Thursday, January 31, 2019

author, drug-trafficker pay their prices

Artistry, criminal and otherwise, has its prices, I guess:

Off the coast of Australia, author Behrouz Boochani has apparently been informed that his book "No Friend but the Mountains" had won both the non-fiction Victorian premier's literary award ($25,000) and the $100,000 Victorian prize for literature (same book)... top-drawer literary awards.

A Kurdish Iranian asylum seeker, Boochani could not collect his prizes because he is not allowed into Australia.

Meanwhile, in Spain,
A drug trafficker who managed to evade capture for 15 years by cutting and burning the skin of his fingertips and having it replaced with micro-implants has been arrested by Spanish police.... A police spokeswoman told the Guardian: “'He’d used very sophisticated methods to alter the fingerprints of both hands so that he couldn’t be identified. He used skin implants to change the shape of his prints so that the scars beneath couldn’t be detected. It was a very sophisticated, specialist process that took place over a number of years.'

weather patterns, I guess

-- Washington Post
A cold snap -- dutifully dubbed a "polar vortex" by numerous lock-step news media -- has gripped the upper Midwest in this country: Wind chills of -50 Fahrenheit, deaths attributed, schools and airports held in thrall. It's winter. It's cold.

In Mexico, the monarch butterfly migration from the north is said to be up 144% over last year. In Mexico, it's warm, winter or no winter.

Along the Mediterranean Sea coast where an Israeli power plant exhales warm water into the sea, unlikely sharks have teamed up as an apparent means of sustaining their diets that have been threatened by regional over-fishing.

Somewhere, somehow, something is always extreme and I no longer possess the muscle to ward it off. Somewhere, somehow, someone is willing to try to make things better. I just hope they can keep an eye on not making them worse.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

waning high school football?

For many decades, high school football has been a feelgood American institution. The sport provides pride and entertainment in small towns and big cities alike, inspires films like Varsity Blues and Friday Night Lights, and produces the next generation of stars in college football and the NFL.

Yet as fans prepare to gorge on beer and guacamole while watching the New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday, the sport is eroding at its roots.
In China, I once read, the grades of outstanding students were published and ballyhooed in local news media, while in the United States, football (not the soccer one) standings and hopes and pride were to be found on the sports pages.

Football participation has dropped among high school boys over the last five years
High school sports with most boys participating (w/ five-year % change)

Football (-4.7)
Track & Field (3.3)
Basketball (2.4)
Baseball (2.6)
Soccer (11)
Cross country (8.4)
Wrestling (-9.1)
Tennis (0.6)
Golf (-5.6)
Swimming & diving (0.5)
Guardian Graphic | Source: National Federation of State High School Associations
There's too much money to be made, so football is unlikely to dissolve. There's too much pride/testosterone, so football is unlikely to dissolve. There's too little else, in many instances, for communities to rally around, so football is unlikely to dissolve.

Once upon a time the barrier-busting American black tennis player, Arthur Ashe, wowed 'em in the stands. Upon retirement, I once read, he traveled the country lecturing young black men about a life in sports as a means out of poverty: Ashe's argument was that there were a TOTAL of six thousand sports jobs in the country and the likelihood of landing one of them was slight ... so ... get an education.

Testosterone and prowess being what they are and kids being as they are ... well, I'm not holding my breath.

Education/prowess ... it's not easy to overcome long-standing male and female habits and swagger and strain and who's top-dog.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

with words at a loss

I suppose I might have looked it up in some etiquette book, but I didn't: My sister/half-sister told me a day or two back that a cousin's (Bea's) daughter had died on breast cancer. I wanted to send a consolation card. Was there/is there a format? I have only tenuous links to the family/lineage of my clan, but such a blow seemed to me overwhelming ... a child who predates her parents in death ... it's breath-taking; a whirlwind; a howling that has no syllables. What does anyone say to such an event to a person most intimately involved ... it's, it's, it's ... poof!

I sent Bea a brief email with the thought that an email might more easily be deleted, forgotten, disposed of. Sympathizers always struck me as a bit self-involved -- as if the bereaved should comfort the comforter -- and I don't want to play that role. Yes, my first thought was of Bea and what a nice person I thought she was and how such a loss might howl.

And then I thought of a poem my younger son wrote when he was in fourth- or fifth- or sixth- or whatever grade. It seemed somehow appropriate, though I'm not sure how:

The very big trees
Are in my backyard.
I visit them every day
So they won't get lonely.
They give me shade
And keep me dry from rain.
I can climb them
And get delicious fruit --
The most delicious fruit.                 -- Ives Fisher
The most delicious fruit.


And amen.

the mysteries of the hagfish

A microscope image of a hagfish’s coiled slime thread (Courtesy of Douglas Fudge)
It's weird, it's mysterious and for all I know it is blatantly fake news, but a friend passed along this article about the hagfish ... and, well, it's weird/imaginative enough to draw my attention from top to bottom.
Hagfish produce slime the way humans produce opinions—readily, swiftly, defensively, and prodigiously. They slime when attacked or simply when stressed. On July 14, 2017, a truck full of hagfish overturned on an Oregon highway. The animals were destined for South Korea, where they are eaten as a delicacy, but instead, they were strewn across a stretch of Highway 101, covering the road (and at least one unfortunate car) in slime.
Typically, a hagfish will release less than a teaspoon of gunk from the 100 or so slime glands that line its flanks. And in less than half a second, that little amount will expand by 10,000 times—enough to fill a sizable bucket. Reach in, and every move of your hand will drag the water with it. “It doesn’t feel like much at first, as if a spider has built a web underwater,” says Douglas Fudge of Chapman University. But try to lift your hand out, and it’s as if the bucket’s contents are now attached to you.
It all seems to pose the question, "What do you actually know when you know it?"

Saturday, January 26, 2019

a pill for loneliness?

If there are pharmacological treatments for other social pains like depression and anxiety, why not loneliness?
The loneliness quotient of things like Facebook and other internet snares, has some searching out yet another pill.

The internet, while not officially recognized as an addictive substance, similarly hijacks the brain’s reward system by triggering the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals and is accessible from an early age...

Thursday, January 24, 2019

sky giblets

It has rained pretty much consistently today. Not big drops, but not small either. Just medium-sized blobs falling from above. Grey and grisly, in one sense. Nourishing in another.

"Sky giblets" comes to mind, though it hardly seems exact or fitting.

As kids, we learned how to gut out a chicken and -- bleah -- pluck the damned thing. Dunk the carcass in a vat of boiling paraffin and water and then pluck-pluck-pluck. Carefully cut the gizzard so as not to make a mess of the stones within. No one wore sanitizing or sanitized gloves.

It tasted OK on the plate later, you had to admit.

camel wrestling in Turkey

In this Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 photo, camels bearing elaborately decorated saddles, wrestle during Turkey's largest camel wrestling festival in the Aegean town of Selcuk, Turkey. While smaller festivals are held across the country during the winter months _ traditionally camel mating season _ the one in Selcuk, just a few miles from the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, is the largest and most prestigious. This year's instalment of the competition brought together some 120 camels and their proud owners. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

coals of the past

Perhaps it is true -- the nearer the end, the more glowing the beginning?

It began the other day when, at 79, the word "bounder" popped into my mind. "Bounder" is a word I have admired and one, in more genteel times, I might have applied to the current president of the United States, Donald Trump.

A bounder was a loud-mouth whose bourgeois shenanigans had brought him or her to a wealth that a fraying European aristocracy might envy and attach its hopes of shoring up a dwindling capacity. "Bounders" were a crass but well-heeled constituency who might pay the grounds keepers and maintain the lacy style in which the lords and ladies had learned to live. Bounders were not terribly couth, but they had the wherewithal to prop up the six or seven silver forks on the dining room table. Bounders were not terribly well washed. But marry a bounder and the peacocks might continue to roam the grounds.

And yet the word "bounder" came with a slight smile on the face in more genteel times... the well-intentioned klutz, perhaps. Donald Trump does not occasion such a smile. He flaunts his unwashed ears and makes the lords and ladies go "eek! -- how much did you say?" Consider the lack of smile within just some of Merriam Webster's synonyms  for "bounder:"

bastard, beast, bleeder [British], blighter [chiefly British], boor, bugger, buzzard, cad, chuff, churl, clown, creep, cretin, crud [slang], crumb [slang], cur, dog, fink, heel, hound, jerk, joker, louse, lout, pill, rat, rat fink, reptile, rotter, schmuck [slang], scum, scumbag [slang], scuzzball, skunk, sleaze, sleazebag [slang], slime, slob, snake, so-and-so, sod [chiefly British], stinkard,  stinker, swine, toad, varmint, vermin

The upper crust cannot in many instances do without the input of bounders and yet they will go kicking a screaming in their reference books. Appearances must be maintained. Bring on the "bounders."

And still I like the word "bounder" as the end nears and the beginnings assert themselves. Chalk it up to my wussy mode. Donald Trump may not qualify as a bounder (though there was that moment during his September 2018 U.N. speech when someone saw fit to laugh at his braggadocio) with a smile, but in another time and place, an exceptionalist laird or lady might smile indulgently while accepting the cash provided by a "bounder." And there was the trenchant observation passed along in email a while back:

It was from the word "bounder" that I found myself slip-sliding into the fact that I know how to read and write and to wonder why I so seldom take that as anything other than a 'given.' What might my life be like without reading and writing? Who died and left me king?

What might it be like to be unable to read and write ... seriously. I ask this in a writing many around the world cannot ingest or digest or make hay with. Imagine that. Pretty arrogant from one point of view. No reading or writing and I become what so many have become -- chattel. You can kind of see why despots fear education ... a la Donald Trump, for example.

The embers of beginning/past inform the flames of a present. I learned how to read and write and now take it as a 'given.' I smile at the word "bounder" because I learned to read and write, but would I smile if I did not know how to read and write?

The embers glow. The flames leap. Slavery is not a pleasant notion, with or without the accoutrements of the manor.

I guess I just like the word "bounder" because it has a frisky lilt even as its fallout is far from being some frisky put-down.

Did I have a point when I started to write this? I think I did, but I can't remember what it was.

Imagine that there were no reading or writing in the daily mix.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

out of the blue

The other day, I received one of those out-of-the-blue emails from a woman on the Pacific coast. It had to do with the fact that this woman had once taken a class at Smith College with my father, a teacher of Shakespeare.

In this day and age, if I had been one of my kids, I suppose I might have searched the internet for some background on the woman, but that was not my first reaction. I like the magic of individuals coming into contact and then feeling the relationship burgeon. Only later did I look this woman up and find that she was a writer. And somehow, because I learned more about her, I knew less.

My kids might have gone immediately to the internet and its details that seemed to tell the tale and yet left the tale untold: Why had I received this email? What was the impetus? What magic had been aroused and why?

It's always an unsure thing, these blind emails. What is it that moves a person to take the time? How crazy -- if at all -- is s/he? The internet, which can assert its capacity to bring people closer together, is more given to increasing the spaces between them. What could I give in return to this out-of-the-blue magic ... and was it wise to do so?

I like the contact and yet am unsure how to respond adequately or appropriately.

Ah well, perhaps the whole thing will drop off the edge of some flat earth -- disappear into some change-of-heart silence that will remain silent.

My kids rely on the internet. And on occasion, I too am wooed to the smiles that are shadows of the Real McCoy. I'm a fan of an honest, face-to-face smile, relationships reaching out like some ravenous honeysuckle vine. The internet cannot provide that so....

I guess whatever I am trying to say here will be consigned, as elsewhere, to the basket marked "patience."

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

a chocolate craving

Woke from a p.m. siesta with a longing for some good hot chocolate.

Good ... hot chocolate.

So I whipped up the best I could (Hershey's baker's chocolate, white sugar, a little margarine, milk) and then for good measure tossed in some fresh Clementine orange slices.

That should assuage my cholesterol craving for a month or two.

the Guardian on Israel

The Guardian is hardly known as a staunch defender of the state of Israel, but does this bias mean its leanings are necessarily mistaken. I doubt it.

Here's an opinion piece from the Guardian. It put small winds into my sails, but may not do the same for others. It's just that dictatorships give me the whimwhams.

the chasms between....

Again, as occasionally in the past, it re-occurs to me that those who teach philosophy are frequently dubbed "philosophers" where their counterparts in other disciplines are simply "biology teachers" or "physics teachers" or "sociology teachers." Odd to think, somehow.

My mother, for example was a writer.

My father taught things about writers -- most frequently, if he could -- about James Joyce whom he adored. If nothing else, I can imagine such a schism as being reason enough for the divorce that the two of them indulged. Imagine being a writer talking to someone who talked about writing but whose writing seemed to indicate someone dedicated to complexity as art.

It takes balls to be a writer and my mother had balls ... and paid the price for owning them.

Read Kent Haruff's "Plainsong" if you want to know writing. Or early Thornton Wilder. Or others here and there who blaze with a simplicity whose prices cannot be capsuled. Like ol' e e cummings:

Buffalo Bill ’s
               who used to
               ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat

he was a handsome man 
                                                  and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

No one can teach handsomeness, nor shoulder its prices. Jesus!

Getting blood from a stone is child's play by comparison.

Monday, January 21, 2019

momento mori

The awful-est handshake I ever received came from my father when he came to pick me up at the train stop in the town where he lived.

Like all children who lived with one divorced parent, the parent who lived at a distance was idealized and I was dying to see my father ... who greeted me not with a longed-for hug on the train platform, but a handshake that was supposed, I suppose, to indicate my advance towards adulthood. But I had not yet been allowed to be a longing child, an idealizing child, a child who wanted at least one parent to want him. My ideal crumbled on that train platform ... another bit of evidence that not only did my mother find me a burden, but so did my father.

Looking back (from an age of 79) at a time when I guess I was six or seven and traveling from New York City for the first time alone on a train I thought might somehow lose one small child, I had been afraid of the train and its iron-clad ways. What if the train simply took it into its head to deposit me somewhere ELSE ... the wrong place ... the place of no succor ... Omaha, maybe. But on the platform, when I finally got there, the news grew worse: There was a handshake to replace a badly- (perhaps even piteously-) needed hug and a kiss to allay my fears. Did no one care for this solo child?

My single-parent mom did not feel that my fears of the train and its vagaries warranted her riding all the way up out of New York, where we lived, to the Northampton, Mass., where my father lived and taught Shakespeare at Smith College. She didn't want to turn around and go back. She felt he was a villain in her piece. I felt he was a salvation ... I mean someone who would ease and soothe. I would go alone. For the first time. And I had been scared. Scared of the train's intractability. Scared of the power wielded by adults. Scared that no one loved me and I was alone. Scared that -- as was in some measure true -- I was a chattel to be shipped like a bit of train freight.

In later years, my mother would observe, "the greatest change in the 20th century was in the treatment of children." And perhaps it was so. On the other hand, weaning always has a price. (In other times she also observed that "the greatest change in the 20th century was the loss of servants and that too was probably true.)

Anyway, I got off the train and stood on the platform and saw my father and felt the muscles in my stomach loosen up. I was saved. Here came my salvor. He advanced. I advanced. His hand was outstretched, I thought perhaps to enfold me. But instead the hand remained outstretched, a barrier to what I so badly needed. He shook my hand.

How could anyone give what s/he had not once received? And I suspect my father too had felt the lash of of the outstretched hand, the barrier, the sign post for a bit of rail-borne freight. Surely my mother had felt that lash as well with the death of her mother during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

I look back today -- or did last night -- and see the scenario in its wider realms. How is anyone to cope with a child? How is anyone to know and extend a loving hand? In memory, my voice calls out, "But this was a scared kid, for Christ's sake!" Who will look after a scared kid? Who could NOT extend the enfolding hand?

A hug? A kiss.

Rail freight.


One way or another, I guess everyone has been dealt a poor hand, but last night that handshake moment landed on my doorstep and I was sad for the kid. Overnight, the piercing nature of this small memory on a train platform lost its searing sting. It's not so bad ... and I wonder to what extent I too have transmitted what I hated/feared so much. I am sorry for whatever evils I had landed on my own kids. It's sorrowful shit, but since I cannot keep up with the stand-in of current events, I flop back into my own sorrow, towsle my hair and kiss and hug.

A rattled, associative memory.

And a hug.

And a kiss.

A bit of freight I have come to collect.

A bit of death -- momento mori.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

football in the works

A snowy day. The Northeast is awaiting walloping amounts, but only a few inches are visible at the moment.

Stuff is happening around the world, much of it serious, but my sights are fixed on a couple of football (American) semi-final matches:

The New England Patriots vs. the Kansas City Chiefs at 6:40 p.m. eastern and the Los Angeles Rams vs. the New Orleans Saints at 3:05 p.m. Or anyway, I think I've got that right. The winners will match up in the Feb. 3 Super Bowl.

I only hope there are enough cholesterol-laden snacks around the house to carry me through ... not to mention the attention span: When a game is a blow-out and you feel it, there is a tendency to switch to some ditzy Disney sitcom.

Anyway, so much for my high-brow plans for the day.

Hope everyone is cozy.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

George Will 'n' me

Sometimes I just wonder about Washington Post columnist George Will. An avowed conservative, Will was often my go-to guy when I sought out my own liberal foolishness through the eyes of someone who seemed to be intelligent. And Will appeared to have potential.

But with my own intellectual capacities dwindling, I can no longer rely on Will as once I did. He's too murky without much purpose ... or so it feels. He's too smart to no especial end. His biggest reminder these days, when I try out one of Will's columns, seems to be an underscoring of the old news adage, "Stand up. Speak up. And shut up." Will's columns just seem to linger and get longer; get longer and linger; and all the time the English in use seems viscous and dolefully 'wise' and therefore increasingly idiotic.

On the other hand, I'm pretty viscous and idiotic myself. So maybe it's me perching on some some humorless, throne-omial sit-spot. Will's Washington Post presence makes me think someone at the Post thinks he's  worth the space or golden parachute or whatever it is that compel the expulsions of his sage-sager-sagest saggacities.

But it feels increasingly like a crock of the old CBS commentator Eric Severeid ... in love with his own linguistic grandeur and perfection. Couldn't someone just give Will a job in baseball, which he is said to love? Fuck politics and 'an understanding' of it all. We get it: Trump is an asshole. Evidence can be adduced, in murky phraseology or something less freighting.

Maybe Will, like the Post itself, wants to be on board when the train pulls out of Trump's presidential station. He too wants to flong his dong and unfurl his banner: "Toldja so! .... and ever so decorously and with respect for the U.S. of A."

Thursday, January 17, 2019

eat your road kill, dear

During a recent trip to Fairbanks, my hometown, I asked locals why Alaska’s roadkill program has been so successful for so long. “It goes back to the traditions of Alaskans: we’re really good at using our resources,” the Alaska state trooper David Lorring told me. Everyone I talked to – biologists, law enforcement, hunters and roadkill harvesters – agreed: it would be embarrassing to waste the meat. In the past few years, a handful of states, including Washington, Oregon and Montana, have started to adopt the attitude that Alaskans have always had toward eating roadkill. A loosening of class stigma and the questionable ethics and economics of leaving dinner to rot by the side of the road have driven acceptance of the practice in the lower 48.
Or, as the proverb has it, "Waste not, want not." Those with a taste for humming-bird tongues may feel vindicated at their heights (only the less-affluent and less-washed would eat road kill), but food is food, whether the flatware is silver or toll. Strange to think that supermarket kill is acceptable, but what fell to the macadam is somehow less tasty and/or nutritious.

Moose, if I recall, is not the tastiest of meats.

domicile for €1

The lackadaisical, the fairy tale, the useless bit of irrelevant information ... such is this mind as it scans the news wires this afternoon. I can't keep up with the worldly-wise and weighty... the wars and famines and misfortunes of far and wide. Someone else will have to do it. Moi, I am left lolling and rocking in.... would still be hard-pressed to find a cheaper property than those on sale in one Sicilian town, where homes are going for as little as €1.
Dozens of properties have been put up for sale in Sambuca, a hilltop town with stunning views across the Mediterranean island, for less than the price of a takeaway coffee.
The deal is a bid to revive an area that has undergone depopulation in recent years, with residents moving to bigger cities.
And I want one.

Of course there's a hitch. You have to be willing and able to fix up the newly-acquired property.
But still ... it's down-to-earth. It's direct. And I can understand it and thereby be rolled into its wishery-pokery. Of course I have neither the disposable income nor the requisite youthful energy, but still....

A fixer-upper makes my hammers and wrenches, long since set aside, rattle for action.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

agriculture, news, education ... is anyone driving here?

Driverless tractor in China
Changes come in on little cat feet:
1. AMHERST — Hampshire College is seeking a long-term partner to keep it afloat financially and may choose to not enroll a first-year class this fall, according to an announcement made by President Miriam E. “Mim” Nelson.
Nelson sent a letter to the Hampshire College community Tuesday morning informing students, faculty and staff that the college would like to have “a strategic partnership to address the challenges we’ve faced as an under-endowed institution, really from our very first days.
This/my area of Massachusetts is chock-a-block with college-level colleges (Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Amherst, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a variety of others) so that even before Hampshire opened its doors in 1970 and offered students a less-structured course of study, there was some question in my then-teen-aged mind whether another were needed. "Pot-holders 101" we used to jest.

Now, with 50+ years under its belt and several high profile scalps on its lodge pole (Ken Burns comes to mind), the need to dilute Hampshire's world or imagination somehow shivers the timbers. In an era of Trump and money and the inevitable "deal," does a partnership mean that everything will get watered down and pretend to be really kool when in fact it is just mediocre and looking for the next transactional buck?
In the news biz:
2. NEW YORK (AP) — The local news industry hasn’t been the subject of much good news itself, lately.
Newspaper circulation is down sharply, and so is employment in the newspaper industry. Financial cutbacks have led to the shutdown of nearly 1,800 daily and weekly newspapers since 2004....
There have been some 500 digital start-ups attempting to replace coverage offered at the 1,800 newspapers that have closed in the past decade and a half, Abernathy said. The problem is these sites mostly serve urban areas, since that’s where there is enough business to provide advertising, she said. She’s encouraged by foundations that support news, although much of that funding goes to international projects.
In agriculture:
3. Xinghua, China (Reuters) - A brand new combine harvester buzzes up and down a field in eastern China without a driver on board, chopping golden rice stalks and offering a glimpse of what authorities say is the automated future of the nation’s mammoth agricultural sector
The bright green prototype was operating last autumn during a trial of driverless farm equipment as the government pushes firms to develop within 7 years fully-automated machinery capable of planting, fertilizing and harvesting each of China’s staple crops - rice, wheat and corn.... Semi-automated technology is already fairly common on farms in places such as the United States, but fully-automated tractors and combines have yet to be mass-produced anywhere.
What will the farmers do if there is no need to farm the crops? What will the reporters do if there is no one to report the news. Well, maybe we can all turn to and build the Great Wall of Mexico? If there is no need to have anyone to do anything, what will we do?

All play and no work makes Jack a dull boy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

speed ... or something

Did it ever occur to you, as it just did for me, that if you turned around fast enough, you might catch a glimpse of your own ass passing in the moonlight?

Cause and effect....

Say what?!

"I wish, therefore I am"

It's not so much "I think, therefore I am" as "I wish therefore I am."

Is this true?

I half-suspect so.

excellence and mediocrity mumblings

Perhaps what is more daunting than a lofty goal yet to be attained is the mediocrity that follows on the heels of success. What if, having striven and sweat, the goal were attained -- the mountain conquered at last -- and, at that lofty height, there were no one to dance with? Bit by accretive bit, the wannabes and phonies reclaim the scene and everyone falls back into the half-baked and ersatz. The bright light of once is now relegated to .... Ph.D.'s and nostrums.

I once mentioned casually to a friend that since she loved tennis to a pro-league fare-thee-well, perhaps she and I could hit the ball around some time. She did not know my capacities or incapacities, but a look of disdain crossed her face: I, as someone not so solemn as she, was an unworthy opponent .... a mediocre opponent. She was striving for excellence -- why should she lower her sights to the likes of me. She was excellence in the making. I was mediocrity on the hoof.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is for excellence that can meet the mediocrity that hovers in all the wings of life. Excellence must be able to outlast and outshine mediocrity... play an excellent game in the face of mediocrity.

I hark back to the post about my mother who, I suspect, attained the heights she presumed might save her ass. She climbed the mountain of excellence, but when she got there, there was no one to dance with.

I'm not entirely sure what subject I am circling, here, but there is something about the mediocrity that falls on an excellence attained. The problem, I suspect, is to imagine an excellence ... or a mediocrity either, I guess.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Helen Eustis, my mother and a very good writer

Yesterday was, somehow, an apostasy day -- a day contrary to what otherwise might have been assumed.

First, the New England Patriots (the home football team for the state I live in) did what was expected and beat the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 and I really didn't care. What I cared about was the Kansas City Chiefs which I think of as the most interesting and fun team in major league football: The Chiefs beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-13.

This sets up a Chiefs/Patriots match-up for the National Football League championship next Sunday ... and I'm rooting for the Chiefs. I have decided it is probably better not to announce this to my neighbors. If anyone wants to bet, I'm ripe for the picking and will put my money behind the Chiefs.

The second bit of 'apostasy' concerns a book my mother wrote and I had never read, "The Captains and the Kings Depart," a book of short stories.

Yesterday, in search for something to pre-sleep read, my hand landed on this book. My mother died at 98 Jan. 11, 2015, and still I had not read the book which lists 1943 as the first of several copyright dates. You'd think I might have read it, but I hadn't. In some ways, I think I was afraid I might be disappointed. I had read "The Horizontal Man" and "The Fool Killer" and "Mr. Death and the Red-headed Woman" (books she had written) but not this tide-me-over collection.

I approached the first page gingerly ... what if it sucked?

I read the first 'chapter,' "The Good Days and the Bad." It was, to my mind and leaving aside the author, astoundingly good. I mean really, really good. Not my style or subject matter, perhaps, but ...
Helen Eustis, early 1940's
but it blew my socks off when it came to good writing.... her love of Willa Cather, the Brontë sisters and, no doubt, Henry James and early Thornton Wilder and the brothers Grimm. No wonder she could be a pain in the ass ... she was just that good. She deserved, from where I sit, whatever podium she may have felt she was her due. As others might not, I could smell my mother in those pages ...

How about them apples -- a really good writer in the family ... really good. Probably too smart by half, but still... this was a person who knew her specialty from muzzle to butt plate.

Odd to think it now and not sooner.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

deep dark mystery ... is that what it is?

Herewith a link I tried to read and really couldn't tell whether it were my feather-duster mind or the complexity of the players ... but the article struck me as horribly scrambled. I couldn't tell whom was being accused of what and, assuming you could sort that out, who gave a shit and why?

Man accused of shooting down UN chief: ‘Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to…’ Exclusive research reveals that a British-trained Belgian mercenary admitted the killing of Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961

I am more than willing to taste the critic's lash, but the whole matter is so interwoven with players and motives ... it seems that all that effort ought to amount to something, some revelation, some naked girl leaping out of an ornate cake. Instead, for this doofus, it feels like an advanced case of freshman-final-exam in which the freshman hasn't got a clue and just keeps pumping out more and more and more stuff.
Someone takes this stuff/adventure/revelation seriously. Who and why? The amount of space devoted ... the apparent seriousness of the players ... the romance ....
Beats the socks off me. Color me stupid.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

impeachment effort?

The progressive billionaire Tom Steyer will not run for the White House. Steyer announced he would not pursue a presidential bid at an event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday afternoon.
Steyer, who earned his fortune as a hedge fund manager, has appeared around the country to organize around his Need to Impeach group, an effort to encourage support for the impeachment of Donald Trump. The group built a formidable email list of more than 6 million people committed to removing Trump from office.
“The impeachment question has reached an inflection point. That’s why I just announced that I will be dedicating 100% of my time and effort in 2019 towards Mr Trump’s impeachment and removal from office,” said Steyer.
The news was first reported by the New York Times.
He announced on Wednesday that he commit another $40m of his fortune to the group and defined success as either the House beginning impeachment proceedings or Trump resigning from office.
I have no way of weighing the seriousness or serious possibilities of this effort, but an additional 40 million dollars in the kitty sounds like an amount even Donald Trump might notice. Whatever the merits, I felt a strange (if unfounded) surge of relief that someone was going for the jugular. Like other mirror images of Donald Trump's political base, I too feel marginalized and anyone who can actually DO something feels like the right thing to do. Yes, we've all waded into the newly-decorated 'swamp' of Trump's devising.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

bona fides

Is it a litmus test or am I simply displaying my encroaching Trump-tinged laziness?

It seems to me that increasingly every issue is preceded by or riven with a litmus test.

Gotta homosexual male?
Gotta lesbian?
Gotta trans-gender?
Gotta the most-lately-dubbed minority?
Gotta oriental?
Gotta woman?
Gotta 'challenged' individual?
A victim or two?
Gotta a wildcard slot for any who have been left out?

And having applied the litmus test, now, at last, perhaps, we can be treated to the substance of whatever story/argument is being laid out. Sports, politics, show biz... sometimes I just feel as if the fine print had been placed at the front of whatever document or position is being staked out.

I don't mean to diss or dismiss such considerations, but I am interested in issues, whatever they may be. A four-headed cat with a good argument is still a being with a good argument ... so what's the argument? Who fucks whom and how they dress and any other outstanding anguish ... what's the issue?

OK... probably just lazy.

Monday, January 7, 2019

chemical innovations

Marshall Medoff unveils to 60 Minutes his innovative method of turning plant life into fuel and other useful products
Caught a bit of this on TV last night. Haven't got what it takes to vet and excise, but thought it important enough to warrant inclusion. I have a hunch someone will buy this guy out and we'll never reap the benefits.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

losing what once was ... again

 Bit by bit and drip by drip, my honest interest in the give-and-take of the world's woes -- once a first-place focal point -- just dwindles. A variety of articles suggest that I am not alone, but it is not the cozy company that inspires me. I just seem to have run out of energy and find myself skimming the fact that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is plumbing the 2020 presidential waters in Iowa or that migrants south of the Mexican border are jammed up against the U.S. lack of charity that might invite this sliver of humanity into America under existing immigration law; Brexit -- the potential withdrawal of Great Britain from the European Union -- is off my interest charts; and a host of other world-touching stories also seem simply to have lost their steam. I just don't read the stories, masticate and attempt to digest any longer.

Instead, this morning, for example, I found myself reading an interview with Hollywood actor Robert DeNiro, who dislikes (and has become vocal about that dislike for) U.S. President Donald Trump. I read the whole of it because I was mildly curious what one man might have to say. Not that I am willing to inflame my own negative take via some Hollywood bright-light. DeNiro's take is just DeNiro's take and the likely impact on my own thinking is minimal. But one man is easier to understand. It's more straightforward ... as was the only story that really grabbed by interest:
As the National Football League digs in its heels in a dispute with Colin Kaepernick, the star quarterback who refused to stand for the national anthem in protest at police brutality against racial minorities, the show this year has become more about politics than music. The fact that the Super Bowl is taking place in Atlanta, arguably the capital of black music in the US, has only added to the storm.
Colin Kaepernick is a young man whom I admire and, to the extent that I've got his drift, agree with and am thankful to. His exemplifies a personal, get-down-and-boogy sacrifice about something serious in American life. Those arrayed against him, who question his actions and impugn his posture on racism in America, are more cowards than anything else. True, there are aspects and facets to the situation, but after stripping away the posturing, Kaepernick is, for my money, right (nuff said) and deserves all the support he gets.

A voice in my mind asks what ever happened to starvation and war -- what ever happened to the Turks jockeying so as to be able to attack the Kurds who create a burr under their totalitarian-bound, oil-hungry saddle... and the Kurds who want an honest homeland that was taken from them by slap-happy, map-happy Brits. What ever happened to reviling the Syrians for chemical-bombing a constituency that doesn't agree with a once-reviled Bashar al-Assad?

What ever happened to being willing to do a little background checking?

Well, it's worn out.

And at the moment I am content to be stuck with my own tribalism -- a small appreciation of Colin Kaepernick. He loves something and is willing to go down the line for it ... both qualities I admire. That, and the fact that his views, if implemented, could benefit not just some mythical "many," but all of us, mythical and otherwise.

Friday, January 4, 2019

new year's card for Donald Trump

Newly-minted Democrat Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib refused today to back off her suggestion to fellow politicians that they should "impeach the motherfucker."   Democrats who had forged a more circumspect and polite assault along the impeachment line, were quick to jump out of her media limelight.

The days of couth and savoir-kool seem hopelessly lost in the rear-view mirror. Job security (Republican or Democrat) is no sufficient excuse for thoughtful, civil suggestion ... aka spinelessness.

Shithole countries, shithole president -- take your pick.

"the baddest monks on the planet"

A Buddhist monk in Japan has excited a furor (or maybe just a furor-lette) after he received a traffic ticket for driving in long robes that might tend to impair his capacity to drive safely.
Buddhist monks in Japan have posted videos on social media to prove their traditional attire is no obstacle to safe driving after one of their brethren was fined....
Recent news reports of the incident sparked a show of solidarity from fellow monks in a stunning display of asceticism-meets-athleticism.
Of all the potential problems monk attire might pose for the wearer, driving strikes me as miles and miles down the laundry list.

But it's fun, right?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


OK ... 2019. A 'new year' and the half-thought of making resolutions.

As always, there is "don't make em; don't break 'em."

And whispering as well: Do your best to do no good. Do your best not to improve stuff. Do your best to be honest and be prepared for the lies that are bound to spring up out of the soil.

Do no good is not, as the simple-minded might say, an invitation to self-centered asshole-dom.

Just think a minute. Was there ever a (wo)man with an ax to grind who didn't imagine/insist s/he was doing some good? Do-gooders are a dime a dozen. Improvements abound ... are you shitting me?

Try to be honest. It probably won't work, but try anyway.

Stick with the Dalai Lama: "My religion is kindness."

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Republican Jesus

Passed along in email:

I kind of wonder how Vice-President Mike Pence is weathering such storms.