Friday, June 30, 2017

ethics and morals

I have always thought -- without too much thinking -- that ethics were the rights and wrongs executed in public.

Morals, by contrast, were practices set within and exercised in private, as when addressing the liar in the mirror.

Trying to sort this out according to internet sources is a twisty-turn-y road, one that leaves me stuttering, "In a hundred years, who'll know?"

And with Donald Trump as president, a hundred years seems a bit long.

my kinda gal

Celeste Barber has 1.8 million Instagram followers, who delight in her parodies of the fashion world. Photograph: Celeste Barber 
The Guardian article that brought this comedienne to my attention includes a send-up video clip of a yoga practice in a doorway. I can't seem to grab it and put it here, but it's too good to miss. Scroll down.

PS. And then, not in the article, is this politically-incorrect take on adoption.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

poems of Iberia

A BBC article that caught my eye focuses on the cross-cultural poetry of Iberia 1000 years ago. A sampling:
1. The multiple troubles of man,
my brother, like slander and pain,
amaze you? Consider the heart which holds them all
in strangeness, and doesn't break.

2. Could kings right a people gone bad,
while they themselves are twisted?
How, in the woods, could shadows that bend
be straight when the trees are crooked?

3. Luxuries ease, but when trouble comes
people are plagued for the wealth they've accrued.
The peacock's tail is spectacular --
but it weighs him down on the day he's pursued.

Noah's ark and the tourists

It's a little hard to get a handle on the subject, but it seems that the replica of Christianity's Noah's Ark is not drawing in the throngs that caused Kentucky and its officials to pony up what some are describing as a $100 million support structure. Where Kentucky got $100 million to fool around with beats me, but apparently Ken Ham, the creationist whose vision inspired the building sells a fine brand of creationism. Ham lays blame for the faltering financials at the doorstep of atheists who prayed (you heard right) against the project. The theme park opened, if I get it right, in July of 2016.
Built with the same measurements God gave Noah in Genesis 6:15, the ... ark is the largest timber-frame structure in the world. It's just over 500 feet long - one and a half times the length of a football field - about 50 feet tall, and 85 feet wide.
The organization behind a tax-payer subsidized “replica” of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky is blaming atheists for tax-payers getting fleeced by the project. Creationist Ken Ham built the $92 million Ark Encounter project in Williamstown, Kentucky. The “dismal failure” of the project has backers lashing out at “intolerant atheists” for mocking the return on investment taxpayers have received. “Sadly, they are influencing business investors and others in such a negative way that they may prevent Grant County, Kentucky, from achieving the economic recovery that its officials and residents have been seeking,” complained Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis.
I wonder if putting a "Trump" label on the project would turn its fortunes around.

Whatever the case, I think the topic positively insists on the use of the word, "bizarre." Also to recall the words of the Anglican Charles Williams who once wrote, "people believe what they want to believe."

Lord, the need to believe in something grand and sweeping -- and I don't mean solely among the less-thoughtful -- is compelling. The Kentucky ark lies somewhere between touching and terrifying, between lulling and ludicrous. Snippy atheists don't impress me much more than Ken Ham. There is something human, and therefore partly insane, about it all.

The Japanese have a tradition of honoring great failures -- a tradition I think deserves a second look.

grown-up stuff

With Donald Trump backing artfully away from the imminent failure of the Senate to "repeal and replace" former President Barak Obama's Affordable Care Act -- one of Trump's signature campaign promises to which he is about to claim no affiliation ... it's the Senate's fault dontchaknow -- I found myself yesterday watching my own scale of importance get revised....

Last week, Steve came around to replace the storm door leading to the kitchen. The door, like a lot of American products, is flimsy and poorly engineered, so Steve had to come back to adjust it. There was one more tweak needed, so I called Steve last night to remind him. I was irritated by the need to repair what was to all intents a brand new door. The idea that the consumer should have to worry about the capitalist cheapskates was galling: How is the consumer -- caveat emptor -- to know about storm doors? Isn't the purveyor responsible for the quality of the product s/he wishes to sell as a means of putting spaghetti on his/her table?

Steve's business card says "Service you can trust." I prefer to trust... right up to the moment that the product proves untrustworthy. Yes, I was feeling cranky.

But when I reached Steve and asked him not to forget about me as he geared up for a vacation down south, he told me it had been a hell of a day. He wouldn't forget me, but he had just put his mother in a nursing home in the wake of a stroke several months ago. "She isn't going to like it," he said wearily.

And somehow Steve's announcement wiped my slate clean of the crankies. How could my complaints measure up against his confusion and sorrow? Playing Donald Trump, I guess I could have thought "Fuck him -- he didn't do the job he promised implicitly to do. It's my money he has taken." I wasn't forgiving his debt to me, but I was getting a perspective that put my money and my cares in the shadows.

In Steve's boat ... besides putting a loved one in someone else's care, there is the matter of your own mortality and, perhaps harder, the realization that you are now the only one left to play the grown-up. When all the grown-ups dissolve and you are the de facto grown-up ... well, how does anyone do that? Is it by yelling and bullying? Who will believe that I am a grown-up? I certainly don't.

I can hear the grown-ups saying all kinds of grown-up things about apples and oranges and Steve owed me a decent door. I can play that game, but ... well, it just didn't have the self-important force it might have during a TED talk.

To me, it felt better to feel less cranky and the care about something worth caring about. Not that I don't want the door fixed, but if the door were the price for relieving the stress of death or uncertainty, I'd live with a flimsy door in a New York minute.

So much for my uncalibrated scales.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Serena Williams

Neat pic of tennis champ Serena Williams.

bumper sticker mentality

If I had the disposable income, I think I would create a cottage industry with the help of a bumper sticker that read: 


            *******                   *******

                   FOR A CHANGE

scientific blue chips

Another field I knew nothing about -- the rewarding role of publishing scientific journals in the world of science ... a science which seems to get short-changed in the publication process.
Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?
It is an industry like no other, with profit margins to rival Google – and it was created by one of Britain’s most notorious tycoons: Robert Maxwell. By Stephen Buranyi
It's a long-ish read from The Guardian, but it sounds to me like a sophisticated game of Three Card Monte.

And you thought you weren't getting short-changed. :)

Monday, June 26, 2017

nothing left to buy? think again

$185 paper/money clip
Good design, it is said, should render an object invisible. Until you whack a designer logo on it, at which point it becomes the opposite: a talking point, a must-have, and (in this instance) the only Prada item that you could conceivably afford.
That, we’ll hazard, is the thinking behind its oversized silver paperclip, a snip at $185 (£145), and the latest in a litany of designer accessories inspired by the mundane and the everyday. In fairness, it’s a money clip with a logo, but everyone knows money clips are for rich people (people who deal exclusively in notes) so the irony is still there.
Imagine -- for some people this is serious stuff.

Republicans urged to ... uh ...act

Why do I have this sense that Republican difficulties will probably be ironed out by Democrat ineptness?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) -- At least one influential donor has informed congressional Republicans that the "Dallas piggy bank" is closed until he sees major action on health care and taxes.
Texas-based donor Doug Deason has already refused to host a fundraiser for two members of Congress and informed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., his checkbook is closed as well.
"Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed," Deason said in a pointed message to GOP leaders. "You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There's no reason you can't get this done. Get it done and we'll open it back up."

women live longer; men....

I wonder if it's true that women live longer than men because women sacrifice for life while men sacrifice for ego (the stuff that puts food on the table) ... and life is more interesting than ego.
Although the gap in life expectancy had started to narrow in the 1970s, the overall death rate is again climbing, particularly for white American men, making it essential to understand why the state of men’s health is going from bad to worse.
Buddhists, among others, frequently give ego a bad rap and it certainly deserves investigation, but to suggest that ego is without its uses is a step too far. It takes a toll, telling so many half-truths, bolstering and waxing boisterous and locking horns.

I don't know. I just wonder and figure my half-baked speculation is as possible as some BBC quasi-scientific speculation. Probably not, but it might make for a beer-drinking topic.

the IS in Israel

A high-profile body that liaises between Israel and the Jewish diaspora has reacted with fury at a decision by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to in effect abandon a plan to allow men and women to pray together at the Western Wall.
The Jewish Agency has cancelled a gala dinner with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and is to discuss the ramifications of the decision at a meeting this week.
The Israeli cabinet decided on Sunday to scrap a compromise agreement made 17 months ago, which was intended to resolve a battle lasting more than a quarter of a century over equal rights for women praying at the Western Wall.
The longer I live, the more I appreciate the ethical potential of spiritual life and the less I appreciate its unwillingness to dig deeper and, common-sensically, set aside spiritual life in favor of a life that could not be un-spiritual if it tried.

If you have a god, it is wiser to stop picking his/her/or its nose in my opinion. God, after all, is fine and ascertainably 'true' ... or 'untrue' ... so stop mucking about. Practice, clarify, don't be believer-lazy ... get with the program.

The stupidity among smart people is a marvel of sorts.

PS. As a possible addition to the cheering section, the White House has broken with a 20-year tradition and decided not to host a Muslim meal that marks the end of Islam's Ramadan ... a quasi-fasting ritual of the religion.
For the first time in over two decades, the White House did not host an Iftar or Eid celebration dinner to mark the month of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month when Muslims fast during daylight hours....
Iftar dinners inviting prominent members of the Muslim community to break their fast at the White House were continued each year during the administrations of both President Bush and President Obama.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also broke with tradition by not hosting an Iftar dinner at the State Department during Ramadan, as has happened for the past two decades.
Building bridges and building fences ... how about it?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

shaking the foundations

I had thought my neighbor Doreen was going for a brain-cancer operation yesterday, but instead I heard her talking across the street on her porch, ambled over and learned that the operation (remember to call it a 'procedure') had been bumped to Tuesday and she had returned. She, her mother, and another neighbor were chatting.

Doreen had a newly-minted C-shaped and stapled scar in the vicinity of her left ear and another shorter scar high on her forehead, at her hair line. She seemed to be in fine fettle -- chatting and touched by all the attention she was getting (there's some worldwide prayer circle rooting for her, among other things). When I asked what the doctors had told her, she said, "They got it all."

The cancer had migrated from her lungs, for which she had an earlier ... uh ... procedure. Steroids kept her pepped up. She was not allowed to take a shower and other indignities circumscribed her newest lifestyle, but ... she had the energy to keep up a good face. Had the doctors 'got it all?' I don't know, but I hope so.

After a while, the two of us were alone on her porch and Doreen said she always enjoyed talking to me. She said things had changed -- her priorities ... the stuff she considered important. She couldn't really nail it down, but her words made me think that something inside was shuddering, sort of like jars on the shelves that tinkled in an aftershock earthquake: The jars stayed in place, but it was clear they might fall and break and ... life's presumptions and assumptions were not so easy or assured.

I think everyone has a reality motor that hums below with surface of social being. It's the way things are and everyone knows it, but it takes a jolt of some sort to float it to the surface. It's nice to have assumptions and presumptions and go about life's business dressed in some affable underwear. I don't want to linger over my health and its fragility. It's boring and nothing gets done and yet ... well, there it is, insisting, in the wake of an aftershock.

Well, I guess that's the way of things: If you don't think about or address death, that's no reason why death will decline to think about or address you. It really is annoying ... thinking about health and what to do to preserve it. Since others do not yet pick this particular nose, thinking about death puts people at a lonely remove from the general flow of social interaction. And you can't unthink it. Worse, you cannot fix it: Everyone knows the truth when they hear or live it. So, if previous assumptions are tinkling on the shelf, how do I reach the false assurances I once commanded? I want to believe and yet, all of a sudden, belief simply doesn't cut it.

Things are clearer than they once were but clarity does not assure relief and release. Certainty, even when fabricated, is so much cozier than uncertainty. Shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits ... as George Carlin might say. The best I can figure is that when something is inescapable, the only useful activity is to go towards it....

Not that that solves much of anything. :) Revamping a long-standing habit like belief is exhausting just to think about and yet ... what other choice is there?

Friday, June 23, 2017


A once-in-a-lifetime offer is a bit of hyperbole describing something special, isn't it?

Birth -- unless you are into multiple lives -- is a once-in-a-lifetime offer. It only happens once.

Death -- unless you are into multiple lives -- is a once-in-a-lifetime offer. It only happens once.

In this realm, birth and death are special -- a shiver-me-timbers possibility or actuality.

But if birth and death are so special, why are they happening all the time and in the all-around? Look around. True, you or I may only get one shot at it, but that doesn't seem to constrain birth and death. Birth and death seem as common as salt. Is that special?

My Zen teacher's teacher, Soen Nakagawa, once commented, "There is birth and there is death. In between, there is enlightenment." I never did get to ask him what he could possibly mean by "in between." Would I have understood his answer? Would it have been special?

Another once-in-a-lifetime offer, I imagine.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

remembering beauty

I have always been a sucker for beauty: It can lay me out. It is, quite literally, something to die for. But what is it? I don't know and still, I am a sucker for beauty.

-- Before she died, I once begged -- and I do not beg -- my younger sister to play the piano for me. She admitted that she played, but said she only played for herself. I begged and begged to no avail. Why did I begs?
In earlier times, when she and my older sister had no married lives or children, I one day heard both of them ... downstairs ... taking piano lessons.
My older sister got all the notes right. It was good.
My younger sister got the same tune wrong and yet, and yet, her playing made my heart soar. There was passion, there was love, and there were errors that made absolutely no difference. Beauty does not mean perfection.

-- I have seen numerous beautiful statues of Gautama the Buddha -- wonderfully carved, expressive, yummy. And yet there is only one I really remember. It was made out of what was clearly a piece of fire wood. Blackened by time, with chisel or knife marks entirely apparent. Someone, somewhere, had sat down and done that work, perhaps after a long day of work. It was chunky and clunky and it pierced me to a place I cannot name.

-- Once, at the University of California at Berkeley, I went to a gymnasium to hear the violinist David Oistrakh play. He was not my favorite violinist. He stood beneath a basketball backboard that had  been folded up to create space around this virtuoso. I sat in an uncomfortable folding chair along the upper track section of the gym. Oistrakh stood alone with his violin in a place whose acoustics were poor at best. And he played. And the music was so beautiful that it was like staring at the sun -- there came a time when I simply could no longer listen. I had to stop ... had to for reasons I cannot name. I was being sucked into some ineffable forever. I was being burned alive with beauty.

-- In Berlin, I went to hear the great guitarists Andre Segovia and Carlos Montoya. First came Segovia. He entered the stage and sat in the chair provided. He sat and he waited. He waited until all whispering and coughing and fidgeting had died away. He insisted that it die away. He was the maestro and he demanded reverence for his achievement. It was an uncomfortable series of moments. Finally, he played something classical and recognizable. He didn't miss a note. There was applause and perhaps an encore. When Montoya entered the same stage some months later, he reminded me of a rumpled sock at the bottom of the laundry hamper. His music was folk-based, dance-based. Montoya paid no attention to coughs and whispers. He played and let the music do the talking. It made me feel like a dog rolling over on a lawn -- all waggy-tailed and wiggly with delight. The audience seemed to feel the same. Again and again the audience called him back. Everyone was in love with the man who recognized and loved the music. Again and again they would not let him go. I too was wild to have him return. Finally, he came out one last time and spoke in English because he did not seem to speak German. "I am tired," he said approximately, "but let me play some scales." And he did -- hammering-on scales that did nothing more than go up and go down ... and honest to Christ, I thought the concert hall would collapse with the adoration of the applause. Me too! Me too! Take me too!
-- Once, when deeply immersed in the brown-rice circuit of spiritual practice, I had a friend who was into shiatsu. She asked if she could practice on me. Sure, I said, not quite sure if shiatsu or some more intimate connection were in the offing. And she began and continued and continued and bit by bit, I was a goner. Was she just beginning or had she ended? There seemed to be no edges to what was happening. If someone had put a snub-nosed .38 behind my ear and whispered, "this is it," I would have been forced to agree, "this is it ... shoot me now."

-- In a largely-empty art gallery, I was staring at a painting of a mountain. It wasn't a very good painting, but it had swept me in. And at just about that moment, I heard the fruity, ersatz voice of the gallery owner behind me, crooning, "Beautiful, isn't it?" And I was suddenly enraged. I was within an ace of beating the shit out of him. I hated... hated... hated ... But what did I hate? Don't talk ... don't move ... don't praise ... just DON'T!!!

Which is precisely what I am doing here. And yet I want to remember that there have been these times and others like them when everything came together or fell apart or whatever ... and took me with them.

Not you. Just me. 

Thank you... and apologies.

ban cell phones in schools

With a price tag of $1.3 million, you might think that education, as measured by student debt, was worth something. Instead, those who are most vocal about the wonders of education tend to keep spawning students who show many signs of becoming clones of Donald Trump.... boistrous, self-absorbed, and irresponsible... not exactly educated.

Liberals spawning mini-Donald's .... it has a ring to it.

The average student uses his or her cell phone for nine hours a day, not including school work. S/he spends more time texting and gaming than s/he does with parents. S/he is enmeshed in the suggestion that social media like Twitter and Facebook do indeed draw us all closer together. Instead, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Social media drive people down their own rabbit holes and leave them confused that they are lonely and suicidal. Did you ever try to get laid on Facebook?

I think it would be a good idea if today's grown-ups grew up and banned cell phones in schools. I can hear the righteous cavorting around crying, "Freedom of speech." But institutions of all sorts -- roads, sporting events, hospitals, etc. -- have rules. Why not schools? Why not no-cell-phones? Yes, there are those who might have nervous breakdowns without all their 'friends.' But who knows, they might make some real friends.

It's dubious that grown-ups will grow up and pronounce the word "no" in schools. For one thing, they too have bought into the ersatz connectedness that Donald Trump espouses. (Tell me just one person who is Donald Trump's honest-to-God friend). But schools can set aside, say, one hour per school day, where teachers and students may use their phones before returning to the work premised in classrooms .... education.

Tweets create twits who buy into a social matrix that hardly deserves the word 'social.' Is freedom of speech to extend to idiot speech as well? Well, of course it is ... but only during the prescribed hour in the school house. And if there is an honest emergency, let the school office field it and inform the appropriate student that s/he has a call.

I don't know ... it sounds like a plan to me. And yes, I am a big fan of the ACLU.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Canadian toe theft raises hackles

You can't make this shit up:
A barman in Canada's Yukon Territory is furious that the key ingredient to the famed "Sourtoe Cocktail" - a mummified human toe - has been stolen.
The severed toe, served in alcoholic drinks at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, was stolen by a Quebec resident, according to "Toe Captain" Terry Lee.
"Toes are very hard to come by," Mr Lee said. "I'm really attached to it."
The toe is estimated to be worth CA$80,000 (US$60,000 / £48,000) and is part of local folklore.
And here you thought Canadians were an easy-going and far-from-bizarre lot.

follow the (Vatican) money

Talk about a story that skirts the whole story:

The Vatican's first auditor-general has resigned abruptly two years after being appointed to help ensure transparency in the sometimes murky finances at the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
A brief Vatican statement on Tuesday gave no reason for the resignation of Libero Milone, saying merely that he had presented it on Monday to Pope Francis and that the pontiff had accepted it.
But a Vatican source with knowledge of the events that led to Milone's resignation told Reuters, "It's a pretty ugly situation and I hope it does not get worse."
"Follow the money" is among the surest of all journalistic admonitions. And if I were a teller in clerical garb these days, I would be glad to own a flak jacket. The Vatican is, I believe, the richest corporation in the world. With that much money floating around, there's bound to be a certain competitive spirit, I imagine... isn't Italy the home of the stiletto, the garrotte, and the lupara?

heat grounds AZ planes ... et al

As temperatures climb in Phoenix, Arizona, more than 40 flights have been cancelled - because it is too hot for the planes to fly.
The weather forecast for the US city suggests temperatures could reach 120F (49C) on Tuesday.
That is higher than the operating temperature of some planes.
News snippets like this make me wonder if the God-is-punishing-us-because-he-loves-us crowd are whispering, "You see -- I told you so."

A little even-keel, peaceful news would be welcome ... but that's the kind of thing fuddy-duddies like me are wont to say.

Still, there's Donald Trump who never found a hard-won victory he couldn't undo; forest fires in Portugal; and (setting aside wars and various kinds of hatred) then there's the added indignity:
Coffee drinkers could face poorer-tasting, higher-priced brews, as a warming climate causes the amount of land suitable for coffee production to shrink, say scientists from London’s Kew Gardens....
"In Ethiopia and all over the world really, if we do nothing there will be less coffee, it will probably taste worse and will cost more,” Dr Aaron Davis, coffee researcher at Kew and one of the report’s authors, told the BBC.
Brits, of course, survive on tea.

I am not a Brit.

Monday, June 19, 2017

critical thinking maybe

Being a little slower than the other kids on the block, it wasn't until my first year of college that the stuff I liked thinking about fell fairly neatly into something called "philosophy." Up until then, I hadn't really known that people made a profession of parsing the nettles of human existence. As a newcomer, I was delighted with "philosophy," not least because I realized I wasn't the only crazy guy in the neighborhood.

The first book assigned in class as "The Republic," by Plato and one of our first homework assignments came when the teacher divided the class in half and asked each half to take one half of some two-sided conundrum and then return to class prepared to debate the issue. I dove into my assignment (though I can't remember the topic) as I might have jumped into a chocolate milk shake ... woo-hoo! I studied my ass off, combing and re-combing my arguments. Finally, at perhaps 2 a.m., I realized I had done as much as I could.

I had just shut the book and straightened out my notes when I was smacked down hard: It wasn't enough to know what my arguments would be: In order to win the day, I would have to know what the opposing side would be likely to say. And so I began again, marshaling the arguments from the other side of the fence. It simply was not enough to know what I thought, no matter how dearly I loved it. I was exhausted, but determined. I plowed through, bringing the same verve to my opponents' probable views as I had to my own.

I didn't sleep much that night.

This, I guess, is one description of "critical thinking," though at the time I thought of it as a pain in the ass. How much easier to have my point of view and the hell with all the others. How much more soothing to assert my bias and stick with it irrespective of any counterpoint.

There is a point. There is a counterpoint. Being ignorant of either qualifies as ignorance. And no matter how closely combed and re-combed, there is always a bit of ignorance at the end -- the time when sleep demands its due and the word "approximately" gains a toe-hold.

Still, in an age of argumentation and bluster, I am happy to think that there was a time when I was willing to turn the subject on its head. To rethink. To critique a bias which, by self-sustaining definition, is pure as the driven snow.

And at this point, a silly video pops once more to mind:

That's right: Turn it around.

Harvard's elephant in the living room

Harvard motto: Veritas... truth
Harvard University's decision to rescind admission offers to 10 incoming freshmen because of offensive Facebook posts comes at a time of heightened attention to free speech and student conduct on U.S. college campuses, and has stirred debate far beyond the halls of the Ivy League school.
Harvard University, the school that has reported increasing numbers of A's as the price of tuition rose, has popped a bubble of another sort. Should largely incoherent teenagers -- and which one of us hasn't been one? -- be held accountable for raucous, rude and insulting behavior/loud-mouthing? Even when it is as members of the anti-social network billed as bringing people closer together?

To borrow from Disney, who mashed up Shakespeare, "Bubble, bubble/Toil and trouble...."

Yes, there is free speech and there is something within that longs to speak freely, especially in a politically-correct era. Donald Trump is president, after all.

But yes, as well, there is something to be said for the old reminder, "Keep a civil tongue in your mouth." With any luck, Donald Trump's days are numbered.

When my mother heard the first use of "fuck" come out of my mouth in about the second grade, she sat me down and ran down every cuss word there was. She told me its literal meaning, its slang meaning and finally, she told me when I might use cuss words.

"You can use them with your friends. You can use them in front of me. But you may not use them in front of my friends."

When it comes to making decisions, that always struck me as sensible and equitable.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

eating myths

Anthony Warner

Living as I do in a community that would 'just die' if anyone suggested it was uncaring in any way, it was kind of nice to hear about a chef who is fed to the teeth with unscientific fads passing for compassion or truth or some other hi-jinx.

Anthony Warner – alias blogger turned author the Angry Chef – is on a mission to confront the ‘alternative facts’ surrounding nutritional fads and myths.

Father's Day

Column submitted to the local paper but is unlikely by this time to get printed:
At a time when my only daughter and first child was showing all the signs of entering the world, I grew nervous. I was going to be a "father," but what, exactly, was a "father" supposed to do? Since I had never been a father before, I needed pointers -- a "Fatherhood for Dummies" or something like that. As it happened, it was my younger sister, with two kids in her rearview mirror, who gave the most useful advice.

"Adam," she said with a wry and somewhat wicked gleam in her eye, "when it comes to being a parent, you can either read every book about child-rearing that was ever written or you can read none at all: Either way, you won't know squat."

Other fathers may be more sure of themselves as Father's Day (June 18) approaches and family members rush out to buy another pair or socks or fire up the barbecue. But I am still somewhat uncertain of my status. So many years after my three kids made themselves known, I could still use a "Fatherhood for Dummies." Twenty-odd years later, what do I know?

I know I love my kids, but I have a hard time taking credit for it. I did what I could, but based on the wonderful complexity of human beings that included my children, it doesn't feel that I have done quite enough. I love them, that's one positive point.

And the other positive point is that my love is based largely on the inconceivably hard work my wife did as the kids toddled, walked, ran, laughed, cried, hated math, expressed complex thoughts ... all of it. It beats the hell out of me how any mom could endure the crabby wails that can erupt towards the suppertime part of the day. Just about the time anyone needs a break -- and maybe a drink -- kids put their parents in high-alert, keep-'em-in-line mode.

My wife, Elizabeth did that. And Olivia, Angus and Ives, the children I love, benefited. Me, as the "father" -- honestly, I stood and stand in awe. I have done hard jobs in my life, but never anything as tough as that. We weren't rich enough to afford a nanny. We had no family nearby to pick up occasional kid duty. Elizabeth did it.

And from my point of view, Father's Day boils down to one thing: Mother's Day.

I worked a swing shift (4-12, 5-1 for example) and that meant Elizabeth, who worked part-time mornings, caught the evening-into-night shift. We had a couple of vacations, I think, but they weren't many. And I took all of the kids to a shooting range once when guns came into their consciousness. I volunteered one year at the local grade school. I tried to talk them out of a fear of math. And probably there were other adventures, but none of them convinced me I had entered the realm of some shining example of whatever it was to be a "father." Diapers, sure. Dishes, OK. But where was the crown? As far as I was concerned, Elizabeth wore it. Other men may see their father-dom as clear as day, but I'm still in the back of the pack.

I wish I had done more than make money, though without it we would have been hungry and the house would not have been ours. Still, Elizabeth did the serious stuff, the subtle stuff, the stuff that turned my children into people I love. This was not a world of perfection. It was not a flawless land. AND ... from where I sit, it turned out fine. My kids are in their twenties now and -- knock wood -- not one of them has robbed a bank.

That's Mothers Day for you. I wish I could have done more to relieve the strain I could sometimes see in Elizabeth's face, a strain she seldom complained about. How the hell did she do that?

It beats the socks off of me -- which may be one reason a new pair of socks, ugly or otherwise, may be just what I deserve on this Father's Day. It's a little late for "Fatherhood for Dummies."

I'm stuck with the dummy status.

the potential luxury of wealth

Imagine if all the well-creased silences of the wealthy were redirected from protection to understanding.

Since it's unlikely to happen, imagining may be the only game in town.

pressurized prayers

Passed along in email:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"The Graduate"

A couple of days ago, BBC news reported that the 1967 movie, "The Graduate," was scheduled for a re-release in Great Britain in a tribute to its 50th anniversary. I decided to watch and see how well it held up.

Together with the Simon & Garfunkel music, I thought it held up surprisingly well ... but what do I know? Edgy, psychologically persuasive ... not too many cardboard characterizations. And I do love that music.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Swami Vivekananda

Vivekananda, front row, 2nd from right
Now and then a mother or father comes calling and so it was today as 'my father's' words popped into my head and I had the opportunity to be grateful once more for his kindness.

In 1893, Swami Vivekananda attended Chicago's Parliament of Religions. Judging by the newspaper accounts of the time, he knocked 'em in the aisles. He came as a representative of Hinduism -- a man whose home base was Vedanta and would die at 39 in 1902. He was a prolific writer and, according to my hunching, would have been a Buddhist if he hadn't loved his teacher, Ramakrishna, so much.

From where I sit, Vivekananda really kicked the spiritual can down the road. But it is not so much the volumes he penned or the centers he encouraged to open in his teacher's name. That, from where I sit, is minor stuff compared to his pointing at the moon, so to speak. Yes, there is a blue-haired-ladies contingent in Vedanta. Yes, there is an almost Roman Catholic awe of real estate and gilt statues and incense.  That stuff is sometimes necessary.

But it was Vivekananda, 'my father,' who said without lying: "The mind [he meant intellect] is a good servant and a poor master." Intellectually, the words mean squat. But in my heart of hearts ... well, my father did not let me down.

"The mind is a good servant and a poor master." Straighter tracks were never laid.

a small, sassy analysis of stupidity

 An offering from The Guardian:

It’s sometimes argued that we should be grateful for stupid leaders, since at least their stupidity makes life less hazardous: imagine if they were sufficiently focused and clever to implement their worst ideas! But that wasn’t the view of the late Italian economist Carlo Cipolla. In 1976 he published a tongue-in-cheek essay that’s been gaining new attention in the age of Trump.

Angus in transit

Angus in transit along the Va./W.Va. border section of the Appalachian Trail as he and a buddy head south for the high school track team's meet.

remind me why we are in Afghanistan

The U.S. is going to add approximately 4,000 American troops to its forces in Afghanistan -- the 'war' yet to be declared by Congress after 16 years.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon will send almost 4,000 additional American forces to Afghanistan, a Trump administration official said Thursday, hoping to break a stalemate in a war that has now passed to a third U.S. commander in chief. The deployment will be the largest of American manpower under Donald Trump's young presidency.
Lurking somewhere in the background is some unprovable-but-inflammatory link to the 2001 demolition of the World Trade Towers (et al) in 2001 that stands as the reason for U.S. involvement. But it occurred to me today that I really don't know why -- even from the exceptionalist point of view -- we are there. Is it oil? Is it military strategy? Is it a diversion from problems at home -- the usual legerdemain kind of thing where you are encouraged to look there so you don't see what's here?

Today's news comes on the heels of President Donald Trump's handing the authority to raise troop levels to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ... a move that, dare it be said, takes the onus off the president when the new infusion of American blood works no better than previous infusions.

Seriously, is there some reasoning, however bereft, for being there?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Japan steps boldly into the sewer

Together with its latter-day push to build up a military held in check since the end of World War II, Japan has added a sweeping 'anti-terrorism' law that smells suspiciously like the 'anti- terrorism' efforts in other countries like the U.S.
Japan has passed a controversial law targeting conspiracies to commit terrorism and other serious crimes, despite a warning by the UN that it could be used to crack down on civil liberties....
Japan has passed a controversial law targeting conspiracies to commit terrorism and other serious crimes, despite a warning by the UN that it could be used to crack down on civil liberties....
[C]ritics point out that offences covered by the law include those with no obvious connection to terrorism or organised crime, such as sit-ins to protest construction of apartment buildings or copying music.
Opponents see the legislation as part of Abe’s broader mission to increase state powers, and fear ordinary citizens could be targeted, despite government assurances to the contrary.
How nice to see that a country that credits itself with an elevated culture, can get down into the sewer with the rest of us.

buying a jackknife

I went to the hardware store today to buy a jackknife.

The store no longer sells them.

I felt gypped that I should have to go to the juiceless Internet.

But it's just old-age crankies.

Buying on the Internet ... what a sissy of a pastime.


powerful poseurs

"Famed for his pictures of Spanish miners, the French photographer Pierre Gonnord has turned his lens on young people, creating powerful pictures that look like – and have the depth of – oil paintings."

(There is also something disturbing (crypto-kiddie-porn? my own neuroses?) here but I can't quite name it.)


wrapped in a wet sheet

In the long-ago -- and in the present for all I know -- mental patients were wrapped tightly in wet sheets as a means of stilling their writhings. A wet sheet ... imagine that. Immovable ... it scares the shit out of me just to think of it.

This morning, a friend sent along a news story about the Southern Baptist convention in Phoenix. The gathering finally reached a quasi-agreement that "alt-right" (largely white supremicism beyond the boundaries of more camouflaged or taciturn conservatism) was not tolerated by Christian constituents such as themselves.

Honest to goodness, gatherings like that -- or like the Taliban -- scare the pants off me in the same way that any large-scale-gathering does. A wet sheet. Large gatherings of people, with or without a religious overhang, tend to segue into group-think-stupidity that wraps all and sundry into an immovable whiteness. It does not encourage imagination or breadth or creativity ... it imposes the will of the many. Christ, it feels good! If we all ascribe to the tenets, then the tenets must be true. Scaaaaarey.

LaRochefoucauld, for all the arrogance an aristocratic backdrop can confer, was closer to being right when his maxim observed approximately, "The intelligence of the mass/throng is inversely proportionate to its number."

Groups can accomplish some very good things, perhaps, but preying on the human propensity to bask in the agreement of the many and hence divest the individual of responsibility is despicable ... and scary.

I am who isn't

I am who isn't.

The past,  present and future writhe in my mind, giving form and substance to whatever is there is and yet, simultaneously, carrying with them the wry and condescending smiles that used to accompany Japanese monster movies -- all herky-jerky and contrived even as the title characters screamed out their very real fears and hopes.

If the only true thing is what is fake, where will "fake" any longer find a meaning?

The universe roars with a fire that hasn't the decency or substance to toast a marshmallow. Stand aloof and it'll burn your face off. Enter in an attempt to extinguish and it erases block after city block of certainties and support systems.

Rely on the past.
Rely on the future.
Rely on the present.

I am who isn't.

Stop fixing things. Even Godzilla deserves some room to roam.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Typewriter enthusiasts gather at an Albuquerque restaurant to experiment with vintage Smith Coronas. Fans in Boston kneel in a city square and type stories about their lives during a pro-immigration demonstration. A documentary on typewriters featuring Tom Hanks and musician John Mayer is set for release this summer.
In the age of smartphones, social media and hacking fears, vintage typewriters that once gathered dust in attics and basements are attracting a new generation of fans across the U.S.
I swear someone probably put this story on the news wires so that old farts like me could find some excuse for allowing the typewriter in the basement to continue to gather dust. I've got one -- a good one -- and haven't a clue what to do with it until I move to a high-rise building and find a tempting target twenty stories below.

I took my first typing class in the fourth grade and it proved its usefulness right into and beyond news reporting at 30-something. It was a way to be neat, but I mostly had a bias against it when it came to serious writing -- or writing I took seriously. Handwriting was for serious stuff, creative stuff, explosive stuff. Typing was a way to keep things are arms length; handwriting was what made you bleed.

How many times did I practice, "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog and bumps his nose?"

There were people on TV because they could type 100 words per minute.

And the old sports columnist Red Smith had it right: When asked if writing were difficult, he said, "Why, no, you simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed."

Somewhere after the typewriter, I suspect the blood ran out.

PS. Somehow the serendipity of this article dovetailed with a dowdy, frumpy page 1 story in the local paper about a naked man seen for the fifth time (though maybe it was a different guy) in downtown Northampton.

A flasher. Page 1. Nakedness is news.

And yet everyone is naked and nakedness is not really as sexy as bits and pieces revealed or suggested with clothing. True, this fellow was said to be masturbating (or something like it) but walk down any main street and point to the person older than, say, 12, whom you imagine has not and does not continue to masturbate. So where's the harm? Where's the foul? It's all a bit dusty, like the typewriter.

Still, I like the titillation -- a flasher on page 1. Nicely old-fashioned. What can you show off any longer that actuallyt qualifies as a- or anti-social?

Garrison Keillor, one-time purveyor of radio's "Prairie Home Companion," once observed that men go to art museums to see naked women. Even if it is untrue, I'm not going to be the one to correct him.

A flasher.

It's fusty, but its yum into the bargain.

in the distance

Back in a time
When distances were unknown
I went the distance
And then returned,
Eating nuts and berries
That fell to my feet.

But now that distances
Are known
I find myself returned
To a fruited land
In which distances
Are unknown at last.

is it illegal if it works?

Michael and Katelyn Lambert
Passed along in email, this tale from Australia:
The father of a young girl who uses medicinal cannabis to treat her severe form of epilepsy has vowed to continue lobbying for law reform, after being found guilty of charges of possession and cultivation.
Michael Lambert was surrounded by his family, including his five-year old daughter Katelyn, when the magistrate handed down his decision in Gosford Local Court today....
Katelyn suffers a debilitating form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome but her doctors have seen a remarkable improvement in her condition since she started taking imported cannabis oil in 2014.
Mr Lambert admitted to the charges but argued he had no choice but to help treat his daughter, who had already suffered irreparable brain damage because of regular, severe seizures.


Last week, an aging friend of mine reported on the phone that he had had a nightmare about death. It scared the crap out of him in the same way that all dreams can fill up the universe with dread or wonderment ... whatever the dream, it's everywhere, being both pinpoint specific and inescapably universal. Scaaaaaarey.

And for some reason I associated that dream with a visit I made to a foot doctor yesterday. One of his pieces of advice was, "don't go barefoot." The admonition shot through me like a nightmare. Barefoot is one of those central building blocks in my constitution. Giving up barefoot is like giving up life entier. The house of cards trembles at the notion. If you can't go barefoot, is life worth it?

Which led me to wonder if all those on the down-slope of this life don't run into a single small thing that is the straw that broke the camel's back. Just one thing and, voilĂ ! -- fuck it... sayonara... adieu.

One small thing -- not some universal something, just a small personal thing -- and you've had enough of the chipping away of this and that. A slip of paper, a favorite coffee cup ... one more thing removed under the guise of creating an improved condition ... only the improvement dissolves the object of the improvement.

I am barefoot as I write, but I dislike writing about it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

beating the drums of war

Looking for a reason to engorge the current $500-plus billion military budget -- and coincidentally divert attention from the lack of jobs and schooling and medical care the United States might have -- well, here comes the "reasoning."
The United States is "not winning" the war against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress on Tuesday, promising to brief lawmakers on a new war strategy by mid-July that is widely expected to call for thousands more U.S. troops.
The remarks were a blunt reminder of the gloom underscoring U.S. military assessments of the war between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Islamist militant group, classified by U.S. commanders as a "stalemate" despite almost 16 years of fighting.
"We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible," Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mattis acknowledged that he believed the Taliban were "surging" at the moment, something he said he intended to address.
What, precisely, will constitute as "W" in Afghanistan has yet to be spelled out in any assessment of the current American involvements in the Middle East. America's longest war at 16 years shows no signs of running out of steam. The fact that the Brits washed out in Afghanistan and the fact that the Russians also lost their footing ... none of the lessons of others are worth noting.

What would we win if we won?
What would we lose if we lost?
Do any of these questions warrant an answer?
Is there some reason not to at least consider this assessment:

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday blamed the United States for instability in the Middle East and said Washington's fight against the Islamic State militant group was "a lie".
"You (the United States) and your agents are the source of instability in the Middle East...who created Islamic State? America ... America's claim of fighting against Islamic State is a lie," Khamenei said in a meeting with high-ranking Iranian officials, according to his official website.
It may be a harsh pill to swallow in the face of all the US agit prop about the wickedness of Iran, buy the autonomy of nations used to be a guiding principle ... or maybe I just dreamed that. I can't imagine Iran is washed in the blood of some holy lamb, but just because someone is your enemy does not mean they are wrong at every turn or do not deserve a hearing.

Who would you rather listen to -- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or Donald Trump? I honestly don't know enough to say that I know.

praise for Donald Trump

There is something eerily Hitler-esque about yesterday's gathering (passed along in email) of Donald Trump's cohorts and the praise they lavished on him. It is beyond humor and even beyond critique ... it is eerie.
 .... So it went on Monday in the Cabinet Room of the White House, as Mr. Trump transformed a routine meeting of senior members of his government into a mood-boosting, ego-stroking display of support for himself and his agenda. While the president never explicitly asked to be praised, Mr. Pence set the worshipful tone, and Mr. Trump made it clear he liked what he heard.

Monday, June 12, 2017

yodeling et al

And now for something completely different ... yodeling among other things ... like what's popular in Austria...

militias on the prowl

While it is impossible to track all the groups that often are no more than a handful of men gathering in woods, experts says [sic] that militia activity tends to fall off under Republican presidents and ramp up under Democrats. But just as last year's election upended conventional models, those who watch militias say life in the Trump era may not follow the same patterns.
If anything, it could be a potential powder keg, if those feelings of having a kindred spirit in Trump erupt into a sense of betrayal if he fails to deliver on his promises.
"What would concern me is that nobody gets more angry than a fan spurned," said James Corcoran, a professor at Simmons College in Boston who has watched militias closely for decades and has written extensively about the movement.
It's hard to keep track of all the individuals and collections of people who have guns and 'pose a threat' or plan to battle those they believe 'pose a threat.'

Tribal living seems to have taken a large step forward in the Middle East and the U.S.

women are stronger than men

 ...[B]eneath our skin, women bubble with a source of power that even science has yet to fully understand. We are better survivors than men. What’s more, we are born this way.
Because I am a couple of cups of coffee short of being awake, and because I am a flip little sod, the first thought into my head is, "Women are stronger than men because men, being endowed with a dick, are far more inclined to find a fan into which they can and do stick it." This, of course, is far from the steadied, studied reasoning that science seems to demand. On the other hand, I wouldn't rule out the conclusion. Just take war as one example ... or other, less bloodied, imaginative adventures: Men raise hell; women are left to sort things out.

Never mind ... I'm on a "fake news" track here.

Just for fun.

But in seriousness, I have always been impressed by the fact that it is the lioness who sets the pride's table by doing the hunting while the lion awaits his dinner. What a spanner this line of thinking must throw into the works of Islamic State and other tattooed swaggerers.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

some local politics ... how nice to see you pissed

Where I live, the political climate positively drizzles with liberal causes. "Democrat" is not much of a label, but it's largely as far right as huge numbers are willing to go. This is Massachusetts ... at least the western part of the state where I live. It gets a bit tiring, one virtuous cause trying to outdo the next, be it salamanders or homosexuals or kids bullied in schools, but its alternative isn't very appealing either. No one gets pissed. Everyone gets along, or should do. As I heard a local cop once snicker, "Welcome to Happy Valley."

$700-plus advertisement
What a delight, then, to pick up the slowly devolving local paper yesterday and find, together with the juiceless projections of future goodness and police blotter chaff, an ad that I later found out had cost some $700 -- calling on the comfortable and long-standing representative to get his ass in gear and meet with the people who lived in the nearby hilltowns and, well, represent them in person. Richie Neal's hair and teeth are damn near as perfect as Mitt Romney's  and in all the years he has been in Congress, I have never heard of his voting for or against anything substantive ... something that might provoke a backlash. Mr. Safe Sex, I sometimes think ... which is what every politician hopes to be ... safe enough to get re-elected again and again and again. He has been in office since 1989 ... has been involved in budgetary matters and loves the Irish, at least for public consumption, as far as I can figure out. I see nothing to suggest he ever put his ass on the line for anything. Nothing new there, of course.

A politican wants only one thing -- to get re-elected. Richie has been re-elected.

And yet, opening the paper yesterday, there was a bad-ass challenge -- with a sense of humor, yet -- to smooth Richie's Teflon smoothness. He's a Democrat and yet the dysfunction and cruelty of the latter-day Republicans has managed to wash up on Neal's shores as well. Not doin' nuthin is not the same as doing something. $700 is not chump change in many of the households up in the hills around here. True, there are doctors and lawyers who have bought out what were once farmers and re-peopled the landscape, but still ... 700 bucks is not chump change. Someone is pissed. Politicians who say are not the same as politicians (if they exist) who do.

On the TV the other night, I was watching a show about a dig in Greece and what it showed about the original democracy that flourished there. What we have today is not really a democracy in the Greek sense, said some academician. Democracy then meant that if there were a tax bill, everyone would turn out and vote for or against it. There were no excuses for not voting, including the excuse that voters are being represented by the likes of Richard Neal, whose re-election is as successful as his representation is dubious.

department of adulation

Donald Trump has told Theresa May in a phone call he does not want to go ahead with a state visit to Britain until the British public supports him coming.
The US president said he did not want to come if there were large-scale protests and his remarks in effect put the visit on hold for some time.
The call was made in recent weeks, according to a Downing Street adviser who was in the room. The statement surprised May, according to those present.
That sounds like plausible news to me.

Less plausible but perhaps still plausible enough was the following that arrived in email:
 How draining it gets, insulting the president of the United States, who, of course, is the chief detractor of the office and, by extension, the nation.