Wednesday, August 31, 2016

more fat people?

Is it fair or is it just another example of the old fart unbound...

People seem to be fatter these days than when I grew up. Triceps blubbering, hang-over bellies wriggling, melon-ball bits of blubber obscuring the pointiness of an elbow, calves and thighs like sequoias. If it were some primitive setting in Africa or South America, there would be a lot more kings and queens whose bulk was a mark of royalty and leadership.

And of course there are more kings and queens these days. Just ask 'em.

When I grew up, people seemed more trimmed by life, by sweat, by times when the dinner table was not always awash. There were things to do, sweat-work to be done, ball games to play ... and there was more angularity, more sinew, more trim and fit and hardened, perhaps. There was no fetish about it. It was just the facts.

Now, of course, there are stylish gymnasiums and cell phones to promote them.

It just seems to me that there are more fat people, no matter how heart-felt the analyses.

Is this important? I don't know. It's just a passing thought.

Jewish revenge goes mysteriously awry

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- Seventy years after the most daring attempt of Jewish Holocaust survivors to seek revenge against their former tormentors, the leader of the plot has only one simple regret - that to his knowledge he didn't actually succeed in killing any Nazis.
Joseph Harmatz is one of the few remaining Jewish "Avengers" who carried out a mass poisoning of former SS men in an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1946 that sickened more than 2,200 Germans but ultimately caused no known deaths. A recently declassified U.S. military report obtained by The Associated Press has only added to the mystery of why the brazen operation did not kill Nazis, because it shows the amount of arsenic used should have been fatal to tens of thousands.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Islam Karimov
The first lines of today's Guardian story are:
As in life, so in death: Islam Karimov’s regime was one of the world’s most secretive and opaque for a quarter of a century, and now his apparent demise is equally shrouded in mystery.
The first lines of a sidebar story, originally run July 22, announce:
The murky, Shakespearean world of Uzbekistan’s ruling family has never been easy to track from outside. The dictatorship of Islam Karimov, the only president the country has ever had, is second only to North Korea's in the secrecy stakes. But in recent months, the family's extraordinary feuds have begun to seep into the public space.
Reading about Uzbekistan, if these stories are to be credited, is a bit like reading about the politically-ravenous times in Rome when family members prospered and advanced by poisoning their kin. Everybody seems to be after everyone else's hide, but the facts are so tenuous as to make afternoon soap operas look like Ph.D. theses.

I know, I know -- this is not a topic about which anyone is likely to give a shit. I mean.... quick! pick up a world map and put an index finger on Uzbekistan.

The reason the West cares about Uzbekistan seems to be the country's cheek-by-jowl proximity to Afghanistan, the place where America pursues its longest war. The reason I am interested is that it never ceases to amaze me how many things I know nothing or next-to-nothing about.  Do I know more about this country of 31-plus million people because I get some sense of how much less I actually know?

I doubt it. But it may act as a minor encouragement to humility, if such exists.

Still, these are 31 million people who, no doubt, live and love and die and are completely outside my consciousness. How long do I get to claim ignorance as my excuse?

smackdown for the old folks

I'm not familiar with the players in this British melodrama, but it's fairly easy to transpose the arguments to my colonial shores.

Jeremy Paxman has been accused of insulting millions of people after he branded pensioners “virtual corpses” riddled with “incontinence and idiocy”.
The former Newsnight presenter, who is 66 himself, has become embroiled in a dispute with Mature Times, a newspaper aimed at the over-50s, after he launched a scathing attack on the publication....
In a column for the Financial Times, Paxman wrote: “At the reception desk of a hotel to which I checked in this week was a pile of free copies of Mature Times, which calls itself ‘the voice of our generation’. Oh God, I thought, the cheeky bastards are including me. Back off....
“The paper is adorned with advertisements for hearing aids, recliner chairs, copper insoles, stairlifts, devices to help you in and out of the bath, and Your Life After Death, a book written by someone called ‘Joseph’ who, apparently, is dead."
And naturally, there are return salvos from the editor of Mature Times.

But the Brits (or anyway The Guardian) have the nerve to assail what in my country is largely a verboten topic -- the bullshit quotient of old age and the (social/journalistic) cotton-candy approach to it. It's like religion or sports -- somehow the poor dears cannot take it and do not deserve it either.

Tch. Tch. Oh my bad-boy element is chuckling. Is there anything so sublime, so wondrous, and so touching that it cannot have a quite annoying facet or two?


With all the smoothness of new caramel, there are 'grown-ups' who can intone without blinking: "All of life is nothing but compromise."

Every mote, every corner -- compromise. Lord, it is smooth.

And then, and then, from time to time, with all the fiery rancor of Krakatoa, the explosion occurs and the demand erupts for that which is not-not-not compromise.




Isn't there something, somewhere, somehow that is untinted and untainted?!

The question may be fodder for yet another bit of TED-talk twaddle. And yet sometimes it is a true question and demand -- a desperation and pleading and fury. An un-edged love. A rest beyond resting.

And so the quest begins, perhaps. No fucking around. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Really, really, really! Time after time, instance after instance, failure after failure, compromise after compromise. Thorough. Complete. Perfect.

The caramel contingent may point out that there is no evidence that such a suchness is even possible. And yet this Krakatoa insists. Its claws are bloody with certainty. And what evidence might there be to support the hypothesis? Well, is there anyone who doesn't know what it is to sneeze?

Is there good news to be slathered on this caramel, some promise of success? Go fuck yourself! The flames and burning lava are enough ... or, of course, you could compromise and become a grown-up.

Monday, August 29, 2016

chess queen

A heart-warmer:
I first met Phiona Mutesi in September 2010 sitting on the mud stoop of her family’s shack in one of the most challenging places on earth: Uganda’s Katwe slum. I had been told about Phiona; how at the age of nine she could neither read nor write and had dropped out of school, when she met a Ugandan missionary, Robert Katende, who offered to teach her the game of chess – a sport so foreign in Uganda that there is no word for it in Phiona’s native language – and how in just four years she had become an international chess champion.

Israel's latest assertions

Setting aside the friction between U.S. president Barack Obama and Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel and the United States are friends, allies, chums, etc. Generously, there are something less than 6 million Jews in the United States, a country of 318 million. But we're allies, I guess.

And yet the evidence mounts and mounts and mounts some more and it is sickening how Israel applies its apartheid to the Palestinians. In the United States, anyone calling the Israelis out is likely to be branded anti-Semitic, another enemy of tiny Israel that is beset by the Goliath 'terrorists.' And I have no doubt that the Palestinians can be pretty nasty, given half a chance. But where the Palestinians bring rocks and knives to the battle, Israel unleashes U.S.-weaponized responses to violence. Every body count seems to be about the same -- three Palestinians for every Israeli. Someone is in the military catbird seat.

It is hard not to feel the complicity of my country. We support this self-referential Woody Allen with bloodied brass knuckles ... so kind, so religious, so spat upon through history that somehow spitting on others deserves to be overlooked. The means to a livelihood, an ancestral home to inhabit, access to water and medical treatment ... how much bullshit is anyone supposed to swallow before they say "enough?!"

And there was this latest story today. Somebody else to bulldoze.

In the end, I suppose, the U.S. will decide to support Syria's dictator, Bashar al-Assad, as a means of ending the slaughter that has displaced and maimed millions in Syria and neighboring communities. And if the U.S. can do it for Assad, lending Israel a hand would be chump change.

Bog Snorkeling Championships - photos

Superheroes, mermaids and pink stetsons were in action at this year’s championships in the Waen Rhydd peat bog in Llanwrtyd Wells. Entrants must negotiate two lengths of a 60-yard trench through the peat bog in the quickest possible time without using any conventional swimming strokes.
A cavewoman celebrates after completing the course

"Anthropocene Epoch"

Humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared, according to an official expert group who presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town on Monday.
About the best I can imagine for this field of study is that those studying it will be able (maybe) to say, "I told you so."

no more homework

As many schools start their year this week, one in Holyoke, Massachusetts, is doing away with an educational staple: homework.
Like other schools in the district, the day at the Kelly School, which serves kindergarten through eighth grade, will be two hours longer next year. But then students are done.
Principal Jackie Glasheen says research is mixed on the benefits of homework and students will get more out of extra time with teachers than trying to do assignments at home.
Or, how about reinstituting the honorable decision implied by the letter, "F?"

Or, asking why, when shit flows downhill in the classroom, it seems invariably to leave the teachers gasping for air?

lightning kills 323 reindeer

STOCKHOLM (AP) -- More than 300 wild reindeer have been killed by lighting in central Norway.
The Norwegian Environment Agency has released eerie images showing a jumble of reindeer carcasses scattered across a small area on the Hardangervidda mountain plateau. The agency says 323 animals were killed, including 70 calves, in the lightning storm Friday.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

La Bohème

Ran across the following bit of "La Bohème" and, despite the French subtitles and my not actually knowing the story being laid out, still, since I can close my eyes and let my bones melt like butter, here it is:

the exception/rule, rule/exception

Thinking about schooling yesterday, it occurred to me that almost every parent's premise is "my child is special." Perhaps it is woven into the DNA. It is, or may be, the rule: The rule being, my child is the exception.

Currently on the political stage, Donald Trump is the exception ... or anyway he is sometimes portrayed that way. But I think that Donald Trump may be more interesting not because he is the exception but because he is the rule... and that tar brush comes up and slaps me in the face.

The rule and the exception.

Funny the effects that occur when the word "exception" is substituted for the word "rule."

And vice-versa.

"Does Knowledge Matter..."

"... in the Age of Google?"

Article in The Guardian. The comments are interesting.

seeds of the future

Passed along in email:
A Russian team discovered a seed cache of Silene stenophylla, a flowering plant native to Siberia, that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel near the banks of the Kolyma River (map). Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the seeds were 32,000 years old.
The mature and immature seeds, which had been entirely encased in ice, were unearthed from 124 feet (38 meters) below the permafrost, surrounded by layers that included mammoth, bison, and woolly rhinoceros bones.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

charter schools courtesy of John Oliver

Yes, it's biased as hell ... and from where I sit, that is precisely what the facts warrant. Public funds are used to prop up private enterprise on the basis that the quality of public education -- so often mired in sluggishness and parental unwillingness/inability -- will improve.

Yes, it's got facets. Yes, it's intricate. And yes public schools certainly could use some innovation and uplift. But because Charter Schools trim already-stretched public resources based on promises that seem to have little foundation in overarching proof, it really is time to suggest that the emperor's new clothes, where they exist at all, are tattered at best.

It's hard not to say, "C'mon, guys: If you want an easy pay day, plug into the Pentagon budget and stop giving our kids an equal ignorance-ation." Not least among the galling aspects of it all is the touchy-feely, yuppy-drippy, caramel lingo of the guys and gals in nice clothes who give TED talks and fuck others without a backward glance.

As I say, it's not an easy listen, but it is worth listening to.


Some say that love
Brings things together.
But I'd say love
Blows things apart.

Think "smithereens" and
You'll get my drift.
Love blows things apart:
Endlessly, minutely, hugely.

After such an uncoupling of all things
What else could there be?
A coming-together
Can have my vote.

Coming together
Only this time
There is no


Friday, August 26, 2016

Bob Hope and Jimmy Cagney

Ran into this again today.

Back in the day when actors learned many abilities and did not lean so much on stand-ins, there were skill sets like tap dancing ... as here with Jimmy Cagney and Bob Hope, two men whose careers generally took them away from the dance floor:

a little crazy company

Based on some non-specific emails, I gather some fellow plans to take me up on an offer for a cup of coffee this Sunday. He wrote to ask about the zendo. I told him its days were mostly in the rear-view mirror but if he wanted to stop by for coffee, that would be pleasant.


I once read a slim book called "The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment" by Thaddeus Golas. It was an easy read, accessible both by language and length. All I can remember reom its pages (and that only approximately) is, "When you learn to love hell, you will be in heaven." Short 'n' sweet, right?

At about the same time I read that, I was also reading books that were positively viscous with the twinkling facets and disciplines of Buddhism. They were the mirror image of short 'n' sweet. No matter: I gobbled the one; I gobbled the other. Which had more effect, I haven't got a clue.

Funny how the gathering and collating and ingesting and digesting of spiritual writings can be useful and simultaneously have about the usefulness of a fart in a wind storm.

Either way -- short, long, bright as a penny or dulled as old copper -- still, what counts is what anyone is willing to do about it. No criticism, just fact: Put up or shut up. Get it right; get it wrong -- put up or shut up.

I guess people get together as much as anything in spiritual endeavor to prove to themselves that they are not starkers ... or, if they are, at least they have company.

Guardian photos

Thursday, August 25, 2016


I think of it as Wal-Mart English -- the over-popular use of the word "so" when anyone these days responds to a question.

Crotch itch?
So, it started about a week ago....

Do you believe in God?
So, I think....

Donald Trump for president?
So, he's crazy and all, but....

Will the Fed raise interest rates?
So, Janet Yellen has played both sides of the fence in the past....

Did you get falling-down drunk last night?
So, you know, my car wouldn't start and....

It reminds me of the proper teachers who once counseled up-and-coming garbage-mouthes like me that "swearing is an indication of someone who lacks a command of the language."

But this is not just some lower-class foible. Walk around a university campus or a convention of policy wonks. "So" is good for all occasions ... sort of like "uhhhh."

Weak. Unimaginative. Flavorless.

Did I mention I dislike it? But if it weren't "so," it would be something else no doubt.

the beautiful women

Amaal Said is a Danish-born Somali poet and photographer, living just outside London. She is 20 and a politics student at SOAS, University of London. Like many people her age, she spends a lot of time in her bedroom, listening to pop music and browsing YouTube. While she does all that, though, she is quietly revolutionising the way Muslim women and women of colour are portrayed in our culture. Her photography, and the Instagram account where she features it, has started garnering her international attention.

familial harmonies

-- Once, on public television, a nut-brown man with four or five wives, was asked what the key was to maintaining a semblance of familial harmony in his Middle Eastern home. He considered the question for a moment and then replied simply:
It helps if you have a sense of humor.
-- Sensing my anxiety when my first-born was about to arrive, my sister, who at the time had two children of her own, sought to allay my anxieties. What worried me was, of course, that I had never been a parent before and ... well, what the hell were you supposed to do? How could I be a good parent? Was there a magic bullet? My sister was supremely assured:
Adam, you can either read every book that was ever written about child-rearing or you can read none at all. Either way, you won't know shit.
-- On public television again, and interviewer was quizzing Anne Morrow Lindbergh, perhaps about her latest book. Lindbergh, the widow of trans-Atlantic flier Charles Lindbergh, was a pilot, author and adventurish spirit whose 20-month-old son was kidnapped in 1932 and later, presumably, found dead. There was simply no way the latter-day interviewer could not ask her, "How does it feel to have a child kidnapped?" Lindbergh didn't flinch. She sat still. She was wearing, if I recall, one of those obligatory single-strand pearl necklaces that WASPs can affect. She was still and then began her answer by saying
I think everyone has suffered a tragedy....
 Each of these small answers to big questions seems to share at least one characteristic: It's not the answer that is likely to solve anything. It is the experience that prompted the answer that matters. Answers are clues. They aren't answers. Saying "abracadabra" is not the point. Living it is.

That and getting used to the fact that I still don't know shit.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

pecker power in Texas

To protest a new state law that makes the carrying of concealed handguns legal in college classrooms, students at the University of Texas on Wednesday openly displayed sex toys, an act considered illegal under local indecency laws. [Reuters]

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

40 knives removed from man's stomach

With the slaughter in Syria or the disproportionate response Israelis can visit on Palestinians, it's a little hard to label this man "crazy," though it is enough to make your belly hurt:
Doctors in the northern Indian city of Amritsar say they have surgically removed 40 knives from a man's stomach.
The man, 42, had swallowed the knives over a period of three months.
Dr Jatinder Malholtra told the BBC that the man met him last week after suffering severe pain in his stomach.
He said the man did not tell doctors that he had been swallowing knives.

sexual abuse payout at Catholic school

God knows Kobutsu has put a lot of effort into this endeavor. Some people may excoriate his sometimes brash approach. I say, look at the results and applaud.
[N.Y. Daily News] Bergen Catholic High School has agreed to pay $1.9 million to 21 men who say they were molested by 11 teachers during the 1960s and 1970s, but the former student who sparked the settlement talks is not part of the deal because he has refused to take down a website detailing sexual and physical abuse at the school.

hypothesizer at work

It's not often that I get called back so specifically to topics already touched on, but the above photo has been playing in my mind since I posted it a couple of days ago. It kicks my story-maker and hypothesizer into high gear somehow. The photo says "gruesome" and "sad" in one small breath. It asks me if there is anyone in this world who has not been betrayed by the class s/he aspired to or longed to escape. I wonder -- assuming these girls are related -- who and what kind of mom they had/have.

And it makes me think of Kentucky or West Virginia or one of those Appalachian places back in the hills where inbreeding is never spoken but remains a fact. What is the difference between the British royal family and the Smiths and Joneses who care for a still and seldom ask for help because no one ever gave them any. "Sallow" was a word created for them. The pride -- or is it arrogance -- is written across the faces of those forced to bear an elegant or demeaning cross. And yet if cross is all you've known, is it any longer a cross? I'd say yes, judging by the eyes and the uprightness above and the multitude below ... and quiet nights that all may know.
Oh well ... just my story times.

Monday, August 22, 2016

daring to declare their affection

[BBC] The Olympics really were no match.
There was only one show in town, sorry, in the nation on Saturday night.
Canada's national broadcaster CBC broke from Rio to air the whole of The Tragically Hip's final gig live. They advertised it as "A National Celebration", and they weren't wrong.
Only about 7,000 fans had actually managed to cram into the K-Rock Centre in Kingston, Ontario.
Kingston - the home town of Gordon Edgar "Gord" Downie, whose announcement in May that he had terminal brain cancer had caused shock across the nation.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"Two of a Kind"

A couple of pix from a pretty neat photo collection/eye:

Sandrine Kerfante has had a fascination with “doubles” ever since meeting her mother’s twin as a child. In 2012, this lifelong captivation inspired her to create a blog called twin-niwt, which celebrates photographs of doubles in all their forms. “I’m fascinated by the idea of the duo, repetition, symmetry, reflection, mirror games and all the symbolism associated with it,” she says. “I think it’s a topic often present in photography, more or less consciously.” A selection of Kerfante’s photographs is available in her book, Two of a Kind (Chronicle £10.99), published on 23 August. “It is a collection of photographs that celebrates doubles in all shapes, sizes and sorts,” she says.

Photograph: Jouk Oosterhof

the book no one can read

Maybe it's like understanding God ....

If you knew, what would you actually know?

If you didn't know, what would you actually NOT know?

If you say the answers are the same, that's not exactly right. If you say the answers are different, that's not exactly right either. Different day, same answer. If parallel lines meet in infinity, are you better informed by reaching that place? Reaching or not reaching -- which is more delicious, more informative, more transformational?

Whatever the case:
[The Guardian] It’s one of the world’s most mysterious books, a centuries-old manuscript written in an unknown or coded language that no one has cracked.
Scholars have spent their lives puzzling over the Voynich manuscript, whose intriguing mix of elegant writing and drawings of strange plants and naked women has some believing it holds magical powers.
The weathered book is locked away in a vault at Yale university’s Beinecke library, emerging only occasionally.
In the 15th century volume:
The plants drawn have never been identified, the astronomical charts don’t reveal much. The women also offer few clues.
Scores have tried to decode the Voynich, including top cryptologists such as William Friedman who helped break Japan’s “Purple” cipher during the second world war.
Given Yale's influx of mail on the topic (not to mention the credentials of those interested ... the "Purple" code was very serious stuff during WWII), obviously people are dying to know. Is it true? Is it false? Is it an elaborate ruse? Is it the keys to the kingdom?

What would you know if you knew

PS. One interpretation puts the book in the 16th century and -- far from Europe -- in Mexico.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

august newspaper column

Appeared in yesterday's Daily Hampshire Gazette. It's eh, but it's done and, as my mother once observed, "Don't get it right, get it written."

Adam Fisher: A home mortgage minus the home

Friday, August 19, 2016

Everyone has bits and pieces of quick-hit wisdom with which to address the daily grind and one of my favorites is "don't do the crime if you can't do the time," a folksy way of saying "be responsible." It's short, it's sweet and it hits the nail on the head except, of course, when it doesn't.

One of the arenas in which things become a bit blurry is the matter of student debt. On the one hand, a college education is force-fed to our children as a way to improve their lot in life. On the other ....

Not long ago, I did an entirely unscientific survey of the 20-somethings on my block here in Northampton. It was simple enough to ask six or seven newly graduated or almost graduated young people whether they were looking at a future that included such indebtedness. Every one of them owed or were about to be saddled with the indigestion that comes from swallowing what had been force-fed. Sums ranged from $27,000 to $150,000.

In short, each owed a down payment on a house that none of them could live in.
College is good for you. It's the responsible thing to do. Everyone – parents, teachers, counselors, and even businesses – said so. And at 20-something, which of us has not been swayed by the amorphous "everyone?"

The trouble is, while "everyone" says something is true, there's only one person who is stuck with the tab. "Everyone" isn't forced to field phone calls from people with accents who ask for money. "Everyone" doesn't rack his or her brain trying to figure out how to reconfigure a loan that feels increasingly like a crime. This is, if I had to guess, not just depressing. It is also terrifying.

Student debt is far more common and closer to home than you might think.

Less superficial than my own neighborhood tracking poll, is a Consumer Reports survey of 1,500 Americans with student debt. It found that 45 percent felt that college had not been worth the burden; 44 percent wanted to know how much student debt a prospective partner carried before beginning a meaningful relationship; 28 percent delayed purchasing a house; and 12 percent delayed marriage based on student debt.

In the United States today, 42 million people owe $1.3 trillion in student debt. This debt pool is second only to mortgage debt.

How and why did this happen?

Early last month, the Center for Investigative Reporting attempted to answer the first question with an article entitled, "Who Got Rich Off the Student Debt Crisis?" In its forward, the article observed:
"A generation ago, Congress privatized a student loan program intended to give more Americans access to higher education. In its place, lawmakers created another profit center for Wall Street and a system of college finance that has fed the nation’s cycle of inequality. Step by step, Congress has enacted one law after another to make student debt the worst kind of debt for Americans – and the best kind for banks and debt collectors." (Find the article at

Privatized loan programs. Privatized prisons. Incrementally privatized charter schools. In a world where "capitalism" is the norm, if there is a buck to be made, someone will find a way to make it.
But is this any way to address national needs – needs for a more highly educated populace; needs for punishing those who did do the crime; needs to empower those whose circumstances do not allow for a smoothed and soothed upbringing?

Isn't there something to be said, in a presidential year, for the good of the country – now and in the future – and not just the good of some college-educated wallet?

Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security could address the issue of financial terrorism.
Adam Fisher lives in Northampton and is a regular contributor. He can be reached at

pregnancy deaths

To hear 'right-to-life' (read anti-abortion) Christians tell it, they care about all life, most pointedly about the rights of the unborn fetus. By God, they care! But it is hard not to deduce that that caring has led to a spike in maternal deaths in Texas. No matter ... they care.
The rate of Texas women who died from complications related to their pregnancy doubled from 2010 to 2014, a new study has found, for an estimated maternal mortality rate that is unmatched in any other state and the rest of the developed world....
[T]he report singled out Texas for special concern, saying the doubling of mortality rates in a two-year period was hard to explain “in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval”....
In the wake of the report, reproductive health advocates are blaming the increase on Republican-led budget cuts that decimated the ranks of Texas’s reproductive healthcare clinics. In 2011, just as the spike began, the Texas state legislature cut $73.6m from the state’s family planning budget of $111.5m. The two-thirds cut forced more than 80 family planning clinics to shut down across the state. The remaining clinics managed to provide services – such as low-cost or free birth control, cancer screenings and well-woman exams – to only half as many women as before.
There does not appear to be a rock-solid if-then between clinic shut-downs and mortality, so the angry arrogance of abortion-rights advocates needs to be held in check. Still, not to suspect some causal relationship is also a bridge too far. God, I am sick of institutions or belief systems that improve life by dictating how others must live their lives. 'Islamic State', fundamentalist Christianity, western 'values' ... isn't it better to help people out where they need it?

Friday, August 19, 2016

U.S. Army's financial skulduggery

The finances of the U.S. Army are so fucked up and apparently fraudulent that it seems to be a wonder anyone can speak about them with a straight face. The numbers are so enormous that even Reuters has the devil's own time not saying "who the hell is running this outfit?" The U.S. may laugh up its sleeve at banana republic accounting and corruption, but its own lies and finagling with the single biggest item in the U.S. budget defies words. It is so big, you just know little or nothing will be done about it. We're talking trillions of dollars.
The United States Army’s finances are so jumbled it had to make trillions of dollars of improper accounting adjustments to create an illusion that its books are balanced.
The Defense Department’s Inspector General, in a June report, said the Army made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year. Yet the Army lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up.
As a result, the Army’s financial statements for 2015 were “materially misstated,” the report concluded. The “forced” adjustments rendered the statements useless because “DoD and Army managers could not rely on the data in their accounting systems when making management and resource decisions.”
Move over Goldman Sachs and Bernie Madoff!

"dear diary"

When she died in 2015 at the age of 98, my mother left, among other things, a great many journals she had created and kept over the years. "Journal" is an uptick word for "diary," which, of course, only teen-aged girls keep. A "journal" lacks the kitch decoration that a "diary" might, but the purpose is pretty much the same ... write stuff down; your stuff; why? because ... well, because.

I asked my mother once why she kept a journal. She dodged the question by riposting, "How do I know what I think till I see what I say?" And when, later along, I asked her how she would like me to deal with her journals once she was dead, she said simply, "Burn them." At the time, I can remember feeling a small lurch within: How could anyone create and collect all that effort and then wipe it clean with flames? Surely it was all something to treasure and savor and, well, you know ... kind of honor or something.

But now my mother is dead and my cellar is repository to my own "journals" -- a habit I probably got from my mother. And like her, I too say, "burn them." Since I rarely if ever go back to earlier times those pages represent, why should anyone else care much one way or another? This question is not a bid for sympathy or a desire to have others somehow 'reassure' me. The universe may have been shattered or exalted at one time or another, but the universe takes a longer view and is laced with more uncritical laughter... as if it were saying, "There, there, dear. It wasn't as bad/good as all that, was it?"

Nowadays, I keep a blog with the same "dear diary" habituation I once kept a journal. I feel, when writing it, as if I were hiding in plain sight. Isn't part of a journal-esque effort the desire to have a place in which to get naked ... or, alternatively, to camouflage that nakedness that no one can escape? I think so. And the reason for going public is pretty much an exercise in recognizing that even I am not that interested in my own thoughts. At the moment, certain circumstances may be pretty compelling, but shaping and configuring that moment with words is a way of allowing others to recognize a little the fact that everyone doesn't have to be THAT kind of fool.

Poof! Easy come, (and sometimes) easy go.

I do like journal-writing in the sense that it teaches the impossibility of words -- words to describe or confine or define. Words don't reach and there's no point in complaining about it. But maybe it's worth noticing when you consider how much we use and seem to rely on words.

Getting used to the fact that words are wonderful-but-fall-short-of-experience ... I like to practice that. If you doubt it, just try the simple sentence, "I love you." That ought to frost your cookies.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Donald Trump au naturel

A full-frontal-nudity statue of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump went briefly on display in Manhattan's Union Square Park in New York today, according to a nudge passed along in email.
The full-frontal sculpture of the Republican presidential candidate, which was glued to the cobblestones with epoxy, stood for two hours before being removed by the Parks Department around 1:20 p.m.
I don't see anyone saying, "It might have been Hillary."

PS: The creation of "The Emperor Has No Balls" statue.

Egypt calls out fat news anchors

Khadija Khattab wants viewers to judge whether she deserves to be suspended over her appearance
At least Egypt appears to be honest as it warns its female news presenters to present themselves without the flab.
[BBC] Egypt's state broadcaster has suspended eight of its female TV presenters and told them to go on a diet, sparking uproar among women's rights groups.
The Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) has given the women one month to slim down before they can appear on air again with an "appropriate appearance", the Al-Yawm al-Sabi website reports.
My understanding is that the TV camera tends to make people fatter than they are and that this is part of the reason female presenters/hosts can look anorexic up close and personal. There is, of course, the issue of whether big tits and deep cleavage can be associated with reliable news. I have no doubt that some cheese-dick Ph.D. candidate will run the numbers and let me know if I imagine a D cup gets a journalistic A+.

It also calls into question whether newsmen should be required to wear a well-plumped codpiece.

Silliness and outrage aside, I think there is an effect to a presentable TV presenter. Too pretty makes me leery same as too careless. I guess I should listen to the radio.

just one photo out of Syria

[BBC] Syrian activists have released striking pictures of a young boy rescued from a destroyed building after an air strike in the divided second city of Aleppo.
Brought to you by men and women convinced that their views and clothes a powers warrant the price. Their voices are modulated and thoughtful ... and the kid is five-fucking-years old!

the advancing elegance of spittoons

An early-American etiquette primer once observed tangentially, "... and if you must spit, spit in the corner."

Or maybe not. I can't recall the primer and can't cite the source but I find it hard to believe that if I had conjured the injunction out of my own whole cloth I wouldn't lay a kind of doting claim to it: I do like the thrusts that carve away politesse and get down to the nitty-gritty -- spitting being one of them.

The line calls up an atmosphere in my mind -- a newish nation with dusty main streets and wealth slowly amassing. Politesse requires the inroads of cosseted wealth. The beginning of the Jonses against whom other poor slobs might wish to measure themselves. Lace well-washed and pressed; wigs powdered and a lady's hand to kiss until ... until...

Until ... "if you must spit, spit in the corner."

Everyone needs to eat, piss and occasionally, spit. But let's keep it decorous in these advancing times. In earlier times, men retired after dinner for a sequestered period with their cigars and brandy and a respite from the decorous advances. After a while, they too might become more decorous than was comfortable, but the amenities were observed and women read books of etiquette.

Spittoons for tobacco. Spittoons for the dental office. Spittoons for the je ne sais quoi that life and salivary glands can dish up.

No need to be an utter dirt-road klutz.

Show some class.

Spit in the corner.

Women, it appears, do not spit:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"victory tax"

[BBC] She has flipped, tumbled and leapt her way into the hearts of millions over the course of the Olympic games. But when Simone Biles returns home she will be in for not just a major celebration but also a hefty tax bill.
The 19-year-old has won five Olympic medals - four gold and one bronze. She has cemented her title as the world's best gymnast by taking home the gold in the all-around after three successive world championship titles - a feat only accomplished by three others in history.
But all that winning will cost her. On 21 August, Ms Biles could be slapped with a tax bill close to $43,560 (£33,479)
Leave it to the Americans to put a price tag on things. I wonder if the athletes get to deduct all the time and money spent honing their skills.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

time marches on

-- House-hunters with cash on hand may find something quaint in urban Omaha, Neb., where homes ranging upwards of $400,000 a pop are gracious living to a T. Spacious, upscale, and probably ahead of a lot of other Joneses.

And then there's the dirt road on which all this upscale real estate is located....
The sudden appearance of miles of dirt road in the midst of urban Omaha has prompted angry protests by residents and showcased a conflict over the public services homeowners should expect when a modern city outgrows some of its old real estate agreements.
-- And for more in the not-to-fret department there are the piranhas with human-like teeth that have showed up in Lake Michigan. Don't worry, they're said to be vegetarian although if they can grow to 30 inches, you might imagine they could take a pretty good bite out of your carrot.

 -- The purple googly-eyed squid is put forward as being true. I can't help but wonder if they will be let loose on an Omaha street during a deluge ... only to be eaten by a piranha that broke its vegan vow.

an ascendancy of louts

As between the arrogance of ignorance and the arrogance of wisdom there is not a whole lot of difference, so I am forced to admit that I am probably as arrogant as the next fellow. It's not terribly attractive but it does seem to be a fact so ... live with it.

This noodling came to mind this morning when I realized that quietly and mostly in secrecy there was a wussy-pussy presumption in my bedrock: If I were willing to listen to and consider the dearly-held beliefs I considered stupid, wouldn't it be fair if those holding stupid beliefs were likewise willing to listen to and consider the beliefs I considered more sensible? And of course "fair" has nothing to do with it: Stupidity brooks little or no reflection or reconsideration, so I can take my notions of fairness and stick 'em where the sun don't shine.

And this inegalitarian approach can make me crabby: If you won't listen to me a bit, why should I listen to you? It's pretty arrogant, and it's pretty hard to get over.

I guess I was thinking about the 2016 presidential news this morning when the phrase leaped up in my mind:
I'm not entirely sure what's what or who's who in this phraseology, but it seemed to express the crabbiness that rears its head when one candidate steps outside the ring of human decency and lowers the insult boom on his or her opponent. Donald Trump gets most of the credit in this arena, but I see him as indicative of a time when everyone's feelings are hurt and emotional outrage takes center stage. "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore" was once a clarion call of the 1976 movie "Network." Enough with decency and modulated discourse! We tried that and the gamers nailed us to the wall. Everyone wants to be heard ... which probably means that nobody is listening. Let's gore some oxen ... but not mine, s'il vous plaît.




Couldn't we wall off, say, Wyoming, and move the Republicans there?

But are the Democrats much better? Maybe they could have New Mexico.

Grey skies this morning ... with an arrogant cherry on top.

Monday, August 15, 2016

becoming hardened history

The steel we use with the blade is the high carbon steel folding by 11 times, creating with 2048 layers....                 

The making of a Japanese katana or long sword is what sticks out in my mind, even with my deplorable lack of specific understanding. The thing I do know is that several sorts of molten metal are folded again and again against themselves, making the completed product harder and harder. If I am not mistaken, the katana is the sharpest cutting implement in the world, but it is the folding that whispers....

Today, after reading an interview with one of former Nazi Agitation and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels' secretaries, the sword came up in my mind. Here was a woman who, at 105, remembered a time most today have consigned to something called history. The history of the Nazis ... the history of a 105-year-old woman. She actually lived then -- a swooping soaring time when the leader of her country started World War II. She says in the interview that she didn't know of the atrocities of that time -- a time when Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other undesirables were sent to concentration camps and killed ... wholesale. But she says she is not looking for absolution. It was a time as we have all lived our time -- with the mores of the era all around us.

But now those times have gone and this woman, like anyone getting older, is folded neatly into a stronger and stronger formation in the historical minds that others might employ. And like any other older person, she is dying to have someone to feel the era as she did and perhaps does -- not as history, not as a completed katana, but as a living, breathing era, when jokes were told and kisses stolen; where people laughed with friends, minded their p's and q's and nylon stockings ....wwwwoooooeeee!!!

I lived in a time when Martin Luther King and John Fitzgerald Kennedy were household names. Not history. The katana was not yet set and there were moments of humor that may seem embarrassing now as with Kennedy critics who might intone in a Boston accent, "If you do not do your job with vigah/ We will replace you with a niggah." I remember trying to buy condoms in a Massachusetts pharmacy and being told by a scowling pharmacist that they didn't carry such things (it was either and option or there was a law against it in Massachusetts). Stalin and Churchill were near history in my mind. I was in the army for three years at a time when Kennedy was making the Vietnam war possible. Clark Gable was a movie star and I had a crush of Catherine Deneuve.

But now my katana is set in others' minds. Because I had been in the army and because Vietnam was a part of my time, therefore now, in other minds, I know about the Vietnam war, much as Goebbels' secretary must -- mustn't she? -- have known about the Nazi depredations. She is fixed and I am fixed in the times we lived through, not as human beings, but as bit players in a sharpened historical past.

And it is hard.

Maybe, I now think of Goebbels' secretary, she really didn't know. Or maybe she's lying both for her own and others' benefit. Or maybe she just wants the history to be as free and easy as the living of it all had been.

It is impossible to ask others to keep the metal hot and malleable and sparkly. They have their own swords to fashion. But I miss the camaraderie. Bit by bit, the steel cools and the sword glistens, but I don't want to glisten. I want to laugh... or weep as Jews whose forbears were lost to atrocity might.

Twinkle, twinkle.

interview with a Joseph Goebbels secretary

Brunhilde Pomsel
Pomsel is giving one of the first, and last, in-depth interviews of her life; at the age of 105, and having lost her sight last year, she says she is relieved that her days are numbered. “In the little time that’s left to me – and I hope it will be months rather than years – I just cling to the hope that the world doesn’t turn upside down again as it did then, though there have been some ghastly developments, haven’t there? I’m relieved I never had any children that I have to worry about.”
So what is the motivation for effectively breaking her silence only now, as probably the last living survivor from the Nazi leadership’s inner circle?
“It is absolutely not about clearing my conscience,” she says.

no cash? no credit? buy it anyway!!!!!

Passed along in email ... again? Whatever, the idea of selling cars to someone who can barely afford a hot dog ... and portends yet another debt crisis (we 'fixed' the mortgage crisis, you'll remember) ... it's a capitalistic wet dream.

terrorism ... on the one hand and the other

There seems to be a degree of confusion about those who claim to take "terrorism" seriously: On the one hand terrorist wannabes are ignorant to the point of idiocy; on the other, those who seek to inform themselves are equally suspect. Talk about a 'weird shit-o-meter.'

Of the former:
PARIS (AP) -- The jihadi employment form asked the recruits, on a scale of 1 to 3, to rate their knowledge of Islam. And the Islamic State applicants, herded into a hangar somewhere at the Syria-Turkey border, turned out to be overwhelmingly ignorant.
The extremist group could hardly have hoped for better. 
At the height of Islamic State's drive for foot soldiers in 2013 and 2014, typical recruits included the group of Frenchmen who went bar-hopping with their recruiter back home, the recent European convert who now hesitantly describes himself as gay, and two Britons who ordered "The Koran for Dummies" and "Islam for Dummies" from Amazon to prepare for jihad abroad. Their intake process complete, they were grouped in safe houses as a stream of Islamic State imams came in to indoctrinate them, according to court testimony and interviews by The Associated Press.
Of course a good education or a bad education cannot deter those who might be willing to pull the trigger of an AK-47: The bullets are just as lethal either way. But for those hoping to or claiming to be able to parse the foe that dubs itself "Islamic State," gathering up characteristics suggests itself as a pastime of choice. That's part of how the terror mavens claim to keep the rest of us "safe" dontcha know. "They don't know what they're getting into," for example.

But then, on the other hand, there's the story of the newly-wed who was singled out on an airline adventure, apparently because she was reading a book.
[The Guardian]A few weeks ago, as I prepared for my honeymoon in Turkey, the usual concerns of a Muslim traveller went through my mind. Will I be the one singled out? Will I get checked more than someone else just for being who I am?
Although I wasn’t aware of this at the time, a cabin crew member on my outbound flight reported to the authorities that I was reading a book called Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, a collection of literature, poems, photos, songs and cartoons from Syrian artists and writers. The first clue I had that something was wrong was when I landed in Turkey and was stopped while leaving the plane. I was told this was a “random check” but I was the only passenger to be stopped. Our trip was off to a horrible start. Further tensions occurred as our stay was disrupted due to the military coup and as a result, we had to cancel our flight to Istanbul and were stranded in Marmaris, our resort. We salvaged the remainder of our honeymoon as best we could.
On our return to the UK, two police officers were waiting for me....
OK, you've got a big mouth, a bulging pecker and you don't know squat.
OK you seek a deeper understanding so you can know squat.

Either way you're a terror suspect? Isn't that too vague by half? Is it an approach worth funding? To me it feels suspeiciously like, "Everyone's a terrorist. Trust me. I know. I won't tell you how I know, but trust me, I know."

On the [comparative] bright side, The Wall Street Journal, a newspaper aimed at those for whom money is a touchstone, called in an editorial for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to either get his political act together before Labor Day (Sept. 3) or get the hell out of the race for the White House.

Not that their actions don't deserve the observation, but Republicans this year have painted themselves into a negative, white-guy, unpatriotic corner that is clearly labeled "clusterfuck" ... or anyway that's how it looks to me.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

couple of columns

Passed in a couple of columns to the paper today. Not great, but the work is done.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

hot times burn

Another viscous day. The Olympics provide an occasional hurrah between the ads, which I gather are very expensive but necessarily, together with often-breathless commentary, interrupt the wonder I can feel at these young men and women doing wonderful feats in an often crap-happy world. Boy, are they terrific ... despite how terrific NBC insists they are.

The Olympics and the mass migration out of the Middle East and the Pulitzer-hungry New York Times Magazine devoting an entire issue to a single take on those ravaged lands. The piece is due out tomorrow, I gather, but someone passed it along yesterday and I'm about half through it ... poignant tales of the people -- or at least some of the middle-class ones -- caught in a maelstrom that the well-written article tries to deconstruct and then, of course, fails ... but not for lack of trying. The people who should be reading and considering such an article are probably far to busy combating terrorism or some such ill-defined essence... or anyway, shoring up our enemies.

And there is something naggingly depressing about the Republican presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. To have such an embroiled and mentally-snaggled-toothed adversary who will lose the presidency ... what does it say for this country that such a person could seriously be considered? I have a hard time imagining all Republicans as being satisfied with what is brash and delicious when so many are in need. But that's just my fault, I suppose.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

reading from the same book

CAIRO (AP) -- Inside a large mosque in the Nile Delta, an Egyptian cleric looked over his congregation as he climbed the pulpit clutching a piece of paper and began to speak - delivering a 13-minute discourse on the virtues of personal hygiene.
For the first time in his career, the young imam found himself forced to read a Friday sermon printed from the official website of the Religious Endowments Ministry.
Minutes after he ended the unusually short sermon, uproar spread through the congregation.
Some men in the crowd began shouting "No to written sermons!" while others tried to hush them - a commotion filmed on cellphones and posted online. Similar scenes occurred across the country and in the capital, where one angry worshipper reportedly snatched the paper from the hands of the cleric.
The clamor was in response to a controversial bid by the government to establish control over Egypt's religious discourse.

slurpy day

The temperature may be 78 at the moment, but the humidity is about 171,212 ... a slurpy, syrupy, malicious and almost southern confection of universal pit problem. Actually, the humidity is said to be 86 percent, a fact that every pore in my body disputes as too low by half.

Every day may be a good day, but I've seen better.

the Scots and their scrotum

Perhaps it was #HurricaneBawbag that clinched it, or perhaps it was the welcome given to Donald Trump when he visited Scotland in June, but the Scottish word “bawbag” has finally been given the recognition it deserves after being added to Macmillan’s Open Dictionary.
Macmillan made the announcement on Wednesday, describing the slang word as “very informal”. Its dictionary definition is “a Scots word meaning scrotum, in Scots vernacular a term of endearment but in English could be taken as an insult”.

uh-oh ... whuppin' our enemy's butt

Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland
Members of the U.S. Congress who are currently on summer break, may need to hustle their focal points back to Washington: The Pentagon claims to have put a stunning dent in so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and if there's one thing local politicians cannot afford, it's a victory over the terrorist quotient in the Middle East. Without an enemy, there is less room for fear and without fear, politicians might have to focus on issues that require thought and compromise and an eye to the constituencies that elected them and may yet (with any luck) again.

Mind you, the Pentagon is not claiming complete success -- just enough to keep the money and troops coming and the voters distracted. Defeating an alleged enemy would be akin to political suicide: In this case:
A top US commander has claimed the military campaigns in Iraq and Syria have taken 45,000 enemy combatants off the battlefield and reduced the total number of Islamic State fighters to as few as 15,000.
But don't get too cocky or proud of the 'heros or ease off on the fear accelerator:
 “Military success in Iraq and Syria will not necessarily mean the end of Daesh,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. “We can expect the enemy to adapt, to morph into a true insurgent force and terrorist organisation capable of horrific attacks like the one here on July 3 in Baghdad and those others we’ve seen around the world.”
Just before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, lesser voices warned that without an end-game in view, the situation would devolve into sectarian confusion and violence. And whaddya know, those lesser voices were onto something if America's longest war is any example.

What does the U.S. want?
What has been the result of its presence? (millions of refugees for one)
Why are the people dubbed "terrorists" unparsed and vilified without considering that perhaps they have something to be pissed off about?
Would you rather have your kids healthy and in school or shipped to Dover, Md., in a pine box?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

underdogs triumph in Rio

They went into it at 50:1 longshots and after six dives, Sam Dorman and Michael Hixon (from Amherst) came away with an Olympic Silver medal in synchronized diving:

Duke of Westminister dies

Billionaire landowner and philanthropist the Duke of Westminster has died aged 64, his family said.
Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor died at the Royal Preston Hospital in Lancashire on Tuesday after suddenly becoming ill on his Abbeystead Estate.
The duke's fortune was estimated at $10.8bn (£8.3bn) by Forbes magazine, making him the world's 68th richest person and the UK's third.
I don't know about anyone else, but "wealth" is something I generally assess according to the behavior of the one assessed as "wealthy." Seldom do I parse the particulars of the physical holdings that constitute "wealth." But as the BBC map above indicates ... some wealth can take your breath away.

Judging by the perilously polite news story, Grosvenor was not entirely at ease with the manna he managed.

and, on the 'terrorist' front

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Following a lengthy tug-of-war with Capitol Hill, the Pentagon has given a senator the first-ever, unclassified report detailing the suspected militant backgrounds of more than 100 detainees at or recently released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay - a report that will likely spur more debate over shutting it down....
The report, however, also tells the stories of low-level militants released after being detained for more than a dozen years without charge - cases that support those who have long argued that indefinite detention runs counter to U.S. values....
The dispute between the White House and Republicans in Congress got especially heated this spring when Paul Lewis, the Pentagon's special envoy for closing Guantanamo, told a congressional committee that Americans have been killed by detainees released from Guantanamo. Lewis did not say how many or offer any other details. 

A 16-year-old French girl has been placed under investigation, accused of planning a jihadist attack using the Telegram messaging app, judicial officials say.
The girl, who has no criminal record, was detained at her home on Thursday, after an anti-terror raid near Paris....
The security forces raided her family home in Melun, south-east of Paris, but found no explosives or firearms there, and took her into custody.

happiness and sorrow

In this moment I wonder: Since happiness and sorrow are frequently juxtaposed, and hence inextricably linked, what impact does it have....

Happiness relies on nothing else
Sorrow invariably relies on something else.

And since there is nothing else, what the heck does sorrow think it's doing?

Or happiness either, for that matter?

villagers save leopard

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

you've got the clocks....

A keeper from "Hyena Road" ... attributed to the Afghans as they survey the military meddlers who have repeatedly infused their country:
You've got the clocks, but we've got the time.

Monday, August 8, 2016

cat people vs. dog people

I chalk it up to utter scientific crap and yet it's the kind of crap that is hard not to peruse and compare and find out where my prejudices come down, statistically speaking, when it comes to dog-lovers and cat lovers.

Cat people are more often single ... yeah, I coulda guessed that. But they are also more discerning.

Dog people are more out-going and brash and likely to wag their not-always discerning tails ....

Oh lord, the scientific trash just piles up and piles up.  It's utter and complete crap ... sorta like potato chips, right?