Saturday, May 31, 2014

sayonara public education

If New Orleans is any example, public education in the United States can bend over and kiss its ass goodbye. In the Louisiana city, Charter Schools have won the day.
The creation of the country’s first all-charter school system has improved education for many children in New Orleans, but it also has severed ties to a community institution, the neighborhood school, and amplified concerns about racial equality and loss of parental control....
Critics of the all-charter New Orleans model say it is undemocratic, because leaders of charter schools are not accountable to voters....
“The charters have money and want to make more money. They have their own boards, make their own rules, accept who they want and put out who they want to put out."

There's no doubt that public education is enmeshed in a vast bureaucracy that harms its mission. But there is something dubious about creating a solution that incorporates a 'business model' that overlooks or sidelines the word "public." In one sense, I think public education is too important to be run by anything less than the national government. Public education is for everyone because, in the end, it benefits everyone. Money-men, by contrast, have an incentive to make money, talk fast and loose about educational 'outcomes' and provide something less than the ineffable richness that education can be.

It's all a rock and a hard place, but the current direction makes me suspect (without much hard or well-researched evidence) that it's another aspect of the slippery slope to a new and improved mediocrity.

impunity and restraint

The two people fleeing Cleveland police in November of 2012 were finally subdued.

Of Cleveland's 244 officers on duty at the time, 104 had been involved in the car chase.

One officer stood on the hood of the suspects' car and fired at least 15 rounds through the windshield.

When it was all over, driver Timothy Russell had been shot 23 times. Passenger Malissa Williams was shot 24 times.

No gun was found in their vehicle.

Both were black.

Both were dead.

One of the hardest things about being a cop, I imagine, is learning the exercise of restraint. I can well imagine ingesting a daily diet of what people do wrong and how they get away with it ... until bit by bit the restraint is drowned out in a sense of, if not quite impunity, then something pretty close to it.

odds and ends

Aside from the playful breeze tousling the leaves in the Tree of the Hanging Squirrels across the street, there doesn't seem to be much fresh mental meat on my plate this morning.

Vyacheslav Molotov
-- When I was a kid, my mother had a Siamese cat named Vyacheslav Molotov Toffee. The name rolls lyrically off the savoring tongue, though of course everyone simply called the cat Toffee. I don't know, but
I suspect the cat got its name at a time when my mother, like a lot of other intellectuals of that time, were drawn to the Communist Party. Vyacheslav Molotov was, among other things, the foreign affairs minister under Joseph Jugashvili, the man who became the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin. Communism, like Christianity, has wonderful principles which lose their luster in practice and my mother soon enough distanced herself from her earlier interest. The cat, however, retained its name.

-- The Rat Wars of Valley Street took a turn yesterday when a huge Dumpster was deposited in the driveway of the house accused of fostering a rat population in the neighborhood. One neighbor has an air rifle (legal in Mass. without a permit) and is allegedly popping them off. It is not legal to shoot air rifles across streets, alleys or, I suspect, property lines.) I have some sympathy for anyone who is forced to face and perhaps clean up accumulations made over the years -- accumulations, in this case, where rats can live in comfort. Each accumulated item has a meaning and importance that relates to another time and place and yet here it is, at last, reduced to rubbish, an albatros around the neck... and there's no escaping the responsibility.

-- Meaning and meaninglessness amount to the same thing -- a desire to put sprinkles on an already-delicious cupcake. It is probably not wise to mention this since meaning is frequently, if not always, so meaningful in anyone's life. Me too. I wouldn't waste a lot of time setting up meaning/meaninglessness as a straw man worthy of a good drubbing, but I do think it is something worth keeping an eye on: Meanings are limited and there is something that knows from the get-go that what is limited is far from being the whole story. So, OK, a rock may be a "rock" for communication purposes or meaningful purposes, but also, what is a rock?

-- Skimming through the newspaper idly, I came to a section devoted to television -- a pull-out tab with
Jay Ryan
a largish picture of a young man in a T-shirt staring seriously at the camera lens... an ad for some show. His hair was perfectly mussed; he had about three-days-worth of facial hair; he was handsome in the way that so many TV actors are; and, on first glance, he gently jingled my gay-dar bells. Somebody named Jay Ryan. But what really got my attention was the fact that, in my eye, he looked so much like other young, handsome TV heroes. Literally -- I can't tell them apart and there is nothing in any of their faces that makes me want to know them better, that makes me curious, that makes me love or hate them. Nor are the American actresses much different: beautiful, boobilicious, shoulder-length hair, sincere and flavorless. True, all this may be an old-fart's affliction, but I doubt if that is the whole story. It seems that in a world where everyone wants to stand out and be known and be a star ... well how sensible is it to try to stand out by wearing clothes and striking poses that are cookie-cutter versions of the competition? If everybody is handsome, grows three days worth of whiskers and wears a T-shirt who stands out? When everyone gets their boobs done, how remarkable are well-done boobs? All I can say is that, based on what is visually intriguing alone, I prefer European movies/TV. And Chinese or Japanese movies, even when mediocre, at least have cultural or environmental quirks that can carry me along.

Friday, May 30, 2014

"The Rat Wars of Valley Street"

There are no howitzers or RPG's in evidence, but "The Rat Wars of Valley Street" seemed to pick up momentum yesterday when I saw a man with a rifle sauntering down the sidewalk in the distance.

The rifle appeared to be an air gun, but there was no telling from the 200 or so feet from which I saw the man. And there was no doubt that he was walking away from the driveway that separates the two combatants in what I have colorfully come to call a war.

It all started two days ago when I heard my up-and-across-the-street neighbor, Doreen, yelling at her neighbor, Lee. I heard Doreen utter the word "unacceptable!" in that derogatory way that righteous personnel department heads can smugly castigate employees who have failed in some way.

The reason I stood in the porch door being unabashedly nosy is that Doreen, like her husband, Mike, is a person I know to be kind and considerate ... to a neurotic fault. She is nice to everyone. A laugh, a smile, an agreement, a companionable humanity. Pissed off is not in her general repertoire and Doreen was pissed off. Ergo I was curious. Part of the reason she was pissed off, I was to learn, was that she had been forced to get pissed off and she didn't like acknowledging that aspect of her otherwise amicable lifestyle.

After she had finished yelling and because she saw me standing in the porch door, Doreen came over to unload. Her face was constricted and bubbling with anger, confusion, and a certain element of fear. The situation left her face and posture a couple of steps short of "wracked."

The focus of her upset was this: Looking out her house window into the driveway that separates her house from Lee's, Doreen saw a rat ... or perhaps more than one ... but however many it was it gave her the creeps, called up a sense of potential disease, and simultaneously brought the value of her house down: Who wants to live next door to a rat factory?

There was no question in Doreen's mind that the accumulated crap in Lee's backyard, coupled with what Doreen knew to be an overstuffed garage, was the source of the rats. "She's got stuff back there from when the kids were little," Doreen harumphed. Rats love old wood piles and the dark holes provided by stacked up stuff and now the rats were venturing onto Doreen's property.

There is an unwritten code in suburban neighborhoods like the one I live in. Everyone is acknowledged as having his or her own tastes and foibles, but there are community lines that may not be crossed. An unleashed dog that nips at bicycling children is out of bounds. Parties are fine, but loud parties that go on into the wee hours are across the line. Accumulated crap in the backyard or elsewhere may cause frowns, but are basically left alone. Accumulated crap that breeds rats that migrate is out of bounds.

"And rats produce a new litter every six weeks," Doreen told me as she unloaded.

Doreen said she told Lee to either get an exterminator or get someone to clean up the backyard/garage crap, but Lee made no response, according to Doreen. And so, for two days, the ill-will picked up momentum. I said I thought she ought to call the Health Department, not least because it would put a buffer between warring neighbors -- some third party. Doreen was unsure, since she had given Lee an ultimatum to clean up her act and perhaps Lee was doing that already: Wouldn't calling the Health Department at this point be too much? I said I didn't think so: "If she is making an effort to clean up, the Health Department can be told that. If not, the Health Department can put a fire under her ass."

Doreen talked to the neighbors who live on the other side of Lee's house and it turns out they too have asked Lee to clean up her yard. And that, I suspect, is where the man with the (air?) rifle came from. Not yet howitzers or RPG's, but slowly heating up like Hitler on the border of Poland in 1939 ... and Doreen longing to display the Chamberlain-esque good will she is known for.

What really gets under Doreen's skin, I suspect, is precisely at this point -- her lifetime persona of getting along with others now forced to admit she, like anyone else, has the capacity to get pissed off as a wet cat. She hates that almost worse than she hates rats. I tried to chill her jets by suggesting that in the same way she liked to respect her neighbors, there was something to be said for respecting herself.

And here we are into day three. The tension is still out there -- I can feel it. My wife insisted we shut the doors: She didn't want rats in the house.

Can war be averted or is world domination in the cards?

I'd like to say slickly that "I don't give a rat's ass," but the fact is that I do.

Not that this local cataclysm compares with applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei's conclusion that modern civilization is doomed in the not-too-distant future, but I guess it's something to worry about before that larger and more carefully-plotted doom arrives.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"How Christianity Was Invented..."

Passed along in email was this piece I have no way of verifying or denying ... but I thought it was enjoyable: How Christianity Was Invented: The Truth.

As the Anglican theologian Charles Williams once wrote, "people believe what they want to believe," so the object of creating this post is not so much to rain on any Christian's parade or to start another Christianity-vs-Buddhism or Christianity-cum-Buddhism thread.

What I find interesting is the experience anyone might have had: What if you woke up in the morning and found that some deeply-cherished and profoundly-important belief was not exactly what you had imagined it was ... a kind of oops moment?

why bother eating?

Passed along in email was this review of the new product Soylent -- a (supposedly) nutritionally complete powder that costs about $3 per serving and saves all the muss, fuss and bother of preparing and eating food.

The review does not say why to inventors chose the name "Soylent" since the sci-fi flick "Soylent Green" was pretty grisly. Whatever the reasons, I suspect the inventors are onto something in a time when things sag to ever-more-impoverished depths.

The central criticism of Soylent is that it is uninteresting and bland and can cause some (possibly temporary) stomach upset.

As a sole nutrient, it sounds bland. Perhaps on a mix-and-mingle basis, it will come into use. The military or prisons might like it.

helping hands -- photos

An Orthodox priest rings bells outside a carriage serving as a church, after he baptized a family, inside the Doctor Voino-Yasenetsky Saint Luka train, which serves as a free consultative and diagnostic medical centre, at a railway station of Divnogorsk, outside Russia's Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk May 26, 2014.
REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Akram Sweidan decorates on a mortar shell in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, May 27, 2014.
REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

peculiar and unique

Curious to think
How hard anyone might work
To escape being labeled as "peculiar"

And yet to roar,
When the chips were down,
"I am unique."

When was the peculiar not unique
Or vice versa for that matter?

adoring Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou died Wednesday at 86. Truth to tell, I know very little about her and yet what I know makes me love her as if I knew a thing or two. As with others, I make her up based on almost nothing ... black woman poet, activist, writer, actress and a good deal more perhaps. I make her up and am drawn to what I make up.

Six autobiographies?! For that alone I would honor her honesty.

But otherwise my made-up Maya Angelou is a spare branch, a creation I somehow insist on making because I love what I have made up. A woman of courage and sass and laughter. A black woman who did not play the "black" card. A woman who seemed unencumbered by her accomplishments. A person I imagine I would like to know and am glad I did not.

A ... person ... of ... substance ....

And God how I love people of substance! Just being on the same planet with them lightens my day. No need to play at substance when substance is the substance of the substance.

I know there are many people who knew her better and might yank my inventive chain and bring this person into a more even-tempered focus. An egotist, perhaps, or a preen-er, or some other facts and figures that would be less adoring than what I have made up and adore.

Like a patient waiting in the dentist's office, I have read a half of some old article and then it is my turn -- time to set the magazine aside and allow the accumulated but incomplete information to wisp away like some coitus interruptus ... what need to remember the joke without a punch line, an article without a "the end?"

Would I like Maya Angelou more or less if I knew her better? Probably less, which is why I am content to know less ... and adore.

What does it mean to be a person of substance? I know it is gets wild applause on my applause-meter, but what is it? Is it perhaps like the menu in some effete upscale restaurant: "If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it."? Is it like the Supreme Court justice's alleged assessment of pornography: "I may not know what it is, but I know it when I see it"?

No, I do not know who Maya Angelou is or was. I acknowledge the flimsy nature of my appreciation and adoration.

But I cannot imagine I am much different from others ... adoration feels too good to deny. And at my age, objects of adoration, like people of substance, are few and far between.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

auto mechanics/ classical music

Passed along in email ... rebuilding a motor ... set to music

racism, not abortion, nurtures religious right

Passed along in email: Dartmouth professor Randall Balmer makes an interesting case in Politico: It was racism, rather than the abortion issue, that nourished the rise of the religious right, a once-disparate group many of whose evangelical adherents were largely indifferent to and sometimes were in agreement with a woman's right to an abortion. Written in clear English, it's worth a read.

The Real Origins of the Religious Right

They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record’s clear: It was segregation.

the whorehouse principle

I suppose it's applicable to pretty much any discipline, but since I am interested in both psychological counseling and religion, I think of it in those terms -- the whorehouse principle.

It may not be perfect as an analogy, but the whorehouse principle is pretty close in my mind. The whorehouse principle states that "just because the circumstances are contrived does not mean the orgasm isn't real."

The formats of both psychological counseling and religion are contrived. Both lay out a framework of circumstances which, of themselves, are directed at what might be called peace or happiness, but are not, of themselves, either peace or happiness. Individuals enter a defined framework and work within that framework until, with luck, an honest happiness informs their unlimited, unframeworked lives.

There are a number of critiques that can be brought to bear on the whorehouse principle, but roughly speaking, I think it holds water.

This means that the rules and regulations of any discipline, although contrived and limiting, have the potential to bring about something desirable and real. And this in turn offers some explanation for the sometimes rabid foolishness that devotees can exhibit. There is no distancing yourself from the contrivances of the moment ... you have to enter in without demurrer if you want the results.

Naturally, no one would want to take up residence in a whorehouse, but a visit or two can help to lay out a plan that will allow for a peaceful life in less contrived circumstances.

anti-terrorism funding

Lord knows there is ample evidence of self-serving, violence-prone individuals and groups (and probably governments) in the world, but it is hard not to cringe at U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's announcement that his country is setting up a $5 billion "terrorism partnership fund" to help other countries push back against "radical extremists."

What is cringe-worthy in my book is the vagueness of the mission statement. It sounds reasonable and worthy. It sounds as if it will help preserve social and political stability. But it also sounds like an initiative in which those who have the wherewithal to think things through would prefer to suppress any agency that challenges the status quo.

Who, precisely, defines the "terrorist" and in what way? The word "terrorist" has increasingly come to mean anyone who disagrees or finds some fault with governing bodies which hope to preserve their power and, equally if not more important, an income stream. If all the 'haves' get together and suppress the 'have-not's', well, is that diplomatic or thoughtful, or is it simply self-serving and, often, dictatorial?

"Terrorists" are usually people who want something and want it badly enough to raise an often-bloody hell. For those with the wherewithal, isn't it worth finding out what the "terrorists" want -- honestly find out -- and assess and possibly redress the circumstances the "terrorists" find oppressive? Maybe, for example, the Palestinians have good reason and plenty of provocation when it comes to treatment by Israel. Not that they're angels or that Israel shouldn't defend itself, but calling the Palestinians "terrorists" while the Israelis are let off the hook seems a bit of a stretch.

Is there a government anywhere in the world that hasn't glommed onto the word "terrorist" in the wake of the demolition of the World Trade Towers in 2001? Terrorists are not just people who do something but even, by Department of Homeland Security standards, those who think or discuss ... and the same is true elsewhere: If you don't agree with me, you are a terrorist and I've got $5 billion and a lot more besides to shut you down.

When it comes to action, I vote with the assessment of the Somali security officer who once observed of the pirates off his coast that the underlying situation boiled down to, "If you do not share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you." It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the equation, but those with the wherewithal and the college educations to maintain it, seem unwilling to bring their civilization to a civilized discussion space.

I guess it's easier to adopt a terrorist stance and just kill the assholes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

a matter of 'honor'

A 25-year-old Pakistani woman has been stoned to death by her family outside the Lahore High Court in a so-called 'honour killing' for marrying the man she loved, police said.
Farzana Iqbal was waiting for the court to open when a group of around dozen men began attacking her with bricks, said senior police officer Umer Cheema.
Her father, two brothers and former fiance were among the attackers, he said.

politics and religion

Passed along in email this morning:

something reliable or anyway reliable-ish

I think it's fair to say that everyone -- or damn near everyone -- chooses something or some series of things as "reliable" in their lives. Or, if not exactly "reliable," at least reliable-ish. Religion is one such possibility and my own choice landed on Zen Buddhism and, more broadly, Buddhism.

Buddhism was something I was interested in, put energy and attention into, and used as a prism with which to view life. It made better sense to me than other reliable stuff, so I relied on it more or less. Buddhism was a safe haven, sort of -- a place from which to venture forth. Within its folds, I was by turns right, wrong, both right and wrong and neither right nor wrong. Buddhism was bigger than I was -- sort of like Vatican City minus the tinsel. Without being able to find its edges exactly, still it was monolithic and reliable ... or anyway reliable-ish. Buddhism was the home team and I was willing to cheer for it. Buddhism protected me and I protected it, however fumbling the efforts. It was like the keel on a boat -- keeping a steady and safe course ... or anyway steady-ish and safe-ish.

Buddhism was important and as time passed, I found a hundred zippy, solemn ways in which to defend it. Buddhism was important to me. I relied on it to the extent that the efforts required in Buddhism meant, ipso facto, I could not put energies elsewhere. I relied on it. I needed Buddhism. In this, I don't see anything very unusual: Relying on one thing or another is just human, I imagine.

But what crossed my bow yesterday as I was thumbing through an Internet Buddhist bulletin board was this: I had gotten things backwards. Buddhism is not something I rely on as a safe and sensible haven. It is not I who need Buddhism, but rather that Buddhism relies utterly and completely on me. And further, that the unwillingness to shoulder this responsibility -- the willingness to go on relying on Buddhism as touchstone and bolt hole and life-shaping thought process or practice -- amounts to nothing short of an evisceration of Buddhism ... a man staring at a dead corpse and pretending it was alive.

Buddhism relies utterly on me and not the other way around ... me and any other reliably-informed Buddhists out there. Buddhism may or may not be a protector, but who is it who does the protecting?

And who is this "me" to which I so blithely refer? Let's leave that game for another day.

Oh well ... I'm just muttering this morning... a reliable or reliable-ish occurrence.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Passed along in email:

Elliot Rodger

Imagine being stuck in a universe where you took for literal truth the truth that others so patently believed in. No checks or balances -- just flat-out believed and acted upon.

Some of that horror comes true for me in the case of Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who almost certainly killed six people in Santa Barbara Friday and then, it seems, killed himself after wounding another seven.

A couple of the videos (here and here) show a neatly dressed young man in the throes of a belief that he had played by the rules -- accumulated the right stuff and the right manners and the right deportment -- and the world -- especially the young women who rejected him sexually -- had not provided the brass ring it had promised. From his point of view, was it any wonder he was angry?

Based on subsequent actions, it is no wonder anyone writes Elliot Rodger off as a crazy person, clinically unbalanced, a wack-job ... and oh-so-very-different from me and thee. And Elliot Rodger is different in the sense that 'me and thee' didn't go on a bloody rampage.

But what gets to me is the matrix from which he arose -- a world in which stuff and spin is constantly put forward as a (wo)man-measuring devices. Is there a moment on television or the Internet that doesn't send a message of this sort? And no one ever accused Facebook of level-headed humility ... size and Facebook do matter!

I am not interested here in some white-whine mewling about "materialism" or "acquisitiveness" or whether "Buddhism has the answer." I am interested in the world as it portrays itself and is bound to enfold anyone.

Taken literally, who wouldn't be really, really pissed to find out that the promises of $300 sunglasses or a $35-40,000 BMW had not been kept? The more literally the promise was taken, the greater the anger.

I guess a part of me views Elliot Rodger as I view spiritual cults -- a very negative result that grew directly out of what a well-coiffed majority might portray as acceptable and sane and somehow good. What is spooky about Elliot Rodger is not how different he is from the society of which I am a part, but rather how joined-at-the-hip similar he is. (Quick -- check the underwear drawer, the designer-label toilet brush, the polo shirts, the slacks, the golf clubs, the perfume and aftershave, the weapons .....)

He also stands in my mind as a reminder of what a shrink friend once observed to me: That the sense of loss and abandonment and loneliness experienced by the silver-platter rich offspring is the same in all regards as the sense of loss and abandonment and loneliness of the ground-down and maltreated poor.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

mental doodling

Finding wisdom in life is easy.
Knowing what is wise is hard.
There is magic everywhere.
It takes effort to be a good magician.

voting on Sunday

Why is it that my own country cannot do something as sensible and downright democratic as holding its elections on the weekends when a vast majority of voters have some free time?
(Reuters) - European elections culminate on "Super Sunday" when the remainder of the EU's 28 countries go to the polls, with the vote expected to confirm the dominance of pro-EU centrists despite a rise in support for the far-right and left.
Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Poland are among the major EU member states voting on Sunday, representing the bulk of the 388 million Europeans eligible to cast ballots and elect the 751 deputies to sit in the European Parliament from 2014-2019.

the indelicacy of drones

...[A] year after Obama laid out new conditions for drone attacks around the world, U.S. forces are failing to comply fully with the rules he set for them: to strike only when there is an imminent threat to Americans and when there is virtually no danger of taking innocent lives.

religious but not spiritual?

Tom Shakespeare's essay on the religious/spiritual schtick is quite nice -- not least in the fact that he simply states his point of view and does not segue into the oleaginous and importuning use of the word "we" which spiritual/religious essays can so frequently indulge.

Here's the mission statement of the piece:
More and more people are rejecting religion but embracing spirituality. But have they got things the wrong way around, asks Tom Shakespeare.

scattergun Sunday

Skitter-skatter Sunday with a thin fog embellishing the soft call of the mourning dove. The street outside the house is largely empty of the cars that seem to have taken neighbors here and there on the long Memorial Day weekend... leaving behind an empty barroom that once pulsed with dance and decorations. My mind murmurs with the mourning dove....

-- I wonder if it is an accurate sense of the country in which I live ... a sense that seems to boils down to a damp and lumpy mattress in a flop house... a place where, only in sleep, is there much honest delight and vision and laughter. I wonder whether, when at last the country is colonized (perhaps by the Chinese), this flop house will be demolished and the mattress tossed out as the colonizers impose a vision that my country could not find or apply ... some vision, any vision other than a flop house with its damp and lumpy mattresses. Their own upright vision of McDonald's, perhaps -- these colonists are so easily satisfied ... knowing "the cost of everything and the value of nothing."

-- Music is so magical. You can love it or hate it. You can be lifted by it or cast down. Music does not complain or agree. But perhaps there is one thing no one can do with music and that is to contradict it. This morning, for example, an old 1960's song climbed up out of a distant memory bank and loop-taped in my mind. Over and over again like some nagging child -- lookit me! lookit me! And so, like any adult with a child, I surrender in the end and do lookit-me ... what other choice is there? There is no other way to shut it up or contradict it.

-- Elsewhere, someone was flogging his new book about "nothingness." It was obviously something the author took seriously and yet, I couldn't help but wonder about the things anyone takes seriously: If you take it seriously, isn't that enough? Doesn't everyone have a thing or two about which s/he is serious and as a result dives deep into the rabbit hole of seriousness and intricacy and importance. And yet, in the end, is simply dying for company ... someone with whom to 'share' perhaps ... or someone on whom to spread the bliss and balm of one particular seriousness or another? There may be claims of not selling ice to Eskimos, of simply laying out the importance of a particular importance, but it is clear from the exposition that the last lesson of importance has not yet settled -- a nice big helping of "shut the fuck up." There is nothing saying I can't say what I want when I want -- that I can't lay out my leanings and persuasions -- but implicit or explicit bids for agreement ... well, if a thing is true and you know it's true, by what reasoning does that truth need to litter someone else's lawn?

I know it's a delicate matter, but still ...

Saturday, May 24, 2014

mass shooter's last video

In what authorities are calling "the work of a madman," a gunman went on a drive-by shooting rampage in a Santa Barbara student enclave that left at least seven people dead, including the attacker, and seven others wounded.
The apparent attacker, Elliot Rodger, 22, made a video ("I will slaughter every single blonde slut I see") on Thursday, one day before the events occurred. The connection between video and events has not been confirmed, but the link seems to exist. I am posting it because so often the back-story on any given crime is submerged by the crime itself ... as if it were enough to report the crime and the story needed no further investigation.

The video is extremely disturbing, depicting as it does a young man who is lonely and sexually frustrated and blames the objects of his would-be affection for his predicament. In one sense, the video is a textbook case of why anyone might use the generic word "crazy" as a means of dismissing what is so horrific and inexplicable. But just because something is "crazy" doesn't mean it is not an honest part of the world in which anyone might live.

As I say, it's extremely disturbing.... disturbing enough so that Youtube has now removed it. It is still available within the Daily Mail's story.
And here is what appears to be a prequel Youtube video, also passed along in email.

A day after the event, police confirmed the name of the shooter, who also was said to have stabbed three roommates to death.

And there was the wracking sorrow of those left to cope:

Memorial Day reflection

Passed along in email this morning was a column by John LaForge entitled "Remembering on Memorial Day."

This is Memorial Day weekend here in the United States, so the timeliness of the column is clear -- remembering the war dead at least a little bit. Laforge's column is far better than my own though I am happy to be in somewhat the same ballpark.

Among the quotes LaForge includes in his column are these:
-- “I don’t want people who have a financial stake in crisis and tensions to have a voice in national policy.” -- WWII D-Day commander and former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower

-- “War is at best barbarism… Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.” -- Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman

How I wish sometimes that this stupid blog were not constantly preaching to a too-agreeable choir!

make a vow, break a vow

No doubt there are those who take great vows in life.

Vows, of whatever sweep or urgency, require both energy and imagination, two qualities that seem to diminish as I get older.

So this morning I took what I thought was a small vow.

Today, I imagined brightly, I would do what I could not to improve anything.

It seemed like a pretty good idea at the time, given the flow of events that anyone might encounter on a daily basis... all that muss, fuss and bother when things seemed to work out pretty much on schedule without my interference.

But then I thought it over.

The odds suggested that if, in fact, I could refrain from improving anything, that would probably be an improvement on whatever had gone before and hence....

By making such a vow, I had done nothing to much as to break the vow I took.

I wonder how many other vows are like that.

Friday, May 23, 2014

thought moments

I've posted this before and will probably post it again because I think it is that good:

inquiline lifestyle

Is it possible to be free of an inquiline existence -- one constantly seeking out another's home or philosophy or religion as a domicile of daily life? Living behind another's walls ... living in the comforting shadow of another's views or efforts?

"Inquiline" is defined by an Internet dictionary as:
-- An animal that lives habitually in the nest or abode of some other species
It is understandable that children should learn from their parents -- that they should take on coloration when they are colorless.

But what of the adult? Is it still sensible or pleasing to live according to someone else's vision and effort? At what point, if ever, does it lighten the load to stop living in someone else's house, however palatial and wondrous?

I don't imagine it is possible to distinguish a "Republican" from a Republican, a "Christian" from a Christian, or a "car mechanic" from a car mechanic. Some never give up the comforts and protections of an inquiline existence.

But there is the potential to look within and finally take personal responsibility for living this life, not because someone else calls it good or happy or nourishing but because living an inquiline existence is too uncertain and fruitless.

the emperor's new Jews

Running around in my mind after watching "United States of Secrets" (II) last night is a bit of associative, bitter and fairy-tale whimsy. It won't shut up at the moment, so I guess I will give it rein and perhaps it will run itself out, imperfections and all:


During World War II, the German chancellor, Adolf Hitler, and his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, wove a self-aggrandizing net of German superiority. The links in the net included, but were not limited to, the proposition that the German race, referred to as "Aryans," was supreme and deserved to rule the land and, from that, the world.

Like any supremacist doctrine, the notion that white speakers of Indo-European languages deserved to rule was constantly bolstered by pointing out other groupings that did NOT fill the bill and were inimical to this pure and untainted vision -- Jews, gypsies, communists, the infirm, and, when pressed, black and brown people. Anyone who was not an Aryan was a threat to Aryans and deserved to be suppressed if not eradicated.

Well, at least the Nazis took a swing at defining their one true faith.

In Washington these days, the newest Aryan outlook might be summed up in the word "safety." Vast agencies like the Department of Homeland Security have been created and sustained by the notion that the American people want (as they do) to be kept safe and that such agencies are doing their damnedest to assure that safety.

Non-Aryan forces of evil are everywhere. Sacrifices will need to be made if the new Aryan safety is to be preserved. Personal privacy, unrestricted mobility, an open court system, and freedom of speech all pose potential dangers to an Aryan safety, and the National Security Agency, FBI, CIA and Department of Homeland Security are on the job. Street corner cameras, data collection, and increasingly militarized police departments all seek to preserve the Aryan safety.

But where the Nazis were foolish enough to define the Shangri-La purity they espoused, Washington is not quite that stupid.

The human paradox works in their favor: Everyone would like to be "safe" and yet anyone who has two brain cells to rub together knows that life does not offer the option of a perfect safety. No one can see into or predict the future ... and yet the desire for safety remains and anything -- any non-Aryan threat to that safety needs to be parried -- with luck before it can lower its vindictive boom.

Washington does not define the Aryan safety it implies and posits. It simply builds up scenarios of most-often unnamed forces that threaten that saftety ... the latter-day Jews and other 'impure' elements. And the particulars of the dangers are generally kept secret: Sacrifices must be made, but the goal for which those sacrifices need to be made is kept veiled and amorphous ... for "security" reasons. No one can know the future and yet vast sums of money and personal sacrifice are demanded in support of the new Aryan vision. Fear becomes reason enough and never mind what, precisely, is feared.

Another World Trade Towers demolition will keep the fearful in line. Another unspecified "terrorist" plot ... another threat to national "safety" will be cited. And yet with enough accumulation of such tactics, it is hard not to think that I would rather face my enemies than be supported by my Aryan friends.

Sure, I want to be "safe." But safe at any price? Safe when no one can guarantee safety? Safe at the expense of those jailed without due process? Safe at the expense of the "collateral damage" that litters the new Aryan outlook? Safe because these new Aryans heap on dangers without tangible reference to the safety they are providing?

My enemies are looking better and better -- or at least honest -- as the new imperial Aryans with their new inimical Jews advance.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"United States of Secrets" Part II

This is the second part of the PBS Frontline investigation of the National Security Agency's wholesale gathering of information on United States citizens. It centers largely on the fallout from the revelations generated by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The show is depressing. It's not depressing in the same way Hitler's rough-shod rise to power in Germany once was. Rather it is like the smog in Beijing ... killing you softly.

Here are well-scrubbed and well-spoken fifty-something men who, perhaps with good intentions, are simply betraying the United States of America. In English, it might be called "treason," but of course it is not called that because these are the well-spoken fifty-something men who define what "treason" is for their own purposes.

There are no heaps of skeleton-thin Holocaust bodies stacked up in their wake. There is just a smog-like treason that dismantles what Americans once fought and died for.

Kafka would be envious. The owner of a small Internet company receives a letter ordering him to turn over data to the government. The letter says it is legal for the government to do this. The letter warns the man not to divulge that he has received the letter or the contents of it. This too is called legal. When the man decides to fight and when it appears that his case might go to the Supreme Court and there be declared illegal, the government backs down. Yet even after the case is forgotten, the contents of the letter are not revealed.

And so it has been in the past: Each time anyone tries to find out precisely what damage has been done by whistleblowers like Snowden, the government claims it cannot divulge details for fear of compromising sensitive activities. Trust us ... you need to be afraid ... you need to trust us to protect you ... you need to sacrifice privacy so that we can protect you from things you need to fear but we cannot tell you.

No Internet company was willing to be interviewed for the show. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft ... well, it might cut into profits and besides, they have a right to keep their business practices private.

Drip, drip, drip.

Everyone so well dressed. Everyone so well educated. Everyone so sincere.

Termites are in no rush.

But the buildings fall down.

Anyone wishing to get a more 'entertaining' feel for the sort of depression Frontline ladles out could do worse than the movie "Brazil."

"Doubly Thankful Villages"

With so much heart-ache and sorrow and loss attending on whatever the latest war happens to be, it is interesting that there is sometimes a strangely-piercing bit of good news as well.
The Doubly Thankful villages – the 13 villages in England and one in Wales where every soldier, sailor, airman and WAAF who served in World Wars One and Two came home alive – do not make a song and dance about the past.

where explanations fall away

I was once talking with a woman who had recently discovered her right hand. She explained that suddenly, out of no where, her right hand no longer belonged to her. Stare at it as she might and confirm as she might that the hand was, as always before, attached to her body, still, her right hand had taken on a bright new specificity and individuality and (somehow) separateness.

It was all, if I recall her delivery correctly, a bit weird, but not entirely unpleasant. What had been true in a perfectly mundane, pay-it-no-mind way became true in some new way. The new way did not exactly negate the old attached-hand way, it simply made that truth more compellingly wide and more truly true. The ordinary becomes extraordinary which is perfectly ordinary but not exactly as expected.

Our conversation took place in an easy-going, hither-and-thither discussion of Buddhism or spiritual life or something. Nothing especially heavy ... just chatting along. She was interested in spiritual life, but wasn't some everything-is-spiritual wack job.

The woman's encounter with her right hand did not last for long, but it was compelling enough so that she remembered it and found its contrast to her ordinary understanding a bit unsettling. She had been so utterly convinced. And yet if she had been so utterly convinced then, why was she not so utterly convinced now? The tendrils of a brief encounter lingered in her mind, not exactly nagging, but posing whispered questions.

Anyone who has entered spiritual life with some determination will recognize the small experience the woman described to me. Serious spiritual life is a bit wacky from the get-go and a lot of participants allow for experiences that might seem truly off-the-wall in ordinary discourse. There's a latitude granted to, well, you know, the weird stuff that sometimes is madly sought and sometimes just comes calling all by itself.

Maybe it's a kiss that becomes a kiss, maybe it's a single hair in the hair brush, maybe it's a couple of drops of spilled coffee, maybe it's ... anything at all. The experience may last a moment or two or a day or two, but eventually it recedes into memory, not nagging exactly, but posing, as for the woman,  whispered questions.

The fact that such experiences are talked about in spiritual venues may lead some to believe that it is spiritual life -- its hard work, its determination, its effort, its seriousness, its other-worldliness -- that is responsible for such bright openings. But just because people in a wacky venue are more open to speaking about such events does not mean the those events are somehow absent in less wacky venues.

My own feeling -- based on some experience -- is that pretty much everyone runs into such bright moments, the ones that knock everyday understanding for a temporary loop. The fact that they don't talk about it with the same abandon that attends on the latest baseball game or pay raise is based in the fear that "no one will understand" or "they'll think I'm a wacko."

No matter. Talking about it doesn't explain it any more than not talking about it explains it. Where the known universe is somehow fractured ... well, if you can't explain it to yourself, how could you ever explain it to anyone else as a means of understanding? Or -- assuming you found some serene and profound teacher to guide your footsteps -- you may say that "s/he straightened me out," but a little examination will upend that convenient explanation.

The thought that crosses my mind when it comes to these small bright openings is not how rare and unusual they are but rather how plentiful and usual they are. I suspect that if a hundred people got together and were somehow willing or able to remember, there would be thousands of twinkling lights.

And when enough people are all doing the same thing, no one calls them a wacko any more. The fractured universe or the wider and more assured understanding is probably as common as picking your nose -- be as secretive as you like, but don't tell me you haven't done it ... or that you haven't entered a brand new and utterly ordinary universe... an edgy and unexplainable place that has already been explained and is about as edgy as a booger.

Finally ... a place of honesty where explanations don't compute.

What a relief!

scripture and belief

Apocryphal conversation between an unwary homeowner sitting on his front stoop and a Bible*-toting visitor:

Homeowner: Is that a Bible you're carrying?
Visitor: Yes, it is.
Homeowner: And do you believe it?
Visitor: Yes, I do.
Homeowner: And have you verified it to your own satisfaction?
Visitor: Yes, I have.
Homeowner: Then why in the world do you waste your time believing it?

*Bible or any other revered text.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Elizabeth Warren

Who knows whether it is really a sign of the times or not, but last night I was watching Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren on the TV and briefly wished she would run for president.

I didn't wish it with some knee-jerk feminist ardor, though I think it might be nice to have a female president. Elizabeth Warren struck me as a person of substance, someone capable of thought that might back up whatever decisiveness she chose. She did not strike me as someone who would make statements purely to raise her own stock. Of course, I could be wrong, but this is how she struck me... a kind of Mary Poppins whose strictness was based in substance and yet was capable of laughter.

But as quickly as I thought Warren should run for president, the question rose up unbidden: "Why would a wish such a thing on any person I considered admirable?" I don't like to wish ill on my friends and Elizabeth Warren struck me as a person worth being friends with... quality goods.

Once the presidency was a place of honor in my mind, a place where men (and possibly future women) might stumble and fail but at least did what they could to represent and improve the lot of the nation as a whole.

Was I naive then and jaded now? I don't know. But I do know that I don't now wish the presidency on anyone of character and substance. Is this the sort of surrender I wish to make? I don't know, but I seem to have made it ... you can only wrestle with merchandizers and blowhards for so long.

Wikipedia quotes Warren as responding to the criticism that taxing the rich amounts to class warfare:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. ... You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

peevish parade

Perhaps it falls into the category of "old fart remembers 'the good ol' days,'" but still I am happy to lived in a time when....

-- My country had a "Department of War" and not an evasive and self-serving "Department of Defense."
-- A 2x4 piece of lumber measured two inches by four inches instead of bending a knee to "industrial standards" that allowed manufacturers to offer consumers some lesser dimension (and make more money) while retaining the use of the name.
-- A "problem" was just a problem without recourse to being an "issue."
-- You went to the hospital for an "operation" instead of a miching "procedure."
-- And am I wrong or was there a time when people simply said, "I think" or "I believe" without the simpering and supplicating use of the word "we?"

Of course no one ever had the wherewithal to call "life insurance" "death insurance," but a man can dream, I imagine.

the "ultimate sacrifice" reconsidered

Prior to the May 13 White House ceremony, White spoke about the time on a cliff face in Afghanistan. It was Nov. 9, 2007, and his unit had been ambushed by a superior force of Taliban fighters: “I told myself that I was going to die. You know, there’s no doubt in my mind I was not going to make it off that cliff that day. And so in my mind … it was, you know, if I am going to die I’m going to help my battle buddies until it happens ...."

No doubt those reading his words or smiling at the White House ceremony glowed in the light of White’s indisputable valor. Socially speaking, he had done his “duty” at great personal risk. From the point of view of the society that sent him to war, White had been prepared to make the “ultimate sacrifice.” 

But what of the sacrifice that is made when there is a failure — in pitched battle or elsewhere — to nourish the human connection that is every person’s birthright?

Next Monday is Memorial Day — the day on which those who died in combat are remembered. On that day, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers — all of them to some degree beloved or honored — are resurrected, however briefly.

Memorial Day is for the dead whose survivors hold parades, wave flags and speak solemnly of the “ultimate sacrifice” these “heroes” made for “a grateful nation.” Far from the tuba music and podiums, in a hundred shadowed places, there is weeping as well.

And as ever, the question whispers: How shall the survivors honor — really honor — our veterans?
Is a White House ceremony or parade a real answer? 

By what grim logic does an audience that helped feed these men and women into the wood-chipper of war in the first place expect them now to be salved or feel vindicated by a medal marking events that did nothing to nourish them? The audience remembers what any combat veteran might give his or her eye teeth to forget ... and cannot. The audience remembers and applauds its veterans and in so doing, sidesteps its own very real complicities.

During World War I, in the week before the Christmas of 1914, there were scattered incidents in which German, British and French troops laid down their arms, ventured into no-man’s-land, exchanged gifts, buried the dead, sang carols and in some instances played a game of soccer. In a terrain littered with body parts and filled with the screams of men calling out for their mothers and everywhere the smell of death ... they stopped.

Perhaps, like Kyle J. White, they too knew death could easily be their lot, but more important than that was their own humane and nourishing humanity.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 was not universal and the inclination that inspired it was quickly squelched by the generals on all sides who were enraged: How can you have a decent war, a “patriotic” war, a “necessary” war, when people are singing songs, religious or otherwise? Many of those who had sung songs soon returned to the trenches and many paid “the ultimate price.” 

And yet, however brief the moment, there was something that touched those men in the trenches. Religion, principle, defiance or altruism may all have played a role in their actions, but before all of that, before all the explanations, there was something else. It was just ... gut-level ... human.

Is that the message our veterans send us — that peace is not the result of laying down arms; that there are times to fight but that there is an even greater courage in learning to live in a way that is nourishing, deserves to be nourished and is unlikely ever to receive a medal?

Perhaps that is the now-departed veterans’ message to us: Live courageously: Medals and applause and even victory never were the point. 

So how shall we honor these men and women warriors in return? How can anyone truly honor our veterans? The only answer I can come up with is ... stop making them.

On his right wrist, Kyle J. White wears a bracelet engraved with the names of the six men who made the “ultimate sacrifice” on an Afghan cliff. The bracelet is a reminder of loss and of the people White calls his heroes, the men he was unable to save. 

But also, perhaps, that bracelet is a reminder of something less quantifiable and something for which there are no medals: Kyle J. White has a proven capacity to be a good man who did not have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

No doubt Kyle J. White was not singing on Nov. 9, 2007, but his actions sang for him.

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears on the third Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

there's an app for that? really?

Yesterday, I went to the bank to conduct some financial business. I sat down across the desk from a scrubbed and pleasant-faced young woman with neatly-combed blond hair. We chatted through the business I wanted to conduct and managed to splice in more personal notes, not least because I like knowing something about the person I am talking to.

The woman had worked at the bank for 17 years. She liked it. She and her husband, who sold industrial windows, lived up in the hills on a farm populated by cows, pigs and chickens. She grew up in the country, she said, and liked living there. I said I was in awe of farmers whose lives were 24/7, 365 days a year. There was no room for excuses on a farm: The cows needed to be milked irrespective of sniffles or sprained ankles or funerals or bouts of melancholy.

The woman said that, as a little girl, she had wept as she begged and pleaded with her mother to take her shopping for an outfit at some city department store: The kids in school teased her because of her home-made clothes.

I never did find out if she and her husband had kids.

Anyway, we did financial business and spliced in some personal information and when we shook hands at the end of the meeting, her handshake was warm and strong and, from where I stood, honest. An open and straightforward person -- someone worth knowing. Nothing sissified or glorified or pretentious. I liked her.

Today, I read a news story about the current dating game and the uses to which young people put their Internet devices ... the applications they used as a means of scoping out the possibilities.
One young woman, Melissa Ellard, 23, was quoted as saying:
When you are using the app, you get to look at their picture and see background information. You get to decide whether you want to continue it or not. When I meet someone, I want to know everything about them before I go on a date with them.
"I want to know everything" and the everything I want to know is based in trusted sources like Facebook or other Internet rap sheets. "Everything" can be found by relying on the Internet: I'm too busy in my life ... I can't be bothered with failed attempts ... I want to win ... and not waste time... and have fun ... and have my deepest desires met ... all the time. I am willing to trust profiles written by the very people I might like to meet ... as if, even when they made their best effort to be truthful, they would or even could tell "everything."

I didn't want a date with the woman I talked with at the bank, but I did come away from our meeting feeling as if I had met someone worth liking and trusting. Who knows what I might have thought if I looked her up on the Internet. The social chasms created by 'social' media like Facebook just don't strike me as particularly desirable.

I realize it's not an either-or proposition, but still, I'll stick with conversation and a hand shake.


I have decided not to import muskrats.

I am making this announcement for several reasons.

First, I think it is salutary to make announcements from time to time. It feels good and has a reassuring quality: I am, after all, a man of principle.

Second, like a wolf that pees in concentric circles around its lair, announcements act as a kindness or a warning to those near, dear or inimical. I don't want other muskrat importers to feel threatened, on the one hand and I would like others, including the fellow in the bathroom mirror, to know where I stand and who I am. Vows and announcements are somehow supportive.

Third, even if I knew what a muskrat was, I still would not want to import or retail one. I may sell a lot of shit one way and another, but muskrats are not one of them. It may be impossible not to retail stuff in life, but I have crossed muskrats off my list. Muskrats and importers can rest easy.

Fourth, being a merchant gives me the creeps. I judge this from the sense of ick that rises up each time I catch myself merchandising something else ... as for example that I will not import muskrats or assert some other lofty and reassuring principle.

Fifth: At my age, I am aware that I may come to rue the day when I took such a lofty vow -- that circumstances may change and I may see importing muskrats in a whole new light. But for the moment, I am well pleased with the man in the bathroom mirror: I am, after all, a man of principle.

color me tickled

I guess if you wait long enough or live long enough or something like that, everything comes around again.

Last night, my daughter returned from a book group she belongs to ... people sitting around discussing a book everyone has read. Last night, because the bartender where the discussion was being held recommended it, the group decided to take on some book by Pema Chodron -- maybe "When Things Fall Apart" or maybe "The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving-Kindness" ... I can't remember which. Pema Chodron is a Buddhist pooh-bah.

I never brought my three children up to be either Buddhists or "Buddhists." They knew I had a robe, knew I had built the backyard zendo or meditation hall and knew that there were occasional visitors who might come along to sit in the zendo with me on a Sunday morning or, occasionally, other times.

But there was no fuss, no muss and no bother. I think my Buddhist schtick was about on a par with stamp-collecting in their minds ... and that was pretty much the way I liked it. I hoped they would become good people, not good Buddhists, and I was largely rewarded.

But it tickled me that my daughter might run across some aspect of life I had some experience of. Perfectly ordinary, in one sense, and yet somehow tickle-some on the other. An Internet chum once predicted that my daughter "will inherit the robe," but I didn't and don't put much stock in that.

It's enough to get tickled once in a while.

Monday, May 19, 2014

forbidden words at General Motors

Passed along in email was this 2008 General Motors power-point presentation that told its engineering employees to avoid using 69 words in their reports. Among the words were "rolling sarcophagi," "Hindenberg" and "Kevorkianesque." The documents were released on Friday.

The full list:
always, annihilate, apocalyptic, asphyxiating, bad, Band-Aid, big time, brakes like an “X” car, cataclysmic, catastrophic, Challenger, chaotic, Cobain, condemns, Corvair-like, crippling, critical, dangerous, deathtrap, debilitating, decapitating, defect, defective, detonate, disemboweling, enfeebling, evil, eviscerated, explode, failed, flawed, genocide, ghastly, grenadelike, grisly, gruesome, Hindenburg, Hobbling, Horrific, impaling, inferno, Kevorkianesque, lacerating, life-threatening, maiming, malicious, mangling, maniacal, mutilating, never, potentially-disfiguring, powder keg, problem, rolling sarcophagus (tomb or coffin), safety, safety related, serious, spontaneous combustion, startling, suffocating, suicidal, terrifying, Titanic, unstable, widow-maker, words or phrases with a biblical connotation, you’re toast
That should boost company morale... at GM or any other rah-rah corporation.

"in sickness and in health"

WASHINGTON (AP) — You promise "in sickness and in health," but a new poll shows becoming a caregiver to a frail spouse causes more stress than having to care for mom, dad or even the in-laws.
Americans 40 and older say they count on their families to care for them as they age, with good reason: Half of them already have been caregivers to relatives or friends, the poll found.
But neither the graying population nor the loved ones who expect to help them are doing much planning for long-term care. In fact, people are far more likely to disclose their funeral plans to friends and family than reveal their preferences for assistance with day-to-day living as they get older, according to the poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

the Murky Effect

Having just passed in my latest newspaper column which several others were kind enough to read and comment on, I think I will practice writing simple sentences.

Here is a simple sentence.

Simple sentences and simple topics.

Puppies and kittens are simple topics.

Social agreements are simple topics.

History is a simple topic ... it never talks back.

I am a fan of the notion that if you can't make it simple, you have yet to grasp your subject. But there is a gap between being a fan and execution -- call it the Murky Effect.

It may be too late for me, but I can practice.

Simple sentences.

They may not be perfect, but they're a little less murky.

slithering forgiveness

Last night, at the suggestion of a friend, I tried watching the 2012 movie, "The Railway Man." I watched perhaps the first third, then skipped to the end ... and was ashamed of myself.

The movie is about a man who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder in the wake of his capture and internment by the Japanese during World War II. Like anyone suffering from PTSD, this was a story of an outwardly ordinary fellow who cannot escape the horrors of an earlier time: They rise up unbidden and will not be denied ... in the middle of the most mundane of circumstances.

The movie was quiet and understated and perhaps, in my eyes, the more horrific for that. No doubt the movie had flaws -- it was based on a true story and was not always true to that story.

But none of that mattered. The story was good. The problem was that I knew what was coming and I simply did not have the courage for it. Fiction or non-fiction, the credible horrors one group can visit on another -- so often under a legitimizing bureaucratic banner that is political or religious or otherwise agreed-upon -- stir up a massive sorrow I am unwilling to shoulder.

But I am ashamed.

I am ashamed because as much as I might like to forgive myself for shying from what is repugnant and grinding and heinous, still I dislike the habit of slithering forgiveness it can engender: By not looking facts in the eye, there can be a slow slide to the feeling that if I turn my head, or if I get used to the serene and distant dissections that can occur ... well, if I avert my eyes, it doesn't exist, or at any rate I can rest easy. Look at the sex abuse engendered by the Vatican, the Buddhist sex scandals, the black-op rendition sites, the Nazi concentration camps where those living just down the road knew nothing ... etc. etc. etc.

I hate that shit ... and yet I couldn't watch the movie in all its gritty and fabulously-mundane horror. The sadness was too much for me. How I wish I could be content to say things like, "it's past" or "you weren't there" or "what about all the good stuff that evolved?" How I wish I could be content with "compassion" or "serenity" ... which seems so often to be cowardice dressed in self-referentially consoling robes .... cowardice like my own.

How can anyone truly appreciate the light when they turn away from the darkness? It's not possible, no matter how many hymns are sung.

But I couldn't watch. I wouldn't watch. The sadness was too huge.

So the best I can do is to pray that others with greater courage than my own will not turn a blind eye and blind heart to the vast sorrows so often occasioned by what is wildly-applauded as virtuous or patriotic or kind.

Slithering agreements ... ick, ick and more ick!

I wish I had that kind of courage, but the fact is, I do not have it. The best I can do, perhaps, is kneel down by some itinerant Christian and pray, "God forgive me!"

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday zazen

A beautiful, blue-sky Sunday.

The mosquitoes are blooming, but I imagine I will do zazen with the door open so that the fresh air -- mosquitoes and all --  can mix with the incense.

John is coming and so, though I'm not feeling very altruistic this morning, we will sit in the air together.

Maybe my crabbiness will wash away.

Maybe not.

really, REALLY rich people

Moving up the ladder from "comfortable" to "obscene" in my mind, the Sunday Times in Britain has published a list of its very wealthy inhabitants. I cannot imagine a reason for printing such a list (in America, Britain, or anywhere else) other than to make the have-not's drool.

And it is hard not to drool -- not to imagine, "what I would do if I had all that money."

But one of the most dispiriting conclusions an honest person might reach, I think, is that if I were that rich, I most-probably wouldn't act any differently from the people who already are that rich.

Posture, analyze, despair, dissect, extol, explain, wriggle and squirm ... and where the rubber hits the road, I doubt if much would change.

It is not one of my prouder recognitions.

unsold brand new cars

Passed along in email:

I'm not sure how much of this story is the entire story, but it is interesting to think that thousands of brand new cars might be parked, unpurchased and rusting, around the world.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

and you thought Godzilla was big

Fossilised bones of a dinosaur believed to be the largest creature ever to walk the Earth have been unearthed in Argentina, palaeontologists say.
Based on its huge thigh bones, it was 40m (130ft) long and 20m (65ft) tall.
Weighing in at 77 tonnes, it was as heavy as 14 African elephants, and seven tonnes heavier than the previous record holder, Argentinosaurus.

the "right to try" law

If you're dead if you do and dead if you don't, it doesn't seem unreasonable to make experimental drugs available to those who are on death's doorstep. Who knows, maybe such experimental drugs might work and if they don't, the patient is no worse off than s/he was in the first place. A dying (wo)man deserves the choice.

Colorado is due to sign into law a "right to try" bill today.
The "Right To Try" law allows terminally ill patients to obtain experimental drugs without getting federal approval. It's a proposal being advanced in several states by patient advocates who are frustrated by the yearslong federal approval process for experimental drugs in the pipeline.

merchant and music

The mind of the merchant ... the mind of the music.

There merchant mind is always looking to trade up. It is the quid-pro-quo mind, the good-deal mind: A newer car, a good marriage, an enlightenment that will eradicate delusion. The merchant mind dickers and is alternatively proud and ashamed of its efforts, holy and damned by turns. The merchant mind has shiny buttons which it polishes relentlessly.

The mind of music has no purchase points and no pay-off. It floats without companions and can't stop smiling, though its fierceness is as steady as the eye of a hawk. Attainment is out of the question and for this reason, tentatively, it is a terrific relief.

Yet even relief cannot tempt its joys. This is music, after all, and not some stupid jewel.

Who but a merchant could escape the music, laying on a bartering mind with words like "this moment" or "beautiful" or "love?" The music does not demur: It is neither escapable nor inescapable ... it's just music, for heaven's sake!

Show me the time or place with or without music.

Anyone who ever tried to trade up to music knows the problem that does not exist.

Friday, May 16, 2014

"United States of Secrets"

As is extraordinarily ordinary for the Public Broadcast System's "Frontline," "United States of Secrets" (Part I) is as even-toned and deliberate and careful as it is horrifying. Even hardline 'patriots' are depicted as being incredulous at the liberties and corruptions that have gone into the creation of the U.S. government's surveillance program under the leadership of the National Security Agency.

Ordinary citizens may claim to be outraged by the intrusiveness of the data collections, but there is always a whisper of doubt (the precise doubt the government hopes to instill) that without such tools, the blood of innocent Americans will be on the hands of those who stood in the way. The show goes beyond gee-whiz outrage and implicitly asks whether the justice system of the United States is worth corrupting in the search for alleged corruptions.

And a variety of people are thrown to the wolves along the way ... with FBI agents raiding the suburban homes of suspected leakers ... whose lives are ruined ... and the charges never substantiated. Nazi Germany is NOT hyperbole.

And when the Justice Department shows signs of doubting the legality of a burgeoning surveillance apparatus, the executive branch goes to a secret court (FISA) for constitutional validation of the laws that then allow the court to issue secret approval of wire taps and the like. You couldn't make this shit up.

Part I sets the stage for the arrival of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who lives in Russia after blowing the whistle ... a whistle others tried to blow, only to have their suburban homes raided. Part II is scheduled May 20.

Why this hasn't gone to the Supreme Court and why the Justice Department hasn't rounded up various White House functionaries is not clear to me. I thought lawlessness was a target of the legal system.

the "Thursday" effect

A shrink friend of my mother's once summed up his profession approximately with the words, "If a patient tells me two plus two equals five, I can probably help. If a patient tells me two plus two equals Thursday, I am probably out of my depth."

Two plus two equals five is incorrect by most mathematical yardsticks. But everyone has been wrong at one time or another and learned how to correct the mistake. Two plus two equals five is not that bad.

But two plus two equals Thursday is off the charts. It's a whole new and unexpected dimension and universe. It's wacko. It leaves comprehensible communication in the dust. It challenges foregone conclusions and assumptions and meanings. Two plus two equals Thursday is so far out of line that it is easier for the majority to dismiss it ... and thereby assert a socially-acceptable sanity in which two plus two equals five may be the greatest gaff.

I am not especially interested in excusing or elevating or diminishing someone else's sense of sane or demented. But I am interested in the personal proclivities that may send a (wo)man down one particular pathway, gaffs and all, that then, one day, turns out to have been mistaken in dimensional proportions. The experience is probably not the same from individual to individual, but its impact, irrespective of individual coloration, is interesting.

No one, for example, ever signed on to spiritual adventure because s/he was so damned happy. Like as not, something ached or yearned or felt confused. And where things gnaw, the longing for relief rises up and "relief" becomes the spoken or unspoken "why" of spiritual adventure: If something hurts, doing something to make it stop hurting is pretty d'oh. And in this way, corrective measures begin to take hold. Year after year ... good, corrective habits are shaped and reinforced.

But what is it like when "Thursday" arrives and the premise of relief is seen in a whole new light? What if relief were not the point of spiritual adventure at all? All those years, all that yearning, all those exemplary habits ... poof! If the chosen "why" -- the backstop of meaning and direction -- is no longer capable of a credible reality ... what happens then? When a designated meaning is no longer seen as having much meaning at all ... well, what happens when "Thursday" arrives and will not be denied?

Nor is spiritual adventure the only venue in which "Thursday" can raise its head. Think of work or marriage or any number of other long-term, effort-filled adventures. What the fuck is anyone to do when the assumptions simply don't hold water?

Like mice scurrying in the walls, I can hear the scurrying for a happy ending -- a mad, 'compassionate' dash to dimensionalize what has lost its dimension. I am just another mouse on the run and hardly an improvement. But I thought it was worth mentioning that losing dimension is not the end of the world. "Thursday" is just Thursday after all.

And in this regard (or perhaps not), I wrote this elsewhere yesterday:
The teacher's job is to correct the student.
The student's job is far more important because it is s/he who must correct the teacher.
I can't tell if I am kidding around or dead serious.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"The Vernepator Cur"

Heard this bit of history for the first time on the radio the other day -- the tale of the turn-spit dog tasked with running inside a wheel that turned the spit on which meat was roasted in England and, later, America.
The Canis vertigus, or turnspit, was an essential part of every large kitchen in Britain in the 16th century. The small cooking canine was bred to run in a wheel that turned a roasting spit in cavernous kitchen fireplaces....
"Turnspit dogs were viewed as kitchen utensils, as pieces of machinery rather than as dogs," says Bondeson. "The roar of the fire. The clanking of the spit. The patter from the little dog's feet. The wheels were put up quite high on the wall, far from the fire in order for the dogs not to overheat and faint."....
On Sunday, the turnspit dog often had a day off. The dogs were allowed to go with the family to church. "Not because of any concern for their spiritual education," says Bondeson, "but because the dogs were useful as foot warmers."....
The dogs were used in large hotel kitchens in America to turn spits. "In the 1850s, the founder of the [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] was appalled by the way the turnspit dogs were treated in the hotels of Manhattan," says Weaver. "This bad treatment of dogs eventually led to the founding of the SPCA."