Friday, March 23, 2018

documentaries ascendant

I can't help but wonder if the alleged ascendancy of the documentary isn't partly due to the proliferation of "fake news," the agitation-propaganda nature of what used to pass for sober and supported reporting and assessment.
“It feels like the golden age of documentary right now,” says Josh Koury, a professor at Pratt Institute and a documentary filmmaker. “It’s an amazing time to be making documentary stories”...
“We’re having a kind of crisis of logic and a crisis of language where it feels like words don’t mean things anymore and nothing has to make sense,”[filmmaker Sabaah Folayan] said. “People are more thirsty for this content. People are recognizing that they need to know about others and this is the way to do it.”
The commonality of culture ("I don't want to die," for example) has somehow been shredded by individuals and groups with loud voices and little care. There's too much information that ends up transmitting too little information. Those who lean on "Jesus Christ," for example, ignore the great likelihood that he was a brown man, middle-sized in stature, who came from a middle-class environment (spoke three languages) and the unlikelihood that he was some shuffling, head-bowed, humble-pie guy (see Hallmark calendars) without any but a loving agenda. Donald Trump's constituency, the ones who felt left out and left behind, are more numerous than anyone thought. Upscale exceptionalists and TED talkers are more confusing than they are healing. It's time to check in with people who are as confused as I am, as lonelified and insignificant as I. Documentaries give me company where the it-is-what-it-is crowd skirt the issue and dissemble, whatever their intentions.

Lately, I have been party to the thesis of the article linked above -- pausing to watch documentaries about all sorts of topics ... just people. I like feeling a part of something less grand than god or serenity. I don't mind if someone is making a buck on it. I guess I'm a fuck-up but if I have company, being a fuck-up is not all that bad. I will try not to hurt others, it's true, but I've lived long enough to know that those efforts, whatever they may be, are likely to fall short.

Documentaries don't necessarily prove anything but they do seem to swing my vote.

a son with his truck

My younger son had always wanted a truck.

Now he has one.

Got it yesterday.

It's pretty snazzy, guzzles gas and comports with the tattoos he also enjoys.

Everyone gets a truck at one point or another, I imagine.

Strange how things turn out... bringing to mind: "Do not worry that what you pray for is what you MAY get. Worry that what you pray for is what you WILL get."

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

ax-throwing in America

There were a number of rituals that came with the summer jobs I had as a teenager. One was seeing how much bullshit you could feed to this summer worker before s/he called you out. It was a rite of passage -- from wet-behind-the-ears newcomer to member-of-the-clan employee.

The one I remember most clearly was in a lumbering camp where one of the full-time workers turned to me idly during a smoke break and asked, "Did I ever tell you about the time I killed a cougar with an ax?" And I replied genially, "Go fuck yourself!" Everyone chuckled and I was in.

Now, somehow associatively, it seems that there is a movement afoot to shoehorn ax-throwing into the rainbow of Olympic sports. Ax-throwing. It seems to have gotten a start in, of all places, Brooklyn and it appeals to me: At least it gets people away from a screen on which the only effort is with the thumbs. Throwing an ax is no small feat. More important, it is an actual-factual feat ... teasing, testing, and utterly useless under ordinary circumstances. But strangely satisfying.
Kick Axe Throwing is the first bar in New York City to pick up on a nationwide trend of ax throwing, a growing sport that some enthusiasts hope will take off the way bowling did in the last century.
“People are like, ‘Sharp objects and beer? What a great idea that is.’ But truthfully, after you have a couple drinks you start to actually throw a little bit better,” said Alexander Stine, an “axepert” at Kick Axe. He honed his own skills growing up in Colorado throwing knives at carnivals and now trains newcomers on proper technique. “It’s about believing in your ability to do something you didn’t think you could do before.”
Aside from anything else, knowing how to throw and ax would allow people to put something interesting on their curricula vitae/resumes under "hobbies."

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

selling armed American drones

Kratos Mako drone
Since America is apparently the first-est with the best-est, it may be understandable that rules governing the sale of armed American drones should be loosened. American companies would definitely benefit and Donald Trump promised to "make America great again." Of course such a loosening must have the appearance of caring and law and international circumspection, but you can hear the cha-ching of arms-makers' cash registers ... the great American sales force is about to swing into action.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump will soon make it easier to export some types of lethal U.S.-made drones to potentially dozens more allies and partners, according to people familiar with the plan.
Trump is expected to ease rules for such foreign sales under a long-delayed new policy on unmanned military aircraft due to be rolled out as early as this month, the first phase of a broader overhaul of arms export regulations....
Even though Trump will stop short of completely opening up sales of top-of-the-line lethal drones, it will mark a major step toward overcoming a long-standing U.S. taboo against selling armed drones to countries other than a handful of Washington’s most trusted allies. Military drones have changed the face of modern warfare, with U.S. models in greatest demand....
A Trump administration official, responding to a request for comment on the story, said the U.S. government is seeking to “minimize the self-inflicted bureaucratic and administrative hurdles to U.S. competitiveness in the global aerospace markets.”...
The official insisted, however, that any sales of armed drones would be in accordance with U.S. law and require that buyers adhere to international standards.
An increase in drones sales “could put these weapons in the hands of governments that act irresponsibly with their neighbors and against their own populations,” warned Jeff Abramson, a senior fellow with the Arms Control Association, a non-partisan Washington-based organization focused on global weapons proliferation threats. 
Industry sources say other manufacturers are considering expanding their product lines.
The overall loosening of drone export rules would also help producers such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics and Lockheed Martin, two industry sources said.
Make America great again ... toss in "international standards" ... round up the believers and thieves... and


BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union says international donors have raised 456 million euros ($560 million) to build a desalination plant in the Gaza Strip to provide around 2 million people with safe drinking water.
At a pledging conference in Brussels on Tuesday, the EU offered more than 77 million euros, which combined with other donations will meet around 80 percent of the plant's costs.

Monday, March 19, 2018

throw-away culture

Passed along in email this afternoon was this article about cafes/shops popping up to which stuff-owners can take their stuff and have it fixed instead of just thrown away. I hadn't been aware that some companies not only discourage repairs, they prohibit them.

"nobody wants to get their hands dirty"

My father once wrote in a letter from Perros-Guirec, where he had retired after decades of teaching Shakespeare at Smith College, that there was some wonderful satisfaction in rehabbing the space above a garage where he intended to rest his retired head. There was nothing subtle or conniving or implausible about sheet rock. The end of a work day was, well, the end of the work day: He could see his progress, nurse banged fingers, wash plaster dust from beneath his nose, sip a little wine. Getting dirty was honest stuff and he liked it -- a sentiment I agree with. Getting dirty has some kind of clarified blessing in it, however much those willing or forced to do it may wish they could stay clean.

Now, of course, there are improvements that make me wonder if improvements are an improvement.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — As a teenager working for his dad’s construction business, Noah Ready-Campbell dreamed that robots could take over the dirty, tedious parts of his job, such as digging and leveling soil for building projects.
Now the former Google engineer is turning that dream into a reality with Built Robotics, a startup that’s developing technology to allow bulldozers, excavators and other construction vehicles to operate themselves....
The rise of construction robots comes as the building industry faces a severe labor shortage.
A recent survey by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 70 percent of construction firms are having trouble finding skilled workers.
“To get qualified people to handle a loader or a haul truck or even run a plant, they’re hard to find right now,” said Mike Moy, a mining plant manager at Lehigh Hanson. “Nobody wants to get their hands dirty anymore. They want a nice, clean job in an office.”
Dirt and sweat and muscle have their drawbacks. First there are the clean folks in clean cubicles who almost uniformly seem to know what perfume will humble the stink of sweat but talk more than they walk. Second, muscle doesn't last forever and some security in life is desirable. And there are others.

But still, my father's satisfaction and my concurrence linger on the air. Dirty work is clean work where clean work is too often dirty, fret-filled and galling. I say this as someone who has lived on both sides of the fence. Painting apartments was one of the cleanest jobs I ever had. Book publishing was, by comparison, one well-dressed, gigantic pit problem.

I'm not trying to play the noble-savage card. I'm talking about actual-factual smiles. How or why it works, I haven't got a clue ... just like smiling.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

nagging regrets

It ain't poetry and it ain't wisdom, but I wrote it this morning in partial response to a Buddhist query about feeling persistent regrets and what to do about it ... kinda liked it, flaws 'n' all...
A soft breeze
Removes last year's leaves
From off the path ahead
As I put away the rake.

fake news in Texas

Beyond any ACLU-ish outrage that might arise, there is something grossly unkind about the Texas newspaper editor's decision to excise a son's 31-year relationship to his husband from the obituary of the son's mother. The excision was explained in measured language by the editor, Phillip Hamilton, who doubles as a Baptist preacher:
“It is my religious conviction that a male cannot have a husband. It is also my belief that to publish anything contrary to God’s Word on this issue would be to publish something in the newspaper that is not true.
“The newspaper respects the first amendment rights of those who express such opinions. The newspaper’s decision to edit the obituary is both ethical and lawful. It would be unethical to publish a news item that is known by the editor to be false. Based on the truth found in the Word of God, I could not in good conscience identify Mr Gambill as the husband of Mr Giles.”
Tampering with someone else's life choices may be understandable in one sense, but in a framework that touts itself as loving (Christianity), it is simply narrow and gross and hypocritical. The indecency that one person sees in another person's choices is exceeded only by the indecency of not allowing -- even in death -- the choices that were made.

So much sadness. Relying on the beliefs of others (small town newspaper) as a means of shoring up your own beliefs is, besides being vulgar, apostate from where I sit. Godless.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

"Dimming of the Day"

As if to soothe a ruffled soul, a friend re-connected me today with an old love ballad that is tops in my increasingly romantic musical memory banks:

my childishness and Donald Trump

Like some childish teenager looking to reshape the world in his or her own image, I woke up this morning imagining that Donald Trump was the commander in chief of the United States. Which he is. And realizing, teen-fashion, that were he to issue an order, I seriously doubt (but don't know) I could follow it. Why? Because viscerally I sense that the man is a coward.

Everyone is a coward about something, but Trump's cowardice is a step too far. What is a coward but a man or woman who is willing to shed without compunction other people's blood? Morally and physically, Trump has "coward" written all over him and cowards are frightening because they seek to excuse themselves rather than at least trying to face their fears. Trump, as a humorous email I recently received said, "is the first person to don a dress on the Titanic."

Waking early, playing the teenager, I think the commander in chief is not a man who deserves to be followed. It's visceral. It is frightening. And angry-making.

Led by a coward.

During the Vietnam police action, there was the possibility of "fragging" an officer who was too free and easy with the lives of his men ... tossing a grenade into his tent, shredding the poseurs. We are all cowards about something, but enough is enough. Everything on the cheap. Everything a "deal." Everyone else's ox is worth goring.

OK, I've had some coffee now and the fires are banked a bit. We have received what we asked for. No doubt we will outlive this mistake as the mistakes before it were outlived. But it is still hard not to wish that someone would water-board this guy.

PS. What an era, when the former director of the CIA, John Brennan, would address the president of the United States in a Twitter message made public: "When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America...America will triumph over you.”

So goes this era. In public.

Friday, March 16, 2018

where cash register and moral fiber collide

Colin Kaepernick

As free agency kicked off the start of a new football season, the NFL sent a clear message to anyone paying attention:
Colin Kaepernick, you’re still not wanted.
Probably not ever.
Oh, and while we’re at it, it’s pretty clear the owners have every intention of clamping down on any other players who tries to carry on Kaepernick’s legacy.
Rattled by another big dip in the television ratings and an increasing number of empty seats, the league seems determined to banish peaceful protest from the playing field.
While it’s quite a stretch to say those trends are intimately related — injuries, bad games and poor showings by several of the league’s most popular teams were surely bigger factors in the waning popularity — the guys sitting on what remains an enormous cash cow aren’t taking any chances.
Since Kaepernick is the one who got this whole thing started by having the audacity to silently kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice — the nerve of that guy! — his career could very well be over.
I don't know enough about sports to know how apt this criticism is, but it smells right... and it stinks.

"arma virumque cano..."

Even as students nationwide walked out of school March 14 to show their concern about the 17 students shot to death a month earlier in Florida, a California teacher accidentally loosed a round in his classroom last Tuesday as he was giving instruction about gun safety. Three students were slightly injured.

Perhaps the teacher's instruction came as a reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump's suggestion that teachers in schools should be armed: "If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly," Trump was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, a Libertarian/Republican wannabe candidate for the U.S. Senate has suggested that homeless people should be armed with shotguns as a possible means of deterring the violence to which homeless people are often subjected. Pistols would be preferable, said Brian Elison, but a pistol permit requires a fixed domicile -- which homeless people by definition lack -- whereas long guns do not.

While it is not universally true, homeless people are frequently victims of a variety of mental disorders. Should this disqualify them from owning weapons with which to defend themselves? Since the drugs that may have facilitated their slide into homelessness are sometimes a factor, should that be a deal-breaker when it comes to firearms?

Yesterday, I asked my younger son who came back recently from a year's National Guard service in Sinai, whether there were some place we could both fire his newly-acquired Glock. He has been through all the courses it takes in Massachusetts in order to own a pistol and wear it concealed if he wishes. He had wanted a Glock and bought one. I'm not a fan on the one hand and yet another part of me thinks it might be sensible to own weapon given the apparently unarmed Americans (mostly minority) shot to death under dubious circumstances. My son has not yet had the opportunity to shoot his pistol -- that was the basis of my query. His face closed down as he explained the reasons he might and I might not shoot his pistol. He was thoroughly serious about it. The fact that I was his father was secondary.

No doubt the National Rifle Association is pleased that the "right to bear arms" (the reference to a well-order militia was effectively erased by the U.S. Supreme Court) is alive and well and that the NRA money spent on Congressmen and Congresswomen is money well spent. But am I wrong or is all of this a clusterfuck of irrationality coupled with a diminution of the country once called America?

With Virgil, do we all intone, "Arma virumque cano...": "I sing of arms and the man..." without blushing for shame, for sorrow?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

ignorant president wings it....

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has owned up to making things up.
For a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump was by his own admission unprepared — deficient in the fundamentals of the Canada-U.S. trade relationship that he’d been railing about since the campaign.
He insisted to Trudeau that the U.S. was running a trade deficit with Canada, a statement contradicted by U.S. government statistics. He was winging it, he confided to donors at a private Missouri political fundraiser Wednesday night.
“I didn’t even know,” he said. “I had no idea.”
Others might be mortified at being caught short. Not this president.
For Trump the showman, the episode illustrated his skill at improvisation. Still, it was a rare admission that he will say things without knowing if they are true.
Trump’s impulse to replace fact with fiction has defined him as a politician and as a businessman before that.
That's our current president. He seems to think he really is "as cute as a button."

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

noodling about writing

When I asked her at some point what she did when "writer's block" struck, my mother, who was a pretty good writer in her time, said that if all else failed, she just killed one of the characters in whatever piece of fiction she was working on.

It wasn't easy for her, but death was a jolt -- a rebooting of a system that had hit a brick wall. Still, to eliminate what had taken time and trouble to create was no small matter. Death and its echo-echo-echoes was a fear both writer and reader could share. A reconnection. With luck, the reader had come to rely on this character the writer had conjured. Death removes hand-holds so the question arises, for both writer and reader, "Where can I hold on now?"

But what if the reader had not come to rely on what my mother had come to rely on? What if, in the simplest of terms, the reader ho-hummed past the event and said, "Ask me if I give a shit."

Somehow, this thought-thread came to mind last night as I opened and read the first few pages of a pre-sleep novel I found lying on the dining room table. I had finished another book and wanted something to read and so I picked up "The Shack." The cover proclaimed the book a "New York Times best seller." The first few pages left me feeling that its point of view and observations were too obvious by half. I had no reason to like or care about the voice I was offered. The observations were those of a bright teenager, perhaps, but there was nothing to make me really give a shit.

Another of my mother's writing dicta came to mind: "Be honest: The reader can smell dishonesty." Oh well, perhaps I was just tired and crabby last night, but this smelled artful/dishonest. Luckily I was also sleepy, so I closed the book and turned out the reading light.

It has been a long time since I read something that made me want to know what happened next. Doesn't the writer have an obligation -- a required honesty -- to try to connect with the reader? I sort of think so. But one of the reasons I write in this blog format is to sidestep that obligation. This is just my form of masturbation -- you will choose yours. The writer who says s/he writes "for myself" is a liar who, given the choice, would rather get laid... or can't quite imagine that anyone else would be interested ... but maybe... maybe ... maybe.

Perhaps yesterday was just not the day. I had watched bits and pieces of a movie called "Jayne Mansfield's Car," a generational series of juxtapositions with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall, two actors I like. The movie was quirky and human and as clear as the cobra venom I can't help but think is alive and well and free-floating in the South. There were currents and cross-currents and the movie felt honest without the literary frou-frou.

OK, so I was probably unfair, but no one comes to the arts with a sense of fucking "fairness." The arts are meant to sweep me off my feet, make me lose my balance, make me twist slowly in some insisting wind. Take me, I'm yours! Make me want to know what happens next. Kill someone I love ... or hate ... either way, s/he will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

snow in New England ... wowsers!

Here, a dread nor'easter is tickling down mere bits of snow where the eastern part of Massachusetts is alleged to be suffering its third debilitating storm in the last couple of weeks. Schools are obediently closed, airlines have canceled flights and, for all I know, supermarket shelves are getting naked-er and naked-er.

It's New England, for crying out loud, but these days the blizzard of information available means that a snow storm is news because it is know-able by comparison to, say, a U.S. president who fired his secretary of state today.

Oh lawsy! lawsy! -- the sky is falling!!!!! If only the president could be less sloppy than the weather.

a "day of silence" in Bali

Not least because they are the oldest kids on the religious block, I have to concede that I have a soft spot in my heart for the Hindus. Hindus have been around the block that other, less-adult religions continue to circle like dogs chasing their tails. Hindus are willing to laugh. They have a lot of bling, just like any other spiritual persuasion, so my skepticisms are not entirely laid to rest, but still, if the Hindus suggest, I am likely to listen, however briefly.

Now the largely-Hindu Bali has gotten the phone companies to agree to shut down media access to mark the "day of silence," a day on which the new year is recognized.
The head of the Bali office of Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications, Nyoman Sujaya, said Tuesday that all phone companies have agreed to shut down the mobile internet for 24 hours during “Nyepi,” a day marking New Year on the predominantly Hindu island.
That means smartphones won’t connect to the internet, shutting off access to social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram and instant messaging apps.
“Let’s rest a day, free from the internet to feel the calm of the mind,” said Gusti Ngurah Sudiana, head of the Indonesian Hinduism Society. “Many Hindu people are addicted to gadgets,” he said. “I hope during Nyepi they can be introspective.”
There are some exceptions -- hospitals, cops, etc. -- but to declare a holiday from electronic addictions is ... well, it makes me feel some sort of cosmic relief. At least someone is trying to reconfigure restless and dissatisfied minds. It's just one day, so the penance is hardly unendurable: Shut up for a while.

I get a sense of the scritchy-scratchies when I think of an institutionalized, blanket ruling, but still the allure of just putting a cork in it for a while ... what a good idea. There may be blowback and stumbling and yes-but's ... and still I like it.

Shut up for a while.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Elon Musk: Is it the punch bowl?

For some reason, I keep wondering if Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla, is somehow spiking the punch as he pontificates on a future he seems to have difficulty in proving. How did he ascend to the level of someone-worth-listening to? It's not that I want to gainsay his future-vision, I just wonder. Is it the money he seems to command? Is it the dreams and/or nightmares he coaxes?

Every story I read about his electric car seems to be yet another extension of the deadline on which the Tesla will start rolling reliably and affordably off the production line. Like the Roman Catholic Church, Musk always seems to need more money and more time. And he gets it. Somehow, he gets it. OK.

Now he has proposed a 100-meter rocket to get out there and colonize Mars as a counterpoint to the potential for a world war. Colonize with the BFR (Big Fucking Rocket). Colonization would be a good idea in order to preserve the human race -- seeding the future-clouds, as I get it.

Personally, I agree with him that an unregulated artificial-intelligence world is more dangerous than nukes, but you and I both know that artificial intelligence is irresistible ... though I gather it hasn't yet figured out how to stave off the potential for a nuclear conflagration, assuming anyone wants to buy into that paranoia.

Warren Buffett, founder of Berkshire Hathaway, has accumulated untold wealth with his savvy business mind. He has won the right to be consulted/credited in business matters. But how did Elon Musk get to be a prognosticator? Is it the punch bowl or am I just another doddering mind unable to keep up with the times?

I'm not trying to diss this guy, just trying to understand. On the one hand, perhaps he is a good enunciator of our dreams. On the other hand, Ponzi schemes abound.

mind-bender du jour

Passed along in email today:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hedy Lamarr compared to Nikola Tesla

There can hardly be any more extraordinary story from the Hollywood golden age than that of Hedy Lamarr; a very beautiful star with a moderate acting talent but an untutored brilliance in science and engineering that should by now be getting her compared to Nikola Tesla, or maybe even a neglected female scientist like Rosalind Franklin. Her tragedy was that she was in the wrong business, precisely that business that promotes beauty over brains – the movie business. Alexandra Dean’s excellent and important documentary about her is very instructive – a parable of modern sexual politics and assumptions about science.
I guess you don't have to be ugly to be brilliant ... but maybe it helps a little?

Chinese autocracy for all!

Like liquid mercury on a Formica table top, the blobs coalesce:

There's Donald Trump workin' on it...

Benjamin Netanyahu reveling in it...

And now Xi Jinping is cracking an uncharacteristic smile....

Autocrats of the world, unite! Democracy is too messy, socialism is too 'commie,' so Joseph Stalin gets another bite of the apple.
BEIJING (AP) — Xi Jinping, already China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, received a vastly expanded mandate Sunday as lawmakers abolished presidential term limits that have been in place for more than 35 years and wrote his political philosophy into the country’s constitution.
In one swift vote, the rubber-stamp legislature opened up the possibility of Xi serving as president for life, returning China to the one-man-rule system that prevailed during the era of Mao and the emperors who came before him.
As the mind-muzzlers are wont to exult, "it's all good."

baby-eel fishers in Maine rejoice

ROCKPORT, Maine (AP) — Members of Maine’s baby-eel fishing industry are expecting high prices for the tiny fish this year because of a shortage on the international market, and sushi lovers could end up feeling the pinch.
Maine is the only U.S. state with a significant fishery for baby eels, or elvers. The tiny, translucent eels are sold to Asian aquaculture companies to be raised to maturity for use as food. They’re a key piece of the worldwide supply chain for Japanese dishes such as unagi, and some eventually make it back to the U.S.
The eels sold for about $1,300 per pound at the docks last year, about on par with an ounce of gold, and are already one of the most lucrative fisheries in the country on a per-pound basis. Fishermen in Asia are seeing a poor harvest this year, and European eel fisheries are cracking down on poaching, said state Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, a Dresden Republican and consultant to the elver fishery.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Afghanistan, the war the U.S. forgot

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. is bolstering its military presence in Afghanistan, more than 16 years after the war started. Is anyone paying attention?
Consider this: At a Senate hearing this past week on top U.S. security threats, the word "Afghanistan" was spoken exactly four times, each during introductory remarks. In the ensuing two hours of questions for intelligence agency witnesses, no senator asked about Afghanistan, suggesting little interest in a war with nearly 15,000 U.S. troops supporting combat against the Taliban.
I would be willing to bet that each senator has at least one and probably more American-flag lapel pins. They care, after all, about the possibility of losing American and other lives.

They care....


perforce, a birthday

Somewhat sheepishly, I will try to acknowledge one of my Post-it life-footnotes: If you do not acknowledge milestones and markers as they pass, those milestones and markers are likely to come around and bite you on the ass.

And it is with that in mind that I acknowledge my birthday that passed by yesterday. It was attended by several cards from friends who are more attentive than I (that's the sheepish part ... I seldom send cards though I am willing to acknowledge ... assuming I remember) and seem willing to remember. What is it about me that is worth remembering? Sometimes I know, but more often, I don't. I do hope a few kindnesses can outshine the cruelties I fear predominate.

OK -- 78th birthday. Year 79 begins. Friends send cards. Children phone-wish me a happy-birthday-pop. No one asks me what I want for my birthday. At my age, the answer is presumed to be "nothing," but that's not quite true. Right, I don't want a tie or socks or other neutral gadgetry. But if anyone had asked, I would have said promptly: "A cook." I am sick of cooking dinners ... of thinking through the menu, of executing so much as a hamburger. I'd like someone else's imagination to forecast and produce. Late afternoons are a time when I segue into lassitude. I don't like cooking and I don't like interrupting a good bit of lassitude. Lolling is important, imagining takes energy ... yes, a cook with his or her own perspective (skip the fish, add some weird flavors) on something good. Oh well, another time, perhaps.

One of the cards I got came from someone who did not sign it. "Always an admirer" it said in a very precise, mildly-wobbly and minuscule script. And then the PS, "Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?" from François Villon. A mystery card whose mystery I cannot solve, however much I might want to ... which is not a lot. At my advanced age, mysteries strike me as important markers that deserve breathing room rather than solutions.

Thanks for what I know.

Thanks for what I don't.

And if I ever receive another cereal-box decoder ring, and if by chance it coughs up the meaning of all things, I'll let you know. The first decoder ring I got was lost in the shuffle of becoming 78.

Friday, March 9, 2018

the bright future for "fake news"

To get a sense of the bright future that awaits "fake news," check out this site passed along in email today.

retiring at 32

Maybe it dovetails neatly with the soon-to-be incursions of artificial intelligence or maybe it's just common sense in a world where common sense seems to wither on the vine or maybe it is one of those sub-rosa paeans to institutionalized sloth, but I kind of enjoyed reading...
Extreme frugality allowed me to retire at 32 – and regain control of my life
Elizabeth Willard Thames abandoned a successful career in the city and embraced frugality to create a more meaningful life. It enabled her to retire at 32 with her family to a homestead in the Vermont woods
Of course these revisions in life come and go in popularity and the older I get, the lazier I become, but my cowardice does not mean others need to be wimps as well. Opting out of one mind set generally means opting in to another. Maybe one day I will grow up and recognize that what I do is OK as long as it doesn't unduly hurt others.

Chinese investment rattles U.S.

A number of years ago, when the Vatican's penchant for pedophilia was in vogue, I remember vaguely reading a story that said the world's largest corporation had seen its U.S. donations dwindle and had decided to put its money/efforts on a less criticism-laced source of income: Africa.

Now the U.S. seems to realize it has been left in China's economic dust on the largely-impoverished and vastly-corrupt continent: China brought its checkbook to the fray and invested. The U.S. brought its moral posturing and has been left sucking hind tit.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The sleek, green-and-white trains glide past the congested, ragged streets of Addis Ababa along the city’s new light rail — built and financed by China. The towering silver African Union headquarters here was built by China, too. So was the new ring road system around the city. And the new railway connecting landlocked Ethiopia to Djibouti.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, America has noticed.
From Ethiopia to Djibouti, Kenya to Egypt, the United States is sounding the alarm that the Chinese money flooding Africa comes with significant strings attached. The warnings carry distinct neocolonial undertones: With Beijing’s astonishing investments in ports, roads and railways, the U.S. says, come dependency, exploitation and intrusion on nations’ basic sovereignty.
The Chinese footprint has been established over a number of years. Somebody somewhere has been doing some thinking. The United States has meanwhile been sharpening its capacity to whine. The implicit suggestion that American aid would come without strings attached ... oh, c'mon guys!

Obamas negotiate with Netflix

Passed along in email on my birthday was this NYTimes story about the former U.S. president and his wife negotiating a deal for exclusive content on Netflix, the swelling movie channel. It might be nice to think that politics would not be relegated to internet sniper fire, but if that's the best that's available, I, for one, will take it. Whatever their failings, the Obamas do not yet fit without effort into the "moral coward" folder in my mind... a folder filled with Trump-brand properties.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

lying wins the blue ribbon

I don't suppose it's especially surprising, but apparently lies travel further and faster than the truth.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Twitter loves lies. A new study finds that false information on the social media network travels six times faster than the truth and reaches far more people.
And you can’t blame bots; it’s us, say the authors of the largest study of online misinformation.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at more than 126,000 stories tweeted millions of times between 2006 and the end of 2016 — before Donald Trump took office but during the combative presidential campaign. They found that “fake news” sped through Twitter “farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information,” according to the study in Thursday’s journal Science .
But if you tell enough lies, don't you end up lying to yourself ... which is already a habit that leaves the opiod epidemic in the shade? Actually, what worries me more than lying when contrasted with truth is the apparent blindness to the fact that lies are very seldom as creative and intricate and downright interesting as the truth.

the separations of belief

Here's an idea that might appeal to serious believers -- a dose of salts I might do well to ingest:

Learn to forgive those who believe.


It's pretty arrogant to run around, wanting to puke every time someone uses a nostrum like, "it is what it is" or "everything has meaning/purpose." Oh pulllleeeeeeezzze! If things really were what they are, why would anyone but a dimwit say so? And if everything had a meaning/purpose, please tell me who has taken the trouble to prove the dictum.

The trouble with belief is that it separates the believer from what s/he claims to believe in. Someone who believes in god, for example, is by definition separating god and (wo)man when the god that is credited is omnipresent and overarching and all-infusing. Belief is the bedrock of so-called dualism, which is anathema to the monism crowd ... who -- read 'em and weep -- have their own duality problems. Belief, in short, encourages what Buddhists call "suffering" or "a sense of dissatisfaction."

I once asked my Zen teacher what role hope and belief played in Zen practice. "For the first four or five years [of practice]," he replied, "belief and hope are pretty important." And after that, I asked? "After that, they are not so necessary."

OK -- experience trumps belief and having a sense of ease relies on experience. Belief is left in the rear-view mirror once experience kicks in.

But the longing or demand to believe cannot be overrated. It's as compelling as, say, having five toes on one foot. Unless you are some snooty atheist or contrarian, trying to talk someone out of his or her beliefs is like trying to capture the Pacific Ocean with a tea spoon. Try it and you can almost see the believer segue into some new and improved belief ... atheism, perhaps.

Well, the only thing I can figure out is to forgive what is a blunder and kick back with a cup of coffee. You want to suffer -- go ahead and suffer. I'm sorry it's so annoying/painful, but what happens when the belief (and by definition, disbelief) factor is set aside, even for just a nanosecond?

Yes, beliefs are fun -- and as tasty as beer nuts -- but when the time comes, isn't it a lot easier to join the nuts?

Trump refills the swamp

A year into the U.S. presidency of Donald Trump, it is so clear that bias and corruption are on the political front burner that voters may perhaps be forgiven for yawning as the latest revelations are served up as if they constituted a main course. For the merchants and the ascendant bourgeoisie, this is now mere snack food. It is almost impossible to remember when words like "democracy" and "ethics" had even a twisted meaning.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and his appointees have stocked federal agencies with ex-lobbyists and corporate lawyers who now help regulate the very industries from which they previously collected paychecks, despite promising as a candidate to drain the swamp in Washington.
A week after his January 2017 inauguration, Trump signed an executive order that bars former lobbyists, lawyers and others from participating in any matter they lobbied or otherwise worked on for private clients within two years before going to work for the government.
But records reviewed by The Associated Press show Trump’s top lawyer, White House counsel Don McGahn, has issued at least 24 ethics waivers to key administration officials at the White House and executive branch agencies.
And adding to the general diminution of elements that might conceivably "make America great again" is the fact that Trump and his allies have only one "W" in their legislative pocket -- a bill that transmits billions of tax dollars to the wealthy at the expense of the so-called middle class and below. Healthcare has not been repealed and rewritten, as promised; infrastructure spending is left gasping for unfunded breath; and jobs promised to struggling Trump voters are no where in sight. Oh yes, and America's longest war -- the one in Afghanistan -- shows every sign of continuing into the unseeable future instead of ending ... well, never mind, Boeing has gotten some good contracts out of it while schools and hospitals and nation-building are playing the tits-on-a-bull role. If Benjamin Netanyahu approves of the U.S., we must be doing something right ... right?

The new normal: The longer it persists, the more distant the "old normal" appears. Money is morality and morality is money: If the wig fits, wear it.