Monday, December 31, 2018

Warren for president?

Senator Elizabeth Warren jumped into the race for president on Monday, announcing she is forming an exploratory committee for 2020.

The Massachusetts Democrat, known for her critiques of big banks and corporations, became the first major candidate to declare her intentions with a video posted online on New Year’s Eve.
“America’s middle class is under attack,” she said. “How did we get here? Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie and they enlisted politicians to cut them a fatter slice.”

My knee-jerk taste: She's too early.

to sing a song

To sing a song beyond the highest ceiling -- what a lovely gift.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

name that child

For a lot of years after we got out of the army, William B. McKechnie III was my best friend. Bill is dead now, but for all the years we knew each other, Bill refused(?) to tell me what the "B" in his name stood for. One of his forbears, he said over and over again, had added the middle initial because rich people had middle names and he wanted to ally himself with the rich folks. So Bill's "B" stood for nothing at all. It sounded swanky.... and I never quite believed him.

Nowadays, the shoe seems to be on the other foot and people are entrenched in the use of hyphenated last names, names that recognize both parties on the parental pillow ... or acknowledging the names of both parties in a same-sex marriage. Harry Smith-Jones or Sarah Cymbal-Sassafras or some such.

And I still don't quite believe my one-time best friend's explanation.

If we wait long enough, maybe things will get reduced to the usage of various island or impoverished nations where just one name suffices.

Christmas gloom?

There was a time when, if someone asked me why anyone would become a Buddhist, I would reply with a tongue only halfway in my cheek, "Death, disease, drugs, divorce." And as with any quickie response, there was something valid in it.

This Christmas season ... there seems to be a peck of mortality insisting in my life. One good friend went out to the barn and then changed his mind about suicide. The father of my younger son's friend committed suicide and my son went to visit his friend by way of consolation. My sister's beloved has segued into what she suspects -- and he declines to address -- is Parkinson's. And I think there is another one in this bag full of Santa's gifts, but I can't recall it immediately ... maybe I am just blocking it out.

My friend in his barn realized, among other things, that his demise would mean difficulty for those left to clean up and lick their mental wounds. My sister, who coped her way through the death of her mother in 2018, continues to care for her mother's dwindling partner, whose hearing and mind crumbles.

Each in its own way is terribly, terribly hard. Wearing, wearing, wearing ... clawing, clawing, clawing.... time passes.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

remembering Benito Mussolini

Gamma 3000, a Rome-based printer, was the first to start producing Mussolini calendars in the early 1990s and now competes with three rivals. Around 10,000 are printed by the company each year and circulated to newsstands across Italy regardless of whether copies were ordered....
During Mussolini’s 20-year dictatorship he sent thousands of Jews to their deaths, interned gay people on the Adriatic island of San Domino, gagged the free press and executed political opponents. Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were shot dead by partisans in the final days of the second world war before their bodies were strung up on a meat hook in a Milan square.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

off-spring of Donald Trump ... count me in

Maybe this article is worth a skim:
Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.
The drum-beat of the dunces is not limited by age or youth, it appears. Anyone can be and perchance is, dumbed down. We are all Donald Trump's marginalized children. And, reading this article made me realize that I am not exempt. I skip and skim in the face of tsunami-like washes of information, misinformation and half-baked information. To ingest and digest the damage done to actual-factual, blood-pumping individuals ... it's whelming when it's not overwhelming. Is there no fucking reprieve? Is there no place where critical thinking can wax and be swallowed?

I admit it to it: My tendency is to find a single individual who may exemplify the problem that I imagine or revile. An individual to skim -- perhaps a movie actor -- can fill the gap, perhaps. Imagine allowing your world view or critical thinking to rest on the musings of a personality who spends his or her time pretending to be something or someone s/he isn't. And yet, in odd moments, I do it because it's easier.

I listen a bit to Tom Selleck or George Clooney or Chow Yun-fat (all of whom seem to have a whisper of seriousness) and then excuse my inattention by playing the age card.

Oh well -- stuck at the beginning, hoping in vain not to do too much harm.

And perhaps the skimming capacity is not so different from my own leaning away, eventually, from writers like Melville and Henry James and other 19th century luminaries whose pre-TV viscousness became cloying and overbearing and too damned time-consuming.

Perhaps everything -- every bright light -- is doomed to dim. If critical thinking doesn't work for you, just watch what happens when critical think is laid to rest.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas wishes

Awoke, child-like, this Christmas Day half hoping that Donald Trump might bestow on himself the luxury of retiring as president in order to take care of his sagging business interests. Just imagine: The Christ retires and the Christer (Mike Pence, who could easily morph into an Artificial Intelligence critter if he looked any more perfect) takes over the reins. What a Christmas present that might be.

But, as I say, it was child-like stuff.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

"Christmas in the Trenches"

peace in Japan


TOKYO (Reuters) - More than 82,000 well-wishers paid their respects to Emperor Akihito who turned 85 on Sunday, his last birthday celebration at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace before stepping down next year...
Although he cannot directly influence government policy, Akihito has created a broader consciousness of Japan’s wartime past throughout his symbolic reign, experts said.
In comments made to the media ahead of his birthday, Akihito said “it is important not to forget that countless lives were lost in World War Two...and to pass on this history accurately to those born after the war”.

As Japan's defense policy seems to have taken a new twist through a decision to seek the deployment of an aircraft carrier, doubts remain over whether the plan will best serve its national interests as it struggles with China's growing threat.
Possessing an aircraft carrier has been controversial in and outside Japan in light of its militarist past and the pacifist postwar Constitution, which restricts the country from possessing what are deemed to be highly offensive armaments.
But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government ventured into the move by endorsing on Tuesday a new five-year defense buildup program that includes a plan to transform existing Izumo-class flat-topped destroyers, currently used as helicopter carriers, into ships capable of launching short takeoff fighter jets.
Keeping the peace is an old man's sport. Younger men invariably 'know better.'

Saturday, December 22, 2018

poetry from another time

I eats me peas with honey
I've done it all me life.
It makes them taste so funny
It keeps them on me knife.

Christians step up

Finally, some Christians appear to be stepping up to their own plate.
PHOENIX/TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) - Members of an Arizona evangelical church are for the first time taking Central American asylum seekers into their homes, responding to record arrivals of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The predominantly white Central Christian Church, a Phoenix area “megachurch” had in the past assisted Muslim refugees. Church leaders wanted to help another group that lacked support and were portrayed as a threat in areas of the media and politics - asylum seekers.
Central Christian is among a group of around 10 churches, most of them Hispanic, taking in up to 500 migrants a week from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in greater Phoenix.
Caritas (inadequately defined as "charity") is the heart and soul of Christianity. Fear and loathing are not high on the bedrock Christian agenda, though many evangelical supporters of Donald Trump applaud his fear-and-loathing coin of the realm.

Seven hundred marchers is 0.0002333333333333333% of 300 million Americans. Most Americans are migrants of one sort or another. Another .00023 percent hardly seems like something the country cannot enfold.

Americans may be getting fatter-not-taller, but now and then a ray of sane light shines through. Fatter between the ears need not apply.

Friday, December 21, 2018

the dumbest heist?

It's so glaringly stupid that I hesitate to dignify it with the word "stupid." A man decides to rob a bank in a community of 2,000 people, most of whom know each other. The main way of ingress and exit is via the local airport. Nevertheless:
An armed man has robbed a bank in the world’s northernmost settlement on Norway’s remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard – but he was caught shortly afterwards, authorities have said....
The odds of the heist succeeding were always low on the archipelago, famous for glaciers and its polar bears, who outnumber residents.

suicide sort of

A rainy day and grey with a reflection on suicide filling the email inbox.

Suicide. The weight and freight of getting older and aching more ... the mind ravels and unravels simultaneously. Reduction follows reduction (medication follows medication) until, well, why should suicide be given a bad rap?

The idea of leaving a mess for others to cope with may be offensive, but everyone is everyone else's mess, aren't they? Pardon the observation, but isn't this what keeps things lively? Enfin, isn't it even as the glib-lipped pronounce? -- "it is what it is." Medication follows medication and ... now what?

Go in peace.
Or not.
Your choice.
No blow-back.

Or, if there is blow-back, how would anyone know for sure without testing the waters?

Is there some honor to be siphoned from this life? A bit of love, a bit of kindness? Sure.
And dishonor as well. Why should death, by whatever hand, require an A+? Aren't we all more in the B- or C-ish category if we're lucky? But when there's no one left to grade the papers, what grade can reasonably be decided? Sins of omission, sins of commission are there to meet and greet and, well, there's no reversing the flow.

When word spread in an ancient Buddhist monastery that a particular monk's understanding of enlightenment had been approved by his teacher, the other monks gathered around to congratulate the lucky fellow (at least in my fragile and iffy memory banks). And he was asked, "What changed? Are your problems erased?" And the monk replied, "Nope. Same old problems."

Thursday, December 20, 2018

daring NOT to discover

The drive to know, to unravel, to understand, to explain and to generally tuck what was once unknown the belt of the known ... I suppose it's better than kicking baby robins. And yet ...

Was there ever a human being who died and who didn't join the majority freighted by one thing or another s/he did't know? Little or large, no different.

For example, my mind stumbles on the explanation or etymology of the Arizona city Tucson. Yes, Wikipedia can lead me by the nose, but there is something mysterious about the "cs" in the midst of it all. What a strange configuration of letters. I think I will probably never be at ease with it. On the other hand, why should I be? Is knowing something somehow better than not-knowing it?

Once upon a time, if flagging memory serves, there was a front-page New York Times story about an old wooden box unearthed in Japan. Inside the box was another box -- one that bore (not sure of this) a royal seal and a note that said, in essence, "don't open this box." What could possibly be so important that future generations should be warned against meddling so many years later?

The punch line on this tale left me marveling: Japanese scholars or other poohbahs made their decision: They would follow the instructions in the note and not open the box. Who has such courage? Don't think of a purple cow. Why would it be better to know -- more elevated,  crucial, satisfying and savvy -- to disregard whatever it was that compelled the writer to tack on his or her version of a Post-It?

"Ignorance is bliss," the slick and savvy mind chides derisively.

But is that any more true than imagining that a lack of ignorance can somehow fill in the restless abyss?

Do I know more when I know more? Do I know less when I know less? Do I know less when I know less or less when I know more? And which capacity deserves elevation? Take self-congratulation out of the equation and what is left ....?

More or less?

The Japanese, of course, are not immune: Despite a WWII constitution banning implements of war, they are now sneaking up on replenishing their aircraft carrier supplies.

More is more, after all, and less is less.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

kudos for the kudo-prone

A newly discovered blind and burrowing amphibian is to be officially named Dermophis donaldtrumpi, in recognition of the US president’s climate change denial.
The name was chosen by the boss of EnviroBuild, a sustainable building materials company, who paid $25,000 (£19,800) at an auction for the right. The small legless creature was found in Panama and EnviroBuild’s Aidan Bell said its ability to bury its head in the ground matched Donald Trump’s approach to global warming.

money isn't everything

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands’ highest administrative court has upheld an Amsterdam municipality ban on new stores in the city’s historic heart that sell goods specifically to tourists.
The Council of State ruling Wednesday is a victory for the Dutch capital’s attempts to rein in the negative effects of the huge number of visitors crowding its streets.
Donald Trump would not be amused.

Norway gooses electric car market

OSLO, Norway (AP) — A silent revolution has transformed driving in Norway. Eerily quiet vehicles are ubiquitous on the fjord-side roads and mountain passes of this wealthy European nation of 5.3 million. Some 30 percent of all new cars sport plug-in cables rather than gasoline tanks, compared with 2 percent across Europe overall and 1-2 percent in the U.S.
As countries around the world — including China, the world’s biggest auto market — try to encourage more people to buy electric cars to fight climate change, Norway’s success has one key driver: the government. It offered big subsidies and perks that it is now due to phase out, but only so long as electric cars remain attractive to buy compared with traditional ones.
Clean air for the wealthy, perhaps, but at least the air is cleaner ... and some pride can be taken in the political balls required.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

declining life expectancy

MADISON, W.Va. (AP) — If you want to understand why U.S. life expectancy is declining, West Virginia is a good place to start.
The state is a bellwether of bad health, portending major problems years before they became severe nationally.
“It seems that the worst outcomes happen here first,” said Dr. Michael Brumage, a West Virginia University public health expert who formerly ran the health department in Charleston. “We’re the canary in the coal mine.”

worth getting up for

It was worth getting up for -- another medical appointment, this one to the dentist. At my age, medical appointments are wearying, annoying, and intrusive. I have a distinct whispering in the mental ear that says, "Go fuck yourself" when it comes to fixing stuff, whether real or imagined. The appointment was for 8:30 and of course I was early, thus fulfilling my part in the medical assembly line.

Anyway, I had a dentist appointment. My younger son drove me to the office ... no sense in trusting me with his sassy pick-up truck. I went, checked in, and sat in the waiting area, grumbling without seeming to grumble. I could have been sleeping, after all.

On the walls were some new art works -- home-grown stuff that caught my attention. It was human and not terribly good, but it was better than the sexless prints that medical offices often display. Sexless prints and medical brochure offerings ... the kind of things I don't like seeing in medical offices. Hell, I'm there for medical reasons: I don't need to be reminded of advancing age, diminution of capabilities, and a rising up of what no longer can be done.

If the painting in the waiting room caught my attention by its human-ness, the small needle-point adorning the work space I was shown to really caught my attention. It was perhaps eight inches square -- blue and red lettering on a white background. The words on the needle point were direct:

It made my day!

The dental hygienist -- a woman with five kids ... two by an early heterosexual marriage and three with her later female partner -- explained the picture to me. It came from a patient as a gift and related to encouragements the hygienist gave to the patient in the course of cleaning the patient's teeth. How it all fit together, I'm not sure. All I know is that seeing that encouragement encouraged me to stop grumbling and start smiling for reasons I cannot and don't really want to explain.

It gave me faith in the human race and in the life I had lived.

Breathe like a sandwich.


Monday, December 17, 2018

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Denis Diderot sort of....

Denis Diderot
Maybe reading history is consoling in the same way that picking up a well-thumbed criminal-endeavor novel or an obituary can be: You know how it's going to end, give or take a little, and that knowledge is somehow consoling in a rapid-fire environment of the present.

And so today, when skimming the news wires, I was not hooked by the latest yowl about U.S. President Donald Trump or the latest bit of racism or the suffering of the caravan working its way north out of Central America and en route to the borders of the United States. Not hooked. And yet I was hooked when reading the name of Denis Diderot, the 18th century Enlightenment gadfly who seems never to have missed a chance to prognosticate and was often on target.

Denis Diderot -- did anyone any longer know his name? I did because for a while there in college I was majoring in French. And here, this morning, was a professor (Andrew S. Curran) flogging his upcoming book ("Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely") that might keep him on track in his shark-infested, publish-or-perish profession.
As a young man, Diderot did not concern himself with politics per se. His target was the Catholic church and organized religion. If Voltaire became the era’s most prominent anti-cleric, Diderot was its most ingenious and freethinking atheist. In the summer of 1749, he published a 90-page book proclaiming that the Christian God was little more than a nefarious figment of people’s imaginations. It earned him a three-month stay in prison.
I began reading the article, which neatly linked to a latter-day despot, Donald Trump. OK. But why did I read that in preference to the real-time upsets and horrors of the present? Well, I could smell it: History had an ending, if you know what I mean. Not that there actually was an ending, but reading history made it feel as if there were a period on the sentence and that period gave all and sundry permission to comment, parse, or otherwise hold in the palm of the hand.

The obituary like the mystery novel ends as it begins -- with the facts unchanged. Dead is dead. Crime is crime. But starving immigrants stretch out in a long-longer-longest line that continues to go hungry, to be vilified, and to stand as witness to recurring indecency. History is like a rest-stop on some endless freeway. Breathe in, breathe out. Take solace in the long view, even if the long view is not perfectly encouraging... or especially long either, come to that.

The 18th century man idealized the American colonies, but warned:
People of North America, may the example of all those nations that have preceded you, and especially that of your motherland, instruct you. Beware of the affluence of gold that brings with it the corruption of morals and the scorn of laws; beware of an unbalanced distribution of wealth that will give rise to a small number of opulent citizens and a horde of citizens in poverty, a situation that will engender the insolence of some and the deprivation of others.
There is something stately (my own plodding pace, perhaps) about Diderot's caveats and hopes. His idealizations are like those that preceded them -- ideal with dangers abounding. Dangers include blood, though the blood is too often, as always, someone else's. And I hate being reminded of my own complicity in the redness of another's blood.

Oh well, it's all water under the dam now. If I cross my fingers tight enough, scrinch my eyes closed until they are slits, and turn my back on a looming fact or two ... well, there's a period on the sentence, right?

"History" puts me in mind of my sister -- who had two kids at the time -- as she tried to ease my worries about having a first newborn: "Adam," she said sagely, "you can read every book that was ever written about child-rearing or you can read none at all. Either way, you won't know shit."

Study history all you like, imagine it as a resting place, and then ... hook up your safety belt and prepare for a nose bleed.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

proud of my daughter

Reading a Guardian article about the Amish this morning, I realized I was proud of my daughter. It was from her, within the last year, that I received an email saying she was going to a management seminar on the west coast. The seminar was run by former Navy SEALs. One of the aspects of the weekend seminar was a voluntary physical education aspect -- get up at some ungodly hour like 4:30 and run through a calisthenics regimen. You didn't have to do it, but ....

The challenge hung on the air ....

In the blink of an eye I emailed back. Don't skip the calisthenics.

The next morning, when I consulted my email inbox, there was an unsigned email in return. It said simply, "I threw up twice."

Somehow, somewhere in this life it is important to be able to DO something -- bust your buttons, go outside the cell-phone box, challenge your own personal limits, and actually accomplish something that was neither easy nor expected. My daughter is on the uphill management curve. She likes shopping as well as the next millennial. But she does her homework and is willing to challenge herself. From her cubicle, for example, she ventured onto the factory floor and ... learned how to handle a forklift. She is not just some label-reading conformist. And the SEALs coached her: Learn how to own it ... own what you do and think and say. Right, wrong or indifferent -- own it.

Was my daughter just some upscale dabbler learning how 'the other half' lived? I doubt it. It is, of course, 'the other half' which makes this half possible. When I was a newspaper reporter, I learned fairly quickly that if you wanted to know what the governor was doing, never call the governor. Instead, find the person two or three rungs down the ladder -- the one's who is actually doing the heavy lifting, shaping the policy, and, with some luck, owning it instead of just trusting labels.

Is all this just cute and a way of raising your own flag? Well, maybe a little. But having some sense of what makes the wheels turn -- actually makes them turn -- takes some balls. What anyone says may be very smooth, very memo-worthy ... but does it know its ass from its elbow and, more important, how does that reflection look in the bathroom mirror?

Maybe the Amish like to lay their directions at their God's doorstep. That's their business and they own it. An honest day's work, one during which it may be necessary to throw up with effort ... who will know? ... well, the owner will know. It's not a big deal on the one hand and yet on the other it is quite a big deal.

It reminds me of a time when I was trying to learn how to build a cabin in the woods. I got all kinds of articles and read and read until finally I landed on one article that began, "The first thing to know about building a cabin is that you are not building a cabin. You are digging hole. Anyone can dig a hole...."

Will my daughter turn out to run a fork lift? Maybe not, but she won't have to work herself into a throw-up tizzy when she finds she cannot. She won't have to pretend, which is what a lot of today's sorrows revolve around, I think -- pretending that you are something you are not.

Well, I'm not writing this well. I just was proud of my daughter. Readers may think that being proud of off-spring is a matter of d'oh! I don't. Witless pride is a cheap date, whether related by blood or not. My daughter is not a cheap date.

Own what you win. Own what you lose. Throw up as needs be. Poseurs are a dime a dozen ... sorta like sad people. I don't want my daughter to be sad.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

going home hungry

Just because they're stupid doesn't mean they're stupid.
Except when it does.
Just because they're smart doesn't mean they're smart.
Except when it does.

A strange kerfuffle in which the disenfranchised know what they want and the enfranchised know want and no one is getting enough of what s/he wants. The anointed are too stupid to look back and the unanointed are too stupid to look forward.

Each may blame the other, but it doesn't work very well.

The abyss abides and everyone is going home hungry.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

once upon a time...

"Once upon a time, a Tuesday perhaps, there was a man called Pim."

The line popped up on my radar screen this morning. What did it mean? I had no clue. Perhaps it was the beginning to some wider tale of adventure and inventiveness. Perhaps not. I didn't really see "Pim" in my mind's eye, didn't really envision or invest or wonder. He was a fiction, which was somehow more beguiling than the rattle and shimmy of a silver-ware drawer. Current events fell by the wayside as "Pim" stepped forth.

Was he tall or short, plump or slender, laughable and affable? Had he had his heart broken in other times? Had he freed a mouse from a trap? I could not really find him and yet there he was, more interesting in my head than the current events served up along the news wires.

Could he sing? And if so, did he?

With the ice-rimed roofs up and down the street, with all that the world has to offer this morning, who is this Pim who has come to visit?

Or is is just the "once upon a time" whose muffled tintinnabulation fades softly, like Pim, in my mind? I somehow know he is not a man to go naked and yet dressing him is beyond my ability. Will he scatter bread crumbs in his wake as a means of marking the way back home? He seems unconcerned.

A bit of magic, I guess. I like magic. I like being tricked and bamboozled and knowing simultaneously I am being tricked and bamboozled. It doesn't matter how many times I see it, the woman really is being sawed in half in that coffin.

Fiction or fact ... I guess I am in a fiction phase.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Trump's undocumented workers

You knew it in your bones right along: Donald Trump, president of the United States, is a liar and a conniver and a member in good standing of the petite bourgeoisie ("everything has a price") whose stature would be lessened if he were not standing on someone else's back ... but ... well ...

"The president says that in the places he owns he does not hire any undocumented workers. ...It is a lie,” said [Sandra] Diaz, [right] 46, a native of Costa Rica who worked at the club in 2010 to 2013.
Who are you going to believe? Who's the "criminal?" Who's the "servant?" Who's the scum bag?
“We need to come out and defend ourselves,” said 47-year-old [Victorina] Morales, brushing away tears. “I had enough with suffering.”

Friday, December 7, 2018

brownies in the making

Nothing struck my fancy on a run through the wires this morning -- an increasingly frequent happening -- so I made brownies instead. With chocolate morsels added and a couple of tablespoons of raw chocolate and some crumbled cashews on one corner ... I like nuts, but others do not. I suspect the cashews will not hold out against the chocolate but I wanted to try it and cashews are one of my faves.

There's corruption out there. I saw it on the wires. And George H. W. Bush was buried in Texas and China seems to be pissed at the U.S. for dropping an arrest made on Saturday on a congregation of power players Tuesday. Perhaps the Chinese can borrow some polonium from the Russians and make Donald Trump a cuppa.

The day is cold-ish, but there is sun. Some CNN talking head is said to be in line to be U.S. ambassador at the U.N.

Drip, drip, drip....

Thursday, December 6, 2018

freedom of federal employee speech

Meanwhile, tightening the political noose....
New guidance warning federal workers not to discuss Donald Trump’s potential impeachment or the so-called “resistance” movement has sparked controversy, with some ethics advocates voicing concerns over what they see as an effort to crack down on free speech and limit dissent.
A memo released by the Office of Special Counsel last week clarified what constitutes political activity at the federal workplace, stemming from Trump seeking re-election as president in 2020.
In addition to avoiding topics that might suggest views favorable or unfavorable toward Trump, the document stipulated “strong criticism or praise of a presidential administration’s policies and actions” also amount to political activity.
The move prompted immediate backlash from government watchdogs and unions, who said the interpretation of political activity is too broad and exposes more than 2 million federal employees to undue risk and could hurt their free speech rights.
 Stay tuned: I have a hunch there's more where that came from.

not exactly a man of the people

A series of grey days and chilly. George H.W. Bush, former U.S. president, is lying in state, his well-heeled memories rising up like mists across a peat bog. Dying seems to have a healing effect. The only real memory I have of him came from a cop-shop reporter pal, Don, who had a friend in the Secret Service, which guards presidents, among other chores.

And it was from Don -- talk about hearsay evidence -- that I heard the tale of George H.W. Bush visiting a high school classroom in Maine. Bush was a globe-trotter and a former head of the C.I.A. His silver spoon was clearly clenched between his WASP-enfranchised lips as he tried to connect with the students in Maine. "How many people here have been to Paris?" he asked the class brightly. No one responded. "Well, how many have been to (another famous city -- don't recall -- in Europe?)"

And still there was no response until one student girded his loins and said, "Hell, Mr. President, most of us have not been beyond Augusta [the capital of Maine]."

George H.W. Bush, whatever his sense of noblesse oblige, whatever his patrician decencies, whatever his willingness to serve his country, was probably the very plant life of the swamp that guys like Donald Trump claimed he would drain.

Of course, Bush had the decency to laugh at himself, a thing Donald Trump is incapable of.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

dying to say "decent"

Last week, former president George Herbert Walker Bush died at 94. And as the corpse does its obligatory rounds before interment, it is interesting how many politicians and other wannabes have hastened to use the word "decent" to describe the man. It is as if the word "decent" were some sort of pariah in the face of Donald Trump's manipulations and lies.

Dying to say "decent."

Viscerally, Trump is indecent, and any recollection that will allow the "decency" genie out of the bottle is welcome, even the throw-back WASP who actually seemed to believe that a little decency was not a dangerous thing.

It may be a fib, but it's a fib that is pleasing to the mind.

Monday, December 3, 2018

another black man shot in the back

Sometimes the drumbeat goes beyond heart-breaking ... it is a travesty, a cruelty, a stupidity ... a litany. I guess this one just tipped my inured and blasé cup:
Emantic Bradford Jr, the 21-year-old African American man who was killed by a police officer on Thanksgiving at a mall in Alabama, was shot three times from behind, according to an independent autopsy released by a civil rights attorney on Monday.
His father told the Guardian the report showed his son was murdered.
According to the report, Dr Roger A Mitchell observed gunshot wounds to the right side of Bradford Jr’s body, in his head, neck and lower back. The report states: “The cause of death is gunshot wound of the head. Manner of death is homicide.”
Twenty-fucking-one-years old! Wearing a uniform the likes of which Donald Trump and his silver-spoon ilk never will!

It's apostasy of the deepest order.

That could have been my kid if my kid were brown.

Maybe we could move several deep-South states to Israel where shooting the poorly-armed or unarmed is more usual.

how to counter artificial-intelligence assertion

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has denied claims that he had died and was replaced by a Sudanese impostor, breaking his silence on a rumour that has circulated on social media for months.
Buhari, who is running for re-election in February, spent five months in Britain last year being treated for an undisclosed illness. One theory widely aired on social media – and by some political opponents – was that he had been replaced by a lookalike from Sudan called Jubril.
No evidence has been presented, but videos making the claim have been viewed thousands of times on YouTube and Facebook.
“It’s the real me, I assure you. I will soon celebrate my 76th birthday and I will still go strong,” Buhari told Nigerians in a town hall session in Poland on Sunday.
When it comes to man-vs-machine, who are you going to believe? Does it matter? Replicants -- a la 1982's "Blade Runner" -- seem to be gaining a toe hold. And yet machines and lookalikes still retain what I consider a flaw -- they're flawless and hence boring. "Perfect" ain't never gonna cut it.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

failure and success

To fail at something you truly admire is better than to succeed at something that can only make you look good.

Is that true? I think perhaps it is.

Friday, November 30, 2018

a little telekinesis, if you please

Passed along in email:

Hawaiian Kingdom, Hawaiian state

Is Hawaii an invaded country or a state within the United States?
The claim that Hawaii is still a part of the Hawaiian Kingdom (not the US) is not new. In fact, it’s a sticky political situation that has led to court cases and provided talking points to more than one US president. But public conversations on the topic still have the air of a conspiracy theory, because the idea runs so counter to the day-to-day administrative and governmental operations in Hawaii. As such, the subject tends to be avoided by Hawaii politicians. The tropical island chain, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 2,467 miles from the continental US, became a state in 1959. And for most people, that’s more than enough evidence that it’s part of the US.

U.S. life expectancy dips

It's not just the Indian or Pakistani farmer any more: It now appears that suicide is gaining a foothold among those once well-heeled.
The suicide death rate last year was the highest it’s been in at least 50 years, according to U.S. government records. There were more than 47,000 suicides, up from a little under 45,000 the year before....
CDC officials did not speculate about what’s behind declining life expectancy, but Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, sees a sense of hopelessness.
Financial struggles, a widening income gap and divisive politics are all casting a pall over many Americans, he suggested. “I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide,” he said.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

is youth or stupidity an excuse?

I once went to dokusan (a private interview) with Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a man who was arguably the top gun in the world of Zen Buddhism at the time (1970's). I was scared. I had never met the man. He was the size of a peanut and had the mass of a mountain in my mind.

We sat facing each other during that long-ago sesshin (Zen retreat). He took his fan and tapped it three times on the floor next to him. "What is this?" he asked. I gave a book-smart shout. He looked at me for a moment and then said, mildly, "You know, you don't have to be crazy in order to do this practice."

"You don't have to be crazy" and yet so much of spiritual adventure did seem a bit crazy ... might as well get with the program. I heard Sasaki's words as a rebuke: Zen practice referred to something plain and simple. Nothing phony about it. Nothing concocted or false. But I had chosen the ornaments of the exercise. Short and sweet, "Cut the crap!"

You don't have to be crazy.....

And likewise, you don't have to be stupid. And it is here that I admit to bias: Anyone involved in spiritual practice is tasked with exercising both attention and responsibility. They had to think things through ... much as, from my vantage point , John Allen Chau, 26-27, had not when he set out for North Sentinel Island -- a place that required permission to visit for fear of infecting the local population with non-native diseases -- in hopes of introducing the locals to Jesus.

Chau was on a mission from his Christian persuasion (convert the heathen stuff) and never seemed to think that his presence, while it might introduce a Christian faith, could spell death to the tribe on North Sentinel. Chau was willing to sacrifice his life. But he seemed unmerciful enough to be willing to sacrifice the lives of others.

And this is where my bias kicks in. If you're going to sacrifice along the spiritual way, don't run around sacrificing others. Burn your own temples and texts as you like, but do not presume you have some right to burn the temples and texts of others. Demolish Jesus and Christianity first ... and only then set about God's work.

It is unkind of me to assume that those along a spiritual byway will be somehow less stupid, thoughtful or circumspect. But, full-frontal-nudity, I guess I have to own up to it. The arrogance of Christians in 19th century India is truly astounding to anyone willing to read the works.

What a well-intentioned clusterfuck among these spiritual children.

tombstone wannabe

It's not true, but I still am attracted to the tombstone I really don't want: The word "wanker" is just too delicious somehow. Maybe I could bequeath it to some more deserving person. Still:
"Wanker" has a frisk and frolic to it. It tastes like good chocolate in my mind. However derisive and self/masturbating-serving, still, perhaps being remembered as a "wanker" is too good to pass up.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Grizzly said to have killed mom, daughter

A young mother and her 10-month-old daughter have been killed by a grizzly bear metres from their cabin in Canada’s Yukon territory.
Valérie Théorêt, 37, and her daughter Adele Roesholt, were killed on Monday near Einarson Lake, a remote area 400km from the territory’s capital of Whitehorse.

Norwegian keeps his chess crown

For 20 days the world’s two best grandmasters sat in a soundproof studio in central London, with only a chessboard, their thoughts, and each other for company. But finally, after 15 games, 773 moves and 51 hours of simmering tension, the Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen held his nerve, and his crown, with an emphatic rapid-play victory over the US challenger Fabiano Caruana.

Burma-Shave moment

Every blessing
Brings its curse:
It's hard to know
Which one is worse.

But if you sit down
By the brook,
You'll get the answer
You forsook.


big steer reigns

Passed along in email, some good, or anyway good-ish, news:

The world’s expectations for a hero have perhaps never been lower.
Which brings us to the steer. It’s like a normal steer, but bigger.
It’s a very big steer.
The very big steer is, according to the nearly unanimous acclaim on social media, a hero. At 6 feet 4 inches tall and more than 1.4 tons (2,800 pounds), it is roughly the height of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson but weighs about 11 times more.

Donald's got your back...not

It's all whimsy, of course.

First and foremost, I have never been in combat, so what could I actually know? And yet I imagine and wonder how it is that combat veterans might line up in support of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Combat is no joke, I imagine. Every combatant relies on comrades to back him or her up.

And the idea that Donald Trump might be a reliable back-up -- someone into whose hands I might place my fate and faith -- strikes me as ludicrous. Trusting that Donald Trump "has got your back" ... gawd! Would this man defend your life with his own? Would he step up and step in and work like hell to preserve your life?

Having Donald Trump as a reliable back-up ... does that compute where the bullets fly?

Imaginatively, I think I would prefer to be backed up by an honorable enemy: At least an enemy has a directed purpose. Being shot in the back by a Whiffle ball ally is the last thing any combatant needs.

Imagine Donald Trump backing you up on the combat line.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

kissing a woman's hand

As a child, there was music in the house. Ours and many other record players by that time were electrified, though I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me there were wind-up players in some houses. Strauss waltzes wafted about from the 78 rpm records. 33 1/3 and 45's had not yet been invented. My mother read me Roald Dahl stories and unexpurgated Grimms fairy tales and all of "Frankenstein" ... and I wept for the monster who was the creation of the real monster.

Kissing a woman's hand was something to see in "The Three Musketeers," a movie starring Gene Kelly, who to this day I think of as the top gun screen dancer of the time (1940's). What grace he brought to the art. Far more compelling than Fred Astaire in my young eyes. Moved like the wind... a tea ceremony of dance.

It wasn't until years later (1962) that I received any actual instruction on how to kiss a woman's hand in the upper reaches of German society. We were given instructions in language school in the army. And it was no simple matter.

First of all, if I recall correctly, you never actually kissed the hand. The man bent over as if in hand-holding obeisance. But at the last nanosecond he pulled away or risked getting hit by the woman whose hand he was 'kissing.' She, for her part of the choreography, would pull her hand away and if the man didn't get out of the way, he risked a bloody nose.

In an era of cell phones and declining civility, such memories seem bizarre and antiquated and a bit fun.

Jesus threatens protected tribe

Indian authorities have been urged to abandon their efforts to recover the body of an American man killed while trying to preach Christianity to the isolated residents of a remote island.
Police in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian territory in the Bay of Bengal, have made two boat trips to the area near North Sentinel Island since the missionary John Allen Chau was killed 11 days ago....
Police say they are consulting experts to decide whether it is feasible to retrieve Chau’s body, and will not provoke a confrontation with the Sentinelese, whose island is off limits to visitors without permission.
"Without permission" is apparently what Chau had in hand when he landed, no matter how benevolent his intentions. So, as a result of wishing to spread a word of mercy, he decided to endanger a people with his western benevolence and potential diseases.

I'm sorry, but I see no reason to forgive arrogance, even when it is cloaked in imagined virtue.

Here is a Guardian backgrounder.

shootout in chess world

The world championship battle between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana will be decided in a quickfire tie-breaker after Monday’s Game 12 ended in a 31-move draw. The result shocked onlookers in light of the champion’s advantages in position and time, and left the best-of-12-games match in a historic 6-6 deadlock.
Given all of the draws to date, there is a template for the ultimate shootout:
The 27-year-old champion from Norway, making his third defence of the title he captured from Viswanathan Anand in 2013, will play as white in Wednesday’s first tiebreak stage after a drawing of lots following Monday’s game. The tiebreak will consist of a best-of-four rapid match with 25 minutes for each player with an increment of 10 seconds after each move. If that is not enough to break the deadlock, they will play up to five mini-matches of two blitz games (five minutes for each player with a three-second increment). If all five mini-matches are drawn, it will come down to one sudden-death ‘Armageddon’ match in which white receives five minutes, black receives four minutes and both will receive a three-second increment after the 60th move. If that game is drawn, black will be declared the winner.
And you thought your life was intricate.

Santa and Donald

In a time when Santa used to give out toys to all the good children and a lump of coal to the bad ones, it is consoling to think that Donald Trump's Christmas haul will be replete.

But wait! How can this man who refuses to get his hands dirty actually receive his gift.

It's a paradox.

gene-modified babies

To say China, among others, went ape-shit about Monday's claims may be too strong ... or perhaps too weak.
BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese officials and scientists denounced on Tuesday the claims of a geneticist who said he had created the first gene-edited babies, and a hospital linked to his research suggested its ethical approval had been forged.

Monday, November 26, 2018

140+ whales stranded/dead

More than 140 pilot whales have died on a remote New Zealand beach, the latest in a recent string of whale strandings and deaths in the country.
On Saturday night the Department of Conservation [DoC] was informed of a mass whale stranding in Mason Bay on Stewart Island.

advancing robotics, retreating (wo)man

“When a robot kills a human, who takes the blame?”
In his new documentary, The Truth About Killer Robots, [Maxim] Pozdorovkin traces all manner of dangers – economic, psychological, moral and, yes, mortal – posed to our species by automation and robotics. “This idea of a single, malevolent AI being that can harm us, the Terminator trope … I think it’s created a tremendous blind spot,” he said to the Guardian....
“[It gets us] thinking about something that we’re heading towards in the future, something that will one day hurt us. If you look at the effects of automation broadly, globally, right now, it’s much more pervasive. The things happening – de-skilling, the loss of human dignity associated with traditional labor – they will have a devastating effect much sooner than that long-distance threat of unchecked AI.”....
The movie is said to be on HBO tonight.

cellular and linguistic basics

News that turned my lights on this morning:
1. A scientist in China claims to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies, in a potentially ground-breaking and controversial medical first.
If true, it would be a profound leap of science and ethics. This kind of gene editing is banned in most countries as the technology is still experimental and DNA changes can pass to future generations, potentially with unforeseen side-effects.
You knew someone would do it, that it was bound to happen ... so ... it is beyond man's capacity NOT to wonder what will happen if you stick a knife in a light socket. Not good, necessarily, nor bad, necessarily ... it's just part of the human package.

2. “Misinformation”, as opposed to disinformation, is’s word of the year. It followed “toxic”, picked for the same honor by Oxford Dictionaries, and “single-use”, picked by Collins. [Strangely, there is no mention of Merriam Webster, one of, if not the only, dictionary to do (or anyway used to) its own research ... comment added]

Jane Solomon, a linguist-in-residence at, said the choice of “mis” over “dis” was deliberate, intended to serve as a “call to action” to be vigilant in the battle against fake news, flat earthers and anti-vaxxers, among other conduits.
Just about the time anyone nails linguistic Jell-O to the wall, it starts dripping.

Cellular and linguistic basics ... I guess ... sort of.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

hats off to the Associated Press et al

Jim Taft
Thumbs-up to the Associated Press and its group effort to call out spinal devices alleged to alleviate sometimes debilitating pain.
For years, medical device companies and doctors have touted spinal-cord stimulators as a panacea for millions of patients suffering from a wide range of pain disorders, making them one of the fastest-growing products in the $400 billion medical device industry. Companies and doctors aggressively push them as a safe antidote to the deadly opioid crisis in the U.S. and as a treatment for an aging population in need of chronic pain relief.
But the stimulators — devices that use electrical currents to block pain signals before they reach the brain — are more dangerous than many patients know, an Associated Press investigation found. They account for the third-highest number of medical device injury reports to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with more than 80,000 incidents flagged since 2008.
The story -- yes, it requires reading -- is a good example of what good reporting once was.

Here's the Guardian's take.
Patients around the world are suffering pain and many have died as a result of faulty medical devices that have been allowed on to the market by a system dogged by poor regulation, lax rules on testing and a lack of transparency, an investigation has found.
Pacemakers, artificial hips, contraceptives and breast implants are among the devices that have caused injuries and resulted in patients having to undergo follow-up operations or in some cases losing their lives.
In some cases, the implants had not been tested in patients before being allowed on to the market.

caution! genius at work

If someone were a genius and there were no one else around to confirm it, what would s/he be?

in search of terra firma

After the better part of two years overseas, there was a time when I was "getting short" -- almost done with my mandatory three-year stint in the army. As was usual for those about to walk out the military door, there was an obligatory meeting with some sergeant or someone who suggested that I might want to re-up ... sign on for another block of time. Those who were getting short with me got similar talks. We laughed at the suggestion (one guy was planning to live in Europe, another was headed for Africa and a life as a mercenary), but at some point when no one else was around, I thought the matter through. Why not re-up?

Well, for one thing, I didn't want to work for an organization that, to all intents and purposes, never fired anyone. That was too sissy by half. But the closing argument for why I wouldn't re-up was simpler: "I want to live in an environment where when I say 'the Lone Ranger,' there is instant recognition on the face of the person I am talking to." This was not at all assured on the streets of Berlin.

On the one hand, such a small matter was small potatoes. On the other, sharing a background and history and experience base was part of making "home" home. I wanted to be home in a place where the Lone Ranger was a given and I could go about whatever inventiveness I might concoct. I wanted to (ick-alert) share a background or cloak or something.

Anyway, I never re-upped. I chose to return to something that was nothing, really, but was really quite something. The whole experience sharpened my understanding of my own biases a little.

And this recollection cropped up this morning when I realized that these days, there seems to be no shared body of knowledge -- stuff that is part of the American foundation ... for you, for me, for red states and blue. Donald Trump's swash and buckle has upended the sense of agreement from which anyone might concoct his or her own inventiveness.

The press, the government, the schools, the environment, science, religion ... everything seems to be Topsy-turvey: State a proposition and there is instantaneous devolution. Fake news is real news is fake news. Accomplishments are not accomplishments, which may, in fact, qualify them as accomplishments. The government cannot lay claim to much outside undoing what has already, give or take a little, been satisfactorily done. Buddhists may clamor that everything changes, but seem blissfully blind the basis of their assumption.

Let's face it, positing a terra firma is the first rule of exploring terra incognita. So -- where is the terra firma these days -- the science and literature that once built a social platform, however rickety, of sorts? A good lie is the basis of any good truth. There may be those who are laughing, but their laughter is like water on a wood stove .... psssssssttt! Gone!

If a society cannot agree, how can it adequately disagree ... and vice versa, I suppose. If everything is "no," where and how does anyone say "yes?"

I don't know -- it just feels as if there is no longer a masked rider whose bullets were made of silver. Quick silver is the name of the game these days. It's wobbly. It can't construct anything. It collapses at the merest touch.

dry-rot in D.C. back offices

 The decay-decline-collapse that comes in the wake of a Trump presidency and congressional inaction is amply illustrated in the following tale of a backroom lawyer in D.C.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mark Robbins gets to work at 8:15 each morning and unlocks the door to his office suite. He switches on the lights and the TV news, brews a pot of coffee and pulls out the first files of the day to review.
For the next eight hours or so, he reads through federal workplace disputes, analyzes the cases, marks them with notes and logs his legal opinions. When he’s finished, he slips the files into a cardboard box and carries them into an empty room where they will sit and wait. For nobody.
He’s at 1,520 files and counting.
It's the little stuff that makes the big stuff big and this story is a case study in little stuff that trickles down and affects working, air-breathing individuals. It is dry-rot on the hoof.

“Imagine having the last year and half of your work just ... disappear,” [Robbins] said.

anti-Trump invective

... and, in the on-going war against U.S. President Donald Trump, the following appeared in this morning's email:

Saturday, November 24, 2018

solid state plane

The lead author of the study said the inspiration came straight from the science fiction of his childhood. Photograph: MIT       
This (no moving parts?) sounds important, but I lack the brains to know how or why:
The first ever “solid state” plane, with no moving parts in its propulsion system, has successfully flown for a distance of 60 metres, proving that heavier-than-air flight is possible without jets or propellers.
The flight represents a breakthrough in “ionic wind” technology, which uses a powerful electric field to generate charged nitrogen ions, which are then expelled from the back of the aircraft, generating thrust.

the fashion maven I ain't

From behind these wrinkled eyelids, a couple of fashion observations for these times ... just from where I sit:

-- The propensity of women-circa-40 to expose the flesh between hip/belly button and vulva -- a statement made by many of their much younger and perhaps sexier ilk -- seems to be waning.
Likewise, the all-tits-all-the-time decolletage is giving way to higher neck lines. Mind you, I'm a tit guy as much as the next heterosexual, but a little originality never hurt. What's sexy is what's covered. What is uncovered is just uncovered. Fuck "modesty" -- I'm talking about class.

-- Among men, what I think of as "fruit suits" continue in vogue -- suits that seem to be about two sizes too small ... tight ... and topped off by a swirly, hip hairdo. Everyone looks younger and more energetic. No one asks, "Who made this shit up?"

The human form is lovely. Is there some reason to allow underemployed designers to uglify it? That question is above my pay grade.