A series of photos in The Guardian allows the viewer to see places immersed in World War II as they appeared once and then, with a click of the mouse, as they appear today.

So much blood.

PS: Associatively, there is the latest War College podcast, "Is the U.S. at war?  Sorry, that's classified."

"Is not having children selfish?"

I can understand why homosexual or LGBT or fired-up feminist (or whatever the proper nomenclature is supposed to be) women might embrace the choice not to have children. A lot of social crap has been heaped on the places in which they have chosen to dwell.

But I am interested in the question beyond the obvious crap: Selfishness is a peculiar and persistent commodity. If nothing else, it can certainly be called an equal-opportunity employer, though its formats may vary. Doesn't everyone come up against its thorns and then seek to escape the thicket? Having kids teaches "it's not all about you," but then, what doesn't teach the same lesson?

Oh well, I suppose the topic deserves a couple of pitchers of beer and a longish talk-strewn night in the offing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

enlightenment silly

I've told the story before, but it came wafting back this morning and made me smile so....

My dead brother-in-law's father was a Madison Avenue executive who took an interest in Japanese art and from there found himself dangling his toes in the waters of Zen Buddhism, a contributor to that art. The interest led him, one day, to take a bag lunch out to Central Park in New York. He sat on a bench and, in compliance with the suggestion "if you want to understand Buddhism, watch the clouds," he watched the clouds and waited to be infused with "enlightenment." After half an hour, when nothing new or novel happened, he gave up on "enlightenment" and never looked back.

Anyone who has pursued the Buddhist brass ring will love this story. Years and years of effort are often expended on behalf of "enlightenment," so writing it off in a half an hour is positively delicious.

"Enlightenment" is a fifty-cent word for being alive. It glows and glimmers and seems to pulsate for the sometimes-earnest seeker. To "understand" enlightenment is not an option. You're either alive or you're not. Understanding is sort of silly when you already are alive, already can sit on a park bench. The longer the quest for understanding, the longer the brick walls rise up. But when anyone stops trying to understand, how could there help but be understanding?

All the Jesuitical to-ing and fro-ing -- all the grand philosophies and religions and encouraging talks -- simply cannot crack the nut ... you know, the white puffy ones that pass above the bench-warmer in Central Park.

But what a nice day, right?

If it's raining, use an umbrella.

ruling for dead/living Catholics

 Am I wrong, or is there something intrusive and somewhat desperate in it all?
Catholics are forbidden from keeping the ashes of cremated loved ones at home, scattering them, dividing them between family members or turning them into mementos, the Vatican has ruled....
Ashes must be kept “in a holy place, that is a cemetery or a church or in a place that has been specifically dedicated to this purpose. The conservation of ashes in the home is not allowed,” he said.
“Furthermore, in order to avoid any form of pantheistic or naturalistic or nihilistic misunderstanding, the dispersion of ashes in the air, on the ground, on water or in some other way as well as the conversion of cremated ashes into commemorative objects is not allowed.”
I wonder if there is a time when the living can let the dead rest in peace.

Monday, October 24, 2016


Ownership is a peculiar thing. Just because no one else is there can hardly mean that no one else is there ... and that therefore (if no one is there) laying claim is somehow warranted or credible or without its snapback, collateral damage.

What does it mean when a man or woman announces, "I discovered it.".

Sunday, October 23, 2016

hey, baby, wanna get silent together?

Once the preserve of monastic retreats and hardcore meditators, simply being quiet is growing in appeal. Whole businesses have sprung up to meet a rising demand for quiet time, from silent weekend getaways to silent dining, silent reading parties and even silent dating. This month sees the release of documentary In Pursuit of Silence, a “meditative film” about our relationship with noise, promoted with a delicate two-minute trailer in which not a word is uttered.

an award for Donald Trump

With the presidential election just days away here in the U.S. it seems to me clear that Hillary Clinton is going to win and Donald Trump is going to lose. As the first woman president, Clinton marks a milestone. But in my mind, she is a good ol' boy in girl's clothes: Post-election, the problems presented by politically-useful wars,  joblessness, banking malfeasance, infrastructure deterioration and a wide sense of social malaise will be precisely what they were before the rush for the presidency began. But OK ... Hillary will be president.

And yet, what about Donald -- the man who managed to grab every front page every day of the week, or so it seemed? Rowdy, self-referential and trailing the entire American press corps in his wake. I honest to god think he deserves a prize for showing my country to itself. I really think he deserves a prize and challenge someone to start a petition to make sure he gets it ... a real grass-roots welling up of sentiment for (at Barack Obama's associative suggestion)
          THE GOLDEN KVETCH AWARD         
This is a guy who took whining to new heights. True, "kvetch" may be too Yiddish, but it's the best word I can think of and Trump's capacity to whine has been unmatched. If Hillary needs to thank anyone for her presidential win, Donald Trump stands first in line. It may not be pretty, but there it is. He managed to disparage huge swaths of the American public (women, blacks, Latinos ...) in ways that most people might feel a twinge of sympathy for but managed to keep their bigotry under wraps. Trump flailed. He was illogical. He promised to deliver ... what?.... well, a gusher of emotion and whining and vitriol and disrespect for the country.




Will someone please work up a petition that acknowledges the slime and slither? And not just some slick millenial critique -- this all may be a silly suggestion, but it is also serious.

Sure he lost, but didn't he do us a favor? 

life with and without privilege

Bob Dylan's "Third Base Coach."
One of the zippy barbs sometimes thrown at those born to a life of privilege or quasi-privilege is, "He was born on third base and imagines he hit a triple." These are people whose circumstances seem normal to them and they have a hard if not impossible time imagining that someone in dire straits could possibly be in dire straits. For better or worse, they lead their lives as it spreads out before them from an advantaged starting point... which simply does not occur to them as being "advantaged" at all.

Those struggling to open yet another can of Dinty Moore beef stew or make a decision between medications and rent money don't really have time or wherewithal for the privileges to which the entitled assume (and frequently ignore). It's just hard staying alive and living in a world or constant anxiety about the next mouthful.

Within this flimsy tableau, I seem to find the memory-person of "Jesus," a fellow much revered for many attributes but also frequently swaddled in the raiment of poverty. Was he really poor? I doubt it based on an only half-remembered news article about anthropologists' speculations that really he was probably a middle-class guy ... not exactly born on third base but neither eating his time period's version of Dinty Moore. Why? The half-remembered argument -- and one I found convincing -- was that in order to be a carpenter in his time, Jesus would have had to speak three languages in order to hawk his wares: Greek, Latin and Etruscan, if memory serves. A poor man has no time for other languages. Only someone with some leisure and comfort can employ such a privilege.

And all of this half-baked noodling takes me back to the silver-spoon crowd -- to those who have privileges they seldom see in contrast to wont. These are people with time ... time for good or evil, but in any event time to make things happen.

And what then might be the greatest privilege? I suspect the greatest privilege would be the time and inclination to reflect on the self -- that gob in the bathroom mirror. To have such a luxury does not mean that it would or will be exercised. It just means the potential is there in ways it is unlikely to be among the poverty-stricken. Many do not exercise it. But among those who do, there seems frequently to be a second step: 1. reflect on the self and then 2. try to sell others on the sagacity of the findings.

Think Jesus. A middle-class millennial with three languages and a creativity that only the privileged might be party to. Climb the mountain -- utter the Beatitudes ... like that.

I wonder if it is not enough. Winkle out a bit of sagacity and then get to work. Sagacity to one is not sagacity to all and, more important, sagacity that someone does not work out on his or her own is just TED talk. I know Gautama chewed on whether to preach or not, but how many people like Gautama are there ... people who might come up with the perfectly plausible mirror image of his answer that preaching was right up his alley?

Born on third? Keep home plate in your sights ... said the TED talk.

opium in Afghanistan

Opium production in Afghanistan has increased by 43% in the past year, United Nations officials have said....
Just 355 hectares (877 acres) of poppies were eradicated by provincial authorities in the last year - down more than a 90% since 2015, when almost 4,000 hectares were cleared.
Farmers need to feed their families; politicians need to pad their bank accounts; and all the anti-drug saber-rattling in the world can't eradicate that.

[The] failed drug intervention efforts constitute only a fraction of the enormous sums wasted by the U.S. since the start of the war in Afghanistan. In March of 2013, The Fiscal Times reported that the U.S. had spent nearly $100 billion to rebuild Afghanistan in the last decade, but   auditors could only account for 10 percent of that money.
And none of this mentions how many have starved or died or been otherwise dispossessed. And for this, the U.S. continues to prosecute a 15-year-old war the British and the Russians were lucky enough to have quit. Never mind the U.S. coffins.

a god question

Niggly and delicate as a spider's tread, occasionally the question arises

"Are you god?"

And with equal delicacy the answer arises with it

"That depends on you."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Marina Abramović

I think, but am not sure, that it was Aldous Huxley who suggested, "If the intellectual travels long enough and far enough, he will return to the same point from which the non-intellectual never started."

Associatively, but not in exact parallel, I wonder if it may also be suggested that "if the crazy person travels long enough and far enough s/he will return to the same point from which the crazy person has never started."

A Guardian article about Marina Abramović put me in mind of the question.

Friday, October 21, 2016

sure, you can play chess, but can you say his name?

An 11-year-old Indian boy with a very long name is changing chess history. Already the youngest ever international master, the Chennai prodigy is likely to eclipse Sergey Karjakin’s long-standing world record as the only pre-teen player to achieve the grandmaster title. His early career is outpacing both Russia’s Karjakin (GM at 12 years seven months) and Norway’s reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen (GM at 13 years four months), whose title match starts in New York on 11 November.
Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa learned chess at five and soon made remarkable progress. He won the world under-eight title in 2013, the under-10 in 2015 and is currently the No1 seed in the world under-12 championships at Batumi, Georgia. He outclasses his peers but it is his advance in global adult chess which has set new all-time peaks for age achievement.

news on a news broadcast

It's not often that I find a compelling piece of news reporting on television news shows, but yesterday, perhaps because the presidential race and debates are so devoid of meat-and-potatoes issues, I found the following pretty damned compelling. News that doesn't work from the bottom-up is hardly news: There will always be someone at the top who has the 'broad picture' or is looking to feather his or her own nest. I get so sick of their well-fed demeanors, even as I recognize the need for their efforts. Meanwhile, people who deserve focus and support go begging.

Anyway, this banged my chimes and made me wish my country and its politicians would refocus their drift:

murder, rape ... it's all a game

"Would sex with a robot be infidelity?"

HBO appears to have a new series based on the premise that visitors to "Westworld" can do anything they want without fear of repercussion.
This is one of the major ideas being explored in Westworld, HBO’s newest drama, about a Wild West-themed amusement park where guests are able to do whatever they wish to the ‘hosts’, or robots, who populate the resort. As Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), a programmer, puts it to one of the robots, “you and everyone you know were built to gratify the desires of the people who pay to visit your world.” And importantly, robots can’t ever retaliate and hurt the guests. That’s the idea, anyway…
If anyone could do what anyone wanted to do, would it turn out that doing whatever you want to do is actually what you want to do?

coastal art in Sydney

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

sour grapes election

Faced with two unpalatable options, some Americans are urging voters to reject both of them.
Given the tremendous antipathy towards Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, many Americans will be holding their noses on 8 November and voting for the lesser of two evils - whomever they believe that might be. But some are calling for a total pox on both houses, in a vocal online drive to "Vote Nobody".
More than 100,000 people have liked the Vote Nobody 2016 Facebook page, one of the most popular of dozens of social media accounts actively campaigning against both of America's major party nominees.

short-circuiting terror ... yawn

A new White House plan aims to train teachers and mental health professionals to intervene and prevent Americans from turning to violence ideologies, work now mostly done by law enforcement, a draft of the policy seen by Reuters to be announced on Wednesday shows.
The 18-page plan marks the first time in five years the Obama administration has updated its policy for preventing the spread of violent groups, such as those that motivated the perpetrators of attacks in the last year in Charleston, South Carolina, San Bernardino, California, Orlando, Florida, New York and New Jersey.
Are we really supposed to take this seriously ... the cutting off of the impetus? Didn't they try that with Prohibition?

True, it's a good means for spending money -- and there are those determined to do that at all costs -- but it really does sound stupider than a box of wet leaves.

Obama tells Trump to stop whining

Like the electorate, media have had a hard time getting their head around Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. His wild accusations are nonetheless grist for the media grill which (I heard the statistic yesterday) has given the candidate something like $2 billion in free advertising (masquerading as news stories.)

But for my taste, President Barack Obama hit the nail squarely on the head yesterday when he advised Trump to "stop whining." Whining sums up Trump's tsunami of facts, fictions and ever-louder assertions about as nicely as anything I can think of. You can't call him a sociopathic putz and expect the mud to stick.

But a whiner? Yes, I think Obama hit the nail on the head.

october column ... debate fraud

The following column appeared in today's local Daily Hampshire Gazette under the title, "Candidates Betray the Public's Trust."

“The trouble with higher education in the U.S.,” Susan said in her crisp British accent, “is that you don’t teach debating.” Both of us were a couple of drinks into a relaxed supper in a New York restaurant a lot of years ago. We were colleagues at the same book publishing house.

“For example,” she continued with a glimmering eye that let me know she was preparing to deliver an intellectual uppercut, “I could sit here, right now, and prove to you that a chocolate milk shake was vanilla. And you’d believe it.”

With her academic background at Oxford and Cambridge, I had no doubt that Susan could make good on her promise. But I had entered the restaurant with an eye toward a good meal in good company. I didn’t feel like being pummeled into grape jelly before the main course arrived.

“Please don’t do that,” I begged only half in jest. “If it makes you feel any better, I will concede that a chocolate milk shake is vanilla.” Susan accepted my surrender and the rest of the meal went off without mind-knotting fisticuffs. We ate, we drank, we talked shop and gossiped. We were friends – people whose abilities and leanings might differ, but people who found sustenance at the same table.

That long-ago dinner with Susan resurfaced in my mind recently as the last of three presidential debates — Wednesday night in Las Vegas — approached. Why did the crop of debates up until now feel so flimsy? I looked up the word “debate” on the internet and found that a debate was “a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.”

Using that yardstick, a debate was not about the relationship between the size of anyone’s hands and their genitalia. Debates were not snark festivals or a means of sidestepping questions.

In the long ago and faraway, debates were the ability to marshal hard evidence to support a point of view about an agreed-upon topic. Present-day examples might include those pesky, flag-draped boxes delivered to Dover, Delaware, the value of a college education when balanced against $1.3 trillion in student debt, income inequality, the role of outsourced American jobs, a ravaged coal industry, banking legerdemain, highway infrastructure, climate change or racism. You know, the servings at the table around which all Americans are sitting in friendship if not agreement.

In 1920, six months before Congress ratified the 19th amendment to the Constitution and women were at last granted the right to vote, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters was officially formed. Part of its mission was to encourage women — who had heretofore been widely regarded as their husbands’ chattel — to exercise their new rights. Between 1976 and 1984, the League sponsored a number of presidential debates. The League’s format for those debates focused on the interests of an electorate and the information required for an informed vote.
Then, in 1988, the League abruptly cited fraud on the part of the political parties and withdrew its debate sponsorship. What had happened? What had happened was that the two political parties came together behind closed doors and reshaped the ground rules of the debates in such a way that the candidates would no longer be subjected to a spontaneity of questioning from the audience. Who might be invited (and thereby excluded), what questions might be asked, and the potential for follow-up questions were all carefully choreographed by the two major political parties.

The media networks, sensing a potential income stream, piled on in support of the new format. Now, instead of defending the voting public, news outlets saw a herd of cash cows.

In its 1988 press release, the League wrote, “It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

Newsman Walter Cronkite, once dubbed “the most trusted man in America,” chimed in: “The debates are part of the unconscionable fraud that our political campaigns have become. Here is a means to present to the American people a rational exposition of the major issues that face the nation, and the alternate approaches to their solution. Yet the candidates participate only with the guarantee of a format that defies meaningful discourse.”

In exasperation, journalist Bill Moyers commented, “We can no longer leave the electoral process to the two parties or the media conglomerates with whom they’re in cahoots. The stakes are too high.”

If I had to pick a single word to characterize the current attempts to purchase the presidency of the United States, that word might be “betrayal.” From Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton to spit-slick media – betrayal. Democrats and Republicans and their debate-moderating handlers have illuminated just one small corner of that betrayal with their manipulation of a debate format.

What then is an informed electorate to do? Whining doesn’t accomplish much and bloviating doesn’t accomplish much more. Maybe the best anyone can do is to keep their wits about them and trust a little: A chocolate milk shake is not vanilla.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

patient succumbs

NIKON-WALKLEY PHOTO OF THE YEAR WINNER A patient, later identified as 43-year-old husband and father of four, Baynazar Mohammad Nazar, lies dead on the operating table inside the Médecins Sans Frontières Kunduz Trauma Center in Afghanistan, following the 3 October attack by an American AC-130 gunship on the hospital in which 41 were killed. ‘It’s an image to stop you in your tracks,’ the awards team said. ‘Even before you know the background to the photograph, that single frame damns all the horror and devastation of war to destroy the innocent’.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Trump-inspired artworks

If little else, the 2016 Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, has exposed the disposable income of some of his opponents.

Brits squeeze Russian agitprop

When a banking entity turns away a revenue stream, it is hard not to think that something fishy is afoot. In this case, it feels a bit like, "my propaganda is better than your propaganda."
The UK bank accounts of Russian TV broadcaster Russia Today have been shut down, its editor-in-chief has said, in a move that the UK government appears to have been aware of.
In a tweet in Russian Margarita Simonyan said that “all the accounts” had been closed in the UK. She said the decision was final, adding sarcastically: “Long live freedom of speech!”...
It was unclear whether the British government was behind the move, but the foreign office was aware of the news when contacted by the Guardian and referred inquiries to the Treasury. The move – if confirmed – casts into doubt the ability of the Kremlin-backed news channel to carry on broadcasting. RT said on Monday it will continue operating.
Most of the propaganda I used to listen to as a teenager was pretty inept when it came from Moscow or Beijing. Clumsy. Sort of like Fox News these days. But the ascendance of Fox News has helped elevate all propaganda outlets. Dumb and loud has a new cachet.

good things

Bad things are a dime a dozen, I suppose, but several good things include aloe, duct tape and water. And anyone wishing to nudge things along could do worse than the encouragements inherent in "Thought Moments."

Sunday, October 16, 2016

John Oliver on Guantanamo

mediocrity -- the greatest sin?

(Vatican Radio) On the morning of Sunday, October 15 [sic], Pope Francis presides over Holy Mass for the canonization of seven new Saints.
Saints are burdened with having done some very good things. By the nature of language, that means their goodness stands in some sort of contrast to those who have not done such things or, by extension, have done some pretty bad things ... you know, sinners.

Saints have gone above and beyond.

If sinners had done the same -- if, in effect they had not succumbed to mediocrity -- wouldn't they too be worthy of the term "saint?" Isn't it the mediocrity which tells the halting tale that many of us have donned. I wonder if mediocrity -- the half-assed, half-baked commitment to a given course -- isn't the defining quality of those of us who will never be canonized from within or without.

precarious times?

Perhaps "precarious" is the word I'm looking for, but to be honest, I don't know. Is it truly a precarious time in America or am I just as aging old fart seeking to pin my own tail on the donkey of the times? It feels to me as if democracy, by whatever rag-tag definition, is under an assault that opens the doors to neo-cons, dictators and others whose self-interest is barely concealed ... perhaps like me, who would love a little sense of rest and hope and smiling.

Of late, my emails have included various attachments -- some quite thoughtful -- about the dwindling of democracy at the hands of those who are so rampantly mediocre.

But "precarious" presupposes that there is still some purchase point, something to be held as credible and worthwhile. OK ... if this is true, what standard remains?

Day by day, as the 2016 presidential race lumbers along, the crumbling of whatever that purchase point is seems to gather steam. Donald Trump, a businessman who never held elective office, nourishes a skepticism that is given throat by the negativism of a Republican Congress and an electorate being told that "the great recession" (read latest depression) is over... even as they live paycheck to paycheck when they're lucky enough to have a paycheck. Hillary Clinton promises to see her way forward with a continuation of the 15-year-old war in Afghanistan and a kid-glove environment for the money-makers.

It is depressing to wake up to the political tableau ... just the daily waking up and going about whatever business anyone has. The country shares less and less even as the world is increasingly described as "interconnected" -- a descriptor that suggests getting along even as dictators in the Middle East slaughter and dispossess millions and the likes of Donald Trump proclaim their own virtues..

Things are a mess, or that's the way it feels to me. And I hunch that the only way out is through a violence and disruption that will be literally bloody. I hope not, but I suspect it.

I haven't got the energy or will to adduce the evidence that has slipped through my email slot. As a result, I am reduced to what I dislike -- unsubstantiated opinion and belief. Oh goody -- another Donald Trump supporter; another Hillary Clinton apologist.

PS. Australia's decorousness was put to the test Thursday when, since parliamentarians declined to disagree, a description of Donald Trump as  “a 'revolting slug' unfit for public office” was recorded as approved in New South Wales.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

realm of the "sacred"

In today's hard-copy lead story about a $100 million reboot of the Smith College campus, the local paper offered the drop-head(line), "Celebrated architect blends natural world with 'sacred' books."

I haven't yet read the story and probably won't. Vast visions simply don't bang my chimes, though the word 'sacred' caught my eye. Naturally, someone promoting a vision -- and a lot of spaghetti on his or her table -- would be likely to turn up the linguistic volume. It's good for biz.

But it crossed my mind idly: I wonder if the use of the word "sacred" is a pretty good indicator that someone is desperate to promote whatever the latest "sacred" focal point might be. Where something is weak, there is sometimes the tendency to talk it up and depict it as strong and worthwhile.

But is it true?

Life is sacred, for example? Really? Why? Isn't it as much as anything because death -- whatever that is -- is confounding and a bit scary? If you don't know what it is and yet name it, are you therefore more in control and less confounded?

I'm not trying to make a federal case out of it. But books as "sacred" struck me strangely. Are books on such fragile turf these days -- and they are on fragile turf -- that hyperbole is required? Without books, people tend to be dumber than need be; there are fewer possibilities; and there is less potential kindness. But with books, there is considerable stupidity, the possibilities are frequently ignored and cruelty still has a field day.

Sacred ... a strange and perhaps desperate word.

If all the things dubbed "sacred" were denuded of that adjective, how would that affect the thing to which the word was lustily attached. Sacred text. Sacred (wo0man. Sacred realm.

Please tell me what is not sacred and whose fault that is.

BBC trims the 'fat'

At first I thought it was just old age and crabbiness that made me skim with increasing inattention the internet offerings of the BBC. There was just something stale and sluggish that nudged at my news-hungry consciousness. Nevertheless, I kept on checking in daily because, well, this was the BBC, a name that had some cachet when it came to news.

But now, perhaps, there is another way to see things -- a way affecting all 'news' outlets, an expression of the public overload on too-much-information and too little time to absorb or care. Ace news reporters slip from high places, entertainment gains increasing purchase, and the binding glue that once brought people closer together has become dried and cracked and less-adherent. Another 25 people killed in a drone attack. Another child starves to death. Another bank scam called out years after it was put in place. People are getting fucked, but, well, getting fucked is no longer news ... or news that generates much revenue.

The BBC’s star presenters will be grounded at home instead of parachuted in to cover big stories around the world, it has emerged, as more cost-cutting measures from the corporation begin to bite....
The new guidelines handed down to editors state the changes are designed to help them manage numbers and costs “more effectively and more consistently”. They say: “The ability of the BBC to generate distinctive content is always a priority, but it needs to be balanced against the resulting total numbers.”
If the news "presenters," the pretty and recognizable ones, are going to stay home, how long is it before those presenters themselves are no longer necessary. Some of them are pretty bright along with being pretty pretty. But this is a Facebook era, after all, and Facebook is on the spot all the time, its credentials based largely, if not solely, in its throngs: If everyone says so, it must be so.

News dwindles. Connection -- often asserted and increasingly unproved -- dwindles. The BBC is not alone. Bit by bit, ignorance and belief gain sway. Joseph Goebbels readjusts an already-shimmering halo as men with cuff links rake in the results. Is it bad? Probably not, but I do think it is a footprint on the road to war. When was the last time you heard a rich man admit to being ashamed?

I apologize to my children and their friends.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Trump supporters reconsidered

Another view of those who support Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump: Many are college educated and their mean income exceeds the straw-man poverty so often attributed to them:

The two-fold myth about the white working class – that they are to blame for Trump’s rise, and that those among them who support him for the worst reasons exemplify the rest – takes flight on the wings of moral superiority affluent Americans often pin upon themselves....
 I’m hard-pressed to think of a worse slight than the media figures who have disregarded the embattled white working class for decades now beseeching the country to have sympathy for them. We don’t need their analysis, and we sure don’t need their tears. What we need is to have our stories told, preferably by someone who can walk into a factory without his own guilt fogging his glasses.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bashar Al-Assad vs. Benjamin Netanyahu

Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad has rained death and destruction down on so many of Syria's citizens that outsiders like me are left speechless.
 Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is, for the moment, a less obvious blood-letter. But he's doing his best.
Nevertheless, I wonder if it wouldn't be worth the price of admission to lock these two men in a single room and let them duke it out. Only when one is left standing would the door be unlocked and the victor led to the ceremonial woodchipper. 
Proceeds from the videotaped bout could be applied to those dispossessed and left hungering by each of these men.

billionaire jitters

Which is more insane -- to be anxious that you are no longer a billionaire or the be anxious that you became one in the first place? I really don't know, but I do sense something obscene in the whole tableau.
For the first time in a decade, overall billionaire wealth fell last year and the world's richest people are worried, John Mathews UBS Wealth Management Americas' head of ultra high net worth said on Thursday.
Billionaire wealth has grown seven-fold in the last two decades, but in 2015, the platinum-lined pool of money belonging to the world's nearly 1,400 billionaires fell by $300 billion, from $5.4 trillion to $5.1 trillion, according to a new study by UBS and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Bob Dylan wins Nobel Prize

[The Guardian] Bob Dylan was named the surprise winner of the Nobel prize for literature in Stockholm today “for having created new poetic expressions with the great American song tradition”.
Speaking to reporters after the announcement, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius said she “hoped” the Academy would not be criticised for its choice.
“The times they are a’changing, perhaps”, she said, comparing the songs of the American songwriter, who had yet to be informed of his win, to the works of Homer and Sappho.
“Of course he deserves it – he’s got it,” she said. “He’s a great poet – a great poet in the English speaking tradition. For 54 years he’s been at it, reinventing himself constantly, creating a new identity.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chinese exam for all the marbles

Traffic stops, parents crowd together to get the results, and students set aside learning to ride bikes was China's gaokao examination -- the exam that will set a life course for many of those selected -- nears. By western standards, the work load is enormous. The seriousness with which China approaches its education leaves a western enthusiasm for sport in the shade.

Some achieve. Some do not.

The reading of the article is grueling in ways that make the experience unimaginable.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

simulation, simulation on the wall

When Elon Musk isn’t outlining plans to use his massive rocket to leave a decaying Planet Earth and colonize Mars, he sometimes talks about his belief that Earth isn’t even real and we probably live in a computer simulation.
“There’s a billion to one chance we’re living in base reality,” he said at a conference in June.
Musk is just one of the people in Silicon Valley to take a keen interest in the “simulation hypothesis”, which argues that what we experience as reality is actually a giant computer simulation created by a more sophisticated intelligence. If it sounds a lot like The Matrix, that’s because it is.
According to this week’s New Yorker profile of Y Combinator venture capitalist Sam Altman, there are two tech billionaires secretly engaging scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation. But what does this mean? And what evidence is there that we are, in fact, living in The Matrix?
I'm not even sure what all this means, even as an hypothesis, but it's probably more salutary than wallowing in the slime of the 2016 presidential debates.

Monday, October 10, 2016

artificial/authentic intelligence

There were choices last night as my day slid slowly towards a groggy conclusion. The Green Bay Packers were playing the New York Giants. Several TV channels were gearing up for the second of three 2016 presidential 'debates' between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. And "60 Minutes" was showing a segment about artificial intelligence with Charlie Rose (one of my least favorite reporters based on his apparent impression that what he has to say is more interesting than what his guests may think) ramrodding.

The Packers had the momentum from where I sat. They were going to win. (They won 23-16).

The political candidates, guided by rules laid down behind closed doors by both political parties, were skipping the meat and potatoes that the nation will eat after the election is over.

And somehow "artificial intelligence" grabbed my attention. The marvels of it were really marvelous for an under-informed person like me. Its capacities in the world of medicine alone (a machine that can digest and deduce from 8,000 articles published in any given day) were astounding in their ability to do some good. Together with that capacity to do good, of course, is the shadow of developers' exacting their pound of financial flesh.

And the questions floated up in my mind.

"Artificial intelligence" suggests that somehow there is a given body of knowledge that might be called "authentic intelligence." Authentic intelligence rests its case in human intelligence and primacy. But is such authentic intelligence truly authentic or is it simply a wet dream: I am important because I say I'm important? And at what point, if any, does artificial intelligence step across the line into authentic intelligence? And if the machines are smarter than the (wo)man, where does that leave the (wo)man? Sucking hind tit is the only answer I can envision ... and the human spirit rebels at the notion of being outstripped and left in the shade.

Someone will probably be helped by artificial intelligence.

But likewise and equally, someone is likely to get hurt.

If machines can do it better and "better" is one the the esteemed goals of what it means to be human, are human beings intelligent enough to relinquish their presumed primacy?

What is intelligence? Is it merely a construct? Is the insertion of ignorance the sole yardstick for gauging the marvels of an intelligent (wo)man?

Someone is bound to know this realm better than I and I really don't want to get into a pissing contest or solemn discussion, but it is a mind-bender.

If this isn't a realm of "be careful what you pray for not because you may get it but because you will" I don't know what is.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Trump (again) aids Clinton

In an easy-going email to-and-fro with my sister last night, I suggested that Donald Trump's latest 'gaff' (I hesitate to use the word gaff when it comes to the 2016 Republican nominee for president since so much of his activity positively relies on a series of shape-shifting gaffs) benefited Hillary Clinton by its timing if nothing else: Trump's locker-room video 'stuns' a prurient American public at the same time that Wikileaks looses Clinton evidence of cozying up to bankers and stock brokers in a way former candidate Bernie Sanders and his constituency abominates ... and Clinton needs to pretend she is as liberal as Sanders if she wants to attract his voters.
The release of the [Trump] recording and ensuing backlash almost completely overshadowed the release of hacked emails from inside the Clinton campaign that revealed the contents of some of her previously secret paid speeches to Wall Street.
The Democratic nominee told bankers behind closed doors that she favored "open trade and open borders" and said Wall Street executives were best-positioned to help overhaul the U.S. financial sector. Such comments were distinctively at odds with her tough talk about trade and Wall Street during the primary campaign.
I pointed this out to my sister who countered that there was a lot of sub-rosa misogyny surrounding Clinton. That brought me up short. True, I think of Clinton as a good ol' boy wearing girl's clothes, but to attack her because she is a woman never occurred to me.

I have a very hard time remembering that there actually are people who dislike Barack Obama because he is black or Hillary Clinton because she is a woman. What sort of asshole approach is that? Well, it's probably more common than I would think. My objection to policies that disenfranchise so many or that send others to one or another of the U.S. wars that has no credible end-game scenario or that heap yet more student debt on college students while camouflaged behind a drum-beat credulity that a college education is really really a good thing (and only tangentially makes a packet of money for those with whom Congress is so cozy)....

All of these policies and more like them push my hair the wrong way. I don't care if the person promoting them is a woman or black or homosexual or Latino or any other put-upon segment of society. Self-serving, elitist policies are self-serving policies ... a woman jerk is no different from a man jerk.

Misogyny, my ass!


cunicular love

Every year, the cunicular equivalent of Crufts takes place in the US: the American Rabbit Breeders Association convention sees 20,000 rabbits compete for prizes. Last year, St Petersburg-based photographer Katya Rezvaya attended the event in Portland, Oregon, to photograph owners with their pets for her series Oh My Rabbits. “When I told people my main reason for travelling to Portland was to take pictures of rabbits, every single person laughed,” says Rezvaya. “But I’m glad I could make it work. I had heard that dogs and their owners often look alike; looking at some portraits I can say the same about rabbit breeders.” The 93rd convention starts tomorrow, 9 October, in Del Mar, California.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Robert de Niro on Donald Trump

I'm not big on political ads in the Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump presidential-race kerfuffle,, but this had a straightforward quality to it:

It is interesting to notice that anyone's genitalia and the use or misuse thereof should carry more political sway than the release of data in which Clinton quietly bolstered the big-business/banking sector and its chokehold on the economy.
The release of the (Trump) videotape and ensuing backlash almost completely overshadowed the release of hacked emails from inside the Hillary Clinton campaign that revealed the contents of some of her previously secret paid speeches to Wall Street.
The Democratic nominee told bankers behind closed doors that she favored "open trade and open borders" and said Wall Street executives were best-positioned to help overhaul the U.S. financial sector. Such comments were distinctively at odds with her tough talk about trade and Wall Street during the primary campaign.

animal photos

Fun photo array with inadequate cutlines from The Guardian:

Writing project nags this morning.

Friday, October 7, 2016

"Pachelbel Rant"

Since I haven't posted it for a long time, I feel as if it's time for a reprise:

the economic elite, poor dears

World finance leaders on Thursday decried a growing populist backlash against globalization and pledged to take steps to ensure trade and economic integration benefited more people currently left behind.
Their comments at the start of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank fall meetings signaled frustration with persistently low growth rates and the surge of public anger over free trade and other pillars of the global economic system....
"More and more, people don't trust their elites. They don't trust their economic leaders, and they don't trust their political leaders," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said during an IMF panel discussion in Washington.
OK, so the economic elite works out that the people doing the work that makes the money that assures their "elite" status have over-reached and it may be time to add a few more crumbs to the sustenance those workers feel is being withheld or, uh, redirected. These "elites" are not dumb people, in one sense. And yet the idea of spreading the wealth seems always and forever to elude their consciousness in a practical, put-it-in-my-paycheck way. Their glowing assessment of their own glowing agendas leaves them baffled that anyone should question, let alone contradict, their benevolence. Isn't it they, after all, who provide the jobs ... how much nicer could anyone be?

The elites, so-called, are not satisfied to be elite. They demand to be well-thought-of. Like the news media that don the mantle of defending the public good while accumulating the wealth that mounts as news is replaced by entertainment, the "elites" long for a good name AND a solid gold toilet seat.


An old-style, mildly-dirty joke passed along in email:
A man was washed up on a beach after a terrible shipwreck. Only a sheep and a sheepdog were washed up with him. After looking around, he realized that they were stranded on deserted island.
After being there awhile, he got into the habit of taking his two animal companions to the beach every evening to watch the sunset. One particular evening, the sky was a fiery red with beautiful cirrus clouds, the breeze was warm and gentle – a perfect night for romance.
As they sat there, the sheep started looking better and better to the lonely man. Soon, he leaned over to the sheep and put his arm around it. But the sheepdog, ever protective of the sheep, growled fiercely until the man took his arm from around the sheep. After that, the three of them continued to enjoy the sunsets together, but there was no more cuddling.
A few weeks passed by and, lo and behold, there was another shipwreck.
The only survivor was Hillary Clinton. That evening, the man brought Hillary to the evening beach ritual. It was another beautiful evening, red sky, cirrus clouds, a warm and gentle breeze, a perfect for a night for romance.
Pretty soon, the man started to get “those feelings” again. He fought the urges as long as he could but he finally gave in and leaned over to Hillary and told her he hadn’t had sex for months. Hillary batted her eyelashes and asked if there was anything she could do for him.
Thrilled, the man asked, “Would you mind taking the dog for a walk?”

Thursday, October 6, 2016

digital connection, digital loneliness

Passed along in email was this languorous essay on the separations imposed by increasingly popular social media ... and the meditation that can help loosen their vice-like grip.

And, quite aside from the drug-like gadgetry that separates what it claims to conjoin, there is the single life lived by many Swedes and ex-patriots in Sweden, which has a less Miracle-Glued view of living a fulfilling life (marriage, children, partnership) ... and the loneliness that can evolve. Sweden has the highest proportion of single people in Europe and yet dating can be hard.

Britain's most remote inhabited island....

Photo array ... Foula -- only 30 people live here....

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

weird wonders

I can't pretend to understand, but I can enjoy my confusion, courtesy of The Guardian:

The Sydney-based photographer Robyn Stacey created these unusual images using a method of manipulating light – camera obscura – that dates back hundreds of years. By blacking out the windows of a room and allowing just a pinhole of light to enter, the outer world is projected on to the walls within – albeit upside down and back to front. Stacey’s works, which are on show at Stills Gallery in Paddington until 5 November, were created in a number of artists’ studios and residences around Australia. ‘It’s like being in your own private movie,’ she says of her walk-in creations