Friday, November 30, 2018

a little telekinesis, if you please

Passed along in email:

Hawaiian Kingdom, Hawaiian state

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

U.S. life expectancy dips

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

Thursday, November 29, 2018

is youth or stupidity an excuse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a well-intentioned clusterfuck among these spiritual children.

tombstone wannabe

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Grizzly said to have killed mom, daughter

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

Norwegian keeps his chess crown

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

Burma-Shave moment

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

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


big steer reigns

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

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

Donald's got your back...not

It's all whimsy, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine Donald Trump backing you up on the combat line.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

kissing a woman's hand

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus threatens protected tribe

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

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

Here is a Guardian backgrounder.

shootout in chess world

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

Santa and Donald

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

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

It's a paradox.

gene-modified babies

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

Monday, November 26, 2018

140+ whales stranded/dead

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

advancing robotics, retreating (wo)man

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

cellular and linguistic basics

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2018

hats off to the Associated Press et al

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

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

caution! genius at work

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

in search of terra firma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dry-rot in D.C. back offices

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

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

anti-Trump invective

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

Saturday, November 24, 2018

solid state plane

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

the fashion maven I ain't

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2018

does Donald Trump have any friends?

Seriously, just for a moment:

Does Donald Trump have any friends?

As his tea leaves display themselves in my eyes, he is a man who views every person as a possible transaction. But, without rancor, does he have any friends? I'm not interested in breathy psychobabble or seething diatribes ... just in the ordinary sense: Does he have any friends?

If so, who are they?

If not, what do you call a man who has no friends?

I know that sociopaths (and I think Trump is one of them) tend to end up with a lot of the chips on the table, but is it even possible for them to have friends? If Donald Trump has no friends, what does that say about the straw-man enemies he builds up and then burns down in tantrum-esque style?

But never mind my bias. Does Donald Trump have any friends? A friend is someone with whom the warts-and-all are present; bias is conceded; weakness acknowledged ... and not much is made of it: Those issues have been worked through. Everything is open ... with a friend... a couple of people, feet up, disentangling the wiles and woes of the world....

Seriously, does Donald Trump have any friends?

small stories, big picture

In a time when the Liar-in-Chief -- the man who never met a lie he might not embrace nor espoused a truth he would defend -- has thrown a spanner into the worldwide mix [Brexit, a migrant caravan knocking from Mexico on U.S. doors, wild fires in California with a smoky pall stretching to New York, corruption, collusion, lies, etc.], it is perhaps understandable that individuals like me might back up (should I used the word "cower?") into lesser, more graspable, more individualized formats.

Such a story, one that Donald Trump has not yet turned to his personal advantage, is the tale of the come-to-Jesus Christian slain on an island that was off-limits by law to outsiders. John Allen Chau, 27, traveled where he was prohibited in order to spread the word of God. He was "killed by North Sentinel islanders who apparently shot him with arrows when he trespassed on the isolated island in the Bay of Bengal."

Is someone any less an asshole because s/he and s/he alone decides what is more important?  Why is it that smarm-fed Christians cannot seem to even consider the short and sweet, "your Jesus? My ass!"

A sense of virtue is something Donald Trump asserts without palpable evidence, but that doesn't mean he's the only one: It seems that anyone can contract the virtuous-intentions-are-equal-to-virtuous-outcome bug: If it's for Jesus, it's OK to break the law and exercise your ignorance gene.

Still, Chau's story is a relief, somehow -- a bit of humanity writ clear. It's a story far easier to ingest and digest than the Dust Bowl of confusions and prevarications Trump offers. A bit of clear sailing before a return to the storm. A one-man story ... yes, I can dig it.

I like small stories as we circle around the glug-glug drain.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

reminders for those of a certain age

Passed along in email:

farewell to a Russian general

Sic transit General Igor Korobov, 62, former head of Russia's military intelligence directorate [GRU] and, like his predecessor [58], was heaped with post-mortem praise Thursday after an early death ... and also in the wake of a lot of Western derision linked to one killing and another. Korobov: A "long illness" dontcha know.

It is hard not to think that you might want to be careful when you carry out the orders of your handlers ... you may be next. Vladimir Putin, it will be recalled, was once head of Russia's version of the CIA, and he was not happy with Korobov and the opprobrium occasioned on Korobov's watch.
Britain has accused the GRU of attempting to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent, the Netherlands has accused it of trying to hack the global chemical weapons watchdog, and U.S. intelligence agencies say it tried to hack the 2016 presidential election.
Russia denies all those allegations.
And you thought working for Donald Trump was hard!

happy Thanksgiving

For reasons I cannot divine, the coffee this morning is blissfully strong -- a real thank-you on this Thanksgiving day. Is there anything better than a right-cross cup of coffee, caffeinated to the hilt? Maybe so, but this morning's coffee ain't no turkey.

Wife and two sons are out the door, headed for the New Jersey arm of the family clan. Air is cold. Coffee is strong.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Yesterday, en route to the doctor's office, there were hundreds of people lined up on a nearby street that is generally a pretty-breezy thoroughfare.

I asked my wife, who was driving me, about it. It was the fact that the first legal-sale marijuana emporium had opened a day earlier, she explained. "Check the license plates." And sure enough, most of the parked cars, owned, presumptively, by the endless line, came from states other than Massachusetts. Based on the throng, you'd think marijuana were hard to get around here and that the floodgates had been thrown open.

An end to Prohibition redux.

Soma ... home for the holidays.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

law banning female mutilation thrown out

A federal judge in Detroit on Tuesday declared unconstitutional a US law banning female genital mutilation, and also dismissed several charges against two doctors and others in the first US criminal case of its kind.
US district judge Bernard Friedman said Congress lacked authority under the commerce clause to adopt the 1996 law, and that the power to outlaw female genital mutilation, or FGM, belonged to individual states. “As despicable as this practice may be, it is essentially a criminal assault,” Friedman wrote.

the face of artificial intelligence?

Ivanka Trump

Mark Zuckerberg

Can I be forgiven the jolt I felt this morning when I realized that as Japan et al try to put a human face on its artificial intelligence doo-dads (vacuum cleaners, ticket sellers, and other robotic assemblages), the human face has already met them more than halfway and provided human physiognomies that have already morphed into the precincts of AI?

So clean, so perfect, so downright, uh, credible ... and that doesn't begin to mention the infallible factor. It seems to me that the population of robo-robos is growing apace ... or is that just my dwindling capacity to see? It's like the automotive industry that can't stop mimicking what the other car company is doing. We -- the Royal We, dontcha know -- call it gutless 'originality.'

And Ivanka and Mark are just two. Skim the photos of any number of bright lights ... music, movies, politics, porn, royalty.... Is it any wonder the world might turn to Duck Nation? Take a look.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Donald Trump -- bought and paid for

Donald Trump has proved himself worthy of the payoffs from Saudi Arabia. His willingness to defend the surgically premeditated murder of sometimes-Washington-Post-columnist Jamal Khashoggi is, is, is so abhorrent that I can offer only the least inflaming news story I can find. Fuck the free-press argument! A man murdered in all but the light of day! In a diplomatic setting. And the U.S. finds it acceptable as a matter of policy? Yes, we kill people all the time in the name of wealth and humvees and the rest of it but this one is so slimy.
Trump's political backers are covered in shame as well... you know, the ones, Republican and Democrat, who will condemn the murder and find a way towards their own re-election. Why has not one of these wily politicians found a legislative means to remove Trump even if it means his or her own removal?

I want to spit!
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump vowed on Tuesday to remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia despite saying that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have known about the plan to murder dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi last month.
Defying intense pressure from U.S. lawmakers to impose tougher sanctions on Saudi Arabia, Trump also said he would not cancel military contracts with the kingdom, claiming it would be a “foolish” move that would only benefit Russia and China. ...
Democratic and Republican lawmakers have urged Trump to drop his support for MbS over the Khashoggi case, but the president has been reluctant.
Trump said on Tuesday that both Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and MbS “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder,” and that the truth may never be known.
He also stressed that Saudi Arabia, a major oil producer, is an important business partner and a “great ally” in the fight against Iranian power in the Middle East.
Here's an Associated Press story.

dog-, cat-,snake-, horse-, wolf, elephant-whisperer

Bexit is high on Europe's shiver-worry agenda.
A migrant caravan may be stalled at Tijuana with Donald Trump trying to make political hay.
Israel may continue its righteous response to Palestinian protesters with less-than-lethal weapons (slingshots and pocket knives) with live-round counterstrike.
No-fooling-around starvation mounts in Yemen and displacement in Syria.
The U.S. aids and abets where it can, providing arms to all in need.
Yes, there are links. No, I am disinclined to hook 'em all up.

But then there is the matter of pet psychics.
Realizing she had abruptly developed the ability to communicate with animals, Plotzker expanded her existing psychic business to cater to pets.
Fifteen or so years later, business is booming, Plotzker tells me. Dogs and cats make up the bulk of her clientele, but she’s spoken to snakes, horses, wolves and the elephants at Tampa zoo....
She charges $100 for a half-hour session and has no shortage of customers. People seek her help to find lost animals, fix behavioural problems, diagnose illnesses, and communicate with pets who have passed away. (Yes, she also speaks to dead animals.)
Compared to the insanities of the world, pet psychics strike me as somehow soothingly sane. If someone loves something or someone, there is a desire to move closer to the beloved. Love is, ipso facto, insane, so by that stringing of thought, pet psychics become calming ... almost ... you might say... sane. Read the article ... now restate your oh-so-kool skepticism.

I enjoy supporting chosen sanities, however insane they may be. Wait! Did that come out as sane as I'd planned it?

Oh well.

merry Christmas from Donald Trump

Passed along in email:

Monday, November 19, 2018

authoritarianism per john oliver

Passed along in email:

a privilege to weep

It is a privilege to cry for something.

Last night, perhaps two stories up
Along the soot-blacked beams of the el,
A single blue-white square,
Perfect to the point of weeping,
Injected itself, as yet unbruised
By next-guy's signatures:
"405" had not yet taken an over-writing turn --
An abstemious purity ... it was to weep.
With joy.

Later, the TV news happened to display
The self-same blue-white square
Serendipitously ... still untouched, still
Wrackingly perfect and again it was
To weep
With sorrow.

Perhaps I just like to weep
Or am riddled by my privileges.


Just a little morning fiction. Made of whole cloth.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

scrambled catastrophes

Samuel Johnson
The U.S. president was peddling himself in the midst of fire-ravaged California yesterday/Saturday ... which was enough impetus for me today to flee into lesser catastrophes less tainted with bullshit overload.
“Here, in this retirement home of language once inhabited by Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde, these gems of the English language will soon be forgotten unless we make an effort to use them at least once a day. Otherwise, they could become extinct within a generation.”
“Among these words are such corkers as juggins, fizgig, hobbledehoy and condiddle.” Also apparently-endangered are [defenestrate, caterwaul, crapulence, amanuensis, pettifogging, trollop, vamoose, lickspittle and conk, according to the Guardian column. Right or wrong, at least it's an honest concern. [Boldface added]

Also in the email inbox this morning was yet another wail that so feckless a commander-in-chief should be in charge -- or even part of -- the national conversation.
I wonder whether Democrats, who are currently unemployed as they try to find an agenda they can stand behind, would consider passing a bill that would require the chief executive (or any other politician or pundit) to issue supporting evidence every time s/he refers to "fake news" or resorts to criticizing individuals or programs as a means of burnishing his own (unstated and unsupported) truth... as when the president dissed the fire-prevention measures before California was so badly hurt.

It is hard not to sympathize with California resident and once-Trump-supporter Kirk Ellsworth and his take on a Trump visit to Ellsworth's savaged environment:
When asked about the president’s visit to the area, Kirk Ellsworth, whose adult children lost their homes in the fire, shook his head in disgust.
“My kids lost everything. I voted for him – and now? He can kiss my red ass,” Ellsworth said. “What he said was ridiculous. It hurts my heart. A lot of us voted for him and he [talks] down to us?”
Is it any wonder that a mook like me flees into lesser catastrophes?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

babbling and bumbling

Flummoxed like a newly-landed fish on a dock -- my mind returns again and again to the previous post about the Mexican townspeople who burned a couple of men because the crowd believed the pair had been responsible for the kidnapping of local children ... but no one checked to see if the information was/were true ... which it wasn't. I simply cannot find a way out of the maelstrom of confusion that wraps around me and denies some facile entry point.

It simply eludes my every effort. It is horror without edges. Democracy and mob rule. We're right because we say we're right ... but we're wrong. Laudable intentions gone awry ... yet not really awry: The horror was there all along. Each time I come near this flaming story, it laughs at me and burns my face off.

I had been leery of group-think -- the downside of the sociability of human beings -- but here was something that proved the point I was making. And yet I didn't want to be right. I wanted to be wrong and the goodness of good intentions to be unsullied. And it wasn't unsullied.

As ever, I was not so much afraid of being wrong. I was afraid to be right. Being right felt so lonely.

All those ballyhooed majorities beset by a very dark shadow. The MeToo movement. The priestly pedophiles. Those wounded by arrogance ... they deserved support and their tormentors deserved excoriation to a degree that disallowed finding out the facts: A pox on all their houses! Let the politicians be swept from office based on evidence that was so long ago in the making. Did they deserve it? I wouldn't be surprised, but did anyone check -- I mean really check?

The story of the burning men put me face-to-face with a renewed recognition that this shit and the reaction to it was all mine. What I did with it was mine ... and lord knows I didn't want it. How much nicer if the intentions of the group of accusers were easy-peasy correct. I too like to go shoulder to shoulder with those whose agreement I might lay claim to.

Oh well. Take your medicine. I think I'll watch a little unassailably agreeable TV. This too shall pass .... but at the moment it flops on the dock, dying and calling out in that death. Is there an app for all this confusion? I am responsible and at the moment I am no match for it. How much nicer to find a cozy throng in which to put my faith.

Forget this post.


farts 'n' darts

Gary Anderson
The world of professional darts has been rocked by two players accusing each other of repeatedly breaking wind during a match.
Gary Anderson of Scotland and the Dutchman Wesley Harms blamed each other for “rotten” farts during their clash in the Gland Slam of Darts.
Anderson, who has twice been the world champion, won the match 10-2 to earn a place in the quarter-finals of the competition. But in a post-match interview Harms said his poor form was due to Anderson breaking wind on stage and leaving a “fragrant smell”.

Friday, November 16, 2018

two men incinerated in wake of what's-app rumor

Passed along in email: The price of fake news writ large:

A host of mobile phones were raised aloft to capture the moment Ricardo and Alberto were set on fire
Rumours of child abductors spread through WhatsApp in a small town in Mexico. The rumours were fake, but a mob burned two men to death before anyone checked.

New Zealand vocabulary primer

Oh my aching Aunt Fannie!
New Zealand high school students have demanded examiners ignore that they don’t know what the word “trivial” means, after it appeared in a final-year exam and left many confused.
Some students who took the year 13 history exam claimed the “unfamiliar word” was too hard, and the exam should now be marked according to each student’s different understanding and interpretation of “trivial”.
The exam asked for students to write an essay on whether they agreed with a quote from Julius Caesar which reads: “Events of importance are the result of trivial causes”....
According to NZQA 6,300 students were enrolled to sit the exam and the authority had received 13 complaints regarding it.
I cannot fully express the sense of "gobsmacked" I felt when reading this small story.

When I was a kid (seven or eight years old), comic books sometimes had advertisements on the back cover that invited those inclined to "use a new word ten times in a day and it is yours." Vocabulary lessons ... there's something to be said for them... and it ain't trivial.

fire and ice

White, white snow.
White, white silence.

Four or five inches clothe bushes and lawns this morning. A municipal snowplow has created the first barricade of the season at the end of the driveway. And in the Wishful Weather department, it would have been nice if the snow had hit fire-battered California where over 600 people are still missing after the latest inferno. Instead, men and women in white jump suits sift and shift the rubble. The jumpsuits are sometimes marked "coroner." Donald Trump is still president. Given the tragedy, it might be nice if he weren't: Ego, not sympathy or caring, is his strong suit.

In what may or may not be lesser news, the Pentagon -- the U.S. agency once simply called the War Department before some well-coiffed bureaucrat re-purposed the scene with "Department of Defense" et al -- has reportedly failed its first-ever audit.

No one expected anything other than failure, you will be relieved to hear .....

It's winter. Winter brings snow.
The white silence will no doubt enfold the d'oh Pentagon results.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

parsing Trump's lies

An email friend passed along this interview with a linguist who parses the lies Donald Trump loves to spread ... and what to do about it.

a small phantasm

Today, for no reason I can figure outside a general fragility, I imagine:

Death comes, of a morning, to sit in my lap while I smoke and drink coffee. We chat amicably in an unspoken language that is akin to water burbling in a shallow, flowing river -- each small sound resounding, across the small waves, and harmonizing with yet another across the way.

He sits in my lap, light as a ring of exhaled tobacco smoke, and we talk. I worry that if I die, he will be lonely. It's obviously a ridiculous worry since he already keeps company with a majority of others ... he will not be lonely ... and yet I worry. There is no friction between us. Everything is light and bubbly and fair.

As light as smoke, sitting in my lap for a morning chat. He is as comfortably situated in my lap as once my baby children were -- hammocked in the crook of my right arm -- and yet requiring no rock-and-murmuring. He is whole and grown and burbling as I too burble. Does he fret, I wonder, that he might die and leave me lonely? I want to reassure him that there is no need to worry.

We chortle and bubble and harmonize and time passes as I smoke and sip coffee.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

a mantle of irresponsibility

A strange and intrusive sense of irresponsibility has filled my lens since yesterday. I simply don't want to be responsible for things like doctor appointments, chores, cooking....

My whole life, I have probably done more than most to be responsible in little and large matters. Probably to a fault. But now... well, if it's that damned important, let it come to me. Let the phlebotomist make an appointment and come to my house rather than the other way around.

It's not an easy shift. A whispering sense of guilt exists. But I persist and, in flashing moments, I feel relief. What if they had a war and no one showed up? what if there were a responsibility and I simply didn't meet it? Childish, perhaps, but notice how relaxed kids can be.

Let's see how well it works after what preceded it worked, I guess, moderately but never perfectly, well. I am unwilling to allow others discomfort and yet, I suppose, that may be what I am, ipso facto, doing. Well, in the words of the poet, "fuck it."

boob wars

How the push-up bra fell flat: the rise of quiet cleavage
Profits are plunging at Victoria’s Secret as a proudly bra-less look takes hold. The most fashionable boobs are now no longer in your face
Don't worry, gents -- if it's anything like men's ties, the flat and the globulicious will return as sure as narrow and thin ties. There is only so much you can do with a limited subject matter. How designers can imagine they have anything 'original' to say beats the socks off of me.

embracing the holy and perfect

Do not embrace what is holy and perfect
Without first enfolding what is rash and ugly.

Do not embrace what is rash and ugly
Without first enfolding what is holy and perfect.

Besides being fortune-cookie cute, this is pretty important.

Should we consider inaugurating the word "enswoon" in the English language?

and lo, there was snow

Pinpricks of white dotted the street spaces this morning. I wasn't sure whether it were some random ash from a nearby wood stove. But that proved wrong as the whiteness accumulated here and there on the shingles of visible roofs.

And lo
There was snow -- the first I have seen this year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

a sense of class

Talked with my older son this morning. He had been to his woman-friend's-parents housewarming in Georgia and was... was... was, if I am any judge, was flummoxed by how "the other half lives." On the surface, the whole affair might be written off with the word "money," but money never quite tells the whole story.

Yes, there are those who have more money than I.
Yes, there are the bourgeois elite rich who flong their monied dongs... buying into some imagined 'couth.'

But also, there are those with money who simply don't know how to act differently and have been weaned on winters in Gstaad. It is this lot with whom it is hard to communicate. After all, that is the world they grew up in. Mansions are not mansions, they are houses. Servants are not servants, they are part of the furniture. And 12 bathrooms is hardly a peculiar number.

If that's the way you grew up, what else might you know ... or, more precisely, how much would you not know? Working-class sabre-rattling and speeches about "equality" bounce off such a world as oil bubbles away from water.

It may sound like -- or indeed be -- presumptuousness that guides the assessment of those with gobs of wealth, but I think my son fell for the fallacy I too have fallen for: If it has two arms, two legs and a head, it's likely to be human, the kind of human I can interact with comfortably. But the fact is, I can't. Calling on or calling out a genetically-engineered rich person is probably as hard as calling on or calling out genetically-engineered less-well-off person... sorry, I don't speak Urdu.

I too have felt that life-on-Mars feeling my son expressed to me as he described the party. Luckily, he said, the caterers were available for a little conversation. But that doesn't change the weird disconnect that, on first encountering the recognition, can rise up and leave you confused. You half expect that if someone has reached a pinnacle, they must necessarily know the ladder rungs that preceded the peak. But this is patently false. Better is the observation once made of U.S. President George Bush: "He was born on third base imagining he had hit a triple."


Afghanistan: Pause and reflect

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — When U.S. forces and their Afghan allies rode into Kabul in November 2001 they were greeted as liberators. But after 17 years of war, the Taliban have retaken half the country, security is worse than it’s ever been, and many Afghans place the blame squarely on the Americans.
The United States has lost more than 2,400 soldiers in its longest war, and has spent more than $900 billion on everything from military operations to the construction of roads, bridges and power plants. Three U.S. presidents have pledged to bring peace to Afghanistan, either by adding or withdrawing troops, by engaging the Taliban or shunning them. Last year, the U.S. dropped the “mother of all bombs” on a cave complex.
None of it has worked. After years of frustration, Afghanistan is rife with conspiracy theories, including the idea that Americans didn’t stumble into a forever war, but planned one all along....
The entire article was a nice wrap, I thought.

And, perhaps as a fitting PS, there was this AP article about training Ukrainian children:
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The campers, some clad in combat fatigues, carefully aim their assault rifles. Their instructor offers advice: Don’t think of your target as a human being. [emphasis added]. So when these boys and girls shoot, they will shoot to kill.
Most are in their teens, but some are as young as 8 years old.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

latest bed-time soporific

Last night I grabbed a book from the other room with an eye to a little pre-sleep reading: The book I grabbed was "Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant" by Daniel Tammet.

I thought from the title it might be one of those touchy-feely 'girl books,' as my mind insists on labeling certain 'oh-so-sensitive' stories or soliloquies. Generally I give such books a pass, but hell, I just wanted to go to sleep, so I began reading it ... and found it strangely entrancing.

I only read seven or eight pages out of 225 and felt in that short span gently transported to a simple-yet-intense realm. The author seemed to be straightforward in a way that would not behoove another story-teller. Stories generally need friction of some sort but this was just straight as a string and, I felt without any particular proof, somehow sexless. It was both light and engaging and I was damned if I could figure out why. It was just very, very nice.

The author is just talking and I enjoy listening. In fact I enjoyed listening quite a lot. He didn't whine or stir up the kind of friction another writer might feel compelled to manufacture. He just talked. I was not entirely sure of my footing on the "Alzheimers" or "asperger syndrome" link-ups, but that realm or focus sort of faded as a point of concern. An Illness Reprise was not what I was after. Reading was like listening at the edge of a burbling river or brook -- no need to do anything but relax and enjoy and be rinsed.

Who knows what the rest of the book will bring, but it was nice to come up against what felt like
an entirely new, never-met-before, glad-to-meet-you format.

It felt somehow brand new and finding something brand new at 78, is a bit odd and a bit wonderful.

ditty from the past

From the days-of-yore skein:

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

Saturday, November 10, 2018

if I were a member of the Washington press corps

Thought it might turn into a newspaper column, but it's too wishy-washy....

I suspect I am not alone in sympathizing with the supporters of Donald Trump who, from time to time, are seen uttering on TV some version of, “Yeah, we know he didn’t say that, but we know what he means.” Trump's angry and we’re angry – we get it.

Even the news media are wont to put their shoulder to this wheel as they ever-so-delicately try to unpack from Trump’s ungrounded outbursts and observations some rational meaning and direction. Promoting what they claim to disdain.

Yes, I am accusing the news media – which is between a rock and a hard place – of colluding to some extent with those whose hero currently sits on the presidential throne.

But like a lot of other Americans lately, I suspect what once might have been a rational or quasi-rational train of thought when it came to the issues of the day has descended into a quagmire of what-if’s.

It’s a throwback to the times when moms and dads read bed-bound children fairy tales and those children imagined … what if I were the prince or princess?

What would things be like if I belonged to the Washington press corps? What would I do? How would I react? What would I ask? Would I be decorous and polite? Would I call out what needed to be called out?

Would I name a lot of fancy names to prove I knew which famous buttons to push, which credibility to claim? As a former five-year newspaper reporter and 20-year stint in newspaper editing, I am a nobody on the great fame rainbow. But still – isn’t that like the rest of us great unwashed who sit around wondering what-if and getting progressively angrier?

What I would do/ask as a member of the White House press corps ranges from the impossible to the implausible, but since that’s what a Trump ascendancy has handed us … well, why not?
If I were a member of the White House press corps, the first thing I would do would be to try to galvanize the entire corps – a group that prides itself on protecting and informing the electorate – into boycotting the next official press briefing. En masse. Is that electorate served by the current press-briefing format? Would it be less well served if such a conclave simply failed to materialize?

This suggestion is clearly implausible. No media outlet would have the nerve. The man behind the news media’s green curtain is someone whose interest in democracy and the electorate relies on income. And if nothing happens, where’s the income?

But then there are the questions – however impossible – that might be asked.

1.   Mr. President, would you define “democracy” in terms of what it is and what good it might be to the United States?
2.   Mr. President, you have been voluble on the topic of “fake news.” Would you give a few examples of news that was not fake and in what way listeners might verify its truth?
3.   Is there a point of view you might not agree with and yet nevertheless be willing to engage?
4.   Do you consider yourself a responsible person? Based on what evidence?

There are others, but as I reread this thing, I realize it is going no where. I had thought it might be a newspaper column, but it’s too wussy for the big boys and too boring for the little ones.

I really would like it if the use of the word “democracy” were disallowed except in the mouths of those willing and able to define it in context.

That goes for everyone.