Sunday, May 27, 2018

laughing together

As if to conquor
Some edgeless universe,
Words prattle forth
And vie:
Me-me-me-me-me...

It is a small mistake --
Mis-hearing the solemn and sublime --
When all the time
The freshet burbles over
Small stones,
Clatters around an unseen bend
And comes to rest in a still-still
Pool where laughter meets the sky
And big fish lounge.
*                                        *                                          *

There is an Eskimo tribe, I've read, that refers to sexual intercourse as "laughing together." If that isn't a big fish, I don't know what is.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

the advent of 'fact checking' the president

I'm not positive, but I think that it is only since Donald Trump became president of the United States that the Associated Press has adopted the habit of running "fact checks" on the statements that he makes. The results, for Mr. Trump, are largely abysmal.
Eg.: WASHINGTON (AP) — Illegal border crossings, as President Donald Trump measures them, have gone up since he took office, even as he speaks to audiences about a drop of more than 40 percent.... etc.
Imagine having to think it necessary to run an entire article that corrects the assertions of the president of the most powerful country in the world. And then imagine taking the exercise as a matter of  'normalcy' ... no biggie... just the president lying as usual... no need to do anything about it.

Irish dump abortion ban

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland’s prime minister on Saturday hailed the culmination of “a quiet revolution” in what was once one of Europe’s most socially conservative countries after a landslide referendum vote to liberalize highly restrictive laws on abortion.
Voters in the once deeply Catholic nation backed the change by two-to-one, a far higher margin than any opinion poll in the run up to the vote had predicted, and allows the government to bring in legislation by the end of the year.

Friday, May 25, 2018

priceless antiques

If you wait long enough, everything turns into an antique, a priceless gem or a bit of money in the bank.

Look around and you'll see what I mean.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

chic patriotism

As is often the case, "it's the money, honey."

WASHINGTON (AP) — With its decision to ban kneeling during the national anthem, critics are accusing the NFL of prioritizing being in the good financial graces of mainstream America over the social justice passions of its players trying to draw attention to the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police.
Some opponents of the new policy now vow to never watch an NFL game again. The NFL’s new anthem policy — similar to NBA rules in place for decades — makes the athletes stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” or be absent from the field while it’s played.
Critics say the league acted without input from its majority-black players and buckled to pressure from some major advertisers and even President Donald Trump, who rallied his mostly-white base against players for failing to display their patriotism, shifting the debate from social justice for minorities to how to act during the anthem itself. Others, including some players, applauded the league’s action or took no issue with the policy.

Is there some graven-in-stone reason that the national anthem should be sung at sporting events? How about deleting "The Star Spangled Banner" from athletic money-makers? Isn't one Donald Trump selling off and selling out his country enough?

Is there anyone out there who is grown-up enough to say that racial inequality is just plain more important than a song and that racial disparities deserve more and more serious attention than some feel-good bit of singing? Of course it won't solve anything to delete the song, but it might be a talking point in a thorny debate.

Since the NFL is stuck between a rock and a hard place, how about doing the right thing and damn-the-torpedoes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

tracking down the elusive "Nessie"

... [T]he legend of “Nessie” may have no place left to hide. A New Zealand scientist is leading an international team to the lake next month, where they will take samples of the murky waters and conduct DNA tests to determine what species live there.
University of Otago professor Neil Gemmell says he’s no believer in Nessie, but he wants to take people on an adventure and communicate some science along the way. Besides, he says, his kids think it’s one of the coolest things he’s ever done.

falsies

It is probably just another example of how far behind yet another curve I am, but when I was growing up, "falsies" meant the augmentation women might apply to their breasts -- boobs puffed up with cotton or whatever other batting.

Nowadays, in my untutored eye, it seems that every woman on display is wearing false hair -- "hair extensions" as they're called in an apparently endless stream on Google. It's a bit like looking at the latest automobiles that lack originality of design -- everyone with ass-length tresses (and perhaps expanded boobs)... an idiotic feeding frenzy... everyone racing to be like everyone else, the anointed.

Given the long history of wigs, you might think me stupid to wish this trend would go the way of the dodo. I am not quite sure why I find it irritating as a latter-day trend but maybe it's partly the fact that Donald Trump's trophy children and trophy wives all look the same -- flavorless as the bubble gum stuck up under a greasy spoon's counter.

It's not "fair and nuanced" as a judgment, but when was life ever fair and nuanced?

As fashion trends go ... well, it's not up my alley.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Paul Simon ... a blessing

What is a blessing?

Perhaps a blessing is little more than to have lived in a time when someone loved the music more than he or she loved the self.

I think of this as Paul Simon dwindles. It's not just the music per se, which people may like or dislike at will, but the commitment and ardor that blesses ... blesses ... blesses.

Where the blessings fade away, it is a good time to die.

fuck 'em again ... harder!

"Brazen" is the only word that comes to mind.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress was taking a final step Tuesday toward dismantling a chunk of the rules framework for banks installed to prevent a recurrence of the 2008 financial crisis that brought millions of lost jobs and foreclosed homes....
“This is not a bill that benefits consumers. It is a big-bank bonanza,” Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said in debate on the House floor before the vote.
The bill would make a fivefold increase, to $250 billion, in the level of assets at which banks are deemed to pose a potential threat if they failed. The change would ease regulations and oversight on more than two dozen financial institutions, including BB&T Corp., SunTrust Banks, Fifth Third Bancorp and American Express.
Eventually, the exempted banks would no longer have to undergo an annual stress test conducted by the Federal Reserve. The test assesses whether a bank has a big enough capital buffer to survive an economic shock and keep on lending. The banks also would be excused from submitting plans called “living wills” that spell out how a bank would sell off assets or be liquidated in the event of failure so it wouldn’t create chaos in the financial system.

disgusted by wealth ... really?

Gregory Stevens

A Silicon Valley pastor [Gregory Stevens] has resigned from his church after calling the city of Palo Alto an “elitist shit den of hate” and criticizing the hypocrisy of “social justice” activism in the region....
“The tech industry is motivated by endless profit, elite status, rampant greed, and the myth that their technologies are somehow always improving the world.”....
“I hate ‘social justice’ in Palo Alto. What a fucking joke.”
On the one hand, you can imagine his frustrations. It's good for a news story.

On the other hand, from where I sit, a larger story goes begging -- how those who might be considered rich fit in to a wider swath of political liberalism. How does being wealthy disbar those who might wish to add their voices to a more generous vision? Shall l fault them by the nature of what may have been their upbringing? As a poor man may be encumbered/limited by an impoverished background, isn't there something to be said for rich people who simply grew up in and with plenty? Are they encumbered by their past as any of us might be? True, there are braggarts and elitists, but for the few who may question their own comforts ... well, what about a background over which you have no control?

Stevens, I notice, is 28 -- a ripe age for discovering the mixed nature or hypocrisy of things. A minister's job, among other things, is to milk the cash cow, much as a college president might. Look around any church congregation and count what I have come to call "the blue-haired ladies" -- devoted widows, often, who have chosen to support their local tabernacle. If money is what they can currently afford, well, movements need money, if only to buy the plastic bottles full of water ... bottles that can wash up on a beach near you. Donning sack cloth and ashes may sound humble-pie, but shining stars are often in need of very tangible telescopes.

I leave it there. I've run out of energy.

beauty and the natural beast

Lava flows into the Pacific Ocean southeast of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Maybe...
The danger of life is not dying.
The danger of life is living poorly.

It is somehow stunning that wars proceed apace at the same time that Hawaii's beauty-and-the-beast scenario plays out in utter serenity. You might think that difficulties provided by nature -- stuff like food and water and shelter -- would be enough.

Oh well, as a wrinkled woman I heard on TV a couple of days ago put it, "Men love wars. Always have. Always will."

  

Monday, May 21, 2018

Sunday, May 20, 2018

"take it easy, but take it"



Rattling around associatively in a mind-video this morning, the punchline on folksinger Pete Seeger's version of "Talking Union" raised its head once more:
Take it easy, but take it.

Seeger's bit of history came in the wake of a serendipitous email -- a fellow writing the other day to say he was enjoying reading my book, "Answer Your Love Letters: Footnotes to a Zen Practice." The book's sole usefulness in my present-day mind is its capacity to gather dust, both metaphorically and literally. Definitely a rear-view mirror object ... but hey, who doesn't like having her/his ego stroked?

I wrote back saying thank you and there followed several emails about Zen practice, problems that crop up ... the usual stuff that is never "usual" to the person exercising them. As I was myself once helped by snailmail from brighter lights than my own, so I feel bound to do something similar: If someone asks, well, speak up... lie a little.

The email give-and-take lingered as recollection this morning. I thought about it and invariably came on one of my hot-button points: The greatest single difficulty in spiritual life -- which is to say life -- is probably the crediting of "something else." Some god, some (wo)man, some text ... something else... good, bad or indifferent -- something else.

And the conundrum that accompanies the something-else syndrome is the realization that there is nothing besides something else. Everything is something else and something else is the central difficulty in spiritual or any other sort of life. There is nothing else besides something else. Reality check! -- the greatest problem is something else and yet there is nothing else to work with.

I can hear the objections from here: If there is nothing other than something else, how could something else be the bestest with the most-est problem?

Answer: Tough titty. Practice anyway and don't get hung up on something else. You have to be a little bit crazy to follow this Yellow Brick Road, but what the hell, none of the other Yellow Brick Roads has worked very well, up until now so ... go ahead and be a little bit crazy.

When I once asked my teacher if Zen were dualistic, he said no. When I asked him if it were therefore monistic, he again replied that it was not. "So," I said, "if it's not dualistic and not monistic, what is it?" I watched his face as he tried to frame an answer -- he was obviously caught between wanting to say nothing and wanting to say something. Finally he opted for the latter: "Maybe," he said, "it is like a pointless point."

All of this probably sounds airy-fairy or religious or something, but for someone willing to investigate this life -- its marvels and its horrors -- it's target-central.
MEAT
AND
POTATOES!
I'm getting dust up my nose with all this Zen-recall stuff ... dust stacked on the bookshelf. Am I jerking myself around? Sure -- you got a better suggestion? It's bullshit that bullshit is merely bullshit. Of course it's not bullshit either.

Pick your poison, your something else and then, "take it easy, but take it!"

Saturday, May 19, 2018

proud of my daughter



Ever since she sent the photos yesterday, I have been feeling a hard-to-define, deep-seated pride in my daughter, Olivia.

Some will say, "Well d'oh -- she's your daughter," but my half-baked attempts to be a father don't work like that. I have always seen my role as one in which I keep my eyes skinned for dangers and errors that might hurt my children. I don't want them to be hurt by assholes and and I try to turn the volume down when I see them indulging what I consider asshole behavior. Knee-jerk pride is not on my front burner, however much I might wish it were. I love my kids, but somehow protection is the name of my inner game. Not that my approach works, of course, but that's the cut of my jib.

And yet the photos lit up my assembly with pure pride. My daughter -- I guess you could call her a savvy millennial who seems to know how to climb the corporate ladder and navigate its throttling vines -- is willing to break a sweat. The world does not need another millennial flouting all that gear and all those half-masticated answers. And nobody can be a savvy millennial when doing pedal-to-the-metal calisthenics. And that's what Olivia is doing in part at a management seminar this weekend: Roll out of bed at an impossibly early hour, hit the arena and for whatever time period, crank out push-ups, sit-ups and whatever all else under the tutelage of former Navy SEALs. No one has to take part in the calisthenics, but it's part of the seminar which also includes more millennial-friendly classes and lectures.

I figure people capable of exercising a capacity to sweat are smarter and more honest than most, even if they carry designer pocketbooks.

A month or so ago, the first time my daughter took this training and told me calisthenics were an optional part of the training, I told her, only half in jest, that she damned well better get out there and do the exercises, however early in the morning they were. After the first day of that seminar, I got a brief note that said only, "I threw up twice."

There was no similar note this time. Just the pix. And my pride soared. My daughter, who is not averse to a good shopping trip to the millennial mecca (the mall) was willing to break a sweat and I, for one, have a soft spot in my heart for those willing to break a sweat rather than simply expect accolades because of their electronic gear or clothing or certificates or some other millennial chic. She was a good business woman AND she could break a sweat AND she was my DAUGHTER. Who the hell died and left me so lucky?!

Honestly, I cannot describe this feeling, but it feels great ... and I'm proud as punch ... for nothing and for everything ... and it's weird ... and I'm sure glad she's doing what I could not ... all at once. Wubba-wubba... so much for literacy.



Friday, May 18, 2018

"Heaven's Gate" rollerskating

Stuck like some loop tape in my head this morning is the roller-skating scene from the 1980 western, "Heaven's Gate," an infuriatingly-bad and yet somehow-hypnotizing movie I plugged into yesterday and couldn't stop watching despite a certainty that it was largely historical eyewash. On the face of it, the movie is a cattle-barons-face-off-against-immigrant-farmers tale. I didn't realize until later that the director was the same guy, Michael Cimino, who made "The Deer Hunter," a wowser of a movie focusing on the Vietnam war era. Sometimes I just roll over and play dead for a fiction I purely want to be fact.

The roller-skating scene is hard to excise in its fullness ... the Pied Piper cherubic face of the fiddler, everyone in a gigantic building out west in the 1890's, the colonization of the west, the ebullient enjoyment of the immigrants, and finally, I suppose, the fact that I am a sucker for waltzes. I don't care if it's not true in a hundred ways ... I want it to be true and am willing to set aside my incredulity for ... for ... for an immersion I am certain not everyone can or would accede to.

For all that, here is a cut of the scene (short ad first, sorry) followed by a subsequent solo waltz by two of the main characters.





And, now that I've noted it, perhaps I can move on to something-completely-different....

Thursday, May 17, 2018

consolidating power in China et al

The Nazis had the Jews. The Jews have the Palestinians. The Americans have Guantanamo and fisa court-approved surveillance of those who may, but have not yet, committed 'terrorist' acts. And now there is some light cast on the Chinese ethnic cleansing by "re-education" of Muslims interned in western China.

It enhances central power to pick an enemy and set up a drum-beat while all the time claiming the purest of motives. The Nazis singled out the Jews for a lot of reasons, but certainly one of them was that the Jews laid claim to being the "chosen" people. Nazis, with their Aryan aspirations, could not allow more than one "chosen" group on their block.

Jews shooting live rounds into noisy crowds of tire-burning, sling-shot-armed Palestinians along the Gaza border are said to be, of course, short-circuiting Palestinian threats against Israel -- which has nukes and yet lays claim to a fragility of being that sees non-lethal attackers as threatening its existence. Muslim literature may suggest that killing the Jews would be a righteous act, but the book in which Jews suggest that killing anyone who isn't a Jew remains untranslated and unavailable in English, if I've got that right. (Someone supply the title, please)

America's FBI keeps busy trying to keep up with those who may/might/could create a terrorist problem in the future.
The FBI is pursuing 1,000 investigations into suspected “lone wolf” militants and another 1,000 into “domestic terrorists”, the bureau’s director has told a congressional committee.
Christopher Wray said so-called “lone wolf” terrorists – whom another law enforcement official described as individuals often radicalised over the internet or other social media – are the FBI’s “highest counterterrorism priority”.
The way that they know the problem is kept tightly under wraps and there's no saying how many potential attacks they have thwarted, though every once in a while, some midnight raid will cast light on tactics that presume some nitwit with a big mouth and dubious contacts might actually DO something. Guantanamo Bay prison continues to hold people who have been given little or no recourse to the U.S. legal system that holds them.

And then there is China's approach, as detailed in a longish article about internment camps that sound like the old Cultural Revolution re-education camps under Mao Zedong... people sent off to be re-educated among the farmer populace loyal to Mao ... as a means of centralizing communist power ... of undermining a bourgeoisie that might think a differing thought.
Since last spring, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese — and even foreign citizens — in mass internment camps. This detention campaign has swept across Xinjiang, a territory half the area of India, leading to what a U.S. commission on China last month said is “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”...
Internees would wake up together before dawn, sing the Chinese national anthem, and raise the Chinese flag at 7:30 a.m. They gathered back inside large classrooms to learn “red songs” like “Without the Communist Party, there is no New China,” and study Chinese language and history. They were told that the indigenous sheep-herding Central Asian people of Xinjiang were backward and yoked by slavery before they were “liberated” by the Communist Party in the 1950s.
Before meals of vegetable soup and buns, the inmates would be ordered to chant: “Thank the Party! Thank the Motherland! Thank President Xi!”
 From afar, it sounds juvenile, all of the apartheid efforts to consolidate power and worship and agreement and the one true faith. But up close, of course, its blowback lands on individuals -- people convinced of one belief or another, people who may or may not have evil intentions, but in any event have come to their conclusions in their own ways, people whose convictions may run counter to prevailing winds and yet challenging those prevailing winds to prove themselves worthy and better.

Shit flows downhill. OK. But the implicit assertion that some shit doesn't stink ... stinks.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

placing a finger on the Gaza scale

A nice column by Moustafa Bayoumi in The Guardian takes a swipe at deconstructing the journalistic legerdemain employed by American news outlets like the New York Times when describing the bloody frictions in Gaza these days.
Judging by some stories, it’s almost as if bullets just hang in the air, waiting for Palestinians to walk deliberately into them
Language is a wily cuss without any help from outsiders. To employ it as a means of shading the horror or the truth is not journalism -- it is public relations at best and agitation-propaganda at worst. Bayoumi points some good fingers.

dismantling America

Passed along in email came this literate dissection from The New Yorker. "Trump vs. the "Deep State:" How the Administration's loyalists are quietly reshaping American governance." It's a long read, perhaps, but seems well-argued and pretty well written ....

The article is probably for those still inclined to discuss and parse and bemoan. As a cranky older person, I can't help but think that a horse with a broken leg deserves careful assessment ... together with the recognition that someone is going to have to point the gun and pull the trigger. You can only talk about a cluster-fuck for so long. And then, well, it becomes tiring without result, dismaying without result, outrageous without result, anti-American without result.

Strange to think that the cranky and dispossessed who swept Donald Trump into office are now, so to speak "the rest of us." "Speak truth to power????" That only works when the truth has some footing from the get-go. Donald Trump's ascendancy has proved that anything that might be called "the truth" is a minor  and sometimes inconvenient matter.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

sharing is caring?

T-shirt for this era?

capturing the moon

apartheid at home and abroad

I may be over-mythologizing, but the presidential announcement that America's new embassy would be located in Jerusalem -- a city that both Israelis and Palestinians lay claim to -- strikes me as a savvy-if-cowardly political stroke.
The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv, condemned by Palestinians as blatantly pro-Israel, further dimmed prospects of what President Donald Trump had once touted as plans to negotiate the “deal of the century.” The Palestinians seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as a capital.
So far, Palestinians wielding sling-shots, burning tires, and throwing rocks, have suffered almost 60 fatalities and 2,000 casualties as 'beleaguered' Israel shoots live rounds at Palestinian demonstrators along the Gaza wall... and did I hear someone mention the deploying of Israeli tanks?

The relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem set off Benjamin-Netanyahu-friendly rejoicing. America loves Israel and is willing to prove it, autocrat to autocrat. Netanyahu, who is hip-deep in a corruption scandal can point to a big W(inner) under his aegis and divert attention from his apartheid proclivities that he uses to keep his right-wing supporters in line. The embassy-opening gives him the imprimatur to bomb Syria, which Trump might find advantageous when addressing Russia's warm-water-port interests in Damascus.

But stirring the Israel-Palestine pot, creating conditions for still greater conflict, allows Trump and his compatriots who want to get re-elected to divert attention from the tax plan that sucks money away from America's version of the Palestinians -- the working class. December's tax plan is likely to play a role in upcoming mid-term elections, but if there's one thing that can deflect attention from the tax give-away to the well-to-do, it's so-called-patriotism and war and shit like that.

So ... Netanyahu gets a green light and Trump gets a green light and the U.S. offers a plausible deniability: "Me? Foment war? That's Israel's doing... that's Palestinian adventurism." even as Israel can deflect the spotlight from Netanyahu's corruption as he acts to protect Israel's 'vital interests.'

"Venal" and "vile" hardly seem to cover the bases.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

hitchhiking

It was a quieter, gentler era, perhaps, one that book-ended my modest history of hitchhiking in America. All told, I reckon I used my thumb to travel something more than 100,000 miles. There were lessons to learn and the one that wafts back this morning is the lesson of tractor-trailer trucks.

So, OK, flashback alert.

Tractor-trailer trucks were looked on with a kind of wishful awe when you stood next to some road in the middle of no where. Tractor-trailers were going long distances and a ride with one of them posed the possibility of taking a big bite of the miles up ahead. But they also had something like sixteen forward gears at the time and a trucker who had cranked himself into one of the higher numbers would be forced to do some serious down-shifting in order to stop for the likes of me. Mostly, I wasn't worth the unquantifiable benefit I might provide as company on the ride. I sympathized with the drivers and did not curse the high-speed, pass-me-by passage of the 18-wheelers.

But that didn't mean I couldn't hope or wish. I could see them coming from afar, glistening in the sun against some straight-as-a-string highway cut into the grasslands of Nebraska or Oklahoma or wherever the hell I was. My wish-machine kicked into action as it drew closer and closer and closer until, at last, it was almost upon me, that great shiny ship headed into the oceans of destinations unseen.

And just about the time I could read the tractor label -- Ford or Mack or even an occasional Volvo -- I could see that I was going to be ignored and learned quickly to turn my back: The passage of such a behemoth at a high rate of speed meant the truck was dragging a cloud of swirling air that lifted the dirt on the verge where I stood and there was a serious concern that that dust storm would blow into my eyes. It was a bit like a bull fight, pirouetting as the tractor passed by my spot with its silvered trailer in tow. Rumble and whoosh and in an instant he was gone. But his back-draft remained. Duck and cover!

For some reason, it pleases me to have this bit of information under my belt. Why? I haven't got a clue. Certainly there is no chance I will ever again have the occasion to use it, just as there is little chance I will need to walk backwards with the same assurance I walk forward or size up the likelihood that a Ford passenger car (small chance) or a Chevrolet (greater chance than a Ford) would pick me up. I never expected a man with a woman in the car to pick me up: Women deserved to be protected. And a woman driver ... well, you had to be careful.

Little lessons piled onto earlier little lessons and I am happy to have them ... for no real reason I can think of. Maybe it's just a matter of having experimented and learned and knew a thing or two ... or anyway thought I did ... based on experience.

Hitchhiking in a military uniform (which I did for the second trip across the country, but not the first) was a definite plus: A lot of male drivers could remember having received military pay and knew how tightly that noose was woven.

The most dream-time ride I ever got was east of Sacramento, California, where a tractor-trailer driver stopped, welcomed me aboard and said he was headed to Boston, Mass., which was very close to where I was headed. A 2000-plus-mile ride.

But the best ride I ever got was good for only 500 yards... in civvies. A brown-skinned man behind the wheel of a battered Ford coupe, pulled over and asked a very-pregnant brown woman to sit in the back. He hardly spoke any English and I hardly spoke any Spanish. His hands on the steering wheel were cracked and calloused. His only adornment was a wedding ring that showed off to good advantage against his farm-toughened hands.

He opened the door, gave me a brilliant smile and waved me in. His wife smiled a little too. They had been long distances themselves, I imagined. But after a short drive, the man realized he was going the wrong way. With pidgen apologies, he explained his error and I got out. His kindness remains with me to this day. Would anyone (a white man, perhaps) have given him a ride? Let alone him with a pregnant wife? Perhaps, but a man with his precious wife with his precious baby ...

A gentler era in retrospect.

I hope the baby was and remains well: S/he comes from blessed stock.

Mother's Day toast

Mother's Day here in the U.S. ... with the thought shambling through my mind, "Men are capable of mouth, but it is the women who've got the grit."

True or untrue, the thought came and went.

Who is not a mother? Who is not a father? I must have been out sick when they gave that class.

Here's to all the blessings and all the curses!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Meghan Markle fantasy

Meghan Markle, who will become a member of British royalty when she marries Prince Harry on May 19, is a former American actress, etc. etc. I mean to cast no aspersions as the glitz and glitter gather pace, but when I look at the picture above, there is something about its perfection that creeps me out: Honest to goodness, it looks like a wonderfully-fabricated bit of Artificial Intelligence... as if the next words out of her pitch-perfect mouth might be, "The bathrooms are down the hall to the left... near the Renoir." And in that same universe, off-screen somewhere, is a doughy 23-year-old named Ricky whose pimples are almost completely cured and who could not be more pleased with his handiwork ... the no-kidding pièce de résistance of his gallery full of women for whom he secretly yearns.

Mephistopheles in the punch bowl

It was in college that I first crossed paths with so-called philosophy, the discipline that aims to figure things out. It was a wonderful meeting, seeing as I was 18 and in the typical teen throes of trying to figure stuff out myself: Philosophy offered a host of cookie cutters that went to great lengths to explain what I found frequently confusing, i.e. this life. It never occurred to me that the writers (who were grown-ups after all) had written the books or offered their words in part because they too, even with an advanced maturity, couldn't find their own ass with both hands.

Nevertheless ... hot damn! -- here were all kinds of people thinking about the same stuff that sometimes left me flopping like a fish on a dock. Was I a grown-up or was I a kid? How could I get closer to those mysterious and magnetic creatures called "girls?" What was worth my seriousness and what was passing fluff? Imagine! A book or books brimming with solemn pronouncements that sounded like what I wanted... you know, Answers writ large, Answers I could depend on through thick and thin, Answers that could slay the wily Questions and Uncertainties ... and I could be kool.

The cookie cutter that brought me up short was the one (can't remember its label) whose premise was, among other things, that everything changed. "Now there's something no one can deny!" I crowed within. Look around. Everything changed ... all the time ... and since that was the case, it lightened a variety of loads... at least theoretically. I was delighted to find this bible of clear-eyed observation.

But there was a fly in the ointment. Yes, everything changed and was changing all the time ... and I loved it ... until, as a matter of honesty, I had to admit the principle must likewise affect my relationship with my then-girlfriend. Surely that wouldn't change. Surely that was writ in some stone that would endure and outflank the universal principle I had decided to fall in love with.

Needless to say, I squirmed within. I really didn't want a swimming relationship to be swept out into changing seas. I tried a hundred different ways to keep the satisfying principle without surrendering the palpable fact. How I wanted that relationship to endure. It was sacrosanct and pure and enduring and of course it just COULDN'T change. Today, I can't even remember the name of the girl-friend in whose presence I was melted butter.

Well, shit!

What a good lesson, sort of. The importance of picking just one thing for which/whom anyone is willing to crack open the door and investigate from manna to Mephistopheles. Who will decide to pick a topic -- any topic -- and then, for once, go the distance ... the whole nine yards ... from the point where desirability rears up and roars to the point where this great edifice begins to crumble and bite you on the ass.

Pick one. Just one. Just this once ... and don't wobble -- go straight for the jugular! No turning back. No excuses. Don't be lazy, for once. Wouldn't it be nice to get one thing straight, even if you turned out to be wrong? Math that stretches out before you until, somehow, it turns into poetry. Poetry that stretches out before you and turns into math. Out there, somewhere, parallel lines meet in infinity. Smarty-pants philosophers speak of yin and yang. Fuck them. Go the distance for once. Stop making excuses for once.

Just once.

Do it just once and then ... and then ... and then ... do it again.

blue heaped on blue

A dense bloom of bioluminescent algae off the coast of southern California has lit up the Pacific Ocean with an eerie and fantastical neon blue glow, sending photographers and spectators to the beach at night in hopes of witnessing the natural phenomenon.
The algal bloom, also known as a red tide, was observed this week lighting up the waves along a 15-mile stretch of coastline.

Friday, May 11, 2018

semper tyrannus

Unless and until the U.S. government can show concrete evidence of Rakem Balogun's insidious intentions or actions, I for one will remain highly skeptical of the self-congratulatory reasoning that led the Federal Bureau of Investigation to break down his door in 2017 and arrest him under the heading of "black identity extremist."

As J. Edgar Hoover did whatever he could during his tenure to paint Martin Luther King Jr. into a criminal corner, so there seems to be a surveillance effort against black men who not only can drive, but also seem capable of thinking.

Balogun was held without bail for five months. In the end, his accusers were left with the allegedly illegal possession of a hand gun ... a charge a judge upended. And through it all, no one apologized to a man who admits to being an activist, but denies extremism innuendos.
“It’s tyranny at its finest,” said Balogun, 34. “I have not been doing anything illegal for them to have surveillance on me. I have not hurt anyone or threatened anyone.”
The situation, as presented in The Guardian, fairly reeks of "niggers gotta know their place." Imagine if the man who had his door broken down had been white.
Balogun, who lost his home and more while incarcerated, is believed to be the first person targeted and prosecuted under a secretive US surveillance effort to track so-called “black identity extremists”. In a leaked August 2017 report from the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit, officials claimed that there had been a “resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity” stemming from African Americans’ “perceptions of police brutality”.
The counter-terrorism assessment provided minimal data or evidence of threats against police.... The report sparked backlash from civil rights groups and some Democrats, who feared the government would use the broad designation to prosecute activists and groups like Black Lives Matter.



Balogun, who was working full-time for an IT company when he was arrested, has long been an activist, co-founding Guerrilla Mainframe and the Huey P Newton Gun Club, two groups fighting police brutality and advocating for the rights of black gun owners. Some of the work included coordinating meals for the homeless, youth picnics and self-defense classes – but that’s not what interested the FBI.
No bail for a man with a job and three kids .... no bail and five months in jail on the say-so of those who lay out no concrete evidence.... no bail for a man who admits, like the staunchest of NRA members, that he has Second Amendment rights.

Oh well, at least they speak English in the American gulag.

The fiction-founded premise that anyone can see into the future, predict violent activities like a scrupulously-undefined "terrorism," and prevent bloodshed ... where are the congressmen who went to the finest schools, often have law degrees, claim to love their country and yet cannot speak out against secret evidence which goes unsubstantiated?

Why am I asking this question? Is there a hex someone can put on these people? Vote, you say? I was thinking of a more painful hex of some kind... sorta like we're back in third grade and it was still a laugh to put a thumb tack on someone's seat...

koans with teeth

Every now and then, there may be a news report of a man-eating tiger in some rural part of India. Such incidents, which understandably put villagers in fear, seem to have similar characteristics from one to the next. If I recall correctly, the tigers are frequently described as being slowed by age or infirmity and so pick on some slower prey. Also, they attack their prey from the rear, leaping on its back and inflicting what wounds may be necessary to provide a breakfast, lunch or dinner.

A passing brush this morning with the Mumonkan and the Blue Cliff Record, two books of koans and commentary that are part and parcel of the Zen Buddhism I once signed up to follow, put me in mind of the tigers.

Koans are intellectually insoluble riddles aimed at demonstrating the limitations of the smart-as-a-whip intellect. An example: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Or, "What did I look like before my parents were born?" By focusing whole-heartedly on the issue, the student is invited to see a wider, clearer world.

At one time, I was dying to be given a koan. I wanted to be more closely aligned with the Zen group to which I belonged at that point. I wanted to be thought fierce and sincere. If a teacher gave me a koan to work on, it might indicate my advance upward through the Zen ranks. Eventually, I was given one and set to work holding it in my mind and butting my head against its impossible, immuring nature. I tried and tried on my meditation cushion. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to ingest or care about it. What a chickenshit!

I was a bad Zen student: A koan taken from a revered text simply did not bang my chimes. No matter how hard I tried to convince myself of the serious and deep meaning ... I remained unconvinced. I was a bad Zen student, which, from today's perspective, is a pretty good Zen student.

How long did I keep all this up -- this comparing myself to a revered text and its conundrums? I don't know, but eventually something just gave up the 'revered text' perspective. If I didn't give a shit, I didn't give a shit. If I was scared of what I might find out, well, hell, I was just scared. If the wise men who compiled these wondrous texts were wise, well, I couldn't help that or imagine I might match them in some shiny, esoteric wisdom. They were dead and dead people have a tendency not to argue.

My problem, among others, was that I could not bring my heart to bear. What someone else called important simply did not imply anything I considered important... sort of.

The tiger was creeping up in the grass behind me ... careful, lethal ... but for the moment I was held in thrall to the 'right' way of doing things, the Zen student way, the best-advice way I imagined I must take and yet somehow couldn't.

And then one day, a koan pounced without any particular effort -- leaped on my back and proceeded to make a meal of me. The line might be old and infirm and slower than it once was in the predatory pecking order, but here was a koan that sank its claws and teeth into me.

Try this on for size: "I love you."

As far as I knew, the line had no place in the revered texts. It just hung out in my mind like some saucy teenager leaning against a lamp post, smoking a cigarette, asserting its power without ever moving a muscle. There was no solution and no escape.

Not that I could 'solve' it any better than I could 'solve' the sound of one hand clapping, but still, this koan was close to the bone -- a real marrow-muncher. Fuck the commentary. Fuck the answers. Fuck everything and anything else. "I love you."

No, I never did become a good Zen student and tigers, man-eating and otherwise, still scare the crap out of me. But I did get some hint that when anyone bleeds, the blood is red.

No need to seek out or memorize or mythologize or aggrandize koans. They come creeping and tip-toeing until, until, until ... well, even an old fart still has claws.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

assisted suicide

In the past two days, I have taken two of the pain pills I hate taking because they make me dumber in the aftermath than I already would be. Perhaps the pill popping made me sympathetic to the 104-year-old Australian who traveled to Switzerland in order to end his own life.
“My life has been rather poor for the last year or so. And I’m very happy to end it,” Goodall said Thursday in the room where he died shortly after.
The British-born scientist said this week that he had been contemplating the idea of suicide for about 20 years, but only started thinking about it for himself after his quality of life deteriorated over the last year.
He cited a lack of mobility, doctor’s restrictions and an Australian law prohibiting him from taking his own life among his complaints, but he was not ill.
 Assisted suicide is illegal in Australia. Switzerland takes a different view. And after a couple of pain pills I hate taking, I bemoan the idea that death is somehow the "ultimate sacrifice" or otherwise crazed. Gautama the Buddha, in one translation of the "Dhammapada," is said to have observed, "All fear dying/All fear death." I wonder if, given the latitude, he might likewise have said, "All fear living/All fear life."

How I wish assisted suicide weren't such a hot-button topic. Those slip-sliding into pill-popping and doctors' prescriptions and endless possible 'improvements' know the weight and know the freight. Things hurt more and other things are less efficient and on top of that, those with whom to share a good dirty joke have often already "joined the majority." Stuff is taken away and taken away and taken away until a little control over this life/death is about all that's left.

No, I am not thinking of running out and slitting my wrists, but I damned sure will continue to lay claim the option ... and understand a little of what the elderly may gnash what's left of their teeth about.
The Swiss federal statistics office says the number of assisted suicides has been growing fast: Nine years ago, there were 297. By 2015, the most recent year tabulated, the figure had more than tripled to 965. Nearly 15 percent of the cases last year were people under 65 years old.
When it comes assisted suicide and those whose nostrums seek to short-circuit the activity, all I can think of is Clint Eastwood's crabby line in "Gran Torino:"

"Get off my lawn!"


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

airheads unite!

Too busy to take part in social intercourse? Google has got you covered with something called "Smart Compose," an internet application that makes coherent what you're too busy to actually email to all those "friends" you have.
The days of having to think about and physically type out emails is over, at least if Google’s new “Smart Compose” feature for Gmail has anything to say about it.
Much like autocomplete in the search bar or on your smartphone’s keyboard, the new AI-powered feature promises to not only intelligently work out what you’re currently trying to write but to predict whole emails.
I'm sorry, but is this idiotic or is it just idiotic? If social interface is part of the internet promise, how does ducking that interface fulfill the promise? Worse than the idea itself is the deep suspicion that there are actually people out there who believe this shit.

Airheads unite! It might be funny if it weren't so sad.