Saturday, September 30, 2017

still chewing my Vietnam cud

It seems to be stuck in my mind....
One facet of the gem was this: I was a coward then -- young and cowardly where my lookalike twenty-somethings had hit the streets to protest the war in Vietnam. It was a great, messy, compelling, sometimes glorious eruption in which I played little or no part. A coward who paid his taxes that funded the deaths and maimings of my twenty-something lookalikes.

Watching the recent 10-part documentary, "The VietnamWar," a part of me was in search of absolution. I watched every segment of the Public Broadcast System's much-ballyhooed serial. I am 77 now, but I was twenty-something then ... and a coward.

If I were a Christian, watching the TV might have been called an act of penance. But as I came away from each TV segment -- and I watched each as some sort of penalty -- I knew there was no forgiveness, no forgiver and no forgivee. All the squishy ramblings changed nothing. If I hear one more person utter the words "healing" or "closure," I will gladly shoot him or her in the head. The tears within would simply have to fall. The responsibility was mine. All those young men and young women ravaged and savaged and chiseled into a black granite wall and in the middle of it, searing bits of light like the soldier's mother who, in another context, told reporter Seymour Hersch, "I gave them a good boy, and they sent me back a murderer."

And of course they were not murderers. And yet they were too.

They were all good boys. And not, too.

How I wanted to blame someone. How I wanted to hand off the responsibility. How I wanted to find some "other" on whom to pin the acid that bubbled up in the back of my throat. How I wanted to pin the tail on a political donkey like Nixon or Kissinger. How I wanted to excoriate the flag-waving patriots who honestly believed that when the commander in chief said we should fight, we fought. How I wanted to brand this target or that with a label marked "murderer" or scoff at the "heros" who came home, phalanx by phalanx, in flag-draped coffins.

Night after night, I watched the documentary. Night after night I came away riven by my own complicity, wondering why I too had not hit the streets or waved a banner or issued catcalls of dismay. I had done what was then my obligatory three-year stint in the army in full recognition that I would rather have the experience than proclaim the virtue. So for three years I pushed a pencil, a wimpy, desk-bound spy. And looking back ... ah, looking back. I was twenty-something then, but I am 77 now.

What I wouldn't give to have it back -- the times when the times were ripe, when war and racism and women's rights were all on the front burner and not just grist for the documentary mill. When the issues were red meat and not just pre-packaged Spam. What I would not give. And yet cannot.

Partly, I suppose, a lifelong aversion to crowd-proofed issues has frightened me. Get enough people together -- people who agree with each other -- and "the truth" is revealed. I don't believe that. It may be the best of the compromises available, but I simply don't believe it. I may wish I did, but I don't. And so, perhaps, I am and was a coward.
Night after night after night -- looking for the perfect penance. All those young, haunted, enraged, fearful faces. Someone's son or daughter. Someone's husband or wife. Someone's father or mother. Someone's ... everyone is someone to someone and my gut says that living may be the hardest price, but it is the only price worth paying.

Should a single one of those soot-streaked faces, those hands placed over one sucking chest wound or another, those tear-tracks down the narrowed cheeks ... should any of them or their enemies like them be forced or convinced to ... to ... to sacrifice their innermost prayer for hug or a kiss or a bit of laughter somewhere down the line?

I don't care who's right. I don't care who's wrong. I don't care what ideology holds sway in the skies above the farmer who tills his field or sips lemonade after a hard day's work. Does a tractor or water buffalo know or care about "communism" or "democracy?"

Is there a time to fight? I think there is. But likewise, if there is a time to fight, there is a time to refrain from fighting -- to stand tall and say "no" to the imaginative and self-serving whose next step foresees only the next election.

I was a coward and that is part of my make-up. If I could do credible penance, I certainly would. But there is no penance for the past. The past is gone, just like the documentary entitled "The Vietnam War." Will the documentary open up a "dialogue" the optimists claim it may? My answer is, no it won't.

I'm very sorry, but it won't. Ersatz healing is still ersatz.

May we all live as peaceably as possible with the lies we cannot escape.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Angus lifts off

Angus, a few years ago
Just at the moment, I'm in need of a doggie-downer or something similar.

Not ten minutes ago, my older son, Angus, took off to the south. With a stop to visit family members in New Jersey, he is headed in a night-long drive to the environs of Atlanta, Ga., where he will become a track coach ... assuming he can find a part-time job that will fill in around the financial edges of the coaching gig. I know he'll do fine, but, but, but....

Point is, from where I sit, he's gone and I feel as light and empty as a sucked-out egg shell.

very god of very gods

Passed along in email.

An artificial-intelligence god?

You betcha.

For good or for evil?

You betcha.
Way of the Future’s startling mission: “To develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.”...
Silicon Valley, meanwhile, has sought solace in technology and has developed quasi-religious concepts including the “singularity”, the hypothesis that machines will eventually be so smart that they will outperform all human capabilities, leading to a superhuman intelligence that will be so sophisticated it will be incomprehensible to our tiny fleshy, rational brains.
For futurists like Ray Kurzweil, this means we’ll be able to upload copies of our brains to these machines, leading to digital immortality. Others like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warn that such systems pose an existential threat to humanity.
“With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon,” Musk said at a conference in 2014. “In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out.”

presidential philanthropy rebuffed

And here you thought school librarians were those plump and malleable grey-haired little ladies!
A school librarian has declared that she would not like a selection of Dr Seuss classics here, there or anywhere, after refusing books donated by Melania Trump.
Trump had sent a collection of 10 Seuss books, including The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, to schools across the country to mark National Read a Book Day. One school in each state, identified by the US department of education as having achieved high standards of excellence, received a package along with a letter signed by the first lady telling pupils that “the key to achieving your dreams begins with learning to read”.
But Liz Phipps Soeiro, an award-winning school librarian at Cambridgeport elementary school in Massachusetts, turned down the offer, saying that her school has no need for the books. In a letter posted on the Horn Book site, she suggested that Trump should send the books to schools with fewer resources.
The wind may blow and the shit may fly, but I say, "Right on, little sister!!!!!"

I wonder how many philanthropists could learn a lesson here.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

one more episode of "Vietnam..."

As if taking college exam final exams at the end of a semester, I realized with something like relief that tonight's episode of "The Vietnam War" by documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick will be the last of the 10-part series I "have" to watch.

I am so tired of coming away from one episode after another ... crying within, sort of, and full to the brim with grey, brackish sludge. Limp.

Interesting how important my tears are to me.

Why should my tears be more important to me than your tears to you?

I am sad. And furious as a Donald Trump supporter at the (largely) men who worried about getting elected and lied and gamed the hearts and minds and small intestines of children now left in the mists and screams.

Foul. Vile. Obscene.

And incontrovertibly gone.

I am glad there is only one episode to go.

And ashamed.

The end of the documentary, but not the war. Next go 'round, perhaps I will be a good Zen student.

"An Atlas of Beauty"

In a hundred years, who'll know -- I am a sucker for beauty. And as if to complement my squishy leanings, The Guardian has published an excerpt of "An Atlas of Beauty: Women and Girls Around the World in Pictures" by Mihaela Noroc. I have been Jell-O-ized anew, but can't steal them all. Here are some.

More and more tribes of Amazonia are starting to adopt modern clothes for everyday life. But they are still keeping their traditional clothes for important events. I photographed this young woman in her wedding outfit.   
Maria sells vegetables in the market of her small town. She became shy as soon as she saw the camera.     
Among the most graceful women I encountered, this Tibetan mother of two in a rural village looked like this the moment she opened her door to me. She had been cleaning her house, and yet she was wearing her jewellery.

millionaire Amerlie Ratliff

Millionaire Amelie Ratliff, a woman whose name I never knew but will not now forget has written a lucid essay for The Guardian about the inequality of wealth in the U.S. and why she thinks Donald Trump should not be trying to play kissy-face with the wealthiest Americans.
At a time of staggering inequality, I can’t believe that Congress and the Trump administration want to give me another tax break.
On Wednesday, the Republican party unveiled their tax reform plan, which included the elimination of the federal estate tax. But as one of a small segment of people in the top 1% with enough wealth to someday pay the estate tax, I believe a tax on inherited wealth is completely reasonable and fair.
The essay is written in clear English.

lits, tits and Hugh Hefner

Lits and tits --  Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner died yesterday (Wednesday) at age 91.
Hefner, who founded the sexually explicit men’s lifestyle magazine in 1953, died at his home, the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, the publication announced....
The magazine became known for its sexually explicit content, as well as its publication of writers including Ray Bradbury, Ian Fleming, Joseph Heller, Jack Kerouac and Margaret Atwood. Miles Davis was the magazine’s first interview.
Explosive when it first hit the stands, the whole publishing process seems almost touchingly innocent these days in the sense that fewer and fewer people read anything (let alone a magazine) any more and everyone's pretty much on board with the idea that not only are people naked under all those clothes, but they also enjoy sexual intercourse. Oh, and by the way, babies do not come from storks.

Is anything shocking any more? Yes, there are horrors, but "shocking" requires a shared culture and the internet has pretty much done away with that.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

John Oliver ... just pretend you dropped the soap

I realize John Oliver is not up everyone's alley but ... well, I like him and I liked this one on how lovingly we are all getting screwed by mergers.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"Vietnam War" penance

I seem destined to watch every smidgen of "The Vietnam War," "a ten-part, 18-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick" that is airing on the Public Broadcast System here in the U.S. I seem to have watched about half of the episodes, which run about 90 minutes each.

After each of the episodes I feel precisely the same -- wrung out, dulled, ashamed .... As if I were a die-hard Roman Catholic busting his buttons to do penance but lacking any notion that there were some agency of forgiveness. It is all so stupid and hurtful and here I sit having done little or nothing at the time to say my own "no" as the times played out both at home and abroad. What a wuss. What a fool. Please forgive me....

But there is no penance for the past. The past is gone together with whatever opportunity I might have had to stand up and be heard. I am heartily sorry, but "sorry" and a couple of bucks will get me a bus ride. And meanwhile so many died or were ruthlessly maimed ... for...what...fucking... purpose?! 

So perhaps I am picking a scab over and over again. I may wish I were more grown-up, but I am not. I lived then and read the news then and sympathized then with those who said we should leave the rice paddies and leave the less-well-to-do (so many of them black or brown, though not all) to a more peaceful scenario even when it wasn't so peaceful. One of my truths is that I am afraid of mindless or even mindful crowds bidding up one position or another.

Still, looking back through dizzied and penitential eyes, I would give a bit to think I had done more. How I wish.

Wishing ... what a horrific penance.

In the publishing house where I went to work after I got out of my three-year stint in the army, I shared an office with two other editorial trainees -- young, white guys like me. And one day it came to light I had been in the army, which the other two hadn't. Mind you, I had been a paper-pushing spy, not some grunt hip deep in the mud. And the two other guys started razzing the military. I kept my mouth -- believe it or not -- mostly shut.

"If I were in a firefight, I know what I'd do," said one. "I'd run away."

And that was too much for me. There is nothing ignoble about running in fear, but his tone said he would run away as a matter of principle. I snapped.

"If you did that, I would be happy to shoot you in the back," I said.

To run away from comrades in a time of peril was purely despicable ... my blood coursed with anger and despair.

I was dead serious. There is nothing frivolous about human life. Human life, as the Vietnam war proved, is not some teen-aged Tinker Toy, some made-up sin or salvation that anyone can pull out like a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. If my reaction was a sin, I was happy to be a sinner.

The others in my office heard my tone, knew I was dead serious.

They stopped razzing the military and we all went back to editing the copy we had in front of us.

Penance, my ass. 

mencken resurrected

Passed along in email. Snopes verifies Mencken.

Sometimes I pine for an era in which the sharp-tongued live in a public paddock and equality-in-idiocy were not yet acceptable.

Monday, September 25, 2017


It was another time, of course -- a time when young and arguably manly men -- owned/needed/carried a jack knife. It was not a time when every cough and hiccup resulted in a trip to a medical unit of some kind or mothers cooed and gawped and expressed dismay that little Johnny might hurt himself. A knife?! An actual knife?! My child?! It was a time when blood, in one form or another, was part of growing up and care-givers were adept at their own versions of triage.

It was a time when summer months were hot and languorous and you needed something to make you laugh and time to pass. Something like mumblety-peg. Where the hell did it get that name? Who knows? It wasn't the most exciting pastime, but it was something to make time pass.

Here's Wikipedia on the subject. And a more loose-limbed description.

Actually, I think it wasall a bit boring, but when contrasted with those who are Miracle-Glued to their "apps," perhaps it is just a bit of genius gone begging. Blood, after all, has a certain serious quotient.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

yoga in China photo

oh goodie! same ol' same ol'

Once you take all the clothes off, what's the next titillating and extravagant fashion tsunami?

Put the clothes back on, dumbo! Oh how positively chic!!!!!

My father once had a walk-in closet at the rear of which were dozens of ties of varying widths ... saved up over the years. "I see no reason to pay for something new when it's already available as something old," he said.

banned books

Passed along in email:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

staying married living separately

‘We have never lived together. Is that so strange?’: the married couples who live apart 
They’ve been married for 25 years, and raised twins – but have never lived in the same house. Is this the secret to long-term happiness?
I'm not sure I entirely understand, but I guess it's understandable.

don't shoot the big croc

A Central Queensland crocodile farmer has warned the death of a 5.2-metre salty in the Fitzroy River will mean "increased croc activity" in the system for the next two to three years....
"What happens is when you have an alpha male, he maintains control of all the other crocs and makes sure they don't step out of line...."
Forewarned is forearmed.

Friday, September 22, 2017

underlining a friend

In the mausoleum that passes as a doctors' emporium today, I checked into the glass-front entry way (name, rank and serial number) and ambled over to the waiting area. Ahead of me sat an almost Bataan-thin man with a beard hunched over a book and underlining passages. I picked a vacant seat near him and looked at what he was doing as I passed him by.

Somehow, it made me smile. Then stop. Then touch him gently on the shoulder and, when he looked up, say, "I haven't seen anyone do that since I was in high school." He smiled back. "Birds of a feather," he replied. Two old farts acknowledging another time.

Underlining pivotal thoughts in any given work was drilled into us in school. For quick-reference when writing papers or trying to recall the gist of whatever fiction or non-fiction was at hand, underlining shortened the process of reminding and reminder. It became a habit I took with me to reading outside the classroom. And here, it seemed, was a kindred spirit. It made me feel good. And it brought back the wryness that occurred later when marked passages, however salient, simply missed the point on later readings.

The man whose name I never got had been to Japan at the end of WWII. He moved over a couple of seats because he was hard of hearing. He recognized my T-shirt's flag (Finland) and we agree that Finnish was a devilish language ... and he knew Japanese. In a trice, I felt a kindred spirit and was disappointed when I was called in for my doctor appointment.

But it was warming to know he was out there somewhere -- another habituated fool (?) who underlined passages in books as I no longer did. Just an instant friend.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

photo ... "a little red flying fox"

'dumb' voters in the cross hairs

Dovetailing with my sense that North Korea's Kim Jong-un has outfoxed America's Donald Trump (both in politics and haircut) and should therefore be considered a viable 2020 presidential candidate in the U.S. comes a satirical party in a Germany that will cast its non-satirical votes on Sunday.

Die Partei has been gaining traction on internet social media. It promises to kidnap Turkey's president and vows to discard the votes of those who cannot answer simple questions. Here is an example of the sort of "simple questions" it is referring to: WHAT IS THE CAPITAL OF PARIS?
A German political party that promises to legalise drink driving, introduce cocaine on prescription and kidnap Turkey’s president is winning the social media race ahead of Germany’s federal election, an analysis of Facebook data shows.
On the one hand, I giggle and love it.

On the other hand, I honestly prefer off-kilter humor in a world so rife with confusion and half-witted responses to that confusion. I am tired of being confused. And I am tired of lies from people who don't even lie well. This is all a joke, of course, but, but ... there is something quite serious in it, I think.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

your future

Passed along in email. I checked some (not many) of the facts, but have no way of knowing how much of this is true, false or artful extrapolation. Let the reader beware. I don't know who wrote it or where it originally appeared. For all that, much of it smells true and it does have a cumulative effect ... or did for me.
In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide.  Within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they went bankrupt.  Interestingly the inventor of digital photography in 1975 Steven Sasson worked for Kodak but Kodak ignored the new technology and in the process ignored their future!  What happened to Kodak will happen in a lot of industries in the next 10 years - and most people don't see it coming.  Did you think in 1998 that 3 years later you would never take pictures on paper film again?  Yet digital cameras were invented in 1975. The first ones only had 10,000 pixels, but followed Moore's law.  So as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a long time, before it became way superior and got mainstream in only a few short years.

It will now happen with Artificial Intelligence, health, autonomous and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and jobs.  Welcome to the 4th Industrial Revolution.  Welcome to the Exponential Age.  Software will disrupt most traditional industries in the next 5-10 years.

Uber is just a software tool, they don't own any cars, and are now the biggest taxi company in the world.

Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don't own any properties.

Artificial Intelligence : Computers become exponentially better in understanding the world.
This year, a computer beat the best Go player in the world, 10 years earlier than expected.

In the US, young lawyers already don't get jobs. Because of IBM Watson, you can get legal advice (so far for more or less basic stuff) within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans.  So if you study law, stop immediately. There will be 90% fewer lawyers in the future, only specialists will remain.  Watson already helps nurses diagnosing cancer, 4 times more accurate than human nurses.

Facebook now has a pattern recognition software that can recognize faces better than humans.
By 2030, computers will become more intelligent than humans.

Autonomous Cars:
In 2018 the first self-driving cars will appear for the public.  Around 2020, the complete industry will start to be disrupted.  You don't want to own a car anymore.
You will call a car with your phone, it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination.  You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving.  Our kids will never get a driver's license and will never own a car.  It will change the cities, because we will need 90-95% fewer cars for that.
We can transform former parking space into parks. 1.2 million people die each year in car accidents worldwide.  We now have one accident every 100,000 km, with autonomous driving that will drop to one accident in 10 million km.  That will save a million lives each year.
Most car companies may become bankrupt. Traditional car companies try the evolutionary approach and just build a better car, while tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) will do the revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels.  I spoke to a lot of engineers from Volkswagen and Audi; they are completely terrified of Tesla.  Insurance Companies will have massive trouble because without accidents, the insurance will become 100x cheaper.
Their car insurance business model will disappear.  Real estate will change. Because if you can work while you commute, people will move further away to live in a more beautiful neighborhood. 

Electric cars won’t become mainstream until 2020.  Cities will be less noisy because all cars will run on electric.  Electricity will become incredibly cheap and clean: Solar production has been on an exponential curve for 30 years, but you can only now see the impact.  Last year, more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil.  The price for solar will drop so much that all coal companies will be out of business by 2025.

With cheap electricity comes cheap and abundant water.  Desalination now only needs 2kWh per cubic meter.  We don't have scarce water in most places, we only have scarce drinking water.  Imagine what will be possible if anyone can have as much clean water as he wants, for nearly no cost.

Health: There will be companies that will build a medical device (called the "Tricorder" from Star Trek) that works with your phone, which takes your retina scan, your blood sample and you breathe into it.  It then analyses 54 biomarkers that will identify nearly any disease.
It will be cheap, so in a few years everyone on this planet will have access to world class medicine, nearly for free.

3D printing: The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from $18,000 to $400 within 10 years. In the same time, it became 100 times faster.  All major shoe companies started 3D printing shoes.  Spare airplane parts are already 3D printed in remote airports.
The space station now has a printer that eliminates the need for the large number of spare parts they used to have in the past.  At the end of this year, new smart phones will have 3D scanning possibilities.  You can then 3D scan your feet and print your perfect shoe at home.
In China, they already 3D printed a complete 6-story office building.  By 2027, 10% of everything that's being produced will be 3D printed.

Business Opportunities: If you think of a niche you want to go in, ask yourself: "in the future, do you think we will have that?" and if the answer is yes, how can you make that happen sooner?  If it doesn't work with your phone, forget the idea.
And any idea designed for success in the 20th century is doomed in to failure in the 21st century.

Work: 70-80% of jobs will disappear in the next 20 years.  There will be a lot of new jobs, but it is not clear if there will be enough new jobs in such a small time.

Agriculture: There will be a $100 agricultural robot in the future.  Farmers in 3rd world countries can then become managers of their field instead of working all days on their fields.
Agriponics will need much less water.  The first Petri dish produced veal is now available and will be cheaper than cow-produced veal in 2018.  Right now, 30% of all agricultural surfaces is used for cows. Imagine if we don't need that space anymore.  There are several startups that will bring insect protein to the market shortly.  It contains more protein than meat. It will be labeled as "alternative protein source" (because most people still reject the idea of eating insects).

There is an app call "moodies" which can already tell in which mood you are.  Until 2020 there will be apps that can tell by your facial expressions if you are lying.  Imagine a political debate where it's being displayed when they are telling the truth and when not.

Bitcoin will become mainstream this year and might even become the default reserve currency.

Longevity: Right now, the average life span increases by 3 months per year.  Four years ago, the life span used to be 79 years, now it's 80 years. The increase itself is increasing and by. 2030, there will be more than one year increase per year.  So we all might live for a long long time, probably way more than 100.  By that time the elites will have a secondary Brain embedded close to both sides of their frontal-temporal scalp it stores information about their experiences books they read what they heard etc through a High Def Camera just below their eyelids.  For those who can afford it forgetfulness will be a forgotten phenomenon.  Advanced stem cell technology will allow you to " make " your own organs or replace defective ones early.  Life expectancy will be around 115 to 125 yrs in most of developed world and around 100 years in the rest of the world.

Education: The cheapest smart phones are already at $10 in Africa and Asia.  Until 2020, 70% of all humans will own a smart phone. That means, everyone has the same access to world class education.

newspaper column

 The following appeared in the local Daily Hampshire Gazette today under the headline "Take your stand as an American."

 Watching the president on TV recently, I realized, not for the first time, that I distrust people who wear an American-flag lapel pin. Why would any patriot need to announce his of her allegiance unless, in fact, s/he was uncertain of what that pin professed?

I am not a patriot. I am an American.

The difference can be seen in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s impact on flood-drenched Texas. The people extending a helping hand to those stricken by the storm are Americans. Whether they are patriots or not is irrelevant. Hungry, homeless people do not need a flag. They need help. Americans help.

On the TV, Donald Trump, the merchandiser-in-chief of America, was promising yet another program of support and rebuilding. As usual, the details were yet to come. And as usual, the rest of us would be ill-advised to hold our breath: How many other projects had details yet to come and, when they never materialized, it was not the master merchandiser’s fault? Selling is not delivering and already it is clear that those who lost their homes will be stuck with a tab Mother Nature demanded. Patriots — the ones with the lapel pins — sell. Americans deliver.

This small and somewhat snarky evaluation seemed to resonate in my mind. It echoed down other corridors in the mind. Maybe a little personal reflection wouldn’t hurt.

When was the last time a 2x4 actually measured two-inches-by-four-inches? Or, with harvest season upon us, when was the last time anyone compared a hand-picked, dribble-down-your-chin tomato with the billiard balls sold as “tomatoes” — conveniently harvested by machine — in the supermarket? Is a “tomato” a tomato because we label it a tomato?

Down the other corridors of the mind, the dead — especially military personnel — are heralded as heroes. You’ll notice that the dead do not get a say in the matter and yet because politicians and the bereaved often agree, well then, it must be true. They are heroes. But if the dead actually were heroes, every graveyard from here to Keokuk would be festooned with patriotic bunting.

Or, if supremacist race riots like the one in Charlottesville, Virginia, were actually the “wake-up call” some dubbed it, what does that say about an American history whose ethics produced the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and followed it up with the Jim Crow laws that walked that proclamation back ... over and over and over again. The horrified say “wake up.” History, like the bathroom mirror, says, “Get real.”

Is group-think truth-think? Look around. Is bullying in schools really eradicated by the criticism and analysis heaped upon it? Are the cruelties of religion less true for all the kindnesses it cuddles up to? Is alcoholism any less the biggest single drug addiction in America despite the opioid frenzy?

Are coal-mining jobs actually going to return in America or is this yet another obscenity — “details to come” — that amounts to toying with people’s lives? Does the Department of Homeland Security forestall a future that no one — repeat, no one — can predict even as that agency strips away privacy rights? Is there a taxpayer anywhere who will not, at some juncture, need and deserve a health care that Americans pay taxes for?

I suppose that everyone dons a lapel pin at one point or another — stands behind a cause he or she finds attractive. But isn’t there something to be said for a little reflection and a willingness to see the flaws and take responsibility for them? Just because many may agree that a lapel pin or group applause is the same as being an American, is it true?

I have often felt that ethics are those rules that we practice together. Morality is what we practice when no one is looking.

Ethical and patriotic collectives have their uses. But ethical applause and moral foundation are not always the same thing. Anyone who looks in the bathroom mirror knows this.

Enough with the moral cowardice! Isn’t one president enough?

Never mind being a patriot, announcing what you claim to be but are unwilling to unpack.

Be an American. Take your stand, but exercise the reflection and responsibility that goes with it.

The 16th-century [a reader pointed out it was the 17th, not 16th] Frenchman Francois de La Rochefoucauld was right when he observed, “We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.”

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton and can be reached at


bits of conundrum sawdust

Conundrums someone is bound to declare are not conundrums but are, rather, conundrums for others but not for me:

Is there some reason that one man should wish to take from another that which he himself holds most dear? Shall I kill you?

I'd prefer to live (I think), but that's just me.

Of all the horrors, I think that belief is probably the worst. This cannot be transmitted, but requires the experience in order to blossom. Belief separates, but try telling that to a believer hell-bent on unifying principles. Gawd! So belief is the only vehicle that allows belief to be seen in its full, horrific light.

Do I believe this? Probably.


Like an orgasm, music and laughter have the capacity to strip people naked. Capacities are not necessities, but sometimes it is nice to know the capacity exists.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"The Vietnam War"

Is anyone else watching "TheVietnam War," the 10-part, 18-hour reprise from documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick? I watched the first two segments and probably will see it through, though I am not entirely sure why.

It is like twice-shed tears ... horror in the first instance, horror in the second, but not exactly the same. I paid good money so your children could be raped within and without. I am so sorry and yet sorry doesn't cut it.

It isn't going to change and Jack Kennedy said it all when, in the second episode, he admitted to being trapped between a rock and a politician's hard place ... he could not do the right thing and expect to be re-elected, which is what every politician who ever started or prolonged a war longs for.

The sorrow mushing around inside as I watch is so grinding that I find myself fleeing into the humor of Monty Python and the old Catholic stand-by, self-abnegation.

Only of course it's fucking-A not funny at all.

I am so sorry.

To kill or maim your children. Where do I get off imaging, let alone implementing, that shit? I was in the pencil-pushing army during the early part of Vietnam. I was never put in a position where I would (and I know I would) kill someone. If that was a bit of luck, the luck ran out for 58,000 Americans ... and I helped.

In Buddhism, I read somewhere that Gautama (the one referred to as "the Buddha") once looked into the future and wept. If only once-cried tears could wash away what so desperately wants to be washed away.

I can't cleanse it, but I reserve the right to shudder and whine.

how nuts is Donald Trump

A long piece by Matt Taibbi was passed along and reads well, if anyone has the time. Basically it examines precisely how nuts Donald Trump is and can anyone nail his hide to the barn door.

Taibbi is good.

knock-out boobs

Passed along in email was what is probably a bid for attention, but I think it deserves credit for a certain originality:
“It was a beautiful morning and the sun was rising. I was going full pelt, leaping over the waves on the shore when suddenly I felt something heavy smack against my chin.”
“It felt like I’d been sucker-punched and it knocked me off balance and I fell over. No one else was around and when I looked down I saw my right boob had come out.”
“It was like someone had thrown an uppercut at the exact moment I jumped a wave. It could have knocked me out.”

not-becoming an 'adult'

[A] new study show[s] that teenagers are increasingly delaying activities that had long been seen as rites of passage into adulthood. The study, published Tuesday [today] in the journal Child Development, found that the percentage of adolescents in the U.S. who have a driver’s license, who have tried alcohol, who date, and who work for pay has plummeted since 1976, with the most precipitous decreases in the past decade.
The declines appeared across race, geographic, and socioeconomic lines, and in rural, urban, and suburban areas.
I feel mildly -- but only mildly -- reassured that a study supports my anecdotal feelings.

Onward into the new, increasingly-insipid, feudalism.

Monday, September 18, 2017

sayonara "Rolling Stone"

As a boy child, being discreetly told "your fly is open" was like an electric cattle prod: Quick, find a corner in which to secretly (sort of) zip up! It was e-m-b-a-r-r-a-s-s-i-n-g.

With age advancing, having an unzipped fly is pretty ho-hum: What did you expect to see, after all, and how embarrassing could it be? A pecker-peek or two never hurt anyone. With female genitalia on frequent view on television these days, I'm inclined to start a lottery as to when full-frontal males will make their television debut.

I'm not sure why it did, but a passed-along article about the potential sale of "Rolling Stone" set this train of thought off in my head. I never was a reader, but I was aware of the clout the tabloid wielded in its heyday. Liberal, counter-culture, with insistent doses of the likes of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Barack Obama and other heavy-hitters from politics and entertainment. Those days seemed to be filled with people of stature and imagination. These days, the stars seem to be pip squeaks by comparison ... but of course that is just my aging mind: Actors and actresses are like latter-day cars: They all look the same to me. The naked-er they get, the more hidden they become.

Your fly's open? Once that sent shivers down the spine. Now ... who gives a damn about your pecker and why should they? There are no more secrets and what secrets there are are so banal and are crafted by such mediocre magicians that ...

Well, you tell me: Is there a reason to zip up? Or even un-zip for that matter?

Is there a raison d'ĂȘtre for "Rolling Stone?"

Sunday, September 17, 2017

manacles for the masses

The brazenness of authoritarianism gains traction:
Government bodies are increasingly turning the tables on citizens who seek public records that might be embarrassing or legally sensitive. Instead of granting or denying their requests, a growing number of school districts, municipalities and state agencies have filed lawsuits against people making the requests - taxpayers, government watchdogs and journalists who must then pursue the records in court at their own expense.
Is Kim Jong-un running for president in 2020? If the Democrats shoot themselves in the foot again, he can run as a liberal against Texas or whatever. :)

my scaredy-cat

One of the things I notice about getting older is that as various other capacities (muscle, mind, etc.)  recede, the capacity to be afraid seems to add to its own bounty. Perhaps it is the increasing distance at which age stands from the flow of daily, work-a-day life. Or perhaps it is just my innate scaredy-cat.

Whatever ... One of the things that honestly scares me is the tendency of a younger crowd to rely on smart phones and other electronic gadgets as a way of feeling connected and assured.

A couple of months back, I stopped perusing BBC news because too many of the stories that popped up seemed to reflect other stories I had previously read. I read four or five news wires per day. And then I read about Amazon, Google and other 'smart' sales giants that had ways of tracking and associating and providing a reader with things s/he had shown an interest in in the past.

This tactic may make sense when it comes to selling the widgets of life, but when it comes to news, I want to know things that range afield from what I know already and what I am persuaded by. I want to make the choice of mental fodder and as often as not, it is what does not suit the cut of my preferential jib that brings me the most information and depth and meaning. OK, my taste is my taste.

But then I think of today's work-a-day world and its addiction to smart phones et al. If news is absorbed solely on devices that know the preferences of its users, how well-informed are they likely to be? Everyone agrees with me -- my smart phone tells me so. This is the real news, so my leanings must be correct.

This scares the shit out of me not because I have some halo-ed understanding that exceeds yours but rather because a universe that agrees with me is likely to be fake news in spades ... and my kids among others are likely to believe it and premise their lives on it and promote ever more ingrown views by means of it. Racism, for example, gets a boost. Misogyny gets a hand up. Dictatorship. Democracy as one big hoo-rah applause section. War. .... the list goes on and on.

It's bad enough trying to sort out my own biases without having them reinforced.

And the same goes for others.

Yes, I can probably keep a low enough profile so that this dumb-as-a-bent-spoon universe will largely pass me by. I'll be dead. But my kids?

Margrethe Vestager, one woo-hoo woman

Margrethe Vestager
She’s the woman who took on Google and Apple and Starbucks… The European competition commissioner – and inspiration for the Borgen TV series – discusses her fight for fairness against powerful corporate interests. 
Some people make me happy to be alive.

They also suggest to me that investing in flak jackets might not be a bad idea.

alone, so to speak

An interesting reflection on solitude/loneliness. 
The pursuit of loneliness: how I chose a life of solitude

Saturday, September 16, 2017

the Cuba mystery redux

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There must be an answer.
Whatever is harming U.S. diplomats in Havana, it's eluded the doctors, scientists and intelligence analysts scouring for answers. Investigators have chased many theories, including a sonic attack, electromagnetic weapon or flawed spying device.
The line I particularly like is: "Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the investigation." They are not allowed to talk about it although they haven't got a clue. Ignorance (instead of intelligence) is now subjected to blackout.

We can't talk about what we don't know although we don't know what we can't talk about.

honoring veterans

A lot of preliminary advertising has gone into touting documentarian Ken Burns' 10-year take on "The Vietnam War." The 10-part serial begins Sunday/tomorror night at 8 EST. The Public Broadcasting System, which can preen about its refusal to advertise, has advertised the hell out of it.

And I guess all that nudging and advertising has gotten to me in the sense that I woke up this morning wanting to make a banner or button campaign for the Twitters of this world. Literally -- have buttons made up and give them away. Something short and sweet and on target, like my internet friend Olcharlie's (approximate),
"If you really want to honor veterans, then stop making them."
Even if my fixed-income bank account would allow it, the energy required to stand on the street and give buttons away for free would probably lose steam fast. Another wet dream. I need a magic lantern and a willing genie. Strange how, the older I get, the more confused I am about why my thoughts do not automatically convert into an accomplishment ... a reality. Talk about trailing off into la-la land.

War is so self-serving and obscene. Self-, self-, self-, self-serving. Screaming doesn't help, but, like Trump supporters, sometimes I want to scream.

Friday, September 15, 2017

pollution writ small ... or is that "large?"

Passed along in email:
“Eventually more and more trash and debris started to move through,” he said, adding that the critter lost its grip, then latched onto a white, wispy piece of a plastic bag. “The next thing it grabbed was a Q-Tip.”
Hofman said he wishes the picture “didn’t exist” — but it does; and now, he said, he feels responsible “to make sure it gets to as many eyes as possible.” He entered the photo and was a finalist in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition from the Natural History Museum in London.
“I want everybody to see it,” he added. “I want everybody to have a reaction to it.”

British aristocracy runs burnished con

Anyone -- and I suppose I mean the uncalloused, well-educated, mostly-white Americans -- who can watch TV's "Downton Abbey" with a revering eye after reading this article passed along in email ... anyone who can bend a knee and admire the decorousness of it all ... is in need of an attitude adjustment or a pre-frontal lobotomy.

The British aristocracy has put in place a con job that rivals, if not outruns, the Roman Catholic Church for brazen bullshit. The cultured and well-clipped realms have a price and the aristocracy is not the group paying it.

But GAWD how nice they talk.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

unsolved sonic mystery in Cuba

More than 20 Americans and several Canadians have been affected. But "affected" by what remains a mystery.
“None of this has a reasonable explanation,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA official who served in Havana long before America re-opened an embassy there. “It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.”
Suspicion initially focused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the diagnosis of mild brain injury, considered unlikely to result from sound, has confounded the FBI, the state department and US intelligence agencies involved in the investigation.
Some victims now have problems concentrating or recalling specific words, several officials said, the latest signs of more serious damage than the US government initially realized. The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August – nine months after symptoms were first reported....
[A]lmost nothing about what went down in Havana is clear. Investigators have tested several theories about an intentional attack: by Cuba’s government, a rogue faction of its security forces, a third country like Russia or some combination thereof. Yet they’ve left open the possibility an advanced espionage operation went horribly awry, or that some other, less nefarious explanation is to blame.
In the world of weird shit, this has got to rank near the front of the queue.

blessings on all stories

Blessings on all stories.

This is not to say that all stories are equal. That would be fake news. Some stories are boring as hell. But the fact is that someone blesses them, fake or otherwise and therefore, in some overarching sense, "blessings on all stories."

I grew up with stories in various forms. I loved them. And still do. One format was music.

When I was a kid, songs had stories embedded within them, as for example "The Golden Vanity," (scroll down -- last song) which was far from the touchy-feely happy-ending songs that followed in its wake. Songs were not afraid, in that time, to be sorrow-filled. Kids were allowed to face death and sorrow. It was part of growing up.

Or Pete Seeger's "Talking Union." A shit-kicker that was also in-bounds for even a kid.

Or, somehow without words for this kid, Strauss' "Blue Danube" waltz. Waltzes have always told stories, yummy stories, in my mind.

But allowing these shards of music to float up this morning, I realized it was another marker of age. I never really moved on. I stayed with the stories I thought were blessings and others probably find hopelessly out of synch. Rap music, for example, never entered my consciousness as music any more than sandpaper did. It was coarse and without art and immersed in a self I had no interest in or love for. True, there was Beethoven et al to soar me or tear-stain a cheek, but I took that as a natural progression from the blessings I had already chosen.

My blessings are still hung up in the backyard -- clipped to a loopy cord by clothes pins now long out of fashion.

Old man toe-tapper. Old man Romantic. I guess it will have to be enough.

when zero was 'invented'

[S]cientists have traced the origins of this conceptual leap to an ancient Indian text, known as the Bakhshali manuscript – a text which has been housed in the UK since 1902.
Radiocarbon dating reveals the fragmentary text, which is inscribed on 70 pieces of birch bark and contains hundreds of zeroes, dates to as early as the 3rd or 4th century – about 500 years older than scholars previously believed. This makes it the world’s oldest recorded origin of the zero symbol that we use today.
Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, said: “Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and our whole digital world is based on nothing or something. But there was a moment when there wasn’t this number.”
The article linked above finds it understandable that zero should occur in a country that was culturally at peace with the void. Europe hadn't quite got there.

Why do I have this nagging feeling that this "discovery" is far from being the last word on the subject? Why -- if so -- was zero out of the equation earlier ... in other places?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

ACLU sues Dept. of Homeland Security

And, in the latest depredation passing for legal legitimacy:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration has engaged in an unconstitutional practice of searching without a warrant the phones and laptops of Americans who are stopped at the border, a lawsuit filed on Wednesday alleged.
Ten U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident sued the Department of Homeland Security in federal court, saying the searches and prolonged confiscation of their electronic devices violate privacy and free speech protections of the U.S. Constitution.
DHS could not be immediately reached for comment.
The lawsuit comes as the number of searches of electronic devices has surged in recent years, alarming civil rights advocates.
Here's the complaint.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

where the shit hits the London streets

Learn a new word: "Fatberg."
A fatberg weighing the same as 11 double decker buses and stretching the length of two football pitches is blocking a section of London’s ageing sewage network.
The congealed mass of fat, wet wipes and nappies is one of the biggest ever found and would have risked raw sewage flooding on to the streets in Whitechapel, east London, had it not been discovered during a routine inspection earlier this month....
Thames Water must break up congealed mass of fat, wet wipes and nappies in Whitechapel sewer to prevent raw sewage flooding streets

N.Korea/U.S. kabuki ... aka bullshit

In light of the undeniable reality of mutual deterrence, the North Korean "crisis" of 2017 can most accurately be seen as a media puppet show put on by Chairman Kim and President Trump for their own public relations purposes.
If you had to choose between North Korea's leader and America's, it seems to me that Kim Jong Un is the less unstable, primarily because he is less ignorant. Dancing with Donald Trump may be stimulating and/or diverting, but this is basically two self-important power players flonging their dongs.

nudging into open water

Nosegays and goiters ...
Why not?

Since getting old is largely a matter of shrinking, language and mental acuity, like physical size, diminish. A word or two will do where once woven lattices prevailed.

Once I was 6'2". Now, I imagine, I am roughly 6' or a little shorter. I don't measure. I don't want to know. I don't want it rubbed in. But it's not only physical size.

The mind, like the Arctic ice, breaks into islands and the polar bears of yore find no regal realm or footing. There is a place to walk, yes, but it's slippery and the child inside these somehow new skates slips without grace from here to there. Much of the time, he feels as if he were somehow on his ass with...

Nosegays and goiters.
Short dips into what once was a long, smooth oneness.
Perhaps with another small island marked "pulchritude."

Things that once fit and performed a wholeness are laughing, I imagine ... laughing with the narwhals.

But not me. Shrinking is "most discommoding," as the butler might say.

Butlers never laugh....

Oh yes, "feuerzeug" can come too, together with "nosegays" and "goiters." In the army, when learning German from the get-go, I fell in love with the word "feuerzeug" or "lighter." The word made me laugh. Delight. Why? I haven't got a clue, but even today I can smile like the dancing flames it produces.

Monday, September 11, 2017

J.D. Salinger wrecks my nap

J.D. Salinger
My nap schedule was interrupted today when I got hooked on a television biography of J.D. Salinger, the quasi-reclusive author of "Catcher in the Rye" among other works. What was it that dragged me to just-five-more minutes and then five minutes more?

Salinger was born in 1919 and died in 2010. He participated in World War II and came away what he was throughout the war -- a writer. He was very particular about his works. Changing even a comma in a manuscript was grounds for fury. He loved his works, his creations, his world. And he was blessed and cursed with frequently-cheering people who agreed with his outlook: There was something sublime and elevated about the world in which he lived ... the world in which they lived. Do we call it "culture?"

And it was this, I think, that sucked me in -- the holiness of creating and culture and elevation. It was a world I grew up in and never really understood as a child. A very god among the gods. But what does a kid know about gods except ... the anguish of distance.

It's slipping away now, I suspect -- that pervasive agreement about what is good and cultured and widely agreed to. Good writing. Good art. Good music. A cloud of wonder high, high in the sky. If we all agree, then it must be so.

Strange to think that so many of those who disdained God nevertheless enthroned their own god. Perhaps it is just a human need -- to hook up with the high and mighty and proclaim a belonging and warmth and blessing within that fold.

Watching the TV, I could see a bit more clearly the insanity I sensed as a child -- the reason I might be set aside in favor of god.

But I am not pointing the finger solely at the arts. I really do sense that it's an adult pastime ... the selection of a very god of very gods .... the one that is big, bigger, biggest ... the Vatican among lesser churches.

My mother had such a church. She had friends like Carson McCullers and Truman Capote who had similar churches. My father longed to join a similar church... and thought he might join when emulating the icy realms of James Joyce.  But there's no faking it in the world or a demanding god.

Later in life, I would read a lot of books, partially as a means of making peace with the god whose lash I grew up with. Salinger seemed unutterably lonely and yet lonely with only one escape route before him -- the route still deeper into loneliness and demand and very god of very gods.

I watched the show and missed my nap and am forced to admit I have been tarred by the brush with which I tar others ... not the greatness part, but the glory and the magic and the music of it all. No doubt it was responsible for the few times I came close to killing some helpful art expert who offered to 'explain' a work of art.