Friday, October 20, 2017

the expense of what's free

A frequent burr under the saddle of those busy falling in love with spiritual practice is the costs associated with retreats and other ritual adventures. Many of those starting out have little money and feel that anything as grand as "enlightenment" or "heaven" or whatever ought to be free ... and then the price tags come into withering focus. "Where am I supposed to scrounge up $500 for a retreat?!"

A Zen teacher (Yasutani, maybe?) was once asked about what such newcomers might feel were onerous-if-not-downright-greedy demands. He laughed and said approximately, "Oh yes! Charge them a lot! That way they'll think the Dharma/enlightenment/heaven is worth something."

Strange how accumulating wealth and possessions can elicit enormous effort. It's an expensive business -- the car, the house, the family, the art work, the status ... pricey. What is costly costs a lot. Sacrifices must be made when achieving success.

But whereas success is often costly, the only thing more expensive -- the only thing that costs more -- is what is free. What is free requires more effort, more expenditure, more attention, more blood, sweat and tears than anything with a price tag.

If paying for a $500 retreat is expensive, not-paying for it will suck you dry.

The Zen teacher's comment is one of those slightly sneaky nudges that takes the ordinary sense of acquisition and success and puts it to some fruitful use. Most newcomers haven't yet got what it takes to accept what is free ... so let's pretend it costs a lot, the more ordinary approach.

This slightly-sneaky nudge opens the door to a lot of chicanery, of course, and helps to make the Vatican the richest corporation in the world, but it's a pretty good gambit, corruption and all.

What is free is expensive and requires a savings plan that some spiritual practices can provide... muscle building so that when what is free comes around and kicks you in the ass, there is no need to whine and whimper and wax wise.

Of course, if you've got a spare $500 burning a hole in your pocket, you could always send it to me. I need a new stove. Stoves aren't free.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bush critiques Trump

You can get a sense of how rock-bottom low things have fallen when a speech by former U.S. President George W. Bush -- a speech critical of current President Donald Trump's self-serving antics -- brings a sense of applause and appreciation and amen! to the heart.
George W Bush sharply condemned bigotry, conspiracy theories and lies in American politics on Thursday, in what seemed to be a coded attack on the presidency of Donald Trump.
George W. Bush ... you've GOT to be kidding! All I can think is that someone paid him a passel to go out there and, as earlier in his dim career, play the front man.

George W. Bush as torch-bearer .... JEEE-SUS!!!!!

coupla fortune cookies

Strutting around my mind this morning:

-- The real coward is not the man who cannot face others. The real coward is the man who cannot face himself. This is no joke ... and it's not easy.

-- It's a good idea to remember that Jesus was a brown man. The myriad limpid representations on Hallmark calendars hanging in kitchens across the country are understandable, but the fact remains that if Jesus had been white/pink, he would have had a hell of a suntan, coming as he did from a sunny part of the world. Remembering that Jesus was brown can help take the racist taint off many holy encouragements.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

insect disaster

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.
Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society....
“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”
Maybe there's something to be said for, "the better things get, the harder they become."

feeding Vyacheslav Molotov Toffee

The cat's name was Vyacheslav Molotov Toffee, a name that will suggest a time frame (1940's) for those old enough to remember. Affectionately known simply as "Toffee," it was this cat that offered me one of my first remembered lessons about the distinction between my own, thoroughly-convinced logic and the way the world goes around.

I was in kindergarten or some similar grade at the time and one day, I conceived the notion that, since I loved the cat, since I loved Toffee, therefore I should give him something to eat. I knew he liked eating, so I went out to the kitchen to find something to give him. All I could find was an onion.

No worries: Toffee liked food. I liked Toffee. An onion was food. I would give Toffee some onion.

My problem was, I didn't know much about onions.

No worries. I sat on the kitchen floor, peeling the onion and trying to lure Toffee closer to something I was utterly convinced he liked. Tears began to drizzle down my cheeks, at first because onions can do that and only later in the frustration that erupted when Toffee resolutely shied from my kindness.

"What was the matter?" I yowled within. My logic was impeccable. The outcome should have been assured. Everything within me said "yes!" But everything outside my universe said "no!"

Perhaps, these days, it could be called a Donald Trump moment. But even leaving Trump out of it, the object lesson was far from the last time I learned that impeccable and irrefutable logic has little or nothing to do with the smiles on a summer breeze.

If only my logic could have zipped up its fly when I was in kindergarten.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"The Balfour Declaration"

Where in London it's going to be held and who, precisely, will attend is a bit vague as yet, but on Nov. 2, a select group will sit down for dinner festivities marking the 100th anniversary of what came to be known as The Balfour Declaration -- England's backing, with provisos, of the state of Israel. Security will be tight and protesters will be kept at a distance.

I hesitate, based on my ignorance of history, to come out swinging too hard at the genie let out of this regal bottle, but I think it's fair to say that the Palestinians did not fare well under England's largesse. And it seems equally fair to suggest that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not a man to let a political prop go unused.

Aside from anything else, I am astounded at the sweeping brevity -- all 67 words -- of the declaration.

Just because it's 20/20 hindsight doesn't mean that something doesn't suck.

Trump as "soulless coward"

Not only does the over-prescribing of antibiotics tend to lessen the beneficial effects of those antibiotics (some call it a crisis), but there has yet to be invented an antibiotic that will effectively mitigate plain old stupidity. Nor is education an adequate measure of the rising tide of just plain stupidity and its solution: Plenty of the best-educated minds seem to be affected by a better-camouflaged-but-nonetheless-rampant stupidity. Is there a pill for that? I don't know, but the rise of stupidity can get under my skin. On the other hand....
Gregg Popovich has called President Donald Trump “a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others” in response to Trump’s comment Monday that former President Barack Obama and other commanders in chief “didn’t make calls” to families of fallen soldiers....
San Antonio Spurs [basketball] coach
Popovich has been an outspoken critic of Trump, but tells The Nation magazine that Trump’s comments Monday were “beyond the pale” and “as low as it gets.” He calls Trump “a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office and the whole world knows it.”
Stupidity, however, is not daunted by even the most atomic criticism.
A 325-pound (150-kilogram) Florida woman is charged with killing her 9-year-old cousin by sitting on the child as punishment [while the parents looked on].
Veronica Green Posey, 64, was arrested and charged with homicide and cruelty toward a child, The Pensacola News Journal reported. The Escambia County Sheriff's Office report identified Posey as the girl's cousin.
Paramedics and deputies responded to the family's Pensacola home following a 911 call Saturday. Posey told deputies she sat on Dericka Lindsay as discipline "for being out of control."
A female comic whose name I've forgotten once proposed assisting in the return of a direct assault on stupidity by using the question, "what the fuck's the matter with you?!" It won't act as an antibiotic balm, but it feels somehow appropriate as it rolls off the tongue.

Stupidity is just so damned tiring after a while. And when you throw into the equation the fact that stupidity can and does cause death, well, compassion can take a holiday: "What the fuck's the matter with you?!"

Yes, I know: Explosions and epithets don't penetrate the cladding of the sociopath so everyone bends over backwards analyzing and soliloquizing about the poor, benighted creatures of this earth. Oh, if only they had gone to Harvard of Stanford! But then, the antidote loses its clout.

A "soulless coward." Mad dogs need to be put down. 

learning what you do not know

Is it possible to learn what you do not already know? I'm not sure.

On the one hand, the nabobs of wisdom would be out of a job if it were true. All the sweat and confoundations of learning might be thrown into a cocked hat and implied idiocy might rule the roost.

On the other hand, how could it be otherwise?

I guess it doesn't matter much. The thought just crossed my mind.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Trump's astonishing incoherence

I have to admit I was gob-smacked to read Donald Trump's answers to reporters' questions about his neither calling (ten days after the fact) nor writing letters of condolence to the families of America's fallen soldiers in Niger. It boggles the mind. It's lunatic asylum talk. Admittedly, condolences have to be hard for anyone, let alone a man who never takes responsibility (he's commander in chief, remember) for the bad stuff. Nevertheless, something makes me want to say "blasphemy." But can something so plainly idiotic and incoherent rise to the level of blasphemy?
“I’ve written [the soldiers’ families] personal letters,” Trump replied. “They’ve been sent — or they’re going out tonight but they were written during the weekend.”
“I will at some point during the period of time call the parents and the families because I have done that traditionally. I felt very, very badly about that; I always feel bad. The toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens, soldiers are killed. It’s a very difficult thing. Now, it gets to a point where you make four or five of them in one day, it’s a very, very tough day. For me that’s by far the toughest.”
“So, the traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice. So generally I would say that I like to call. I’m going to be calling them — I want a little time to pass — I’m going to be calling them. I have, as you know, since I’ve been president I have. But in addition I actually wrote letters individually to the soldiers we’re talking about and they’re going to be going out either today or tomorrow.”...
The president admitted that Obama may very well have made calls after all.
“I don’t know if he did. No no no. I was told that he didn’t often,” Trump replied. “A lot of presidents don’t; they write letters. I do a combination of both. Sometimes — it’s a very difficult thing to do, but I do a combination of both. President Obama I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals. Other presidents did not call. They’d write letters. And some presidents didn’t do anything. But I like, I like the combination of — I like, when I can, the combination of a call and also a letter.”
It's... it's ... gob-smacking is all I can think of. Read the Washington Post article and the focus becomes sharper. I hesitate to criticize anything so lame. It's pitiful ... the dunce in the dumb kids' class.

"the cabriolet"

An unheard susurus of joyful expletives erupted when the old man opened and then stood in the door. Little and large, they all knew he would come at sundown and finally, there he was, their talisman and troubadour. He opened the door quietly and stood looking at the bounding silence that greeted him, then walked to the chair they knew he would sit in, the one near the fire.

He began, as often, like a man standing in an open and untended plain.

"The cabriolet," he started and then stopped. He had them all, all of their all, in that single word, at the waning of the day. Butterflies of wonder flitted and swooped from old and young as the sun went down. Surely butterflies must make noise in flight, but their noise is silent. Jeee-sus-fucking-Christ! How does that work?

I don't know and neither did they. Their backbones eased downward where they sat -- against chair backs and wall plaster ... eased ... easier ... easiest. The floor beneath them was confirmed. The wait was over and the warmth was to begin. Warm and silent as a herd of winging butterflies:

"The cabriolet..."

Oh, oh, oh ... lepidoptereforous!

nag, nag, nag

Again yesterday, the nag came nagging and I set out to reflect on what so much effort had been all about -- spiritual life. I guess, in the end, it doesn't matter much what field of endeavor anyone chooses as long as s/he 'goes the distance' -- i.e. digs in long enough and far enough so that, in the end, enough is enough.

I haven't really satisfied my own curiosities, so I keep writing this over and over. "Goes the distance," but what is THE distance? People like me get old and fat and lazy and, hey!, how long can you expect satisfaction when picking your nose? Death and sleep beckon -- isn't it time to leave things to their own devices? I suppose there are those who cling more tightly still to a given spiritual persuasion as age encroaches, but that strikes me as the wrong tack. Let God worship God, assuming God-stuff is your inclination. Stop fussing. Time used is seldom time wasted so ... let things alone.

Anyway ... here is yesterday's effort-manqué ... for the file-box, I guess. "If only..." is a young man's sport and looking back, I don't think I made a mistake ... or made a mistake exactly. All bullshit is good bullshit and yet is simultaneously bullshit as well.


I don't want to get into a kerfuffel with some clipped-lip Brit, but after 50 years of sometimes intense immersion in spiritual life I honestly wonder whether all those years were worth the price of admission.

A psychologist friend of mine, an ex-Jesuit who quit the Roman Catholic priesthood, once pointed out that no baby ever slid down the maternal chute burdened with belief. "Babies only know how to suck. End of story."

The anti-religious crowd may whoop and applaud the observation, but they are too often immured in their own belief system, and too seldom make room for the frailty like my own -- the need to believe in something bigger than a bread box.

Fifty years ... settling at last on Zen Buddhism as a vehicle. Today, at 77, I look back with delight on the fact that at the monastery I flunked out of there were valuable lessons to be learned and chief among them was that it is possible to eat oatmeal with chop sticks. More seriously -- by which I do not mean solemnly -- there is the approach of death and the question, "Of what importance is 50 years of failure and success? In death, won't it  dissipate like a film played in reverse ... back up the maternal chute perhaps into ... into ... into ... will someone please tell me into what."

You might think that death would create a capstone to all that study, all that intensive, meditative effort, all that reading that never quite managed to answer the question, "If I'm so smart, how come I'm not happy?" Isn't spiritual life largely a relaxing response to the unknown that is called death? Believers and non-believers smile knowingly, but what the hell do they know?

It all started easily enough when I was about 35, the sole offspring of a college professor whose own father had been a Presbyterian minister, and a very good writer of fiction and non-fiction. Both relied, with differing amounts of courage, on the religion of the intellect. Any child who has been subjected to the catechisms of intellectual life may sympathize with the child who seeks out love in the above-and-beyond-it-all.

As I dipped my toe in the spiritual waters and determined I wanted to get wet, I had a couple of provisos: 1. I wanted to find out if spiritual life were verifiable but not in order to convince or convert anyone else. In terms that suited my leanings I wanted to know, "Is it bullsh*t or not?" and 2. if my spiritual adventures could not step up to the clamor of a raucous beer hall, it was useless. Outside of that, I was willing to dive.

I read. I did the ecumenical schtick. I tried, unsuccessfully, to stop cussing. Hinduism was lovely, not least because its age gave it the capacity for laughter. But its ornamentation outstripped my capacity to love bright lights. The Abrahamic persuasions -- Judaism, Islam, Christianity -- were top-heavy with the separation of man and god and hence riddled with unspoken doubt and I wasn't after what ladled out more doubt.

My first entry onto a zendo or Zen meditation hall, scared the hell out of me. Forty or fifty people sat facing a wall. They didn't move. They didn't speak. They didn't rely on each other in socially-recognizable ways. They sat still and, at the sound of a bell, they got up and walked. Then they sat down again. End of story. Yes, it scared me to death and yet somehow felt right. Put up and shut up.

I wasn't wrong. Which is not to say I was necessarily right.

The first nine years were full of hope and belief. Hope and belief inspire, but as a teacher would later tell me, "For the first four or five years (of meditation practice), belief and hope are necessary. After that, they are not so necessary."

Experience trumps hope and belief. All anyone has to do to verify this is to sneeze. Where do belief and hope go in the midst of a sneeze? What is left?

Fifty years of sometimes-zealous, sometimes-laggard practice and now I wonder, where does the accumulated experience go when the film is reversed? Heaven? Get a life! Hell? Get a life! Enlightenment? Get a life!

I practiced through times of bright openings and rock-solid sorrows. I kept on and kept on and kept on. But now is a time to consider the possibility of not-keeping-on. The understandings came and went in full accordance with Buddhism's observation or fact-checker that "everything changes."

The years rolled by. I got married. Three kids came down the chute. We moved out of New York City an into Massachusetts. I built my own zendo in the backyard and invited others to come and sit. Few did. I put spaghetti on the table as a 'copy editor' at a nearby newspaper. It was dreary work. Every Sunday, I would get into my robe and go out to the zendo to sit for an hour or two.

The same priest-turned-psychologist I knew once told me when I asked about his own post-exit approach to spiritual life, "I have done with the eternal."

With death on the doorstep, how and why should I complain or fret? When I was a kid, I had an array of cap pistols with which to play cowboys-and-Indians. Racism on that front had yet to raise its apt objections. But today, not a single cap pistol remains. As I have a soft spot for children's games, so I have a soft spot for people seeking an easier way of life, something less tear-stained and full of doubt. Spiritual life is a possible approach.

It's bullsh*t of course, but life is full of bullsh*t that helps the flowers grow. Stinky, but rich. I have a soft spot, but not soft enough to remain silent about the bullsh*t. I might have stuck with cap pistols as a focal interest but, well, it's too late now.

The cap pistols of my heart.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

cornerstone of greatness

Is there any wondrous thing in which (wo)man might participate, any at all -- from art to math to sports to philosophy to religion to science to sex to history to music to love to language to laughter to birth to death to whatever-all-else -- whose cornerstone or defining molecule does not read:


no "niggers" in the classroom

When is it inappropriate to teach the truth? How long must babies come from storks? When do those once routinely referred to as "niggers" no longer receive that white man's lash?
"To Kill a Mockingbird," Harper Lee’s classic novel about racism and the American south, has been removed from a junior-high reading list in a Mississippi school district because the language in the book “makes people uncomfortable”.
The Sun Herald reported that administrators in Biloxi pulled the novel from the 8th-grade curriculum this week.
Kenny Holloway, vice-president of the Biloxi School Board, told the newspaper: “There were complaints about it. There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books. It’s still in our library. But they’re going to use another book in the 8th-grade course.”
Published in 1960, Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winner deals with racial inequality in a small Alabama town, in the aftermath of an alleged rape of a white woman for which a black man is tried....
An email to the Sun Herald from a concerned reader referred to the book’s use of the word “nigger” when it said the school board’s decision was made “mid-lesson plan”. “The students will not be allowed to finish the reading of 'To Kill A Mockingbird',” the email said “… due to the use of the ‘N’ word.”...
Strange to think that the word "nigger" might grate on an adult ear and yet mean little or nothing until an eighth-grader hears it from an adult mouth or mind.

Trump-impeachment inducement

                   Larry Flynt’s ad in the Sunday edition of The Washington Post is hard to miss.
For one, it takes up a full page. And there are no pictures — just bold, all-caps text dominating the top third of the page:
No pictures. With one boob meister throwing down the gauntlet to another, it seems downright naked not to include, well, you know, a little artistic relief.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

"fucking moron"

On July 20, 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described President Donald Trump as a "fucking moron." The news first leaked out in a format that had Tillerson calling Trump a "moron." But when that report was challenged, NBC News doubled down ... Tillerson didn't just call Trump a "moron," he called Trump a "fucking moron."

The observation came in the wake of a presentation of nuclear armaments around the world. The U.S. was/is miles ahead of anyone else, but Trump was apparently alarmed that the U.S. might be outgunned. Aides walked him back from his alarums.

Reading the news wires just now, I was struck by the number of stories that related to Trump and one or more of his improved bits of braggadocio. Story after story after story, often with a picture of the man who specializes in making bad-boy, attention-grabbing waves. Think back for a single year: Can anyone imagine the secretary of state's being caught out/quoted calling the president a "fucking moron?" Can anyone remember a time when circumspect -- and yes, often lie-laden -- language was the language of politicians and diplomats?

Everything has grown crass and, yes, stupider.

Now it's not just the forgotten who are caterwauling for attention. It seems to be everyone -- a majority where once it was a minority. Bit by bit by bit, whatever decency was aspired to, or even just lied about, is left like a candy wrapper in the gutter. News wires are awash with analyses suggesting this action or that puts Trump on the cusp -- the very cusp -- of political demise. But over and over again, that demise is not forthcoming. The moment I think of a new epithet to describe this foul and self-centered little man, I am outflanked by some new and improved bit of bullying, some new way of tearing down a country and its standing in the world, however fragile that standing may be.

The bad boys have created nothing of substance since Trump ascended the throne eight months ago. No laws. No policy. No statements of purpose that can last for more than a day or two. Health care, tax reform, infrastructure, jobs, environment .... The movers and shakers move and shake and nothing gets done outside hurting even those who adore the likes of Donald Trump. To the extent that top positions in the administration are filled -- and a lot are not -- they are filled with business men and military men and others who may be beholden to a commander in chief who sees them as the scowling pawns they seem to be. Quality candidates seem to be conspicuously missing.

It's exhausting and dispiriting.

"Fucking moron."

I guess that will have to do since nothing seems to make much difference.

Friday, October 13, 2017

presenting the afterlife

For the Torajan people of Indonesia, death is part of a spiritual journey: families keep the mummified remains of their deceased relatives in their homes for years – and traditionally invite them to join for lunch on a daily basis – before they are eventually buried. Even then, they are regularly exhumed to be cleaned and cared for.
Todeng died in 2009. A young relative of his, Sam, lights him a cigarette and changes his glasses.

In contrast to Western norms, Torajans people, who live in the mountains of Sulawesi in Indonesia, treat their beloved relatives as if they are sick –not dead. In this picture, a grandchild stands next to her deceased grandparents. Yohanis (right), was 77 years old and passed away two weeks ago; his wife Alfrida Tottong Tikupadang (left), was 65 years old and passed away five years ago. In Toraja, it’ is customary to feed the deceased every day and to keep the corpses cozily bedded in a separate room of the family house until the family can afford a proper funeral.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

on edge

Curious how many people may feel themselves "living on the edge."
The edge of "out there."
The edge of "in here"
The edge of "joy."
The edge of "sorrow."
The edge of "yesterday" or perhaps "tomorrow."
The edge of "never" or again, "forever."
The edge of "blasphemy" or "exultation" or "sunshine" or "rain."
The edge of "sane," the edge of "crazy;" the edge of "energetic," the edge of "lazy,"
The edge of "ab-," the edge of "-surd."
The edge of "the edge."

Curious how many people may feel themselves  "living on the edge" and yet this world is plainly a place devoid of edges. There are, as anyone can testify, no edges, and yet, and yet....

stupid news

A man returning from plague-plagued Madagascar appears to be responsible for an outbreak in the Seychelles. Clothing designer Gucci has announced "game-changer" plans to dispense with furs in its duds. The Pentagon said it had no plans to spiff up its nuclear arsenal, which is currently the largest in the world, in accordance with U.S. president Donald Trump's announced inclination to 'modernize' the mushroom cloud industry. The holocaust of wildfires in California is so out of control that searching for the missing is all but impossible. Caribbean destinations walloped by hurricanes not so long ago are still shuffling (esp. Puerto Rico) towards an uncertain recovery. Paris plans to ban all but electric cars by 2030. And pickup truck owners -- the guys I always thought had tattoos and growly faces, are demanding more luxury in the new trucks they buy.

In the U.S., the presidential wannabe, Donald Trump, keeps pissing on others' (Iran, North Korea) parades in an apparent effort to divert attention from the fact that none of his stated campaign promises (walling off Mexico, repeal-and-replace Obamacare, replacing coal mining jobs, tax reform, etc.) has yet to become even close to law.

There's too much news for me. Likewise there seems to be too much news for news outlets.

Last night, a woman who helped cobble together a nuclear deal with Iran (a country George Bush Sr. put in America's cross hairs for reasons never forthrightly announced) implied it would be incredibly stupid for America to go back on the deal. First, who could trust a country that made a deal only to break it at the drop of a sociopathic hat? Second, all credible measuring tools indicate (six or seven times to date) that Iran has lived up to its part of the bargain to contain nuclear development and hence (I guess) stop scaring the pants off Israel ... which has nuclear weapons no one seems worried about even with Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm. European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini put the insanity of Trump's bluster about Iran in the light.

Still there's too much news for me. Most of what is called news is news organizations wasting time correcting or purely speculating about what Donald Trump said -- often without evidence or decent argumentation -- as a means of gaining the spotlight ... but not raising up the country he claims to lead. Corrections ... over and over and over again and Trump is never wrong. If he is wrong, it's somebody else's fault. He's the Shock Jock president ... and he reeks like an unwashed jock strap.

Too much news for me. Last night and not for the first time, I switched from news to something more palatable... a drivelous romcom. If Donald Trump wanted to make me stupid, well, I guess it's working.

Hey! The sky's blue and the air's crisp.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

fuel pump repair

The car's fuel pump gave up the ghost on the way to a lab test yesterday and the rest of the day was involved with that waiting helplessness that comes with a broken vehicle. Cars, in the current era, are such an assumption/requirement that it was strange to read the other day that automobiles were likely to be things of the past in the future.

Owning houses, driving cars, handwriting ... who knows what other assumptions of daily life will fall away in times to come? It all strikes me as a good reason to take up a hobby or some other tangible, creative outlet, something for which there are no excuses and the results might make you smile.

Well, the car is 'fixed' now and Donald Trump is still president.

The car, at least, has potential.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

drug use

From "Reefer Madness" to this morning's local front-page announcement, marijuana has come a long way, baby. Or anyway, in my consciousness. The perfectly-awful cautionary celluloid tale that warned of the dangers of cannabis in the late 1930's, turns a corner with this morning's headline noting the installation of four medical-marijuana billboards Massachusetts where I live. What was once inexpressibly evil in some minds now has some benevolent attributes ... not the least of which, I suspect, is taxes.

Drugs, taxes... my mind lounges still further into the past when the dangers of cocaine were memorialized in a turn-of-the-20th-century folk song whose refrain was:
Listen to me
Listen to me
Drink corn liquor,
Let the cocaine be.
Cocaine gonna kill my honey dead.

In between folk song and morning headline, of course, was Prohibition (1920-1933) -- the outlawing of alcohol that proved such an undying flop that it was subsequently repealed and alcohol was legalized ... leading to its being the leading cause of drug addiction in my country. Without the criminal gains Prohibition encouraged, John F. Kennedy would never have become president, I suspect: His dad, Joseph, made a bundle off booze.

And of course drugs have a longer history than my meager consciousnesses.

Still ... drugs.

These days, the buzz fear is "opiod addiction," the use and abuse of opiods to take the edge off life's sharp edges. Doctors care, I imagine, not least because their malpractice insurance rates have gone up ... or anyway, that's what I imagine. Pain killers are ... well, pain killers ... and there is a lot of of sub rosa pain to be had these days when the wealthy hope to become wealthier.

What is it that makes a change or reconfiguration of consciousness so attractive? Is it just the sheer fun? The step back into a more cozy time? The re-invigoration of a much-battered "me?" The demand to see things through expanded rose-colored glasses under cover of a wide-wider-widest mind? The longing not to be afraid or flawed? Somehow, what is is just not good enough, pleasing enough, fulfilling enough. Perhaps drugs offer the potential to unlock locked doors.

Marijuana now has a toe hold. It's medicinal ... just as opiods and alcohol once eased the aches. But it is hard not to think that a toehold today is a foothold tomorrow. That is not a judgment, just an observation.

What can anyone learn that they don't already know?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

time to make time

Puffs of wind ruffle the leaves of the Japanese maple across the street with the same careless possessiveness of a parent touching the hair of a thigh-high child ... aimless, gentle and intimate while ignoring intimacy. A mark of fall.

As are the blue jays clattering in the aluminum gutters above the porch, searching out morsels from the twigs and leaves that will need to be removed -- or ignored -- depending on energy levels.

And a second flight of Canada geese honked by this morning. I couldn't see them in the clouds and rain, but it was like being greeted by some fellow teen-ager while lounging on the fender of a much-buffed auto ... on Main Street ... on Saturday night ... praying to the very-god of very-gods that that one special girl would materialize out of the mists and be enticed to lounge against the fender as well. The geese knew the game and wished me good hunting, somehow, as autumn closes in.

Why fall should be a 'favorite' season is beyond me. It's just a fact -- fall's my fave ... a swipe of magical Windex and all that artful effort is released. Time to prepare for another time.

I read the news wires and skip over the pundits trying to say something sane about Donald Trump and thanking god for the latest bit of spaghetti on the dining room table. There's Vanessa Redgrave at 80 -- a woman with what my father used to call "sand." Old enough to smile. Old enough for balls. And Ernest Hemingway, another of the 'greats' conflicted by fame ... yearning, yet hoping to appear modest ... and bearing arms ... and somehow sand-less in my mind.

Time to make time for a new time. Either one is preferable to more newsworthy disquisitions.

Another Sunday.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Angus in Georgia

Angus, my son, is getting his feet wet as a track coach in Georgia. I don't think he has mastered the accent after a week, but he is out at one of the tracks in his neighborhood.
Accent comes later, I suspect. :)

Friday, October 6, 2017

American sentiment

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just 24 percent of Americans believe the country is heading in the right direction after a tumultuous stretch for President Donald Trump that included the threat of war with North Korea, stormy complaints about hurricane relief and Trump’s equivocating about white supremacists. That’s a 10-point drop since June, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
The decline in optimism about the nation’s trajectory is particularly pronounced among Republicans. In June, 60 percent of Republicans said the country was headed in the right direction; now it’s just 44 percent.
The broader picture for the president is grim, too. Nearly 70 percent of Americans say Trump isn’t level-headed, and majorities say he’s not honest or a strong leader. More than 60 percent disapprove of how he is handling race relations, foreign policy and immigration, among other issues.
Overall, 67 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing in office, including about one-third of Republicans.
Worse than "mad," it's "sad."


"Justice" is an interesting and coveted word. But try looking it up.

I grew up thinking justice was more or less and equation: Do something wrong and there was an agreed-upon penalty after which the wrong would be considered righted. An eye for an eye according to current social standards. Don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

But people who get out of jail these days are penalized beyond the agreed-to penalty. In my neck of the woods, for example, sex offenders' names are transmitted into whatever neighborhoods they choose to inhabit after the jail term is complete. Sounds like double-jeopardy to me. And then there are other dangling modifiers (can they vote, drive, etc.) that seem to exceed the agreed-to and "just" penalty.

So justice may be an equation, but it's an equation on a sliding scale. Justice is not exactly blind.

Under sharia, I understand, a thief's hand shall be cut off. But do you penalize the thief who stole in order to feed his family in the same way you penalize a man who stole for selfish gain? I don't know.

I just wonder if "justice," a word so freely bandied about, has any nail-it-to-the-wall meaning ... or is it purely social Jell-O?

I don't know.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

no connections and 159 hours of overtime

A couple of stories that caught my eye:
-- Almost two-thirds of schoolchildren would not mind if social media had never been invented, a survey has indicated.
The study provides evidence of a growing backlash among young people disillusioned with the negative aspects of the technology, such as online abuse and fake news.
-- Japan has again been forced to confront its work culture after labour inspectors ruled that the death of a 31-year-old employee of the country’s public broadcaster, NHK, had been caused by overwork.
Miwa Sado, who worked at the broadcaster’s headquarters in Tokyo, logged 159 hours of overtime and took only two days off in the month leading up to her death from heart failure in July 2013.
Of course the kids surveyed were 9, 10, and 11 and the company whose employee died waited three years to announce the death out of ... uhhh ... respect for the family.  How suave the Japanese can be ... not much different from Americans in their reworking of camouflage, but it always seems so picture perfect when the Japanese do it. And if you don't believe me, just ask them.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

John Oliver -- forensic evidence

Why do I have to tune in to a 'comedian' in order to get the news?

robotics yay! robotics boo!

Silicon Valley celebrates artificial intelligence and robotics as fields that have the power to improve people’s lives, through inventions like driverless cars and robot carers for the elderly.
That message isn’t getting through to the rest of the country, where more than 70% of Americans express wariness or concern about a world where machines perform many of the tasks done by humans, according to Pew Research.
Can a robot "kiss it better?"

I'm still stuck back at the point when someone promised me that computers would lead to a "paperless society."

"ripe" times

"Ripe," the doctor said yesterday after examining a cataract that had grown considerably in my left eye over the two years since my last visit.


Suddenly I was transformed into a pineapple.

Bananas were "ripe." Farts were "ripe." But a cataract?

But that seems to be part of the lingua franca among eye doctors when assessing cataracts. I was "ripe."

We chatted the topic back and forth. What to do, what the batting averages were for removing a cataract ("98%," he said blithely, "you'll think your other eye is the bad one."), and whether I would be allowed to intone "aaaarrrrrgh!" after I received an eye patch that is a piece of the recuperating procedure.

I had neglected to ask him what the downside possibilities were, but I'll get my chance tomorrow when I see another doc who will assess what he will operate on.

Reading being my soporific-of-choice before going to sleep at night, and reading and writing at the computer being an addiction of sorts, I went to see the doctor for the blurriness of things. It all sounds pretty hum-drum at the moment ("it takes longer for the nurses to get you to the operating room than it does for the operation," he said. "The operation takes about 10 minutes.")  Apparently others are more leery of the knife/eye connecting tissue, but as long as they give me good drugs, I will be anyone's slave. No point in putting it off. So, tomorrow I guess I will find out what century I can expect to have the 'procedure' done in.

Me, I'm still in pineapple mode -- just another "ripe" old fart.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

religion by country

A poll has parsed the countries in the world that embrace or prefer religion as part of their social or cultural panorama. Sometimes the linkage is largely ceremonial. Sometimes it will screw you where you live.

Anyway, it makes me ask again in my mind, "What would happen if religion simply dissipated -- dripped off some descriptive, well-charted blackboard. I mean, what would it be like if this aspect simply ceased to be relevant, pro or con? OK, OK ... I can quote Voltaire too: "if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." OK, now we're got the facile quotes out of the way. And still, I wonder.

Anyway, here's The Guardian's news story:

More than one in five countries has an official state religion, with the majority being Muslim states, and a further 20% of countries have a preferred or favoured religion.
A slim majority (53%) of counties has no official or preferred religion, and 10 (5%) are hostile to religion, according to a report by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.
Setting aside the caterwauling pro or con, does (wo)man have a need for god or some similar entity? After 50 years of puttering, I honestly don't know. The best I can come up with is, "don't be a bigger jackass than you need to be."

taking a page from Hitler's play book

What's that? Did I hear a reprise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the old Nazi argument about the Sudetenland? Naw ... he wouldn't rely on the Nazis, would he?
The Sudeten crisis of 1938 was provoked by the Pan-Germanist demands of Nazi Germany that the Sudetenland be annexed to Germany, which in fact took place after the later infamous Munich Agreement.
Well bless my britches -- could anyone be more pleased than Benjamin Netanyahu with the music-festival slaughter in Las Vegas Sunday that left 59 dead and hundreds wounded? How horrific! And yet how convenient to those bent on their own, arguably lesser, horrors. The US, Israel's mainstay, is busy elsewhere, so....
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has backed legislation that would in effect annex settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories that are home to between 125,000 and 150,000 Jewish people.
In comments made at a meeting of his Likud party at the large settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, Netanyahu said he would support the “Greater Jerusalem” bill. The bill, pushed by rightwing MPs, would annex 19 settlements around Jerusalem, placing them within the city’s municipal boundaries.
To be fair, none of this is really new:
Observers have noted an increase in visits by Netanyahu to settlements in the occupied territories since Donald Trump was sworn in as US president in January.
Since Trump took office – and despite requests by the US president to hold back on settlement building – an emboldened Netanyahu government has pushed forward with a steady stream of announcements on settlement building.
I can't help but think that Netanyahu is whispering to himself, "Hitler was right. And when you're right, you're right ... right?"