Wednesday, November 30, 2016

spiritual practice

... helps clarify what is not obscure

... eases the sense that the universe doesn't care

... maybe

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

support for Edward Snowden

The campaign to persuade Barack Obama to allow the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to return home to the US without facing prolonged prison time has received powerful new backing from some of the most experienced intelligence experts in the country.
Fifteen former staff members of the Church committee, the 1970s congressional investigation into illegal activity by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, have written jointly to Obama calling on him to end Snowden’s “untenable exile in Russia, which benefits nobody”.

volume as veracity

With the presidential election of 2016 in the middle range of the rearview mirror, I guess it's as good a time as any to consider the encroachments of volume-is-veracity. Not that even Donald Trump could lay claim to creating the paradigm, but it does seem to be part of today's warp and woof: The louder it is, the more it must be true.

Given the repeatedly-proved ludicrousness of the proposition, you might think that this would be or might be a quieter and more judicious time. But it hasn't come to pass and news shows have ever-increasing numbers of talking heads, many talking at cross-current to the person currently speaking ...

But I am out of step.

I once took one of my sons to see a Red Sox game. It was a birthday present. The bus took us 90 miles, deposited us outside the stadium and we found our seats which were made of hard-wood slats and didn't have enough knee-room for someone as tall as I. It was a night game and the field was beautiful. But when the game got going, sitting on the uncomfortable seats was not an option. Everyone seemed incapable of watching the game from a seated (and pricey) resting place. There was no "watching" the game -- there was just the option to stand and have beer dribbled on you while someone who was likewise standing made his was back to his seat. Standing was louder, somehow, than cheering from a seated position. The volume and group-ness took over for any enjoyment of the game.

Oh well, I knew from the get-go that I wasn't a fan of crowds. And my son had a good time. And the bus ride home could be enjoyed while seated and in relative silence.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"infinite speed"

João Magueijo, of Imperial College London, and Niayesh Afshordi, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, propose that light tore along at infinite speed at the birth of the universe when the temperature of the cosmos was a staggering ten thousand trillion trillion celsius.
Question 1: If light moves at "infinite speed," does movement any longer have any meaning? Wouldn't everything (including light) be everywhere simultaneously?

Question 2: Am I wrong or is there something simultaneously wacky and weird that people should be paid to study such matters?

making a buck on atheism

Nice to wake up to a smile, which, in a couple of instances, was provided in emal today:

Making a buck on atheism


The Bud Lite clothing drive.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

l'état, c'est moi

It may be a long or a short haul to the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States. It depends on the point of view, I suppose. But here's what feels like a relatively sane depiction of the businessman-turned-president's potential conflict-of-interest pitfalls:
Constitutional lawyers and White House ethics counsellors from Democratic and Republican administrations have warned Donald Trump his presidency might be blocked by the electoral college if he does not give up ownership of at least some of his business empire. [The Guardian]
Louis XIV's alleged-but-undocumented bon mot, "l'état, c'est moi" (I am the state), comes to mind.

It is hard not to munch on the idea that Donald Trump might create a leadership coterie, decline or be denied the role of president and then ... and then ... all of his properties gain in value. His claim to fame, as he has often said, is that he is a businessman. What's one more rat-fuck for a man of such shameless, blameless stature?

challenging the 'best-before' sticker

Picture-perfect food ... NOT.
A UN panel said earlier this month that supermarkets’ preference for perfect-looking produce and the use of arbitrary “best before” labels caused massive food waste that, if reversed, could feed the world’s hungry.
Nearly 1.3bn tonnes of food are wasted every year, more than enough to sustain the 1 billion people suffering from hunger globally, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said.
The "best-before" label, as I understand it, has everything to do with the producer and nothing to do with the store that may be hawking it. Best-before medicines encourage more sales. Best-before bananas find green bananas for sale. Best-before grapefruit places a thick-skinned, little-juice fruit in the bin. Well-gassed tomatoes are red-red-red where what's on the vine varies in hue. Upscale pork loins, sold at a well-trimmed premium price, have become premium-price meats that need fat-trimming once brought home. And avocados are seldom less than rock-hard green. In toto, the shelf-life of a product is extended through reduced quality.

Naturally, the markets mewl, "it's not my fault." Only of course it is. If I buy a product and then resell it, whose responsibility is the quality? Markets hire public relations firms to counter any criticism or resemblance to the truth.

Come harvest season, news stories and pictures depict mounds of tomatoes or oranges that were not perfect enough and are destined to be plowed back into the soil. It is hard to look at such pictures and not be aware that there are people literally starving. But of course this is not the market's fault. And heaven forbid that it should be my fault.

Well, in Denmark there seems to be some pushback:
It may be past its sell-by date, but for many Danes it’s a tasty proposition: surplus food being sold in a Copenhagen supermarket has proved so popular that a second store has been opened.
After launching in the district of Amager earlier this year, the Wefood project attracted a long queue as it opened a second branch in the trendy neighbourhood of Nørrebro, this month.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

RIP Fidel Castro, 90

Cuba's Fidel Castro dead at 90.

UK passes "Snoopers' charter"

May our children learn never to forgive us:
After months of wrangling, Parliament has passed a contentious new snooping law that gives authorities - from police and spies to food regulators, fire officials and tax inspectors - powers to look at the internet browsing records of everyone in the country.
The law requires telecoms companies to keep records of all users' web activity for a year, creating databases of personal information that the firms worry could be vulnerable to leaks and hackers.... 
Officials won't need a warrant to access the data, and the list of bodies that can see it includes not just the police and intelligence services, but government departments, revenue and customs officials and even the Food Standards Agency....
Some aspects of the new law remain clouded by secrecy. Not all internet companies will have to comply - only those that are asked to by the government. The government won't say who is on that list, and the firms involved are forbidden from telling their customers.
And if the UK can put its stamp of approval on such a thing, it's a sure bet the U.S. will want one too. "Terrorism" has such an enormous and diverting wardrobe.

Friday, November 25, 2016

John Currin exhibit

Well, there's a display of some of the works of an artist named John Currin. It's in London so you don't need to feel bound to go, though I admit I would like to. Currin seems a bit weird. Weird is good. I can do weird ... especially if someone else is doing the doing.
Filled with visual jokes, art historical pastiche and unlovable people, Currin’s paintings are hard to take seriously – in fact, hard to take at all, and certainly not at surface value, although surface is all they are. As absurd and decadent as their high prices, and the art world in which they circulate, Currin’s canvases stop you in your tracks....
Things happen to the people in Currin’s paintings and things happen in the paint. He paints people and scenes that are really hard to take. Misanthropic, misogynistic, cruel, absurd, silly – all these criticisms could be – and have been – thrown at him....
This group of new paintings is more than a laugh, a recoil and a grimace – though it is all these things. Once you get over the initial knowing wince, there is an awful lot to unravel. I don’t think I could live with a Currin; I certainly wouldn’t want to live inside one. But perhaps I already do.

not speaking

I stopped speaking on my 27th birthday in 1973....I decided not to speak for one day, as a kind of gift to my community. My girlfriend thought I was doing a nice thing. When I woke the next day, I didn’t see any reason to speak, so I didn’t. When others spoke to me, I mimed that I was being silent. They were thrilled.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

fantasy coffins

Joe, who turned 69 this week, is Ghana’s most prolific coffin artist and, after five decades in the funeral industry producing some of the world’s most extravagant designs, his work is being celebrated in a major exhibition in Accra.
Joe’s work – which includes coffins in the shape of Porsches, naked women, Nike trainers, cameras, Coca-Cola bottles and chilli peppers – is designed to represent the life of the deceased, with each item handcrafted and painted for the funeral procession, which can last up to three days and three nights.

high school reunion

My wife informed me, as she and my sons loaded up the car for a Thanksgiving get-together in New Jersey, that my daughter would be returning with them this evening after the festivities. "It's her 10th high school reunion," my wife explained.

What?! How did that happen, some voice inside me asked. In some part of me -- as no doubt with a lot of parents -- children would always remain children ... sort of in the 5-8-year-old range, thigh-high and deeply committed to one Walt Disney adventure or another. But now, instead, my daughter is married and has been out of high school for 10 years.

All of which took me back to my own high school. High school -- a time of teetering and tottering on the edges of adult-dom and all the confusions that occasioned. I graduated in 1958 and was as confused as any high-schooler might be. Would I ever get laid ... a lot? It seemed improbable since I went to an all-boys school. And yet the population kept growing so perhaps there was hope even for such a confused individual as I.

Like any high school person, I had little or no perspective, no wider contrast or comparison. Everyone wore a jacket and tie where I went to school. We went to school because going to school was what high schoolers did. The first hint that I was going to a high school of note was when one student stood up in the middle of an English class, walked across the room, and punched another student with whom he was having an argument about the homework assignment under consideration. Actually punched him. Somehow I knew that was the mark of a good education and not just a teaching moment. Imagine being in a class where someone got that pissed off.

We studied Latin and French and had a Bible course tucked in in deference to the school's religious beginnings. Nothing heavy -- just a nod to the culture we lived in. Everyone was expected to go to college and when one kid decided to join the army, I was flabbergasted. There was "chapel" each morning before classes began. There was grace said before lunch. For fun, I took an after-class course in Italian. It was a time of the Beat Generation upsurge and when some of us tried to mimic the writing style of Kerouac or Corso or Ferlinghetti, the English teacher -- an exceptionally-tightly-wrapped homosexual was my guess -- slapped us down hard with lousy marks. He was one hell of a good teacher.

As a college sophomore, I once wrote a paper on the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, most of whose stuff I had read in high school. The teacher of the college class pissed me off so badly (teacher burnout, I think) that I made up most of the paper out of whole cloth ... the plays referred to were real, but the source material quotations and commentary AND publishing houses that published those analyses, were entirely fictitious. The paper was a quite ornate fuck-you. I was never quite sure if I was sad or happy that I got an A-minus on the paper.

In the high-school student body were people who would become Hollywood directors and bartenders and bankers and ... well, everything, I suppose. I was fortunate, but had no way of knowing it. I was too busy being confused and horny and a teenager and ... didn't someone have the answers that would still the confusing waves?

Of course they didn't, but I was just beginning to learn that faking it was the only option.

It seems impossibly long ago and far away. And now my daughter collects her own version of long ago and far away.

Confusion's not that bad.

limerick-like smile du jour

A small Thanksgiving silly passed along in email:
There was a young lady called Sally
Who enjoyed the occasional dally
She sat on the lap of a well endowed chap
And griped, sir you're right up my alley

the theremin

Passed along in email:


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

stick with the expert

My mother once told me that she had given up writing magazine articles in the early 1960's when it became apparent that the compact between writer and reader had been trashed. Her sense of writing was that the writer put forth an argument on a given topic. The reader's part of the bargain was to bring whatever common sense s/he possessed to the table and assess the internal logic of the article. This contract was broken when editors began insisting that conclusions be backed up by some bright bulb in a particular field.

No longer was it enough to exercise common sense. That common sense needed to be persuaded by one "expert" or another. "As Freud says..." or "as Beard wrote..." needed to be dragged into the fray. Well that, from my mother's point of view, was bullshit. If the argument was poor, the reader was charged with sorting it out rather than being nudged by some alleged "expert."

And here we are today. Back, with the help of the Internet, to the notion that the reader will find a couple of brain cells to rub together. Everyone is an expert. Why? Because s/he can write what s/he likes without any challenge ... and what is written is right, right? Everyone's a pundit. Challenges go un-exercised.

One of the reasons I like writing in a blog is that the implication, though unstated, is clear: It's just my opinion, you nitwit. It's up to you to grab your very own challenger six-shooter and poke holes in what is egregiously illogical or self-serving or petty or politically-slack. No need for raising a voice or interrupting someone else -- just rub those two brain cells together and winkle out the bullshit where bullshit seems to exist.

I hate citing "experts" and yet am as guilty as the next person of doing it. Lookit-me! Lookit-me! I'm so smart that even an expert agrees with me ... which makes me an expert, right? It's like the spiritual teachers who implicitly claim a high seat by quoting some text or teacher already sitting on it.

What expert, after all, adjudges the experts?

despite its flaws, "Network"

Does this sound familiar? “The American people are turning us off. They’ve been clobbered by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, the depression. They’ve turned off, shot up … the American people want someone to articulate their rage.” And how about this? “There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT, and ATT and DuPont, Dow, Union-Carbide and Exxon. The world is a business … it has been ever since man crawled up out of the slime.”
Change the historical events, change the names of the conglomerates, and these speeches could have been written yesterday morning about, or by, President-elect Donald J Trump. He is Network screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky’s nightmare made real, his blistering satire come completely true just in time for the film’s 40th anniversary this week. If Trump hadn’t settled on Make America Great Again for a slogan, he could have easily run on “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more!”

$4.4 billion flat tire

The most expensive destroyer ever built for the US navy has suffered an engineering problem in the Panama Canal and had to be towed to port.

"fog bow"

A stunning shot of a white "fog bow" has been captured by a photographer over Rannoch Moor in the west of Scotland.
Melvin Nicholson was out on the moor, south of Glen Coe, on Sunday when the "unbelievably beautiful" white rainbow appeared.
Mr Nicholson said: "It is a colourless rainbow that is made up of tiny water droplets that cause fog.
"It's an amazing thing to witness and can generally only be seen if the sun is behind you when you are looking at it."
He said an isolated windswept tree, framed by the fog bow, completed the shot,

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Is there a better way to gauge the desire/insistence on some safe and sane corner to life than to consider the tsunami of British interest in the Danish notion of
Where all else is frayed and suspect -- where hunger and death and the lack of principles rear up and claw ... well, never mind the snarky remarks from the well-educated and savvy, a little peace of mind and location is, well, peaceful for a change.

I may not be able to pronounce it, but that doesn't mean I can't vote for it.

religion is only as good ...

Religion is only as good as the doubt it can inspire.

And yet religion promises to wipe away doubt.

Is any of this true?

I don't doubt it.

OK, it's awful; now what?

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, a man who never met a principle he couldn't sidestep, continues to domineate media attention because, as it seems, the media got so swept up in his headline-grabbing hi-jinx that, well, it's like an addiction. Other news is just news, but Trump is the red-light district du jour.

As it stands now, or seems to, Trump is vetting a number of people to serve in his presidential circle. He has yet to hold a press conference. He hasn't DONE anything, but his possibilities are endlessly rolled around in a salivating media mouth. Once upon a time, news was the stuff that had actually happened. Now, perhaps because of the 24-hour news cycle, it focuses on what might happen as well. Dig my crystal ball!

Ain't it awful? Well, yes it is. But what is "it?"

The media haven't got the backbone to step back from this whorehouse of speculation. No one says, "Hey wait a minute -- what actual-factual damage did NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden do? If you can't adduce facts, it's precious at a minimum to wave the "treason" flag." No one says, "Hey wait a minute -- let's see what anyone actually does before we label him/her/it as a 'terrorist.'" No one says, "Well, what has Donald Trump actually done that warrants the knicker-twisting whines from the liberal side of the aisle" Scoundrels and sociopaths are a dime a dozen and turning the United States into some dollar-store mini-mart is not attractive, but grown-ups don't premise their activities on what might happen. What actually does happen is the point, however unnerving it may be to wait and see.

Locally, Hampshire College has decided to refrain from flying to American flag on the campus' central flag pole. In email, a friend sent along yet another thoughtful screed about how and why Donald Trump won the Nov. 8 election: "What So Many People Don't Get About the U.S. Working Class." The jarring nature of the election lingers among those who thought perhaps principles might carry the day. But principles were given little or no quarter in the run-up to the election itself. Trump, a business-man and showman, brought on the insults and everyone seemed impervious to the good of the country, whatever that might be.

And now Trump is said to be vetting people for jobs that go with the spoils of a victorious battle. They all seem to be conservative in outlook ... and loyal to Trump ... but since Trump has no visible principles I can discern, the whole exercise seems to be one in which communists used to delight: The Cult of Personality.

And still the president elect hasn't actually done anything. And at some point, he will need to make decisions that others can and will critique. Suddenly, what was just speculation will become a bureaucratic reality. Will it be war-mongering, misogynistic, racist, sexist horror in which national or international principle is ignored?

Anything that will lead away from the tendency to suggest that anyone can actually know the future ... well, wouldn't that be a relief?

Monday, November 21, 2016

a stupid hawk?

Even where the breeze is brisk
The hawk floats and angles and hunts.
Were s/he to seek the wisdom of that flight
S/he might well forego this lunch.

For heaven's sake!
Hawks aren't stupid.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

poetry, rebellion and Afghan women

The 22 syllables that can get you killed.
Afghan women express forbidden love through secret poems, or landays....
In refugee camps and remote villages, at weddings and on at least one horse farm, we collected anonymous folk poems called landays. A landay is a couplet: a two-line poem passed mouth to mouth, ear to ear, among Pashtun people for at least 1,000 years. No-one knows for certain where landays come from – the most popular theory is that these biting little poems began as a form of communication within the Indo-Aryan caravans that arrived in the region millennia ago. They were born long before Islam, and their closest cousins are the slokas, the two-line verses that comprise the ancient Hindu holy texts called the Vedas.
A landay has very few rules. It must have 22 syllables, with nine in the first line and 13 in the second. It must end in the sound ‘ma’ or ‘na’. It must take on one of five subjects: meena, love; jang, war; watan, homeland; biltoon, separation; and, finally, gham, which means despair or grief. But gham doesn't mean grief in general, it speaks to the particular form of grief that belongs to a Pashtun woman.
When sisters sit together, they’re always praising their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they're selling their sisters to others.
– Anonymous

Unlucky you who didn’t come last night,
I took the hard wooden bedpost for a man.

Because my lover is an American soldier
blisters blossom on my heart.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

that's "f-a-r-t" for those unfamiliar with the word

Michelle Rempel, right
A row has blown up in the Canadian parliament - over the word "fart".
When Conservative MP Michelle Rempel accused the government of treating the province of "Alberta like a fart in the room" over jobs, Green Party leader Elizabeth May took exception.
However, it was not the accusations of inaction which riled Ms May.
"I heard her say a word I know is distinctly unparliamentary, and I think she may want to withdraw it," the shocked Ms May said.
"The word was f-a-r-t," she continued, spelling it out clearly so as not to repeat the offending term....
Unsurprisingly, the row has caused great hilarity on social media - especially in light of the political upheaval taking place just across the border.
"With all eyes on Trump's destruction of US politics and civil society, a silent but deadly political scandal in Canada," tweeted Josh Greenberg, director of one of Canada's leading journalism schools.
In the U.S., democracy may seem to be going down the shitter. In Canada, there's a little more foreplay.

seeking refuge

Is it true that sometimes it is the little things that loom so large...

or is it instead a sense of seeking refuge in the face of a confusing and saddening fog?
Or is it in fact something altogether different? I don't know but like a lot of other Americans I feel a sense of shame and sorrow in the wake of last week's presidential election in which two unpopular candidates squared off and America was somehow the loser... as if all the bright lights that once made the U.S., however imperfectly, the beacon for so many others around the world had been dimmed. Freedom of speech, assembly, religion ... a country of, however imperfect, laws; a land in which racism played a demeaning role and yet that role could not entirely undo the bright lights elsewhere.
NEW YORK (AP) -- President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday demanded an apology from the cast member who gave Mike Pence an onstage earful from [sic] about equality.
Actor Brandon Victor Dixon told Pence after the curtain call that multiracial and multicultural cast is concerned about the Trump administration.
"We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights," said Dixon,...
Dixon's apparent cri de coeur speaks of the fears of those whose candidate did not win the election on Nov.8. No country becomes a beacon, however imperfect, without some hard work. So now the shoe is on the other foot and the liberals grovel as once much of middle America was forced to do. If Hillary had won the election, would the throngs still fill the streets with protest? I sort of suspect they would: Enough is enough. Even if you don't know what lies at the base of the cliff, still there comes a time when jumping off becomes magnetic. Put a price tag on it. Merchandize America. Trump touted himself as a business man -- someone who got things done -- and America is open for business. The beacon is now the business. Getcher red-hot toe tags here! Let the flags fly and the principles slink away in defeat.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- For Republicans, there will be no one left to blame.
As they prepare to take control of the White House and both chambers of Congress next year, Republicans are celebrating the opportunity to enact a new agenda for the country, including lowering taxes, securing the border and repealing President Barack Obama's health care law.
But with that opportunity comes massive political risk: If President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans don't deliver, they will face a serious reckoning with voters. That could begin with the 2018 midterm elections, when every House member and one-third of the Senate will be up for re-election.

Friday, November 18, 2016

just this side of a train wreck

Because of my involvement in providing a photo for the project, I received a boxed set of the works of the American writer Carson McCullers yesterday. It is handsome to my eye. My mother took the photo and knew McCullers at a time when I was a child and experienced most artistic types as ... as ... as....

As I'm not sure what, although this morning, as I snooped McCullers' biography not for the first time, the phrase for pretty much all of my mothers' artistic friends and acquaintances sprang to mind
Did the art they often shaped so well -- McCullers and my mother and Truman Capote, for example, were all very good writers -- save them from the insane indignity of being crushed by some nameless diesel locomotive that may have been invisible to others and yet bore down on them with a certainty that made the ground shake?

Were their rack-and-pinion torture devices different from or more compelling than the slow, enormous squeezing that any soul might feel ... yet feel without the need to pick the scab or nourish it or take sustenance from it?

Was the South a greater producer not just of cotton but also of artistic lights ... the ones scraping by just this side of a train wreck?

PS. And associatively I wonder how anyone could sniff and prod the literary realms of an oncoming insane freight train and not be sucked bit by bit into giving that insanity a whirl. Rather like learning a lot about spiritual life, always sniffing and prodding and accumulating data, without actually giving it a try. I know I look back on my adventures in that way ... accumulating and accumulating and always knowing I was safe in those accumulations. There was nothing at risk. There was no put-up-or-shut-up. Until one day I simply had to try it ... to find-fucking-out!

huge deposit of untapped oil

Huge deposit of untapped oil could be largest ever discovered in US

Estimated 20bn barrels of oil found in Texas’s Permian Basin, three times larger than the Bakken oilfields of North Dakota, could be worth as much as $900bn
And within that framework:
President-elect Donald Trump has promised to open up new areas for oil, gas and coal as part of an “America first” energy policy that will involve the eradication of funding for clean energy.
...[O]pening up vast new fossil fuel reserves will almost certainly ensure that the planet warms by 2C more than the pre-industrial average, resulting in dangerous heatwaves, sea level rise, extreme weather events and displaced people.
  Mesdames et Messieurs, faites vos jeux.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

dissolving corpse

The New Jersey Pine Barrens, long the reputed last and secretive resting place of obstreperous mafia-linked individuals, appears to have received some serious competition. Whereas the Pine Barrens stretches across seven counties and may be a wonderful place to lose a corpse, still there is the off-chance that the remains might be found.

A thermal pool at Yellowstone appears to have totally or near-totally disappeared 23-year-old Colin Scott.
[Scott's sister] was recording a video of her brother on the phone as he reached down to test the water, before he slipped and fell in.
Authorities did not share the video, or a description of its contents, out of sensitivity to the family, the report says.
Rescue teams later found his body in the pool but abandoned attempts to retrieve it due to the decreasing light available, the danger to themselves and an approaching lightning storm.
The following day, workers were unable to find any significant remains in the boiling water.
I wonder to what extent, if any, the toilet cleanser Ty-D-Bol feels itself to be under threat.

a young Donald Trump?

Passed along in email:

literal theology

Churches that are theologically conservative with beliefs based on a literal interpretation of the Bible grow faster than those with a liberal orientation, according to a five-year academic study.
“If we are talking solely about what belief system is more likely to lead to numerical growth among Protestant churches, the evidence suggests conservative Protestant theology is the clear winner,” said David Haskell, the Canadian study’s lead researcher.
I wonder whether this trend, if true, would account for the attractiveness of such groups as Islamic State and/or hardline political governance. It's so much easier when things are easy and "easy" is one of the promises of both religion and government.

Duck and cover.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

if it ain't there, make it up

In the wake of the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, there is something strangely apposite about the rising up of Edward Brooke-Hitching's "The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps." Don't worry, it's mostly pictures, but the tale it tells is recurringly simple ... the next time anyone says, "you couldn't make this shit up," think twice: It is more than likely that someone already has made it up.

Of course, you may think an ancient and fable-prone religiosity created men and women who were nine feet tall or sea monsters and it was all so terribly long ago and far away. But consider:
... California continued to be depicted as an island on maps until 1747, when King Ferdinand VI of Spain was forced to issue a decree that ‘California is not an island’
 Or, if you thought Bernie Madoff had cornered the market in weaving fabulous tales:
And then there is the lord of liars. In 1822, Gregor MacGregor strode into London and pulled off the greatest con of the 19th century, if not of all time. The self-proclaimed ‘Cazique’ of Poyais sought investment in his newly established South American country. Two ships of British colonists set sail, having sold their worldly belongings to buy Poyais land from MacGregor. On arrival at the coordinates provided, they discovered only a malarial swamp. Only a handful of the 270 settlers made it back to Britain alive.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

word of the year: "post-truth"

In the era of Donald Trump and Brexit, Oxford Dictionaries has declared “post-truth” to be its international word of the year.
Defined by the dictionary as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”, editors said that use of the term “post-truth” had increased by around 2,000% in 2016 compared to last year. The spike in usage, it said, is “in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States”.
Talk about "newspeak."
Newspeak is explained in chapters 4 and 5 of [George Orwell's] Nineteen Eighty-Four, and in an appendix to the book. The language follows, for the most part, the same grammatical rules as English, but has a much more limiting, and constantly shifting, vocabulary. Any synonyms or antonyms, along with undesirable concepts, are eradicated.
Roll over George Orwell!

Trump branding takes a hit

President-elect Donald Trump, a guy devoted to 'branding' things, will see his name removed from several New York City buildings.
“The goal is to assume a more neutral building identity that will appeal to all current and future renters.”
An employee at the leasing office at 140 Trump Place said the work would begin on Wednesday – just eight days after Trump won the presidential election. [emphasis added]

The move comes after hundreds of residents signed a “Dump the Trump name” petition calling for “Trump” to be removed from the buildings.

"did I do thaaaaat?"

Yesterday, the realization caught me off guard: I had a column to sweep up and shape and the high-school test-taker's moan passed my mental lips: "I got nothing."

Nothing, of course, except the recent presidential election and I dislike getting on enthusiastic band wagons that then turn out to be less confounding or less elevating than the aroused throngs suggest. I was, in short, fucked. I did it anyway.

I cobbled and yanked something together, held my nose and sent it in ... same ol' same ol' ... Donald Trump will be sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 2017. My liberal friends are weeping. My conservative friends are cheering. A man who, at 70, is probably old enough to like to sleep in will take on a sleepless profession. He is unlikely to mimic predecessor Harry Truman whose oval office desk was adorned with a plaque that read "the buck stops here."

Lumpy, bumpy column, submitted to a small corner of the media that lionized what it claimed to abhor. I feel like a drunk who puked on his new shoes ... "did I do thaaaaat?" The trouble with Trump, at the moment, is not that he is insane. The problem is that he is just sane enough. There is darkness at the end of the tunnel.

If you say it's awful, that doesn't cover the bases. If you say it's wonderful, that doesn't cover them either. Third world America, here we come. Feudalism in the remaking.

Monday, November 14, 2016

rule Britannia ... someone's gotta do it

Passed along in email -- a letter from John Cleese:

To the citizens of the United States of America:
In light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.
Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II resumes monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories. Except Utah, which she does not fancy.
Your new prime minister (The Right Honourable Theresa May, MP for the 97.8% of you who have, until now, been unaware there's a world outside your borders) will appoint a minister for America. Congress and the Senate are disbanded. A questionnaire circulated next year will determine whether any of you noticed.
To aid your transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:
1. Look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Check "aluminium" in the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you pronounce it. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'favour' and 'neighbour'. Likewise you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters. Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up "vocabulary." Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. Look up "interspersed." There will be no more 'bleeps' in the Jerry Springer show. If you're not old enough to cope with bad language then you should not have chat shows.
2. There is no such thing as "US English." We'll let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter 'u'.
3. You should learn to distinguish English and Australian accents. It really isn't that hard. English accents are not limited to cockney, upper-class twit or Mancunian (Daphne in Frasier). Scottish dramas such as 'Taggart' will no longer be broadcast with subtitles. You must learn that there is no such place as Devonshire in England. The name of the county is "Devon." If you persist in calling it Devonshire, all American States will become "shires" e.g. Texasshire Floridashire, Louisianashire.
4. You should relearn your original national anthem, "God Save The Queen", but only after fully carrying out task 1.
5. You should stop playing American "football." There's only one kind of football. What you call American "football" is not a very good game. The 2.1% of you aware there is a world outside your borders may have noticed no one else plays "American" football. You should instead play proper football. Initially, it would be best if you played with the girls. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which is similar to American "football", but does not involve stopping for a rest every two seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like nancies) You should stop playing baseball. It's not reasonable to host event called the 'World Series' for a game which is not played outside of America. Instead of baseball, you will be allowed to play a girls' game called "rounders," which is baseball without fancy team stripe, oversized gloves, collector cards or hotdogs.
6. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry guns, or anything more dangerous in public than a vegetable peeler. Because you are not sensible enough to handle potentially dangerous items, you will need a permit to carry a vegetable peeler.
7. July 4th is no longer a public holiday. November 2nd will be a new national holiday. It will be called "Indecisive Day."
8. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and it is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean. All road intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left. At the same time, you will go metric without the benefit of conversion tables. Roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
9. Learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips. Fries aren't French, they're Belgian though 97.8% of you (including the guy who discovered fries while in Europe) are not aware of a country called Belgium. Potato chips are properly called "crisps." Real chips are thick cut and fried in animal fat. The traditional accompaniment to chips is beer which should be served warm and flat.
10. The cold tasteless stuff you call beer is actually lager. Only proper British Bitter will be referred to as "beer." Substances once known as "American Beer" will henceforth be referred to as "Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine," except for the product of the American Budweiser company which will be called "Weak Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine." This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in Pilsen, Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion.
11. The UK will harmonise petrol prices (or "Gasoline," as you will be permitted to keep calling it) for those of the former USA, adopting UK petrol prices (roughly $6/US gallon, get used to it).
12. Learn to resolve personal issues without guns, lawyers or therapists. That you need many lawyers and therapists shows you're not adult enough to be independent. If you're not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, you're not grown up enough to handle a gun.
13. Please tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us crazy.
14. Tax collectors from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all revenues due (backdated to 1776).
Thank you for your co-operation.


The supermoon is seen over the historical Galata tower

Sunday, November 13, 2016

plop, plop, fizz, fizz

(CNN)Eight thousand people angry about President-elect Donald Trump's policies on immigration, the environment, LGBT rights and other issues marched in the streets of downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, the fourth day of anti-Trump demonstrations.
The march was peaceful, unlike the Friday night protest by 1,000 people that resulted in the arrests of 187 adults and eight juveniles, Los Angeles police said.
Protests have been held across the nation and most have been peaceful, lacking the intensity from the previous night.
The halitosis that was the recent 2016 presidential election lingers. Donald Trump won. There are demonstrations. Would it have been any different if Hillary Clinton had been anointed? Either way, the halitosis and body odor of a two-year campaign cycle sends people skittering for intellectual and emotional shelter. Perhaps to the 3/1 odds posted by British gambling powerhouse Ladbrokes ... 3/1 that Trump will leave office "via impeachment or resignation before end of 1st term." Or perhaps to the more whimsical analgesic throwback ...

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake in New Zealand? Small potatoes, seemingly.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

post-election violins

I wrote the following yesterday with half an eye towards submitting it as a column later this month. Today, I am sick of the whining in the wake of Donald Trump's presidential victory and don't want to add to that harmonious keening ... but I'll save it, even if it was only a draft:

I was pretty smug two days before the 2016 presidential election when I bet my younger son $20 that Hillary Clinton would win the election. Mind you, I gave him a chance and pointed out that the pollsters and English bookmakers had all pegged Hillary as a shoo-in.

"Wait till the election," he responded in a low, determined voice. And it was at that point that I decided he needed to be taught a lesson: Just because your gut says something is true doesn't mean it's necessarily true.

And now, of course, I am in somewhat the same position as the Washington Post which, in 1948 had pre-printed a number of newspapers announcing Thomas Dewey had won the presidency. When President Harry Truman returned to Washington Nov. 5, 1948, the Post put out a banner that read, "Mr. President, we are ready to eat crow whenever you are ready to serve it."

Likewise, I gave my son his $20. I wasn't happy about it, but I did it and then returned to the task of trying to soothe the rug burn that seemed to permeate my being. I watched the TV and listened to the radio and none of it seemed to work very well. I was a jackass -- read 'em and weep.

And yet drip by drop, other realizations joined the fray: You can only play the jackass card for so long. During the same timeframe in which Donald Trump had won and the fallout descended and a sense of being rug-burned all over arose, there were other things I considered more compelling.

In the political realm, Janet Reno, the first woman attorney general of the United States, died Nov. 7 at 78. A big, horsy, tough broad, she seemed to piss off an equal number of people in whatever camp during her service from 1993 to 2001. For all pushback she could ignite, even her enemies were often willing to grant her the one word that hardly touched the presidential election of 2016: "Integrity." Janet Reno stood for the law. Period. And from where I sit and pine and salve the rug burn of the present, her solo line issued to an inquiring press wins my vote hands down: "I don't do spin."

"I don't do spin." Coming from anyone else, it might be hot air. Coming from Janet Reno, a sense of healing and decency springs up in me, however misplaced it may be. How I wish the latest candidates might have said the same and had the chops to prove it and made my heart soar a little.

And then, as if heeding my own call, writer and musician Leonard Cohen died Nov. 7 at 82 according to The Guardian. The fact that he could make my heart soar meant that his death represented something of a nosedive. A nosedive, perhaps, and yet his words and music accomplished something very much like Janet Reno -- an integrity and beauty that made my heart soar a little ... and a lot.

Reno did something.

Cohen did something.
Doing takes courage. Not doing -- and instead relying on what can be criticized -- takes self-importance and the willingness to claim you are right. For example, for six years, Republicans have criticized the national health coverage called "Obamacare." In all of those years, no replacement has been provided.  If repealing Obamacare without a replacement is the goal, then 20 million people stand to lose all health coverage. Insurance companies gain. The little guy takes it on the chin. So what courage is a Republican-dominated Washington willing to display?

Or consider the loss of coal mining jobs. Those jobs were lost in part because of advancing technology, but they were most compellingly lost because the cost of natural gas makes coal mining less attractive to those who hope to make money. Will there be enough courage to admit this without spin? Yes, coal miners got shafted economically but is there really a way to re-employ and unshaft them? If re-education is the answer, where is the money to make that possible? Will more taxes be necessary? But wait, Republicans like to say they dislike taxes. So which is it going to be, assuming anyone has the courage to DO something?

And don't get me started on Veterans Day in the midst of an on-going, never-ending state of war that Congress has not declared. Our fathers and mothers and sisters and sons and daughters and spouses are being put in harm's way ... ad infinitum. Polish up the American-flag lapel pins. Get re-elected. Of course there's no way to compass the "collateral damage" suffered by those living in war-torn lands. Somehow they don't count when it comes to death and "heroism."

I don't really have any answers, but I do know that feeling rug-burned all over makes me seek solace in those who have managed a bit of doing, a bit of integrity, a bit of life without spin.

letter to barney

James Barney Marsh and I were German linguists in Berlin in the mid-1960's. We were young then and we're not young any more but we stay in occasional touch -- a touch that becomes more associative as time passes. He's retired out of the University of Hawaii (economics). Anyway, this morning I responded to his email and haven't got much left over for other stuff:
Dear Barney -- Sorry to hear about your busted ankle. Hope it is mending apace and not impinging too much on your upbeat mind-set. Shit oh dear -- the organ recital as age advances!

I gather that no one is sure who gets the attribution, but that does not change the appropriateness of the barb, "Youth is wasted on the young." Wilde, Shaw or someone else ... who cares? But I have often thought that if youth is in fact wasted on the young, then old age might similarly be accused of being wasted on the elderly. But then the question becomes, what is it, precisely -- what secret and camouflaged place -- that is wasted? And the best I can figure it is that what is wasted on the elderly is learning how to outgrow the assumptions that preceded old age ... you know, all that stuff accumulated in youth. It's not a pleasant fate -- as for example the idea that offspring and their offspring might visit dad and grandfather as he so often visits them -- but there it is. Outgrowing the notion that you or I might somehow be part of the social mix ... important ... relevant ... pungent...

Instead of wallpaper on someone's wall.

A line that rattles around in my head is this: "Just because you are indispensable to the universe does not mean the universe needs your help."

Ah well, we march forward, limping and otherwise.

Currently in this neck of the woods two sons are at home. One awaits a deployment to Egypt early next year. The endless and politically-nourishing war that allows so many to get re-elected is bound to touch us all at some level. The other son is swept up in the $1.3 trillion student debt tsunami, scraping by as a teacher's aide while paying off a college education someone told him he needed. If I am not mistaken, two days before the recent halitosis that passed for a presidential election, a couple of privatized-prison stocks tanked when the government said they would no longer support the effort. After the election, the same stocks mysteriously rebounded. Privatization is a cash cow no self-respecting capitalist can ignore... schools, jails ... it's all just money. A couple of weeks ago, IMF ramrod Christine Lagarde suggested in a report that if economics continued on their current trajectory, the world was in for a "new mediocrity." When was the last time you heard of anything excellent that did not rely on money. The best I can think of is former AG Janet Reno's comment to reporters: "I don't do spin."

Oh well ... two sons at home. Daughter is married and working and more or less on an even keel. It is nice to see the kids, but there are times when I wonder when, precisely, the empty nest syndrome will kick in: To date, an over-populated nest seems to be the rule.

I putter. Write an occasional column for the local newspaper and am most skilled when it comes to taking yet another nap. My sister encourages me to get out and about, and I don't disagree ... but not to the degree of actually actualizing the encouragement. I despise up-beat TED talks that claim to have some aspect of life in the bag ... some solution that will make things easier, smoother and more fucking 'millennial,' whatever the fuck that means. Fixing things or solving them is a young man's sport and assumption.

My dwindling assumptions include a long-time interest in spiritual life. Once I was pretty gung-ho. But to what end? An improvement, n'est ce pas? I don't feel foolish about having plumbed whatever depths I plumbed -- everyone's got to dive in somewhere. But making a federal case out of it is too much. Similarly, writing seems a bit much as assumptions go.

Oh well, rattle and blab. Writing is what I do. Just a note from the eastern-most climes of your universe.

I hope you are well enough to hoist a Pils.


Friday, November 11, 2016

upscale disaster preparedness

The bomb shelters that enjoyed a certain cachet in the 1950's and 1960's are enjoying an upscale reincarnation in Texas among other places:
Developers intend to construct about 400 condos that have 90 percent of their living space underground. Most would cost in the mid-six figures and each topped with a terrace overlooking one of the lakes. The community could have as many as 1,600 residents who, should disaster strike, can rely on water and energy production that's off the grid. O'Connor said designs and concepts may change as the project progresses, but a navigable tunnel network and an air-purification system are planned.
As is a DNA vault. The vault is an opportunity for "family sustainability," said Richie Whitt, spokesman for Trident Lakes.... 
The standard luxury amenities will apply: 18-hole golf course, high-end spa, gun ranges, zip lines, shops and restaurants, and not just a single helipad but a row of them. But plans call for the 700-acre spread to also include an equestrian center, polo fields and 20-acre lakes with white-sand beaches. The entire compound will be wrapped by a 12-foot wall and have private security manning watchtowers. The project has received the necessary approvals, O'Connor said, and people are expected to take up residence in 2018.
The idea gives whack-a-mole a whole new perspective.

RIP Leonard Cohen, 82

Leonard Cohen, the legendary singer-songwriter whose work inspired generations, has died at the age of 82.
A post to his official Facebook page announced the musician’s passing in Los Angeles on Thursday 10 November.
“It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away. We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries,” the post said.
“A memorial will take place in Los Angeles at a later date. The family requests privacy during their time of grief.” According to the Leonard Cohen forum, often well informed on the singer, he died on Monday 7 November and has already been buried in a private ceremony in Montreal.

does Trump have the nerve to DO?

In the propwash of Donald Trump's ascendancy as president-elect of the United States on Tuesday, I think....

Let's see what he can DO. Doing takes courage. Undoing requires someone else's doing... that and a sense that being right is enough.

To suggest that tearing the old building down in order to make space for some new structure begs the question. For six years, for example, the Republicans have been sniping at Barack Obama's "Obamacare" health plan. Yet in all that time, their own plan has been notably absent. To suggest that no new plan is warranted is to relegate 20 million Americans to a dust bin in which they have no medical safety net at all. Is that satisfactory? It may be right from one point of view, but is it satisfactory?

The minute anyone says what they plan to DO, the backbiting begins. Has Trump got the balls for that? Angelic posturing only reaches so far.

I wonder what he has the balls to DO after all the un-doing is exhausted.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

après moi, le déluge

Old fogies are likely to know the feeling -- waking up in a hospital bed after an operation (now referred to as a "procedure") of which there is no memory. What happened and how did it happen? There is no especial pain, but the surroundings make their point: Some sort of healing is in the foreseeable cards and what is not pain just now is likely to raise its head as time goes by. The environment is threatening by its very sterility.

Hospitals have a coffin-like feel and implication. Nurses come and go and are up-beat, but what the hell, they're not the one's lying in the winding sheets. Who knows: Maybe they're right. Maybe things will indeed be better. But it's not at all clear what "better" is supposed to feel like. In the end, old fogies lie still and hope that whatever disfiguration the operation addressed will in fact heal. But it is confusing and too sterile to be true. If you stay still enough long enough, maybe someone will come in and explain what is going on. There will be a "new normal" to ingest and digest.

The new normal: Donald Trump is the U.S. president in waiting. The nurses are upbeat, but it's not clear exactly what is going on. Was the operation a success? A success at achieving what? If you lie still enough long enough, perhaps someone will explain. The lick-spittle media missed the call by miles and yet prattle on as if their credibility had not been compromised.

The new normal: Donald Trump, a man who never held public office and yet has inspired millions with his unkind rhetoric ... well, the new normal feels to me like the Somali security officer's observation about piracy off his shores:
If you do not share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you.
Trump's election day win sparked protests yesterday among those proclaiming with placards, "Not my president." If Hillary Clinton had won, would things have been different? So many things seem to be ripped and torn and the old fogie lies still as salt, waiting for some explanation of what the procedure had been and suspecting that such an explanation will not be forthcoming.

"Après moi, le déluge?" After me, the deluge? No ... it's more like drip, drip, drip as the upbeat nurses come and go.