Saturday, June 30, 2018

"the buck stops here"

Harry S. Truman
In 1935, as a newly-minted U.S. senator from Missouri, Harry S. Truman paid a somewhat awe-struck visit to the Senate well. So much history surrounded him. Perhaps he remembered a bit of his military tenure in World War I. It was probably not on his radar at that moment that he would become (1945-1953) president of the United States and place a plaque on the presidential desk that read, "The buck stops here." In the Senate, he was on hallowed ground. No kidding.

Truman had a sense of history and honor. Standing in the Senate well for the first time must have been a jaw-dropper. Yet as he stood marveling (if that's what he was doing), a colleague slipped up behind him and is said to have said, "Harry, for the first six months, you'll wonder how you ever got here. After that, you'll wonder how the rest of us got here."

Those were other times, but were they so different? I suspect, in one sense, that they were. Those were times when more seasoned voices actually encouraged recently-graduated young people by saying, "You can be anything you want. You could become president of the United States."

Nor was this simply the eyewash du jour. Becoming president of the power player of that time was not just some joke or bitter-sweet pill to swallow. Imagine ... president! There was honor in social service, whatever its drawbacks. The U.S. had won its spurs, both at home and abroad and to be the rider was ... a gob-smacking thought. As Shakespeare put it, "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."

These days are different, I think. The internet offers a million reasons to get a good night's sleep and leave the uneasiness to those who still feel a sense of obligation and willingness to sustain a hundred cuts and bruises. These days, applause is top-most in small minds. Being "right" takes precedence over being "just" and being "right" is ascertained from strategically-placed applause-o-meters and carefully-tabulated bank accounts.

Or maybe I am blowing this out of proportion. If so, I'll just play the old-age card. What the fuck could he know?! And you'll notice that I take the easiest road and praise someone who is dead and thus not in a position to contradict my froth-wallowing.

the future as we (don't) know it

In our neck of the U.S. woods, the local newspaper is offering its usual safe-sex attempts to look into an unknowable future with a story about a heatwave [90's+ F/ 30's C] lumbering towards our neighborhood. Hunker and bunker, boys and girls! 

News is hard enough without pretending that the future is knowable. The present is not difficult enough in an internet age. Guesstimates have replaced facts as the lingua franca.  News outlets strain to be 'relevant' by becoming irrelevant... and, oh yeah, coincidentally cutting newsroom staff.

"Fake news," anyone?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Israelis support Palestinians

As Israelis, we call on the world to intervene on behalf of Palestinians
We’re patriotic citizens but are horrified by the escalating tensions in our country: we fear for those who live here.
With Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm, with Donald Trump supporting the scenery, and with nuclear weapons as a ready enforcer, no doubt this call as well will be brushed off as the whining of yet another 'anti-Semitic' cabal. At least, to the best of my knowledge, Israel has not yet sought to detain Palestinians behind gates that once again proclaim, "Arbeit Macht Frei."

Thursday, June 28, 2018

the failure of others?

Fortune cookie du jour:

Do not malign the failings of others without first casting a light on the similar failings of your own. And if, having cast the light, you are unable to excise what is malignant, at least have the good grace to take responsibility for it.

kamikaze U.S. Democrats

 A friend in Japan sent along a piece by Chris Hedges, an author who is not about to lie down and spread his legs for the latest sensitivity/democracy/compassion fad. The piece is a bit old, but its pungency remains.

I am wary of what others assume I might or might not like, but I found myself sucked into the piece and thinking more than once, "absolutely, goddamned right!" Hedges may be shrill, but he's smart enough to make me think others could simply turn down the volume and listen.

Bloody times in the offing. No fucking joke.

Among other -- some more compelling than this -- observations:
The Democratic Party, which helped build our system of inverted totalitarianism, is once again held up by many on the left as the savior. Yet the party steadfastly refuses to address the social inequality that led to the election of Trump and the insurgency by Bernie Sanders. It is deaf, dumb and blind to the very real economic suffering that plagues over half the country.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

"home-made" and "artisan"

Among the shifting tides:

When I was a kid, "home-made" was an ad any child might affix to his or her lemonade stand during the throes of summer. "Home-made" meant the kid probably had a little sweat-equity invested in the ice-cold beverage that could hit the spot on a hot day. But also, it was a concoction that could be second-rate. Home-made meant just that. Not all home-made goods are necessarily better. Really, they could be pretty awful.

Nowadays, in an era when sellers are looking for an edge, what was once "home-made" is bruited as "artisan," a word that once referred to someone with long experience and expertise. Now, any person who has poured fifteen or twenty minutes into his or her product is an "artisan" because "artisan" is a kool word and it seems to offer an authenticated product.

Emphasis on the word "seems" just as it once was for "home-made." Beer, wine, bread, shoes, sweaters ... in my neck of the pink and perky universe, these are goods that are often labeled "artisan" ... and may just as easily contain the money-making thinners and short-cuts whose presence make the product just as second-rate as what is sold in a chain store.

A Wonderbread World peppered with "artisan" flavoring.

And once upon a time, the CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite observed that "news is not about how many cats did not get up on the garage roof." These days, my local paper shows an ever-waxing willingness to present stories about all those cats that didn't get up on the garage roof. And like as not they are wearing yoga pants. Newspapers are facing hard times and the willingness to winkle out the solo cat mewling on the garage roof has been supplanted by the safe-sex stories about meetings or the police blotter or who died and how nice they were. It's easier to do the easy stuff and not offend anyone and not put in the sweat-equity that used to go into news stories.

I sympathize with newspapers, of which I am a product, but I see no reason not to note that their profits, however diminished, are plush. Do the owners want more? Sure they do. But at what expense? Yoga pants don't fill the bill. Building a parking lot may keep the wolves from the door, but at what price?

In 1994, former newspaper reporter John Morton wrote:
Last year, taken together (in other words, adding up all their revenues and profits), these companies' newspapers kept 15 cents out of every dollar they took in before taxes. By contrast, the Fortune 500 companies together earned about 5 cents.
Even if it's only a 10% profit (after taxes), there's nothing shabby about that in today's marketplace. Maybe an inclusion of news would not be untoward.

Just paddling upstream without a paddle.

chalk one up for the heterosexuals

A heterosexual couple who were denied the right to enter into a civil partnership have won their claim at the UK’s highest court that they have suffered discrimination.
Justices at the supreme court unanimously found in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan in a decision that will put pressure on the government to change the law.
The pair, from west London, who believe that the institution of marriage is patriarchal and sexist, have fought a prolonged legal campaign to open up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples.
Can you imagine the conniptions in the Muslim/Christian/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu environs?

Sometimes I purely love the Brits.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

the bassiere and its sciences

A lot of years ago, after I got out of the army, I went to work for the book publisher Doubleday in New York. It was not at all my style, but it took a while to find that out. But while I was there I found myself delighted with a book entitled, "A Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown." The book is described on one site as "A wonderful group of poems, essays, etc. written by engineers and scientists who did not take themselves too seriously!" I laughed my ass off, and I suck at science. I pushed and prodded friends at Doubleday to reprint it ... and they did.

Now, with the turning of the dharmic wheel, the Guardian has an essay on the peculiarities of the ordinary woman's brassiere ... not nearly so light-hearted as the book, but still worthy of all those confounded by brassieres and their capacities.

Are women's breasts getting bigger - or is it just our bras?

Being a bra ain't easy.

Monday, June 25, 2018

history house

Porter–Phelps–Huntington House in Hadley, Mass., a nearby community, was where my wife and I ended up on a Sunday drive yesterday. The place, now a museum, housed eight generations and is large-large-large. Floorboards in the carriage house show indelible horseshoe marks. Some of the walls are cobbled together with boards that are literally two-feet wide. Nails are, if not forged "back then," are reasonable replicas forged in the present. The place reeks of a tradition that someone took quite seriously.

Moving around slowly, I enjoyed the surroundings, so large-large-large. Who knows what interest will strike what person and cause him or her to dub it "serious" in the heart. What a home!

Which made me realize that one of the holes in my education relates to the matter of "home." I just never had much training in it. My father and mother were divorced before I was sentient. My mother was a writer. My father a college professor. I can remember getting off the train that ferried me to Northampton, where my father taught at Smith, and being pretty hyped about a weeklong visit or whatever it was. The parent who is absent, of course, is the idealized one and I was idealizing within ... longing to see my father, the absent one. And I will never forget it ... I saw my father, my heart leapt and he approached, perhaps with a smile, and extended his hand to be shaken. It was the habit of the time, but my heart was, not for the first time, dashed: Idealizing longs for a hug. I got a handshake. I was five or six, I imagine.

How much of that handshake did I pass, perforce, to my children, my wife, my family? How much attributing did I take from my powerful mother and ascribe unfairly to other women? I look back and wonder and realize that much of my childhood was lived out in what felt like abandonment. My father shook my hand. My mother had her own demons and I could not have made her single-parent status any easier. Perhaps I was the pet dog that knew no better than to hump a guest's leg, to cling and hope and hear or feel the unspoken words, "Shoo! Shoo!"

Abandoned and hence, somehow, naive. If I could just be good enough, then someone might like me, most important, my parents, but then, everyone else as well. I figured everyone was smarter and stronger and happier and I had to hurry to catch up and, perhaps, feel less abandoned. My mother's mother died when my mother was 2, in the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, and my mother ached for even the slightest memories ... much as I did, I guess. When you're a kid, it's your fault ....

I had little or no sense of self -- from how I looked to how smart I was to how good I might actually be at sports. Others were imbued with a sense of entitlement that I too wanted.

Naive and abandoned and it's water over the dam -- weaknesses that had countervailing strengths, but what did I know of strengths? I kissed my kids and wished like fury it could have been more. It's not so sad now -- more like a middling rock in the little red wagon that I pull behind me much as others pull their red wagons behind them.

Strange to think what point of interest will catch the eye of the one passing through. Family ... I never did get the hang of that. I do hope I didn't screw the pooch too badly.

So much for the history of a large-large-large house.

pay-what-you-can store

The new store aims to tackle food insecurity and wastage by pitting the two issues against each other, said Jagger Gordon, the Toronto chef who launched the venture earlier this month.
Every provision is donated by a network of partners across the region, and many of them – from blemished or misshapen produce to staples that are nearing their expiry date – would have otherwise ended up in landfills....
The store, which also includes a pay-what-you-can bakery and cafe, is the latest initiative to emerge from his non-profit firm, Feed It Forward. The roots of the organisation trace back to 2014, borne out of Gordon’s frustration at the C$31bn (£17.6bn) worth of food that ends up in Canadian landfills and compost sites each year while one in eight Toronto households struggles to put food on the table.
It's a bit like Marie Antoinette's apocryphal "let them eat cake," but where bellies are empty, let the oligarchs smirk as the peasants sweep up the leavings. It has always galled me to see wire service photos of oranges or tomatoes or various fruits or vegetables heaped up as somehow imperfect. I don't know about anyone else, but I look for the tomatoes that are NOT uniformly red (and hence gassed to make them look red) in the supermarket. Did anyone who buys that stuff ever walk through a tomato patch?

Oh well, it's just the damned socialists at work, I guess.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

stupid, stupider, stupidest

I suppose that one of the positive bits of fallout from the up-trending tribalism of idiocy is a reduction in student debt: When everyone already has a hardened opinion and is bent on shoving it down everyone else's throat, who the hell needs a college education?

In the 1960's, the somewhat blurry war cry was, "let's get naked!" More recently, the rousing chant has morphed into a blurrier-still, "let's get stupid!'

What brought this to mind was the news story about the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was ejected from a Virginia restaurant Friday apparently because she was the White House Press Secretary.

Sanders Tweeted:
“I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so,” the press secretary wrote. “Her [the owner's] actions say far more about her than about me.”
Restaurant owner Stephanie Wilkinson said she had no regrets about her decision to bounce Sanders:
“I would have done the same thing again,” she said  “We just felt there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions. This appeared to be one.”
Institutions of higher learning, governments, and who knows how many other organizations have taken to dis-inviting or dissing those unwilling to flog the inviter's point of view, etc., etc., etc.

Sanders, of course, is the front-woman for U.S. President Donald Trump, a deplorable man with deplorable conviction$$$$ if ever there were one. But the echoes of Friday's dust-up have ramifications that those espousing "democracy" need to address. Sorry, I don't serve black people or gay people or people so moral that their under-ware squeaks. Sorry, your fingernail polish is the wrong color. If there is no room on my platform for you, there is no room on your platform for me. I may hate the hell out of it but ... tough titty.

A college education might teach a man or woman to listen and collate the arguments of an opponent. Isn't this one of the tools with which to upend an opponent's argument? How better to defeat him or her? But now, since my tribe abhors this or that, investigation is no longer necessary. No need to notice that Palestinians seem to be forever armed with knives and slingshots where Israeli soldiers fire live bullets into their midst. No need to compare the arrest rate and the conviction rate of those swept up in so-called terrorism's net. No need to query if putting out a flag is somehow illegal or if it's just offensive.

Sorry, I don't walk on the same sidewalk with those who disagree with me.

No need to think.

No need to run up college indebtedness.

Does Donald Trump contribute day after day to the accretion of stupidity? Sure. Is that an excuse for being stupid as well? The Nazi Adolf Hitler had Joseph Goebbels as his press secretary. Donald Trump has Mrs. Sanders. I'm stupid enough without adding to the load.

Even press secretaries get hungry.

PS ... associatively, perhaps, the unwillingness of banks to involve themselves in gun deals.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

death dance

This morning, though not for the first time, an article about California's right-to-die law put a burr under my saddle.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California health officials reported Friday that 374 terminally ill people took drugs to end their lives in 2017, the first full year after a law made the option legal.
The California Department of Public Health said 577 people received aid-in-dying drugs last year, but not everyone used them. The law allows adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs if a doctor has determined they have six months or less to live. They can self-administer the drugs.
Is death a sticky wicket? Sure -- there are facets heaped upon facets. But since dying is the only visible option to anyone's life, could we please stop making it a profound or unusual event, whatever the cause or method?

1. Old age comes as something of a surprise. This is not surprising when you stop to think that it has never been tried before. Old age means a weakening of connections and capacities. Often pain is involved as well. Sure, it's surprising, but it's not THAT surprising.
2. The Dhammapada, a popular Buddhist text of the words attributed to 'the Buddha' observes, "All fear dying./ All fear death." OK, it may be scary. But scary or no, death doesn't mind.
3. Is suicide selfish and messy? Maybe so, but dying in your sleep is just as likely to leave a mess for someone to clean up as a .38 bullet.
4. I am sick of people who are not yet very old telling those who are old how they can improve or extend a long-lived life. With fewer and fewer capacities and connections, the one thing the elderly can, enfin, claim for themselves is this life. So ... stay the fuck out of it! Like 'anti-abortion' supporters who seem to be no where in view when it comes to caring for an unwanted baby, anti-death trumpets seem to go silent or wussy when it comes to options other than death. Volunteer, travel, visit grand-kids, collect stamps, get religion. Go ahead if that makes you happy, but don't make a rule to legislate what is none of your fucking business.
5. Ascribing blame won't wash. The empty place in others' hearts won't wash. Life isn't dancing among the dandelions for your benefit alone ... or maybe it is. So...

Shut up and dance. Life takes the starch out of living, but the elderly have often done their starchy stints and it's time to hang out the laundry to dry.

Friday, June 22, 2018

brilliant and wimpy, both?

There is something egregiously wimpy and simultaneously brilliant about U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison's (D-Minn.... who plans to resign) opinion piece in the Guardian today. The piece posits the idea that Europe can deliver a kick in the ass the U.S. President Donald Trump by sanctioning the real estate he owns in Europe. Trump may weather other tut-tutting that affects middle-class Americans, but when the money comes from his own pocket, it might help to calm him down ... so Ellison argues in the somewhat sloppily-written piece.

Great idea -- hit him in the wallet.

But does Ellison need to look overseas for a good idea that American politicians refrain from delivering in one form or another? Pretty wimpy. Pretty Republican. Pretty Trump-style ... finding someone else to carry the water or responsibility when you (errrrr) can't or won't.

It's still a good idea, though.

the changing face of resistance

A nice attempt to wrap up the morphing face of counter-punch in the United States.
CHICAGO (AP) — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marching arm-in-arm with other civil rights activists. Cesar Chavez hoisting a picket sign in a farm workers’ strike. Gloria Steinem rallying other feminists for equal rights.
During the 1960s and into the 1970s, amid the turbulence of protests for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, every movement seemed to have a famous face — someone at a podium or at the front of a march who possessed a charismatic style, soaring oratory and an inspiring message.
Not so today.
A messiah may have his or her uses, but messiahs have their downsides as well and the internet gains increasing traction.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

hooked again by music

Trolling around the desk top here last night, I was hooked again by ... MUSIC. It stopped me, made me listen, brought me into its seine and yet when drawn in ... voila! -- nothing there.

What is it about music ... so magical, so ephemeral, so loving and safe and light as a dust mouse fished out from under an unmoved couch? What is it that woos me so completely. I surrender without making a move. I am gone without taking a single breath. Stripped naked when I never had any clothes on in the first place.

There is no threat or doubt in it. It holds nothing back and neither do I ... or perhaps I should say, "neither CAN I."

If I believed in the kind of "reincarnation" Hollywood and some Buddhists credit, I would die and return as a bit of music ... return enthralling and enthralled all at once ... the lost and found of everything ... every-thing.

The trouble is, there is no place to be lost in. No place to hold, no place to let go, no-place to be no place. Every-thing. Without moving a fingernail. I am taken and nothing is left. Musicians are lucky, the poor bastards.

The music I roll over and play "life" for is just music I like ... or love ... or swoon to ... and forget to swoon for or in whose presence I melt. You have yours, I have mine. So to speak. Let's not demean it by calling it "love" or "mystery" or "magic."



Like some minuscule wavelet tapping the lake-side sand ... lipping, lipping, lipping ... so quiet, so complete, so ... kettle-drum at dawn!

I will never leave you.


A loving hug without the pressure.


Mark Twain, John Oliver & Xi Jinping

On March 28, 1885, the American author Mark Twain penned a letter commenting on the banning in Concord, Mass., of his book "Huckleberry Finn:"
... [A] committee of the public library of your town have condemned and excommunicated my last book and doubled its sale. This generous action of theirs must necessarily benefit me in one or two additional ways. For instance, it will deter other libraries from buying the book; and you are doubtless aware that one book in a public library prevents the sale of a sure ten and a possible hundred of its mates. And, secondly, it will cause the purchasers of the book to read it, out of curiosity, instead of merely intending to do so, after the usual way of the world and library committees; and then they will discover, to my great advantage and their own indignant disappointment, that there is nothing objectionable in the book after all.
It is hard not to wonder if British comedian and commentator John Oliver isn't likewise reveling in a similar implicit opprobrium after the Chinese government clamped down on his 20-minute take on the cult of personality being woven around Xi Jinping:
The British comedian John Oliver has been scrubbed from China’s version of Twitter after the host of Last Week Tonight ran a 20-minute segment satirising Chinese president Xi Jinping.
New posts mentioning his name or the show have been blocked on the microblogging site Weibo.
Oliver’s scathing parody of Xi on Sunday covered human rights abuses, “dystopian levels of surveillance and persecution” of Uighurs in China’s western Xinjiang province, the continued detention of Liu Xia, wife of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo who died last year in state custody, and online censorship, including memes comparing Xi’s figure with that of Winnie the Pooh.
 Is it a truism or just something I wish were true: The more dictatorial they become, the less capable they become of laughter.

U.S. merger of Education and Labor departments?

Shaping the classes in the U.S. appears to be taking new steps, encouraging school to be not just "school" but now "trade school" for the newly-burnished peasants:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House plans to propose on Thursday to merge the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
You can almost hear the oligarchs: "What good is education if you can't get a job?"

Trump vs. the kids

WASHINGTON (AP) — As a crisis of migrant children separated from their families provoked national outrage, President Donald Trump said he was powerless to act through an executive order. Five days later, he did just that.
The president’s abrupt about-face laid bare the administration’s capricious use of executive power as it presses forward with a crackdown on illegal immigration, first ensnaring children in its “zero tolerance” prosecution policy, then coming up with a “stopgap” reprieve in the face of global condemnation.
The president who had declared as a candidate that “I alone can fix” the nation’s problems in recent weeks threw up his arms and said only Congress could solve the problem of children being separated from their parents — and then reversed course once again.
What changed?
Brookings Institution senior fellow Bill Galston, a presidential scholar and a Clinton White House official, described it as “classic blame shifting” in the face of mounting bipartisan criticism and amid heartbreaking tales of toddlers kept from their parents. The president, he said, was in an “unsustainable position and would like to be bailed out of it without having to admit fault.”
In addition:
DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Hours after reversing himself to end the forced separations of migrant families, President Donald Trump returned to the warm embrace of his supporters at a raucous rally to defend his hard-line immigration policies while unleashing a torrent of grievances about the media and those investigating him.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is misrepresenting the scope of his executive order that would halt his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents when they are detained illegally crossing the U.S. border.
He suggests the order is a permanent solution. But the president is contradicted by his own Justice Department....
Do you suppose there's a little left-over polonium in Russia, assuming Mr. Trump drinks tea?

Does anyone remember the ascendancy of former president George W. Bush, the man who oversaw the neat-as-a-pin collapse of the World Trade Towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001? How do you choose between a puppet and a sociopathic moral cipher? Just about the time anyone thought it couldn't get worse, it did. Just about the time anyone thought gun control might be important because of the kids killed in various schools ... suddenly, the Second Amendment took on a new luster.

And then there's Rachel Maddow, a pretty-tough news hound, breaking down:

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

fuck a soccer star, win a Whopper

And, in the good taste department,
On Tuesday [Burger King] announced a promotion on VK, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, offering women 3 million Russian roubles ($47,000) and a lifetime supply of Whoppers if they get impregnated by football players competing in the World Cup.
Shortly after announcing the campaign they pulled it due to backlash.
I can't tell if this story is true or not. At the moment, it seems to be true ... a trope for Donald Trump, president of the United States and a man who never opens his mouth without lying through his teeth. As of May 1, 2018, the Fake-Newser-in-Chief had crossed the 3,000 lies and misstatement line according to the Washington Post.

The Russians, the burgers, the president, the Whoppers... it might be funny if people weren't dying while the fools gained ground.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Army bounces "commie cadet"

A West Point cadet who wore a Che Guevara T-shirt to his graduation and posted a message online saying “communism will win” has been discharged from the US army.
The images Spenser Rapone posted on Twitter from his May 2016 West Point graduation were meant to shock: in one, he opens his dress uniform to expose a T-shirt with a red image of the socialist icon Che Guevara. In another, he raises his fist and flips over his cap to reveal the hand-scrawled message: “Communism will win.”....
Rapone said his journey to communism grew out of his experiences as an army ranger in Afghanistan before he was accepted into the US Military Academy. 

Being an Army Ranger is no cake walk.

U.S. leaves U.N. rights council

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States announced Tuesday it was leaving the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, with Ambassador Nikki Haley calling it “an organization that is not worthy of its name.” It was the latest withdrawal by the Trump administration from an international institution.
Haley, Trump’s envoy to the U.N., said the U.S. had given the human rights body “opportunity after opportunity” to make changes. She lambasted the council for “its chronic bias against Israel” and lamented the fact that its membership includes accused human rights abusers such as China, Cuba, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo....
The move extends a broader Trump administration pattern of stepping back from international agreements and forums under the president’s “America First” policy....
Since January 2017, it has announced its withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, left the U.N. educational and cultural organization and pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. Other contentious moves have included slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum against key trading partners, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv....
On Twitter, al-Hussein, the U.N. human rights chief, said it was “Disappointing, if not really surprising, news. Given the state of #HumanRights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”
Israel may be dancing in the streets, but the U.S. has another -- how many does that make? -- black eye. This is really $hamele$$ $hit.

U.S. poverty flows over but its drugs are cheap, metaphorically speaking.

kids, Space Force, climate change...

At the same time that the nation is being roused up/enraged by the separation of children from their parents as they enter the U.S. illegally across the Mexican border, President Donald Trump announced his desire/will to create a sixth military branch -- the Space Force:
"We must have American dominance in space," Trump said during a speech at the National Space Council meeting, held at the White House on Monday. "I'm hereby directing the Department of Defense to immediately begin the process to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces."
And the minor footnote of climate change:
WASHINGTON (AP) — You don’t just feel the heat of global warming, you can see it in action all around.
Some examples of where climate change’s effects have been measured....

I feel I ought to be tugging on my mother's skirt and asking, "Mommy! Mommy! Why are things so routinely fucked up?"

FUBAR used to be the military acronym for "Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition." Soldiers were strongly advised not to use it. Needless to say, that was an open invitation to use it and use it and use it again.

Maybe if Trump throws enough chaff in the air, no one will notice the tax cut he managed for the wealthy, the only piece of legislation politicians might care about. No health care, no coal jobs, no wall on the Mexican border, no other promises kept ... but a lot of chaff. (He did meet with Kim Jongun, North Korea's leader ... and that's better than the blow of a stick, as my father used to say.)

But still, but still ... why are things so routinely fucked up?

Monday, June 18, 2018

worldwide firearms ownership

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — There are over 1 billion firearms in the world today, including 857 million in civilian hands — with American men and women the dominant owners, according to a study released Monday.
The Small Arms Survey says 393 million of the civilian-held firearms, 46 percent, are in the United States, which is “more than those held by civilians in the other top 25 countries combined.”...
...[T]he countries with the largest estimated number of civilian-held legal and illegal firearms at the end of 2017 were the United States with 393.3 million, India with 71.1 million, China with 49.7 million, Pakistan with 43.9 million and Russia with 17.6 million.
But Karp said the more important number is the estimated rate of civilian firearms holdings per 100 residents — and in that table India, China and Russia rank much lower than the U.S. and outside the top 25 while Pakistan ranks 20th.
At the top of that ranking are Americans, who own 121 firearms for every 100 residents. They are followed by Yemenis at 53, Montenegro and Serbia with 39, Canada and Uruguay about 35, and Finland, Lebanon and Iceland around 32.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Trump critic gets the boot

A cartoonist who lost his job at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette believes his searing portrayals of Donald Trump were the most likely cause of his firing.
Rob Rogers was terminated on Thursday by the paper for which he had worked for 25 years, after six cartoons in a row were spiked and his employer tried to change his terms of working, he said.
Skimming back through an ill-remembered history, it may be unpleasant to recall that newspapers did not get their impetus from a down-trodden mass so much as they got their impetus from those who saw a buck to be made and a larger megaphone with which to make it. The vaunted realms of The Fourth Estate came later ... if I remember correctly, which I may not.

Agitation and propaganda is what we like to accuse others of -- dictatorships and the like -- but moving backwards is Donald Trump's spécialité de la maison (this, perhaps?). Fake news is all news that does not burnish his star. Agitprop, here we come.

I don't know the particulars of this story with the cartoonist, but it is clear that agitation and propaganda is regaining some old traction.

Father's Day

Here in the U.S., it's Father's Day, a commemoration lightly noted along the news wires and yet, with more time on my hands, I can munch a bit.

Father's Day.

How I wish I had done better.

But is there any way to be better than you already are?

I doubt it.

Claiming that blue sky is blue is a fool's errand.

A bit at a time, being a fool is not all that bad....

And yet I wish I had done better.

Poor, old ragamuffin still ambling the streets: Isn't it time to quit trying to be better?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

the Four D's and the big Z

An out-of-the-blue email asked me if there were still zazen (seated meditation) practice here. I wrote back that Black Moon Zendo was, to all intents and purposes, closed to new business. Old age and laziness will do that for you.

But then I started thinking about the few details the writer had provided about himself ... off-again-on-again practice over a number of years, looking for a group setting etc. Idly, I wondered which of the Four D's afflicted him ... if any.

I hadn't thought of the Four D's in a long time, yet there it was, bright as a new penny in my memory banks: The shorthand version of why anyone might snoop the edges of a meditation practice.


Naturally, the Four D's don't cover all terrain and each has its set of particulars, but in general the Four D's are close enough for folk singing.

Funny how that recollection popped up like a shin when the knee cap is hit with one of those little rubber hammers. I guess some things are hard to forget or wear off or whatever.

alive and dead scenarios

Sitting here, for some reason, trying to connect a couple of dots I want to connect but can't yet manage. More coffee may help....
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A 7-meter-long (23-foot-long) python has swallowed a woman in central Indonesia, a village official said Saturday.
The victim, 54-year-old Wa Tiba, went missing while checking her vegetable garden near her village on Muna island in Southeast Sulawesi province on Thursday evening, according to the village chief, Faris.
On Friday, her family went to look for her at the garden but found only her belongings,
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A state appeals court has reinstated — at least for now — California’s law allowing terminally ill people to end their lives.
The Fourth District Court of Appeals in Riverside issued an immediate stay Friday putting the End of Life Option back into effect. The court also gave opponents of its decision until July 2 to file objections.
The law allows adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs if a doctor has determined that they have six months or less to live.

Friday, June 15, 2018

the economy for the rest of us

[T]he numbers that collectively sketch a picture of a vibrant economy don’t reflect reality for a range of Americans who still feel far from financially secure even nine years into an economic expansion.
From child-rearing to student debt, not everyone is a plump, pink oenophile who just picked up his or her first beamer.

But I suppose that won't become so apparent until after Donald Trump is re-elected.

a lifetime of forgery

James Mason
An internet dictionary throws up two quickie definitions for the word "forge:"

  1. make or shape (a metal object) by heating it in a fire or furnace and beating or hammering it. Synonyms: hammer out, beat into shape, fashion (and more.)
  2. produce a copy or imitation of (a document, signature, banknote, or work or art) for the purpose of deception. Synonyms: fake, falsify, counterfeit, copy, imitate, reproduce, replicate, simulate (and more) 
Funny how the same word forms the underpinning for what can be used and useful and true and what is false and deceptive and untrue.

I guess what got me off on this tangent was a longish Guardian article about James Mason, a man billed by the article as the world-class detective when it comes to art forgery. Mason, who sounds wonderfully like a nerd's-nerd is the guy who doesn't care what an artwork might be worth (a centerpiece for those who buy and sell so-called art). He cares what the science says. In other words, he's the guy who knows how to do the researcher's heavy lifting. Spotting a fraud is like any other research endeavor -- you gotta break a sweat... dig and dig and dig ... dig past what is legal or illegal, dig past the cultural hopes and fears, dig through the subsoil that lies beneath the subsoil of whatever topic is at hand. Back and back and back ... where the lies fall away, where even the truth falls away until you are left with a conclusion that is ... what is it exactly?

Mason looks at art, but I caught myself curious about my own intersections with various pretty good researchers when it came to stuff that interested me -- eg. Buddhism or spiritual endeavor or whatever you want to call it. I look back at intersections with guys like Brian Victoria and Stuart Lachs, both people willing to take on the wonderful-wonderful confines of Zen Buddhism and peel back the layers of hagiography and detail the riotous and sometimes subservient tommyrot that dwells within the wonderment of spiritual adventure. Or Kobutsu Malone, who, while participating in the Zen tommyrot universe tucked in his well-informed take on the Roman Catholic Church and its pedophile proclivities... and this before the Boston Globe claimed a wondrous scoop.... whose discoveries, like Malone's, were preceded by the Catholic church itself and references to boy toys that burrow as far back as 300 AD at least (can't immediately find the list, but my computer went down ... I'll look later).

All of this by way of a longish intro to the idea of research and who sweats and what anyone might have after having sweat the sweat of the researcher.

If someone truly loves and idea or position, isn't there a built-in responsibility to research it ... to sweat? I think there is, but I fear I am in the minority. Some are willing to burrow down to the bad apples among the good ones ... and then stop... and congratulate the fact that there was any digging at all. But is it enough? I doubt it, but I fear I am in the minority. Deeper and deeper and deeper into what began as love, burrowed through disgust and kept on digging until ... until ... until....

Until, like the little joke bird that flew around the mountain peak in ever-declining circles until at last s/he flew up his/her own asshole and disappeared, s/he reverses course and flies out his/her own mouth and reappears with a personal persuasion s/he is willing to live with.

"I love it" is just "I love it." Or "I hate it" is just "I hate it."

So if personal preference is where anyone begins and where anyone ends, why do the sweat-invoking research in the middle? Isn't it just that you'd prefer not to become a bigger asshole that you know you can become?

No biggie. Live a little, sweat a little ... and hope the asshole quotient is held in check. If others prefer not to research ... well, do what you can not to be like that. Make the forgery come true if you must, but I hope you won't leave your dogshit on my front lawn.

What a forgery I am.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Palestinian territories opinion

I honestly don't know how much is on the money, but this opinion piece smelled about right to me, given Israel's relentless effort to marginalize and decimate:
Israel is poised to demolish Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank – an act that could be a war crime. But Britain could save it

American worker fucked anew... again... and again

WASHINGTON (AP) — Halfway through a news conference Wednesday, the head of the world’s most powerful central bank was asked a question weighing on the minds — and the checking accounts — of Americans everywhere:
When will people finally start getting meaningful pay raises?
Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, had no satisfactory answer.
He called it a “puzzle.” And then, as if measuring his words, he said he wasn’t prepared to call it a “mystery.”
How many times does the electorate need to be told the same damned story: Trickle-down economics just don't work. That's historically speaking, not just bias. They promise benevolence towards beloved workers and then, as ever in the past, pull the rug out from under and put the money into shareholders and other buy-back maneuvers.

Puzzle, my ass!

The Democrats are going to be disappointed by the mid-term election results: Presently, the economy is good for the pink people with a stock portfolio and Donald Trump's tax package, which favors the well-to-do, will not start to bite workers until after the elections. A knee-jerk negativity about the power of unions is in flower.... and Democrats too want the money the well-heeled can donate to political causes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

suicide by selfie

A couple believed to be from Britain and Australia have fallen to their death from a wall overlooking a popular tourist beach in Portugal, apparently losing their balance after taking a selfie....
Rui Pereira da Terra, the head of the rescue service in Cascais port near Lisbon, told the news agency Lusa that officials suspected the man and woman had been taking a selfie on a wall above the beach when they fell.[Agence France-Presse]
The ultimate selfie.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

death of baobab trees

Some of Africa’s oldest and biggest baobab trees have abruptly died, wholly or in part, in the past decade, according to researchers.
The trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years and in some cases as wide as a bus is long, may have fallen victim to climate change, the team speculated....
Further research is needed, said the team from Romania, South Africa and the United States, “to support or refute this supposition”.

N. Korea basks and potty trains

In Singapore, U.S. President Donald Trump is meeting with North Korea's Kim Jongun. The news media, "fake" and otherwise, have gone into overdrive to such an extent that it is almost impossible to winkle out what the rest of the world might be doing.

About the most interesting thing, outside the glowing, world-player coup Kim has scored, is the apparent fact that Kim brought his own toilet (passed along in email) with him to the historic gathering.

Peace and politics are nice, but no one messes with my shit. Some thrones are more warming than others.

pre-emptive Israeli cyberworld

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli authorities have foiled over 200 Palestinian attacks by monitoring social media and sifting through vast amounts of data to identify prospective assailants ahead of time, according to Israel’s public security minister.
These pre-emptive actions put Israel at the forefront of an increasingly popular — and controversial — trend used by intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world that use big data technology to track would-be criminals. While the technology appears to be effective, its tactics drew angry Palestinian condemnation and have raised questions about civil liberties.
As expected, what was foiled and the steps it required are not detailed.

The dictatorial noose grows tighter.

Seriously, couldn't we give the likes of Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu and other tin-pot, third world nations ... let's say the Seychelles or some less populous arena ... run a cyclone fence around it... and let these guys loose to do what they want so long as they remain at home and their home, not mine, is as secure as a Kevlar condom?

Monday, June 11, 2018

John Oliver on Mueller probe

Passed along in email:

De Niro's vote

There is something disheartening and yet apt when the most direct critic of the president of the United States turns out to be a movie actor.
Robert De Niro wins ovation for 'Fuck Trump' speech at the Tony award
Remember when politicians and other public figures could occasionally be credited with courage? Remember when Trump vowed to bring back and then claimed to have brought back 45,000 coal mining jobs ... when the number of new coal jobs totaled 1,200? Remember when he promised to "repeal and replace" the health care system referred to as "Obamacare?" The replacement is no where in sight. And remember the peacemaker Trump who  “will never send our finest into battle unless necessary, and I mean absolutely necessary, and will only do so if we have a plan for victory with a capital V,” he thundered. “The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies.” And, by the way, global warming supported by science instead of whimsy?

What is left but spit-whistling expletives for a man who never met a policy failure he couldn't blame on someone else.

Pathetic and saddening and, yes, Mr. DeNiro, I think you are on about the only path left ... and we are all reduced to the Trump standard of volume-replaces-veracity.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

journalistic impact, maybe

Every mother's son seems willing to draw statistical links between one (sometimes laughable and self-serving) interest and another but my skepticism this morning was balanced with wondering, "is it true or just more statistical fluff?"
When a local newspaper closes, the cost of government increases. That’s the conclusion of new survey from Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, which draws a direct line between loss of the watchful eyes of local newspapers and a decline in government efficiency.
Paul Gao, a professor of finance at the college, said he got the idea for the study while watching Jon Oliver’s Last Week Tonight about the decline of local newspapers almost two years ago.
"Watchful" is one of those kinky, sounds-good words that leaves out the newspapers that have been co-opted by government (the Goebbels Effect, I call it). Most newspapers care first about money and secondarily about news, so playing political patty-cake with officials is one of the options teetering newspapers employ to shore up what is waning.

The story might be nice, if true, but I'm just an old newspaper guy. My local newspaper has an importance rating in my mind that hovers between actual news (not much) and the usefulness the newsprint finds when firing up the wood stove... pretty damned important on a cold day.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

children separated from parents

The separation of children from their parents, as Donald Trump and his surrogate, attorney general,  and go-to-blame-guy-if-the-issue-goes-south Jeff Sessions are doing, steps across a line of cruelty that gives meaning to the word "vindictiveness." Yes, it may be a good technique for making potential immigrants rethink entry into the United States, but the sheer mean-ness, small-ness, and diminishment of my country ... for me, this is beyond the pale.
On Friday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with 26 other Democrats and two independents introduced a bill that would put new limits on federal law enforcement’s ability to separate immigrant children from their families unless a court decides that would be best for the child.
The bill specifically states that a minor cannot be removed from a parent or legal guardian “solely for the policy goal of deterring individuals from migrating to the United States."
As usual in the world of Donald Trump, the barn door begins to close only after the horse (the damage) is loosed. Everyone plays catch-up behind the latest Trump chaff attack that provides no policies or legislation but, like a picador's spear at a bull fight, makes the hapless bull moan.

This thing with the kids is vile. Won't someone please shoot this son-of-a-bitch and put him out of our misery? Clearly he doesn't give a damn about anyone's family, including his own and yet "society" (which Trump is said to lead) presupposes families or units of some cohesive sort.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Trump considers pardoning Muhammad Ali....

If only U.S. President Donald Trump's gaffs were merely ignorant instead of both ignorant and unkind.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s comment on Friday that he might pardon boxing legend Muhammad Ali drew a prompt response from the late heavyweight champion’s estate: thanks but no thanks.
“We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971. There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed,” said Ron Tweel, a lawyer for the boxer’s estate and his widow, Lonnie.
Before leaving to attend the Group of Seven summit in Canada, Trump told reporters he was considering pardoning some 3,000 people, including Ali, who died in 2016.
Perhaps as a nation the U.S. could dedicate one day this summer for a laugh-in ... huge throngs of people simply laughing at the name and implications of "Donald Trump."

The problem is that just about the time anyone begins to laugh, something seriously lie-based or cruel raises its head.... eg:
The United Nations has urged Washington to immediately halt its controversial practice of separating asylum-seeking Central American children from their parents at the southern border.
The UN human rights office said it was deeply concerned over the zero tolerance policy introduced by the Trump administration to deter illegal immigration.

sunshine morality

A Guardian column by Gary Younge I enjoyed this morning touched base with those who once-but-no-longer denounced Donald Trump with a feverish fervor and yet now ... well now is a different time.
During the presidential election the Huffington Post’s US site carried the following editor’s note at the end of every story about the Republican nominee: “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims – 1.6 billion members of an entire religion – from entering the US.”
Shortly before 6am on that long election night – in between Trump’s winning Iowa and being declared the victor in Pennsylvania – the Washington bureau chief announced that the note would be removed, “in respect for the office”, and that it was time for a “clean slate”.
Younge's column pointed out what I find all-but infuriating -- that those with the loudest moral mouths in the long-ago-and-far-away stand a good chance of divorcing themselves from the demagogue they helped to erect. Yes, Trump is a liar et al, but those riding his coat tails have their own obfuscations to own up to ... and probably won't ... probably without political penalty.

Where is the "decency" you might think a man or woman might elect to attribute to the reflection in the mirror? Only the safest of the safe -- those who have quit or been fired and not always they -- dare to speak up. The venality has always been obvious ... but, a part of me wonders, does it have to be that obvious?

Here's a small laundry list of swampy delights laid at Trump's doorstep... and it's all-but a year old: from The Atlantic.

I wish I could say I were not likewise culpable.

candidate presses the flesh

A Democratic candidate has made history by appearing in an election campaign advert believed to be the first in the US to feature a same-sex kiss. Richard Madaleno, who is running in the party primary for state governor in Maryland, kisses his husband, Mark Hodge, and then says: “Take that, Trump!” [The Guardian]
Well, kiss my grits!

suicide watch for 'them' and 'us'

(Reuters) - U.S. celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, host of CNN’s food-and-travel-focused “Parts Unknown” television series, killed himself in a French hotel room, CNN said on Friday, in the second high-profile suicide of a U.S. celebrity this week. He was 61.....
Suicide rates rose in nearly every U.S. state from 1999 to 2016, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday. Nearly 45,000 people committed suicide in 2016, making it one of three leading causes of death that are on the rise, along with Alzheimer’s disease and drug overdoses.

Does it count as a relief that Indian farmers aren't the only ones choosing to die rather than go on living?

Thursday, June 7, 2018

tall (spiritual) tales

Is there a spiritual persuasion anywhere that does not sip mythology's/hagiography's waters? I doubt it. Tall tales make good reading for those inclined.

I always was partial to the tale of Ramakrishna, a 19th-century Vedanta Hindu whose peregrinations I admired at the time. One day Ramakrishna is said to have run into Jesus as he walked down a road. Jesus passed into Ramakrishna's body, the tale said. What persuaded me at the time of reading was the description of Jesus as having a flattened tip to his nose. Good details make for good myths.

But on reflection, this small tale of encouragement and ballyhoo is useful if you believe it and useful if you don't.

Either way, your coffee's getting cold. Does spiritual persuasion get any better than this?