Thursday, November 30, 2017

gift-wrapped shame

From the department of agitation and propaganda: Which is it?
Or is this just one of those oh-so-cute non-dichotomies?

From my point of view, the psychobabble railings against shame are too extensive by half. These are times when shame is a sadly-lacking and much-needed tool.

But maybe I'm wrong ... hold on a sec while I dust off my American flag/Confederate battle flag lapel pin and promise one more thing I won't deliver.

Remember when the 'naughty' kids could expect a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings? Well there are plenty of lumps -- and the jobs that go with them -- scattered about.

And then, yesterday, there was....
Bosnian Croat war criminal dies after taking poison in UN courtroom
Former commander Slobodan Praljak drank from bottle moments after judges upheld 20-year sentence in The Hague

Shame or defiance -- who knows ... though his defense lawyer was quoted as describing him as "an honorable man who could not live with the war crimes conviction and leave that courtroom handcuffed."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Trump's own words

It is hard to be calmed even by so flinty a wit as Winston Churchill to whom the line is often attributed, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others" -- hard to be calmed in the face of the words of U.S. President Donald Trump which internet researcher Snopes concludes are true -- words delivered July 19, 2016, in South Carolina as Trump campaigned for the office he subsequently attained.

President of the United States.

The richest and most powerful nation on earth.

An office so pivotal in the world that care and caution might be thought a sine qua non.

Read the words, as John Oliver did on his latest installment of "Last Week Tonight."

Just read the words and see if Churchill can calm the gob-smacked amazement. Trump was talking about the U.S. nuclear agreement reached with Iran when he stepped on the associative gas and was suddenly out of sight. Even trying to punctuate his remarks is, if my efforts are any yardstick, all but impossible.

He wasn't the president on July 19, 2016, but he is now and his words then are not that far out of synch with remarks he can make now:
“Look, having nuclear — my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart — you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world — it’s true! — but when you’re a conservative Republican they try — oh, do they do a number — that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune — you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged — but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me — it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are — nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right, who would have thought? — but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners — now it used to be three, now it’s four — but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years — but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.”
When I was a kid, there was a line adults might flog naughty children with: "Ignorance is no excuse." To parse or guess about or interpolate what Trump said, to apply the cold compress that Churchill offered, just won't wash. The man is off the charts. Period. Yes, we elected him, but that's no excuse. Yes, when offered lemons, make lemonade ... if you can. But in this case, if you can, you are simply salving your own I'm-so-wise-and-well-rounded ego.

Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. Luckily, we no longer live in a democracy ... I guess. When the horse's leg is broken ... well, ouch!

Ignorance is no excuse.

curling with Donald Trump

Curling is a kind of shuffleboard on ice. During the competition, the curler or skip slides a stone towards the concentric rings of a target. In the course of the stone's travel, sweepers work to enhance the route of the stone so as to knock out an opponent's stone and/or come closest to the center of the concentric rings.

Somehow Donald Trump's stone-tossing tweets and other casual idiocies reminded me of the sweepers he keeps in attendance... one stone and a bunch of people paid to clean up before and after him.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

art from Guantanamo prison camp

NEW YORK (AP) — An art exhibit at a New York City college seemed innocuous enough, mostly seascapes and still-life paintings of flowers and fruit.
But it’s the background of the artists — current and former terror suspects at the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention center — that drew protest and prompted the Pentagon to bar the further release of works created at the military-run prison.
The exhibit, Ode to the Sea, has been on display since October at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It shows 36 paintings and sculptures created by eight men during their years being held at the U.S. military facility for terrorism suspects in Cuba.
As grotesque as the idea of holding men for years without trial may be -- and Americans with more than two brain cells to rub together might say it's positively 'unamerican' -- there is something somehow 'grotesque-er' about wishing to disallow the display of their "art." The Congress hasn't got the nerve or coherence or decency to declare war and yet can offer its implicit stamp of approval to holding prisoners of war.

In my country, powerful men fucking or manipulating little girls is currently enjoying a moment in the hand-wringing spotlight. It's pretty revolting all right.

Maybe later the spotlight will get around to how and why it's OK to fuck grown men.

Monday, November 27, 2017

out and beyond

Out beyond the whispering fierceness of old age -- out where parallel lines meet and the edges of a flat earth are unfurled -- there seems to be an unintended tenderness.

Think of it: No more pills, no more doctors, no more disconnect between what can be thought and what achieved ... and it's not as if some diaphanous hand had compelled it or were 'loving' or some such. It's just the way things are, perhaps. Like a dog wagging its tail -- of course it wags its tail... if wag its tail it does.

There -- doesn't that feel better?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

John Oliver on Trump trickle-down

I have to admit that I wish other news outlets and individuals adduced similar logic and resources:

new feudalism gets an infusion

The new feudalism in the United States has gotten a boost from an increasingly vocal segment of the population that feels public funding of higher education is both reckless and useless.
Antenori is part of an increasingly vocal campaign to transform higher education in America. Though U.S. universities are envied around the world, he and other conservatives want to reduce the flow of government cash to what they see as elitist, politically correct institutions that often fail to provide practical skills for the job market.
To the alarm of many educators, nearly every state has cut funding to public colleges and universities since the 2008 financial crisis. Adjusted for inflation, states spent $5.7 billion less on public higher education last year than in 2008, even though they were educating more than 800,000 additional students, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
"Practical skills" means many things, but one of them is that universities are being asked to become trade schools honing the widget-making capabilities of those receiving a college education. This dovetails nicely with an ever-widening divide between those can-do and those who can-think-and-therewith-connive.

Those raising the alarm are largely conservative and Republican. For them, practical applications are preferable to protests and criticisms. Strangely, those who raise the alarm are the ones most in need of the education they might once have received in college. Their position sounds reasonable -- if a $1.4 trillion-dollar student debt can qualify as "reasonable" -- but the net effect is to shoot themselves in the foot. Drone bees are a necessity, but a drone lifestyle is part of what compelled this angry constituency to enthrone drain-the-swamper Donald Trump. They were sick of all the fruits and fags and fringe groups grabbing the attention and money they felt they deserved. It's my tax money, they seemed to say, and I'm sick of pissing it away.

So the solution is to bleed the bleeding hearts. Let everyone c'mon down to my way of living and see how s/he likes it.

The 1% couldn't be happier, I imagine. Drones fight drones while the dividends roll in and "practical skills" gain traction. Widget production couldn't be better and MacDonald's has its quotient of burger flippers.

After all the studies debunking the notion of trickle-down economics, the nobility is still allowed to posit the theory in support of its rose-petal projections. Talk about needing an education!

The peasants and the nobles.

A renewed feudalism.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

shave my eyelids, please

CHENGDU, China (Reuters) - Chinese street barber Xiong Gaowu deftly scrapes a straight razor along the inside of his customer’s eyelid....
Customers swear by the practice of “blade wash eyes”, as it is known in Mandarin, saying they trust Xiong’s skill with the blade....
The technique appears to unblock moisturizing sebaceous glands along the rim of the eyelid, said Qu Chao, an opthalmologist who works at a nearby hospital in Chengdu.

Trump vs. Time magazine

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says he’s not playing ball with Time magazine as it decides its Person of the Year. The magazine counters that Trump has it all wrong.
Meanwhile, passed along in email, there was this send-up of yet another journalistic kerfuffle that says nothing or perhaps everything about these political times:


I have always been a sucker for beauty. I 'know' this is true in my heart of hearts, but I have a hard time defining what I am a sucker for -- this "beauty" thing. No, I am not talking about the rice bowl maunderings of what is called "aesthetics." But if not that, then what?

The question crossed my mind when skimming various news stories about the feeding frenzy of shopping that precedes Christmas. Where there is no space, no room, there is likewise no beauty in my book. Beauty requires space and Christmas stuff creates less of it. Stuff is seldom, if ever, beautiful.

What is beauty? To me, it is just what melts me. It is not something I have control over. Music, art, a cocked eyebrow, the touch of a single finger -- it can come from anywhere at any time. Suddenly I am somehow 'gone' and 'home' simultaneously. Whooosh!

If all of this sounds self-centered and piggish, well, so be it. I remain a sucker for beauty both in its particulars and in its spaces. It is not something that requires a philosophy or the agreement of others. Like the Supreme Court observation about pornography, "I may not know what it is, but I know what it is when I see it."

Friday, November 24, 2017

flogging an idea

Like a pinball bouncing from bumper to bumper and yet never seeming to drop, the idea has banged around in my head -- a question of what spiritual life's upshot might be and a hypothesis gaining traction as the answer: The sole purpose of spiritual life is ... to outgrow it.

Having written this down, I cringe even now. Not because I fear it might put me on some fast track to hell or some other writhing punishment, but because postulating an answer has all the earmarks of a proposition that seeks to convince or convert someone else. That is not my intention. My intention is to offer a possibility that may not yet have occurred to others, who, like me, are of an age to look back more than look forward. As any aging person can tell you, the nearness of death has much to do with shedding the snake skins donned during a lifetime of activities. What was once possible is now highly unlikely at best. I am 77 and wonder whether spiritual endeavor was worth the price of admission and what, if anything, might put a relaxing period on that sentence.

Yesterday, the pinball took up its endless cha-ching rambling and I spent quite a lot of time trying to find a publication that might be willing to consider my written meanderings after 45-50 years of spiritual interest and endeavor. I think it's a good topic -- aging, death, religion -- but I can imagine both true believers and true disbelievers preparing to pounce on my sorry ass.

Anyway, I got one nibble. We'll see if it anyone might say, "OK, if you're stupid enough to try, I'm stupid enough to listen."

I don't even know if I could write the thing if I received an invitation, but the careening, ding-dong-ing of the pinball idea was irritating: Put up or shut up.

Strangely, the effort at finding an outsource calmed my mind and I could remember with a smile that spiritual endeavor did teach me one invaluable lesson -- how to eat oatmeal with chop sticks. That makes me smile and smiling is ... well, try it.

"Breaking the [Israeli] Silence"

JERUSALEM (AP) — A former Israeli combat officer turned whistleblower has found himself in the fight of his lifetime, leading a campaign against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and drawing relentless criticism from the country’s leaders who have labeled him a traitor.
For Dean Issacharoff, the battle is even more personal: his father is Israel’s ambassador to Germany, a respected longtime diplomat tasked with defending the same policies his son so adamantly opposes.
Issacharoff is the spokesman of Breaking the Silence, a group of former fighters who served in the West Bank and now collect testimonies about the damaging impact of the occupation. While the group says it’s acting in Israel’s best interests by sparking a public debate, it has become perhaps the most reviled anti-occupation protest group in the country. The nationalist government sees it as foreign-funded subversives seeking to shame Israel by targeting its most hallowed institution, the military.
Who is a better source of information than the people who have actually "been there and done that?" Are they all -- an estimated 1,100 -- liars and provocateurs? Are they all, to use a much-bandied and poorly-defined word, "anti-Semitic?" Is it really conceivable that Israel and its motives and public face are all, so to speak, washed in the blood of the lamb? Is it really conceivable that "Breaking the Silence" is without flaws? Does it make sense for the U.S. to implicitly condone the human rights abuses attested to by those who are and have been there? It all sounds remarkably like the program used to such good effect by the former Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels... tell a lie often enough and people will start to believe it.

Don't discuss it, just believe it ... and devalue the latter-day "Untermenschen."

Thursday, November 23, 2017

the wide, wide world of bullshit

I don't know that I need to read a whole book about it, but this Guardian excerpt was pretty enjoyable:
From inboxing to thought showers: how business bullshit took over
Vacuous management-speak is easily laughed off – but is there a real cost to talking rubbish?

the Jewish ... err American... conspiracy

And when it comes to letting a cat out of the bag -- not entirely, mind you, but close enough -- there is the case of and Israeli diplomat who goofed:
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A top Israeli diplomat was rebuked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday for suggesting that American Jews have a poor commitment to service in the U.S. military....
“Most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan or to Iraq,” [Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely] said on i24 TV news on Wednesday.
According to a 2009 survey published by the congressionally-mandated Military Leadership Diversity Commission, an estimated 1.09 percent of the members of the U.S. armed forces are Jewish. The Pew Research Center estimated in 2013 that Jews make up about 2 percent of the U.S. adult population.
Naturally, Netanyahu rebuked Hotovely, who is in other times a Netanyahu ally. "Anti-semitism" was shoehorned into the critique. Israel has too much riding on its links with the U.S. to have some upstart rattling the financial apple cart.

But my feeling is that Hotovely's observations do not need to be reined in -- they need to be expanded beyond their Jewish flavorings to include a majority of Americans of whatever religion. Congress -- remember when they represented the country? -- has not mustered the nerve to declare war in the Middle East where it is fighting "wars" if the media are to be believed. Dead American bodies are being shipped home under a decorous and politically-useful anonymity. And the Veterans Administration copes with wounds that may be worse than death. It sure smells like "war" to me. Isn't it time that those who know how to don cuff links commit their spawn or ... get out?

if it doesn't work, do it again

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan/KABUL (Reuters) - As U.S. and Afghan forces pound Taliban drug factories this week, farmers in the country’s largest opium producing-province and narcotics experts say the strategy just repeats previous failed efforts to stamp out the trade.
U.S. Army General John Nicholson, who heads NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, announced on Monday a new strategy of attacking opium factories, saying he wanted to hit the Taliban “where it hurts, in their narcotics financing”....
“The Taliban will not be affected by this as much as ordinary people,” said Mohammad Nabi, a poppy farmer in Nad Ali district in the southern province of Helmand, the heartland of opium production.
“Farmers are not growing poppies for fun. If factories are closed and businesses are gone, then how will they provide food for their families?"
According to Wikipedia, opium production in the land of America's longest war, Afghanistan, has risen each year since the U.S. invasion of 2001.  "As of 2017, opium production provides about 400,000 jobs in Afghanistan, more than the Afghan National Security Forces."

When the Taliban, a scurvy lot to say the philosophical least, were in charge, such production was banned. And it worked. So it seems that the U.S. in all its wisdom is attacking the only group to have successfully achieved what the U.S. claims it want to achieve. Does that count as "enabling" and supporting the heroin trade?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

sex -- the feeding frenzy

In the long ago and faraway, when the Soviet Union was so big that it had 13 time zones, I used to wonder at the muffled coverage accorded to that behemoth by The New York Times, a newspaper whose motto was, "All the News that's Fit to Print." How could so little be accorded to so much? How could nothing of note be happening in so much inhabited space? Was "Moscow" really the alpha and omega of Soviet datelines? The word "arrogance" did not cross my mental lips at the time ... this was The New York Times, after all.

A little of the same awe crosses my mind lately as one sexual allegation after another is laid at the feet of powerful (mostly) men. Every day, there's a new member of the club. Politics, sports, business, medicine, religion ... and I seriously doubt that the no-name women are included or assuaged.

The allegations are decades old, perhaps, but enough disparaging of women appears, for the moment, to be enough... and it makes an easy news story ... the feeding frenzy ... whose facts are probably true, but it's still a feeding frenzy that tends to blunt the very cause it seeks to air. I hope it benefits the women who have come forward and whose courage I applaud.

Day after day.

Here's a truncated laundry list.

And it's hard not to wonder what is happening in the other time zones where news organizations are now assiduously not looking. It's sort of like a blackout: What a great time to rob a bank.

"manipulative cowardice"

"Manipulative cowardice" -- the tart observation came unbidden into my mind after a phone call I received yesterday from a woman seeking information about a woman who used to run a Zen center here in Northampton. It was a cold call: I didn't know the woman calling and was forced to say that I was pretty much out of the Zen loop of teachers and centers and various activities. I did point her towards various sources that might help her.

I might have shut the conversation down sooner, but I spun it out partly because I was interested in my own reactions.

The caller's voice was top-heavy with that treacly and little-disguised self-congratulation of being willing (and by extension able) to help others. She pressed the go-to buzzers of "mindfulness" and "being centered" and "enlightenment" and "we" and ... well, you get the drift. She had practiced for ten years, she said, and had written and lectured and ... well, you get the drift.

It was nothing I hadn't done myself at one time, so I was equipped to recognize the activity. What interested me was the fact that her observations and threads yesterday failed to surprise or even irritate me very much. Who knows what will inspire whom to find out something useful ... or useless: there's not much difference?

I did stop her when she got around to the word "we" and said I wasn't much interested in what "we" did or thought, but I was curious about what "she" did or thought. Yes, I could sympathize with the unwillingness or inability to speak a singular truth or appreciation. But not to give a gentle nudge to the "manipulative cowardice" -- the need to be buttressed by some amorphous and presumptuous group that agreed with you -- seemed unkind. She paid my query little heed. She was neck-deep in her formulae and, well ... sometimes that the way things are... having an answer or explanation or improvement for everything.

OK ... let 'er rip. No one can outflank or sweet talk life into submission. Talk as much as you like. Be as "kind" as you imagine you are. Life is not a place that offers or promises safety. It's just life.

Anyway, I wasn't as irritated as I thought I might be. I listened and I asked if she had ever thought of giving it all up and then listened to the answer "we" might long to hear and she could round up kudos for.

Without disrespect, it was a bit like listening to a drug addict who, despite his or her best efforts, simply cannot put a cork in the self-referential miasma. Calling it "cowardice" is a bit too tart, perhaps, but it's in that neighborhood, I think. And "manipulative?" Well, everyone (did I just say "we?") has to put spaghetti on the table.

I was pleased I wasn't more crabby. Being crabby presupposes that my own lift-off yardstick in spiritual trekking ("I don't want to convince anyone else; I just want to know -- for me -- whether spiritual adventure is bullshit or not") is somehow correct or without confused flaw.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

forgotten places photos

The first historic photographer of the year awards showcase the world’s very best historic places and cultural sites from across the globe, capturing everything from the most famous national treasures to obscure and forgotten hidden gems. Here, the photographers tell the stories behind their pictures
A couple I liked:

Wat Mahathat is a 14th-century temple reduced to ruins in 1767 when the Burmese army invaded Ayutthaya. Over time, a tree has grown around one of the remaining stone Buddha heads, such that it is now completely enclosed by its roots with only the face peeking out. Mathew Browne  
Just outside Uyuni, Bolivia, trains were abandoned decades ago and left to rot at 3,656 metres (11,995ft). Built by the British, the railway transported minerals to the Pacific coast until the mining industry collapsed in the 1940. Pamela Jones

burned out doctors

That crap blocking your arteries may well be attributed to a waxing "burnout" among physicians.
Some leading healthcare executives now say the way medicine is practiced in the United States is to blame, fueled in part by growing clerical demands that have doctors spending two hours on the computer for every one hour they spend seeing patients....
[R]esearchers have shown that burnout erodes job performance, increases medical errors and leads doctors to leave a profession they once loved....
Experts define burnout as a syndrome marked by emotional exhaustion, cynicism and decreased effectiveness. Many burned out doctors cut back their hours to cope, and a disturbing number commit suicide....
[P]rimary care physicians spend more than half of their 11.4 hour workday performing data entry and other tasks, according to a September AMA/University of Wisconsin study published in the Annals of Family Medicine.
To manage, doctors often finish work at home in the evening, a part of the day known as “pajama time.”  

Monday, November 20, 2017

2nd cataract

... 'procedure' today ... a three hour wait for a 15 minute operation.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

sticking up for journalism

I am a fan of The Guardian. On the whole, it is my go-to source of world news not least because it seems to espouse journalistic values I appreciate. Remember "the other side of the story?" The Guardian ain't pitch-perfect, but at least it tries.

Currently, there is a "long read" (and be forewarned, it is long) by The Guardian's editor-in-chief, Katherine Viner: "A Mission for Journalism in a Time of Crisis."

For the newsies who read this site, I recommend her essay as a nice assessment of news in our times ... or perhaps news whose underpinnings I approve of. It made me feel good in a time when feel-good is alternatively too easy to come by or too incredibly difficult to find.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

quirky laws in U.S. states

sticking up for the sacred

An Irish Catholic priest does not appear to be just another whiny Christian.

The Rev. Desmond O’Donnell simply suggests that his flock get with the times and acknowledge the fact that "Christmas" is devoid of sacred meaning. For this reason, O'Donnell has suggested that Christians stop using the word, according to a story in The Guardian.
'We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that.'
O’Donnell said he is not seeking to disparage non-believers. 'I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer.'...
O’Donnell said unless Catholicism addressed the reality of what the word Christmas has come to mean, 'secularisation and modern life will continue to launder the church...'
Just because some things aren't sacred doesn't mean all things aren't.

Friday, November 17, 2017

religion as a buttress and bulwark

I think Julia told me her boyfriend's father, who died recently, was a Seventh Day Adventist. As a result, Julia told me in a phone conversation, her boyfriend had, growing up, lived in a lot of different countries as his dad pursued a course of spreading the good word.

But the death was a lingering, languorous one fraught with pain. But worse than the painful indignities that dying visited on the dying man was the fact that his lifelong faith did not sustain and succor him. The family was aghast. The dying man, father to Julia's boyfriend among others, railed against the religion he had followed in lock-step all of his life. It was as if he were saying to his God, "Why are you visiting this pain on me when I have been so faithful to You?!" He ranted and forswore what had once been so dear and his near kin were reduced to trembling: Wasn't religion a means of addressing death in good spirits? Wasn't it a bulwark and a buttress? The old man was adamant in his ire according to Julia. How this affected Julia's boyfriend she didn't say, but it must have been a surprise at a minimum.

Strangely, as one who had spent close to 50 years embracing spiritual life, I found the story consoling.

I had called Julia because, in the distant past, she had been a brick when it came to piecing together my book, "Answer Your Love Letters: Footnotes to a Zen Practice." I knew nothing of internet vagaries and Julia knew the codes. More than that, she was willing to put them at my disposal. The book would never have been published without her hard work.

In the course of collaboration, I learned that Julia was also an artist whose work and mind I liked. It was a recollection of that fondness that prompted my phone call: I thought she might offer some good input on my idea to create a peacenik button saying "If you really want to honor our veterans, stop making them." I thought I might scrape together the money to have the button printed up in bulk and then distributed for free ... maybe at VFW halls.

But it had been a long time since I talked to Julia and in the years gone by she had come to the conclusion that although she hated the man called Donald Trump, she was happy with what he had done in Washington. "I can only watch Fox News now," she told me without rancor as she got around to why she would not help me with the button. She was among the angry who felt disenfranchised and dispossessed by the government that was meant to represent her. Despite all the years gone by, I had expected her to be on my liberal page in the present as she had been on my liberal page in the past. Life has a way of disregarding the fondest of expectations.

And so we segued into other topics as people of our age can. I am 77 and Julia is in her 60's, I think and neither of us is interested in a teen-ager's shouting match. Age softens the edges that righteousness can sharpen. Anyway, we took a slow curve into other realms ... stuff like her boyfriend's father and his cranky demise.

The old man died without a good word for the religion he had folded himself into with gusto. The course correction seemed horrific to those who gathered around his death bed. A sorrow. A betrayal. And yet ....

To me, it seemed a blessing. Or anyway it seemed to bless my waxing sense that the purpose of donning spiritual life in the first place -- the sole nourisher, in fact -- was learning the ability and understanding that comes/came with divestiture. Far from leaning on some staff of reassurance, a believer is best served, especially when confronted by death, when all reassurances are set gently aside.

Think of it: No baby ever slid down the vaginal pipe attended by religion or spiritual preference. The sole capacity of the newborn is the capacity to suck, to nourish itself, and to live. Religion and its precincts were add-ons -- succor for the suckers who already know how to suck. This is not meant as a criticism of spiritual effort, which has many fine attributes, nor of God. It is an acknowledgment of the way in which human life unfolds. Each is born in his or her time and the Post-It's are glued on after the fact -- the habits and capabilities and successes and failures and all the other little notes that shape the person who could use a little reassurance from time to time.

Not for a moment would I disparage another's spiritual leanings. Atheism, like credulity, is pretty simple. I would only suggest that as the child once outgrew boots and clothes as winters passed, so the clothing of spiritual life might face a time when it was appropriate to put all reassurances aside. No need for anger or for joy.

It is simply what happens when the reassurances lose their assurance...

With an assurance that only death can provide.

black-and-white newspaper

The old third-grade puzzler used to ask, "What's black and white and red/read all over?" The answer was "a newspaper" until color was introduced into newsprint and the puzzle lost its zip.

Around here, a three-hour power outage two days ago means that the newspaper has been delivered in throwback black-and-white both yesterday and today. Somehow the lack of electricity messed with the capacity to print color photos and graphics.

The drab results put me in mind of a time when I thought the introduction of color to newspapers was too gaudy and couldn't last. Now, my habit of looking for color reveals itself.

Something to whine about ... thank god.

donations for a bird-flipper

Passed along in email was this today: The woman who flipped Donald Trump's motorcade the bird and was subsequently fired when she admitted her role has rounded up the better part of a $100,000 GoFundMe effort to support her valor.

What I'm waiting for is a dollar amount her former company -- the one which fired her -- is going to have to shell out. Talk about dingbat idiocy. At a minimum, the CEO ought to be fired for lacking the skill and foresight to know the results of a hoo-hah patriotism. Would you want a skill-less dimwit like this running your company?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

15 corrupt convictions thrown out

Leonard Gipson, one of 15 convicted men, talks to reporters after a judge in Chicago threw out the convictions Thursday.
CHICAGO (AP) — One by one, the men told the same story: A Chicago police officer would demand money from them. And if they didn’t pay, they would find themselves in handcuffs with drugs stuffed in their pockets.
A Cook County judge on Thursday threw out the felony drug convictions of 15 black men who all say they were locked up for no other reason except that they refused to pay Ronald Watts.
It was the largest mass exoneration in memory in Chicago.

gifts from China

My across-the-street neighbor Joe and his wife Pat returned from China yesterday. I had thought they were to be gone three weeks but it turned out to be two. Joe brought me an unasked-for calligraphy from a monastery known for having sent monks to India who then brought home the first scrolls and texts of Buddhism. Joe said the souvenir calligraphy wished good fortune or some such for "adam." A nice thought ... and he told me he had brought as well a pebble from the Great Wall, which I asked for but was stashed, for the moment, inside Joe's house.

asked to be kept in solitary confinement

The man who asked to be kept in solitary confinement.

the "First Church of Artificial Intelligence"

Passed along in email today came this article about a start-up church of artificial intelligence.

My first snarky reaction was, "Go out and play in the street!"

But then, because someone is bound to buy in and because there may be something to buy into, I responded to my friend who sent it along:
Will it be benevolent, will it be belligerent, can (wo)men shape and control it ... ??? Questions abound and I am suspicious of anyone (including me) who says s/he is capable of seeing the outcome. One yardstick I have started using lately is the question "Does it fold in failure?" AI doesn't seem willing to fail ... which makes it inhuman ... not to mention boring and, from a human standpoint, malevolent.

It is interesting how, in one way or another, articles try and try and try again to get a handle on the whole matter -- as if an explanation were going to explain, and hence control, this brave new world.


escape from exceptionalism

The exceptionalism of the many.
The exceptionalism of the few.
Without what is exceptional,
What would any of us do?

Perhaps the upshot is that pigs have been and will continue to be oink-meisters.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

the seal of confession?

In August, a commission investigating child abuse in the Catholic church of Australia recommended that any failure to report suspicions of child sex abuse to the authorities should result in criminal charges – even if the discovery was made within the seal of the confessional. “We are satisfied,” the commissioners wrote, “that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behaviour in order to deal with their own guilt.” The archbishop of Melbourne’s reply was unequivocal: the seal could not be broken, and if that meant going to jail, well, so be it.
On the one hand, how wondrous to be absolved of child abuse or any other catastrophe.
On the other hand, how horrific the hidden fallout.

Who would not give a lot to feel/believe the weights might be taken or fall away?
Responsibility is a crucifixion and you don't need to be a Roman Catholic to know that.

democracy ... kind of

Report on global democracy:
Globally, progress has been made in nearly all of these measures over the past 40 years, meaning public institutions are more accountable and representative than ever before. But the impartiality of governments remains unchanged.
“This has been the most difficult thing for democracies to tackle since 1975 to today,” said Ebead. “The sophistication with which democratic backsliding [into autocratic systems] occurs within countries has gone up over the past decade. In the past, democratic backsliding in a county would occur in the form of a coup d’etat or classical electoral fraud with the stuffing of ballot boxes.”
Such methods are still used, but governments also have access to new technologies that can allow them to manipulate voting systems.

power outage

From shortly before 9 a.m. to shortly before 12:00 p.m., there was a power outage in the neighborhood ... or, if my neighbor is to be believed, from Worcester to all of western Massachusetts.

What writing I had planned on the oh-so-electrical computer was thrown into a cocked hat.

But there was water (gravity) and gas for the stove.

Things were quieter without the electricity. Strange how something intrinsically silent can make so much noise and ease the clangor by its absence.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Verbal flatulence. Was there ever a time without it?

Joining the old-timers "we" and "one," these days in seemingly every verbal venue, the word "so" has added its smarmy song to the verbal-flatulence chorus. These days, questions asked by interviewers are answered, in preface, by the word "so."

Why did the cat get up on the garage roof?

So, it seems that the prospect was just too irresistible.

What color is the white house?

So, white has always been the preferred color of a majority of houses.

Why is the sky blue?

So, the sky has its devices....

How does it happen that "so" has joined the verbal flatulence realm?

So, if everyone is doing it, it's cozy and social and sounds thoughtful and offers a moment in which to reflect so, I dunno.


So, why not?

So it sounds dumber than a box of rocks.


Just so.

news missing, warmth remains

The warming sense of community once exuded by the local newspaper has faded into barely-veiled advertising and safe-sex press releases about various "boards" and "officials" in this small city's small newspaper.

And yet, with winter in the offing, the Daily Hampshire Gazette still delivers a warmth in its capacity to fire up the wood stove. It's not the same warmth of news reporting, but I do appreciate the wood-warmth even as I miss the news-reporting that the newspaper once provided a bit of.

In an era of safe-sex and dwindling-dwindling-dwindling news -- the capacity to turn over rocks for the benefit of readership -- I guess paying for a little kindling has to be expected.

Merchandizing by merchants -- what the hell else did I expect?

Viva the Donald Trump motif!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Modigliani -- rapscallion and wunderkind

"He was the ‘ravishing villain’ who drank, took drugs and bed-hopped his way around Paris. But Modigliani’s nudes – warm portraits of confident women – caused a revolution in painting"

traveling in China

As I sit here writing, my across-the-street neighbors, Joe and Pat DeBlase, are touring China.

Imagine that.

I'm not sure why it pleases me as much as it does. I don't wish I were there in their stead.

But it does please me.

virtue meets its maker

Two snowball fights and I am not sure I've got the energy to retail them, but here goes....

The first came in perhaps the second grade, maybe 70 years ago. At the public school I attended, there was one "gang" -- a kind of club which, like other clubs, relied in part for its definition to the people it excluded. It was good to belong to the "gang," the in-crowd, and saddening not to.  Glasses and freckles and girls, perhaps, qualified for exclusion.

But one day, bolstered at home by Pete Seeger's Almanac Singers and the willingness to fight the good labor fight on vinyl records, I gathered all those who were outside the gang and challenged the gang to a snowball fight in the school parking lot during recess. There was a great mound of plowed snow and we made our stand on top of that heap. We may have been outgunned by numbers, but we had the virtue of the underdog (in my mind) and we had elevation. These, I imagined, would see us through to a victory that would leave the gang in the shade.

Only of course it didn't. Once the fight started, it was clear that recess could not end soon enough. Virtue and all, we got clobbered. When it was all over, the kids with freckles, glasses, physical challenges and verifiable stupidities remained excluded. The gang was intact.

Some years later, in the 6th or 7th grade at a boarding school of some 50 students, a group of the best arms available (twelve of us perhaps) challenged the rest of the school to a snowball fight. We had built fortifications up near a wonderful drift. We had laid in pre-made snowballs. We felt confident the best arms could flatten the mere rabble.

Well oops again: What seemed like the entire rest of the school (including teachers) turned out to meet our challenge. The best arms were not good enough for the seething numbers. We got clocked. It was a kind of precursor to the Vietnam war at a time when most of us had never heard of Vietnam.

What wondrous visions and hopes I brought to those snowy battles. What should happen surely would happen. Only it didn't, and looking back, what shudders me worst is the recognition that such good lessons should be blithely ignored as time passed and decency and virtue still sang their siren song.

Sometimes I wish I'd turned out smarter, but it's too late now.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

where politesse can spell death

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Women are less likely than men to get CPR from a bystander and more likely to die, a new study suggests, and researchers think reluctance to touch a woman’s chest might be one reason.
Only 39 percent of women suffering cardiac arrest in a public place were given CPR versus 45 percent of men, and men were 23 percent more likely to survive, the study found.

the parched Ogallala aquifer

DENVER (AP) — The draining of a massive aquifer that underlies portions of eight states in the central U.S. is drying up streams, causing fish to disappear and threatening the livelihood of farmers who rely on it for their crops.
Water levels in the Ogallala aquifer have been dropping for decades as irrigators pump water faster than rainfall can recharge it.
An analysis of federal data found the Ogallala aquifer shrank twice as fast over the past six years compared with the previous 60, The Denver Post reports. ...
Also known as the High Plains Aquifer, the Ogallala underlies 175,000 square miles (453,000 square kilometers), including parts of Colorado, Wyoming Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. That’s one of the primary agricultural regions of the U.S., producing $35 billion in crops annually.

thinking man's existence

Or, as Descartes might have put it, "I want, therefore I am."

move over "opiod crisis"

Among the possibilities of something that's labeled as "bad" is the fact that it can always be "worse."

In the United States, the feeding frenzy that has greeted the "opiod epidemic" has been trumped in Canada by the seizure of 42kg of carfentanil in the basement of a house in a well-manicured Toronto neighborhood. Said one researcher, “Carfentanil is about 100 times more toxic than fentanyl and about 10,000 times more toxic than morphine.”
Lab tests eventually revealed 42kg of the substance to be carfentanil – a drug the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has described as “crazy dangerous” and which authorities in the US have flagged as as potential chemical weapon. The local police force had unwittingly stumbled across what is believed to be the largest volume of the opioid ever seized in North America....
Developed in the 1970s as a tranquilizer for large animals such as elephants and bears, the synthetic opioid has also been studied as a potential chemical weapon by countries including the US, China and Israel. It is thought to have been deployed with disastrous effects when Russian special forces attempted to rescue hundreds of hostages from a Moscow theatre in 2002.
But it only burst into public view last year after officials across North America began to warn that it was being cut with heroin and other illicit drugs, leaving a rash of overdoses and deaths in its wake.

a little stupidity

Are interesting people more interested?
Not necessarily.
Are interested people more interesting?
Not necessarily.

I guess you take what you git and another wannabe fortune cookie goes down the drain. Another stupid question for which there are only stupid answers. An imponderable.

Still, I'm kind of interested.

I never said I wasn't stupid.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day

Remembering combat veterans.

Let me be clear from the get-go: I have absolutely no personal experience of the raging sorrow and enveloping fear and screaming slice-and-dicing reality of combat and the wounds sustained by those who have lived and outlived it. I have no experience: Imagination is mere arrogance, however it grovels and praises and thanks.

Zip. Zero. Nada. Nothing ... that is the extent of my bona fides. I can rightly be accused of being as oozing liberal wimp. I might wish I knew more and combat vets might wish I knew more, but the fact is, I don't know more, however much I may blubber and fume. Yeah, I was a pencil-pushing spy for three years, but I never was in overt combat.

But that doesn't mean I can't allow myself a rasher of wrath.

Today is Veterans Day -- a time to remember those who were lost to combat and war and other widespread insanity and self-congratulation.

There are no doubt many ways to remember those who fell in the old men's wars that sent young men to die and be horribly scarred. I am thinking of only two of those ways: 1. Service and 2. Servitude.

The bunting is on display here in the U.S. and in other countries around the world. At first, this date marked the ending of World War I -- the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh month. Peace, so to speak, broke out. These days, with so many subsequent combat missions in the past, World War I is just one among the many markers set by old men who seldom if ever put themselves in the line of fire, however much their fingerprints are on the trigger.

Service -- yes, we honor the sacrifice, and sorrow for the loss and wish we could weep the tears young men were constrained to weep. God, I am so sorry. It must be said that young men are not without their enthusiasms for the kinship wars welded. Like those waving the flag along the parade route, they too would like to come away with something (like peace) that made some sense. But when they recall what cannot be escaped in the dead of night, "service" is not a bulwark that holds up well.

Service -- blessings be upon it.

But that service has another name that fits as well -- servitude. The old men who concoct and conjure wars have always sent others to do the dirty work they convince themselves is warranted. The law of the land is the law of the battlefield. Let the kids do it ... they're enthusiastic enough and stupid enough to be led by their elders ...whose children seldom serve. It is in the old men that the levers of power and policy reside and it is they who exercise their "good judgment" and waste the children instead of insisting they grow up straight and sound and peaceful. True, peace is a more daunting mission because it means so much more than 'the absence of war.' But if the old men cannot exercise their good judgment in the name of nourishment and peace, will someone tell me why it is not they, rather then the kids, who should be cut down.

Servitude -- in the service of money and lip-service glory: Do we want our kids to grow up to be a mewling merchant willing to sell off patrimony for the blood of sons and daughters? Yes, the old men can hold the young in thrall and some of those young people will join up enthusiastically ... but let's check the finger-prints on the triggers of this world and deal with the evidence as it deserves.

Servitude has been tried. It even works. But its capacity to nourish decency and principle ... well, bring on the feudal past... and never imagine that service and servitude are the same thing.

change ... again...oops

Strange to think -- not criticize or improve necessarily, just think -- how much of this life is devoted to finding some aspect or touchstone that does not change at the same time that the slick and slippery 'philosopher' within seeks and growls and yearns for something unchanging.

Love, joy, understanding, enlightenment ... the words and longings roll off the mental tongue ... you know, the 'good' stuff and the cloying TED talks that seek to enshrine and assure some unchanging certainty.

Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it too! What a piss-cutter.

I am as guilty as the next fellow and yet this morning I wonder how much I might have accomplished with all that endeared groveling to the unchanging if I had simply gotten with the program: Everything changes; relief is not the point. Just think -- "I coulda had a V-8."

I recall the very moment in college when, as someone newly-entranced by "philosophy," I ran into some philosopher who advocated for "change." I was in heaven: Here at last was THE Rosetta stone of answers in my unspoken search for The Answer to Everything. Everything I looked at or experienced was always in flux. Everything changed. How delightfully true was that???!!!!

But then -- oops! -- I was tumbled ass over appetite by the realization that if everything changed, that meant my then-relationship with my latest girlfriend was bound -- as I dearly did not want it to be -- to change as well. Well that would never do! I spent long hours trying to write in an exception for my girlfriend. I wanted the delight (change) AND I wanted my girlfriend (unchanging).

Oh well ... another in a long line of ooops-es in the hopper. But did I learn my lesson?


Literally, forgetaboutit.

Friday, November 10, 2017

toast my tootsies

A brisk and bristling breeze has overtaken the day.

It makes old sods like me wish that someone would impose global warming ... NOW.

Alternatively, I suppose we could have summer ... which I seem to have missed.

without which...?

Start the day with a little laughter:

And perhaps a little music:

Thursday, November 9, 2017

time warp/brain fart

Now, at 8:52, I have finally gotten things sorted out.

When I went into the other room six or eight minutes ago to rouse my wife and find out if she were going to work, I told her it was 8:30.

"You're right," she said groggily. "It is 8:30 night."

I have been operating as if morning were in full swing when in fact it is not.

Oh well, what's 12 hours between friends?

It's another excuse to sleep, I suppose.

the changing face of politics

Color, gender, ethnicity ... Tuesday's elections contained some historic wins.
Wilmot Collins

Perhaps newly-elected Helena, Mont., mayor Wilmot Collins, a one-time Nigerian immigrant, hit the nail on the head when he said,
The country is still not what Mr. Trump wants it to be. ... The citizens of this state and this city where I have lived for the past 23 years have spoken and they are saying we want the best candidate. They’re not looking at color, at background and creed.
Or newly-elected councilwoman Janet Diaz of Lancaster, Pa., who said at the outset of her race, "We need a government that looks like the people it serves ... that looks like its constituents."

Anyway, we can hope, I suppose.

Ban Ki-moon prods U.S.

And a tip of the hat to former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who on Tuesday delivered what I assume will be a wildly disregarded speech in which he urged the United States to get off its ass and adopt universal health care.
The former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called on Americans to pass universal health coverage at a speech in New York City on Tuesday, marking a dramatic intervention of world leaders into the US healthcare debate.
Ban called on the US to stop “powerful interests” from prioritizing “profit over care” as part of a global delegation pushing the US to adopt a publicly financed health system similar to those in other wealthy countries.
The US spends more on healthcare than any nation in the world, yet 28 million Americans still lack care....
Of the 25 richest countries in the world, the United States is the only one without universal health coverage.
Far be it from the Democrats, who are licking their chops over what they may imagine will be mid-term election victories, to take up this effort without equivocation.

Look, Jane -- those are the Democrats.
Those are the Democrats running for office.
Those are the Democrats who already show many signs of shooting themselves in the foot.
Those are the Democrats...
See the Democrats run from the issues as even their Republican brethren have before them.

burglar's remorse?

A little girl's puppy has been reunited with her family, seemingly returned by the same thieves who stole her.
Sasha, an eight-week-old Labrador, was taken during a burglary in Melbourne on Monday morning - along with a laptop, an iPad, and some jewellery.
The family told Australian news outlets they were "devastated" at the loss of four-year-old Maia's "best friend".
But on Thursday, Sasha was discovered in the garden, apparently dropped there by the remorseful thieves.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

fossil fuels bet against renewables

All the gushing enthusiasms in the world cannot yet overcome the balance-sheet realities of fossil fuels when compared to their slim-trim renewable-energy counterparts:
Even as governments and environmentalists forecast a peak in oil demand within a generation - and China and India say they may eventually ban gasoline and diesel vehicles - leaders of the world’s biggest oil firms are not buying the argument that their traditional business faces any imminent threat.
How much of the oil companies' assessments is based on wishful thinking and how much is based on reality is not entirely clear, but the fossil-fuel business seems primed to linger a bit -- or more than a bit -- longer.