Monday, April 30, 2018

computer hi-jinx

The computer took a nosedive late last week and on this, my stepmother's burial day, I am making some progress reconstituting it.

"Some progress" means just that ... SOME progress. GAKKKKKKK!

Monday, April 23, 2018

$1.2 million in fajita thefts = 50 years in jail

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A Texas man has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for stealing $1.2 million worth of fajitas over nine years.
Fifty-three-year-old Gilberto Escamilla was sentenced Friday after pleading guilty to theft by a public servant. The Brownsville Herald reports he told the court the fajita scheme spun out of control.

castrate a congressman

Wispily, I wonder if castration of members of Congress might be apt in the case of American soldiers deprived of their genitalia during wars those congressional members are willing to fund.

What brought this to mind was the successful penis transplant reported yesterday by Johns Hopkins surgeons:
WASHINGTON (AP) — A veteran who lost his genitals from a blast in Afghanistan has received the world’s most extensive penis transplant, and doctors said Monday he is recovering well and expected to leave the hospital this week.
Saying they wanted to address “an unspoken injury of war,” Johns Hopkins University surgeons rebuilt the man’s entire pelvic region — transplanting a penis, scrotum and part of the abdominal wall from a deceased donor — in a highly experimental 14-hour operation last month.
I guess politicians have come to forgetful terms with the loss of arms or legs or feet or hands of those sent off to quietly-ballyhooed battle. But if their patriotism extends so blithely to such things, perhaps a more forceful reminder might be in order for loss of sexual or reproductive capacities. Tit for tat, so to speak: For every service member who suffered such a wound, one congressman might be chosen at random for castration. What the hell -- it's a patriotism these politicians have anointed and prolong.

Some wag might point out that Congress already lacks balls, but that's too facile. A little literal knife-wielding might get the message across better. As an addendum, perhaps an American-flag tattoo could be applied to the empty space.

And it only seems fair that the commander in chief be first in line.

a nudge from Mel Brooks

Part of a Q-and-A with comedy film director Mel Brooks, 91 ... a nudge of sorts:

AP:  What sort of impact do you think you’ve had on American comedy?

BROOKS: One never really sees themselves in relationship to the wide world. It’s rather impossible to judge your impact on moviegoers, your impact on people who like your films or who like your television. It’s serious. When they tell me, I’m glad to hear it, but frankly I’ve got to tell you honestly, I walk past the mirror and I say that’s a cute old guy. I don’t think it’s me! I’m not a cute old guy. I’m still 35, you know? We really can’t see ourselves and judge ourselves in relation to other people. (emphasis added)

marijuana and other drugs

Legality of cannabis in the United States
  Legal for medical use
  Legal for medical use, limited THC content
  Prohibited for any use
  D  Decriminalized
Once upon a time after I had retired and started collecting doctors and pills, a thin-lipped cardiologist observed with Calvinesque arrogance, "Your business is now your health." Outside the righteousness of his delivery -- a real prig as I discerned it -- I suppose he was right.

I think of this now as I observe both the growing acceptance of marijuana (it's the money, honey)
and the drugged insanity of the current U.S. president, Donald Trump. Marijuana is still a federally forbidden substance and yet states from coast to coast (46 of them) have cannabis regulations that skirt those regulations even as Trump dispenses a kind of America-'lite' form of government that is short on policy and long on demagogic bombast, eyewash and 'false facts.' Under the Trump aegis, things have grown less substantive -- thinner somehow, more watered down, more inclined towards self and its environs. Government by Twitter ... who'd of thunk it? Than what universe are Trump's improvements a feel-better improvement?

Government and drugs are for recreational use. Seriousness is relegated to those who can accumulate wealth of one kind or another. Whatever it is, it is for sale ... everything else is for fun, however painful that fun may be. And where there is pain, can drugs be far behind? The blunting of life proceeds, or that's the way it feels to me. Thank goodness for loud kids whose access to the internet, while separational in nature, can assist in the righting of wrongs.

It all seems a bit weird and confusing to this duffer whose health is perhaps his only rightful business.

utterly irrelevant

Is it possible to think of something that is "utterly irrelevant?" I doubt it, but I don't know.

Back in the day, there was a fad for a while -- just little sillies like...
Q. What's black and dangerous and lives in a tree?
A. A crow with a machine gun.
The fad was good for a smile. Can a smile be irrelevant?

And the question of "irrelevance" raises the same question about "relevance" -- is it possible to think of something that is "utterly relevant?" Utterly?

A man with a red balloon.
A missing left shoe.

The opium dens of China sometimes used to refer to its pastimes as "biting the clouds." Is that relevant or irrelevant, both or neither? It's an odd bit of whimsy.

Maybe the key lies in "utterly."

But maybe not, I expect.

OK ... let's get back to the relevant stuff now .... 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

"Plainsong" by Kent Haruf

I woke up dreading the fan mail I felt duty-bound to send.

Kent Haruf
I finished reading "Plainsong" by Kent Haruf last night. Being 78 and recalling a long-ago lifetime stuffed with reading, it had been some time -- long, long ago -- since I was raised up or raised into the universe "Plainsong" took me to. I was consumed and consented to that consumption. I was in love, with all the wispy, unspeakable tendrils that love can entail. I was happy to live on the same planet as allowed such a wonderful, beckoning, ineffable, quiet, what-the-fuck book. I dreaded writing the fan mail because you can't transmit the love that rises up like mist over a graveyard. Jeee-sus! The book filled me up.

I looked for Haruf on Google.

And found out he was dead.

And I am not a fan of being a fan of the dead.

I was stopped in my tracks. I wanted to say thank you and -- perhaps as usual -- there was no one to say thank you to. And still I wanted to say thank you. It was as if something inside me wept, but the tears refused to be wet.

The dread I woke up with centered on ... on ... on....

The book made me feel as once I had felt at sixteen or seventeen when I was in love with whomever I was in love with at the time. Speechless. No words would do, but words were all that there was. I was reduced even as I was elevated: "I love Suzy. Oh I love Suzy so much! No, you don't understand -- I really, really love Suzy!" The more the words, the less effective their capacity.

Ah well. Haruf is dead and I suppose I can say I am more alive thanks to his ... his ... whatever it was that perhaps, were he alive, he would not claim.

I can't recommend "Plainsong." Neither praise it. The last line of the book struck me as not quite consonant, but that's minor.

How I wish I could say thank you.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

eine kleine weird musik

Yesterday, by accident, I found myself swallowed whole by a drug-crime documentary about something called Operation Odessa -- the tale, among other things, of a mobster who brokered an attempt to sell a Russian submarine to the Colombian Cali drug cartel as a better way to ship cocaine ... a lot of cocaine.

I couldn't quite keep all the players straight in my mind, but I was fascinated by the untold riches and powers of the men involved in this criminal enterprise: What does anyone do when they have all the money they want -- and then some -- and all the power they want -- and then some ... I mean, when you've got everything you want, what's left? Licit or illicit, the question remains the same. What's left? What resting place or whatever?

Based on the television show I couldn't bring myself to turn off, it seems that the only thing left is to brag on yourself in a documentary. But what does that accomplish? Is that enough? Perhaps so. Perhaps not.

As I watched these meaty men detailing their dealings, the lines blurred between their criminality and the legality of the bankers and brokers you might see in public life. It all rose above anything that might be called moral or immoral. Think of it: If you've got everything, what, precisely have you got?

Cars, bank accounts, private jets, the occasional killing, sex, marriage, kids ... E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Some of these king-pins in South America sent cards to law enforcement officers in Miami ... Where are you guys? We miss you. Haven't seen you around.

The deals and the size of the deals was dizzying. And still the question nagged, whether it was a question for Donald Trump or for a man who made millions the way the rest of us might pick up a dime on the sidewalk: What do you have when you have everything. What meat is left on the I've-got-everything bone when you've got everything?

The documentary ingested me. It did not detail any deeper satisfaction or joy. Is "more" enough when you already have more? I didn't feel disapprovingly tch-tch about it all. I seriously wondered. Would anyone love God if they already were God (in a manner of speaking)? Is bragging on yourself a place of rest and ease and satisfaction? Stamp-collecting, maybe, or dog-handling, tuna fishing, portraiture ... something?

I was happy when the documentary ended. I felt like a wet wash cloth that had been forcibly wrung out. Drained. Not exactly wet but not exactly dry. Wouldn't you think that anyone who expended so much effort would have a goal to achieve, something that would fulfill some deep-seated desire, some ahhhhhh?

Oh well ... I'm not sure if the weird-shit-o-meter belongs to me or belongs to them ... or both.

Frida Kahlo as Barbie??????

Well, color me gob-smacked:
Distant relatives of Frida Kahlo have won a temporary injunction that stops sales of a Barbie doll depicting the late Mexican artist....
Critics say the doll does not reflect Kahlo’s heavy, nearly conjoined eyebrows, and its costume does not accurately portray her elaborate Tehuana-style dresses.
Barbie is an American icon that has often been criticised as promoting an unrealistic body image and consumerist lifestyle. Kahlo was a lifelong communist who died in 1954.
Frida Kahlo as Barbie?????!!!!! What made Mattel think it could co-opt this tough and/or fragile woman? Barbie is bull. Kahlo is not.

It's enough to make your teeth itch, though I suppose if you can put 'Jesus' on a dashboard, turning Kahlo into a simpering role model is not that unusual. Still, it fries my grits.

Friday, April 20, 2018

kamikazi ants

Woe is the insect that crosses the path of the Colobopsis explodens ant.
Scientists exploring the Borneo jungle have just discovered the species, which dwells in the trees, and they were most intrigued by the ant’s unique ability – to explode and shower toxic yellow goo on to its enemies....This suicidal tendency, which is similar to that of a bee delivering a sting when threatened, is called autothysis, and is common in superorganisms like ants, who work as a collective and where the needs of the group are more important than the individual in a colony.


In the woods, you learned quickly enough: Hands were for doing and it made better sense to own a pocket watch. The small pocket on the Levi's jeans that everyone wore at work was not just decorative in 1959. That small nook at the top of the right-hand pocket and appended at its corners with copper rivets, was protective of a time piece whereas a wrist watch ran the constant risk, when the hands were busy doing, of receiving a life-ending slap from some piece of brush or sapling being cut or trimmed. I can't remember when I traded my wrist watch for a pocket watch, but I learned quickly enough.

And quickly enough I also learned to put the pocket watch away with the glass face pressed towards the body. The metal underside faced outwards in that pocket. The pocket was safer than a wrist watch but it too was open to rare assault -- that was the nature of the brush we cut in aid of running property lines for the lumbering company I worked for that summer. In any event, pocket watches made sense where wrist watches did not.

Watches at the time had no apps other than the two hands that marked socially-acceptable measuring sticks. You learned to wind them at the end or beginning of each day. A wind-up lasted a little more than 24 hours, so you did it every day... with the hands ... which were made for doing in the woods.

I had come to the summer job thinking that pocket watches were for men who wore vests and probably had plump bellies and there would be a gold chain that ran across their tummies to indicate their prosperity. Now, with my cheap-as-possible Westclox, I learned there was a useful function to pocket watches and the pockets to put them in -- something other than the ardor of display. The Westclox was "shock resistant" but who the hell knew what that meant when a maple sapling decided to slap back at my machete's slice? The time piece fared poorly under water: You'd go get another one, not in order to keep up with the Apple-prone, but rather because a watchmaker would probably charge more to fix it than a new one would cost. I guess that counts as conspicuous consumption, but it was less conspicuous somehow than today's get-a-new-one slovenliness.

Hands were for doing in the woods and through that summer, my callouses grew and grew. A crew of three or four people would rough out with their machetes and compasses the initial track that later would be followed by more delicate measurements made by men who knew the wiles of the transit and plumb bob.

When offered a choice of machetes, I had chosen a home-made one -- something someone had hand-crafted out of an old two-man-tree-felling steel saw. It was heavier than the other machetes (of the Indiana Jones variety) and required careful filing, but its heft paid off when it came to clearing rough trails. It meant that what needed to be done by the hands was done more easily. I could cut through a two-inch maple sapling without even breathing hard.

But it was a tool to handle carefully: I once had to help a careless fellow whose machete had laid open his leg below the knee cap and when I rolled up his pants to get a look, his face turned grey at the sight of a very clean cut that nonetheless oozed mightily. I thought he might pass out and waved the first-aid-kit's ammonia ampule under his nose. Everyone had a first aid kit to go with his helmet and spiked boots. It was part of the safety precautions. But there was no precaution for those who were afraid of blood. I wrapped up his wound with the pressure bandage and muttered consoling words of the kind I had heard in war movies -- "You're going to be OK" and "You're going to be fine." And he was fine, but he was also as grey as cigarette ash.

The hands did the bandage work and eventually went back to the work they had been sent into the woods to do. Hands were for doing and doing was what they did.

My Westclox told me it was shortly after 10 a.m. It was 1959 and there were no mobile phones or apps to improve the scene.

Hands were for doing. So I did something, I expect.

I'm not quite sure what brought all this to mind. Perhaps it was the fact that my Westclox seemed to be a way of enjoining me with others ... "I'll meet you at the movie house at 6:30." Now a watch is more pointedly self-referential ... heart rates and restaurants and maps. Or perhaps it's because hands seem less likely to do much of anything outside of finding the next self-improving state of mind or hedge fund. One thing's for sure: Today's wrist watches seem to be in little danger and Levi's have lots of competition, much of which is artfully ripped here and there. In 1959, people still patched the holes in their trousers.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

the "cradle of civilization"

One of the world’s earliest known game boards, this board comes from a royal tomb, circa 2,450BCE. Photograph: Photo/Penn Museum
A breathless press release-article about an exhibit at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia left me damned near breathless myself. Seriously ... and I dislike press-release writing habits, but....
The fertile lands of Mesopotamia are rightly hailed as a “cradle of civilization”, where some of the most important human innovations originated, from agriculture and writing to religion and music. The Penn Museum in Philadelphia has long been home to one of the world’s most significant collections of ancient artifacts from the region – but for years, only a limited number of pieces were shown in encyclopedic, old-school displays that did not do them justice.
The "cradle of civilization" and the best anyone can do is make war there?

the end of the world... not

What are things coming to when you can't find a decent apocalypse when you need one? It is nice to know that someone is at least trying, right?
Reports that the world will end on Monday are incorrect, according to the man reported to have said the world will end on Monday.
Numerous news organizations reported this week that the world would be destroyed on 23 April, citing David Meade, a Christian conspiracy theorist who has made a number of incorrect predictions about the end of the world.
But in an interview with the Guardian, Meade described these reports as “fake news”.

the British press

Just got off the phone with an Associated Press fellow who definitely trimmed my journalistic appreciation of British reporting. The basis for assessing the veracity of stories, he said roughly, was, for example, "If the BBC sees two news stories on the same topic with the same outcome, they take the story to be true and run their own." No double checking. For this reason among many violent others, he thought my idea was likely to receive a cold shoulder.

What I was trying to do, and what my interlocutor let me know I was unlikely to accomplish, was to inspire a follow-up on the Guardian story of the Mexican town , Cherán, which tossed out all of its power brokers, both licit and illicit, in an effort to stem the corruption whose fallout, as usual, fell most heavily on the impoverished locals.

Mexico is altogether too violent to be stirring the pot, the AP fellow said. Journalists were being killed. Question-askers were not welcomed. Staff, he did not say, was being cut.

Oh well, as Norman Mailer once said of Manhattan, "A million good ideas die in New York every day."

just Trump-whining

It may just be the sapped energies of age, but I can't help feeling that part of the confusion and anger sown within the Donald Trump regency has to do with the recognition among Trump detractors that they too are burdened with a self-serving, adamantine bias of one topic or another. It may not be an attractive aspect to contemplate and that, of course, reheats the flames of rage: I too have shards and bits of bias and illogicality ... trolls in a basement I seldom, if ever, visit. I too have parallels to the kind of off-the-cuff certainty that Trump, the price-tag philosopher, exhibits.

The difference, inshallah, is that detractors like to see themselves as capable of not exercising their lesser angels. Yes, there is a shadow of racism, perhaps, in my life, but I do what I can to keep it in check. But the fact that I may try to keep it in check means that there is some element that needs to be kept in check and thus what is checked is likewise given substance.

These are times I find galling. What a damned waste, boning up for yet more war and failing over and over to address with seriousness the issues of the day. Who will he hire and who fire ... and who gives a shit? Was there ever a policy this man actually had or wouldn't reject if it threatened his enthronement?

Donald Trump is a deserving whipping boy. His lack of moral capacity and his willingness to sell off my country is infuriating and confusing and never seems to end as one inconsequential aspect of life after another is allowed to drown out that which might nourish and unify and direct the land. Trump's trophy wife, Melania, for example, will go to the funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush, who died at 92. Trump managed only the most perfunctory of notes about the popular and down-to-earth Bush. Right or wrong, Bush was a unifying figure. She was lovable.  Right or wrong, Trump cannot enter that spirit ... unless it has some financial advantage or refocuses the spotlight on him.

Galling ... and the best part about it is that I have less and less capacity to be galled ... which galls me the more and reduces me further into a Trump-like realm in which the only solution that presents itself is, Trump-supporter-fashion, "Shoot the son-of-a-bitch."

A quote attributed to the former conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. keeps rattling around in the above miasma:
Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

religion is not something to lean on

"Religion," it crossed my mind this morning, "is not something to lean on. It is something to apply."

But the moment it crossed my mind, I wondered if that actually meant anything -- as it somehow seemed to -- or if "relying on" and "applying" were actually one in the same.

In later life, I am increasingly suspicious of silver bullets -- those nostrums that promise satisfaction and gratification in a matrix of Pablum-esque vocabulary... the mom'll-kiss-it-better realm.

On the other hand, which of us has not wished for precisely such a silver bullet? "Make it go away!" It seems a bit of an understatement to suggest that the Roman Catholic Church has made a big-time cottage industry out of let's-rely-on-it.

I don't know.

Let someone smarter than I am figure it out or toss it all willynilly into the nearest rubbish bin.

tumbleweed invasion

Tumbleweed blitzkrieg!
They struck Victorville with little warning, rolling and tumbling up streets, barrelling past cars, virtually burying homes and prompting calls to 911 about a mass invasion.
No, not Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, but the tumbleweeds that took over the California desert town this week did evoke the 1978 film and cult horror pastiche.
Heavy winds sent thousands of tumbleweeds into Victorville on Monday in what some residents called an invasion, with the prickly intruders blanketing yards and piling up outside homes.

college food banks

Go to college. Increase your poverty. Go hungry. But remember that as long as someone is making the money, your ignorance and distress are entirely acceptable to those who often tout a college education. Or maybe my too-facile mind is filled once more with tommyrot.
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (AP) — Free food pantries are becoming nearly as common as the campus book store at a growing number of colleges.
More than 570 campus food pantries nationwide are registered with the College and University Food Bank Alliance, which formed in 2012 and helps colleges set up food pantries and other hunger programs. New York recently required that they be established at all institutions in its state university system....
A report published this month by a lab at the University of Wisconsin found 36 percent of 43,000 students attending two- and four-year colleges who were surveyed in 20 states had trouble getting enough to eat, threatening the academic success that’s key to overcoming poverty.
Out of one side of their do-good mouths, a college education is a treasure beyond measure. But out the other side it is a treasure left in the shade by the student-debt trove that stands, I believe, at something like $1.3 TRILLION. Someone holds that debt and makes a good living from it ... though not those who have been horn-swoggled into a "college education." Donald Trump is the perfect president for a land in which ignorance assures comfort and income and a lack of shame.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Trump hawks U.S. arms

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a telephone call with the emir of Kuwait in January, U.S. President Donald Trump pressed the Gulf monarch to move forward on a $10 billion fighter jet deal that had been stalled for more than a year.
Trump was acting on behalf of Boeing Co (BA.N), America’s second-largest defense contractor, which had become frustrated that a long-delayed sale critical to its military aircraft division was going nowhere, several people familiar with the matter said.
With this Oval Office intervention, the details of which have not been previously reported, Trump did something unusual for a U.S. president – he personally helped to close a major arms deal. In private phone calls and public appearances with world leaders, Trump has gone further than any of his predecessors to act as a salesman for the U.S. defense industry, analysts said.
We may not have any new jobs or improved health care or upgraded infrastructure, but America has got guns to spare... selling the country out one fragment at a time.

arrest the woman?

In general, men are stronger than women, based on muscle mass. There is nothing biased about it unless someone wants to rail at Mother Nature.

And yet in "domestic disturbances" police officers are sometimes forced to sort out, the person arrested, if any, is more likely (a broad-brush guess) to be the man.

This disparity was brought to my attention this morning by my younger son's close friend/wife-wannabe who is a nurse who works the graveyard shift at a local jail. This morning, when she came home from work, she told me she had examined a fellow who was somehow injured and under arrest. Referring to the injury, the nurse asked the guards where the woman (and wound-inflicter?) was being held. Well, she hadn't been arrested, the guards said, though the wound suggested someone had inflicted it.

And it makes you wonder why, if so, women are not likewise arrested in domestic disturbances. Surely some of them, however few, must have a capacity and willingness to swing a frying pan. But perhaps it is the assumption that if a fight is in progress, the man is the guilty party.

Just something to wonder about.

astrology, hagiography

Is it true or is it just whimsy?

Everyone has a personal hagiography lying lazy in the background of this life. It's not especially heavy, but it is insistent. It morphs on command. It whispers. It has, if it can be said, a determining and determined demeanor such that, post mortem, others might look and quantify the one who was and write with an assurance that is unwarranted but consoling.

Were anyone to look back on my life and incorporate it into some unwarranted conclusion, I guess I would be pleased if the assessor were to begin (though beginnings and endings are dubious at best) with astrology. I am a lover of whimsy and stories and astrology has a beckoning flavor.

And hence: In the East and its astrology, I am a dragon. An imperial dragon as my hagiography imagines it -- one with five talons per foot instead of the less august four. Nobody fucks with dragons since dragons are simply not to be fucked with. And that's hagiography, isn't it? -- a world in which doubt and frailty are swept aside in the dragon's backwash? Dragons rule in a world of whimsy and a world of stories. They are easy and fierce and confident to such an extent that they require no confidence. And yet dragons are light as air -- flimsy as all beginnings; delightful and reassuring ... man, can dragons swoop and soar and own the moment! And simultaneously thin as the wetness of water. It's just a story for this moment. A bit of hagiography lurking and insisting, silly and sane.

In the West and its astrology, I am a fish. A fish darts between the darkness and light of its environment. Fish are said to be 'old souls' or something similar and lord knows I have felt old at times. But who can tell? To be old, anyone would need command of what is young. Fish are forever young, even if they flop and gasp in some unaccountable creel.

Dragons soaring, fish darting. Both have their frailties and flaws and yet my light-hearted seriousness about astrology and hagiography whispers now and then and would not object if, looking back, someone remembered me in those terms and then laughed at the arrogance of words and memory. Dragons and fish are as good a place as any to begin a recollection, which in any event is wide open to the idiocy of insistent hagiography.

It is better to tell an interesting lie than to assume you could tell the truth. Or anyway, that's my whimsy... as delicate as a feather against my cheek.

Monday, April 16, 2018

John Oliver on 'corporate taxes'

Passed along in email:

parsing the Trump-support base

CNN screen shot of Trump supporters
Passed along in email today was this analysis of how/why Donald Trump's supporters remain steadfast in the face of lunacy:
[H]ow exactly are Trump loyalists psychologically or neurologically different from everyone else? What is going on in their brains that makes them so blindly devoted?
There follow a series of scientific frameworks in which to see and explain supporters' point of view. These appear to be sober applications.

But the punchline on the essay is a bit dispiriting:
So what can we do to potentially change the minds of Trump loyalists before voting in 2020? As a cognitive neuroscientist, it grieves me to say that there may be nothing we can do. The overwhelming majority of these people may be beyond reach, at least in the short term. The best we can do is to motivate everyone else to get out to the booths and check the box that doesn’t belong to a narcissistic nationalist who has the potential to damage the nation beyond repair.

photos from Africa

An amalgam in the Guardian -- too diverse to capsule-ize.

Two examples of a wonderful array:

And another tale told on a postcard:

the "between" biggie

In the tsunami of biggies that can cross anyone's lifetime prow, "between" may be one of the (if not the) biggest.

Razor wire and its depredations pale beside the cuts and slashes administered by "between."

But let's just keep this between us.

no kidding ... Australia does not exist

In Zen Buddhism there are the Four Propositions -- a handy-dandy compendium of assertions meant to steer the student to an appropriate and accurate outlook on the truth. The Four Propositions are:
It exists.
It does not exist.
It both exists and does not exist.
It neither exists nor does not exist.
Now, it seems, there is a variation on this theme in 'real' life -- to wit, for example, Australia does not exist.
Australia doesn’t exist. The signs were there the whole time: in what country is the only thing more poisonous than the snakes the spiders? How did we ever believe that kangaroos were a thing?
This discovery, believed by some to be a joke or a conspiracy theory, has been circulating on social media in recent weeks after being formulated on Reddit in early 2017. Except it turns out not to be the only theory of its kind: through the years, online sleuths have found that all sorts of places don’t exist.
High on the list is Finland....
Some may charge that this speculative universe qualifies for a gold star in the realm of Totally Useless Information. Others may smile knowingly. And still others vow to keep the secret secret ... sort of.

My view is that if a universe can make room for the likes of Donald Trump as president of the United States, it damn well should make room for the proposition that Australia -- and wherever all else -- is mere fabrication. How else would anyone maintain sanity?
In these days of fake news and mainstream-media conspiracies, though, it doesn’t do to take anything for granted – so [the Guardian] contacted a diplomatic source, who agreed to speak off the record and confirm what they could about the existence (or otherwise) of Finland and Australia.
“Hang on, let me look out the window,” the source replied, before confirming Finland existed.
The source was unable to provide similar confirmation for Australia.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

astrolabe whimsy

Lyle Joyce and Peter Armbruster were a couple of sheets to the wind as they sat celebrating their graduation from Harvard Law School. The two had been friends for years now and had already agreed that their destinies were inevitably intertwined: Of course they would start a law firm together: Armbruster's grandmother's bequest had guaranteed the start-up funds.

Over a series of alcoholic lubricants, they began fine tuning the agreement and bantered playfully about whose name should lead the parade on the shingle they planned to hang out. "Let's just flip for it," Joyce said. "OK," Armbruster agreed and then was pleasantly surprised when he won. "'Armbruster'" has a swankier ring to it," he ruled. It represented a strong opening name on their shingle-to-be. Joyce was not dejected.

As the conversation's projections meandered hither and thither, suddenly the good friends were brought up short: Their longtime friendship was not just in the law, but was also based on a shared sense of laughter. "We're getting way too serious about this," Armbruster said. "You're right," Joyce chimed in and a silence descended over their table. How were they to maintain a lively equilibrium in a world dominated by -- to their mutual disapprobation -- people who wore cuff-links and drove 'those' cars? Both were aware, however vaguely, that the pursuit of manna or ideals was a course that missed the target.

It was Joyce who came up with the solution. "Astrolabe!" he announced. "We simply add a name to our shingle -- nothing too fancy but fancy enough... "'Juno' or 'Jillian Astrolabe.'" "But who is he or she and why?" Armbruster prodded, although he was certainly intrigued.

And Joyce took a mighty sip and expanded his idea. "Juno or Jillian Astrolabe is a silent partner who does not exist. You know that, I know that and the receptionist will have to know that. But otherwise, no one knows. As a silent partner, Astrolabe lurks in our legal-shenanigan office. S/he is never around. Why? Because Astrolabe's modus operandi is to close one large and revenue-producing merger a year and then spends the proceeds on yet another sex-change operation. When callers reach the receptionist and ask to speak to "Mr. Astrolabe," the receptionist will gently correct the caller, saying things like, "She is not available at present." And when the caller corrects him- or herself and makes further reference to Astrolabe as a female, the receptionist will once again gently correct: "I believe Mr. Astrolabe is currently in the Pacific working on a rather large merger. Perhaps Mr. Joyce or Mr. Armbruster could assist you."

A silent partner with his/her name on the door: There was no doubt about it, this was fertile soil.

Astrolabe's parameters were simple, to hear Joyce tell it. At no time was his or her sex assured since changing it was what s/he enjoyed doing. The bedrock premise remained: Astrolabe did not exist, but Joyce, Armbruster and the receptionist (she'd have to be an imaginative and preferably sexy young woman) would be blood-oath-sworn to secrecy ... dibbling out minutiae of details over time. His/her first name would vary according to the latest sex. And s/he did, in one unguarded moment, claim to have been taken up into an extra-terrestrial space ship ... but really, the law degree s/he held (cum laude) was the real McCoy, so perhaps the space-ship stuff should be overlooked. Everyone's got a personal cuckoo clock, right?

And there was no reason why the law shouldn't be a little fun. So Joyce and Armbruster got their future lives in order and agreed that "Armbruster, Astrolabe and Joyce, Attorneys as Law" was a step in the right direction.

They ordered another drink.

at the funeral show

Philip Nitschke
A controversial suicide pod that enables its occupant to kill themselves at the press of a button went on display at an Amsterdam funeral show on Saturday.
Called the “Sarco”, short for sarcophagus, the 3D-printed machine invented by Australian euthanasia activist Philip Nitschke and Dutch designer Alexander Bannink comes with a detachable coffin, mounted on a stand that contains a nitrogen canister....
Nitschke said he aimed to build the first fully functioning pod before the end of the year.

I wonder how, if at all, this news dovetails with the report that David Buckel, a prominent LGBT lawyer and environmental activist, burned himself to death in New York City yesterday.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

let's attack Syria sort of

Today, the news wires are chock-ablock with reports that the U.S. and allies had loosed some 103 missiles at Syrian locations where chemical weapons were manufactured.

No one, as far as I can figure out, was killed. Pretty spiffy shooting -- no(???) collateral damage -- until you run across the fact that Russia gave Syria a heads-up two days before the attack: The facilities had been evacuated and, presumably, the chemical-weapons masterminds were free to continue their work elsewhere. And who, I wonder, gave Russia the heads-up forewarning? Is it wise to let your target know that he/she/it is the target? Doesn't that eviscerate the meaning of "target?"

Anyway, no Russians or Syrians were killed, it seems. The U.S. -- or anyway its president -- is thinking of pulling out of Syria (where Russia would like to remain both for oil and warm-water ports) and any Russian deaths would probably make departure less likely if Russians got a case of let's-retaliate. That desire is probably damped by Putin's political unwillingness to have Russian military bodies stacked up (publicly reported) outside his door. He currently sidesteps that problem by sending anonymous mercenaries instead.

The whole thing has a feeling of "something to make you look good, something to make us look good" ... what the hell, we're got other factories and you've got other missiles.

 P.S. A nice observation by Guardian columnist Moustafa Bayoumi includes:
...[R]egional and global powers now exploit Syria for their own advantage and apportion out its territory for repeated bombing. At this point, the country has been bombed by the Assad regime, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and the UAE.
Rather than limiting war, this latest bombing of Syria normalizes the war’s ongoing brutality. Forget the chemical weapons for a moment. The bombing of Syria by the western powers essentially and unconscionably establishes near total warfare on civilians as an acceptable “international norm.” Our politicians will wallow in their most recent action, calling the bombing a great success for our civilization. In fact, it’s much more akin to our demise.
PPS. In other let's blow-shit-up news, Germany is reportedly close to purchasing its first weapons-capable drone. Thank God! -- what self-respecting nation lacks weaponized drones??!

noodling in the wubba-wubba

Reading an interview with physicist Carlo Rovelli, I found myself slip-sliding into that desperate, wubba-wubba universe in which a mother might reach for a child just outside her ability as her baby was threatened by consuming flames. The attempt will never succeed and the sorrow is beyond screaming.

And so it is, I think, when an adventurer sallies forth and tries to nail down the meaning and essence of things while trying to hold on to a reassuring sense of self ... of the one doing the nailing down. I want to know AND I want my hitherto-assured footing. But in a universe where science is poetry is mathematics is Greek chorus is religion is door handle is daisy is sad is joyful is short is out of breath ... in a universe were everything is everything else, so to speak, the baby will die and the flames have no owners. The adventurer recoils and yet, somehow, must press on. Press on and die in an attempt to live.

Anyone who has adventured far knows the almost-paralyzing fear: How can I know when knowing dislodges or eradicates what knowing is? And yet knowing is the only recourse I know. In kitsch-intellectual speak, some will quote Gautama's response when he was asked for the meaning (of Buddhism or essence or whatever) and he is said to have replied (summoning all of his powers), "It's not intellectual." Quotes, of course, are a function of intellect, so relying on Gautama's quote is Pablum for those who gum their food.

No matter that the 'wise' are unanimous: "It's not hard -- just step off the cliff."

In Zen Buddhism, there is a bit of poetry that goes:
There is a reality even prior to heaven and earth;
...It has no form, much less a name;
Eyes fail to see it; it has no voice for ears to detect;
To call it Mind or Buddha violates its nature,
For it then becomes like a visionary flower in the air....
Leaving "Buddhism" out of it, there is the same problem that afflicts all adventurers -- the ravening fear that would do anything to preserve what was while asserting what is. No matter how often the attempt is made, no matter how beseechingly uttered, the answer comes back the same: "No." There is no manipulating, no ownership, no healing or annealing.

What then when the screams of fear are banked? How can anyone know God and claim God at once? Serious adventurers are serious. Others may call them twisted and daft.

But is there more than stepping off the cliff provided ... letting God alone? letting the physics and door knobs alone? answering without so much as a primal scream?

True, things may glow, but the fire is, after all, self-consuming.


Friday, April 13, 2018

corporate baksheesh

Anyone who thinks that American companies "would never do thaaaaat" when it comes to payoffs and other forms of baksheesh -- imagining that such things are limited to backward and corrupt nations and Arab bazaars -- needs to reconfigure his or her figuring.

Tesla, the company headed by wunderkind and press-snuggling Elon Musk, is apparently not above taking a page from Donald Trump's play book when it comes to buying the silence of obstreperous employees.
Tesla had a clear message to DeWitt Lambert, a black employee alleging racial discrimination: take our money and stay quiet.
“In terms of settlement, we are willing to pay Mr. Lambert [redacted], but only if we are to resolve this matter before there is media attention, preferably within the next few hours,” the Tesla general counsel, Todd Maron, wrote to the worker’s lawyers last year. “If there is media attention first, there will be no deal.”
Banks, airlines, tech firms, pharma, manufacturers, government ... as Sun Tzu observed, "business is war" (and vice versa, of course). And in that arena, all weapons are brought to bear, no matter how well-or-poorly-coiffed the opponents may be.

insect farming

Protein deficit? Eat your bugs, dear.
LANGLEY, British Columbia (Reuters) - Layers of squirming black soldier fly larvae fill large aluminum bins stacked 10-high in a warehouse outside of Vancouver. They are feeding on stale bread, rotting mangoes, overripe cantaloupe and squishy zucchini.
But this is no garbage dump. It’s a farm.
Enterra Feed, one of an emerging crop of insect growers, will process the bugs into protein-rich food for fish, poultry - even pets. After being fattened up, the fly larvae will be roasted, dried and bagged or pressed to extract oils, then milled into a brown powder that smells like roasted peanuts.
The small but growing insect farming sector has captured attention and investments from some heavyweights in the $400 billion-a-year animal feed business, including U.S. agricultural powerhouse Cargill Inc [CARG.UL], feed supplier and farm products and services company Wilbur-Ellis Co and Swiss-based Buhler Group, which makes crop processing machinery.
Fast food giant McDonald’s is studying using insects for chicken feed to reduce reliance on soy protein.

engineering feat

SHINTO, Japan (Reuters) - Japanese engineer Masaaki Nagumo had always dreamed of suiting up as a robot from “Mobile Suit Gundam”, his favorite animation series growing up. Now he has made it a reality by creating a giant humanoid inspired by the science fiction franchise.
Developed at Sakakibara Kikai, a maker of farming machinery, LW-Mononofu is an 8.5-meter (28-feet) tall, two-legged robot weighing in at more than 7 tonnes. It contains a cockpit with monitors and levers for the pilot to control the robot’s arms and legs....
Mononofu, however, might be a bit too large: it is unable to leave the factory without being dismantled because it was built taller than the entrance.

push Trump off a cliff ... again

For those feeling the latest sensation of irritation with our current president, there was this, passed along in email yesterday: Push Trump Off a Cliff ... Again

Thursday, April 12, 2018

recreating Finn MacCool's road to battle

According to legend, the Giant’s Causeway was built by the Irish giant, Finn MacCool, as a crossing to confront his Scottish rival. Scientists have an alternative explanation, and for the first time they have reproduced in the laboratory the process through which the causeway’s 40,000 near-perfect hexagonal columns were formed.
Geometric columns are seen in a variety of volcanic rocks across the Earth and are known to form as the rock cools and contracts, resulting in a regular array of polygonal prisms or columns. But until now, geologists had been unsure of the threshold at which cooling magma suddenly fractures into a geometric pavement.

first electrified road

The world’s first electrified road that recharges the batteries of cars and trucks driving on it has been opened in Sweden.
About 2km (1.2 miles) of electric rail has been embedded in a public road near Stockholm, but the government’s roads agency has already drafted a national map for future expansion.
Sweden’s target of achieving independence from fossil fuel by 2030 requires a 70% reduction in the transport sector.

days of the week

Where once it was galling, these days it is the new normal -- checking with a reliable source as to precisely which day of the week it is. So this morning I confirmed with my son that it was Thursday and not some other moniker.

The reason I started doing this was to assure I'm taking the proper pill dosage on the proper day and thus to address the various mental collapses that come with old age.

Much as I might have found it galling once to ask, now it seems reasonable: What serious reason is there for tagging a particular time in a particular way? It's pretty much arbitrary and useless outside the framework of a stated goal (in my case, pills). But I am so habituated (a lifetime) to 'knowing' what day of the week it is that not-knowing can still seem to be something of a lapse or failure. Now, by contrast and in general, I am on the other side of the fence -- marveling that anyone might allow their credibility to be swayed by a "Thursday" or whatever.

Thursday is somehow brighter and lighter by nature of the fact that being Thursday is not a serious possibility... or at any rate a flimsy one. Perhaps I will designate days as animals: Elephant, giraffe, turtle, bear, right whale, jaguar and triceratops (assuming I wanted to keep things at a customary seven).

Pourquoi non?

marine photos in Guardian

Complete photo array from the Guardian

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

green hair, breathing through its genitals....

It sports a green mohican, fleshy finger-like growths under its chin and can breathe through its genitals.
The Mary river turtle is one of the most striking creatures on the planet, and it is also one of the most endangered.
The 40cm long turtle, which is only found on the Mary river in Queensland, features in a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
Despite the turtle’s punk appearance – derived from vertical strands of algae that also grow on its body – its docile nature made it historically popular as a pet. [The Guardian]

between the things in the room

The first job I ever had came at age 15, when my father, a Smith College professor, wangled me a job stacking books in the college library. It was tedious work, returning books to their allotted slots on the endless rows and occasionally I would take a break and read some of what there was ... especially aberrant-psychology stuff that had some wild and sexy bits.

And it was in that goofing-off mode that I ran into a book called "Language and Schizophrenia" in which there was a line that has lingered in memory -- a line from a patient. I think I have it pretty much right or maybe it's only close-but not exact:
The air is still here, the air between the things in the room. But there things themselves are no longer [t?]here.
Even today, I wonder what reality or irreality the line addresses. What did it mean to the speaker? Was it really aberrant or utterly on target? Was it too close to true to be labeled false/aberrant or was it somehow so false/aberrant that someone thought it could only be labeled as false/aberrant? Was it incoherent or truly coherent? And was I crazy for even wondering-and-yet-being-drawn-in?

I still don't know, but I do like the line.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

boundless luck

Snickeling, tickling, softly descending ... there's a bit of snow today.

If each snowflake contained a strand of loneliness, would there be more or less loneliness in the world?

And the same goes for singing.

I guess everyone should take a moment to reflect how lucky they are that some questions simply do not require answers.

What if all questions were like that?

Boundless luck?

the fires of reminiscence

Strange to think there was a time when some facet of my being was positively desperate for actual-factual, in-the-present reflections/reminiscences about Zen Buddhist personalities. Somehow, those small tales helped to mortar the bricks of my own ascending brick walls of Zen credulity and personality and satisfaction. Hearing historical and largely-hagiographical tales of the dead was useful, but hearing tales in the present or near-past in first-person cadences ... ahhh, that was meat on the bone.

The springboard for this thought-thread arose this morning when a friend sent along a 2014 talk about my Zen teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa, a man who was also lecturer Larry Shainberg's teacher. Whereas once I might have gobbled and ingested and delighted in and swallowed-whole, now I only managed about half of the video... with some skipping involved.

God, how I once loved this stuff! But this morning, it was a bit like homework I knew I could do but could find no particular reason for doing. True, Frank, my friend, had sent it along on the off-chance I hadn't seen it (I hadn't), so it was a gift and I did want to honor Frank's effort. And true, I had used a lot of my life following the slips and slides of Zen Buddhism and its practices, so of course I might want to revisit .... blah, blah, blah.

The truth was not that I felt so exalted that I could dismiss the past out of hand but rather that it was a part of the past that felt gently irrelevant ... or perhaps relevant in ways that seemed thin gruel on the reminiscence meter. If I had to choose between this video and recollections of my first serious girlfriend or the strands of music woven by David Oistrakh in a UCLA-Berkeley gymnasium, the girlfriend or the music would win my ravenous teaching-attention hands down.

Where did all that ravening for spiritual mortar disappear to? So much longing woven with, I imagine, the dread that spiritual adventure might suddenly collapse and reveal itself as a terrific pile of nonsensical shit. I needed-needed-needed the mortar back then. Now it felt comically like a bit of cement appended to the cement shoes some hitman welded to my feet on my way into the Hudson River. A little more cement/mortar didn't mean much one way or another -- either way, I was sunk.

The fever of reminiscence can be so fiery and also so banked. It can roar and yet it can also nudge: "Ask me if I give a shit." Well, maybe not quite that flip ... but pretty close. I wonder where the line is. I can do all the parsing about "unresolved issues," but still I wonder where the fire goes when it goes out.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Fox network bruises its own, uh, cred

It ain't fake yet but in this era of error, you can only imagine how the right-wing 'news' organization will spin it:
NEW YORK (AP) -- Fox News inadvertently posted a graphic showing it lagged other cable news networks in trustworthiness.

It happened during a segment Sunday on "Media Buzz." Host Howard Kurtz was talking about a Monmouth University poll about whether the media regularly or occasionally report fake news.
But the graphic on the screen showed results from another question about what cable news outlets do respondents trust more. Fox News was last at 30 percent.
Kurtz realized the mistake. He said "that is not the graphic we are looking for. Hold off. Take that down, please."

the wicked warriors of language

It must be a hundred years since I last used the word "cantle" and yet there is was this morning as I woke up -- free-standing, without associative references, a single chunk of in-your-face rock ... sort of like Stonehenge minus the other rocks.  "Cantle."

Since I am not a horse-y person, the likelihood that I might employ the word -- which is defined as the rear portion of a saddle ... at the other end of a front called the "pommel" -- dwindles. Lately, I guess, I miss even the useless things that dwindle. "Cantle" is just a small enrichment of language that is hardly diminished by its absence. And yet, I guess, I miss it. A place to rest or brace your ass.

I suppose there will be people who use the word without a backward glance, but "cantle" for me seems an enrichment of sorts ... not a big deal and yet a small brick in the hundreds of other linguistic bricks. Something to liven up the stew. Sometimes these days, language seems to be a deflated commodity ... the ugly sister cowering in some corner.

What ever happened to the spirit of  William F. Buckley, Jr., the man who founded the conservative magazine National Review and was given to using without apology or explanation words that many of us had never heard. His languid, well-educated, unapologetic, patrician arrogance was generally infuriating to liberals like me and yet ... well shit! he was fun. Where are the people these days who can be quoted as saying such things as extracted by Wikipedia, whose parameters I imagine Buckley might have excoriated:
-- Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.
-- The best defense against usurpatory government is an assertive citizenry.
-- I won't insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.
The man was as smooth and agile as liquid mercury on a Formica-topped table. Are there any left like him? Sure, there are guys who can used long words because they're too stupid to do anything else. But I mean people who assume the throne and D-double-dare-you to try to dislodge them?

Not that I would put "cantle" into that realm. "Cantle" is just a flake of mild pepper in a world of Wonder Bread flatulence. And I am reduced, in a diminishing time, to relying on the words of others -- a sure sign of a reduced capacity to giggle and weave.