Monday, July 31, 2017

The Observer assesses Trump

The sense of things falling apart in Washington is palpable – and a matter of growing, serious international concern....
So begins The [British] Observer's lengthy assessment of Donald Trump. According to the copy printed in The Guardian web site, the opinion was first published Saturday. I didn't see it until today, Monday. As expected, from where I sit, it is a decorous compendium of Trump's asinine behavior -- unrumpled as an English butler and yet bristling with the desire to push the son-of-a-bitch down a long flight of indecorous stairs. The Brits have the stairs, but their sense of smooth requires them to hope the colonials may stir their stumps and do the pushing.

Or maybe that's just my wet dream machine in action. The piece seems to wrap up a lot of the Trump odyssey to date and lord knows I haven't got the energy to collect and collate. So I fall back on someone else's efforts. And The Observer's observations are ....

Well, as we used to say in the third grade, "Smooth as whale shit!"
 PS. The UK’s “mindfulness mega-trend” shows no sign of running out of breath, with sales of “mind, body, spirit” books booming, against a background of slowing sales elsewhere on the shelves.

RIP Jeanne Moreau

Actress Jeanne Moreau, one of French cinema's biggest stars of the last 60 years, has died at the age of 89.
Moreau is probably best known for her role in Francois Truffaut's 1962 new wave film Jules et Jim.
She was of the same famed era/ilk as Catherine Deneuve (the only celluloid heart-throb I ever had) and Moreau was probably the better actress.

But aside from anything else, who could not mourn a sultry woman who once declared,
             Physical beauty is a disgrace.
 An actress of presence.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

political cartoon

From The Guardian:


Half in darkness
Half in light
Half in blindness
Half in sight
Half in yearning
Half in flight
The glistening dawn
Impales the night.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

porn segues to purity?

Anyone who has taken a glance at internet pornography knows that it is repetitive beyond belief. Exciting, perhaps, titillating, perhaps, disgusting, perhaps ... but beyond all other adjectives, it is repetitive.

Now it turns out -- who knew? -- that the porn industry has spawned an offspring -- "custom" films shaped in the image a customer wishes to see. And do these customers want yet-more-extreme repetitions of the raunchy repetitions available? Probably some do, but more interestingly, some do not. And those who do not are abundant enough to keep filmmakers afloat. In fact there are those who have tastes that seem to exist in a realm that is nothing but a personal and inoffensive dimension. Eg. the housewife swatting flies or the destruction of a stamp collection.
A few weeks later, I get to view a selection of custom porn films. The producers Dan and Rhiannon of Anatomik Media have brought them to my hotel room in West Hollywood. Dan and Rhiannon are a married couple in their early 40s. She is from LA and he’s from Illinois. They met when they were in a band in the 1990s. The most striking thing about them is how much they love their work....
“It can be really neat,” Rhiannon says. “We end up – especially with our regulars – getting to really know them. We learn more about their fetishes and start to get them down. With most of them, there’s something really endearing.”
“Some of them are crazy, because they’re just so normal,” Dan says. “Like the flyswatter.”
“Oh, yes, the flyswatter!” Rhiannon says.
It all sort of reminds me of (was it?) Aldous Huxley's remark that "if the intellectual travels long enough and far enough, he will return to the same point from which the non-intellectual has never started." Be as raunchy as you like as long as you like and eventually you will become enamored of what is simple and socially inoffensive.

And vice-versa, of course.

AI cracks a safe

This week the world’s elite hackers are gathering in Las Vegas for Def Con, the largest underground hacking event of the year.
At the show, a team of hackers has created a cheap robot capable of cracking into a leading-brand safe.
The BBC's North America technology reporter Dave Lee reports.

For the more technically-inclined, there's this.

diving pic

chasing the God tail

Again, as before, I find myself chasing an old tail this morning:

No man, born of woman, ever issued from the womb burdened by God.

By whatever name and in whatever format, God is an acquired taste, like onions.

This observation may make atheists chortle, "I toldja so!" but that is far from the point. Atheism, like God, is an acquired taste.

Yet what is this life outside its acquired tastes? Wake up in the morning, saddle up with one acquired taste after another, and ride out to greet the day and tussle a bit. To say that God is an acquired taste is not a criticism or a means of demeaning the acquired taste that is God.

I think acquired tastes deserve to be honored and then examined. Which shirt will I choose for today's rambles? Does it fit? Is it warm enough? Does it clash with or complement the trousers below?

To say that God is an acquired taste is just a reminder, a nudge, a somewhat wry query: If God had wanted to burden the newborn with God, he/she/it would have laid on the burden ... which, judging by the pink lumps swaddled in adjoining bassinets in the hospital, he/she/it did not do. There is no indication, whether interior or exterior that God was some sort of imperative ... whether imperative in a positive sense or imperative in the negative sense.

Eventually, everyone is forced to consider acquired tastes. A positive conclusion? OK. A negative conclusion? OK.

But examine and then relax.

No woman, born of man, ever issued from the womb burdened by God.

Friday, July 28, 2017

tornado photo

[From The Guardian]
This photo was taken early one Friday evening at our home in Alberta, Canada. Because we spend Saturdays at things such as swimming events or on hikes, and Sundays relaxing, I like to get chores done on a Friday.
That evening was beautiful: a clear blue sky, no wind, about 26C. People were out and about, getting ready for the weekend. I’m in my workout clothes because I was training for a triathlon and had just been for a run. I’d finished about 4.45pm and then started to mow the lawn.

an era of cowardice

When I was a kid, I went to a school that raised farm animals. Each day, a certain number of students would go to the barn, gather eggs, milk the cow and muck out the horses' stalls and then curry, feed and water them. Afterwards everyone would return to the school dining room for breakfast. The result was that the dining room always smelled softly of the horse manure so recently disposed of. Some people may dislike the smell of horse manure, but for the rest of my life I have associated the smell with warmth and comfort and a full stomach. It is like smelling your mother.

The mirror image of that sense of coziness asserts itself in my life today.

I live in an era of cowardice and I don't like it. The stink rubs off on me and I am not proud of my cowardice. I need a shower that will wash me off right down to a place of my beginnings and I doubt if I am alone.

What is a coward? A coward -- the kind that everyone has encountered in school or at work or even at home -- is simply the man or woman or philosophy that cannot or will not own up to his her or its own pronouncements or actions. A coward cannot examine and take responsibility. A coward diverts attention, as with American-flag lapel pins or the insistent use of the word "hero" to describe dead people who are no longer in a position to defend themselves or correct those who imagine that cowardice and praise are not the same.

There is a difference between acknowledging that everyone has a capacity for cowardice and making cowardice the law of the land. I know no man or woman of good sense who simply cannot drum up the energy or courage for one thing or another. Eg.: Even when snakes are benign, still they can arouse a shivering inability to act. And lord knows everyone has made a mistake which, with courage, they can work to correct.

Recently, the man most obvious in this era of cowardice, President Donald Trump, said he was against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people serving in the military. (1.3 million totality -- LGBT guesstimates range from 1,320 to 6,630) He made the statement publicly. As the commander in chief of the military, the public nature of the utterance has power. As the coward in chief, he is already backing away and letting others cope with the mess he made. The military establishment said it would wait for an order before acting on the implications of Trump's announcement. So far, no such order has been issued.

And that is another marker in this era of cowardice: Raising issues that raise hackles but accomplish nothing. It looks as if the LGBT issue is important and in one sense it may be. But in a very real sense, it is a coward's diversion. If all the LGBT troops were somehow miraculously expunged from military life, what, precisely, would be accomplished? If someone saves your life in a firefight, do you ask what color they are or what sex ... or any other foolish question? It is beyond stupid -- and it is damned near obscene in its segregationist echoes.

In the midst of the LGBT dust storm, it is hard to winkle out what is being accomplished. Health care is entangled like a kitten in a ball of yarn. And the coward in chief remains talkative but aloof and lets others clean up his mess. Tax reform nags like a splinter under the finger nail and the coward and chief remains talkative but aloof. Infrastructure remains unfixed and former coal miners still don't have jobs. And the coward in chief remains talkative but aloof. Hammering out compromises between left and right is hardly the sound heard in the D.C. smithy. Foreign affairs are reconfigured in the coward in chief's mouth but of course the coward in chief can only acknowledge what is "very, very" good and redounds to his credit. Climate change is ... oh well, it's the same story on a different day: dismantle what is and claim credit for what might be even if nothing gets done.

I shudder at the notion of compiling a laundry list of the ways in which my era has turned to cowardice as a place of solace and certainty. There is the coward in chief leading the parade, but the era has devolved with him into a kerfuffle of trying to clean up his messes. Everyone is scrambling. And everyone stinks of the body odor of cowardice -- the me-me-me paradoxically coupled with it's not-my-fault or that's-not-what-I-meant.

I'm sick of it. Doesn't there come a time when anyone might literally rather die than have one more twig added to the bonfire of cowardice?

Yes, I have the capacity for cowardice. Yes, I do what I can to live with it. But no, I refuse to decline the responsibilities that are mine. This does not make me courageous in any flag-waving sense. It just means I prefer to aim for decency instead of horse shit. No lapel pins. No heroes. No passing the buck.

This is mine: The bathroom mirror.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hey Ma! Have you seen my £750,000 ring?

A £750,000 diamond ring, missing from the British Museum for six years, has only now been registered as lost....
"British Museum procedure, as agreed by trustees, requires the ring formally to be reported as lost five years after the initial discovery of its absence.
"The museum has since reviewed its security and collections management procedures and dedicated significant investment to improved security across the estate."
There's "bling," I guess, and then there's 'BLING."

Boy Scouts apologize on behalf of U.S. president

What's wrong with this picture?
The chief scout of the Boy Scouts of America has apologised for the remarks made by President Donald Trump at the group's national event this week.Over 30,000 people attending the event, where Mr Trump promoted his agenda and criticised his political rivals.Michael Surbaugh says the president's invitation was customary."I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree."

but I don't want to cook

My mother once said, "The greatest change in the 20th century was the loss of servants." At the time, I thought the comment was a bit top-lofty, but the other day, I re-assessed.

Skimming through a news wire, I came upon an article that encouraged the retired to consider hiring people to do cooking, cleaning and other jobs that ate unpleasantly into retirement times. Retirement, the article argued, is a time for putting chores on the back burner, not just cruises to the Mediterranean.

For some time, I have been the de facto cook at supper times. And I dislike it, not least because the tail end of the day is when my system naturally slows down. I'm a morning guy. Fighting to stay alert at a time when I would rather zone out is a pain in the patoot. So...

When I suggested getting someone to do some of the cooking, my son had some of the same reaction I had had to my mother. The idea was a bit snazzy and not exactly our style. But subtracting the class-consciousness from the equation, how is it different from paying a guy to mow the lawn, a chore that outpaces my energies these days? My wife still works and I don't think it fair to ask her to fill in.

Of course, the whole thing may be too pricey for my wallet, but once or twice a week sure would be nice as long as the provider steered clear of anchovies.

the ineffable "it"

I really don't know how to make the case for something I know from experience to be true but there is no way to prove it to anyone else: They either get it or they don't.

A number of things fall into this category for me, but this morning, after skimming the local newspaper and reading a few news wires as usual, I am thinking of photographs.

Two photographers at the local paper, Jerrey Roberts and Sarah Crosby, take photos that I can recognize as having a je-ne-sais-quoi "it" without even looking at the credit line. There is a gob-smack in them somehow. The paper's other photographers take pictures that I qualify as "adequate," but the lack the "it" -- that gut-level, whispered deliciousness that elevates an "adequate" photo into something ... something ... something better-by-miles -- is missing.

Wire services that run photo compendia are lately running the "adequate" photos by people whose photos are pretty blah ... but "important" because, perhaps, the photographer is dead or the photos come from a bygone era. Adequate, but where's the "it?" It's not there because whoever picked the photos is unwilling or unable to winkle out the lush core of what a good photographer can purvey.

My photog buddy Bob Stern (we worked at the Republican together) once tried with some pals to start a portrait-photography business based on the "it" he too knew about and could convey. To the best of my knowledge, the business flopped and I imagine it flopped because those being photographed could not see the "it." Why spend the money on what was, from their point of view, just a sit-still family snap?

I've looked around for photos to illustrate what I'm talking about here -- I know they're out there -- but can't readily find them. Even if I could, would it prove the point? I doubt it. Maybe it's all just taste ... but I don't believe that.

Eye candy is nice, but to be consumed ... ahhh, that is living!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Britain to bar new petrol-fired cars

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 in an attempt to reduce air pollution that could herald the end of over a century of popular use of the fossil fuel-guzzling internal combustion engine.
Britain's step, which follows France, amounts to a victory for electric cars that could eventually transform the wealth of major oil producers, car industry employment and one of the icons of 20th Century capitalism: the automobile itself.

making fake news more realistic

If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are it's a ... hippopotamus???

Here's some really spooky stuff:
In an age of Photoshop, filters and social media, many of us are used to seeing manipulated pictures – subjects become slimmer and smoother or, in the case of Snapchat, transformed into puppies.
However, there’s a new breed of video and audio manipulation tools, made possible by advances in artificial intelligence and computer graphics, that will allow for the creation of realistic looking footage of public figures appearing to say, well, anything. Trump declaring his proclivity for water sports. Hillary Clinton describing the stolen children she keeps locked in her wine cellar. Tom Cruise finally admitting what we suspected all along … that he’s a Brony.
This is the future of fake news. We’ve long been told not to believe everything we read, but soon we’ll have to question everything we see and hear as well.
In the examples shown in The Guardian piece cited above, it is damned near impossible to detect the 'fake' stuff ... which means the 'real' stuff is likewise undetectable. Serious conversation, critical thinking, logic and a host of other aspects of any given topic go down the toilet in the face of this technological 'advance.'

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

western sperm nosedive

"Sperm counts among men have more than halved in the last 40 years, research suggests, although the drivers behind the decline remain unclear.
"The latest findings reveal that between 1973 and 2011, the concentration of sperm in the ejaculate of men in western countries has fallen by an average of 1.4% a year, leading to an overall drop of just over 52%." -- The Guardian

Democrats kowtowing to Trump

Strange to think how U.S. Democrats do nothing so much as to support Donald Trump's agenda with their latest attempt to regain credibility.

"A Better Deal" they crowed yesterday.
They are leaning heavily on a re-branding of their greatest hits — more and better-paying jobs, lowering health care costs and cracking down on the what are seen as the abuses of big business.
Democrats may sound as if they wanted to be FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), but their rebranding of the party that lost the 2016 presidential election has something stale and stodgy about it.

The word "deal" -- a word very large in Donald Trump's bourgeois agenda -- is the worst of it. Is my country nothing but a television entertainment or a used-car salesman's pitch? Trump has made his mark -- everything is a deal or a steal and "very, very" wonderful into the bargain. Democrats have learned the Trump lingo and approach even as they have agreed with his marginalizing of a majority of the nation -- the ones who were accused of not paying attention to the working stiffs of this country. Yup, feeling marginalized feels lousy. We, the Democrats who have been marginalized, get it and we're going to give you a better deal.

Trump, Trump-ier, Trump-iest. Everything is for sale. Such a deal! Everything is a method of screwing someone else so I can get mine ... and I am, if you hadn't guessed, the best-est with the most-est.

As Damon Linker headlined in his column in The Week, "Democrats Don't Need 'A Better Deal.' They Need Bernie Sanders."

Not the Bernie Sanders who suggests that since we pay taxes, we deserve single-payer health care, but the soul of a Bernie Sanders who thinks and fights rather than simply regurgitating what might sound good and stir the pot. That's Trump tactics. That's kowtowing to the Trump weltanschauung... hubba, hubba, it's for sale and I'm gonna get it for you.

Donald Trump, I think, has already left his mark -- or "scar" if you prefer. Cheap hustling by rich guys.

Democrats have a good idea ... I just think the branding is poor. Their cowardice is showing.

Monday, July 24, 2017

just a little Trump rant

As my country is diminished tweet by tweet....

As it becomes fashionable to disavow responsibility for failures large and small....

As the inability to put forward a nation-building policy becomes ever more obvious....

As former coal miners sink still further into badly-wounded lives....

As the sick panic while they await health-care revisions that affect them positively....

As even the well-heeled must wonder when the gravy train is due ...

And as my nation has yet to see a single piece of standing-tall legislation become law....

It was somehow incongruous -- or was it congruent? -- to see the President Donald Trump on hand for the christening of the navy's latest aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford on July 22.  With its five-acre flight deck and a commissioning date originally planned for 2015, the $12.9-billion  behemoth enjoyed a star-studded send-off in Norfolk, Va., that was patriotic in the way that such events always are. At last (perhaps), the ship had outlived its cost overruns.

Oops! Delete that. The Government Accounting Office says ( it will take another $780 million over several years before the Ford is ready for deployment.

Let's take a rough conservative guess and call the final cost around $14 billion.

I realize that it is a time-honored political tactic, when a politician has nothing constructive to offer, to raise issues that will frighten the public. An aircraft carrier will protect us from dangers too awful to name or analyze. Boy, am I glad we've got a $14 billion aircraft carrier! Or think "terrorism" -- same stuff, different verbiage: If the public can be scared, perhaps they will miss the tweet-tweet-tweet of my country diminishing, of the failure to deliver on promises, or of the inability to take responsibility for what the president initiated.

The buck always stops there, to hear Donald Trump tell it.  He's willing to take credit. Just don't mention the buck-bedecked blame.

Only, of course, the buck stops here -- with me and my taxes and you and yours. I wonder how much healthcare you could buy with $14 billion; how much tax relief, even for those who don't need it; or how many infrastructure projects that might pay a man or woman more than burger-flipping wages.

Susan Ford Bales, the daughter of former Republican President Gerald R. Ford, after whom the aircraft carrier is named, was also on hand on Saturday. And it was she who sounded the music I like hearing as Donald Trump deconstructs and defames my tweet-worn country.

Asked what might be learned from her Republican father's presidency, she said, "The one thing we can learn is working together. Democratic, Republican, whatever — we work together, and we need to do what is best for the country.
“As long as you put your country in front of you and make that your basis, I think you have a chance of good success. But you've got to work together. And if not, we're not going to go anywhere."

Of course when we don't work together we do in fact go somewhere. It's just that that "somewhere" is impoverished in fact and in spirit.

toilet-paper bridal display

floodwaters swallow pagoda

A Buddhist temple in central Myanmar has been swallowed by rising floodwaters after heavy rainfall.
The pagoda was built in 2009 in Magway region.
At least two people have died and more than 90,000 people have been displaced by flooding in Myanmar this month.

If you build it, can the floodwaters be far behind?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

the price of "pastorale" living

"More than 200 sheep have plunged to their deaths in the Pyrenees while apparently trying to escape a brown bear. The bears have been reintroduced to the mountain region over the past three decades after being wiped out by hunters."

trademark "nigger"

Just in time for a Trump presidency:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A small group of companies and individuals are looking to register racially charged words and symbols for their products, including the N-word and a swastika, based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision on trademarks last month.
    At least nine such applications have been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) since the unanimous June 19 ruling throwing out a federal law prohibiting disparaging trademarks. All are pending.
 The word "dolt" regains power in my mind ... a cultural dolt brigade. Glorifying unkindness and stupidity is unkind and stupid and that's just for starters. If there are those who insist on being stupid, how can they simultaneously claim to deserve a job?

measuring my capacities

I wonder if others, like me, have difficulty discerning their place or station in the wider realm of say, intelligence, beauty, pain ... how the hell is anyone to know? Sure, cheerleaders may credit their elevated station based on cup size and popularity ... but how does anyone credit their own station when no one else is around to assert it or create a contrast?

Yesterday, a friend to whom I had sent some 38-year-old photos and appeared in some of them, wrote back in part by saying "you were beautiful." And the picture he referenced had stopped me in my tracks as well ... a nice looking fellow for sure, but I never had a sense of my own beauty. Or ugliness either, I suppose.

It's like those idiotic pain graphics posted in hospitals:

Without an outside measure -- a kvetching Jewish mother, perhaps? -- how could anyone know how good or bad anything -- in this instance, pain -- were?

My friend said I was "beautiful." The observation elevated my credulity center in ways it seldom had in the past. There was a time when I was beautiful and I believed it yesterday as I would have dismissed the observation in the past. Some function within credited the outsider. Why shouldn't I be beautiful ... whatever that meant? Still, it was pleasing since I like beauty even if I can't define it.

In the old days, there was the saying, "comparisons are odious." I wonder idly if they are "odious" or if, rather, they are simply "stupid." The pain is as much as the pain is. The beauty is as much as the beauty is. The love is as lovely as the love is. It has less-than-nothing to do with the agreement of others.

Still, it is pleasant to bask in the positive evaluation of others. Believing others feels good -- or horrific. But accuracy or relevance are odd at best. Believing others may assert a human kinship, but to live a life dependent on the assessment of even the most beloved kin ... well, how accurate is that? How could such a construct NOT be destined for a crash-and-burn?

Oh well, I guess I'm old enough now to simply enjoy a good falsehood. I like cozy.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

diminished by association with Trump

From a transcript of last nights PBS Newshour (scroll down) and the commentary segment by columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks.
[MARK SHIELDS] ... But everybody, I can honestly say, with rare exception, who has been associated with this administration and this president has been diminished by it.
Their reputation has been tarnished. They’re smaller people as a result of it. And that’s tragic.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Does it give you a glimpse into the state of Twitter?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, that’s the exact point I was going to make.
Yes, I can’t think of anybody whose reputation has been enhanced by going into the Trump administration. Rex Tillerson was a serious businessman, well-respected. Jeff Sessions was a serious senator, pretty conservative, quite serious. Sean Spicer was a normal communications guy in Congress — or in Washington.
So he’s like an anti-mentor. He takes everybody around him and he makes them worse. And so that’s what Spicer had to face. And he will have to live with that and live with the reputational damage that he’s incurred.
Though obvious, this exchange caught me off guard. Somehow, the presumption is that if you go to work at the White House or in its bomb zone, you will win a few and lose a few but your efforts on behalf of the public weal will burnish your accomplishments roster. Yes, there is power that goes with it, but invariably there is icing on that power ... words like "democracy," "flag," "country" and such. In Trump's domain, you are just another powerful asshole and not particularly powerful at that.

Dalai Lama visit

To revisit the past properly, it helps if there are cobwebs. And cobwebs there were this morning as I ventured into the demi-darkness of a basement-seldom-visited. My friend and former Zen buddy Frank had asked if I had any photos of the time the Dalai Lama visited the Zen center the two of us once patronized. I knew I had the photos, there in the past, there in the basement, there among the cobwebs betokening a misty, wispy once-upon-a-time. The cobwebs clung to me. They tickled as I looked through old photo albums. Some small part of me feared (or was it "longed?") that if I looked at the pictures I might somehow, Alice-like, fall down the cobwebby rabbit hole and be consumed by the past.

In the end, there they were -- photos of Sept. 8, 1979. Not as good as my mind remembered them, but good enough for documentation. The schedule called for a morning session at which all comers, including members of our zendo, would receive a talk in the morning. In the afternoon, the Dalai Lama would address whatever part of the Tibetan community from around New York City and its environs might show up. I was present for both sessions. While my practice was Zen Buddhism, it was the Tibetans who stirred my heart and mind.

The Zennies were largely seeeerious. Dour. Silent. Tight. Me too.
adam, as once

The Tibetans bubbled and laughed and and pushed and shoved and brought cans of Sprite and chewed gum and were brightly dressed ... not to mention being probably the most beautiful people in the world in my eye. Lord, they were lovely!

No doubt the Dalai Lama had some lasting words to say that day, but as usual with lasting words, they didn't last with me. What lasted, as I helped people find a seat or showed them where to put their shoes or pointed to the bathrooms, was a single incident and a wink.

The single incident was that of an elderly Tibetan woman who had lined up with others to give the Dalai Lama a white scarf that he put first around his neck and then took it off and put it around the giver's neck. Each of the givers bowed deeply, but the old woman did a full prostration on the floor to show her love and devotion. It was possible for her to get down on the floor, but getting up got the best of her -- she couldn't do it. Without missing a beat, the Dalai Lama saw the difficulty and bent down and gently helped her up ... as naturally as you or I might. It was nothing, really, and yet of all the things that happened that day, this small act was really something ... plain as salt and ... kind.

And then, as the Dalai Lama walked up the central aisle of the zendo as he prepared to depart, I stood in front of him, perhaps 15 feet away, and backed up, snapping pictures all the way. This small dance in which he advanced and I retreated proceeded until I ran out of flash, lowered the camera and just watched him approach.

We looked at each other.

He winked.

The end.

I never did find the rabbit hole.

Friday, July 21, 2017

into Trump's swamp

In the long-ago and faraway, when candidate Donald Trump inveighed against and vowed to drain the "swamp" that had consumed Washington, the gridlock was palpable. Republicans said no to pretty much anything they could get their hands on and the Democrats had no plan B for defeating the Republican strategy. "Swamp" seemed an apt term.

But now, as president, Donald Trump is busy cobbling together his own swamp ... a many-colored banner that extends from climate change to cuddling with Russians to NAFTA to healthcare to stabbing his own appointees in the back.

And within the Trump swamp slurry that has yet to see a single piece of legislation after six months in office, comes another piece of skunk weed as served up by The Independent:
A bill that would criminalise boycotts against Israel has been signed by 45 US senators and 237 congressman.
The so-called “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” would impose fines of up to $250,000 (£192,000) on any US citizen “engaged in interstate or foreign commerce” who supports a boycott of Israeli goods and services.
The US has long defended Israel in territorial disputes in the Middle East, even as the Israeli military has expanded into areas assigned to the Palestinians by international law.
This position runs counter to that of the United Nations, which claims Israel’s settlements in occupied Palestinian territory have “no legal validity”, and “constitute flagrant violation of international law”.
Folded into this would-be law is a maximum million-dollar-fine and a 20-year jail sentence for anyone who signs on to such a boycott. Once again, bonny Israel has got the United States by the short hairs.... On behalf of an Middle Eastern ally (read nukes and publicity) and its own self-referential president.

Based on who's doing the counting and how they are counted, there are a high-side-estimated 10.5 million Jews in an America of 323 million people. Based on those numbers, it seems fair to say that the tail is wagging the dog when it comes to the proposed anti-boycott measure.

But this persuasion leaves me open to the ever-popular charges of "anti-Semitism."

Does anyone remember the time when the term "anti-Semitic" referred to a group wider than the Jews? ... i.e. Middle Easterners of Semitic origin ... including Arabs? Merriam Webster Dictionary agrees with the anti-Jewish leaning for "anti-Semite" and yet defines a "Semite" as "a member of any of a number of peoples of ancient southwestern Asia including the Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs." Based on the latter, a lot of Jews might be called anti-Semites, I guess.

Oh well, I don't much like Israel's apartheid policies when it comes to Palestinians... even if those policies are linked to the dollar-donating potential for U.S. politicians.

PS. In which regard, the unpublished-in-the-U.S.(?) "The Israel Lobby" by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (2006) may be of interest:
For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.
Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

O.J. Simpson gets parole

There is something fitting, in this era -- or is "epoch" a better word? -- of Donald Trump that former football star O.J. Simpson should be granted parole after eight years of a 33-year prison sentence. If there ever were a man likely to fit into a growing pantheon of sociopaths that counts Trump as its emperor, Simpson is the man.

But of course he is chastened and reformed and ... all the other blah-blah that frequently attends sociopaths' activities.

Even at 70, I doubt that Simpson has what it takes not to seek out the limelight, even if it includes criminal activity.

Of course, I could be wrong. He was acquitted of killing his wife and did his time for a stickup in Las Vegas ... stealing back what he called his own stuff.

volunteer and get reprimanded

A Canadian pensioner built a set of stairs at his local park for just C$550 when the city estimated it would cost at least C$65,000 ($51,500, £40,000).
But instead of a thank you, Toronto has blocked off access to the steps and asked Adi Astl, 73, to take them down.
Looks like a pretty sturdy set of stairs to me. I guess the whole matter needs to be filed under "no good deed goes unpunished."

a resting place or two

The soaring languors of stupidity, so similar to the smug lassitudes of intelligence, can loll and linger in the summer heat, waiting as in some Falkner novel for a combustion that will lift all camouflage as an evening's entertainment nears -- a lynching, perhaps, at which grown men will delight.

The possibilities of intelligence say nothing about putting those possibilities to the test, but it is nice to think they exist and might show themselves in an altered reality.

Stupid or smart -- the contentment either might afford is pleasant as the glass of lemonade sweats.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trump deconstructs U.S.

Let The Guardian do it:

Six ways Trump is 'dismantling' the US after six months in office 
Trump has been paralyzed on healthcare and tax reform, but his administration has been active in eroding safeguards and protections elsewhere
It has been rattling around in my head and aimed mostly at me that the liberal constituency in my country is largely composed of self-satisfied whiners when it comes to Donald Trump. Hurling brickbats like "shame" and "irresponsibility" and other criticisms is LITERALLY like criticizing a wall. You can't convince a crazy person s/he is crazy and you can't speak to people who lack a sense of shame about shame. They simply cannot hear you any more than a wall can hear the most heart-felt critiques. If someone is simply incapable of hearing you, this puts the onus on the one screaming, "You're deaf, for Christ's sake!"

To apply the word "shame" or "irresponsible" is to assume the target also has a sense of what is not shameful and what is responsible. And these are qualities Trump and his merry band of old white men simply do not have. Why should they feel shame for what they are forever telling us they are not responsible for.

Once upon a time there was such a thing as the "wood pile" -- the destination of any youngster scheduled for a whupping. But mincing liberals like me lack the stomach for the smack-'em-upside-of-the-head directness which seems to be the only alternative. It's too Republican, dontcha know.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

writing about not writing

Instead, it's like driving through Nebraska -- everything flat and green in all directions and a highway that reaches string-straight-ish to the horizon, though with several 90-degree turns to accommodate the property lines around massive farms... this is the way it has been of late when it comes to writing, that almost-lifelong habit that has stalled. There are ideas, as ever, but they insert themselves sotto voce ... no big deal, more of the same, however bloody and unjust.

Yesterday, for example, seven years of Republican carping about the health care Barack Obama shepherded through Washington -- the Republicans promised to repeal and replace it if elected ... which they were -- came crashing to a halt when two Republican senators withdrew their support from a Republican health care bill meant to replace Obamacare. The current president, Donald Trump had promised in his campaign to get rid of Obamacare. Republicans cheered. But then Trump backed away from his promise when it became apparent his version of healthcare was to give the wealthy more wealth and deprive the needy even further. That, and the fact that something more than 20 million might be caught without healthcare. The Republican bill flopped yesterday and any minute now I expect the Schlockmeister, Trump, to find a way to elude responsibility for failing to deliver on his campaign promise.

For seven years, the Republicans bitched. And now, with both houses of Congress and the presidency in their hip pocket, they can't accomplish anything. Democrats, meanwhile, can't find a message to counter Republican ineptness. Perhaps they are too wrapped up in their gloating.

The effect is wearing. Or anyway it seems like a fog ... like driving through Nebraska.

Simultaneously on the healthcare front, Reuters reports that rural hospitals are closing down and pose increasing health risks.

In Somalia, the internet came back after a three-week absence.
Officials and internet providers attributed the problem to a commercial ship that they said cut an undersea cable.
Major companies reported millions of dollars in revenue losses. University studies were disrupted.
The internet outage also complicated efforts to combat a nationwide drought that has half of the country’s 12 million people in need of assistance.
One single cable and an entire country is thrown into disarray. One single healthcare policy and the gridlock that has described Washington over the last few years is even further gridlocked.

And as I write about all this -- partly as a nod towards an old habit that has been losing steam -- I reckon someone will figure things out ... sort of ... maybe ... but writing about it is strictly a pissing-into-the-wind activity.

OK ... today I have decided to see if I can make potato salad, an endeavor I have failed at in the past (it never came out as lip-smacking good as I wanted) but will try once again. It's got a lot of wicked stuff I like ... potatoes, mayonnaise, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar, mustard ... at my age, dolorous warnings about cholesterol simply cannot compete with a tasty wickedness.

Beats the diaphanous satisfactions of writing all to hell.

Monday, July 17, 2017

dressing up for mom

A video about a man in his fifties who has been dressing as a woman for 20 years "to help his mentally ill mum cope with the death of his sister" is being widely shared on Chinese social media....
He told Pear Video that he started dressing as a woman after his mother began to show signs of mental illness following the death of her daughter.
He added that his mother was immediately convinced that her daughter had come back.
"She was so happy, so I kept doing it," he said.
"I've basically been living as a woman ever since," he added. "I don't own any men's clothing."
There is something peculiar about this story, but in the end, I guess everyone gets by as best he or she can.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

let's get naked ... or not

Even as TV movies edge closer and closer to penises and vaginas -- what is sometimes called "pornography" -- it does seem to be a good time to take a little stock.

Naked is as boring in the end as it is nifty.

Anyone who has been what we here in the U.S. sometimes call "skinny dipping" (going for a swim in the buff) can attest to the strange sense of freedom that goes with it -- as if the all-over coolth and wetness imparted a nifty sense of internal relief that matches the external lack of clothing.

But the disapprobation of nakedness imputed to porn takes on a kind of sluggish boredom when viewed in the various offerings on the internet. Yup, they're naked. Yup, it looks like they're 'doing it' in front of all viewers. And yup, it's pretty much the same from one video to the next. Porn is naked and seems to consist of one endless blow job compounded with a few other antics. What may be sexy at the outset turns pretty prosaic in larger doses.

Naked is not the sexy part. It is the clothing -- the secrets -- that rouses the horn dog that gets excited.

What I find interesting about all this is that so many people (unless I am mistaken) take up one secret or another as they go through life and only with experience wish to God they could be free of their own fabrications. How wonderful it would be to speak the truth in words the soothe the caged beast within. And I am not talking simply about sexual constrictions. Trying to look good, whether socially or in the bathroom mirror, is tiring. Why not simply tell the truth and lighten the load? Why not get naked?

Why not? Because nakedness is boring in one sense and the salt and pepper afforded by fabrications is more interesting ... sexier. But one lie leads to the next and the weight can become unbearable.

Nakedness may be boring, but the clothing is not much better. Screwed if you fabricate, screwed if you don't ... something like that.

Who can thread this needle, if needle there be?

Just noodling.

saving a life

"I thought she was dead," my wife said of a young woman whose friend had rushed into my wife's work space yesterday asking urgently for Narcan, the opiod overdose medication.

My wife works in a pretty static medical office. She helps to facilitate the visits of those appearing for treatment of muscular difficulties. It's pretty much rehabilitation paperwork ... insurance companies, making sure the forms are in order ... and here came a woman desperate for high-end, do-it-now medical help.

My wife went to a car where another young woman lay slumped and groggy. After ascertaining that the young woman in the car was not, in fact, dead, my wife began talking to her and hitting her. Open your eyes! Look at me! The not-yet-corpse complied while others called for emergency services.

Eventually, it all worked out. The patient was picked up; my wife warned the desperate friend, who had needle marks on her arms, to take a lesson from the situation; and things settled back to normal; there was paperwork to do.

But everything, I imagine, had changed. My wife had assisted in saving a life that was in danger of being lost. This is serious stuff. How does that square up with the hum-drum office life, the boring stuff, the ordinary stuff ... how do you process an emergency and then return to a point where there is no apparent emergency?

At third hand (hearing the tale from my wife), it sounds as if an earthquake had occurred.

Saving lives has its consequences.

"Serious" is a strange word.

Friday, July 14, 2017

farewell Daily Hampshire Gazette

It was the first place, at age 14, I had ever had anything published (a letter to the editor) and now, at 77, it is likely the last. The Daily Hampshire Gazette is a strictly local paper that, like a lot of others, is drip-drip-dripping into the ether. If, in fact, "all news is local," the Gazette was once a pretty good purveyor of news. Nothing too sexy or harsh or upsetting, mind you, but still.... 

Since I am an old fart who likes having a hard-copy of the paper, it saddens me that others like me should be subjected to the Gazette's desperate moves to maintain income -- cutting staff, dwindling substance and just plain stupidity. Where the printed word once held a revered seat, now it is lost in a miasma of greed and lackluster opinion and coziness.

In the Gazette, articles are increasingly badly written and increasingly meatless. And the rewriting is not much better (eg. a first-reference to a source may allude to the last name of the speaker, but skip his or her first name anywhere in the story). The deepening sadness I have felt came to a head two days ago when a headline and over-line of a sports story that referred to Frontier Regional High School spelled "Frontier" two different ways. I wondered if a gofundme campaign might provide the money hungry with a copy editor or just an editor.
And no, I am not going to do all the research and winkle out the other errors to prove my point -- that is the newspaper's job.

Hard-copy newspapers are still making money, obviously, or they wouldn't continue publishing. I have heard, but don't know, that they are making something in the annual range of 10%, a profit margin that is not as juicy as the good ol' days when they made 20% or better (right up there with nursing homes). But the wolves are at the Internet-advertising door and the Gazette, among others, has resorted to safe-sex reporting ... police blotter, press release, library improvements, another article about Emily Dickinson who has already been done to death long after her death, a store to patronize or whose passing is mourned, a lost parrot or gerbil, reporting on what "will" happen when no one can predict the future ... nothing that would upset or really inform anyone.

Truth to tell, I don't know if my sadness about the paper has to do with the paper -- a medium I once worked in and have a decidedly soft spot for -- or if it has to do with my own demise. I just hate seeing the paper go down the toilet so ignominiously. Everyone's got to die, but how about dying with something resembling honor?

Bit by bit the penny-saver mentality takes hold; the quality of the reporters diminishes; the excuses are all in place...

OK. I still get the Gazette for free based on a monthly column I once wrote -- I wrote the column and the paper gave me a year's subscription ... pretty big of them, right? -- but sometime in the future I will be informed that the paper's largesse has expired and the subscription rate, if I want to continue getting the paper, is 'x.' At which point I will decline to pay with some regret. But the regret will be based on the fact not that I will lose an old friend but rather on the fact that the newspaper was very helpful when firing up the woodstove in winter. Seriously, what will I put under the kindling?

The old folks like me who cherish a hard-copy paper are going to die off. How soon thereafter will The Daily Hampshire Gazette roll over and turn its building into a bowling alley or fronton? Well, the money guys will figure it out.

The above is not very well organized. A bit helter-skelter. But that's the way it is with sadness.

lioness nurses leopard

Dr Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organisation which supports Kope Lion, told the BBC the incident was "truly unique".
"It's not something that I'm aware has ever happened before between large cats like this," he said.
"We know there are cases where lionesses will adopt other lion cubs... But this is unprecedented.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

another heart-warmer

Alaska bride surprised by her late son's heart recipient

Increasingly, it is stuff like this that gets to me. Label me "Cream Puff."

digital trade-off

An Australian cattle worker whose thumb was severed by a bull has had his toe surgically transplanted in its position.
Zac Mitchell, 20, was injured in April while working on a remote farming property in Western Australia.
"A bull kicked my hand into the fence," Mr Mitchell said of the incident.... Mr Mitchell will need more than 12 months of rehabilitation, but he plans to return to farm work.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

humane solutions?

Assuming anyone takes an interest in the news, it is impossible to escape these days from the Schlockmeister, U.S. President Donald J. Trump and his family and his supporters. There are so many locusts in the sky that honest issues like healthcare and tax reform are blurred and re-blurred. And of course it is not Trump's fault that nothing gets done. God knows I can't pretend to get it all straight, even to the point of coming up with a nice tangy bias. But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate/dislike the confusion.

And the Washington Post has an interesting compendium (that goes on and on and on and on) about the whole multi-faceted clusterfuck ... a couple (though not the only) of whose observations resonate where I sit:
THE BIG IDEA: The Trumps are congenitally unable to take personal responsibility....
In a sense, the Republicans fit Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn rule about Iraq: ‘You break it, you own it.’ Republican leaders, from Paul Ryan to Reince Priebus, allowed Trump to break the Republican Party and now they own the consequences.
There was an era in which "parlous times" had some meaning.

It feels these days as if American political arena were far beyond that.

Is there a humane solution?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

assistance where needed

Just because it's a heart-warmer doesn't mean it's not a heart-warmer ... people unknown to each other linking hands to assist a family grabbed by a Florida rip tide.

Schlockmeister Trump could learn a thing or two from this small tale as he pursues his repeal-and-replace healthcare agenda.

economics as a religion

The Guardian's "long read" ... funny how belief can gum up the works.  I can't claim to have read every word, but it smells right as an hypothesis.

How economics became a religion

Its moral code promises salvation, its high priests uphold their orthodoxy. But perhaps too many of its doctrines are taken on faith. By

Sunday, July 9, 2017

when Walmart left town

Economic, social, nutritional and other sorrows abound in the kind of coal country a campaigning Donald Trump once gave hope to. Walmart left town and the effect seems almost more pervasive and disastrous than the downside potential of a big-box opening 10 years ago.
When Walmart left town, it didn’t linger over the goodbyes. It slashed the prices on all its products, stripped the shelves bare, and vanished, leaving behind only the ghostly shadow of its famous brand name and gold star logo on the front wall of a deserted shell.

The departure was so quick that telltale signs remain of the getaway, like smoldering ashes in the fireplaces of an evacuated town. Notices still taped to the glass entranceway record with tombstone-like precision the exact moment that the supercenter was shuttered: “Store closed at 7 pm, Thursday 28 January 2016.”
This is a story that feels as pervasive and threatening as the smog in Beijing. It is to weep for.

gifts from a Zen past

In the long-ago and faraway, there was a fellow who showed up here to dip his toe in the Buddhist waters. I imagine we went to the zendo and I put him through the physical paces. Perhaps he came more than once. I don't remember. Then we lost touch.

Recently, when he learned of my fading activities in Zen, he asked if he could have some small momento from the zendo which was his first contact with Buddhism. I saw no initial harm, but then, I realized something else and wrote to him as follows:

Dear D -- Your request for some small momento from the zendo here has been rattling around in my mind. On reflection, I have changed my mind:

I will not give you some statue or bell or other piece of Buddhist bric-a-brac for your altar. That would be a cheap date. Instead, there is this:

1.  Pick a small spot on the altar where the proposed gift might rest. Just some small space. Pick it.

2. When regarding that space in future, consider what might or might not fill it.

3. That is all ... except ....

When my teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa, died, he was abbot of Ryutaku-ji (monastery) in Japan. To the best of my knowledge, he did not name any Dharma heirs prior to his death. In Zen Buddhism, teachers often recognize one or more students as an equal or better. And this 'failure' on Kyudo's part is precisely what I consider to be his greatest gift to me. I cannot begin to say how thankful I am. Mind you, I have no way of knowing precisely what his intent might have been. I am not a mind-reader. I am just a student whose gratitude is his own business.

And associatively: I think it was Huang Po/Obaku who once stood before the monks he was training and said, approximately, "There is no such thing as a Zen teacher." One of the monks stood up and challenged him: "Master, how can you say such a thing when you are standing in front of us and teaching?" And Huang Po replied, "I did not say there was no such thing as Zen. I said there was no such thing as a Zen teacher."

Take good care of yourself.