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.
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


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. 


the wiles of curiosity

It seems to me that younger people lack curiosity. That statement alone should put anyone on guard: Everyone's curious, I imagine, but curiosity has implications, not the least of which is the sub-rosa premise that I-don't-know.

For a younger person who may already be floundering in a search for a well-tailored, savvy persona, not-knowing takes the stitches out of the cloth in hand: I'd rather be smart and knowledgeable and together (and thereby happy or at least look that way) than to be ignorant and somehow exposed as weak.

This morning I wondered where the word "gandy" came from in the descriptive role it played among the "gandy dancers." Gandy dancers were usually poor people who needed work and thus hired out to the railroad, straightening ties and rails. The group of (usually, but not always) men used chanting as a means of synchronizing their efforts. Blacks, Mexicans, Chinese, newly-arrived immigrants and yes, sometimes even women.

But who cares what "gandy" means or derives from? I care, because the work was hard and men in need of food money for their families found the pay better than in other venues. They actually did something. An "app" had not yet been fashioned.

Some quick research left me with no fixed answer about the word "gandy." And still "gandy dancer" is a descriptive that tickles my ivories. It has a lilt in its step, for me.

I have a gandy dancer's steel pole out in the shed -- bought it at a tag sale for $2 a number of years back. I love the heft of it and the stories it might tell, even if I lack the ears to hear them or the muscle to wield it. A great tool for leveraging heavy rock, for example.

But who breaks a sweat any longer? Yesterday, my younger son got a part time gig with a landscaper who needed some help. My son came home refreshed from the outdoors, the air, the movement and, dare I say it, the sweat. He said the walkway he was helping to rip up prior to laying a new one was made largely of brick and so he had no need of a gandy-dancer's pole, which I described despite his lack of curiosity.

In the news of late, U.S. President Donald Trump announced yesterday that his country would back away from a nuclear agreement that had been reached with Iran. The treaty, which lifts U.S. sanctions against Iran in exchange for a downsizing of nuclear experimentation, is reported near and far as having been observed by Iran. Inspectors have been allowed on sites. But Trump called it a bad deal and Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu called Iran a liar and ... well, even the first Bush who became president made it clear that he wanted to bring Iran to its knees. I suppose the uptick in potential violence in the Middle East will distract voters from the tax burden that was levied in December and benefits the companies that contribute to Republican causes.

If Israel can have nuclear weapons and the U.S. can have nuclear weapons and India can have nuclear weapons and Pakistan can have nuclear weapons and North Korea can have nuclear weapons ... on what grounds does one sovereign nation tell another to knock off the nuclear weapons? Weapons are the last option in the diplomatic arsenal, so ...?

The U.S. does not keep its word and as a result distances itself from allies which helped to broker the deal with Iran. The U.S. does not keep it's word.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark nuclear accord with Iran, abruptly restoring harsh sanctions in the most consequential foreign policy action of his presidency. He declared he was making the world safer, but he also deepened his isolation on the world stage and revived doubts about American credibility.
The 2015 agreement, which was negotiated by the Obama administration and included Germany, France and Britain, had lifted most U.S. and international economic sanctions against Iran. In exchange, Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear program, making it impossible to produce a bomb and establishing rigorous inspections.
Donald Trump is a man whose curiosity leads him to wonder about money, and not so much about those who will need to pony up.

Why is it that the longer anyone lives, the more shabby money appears?

... but that's just my question, the question I am curious about.

I wonder if we might reinvent the woodpile behind which dads used to take their erring sons for a good spanking.

Oh wait ... spanking is out of fashion and besides that, it might invoke a sweat.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

a little James Taylor

Ran across this again today and lolled in it:

bling ... KA-CHING!

"... a three-tiered concoction that gleams with 19,000 gems — 18,000 of them diamonds, along with rubies, sapphires and emeralds. It was a gift from Queen Isabella of Spain to the 19th-century Pope Pius IX, who wore it at Christmas Mass in 1854."
There is something utterly human and utterly grotesque about the upcoming exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Entitled, "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination," the show plans to display just some of the riches the Vatican has accumulated through the centuries.

To hear Jesus tell it, there is something attractive about modesty in wealth and acquisition. On the other hand, what I understand to be the wealthiest corporation in the world -- the Vatican -- has had a lot of practice in the art of advertising and wooing those who may admire even if they cannot own.

Is there a well-regarded spiritual persuasion that does not have its bling? I doubt it: Like fly fishing, there has to be something noticeable to bite down on. Parishioners may bridle at the two, three, four Rolls Royces gleaming in religions' garages, but, too, there is admiration, there is something to notice ... if this guy has cars, he must have money; if he has money, he must have believers who give; if he has believers, the belief must have some basis in social agreement, which is sometimes used to mean "the truth."

"The love of money" may be the (Christian) root of all evil, but 'evil' is the only ground from which goodness stands a chance of rising up ... except of course that it is also the ground from which more 'evil' can spring. It's a mind-fucker all right.

Referring to God, American comedian George Carlin noted and it's hard to disagree, "He (God) loves you and he NEEDS MONEY...."

Sometimes I marvel at the good fortune of those who thought they might give religion a whirl and then found one that demanded their own, very individual, practicing effort. You can't bullshit a practice that is practiced whole-heartedly.

Not that I would mind having a Rolls Royce, of course.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Nobel candidate lost behind the radiator

I realized this afternoon that I had forgotten -- though I recognized I was under no duress to remember -- the meaning of the word "furbelow." But worse than the forgetfulness was the recognition that I no longer could think of anyone I knew to whom I might turn and say, "What does 'furbelow' mean again? I've forgotten."

Perhaps, if I had known what the word meant, I could have returned to work on my magnum opus, "Furbelows and Leukocytes -- a Brief History." A real page-turner and probable Nobel candidate whose early draft I last saw sitting on a radiator top.

And yet another speculative bit of whimsy: Is it true that newborns exiting the womb into a world in which they are destined to join a "minority" of some sort are seldom if ever granted the capacity (as every other individual is) to be a flaming asshole? The gentle "majority" -- the one so intent on making room for those less blessed by numbers -- couldn't imagine saying that a homosexual or black person or woman or transsexual or any other put-upon group had emerged from the womb with a full-blown capacity to be mean, nasty critters. No, they need to work twice as hard for that capacity as well ... along with all the other, more applauded, abilities like kindness, joy, greed, altruism and whatever the latest majority treasure might be.

Women hit the financial glass ceiling and it's a grinding inequality, but in that ain't-it-awful descriptive mix it is rare to acknowledge that the put-upon one is simultaneously a manipulative bitch and a four-star asshole ... that doesn't play well in the kindly panorama painted and extolled by those who 'care.' Why should such a characteristic be withheld along with all the other benefits that being human bestows? It seems mean-spirited if nothing else.

Yes, Virginia and Virgil, you too have the capacity to be an asshole... a right I would never try to withhold since I need some explanation for your nitwitdom as I see it.

taxing times

The Republican self-congratulation that followed December's passage of a tax bill that almost no one read at the time -- the one that benefits corporations and pays little besides lip service to the working class -- has dwindled... dropped 44% or up to 72%, according to Reuters. The explanation, the GOP avers, is that voters have moved on to other more compelling topics.

Democrats licking their chops at the prospect of winning back Republican Congressional seats in the upcoming midterm elections have yet to sharpen their political spikes and call out their victorious counterparts. I have every faith that the upcoming races are, as ever, just waiting for the Democrats to shoot themselves in the foot.
The most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the tightest congressional races in the November elections are talking less and less about the tax cuts on Twitter and Facebook, on their campaign and congressional websites and in digital ads, the vital tools of a modern election campaign, a Reuters analysis of their online utterances shows. 
All told, the number of tax messages has fallen by 44 percent since January. For several congressmen in tough reelection fights, Steve Knight in California, Jason Lewis in Minnesota, and Don Bacon in Nebraska, messaging is down much more - as much as 72 percent.
Hovering or perhaps even giddy Democrats "received some unexpected help from Republican Senator Marco Rubio last week. Rubio, who is not facing re-election this cycle, told the Economist magazine that benefits are going to corporations instead of employees.
“They bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker,” he said."

Trickle-down economics is once again (how often does anyone have to play this record?) bullshit. But I have faith in ignorance and am willing to guess that Democrats will find a way to squander such political manna. The greater hope lies with "Stormy Daniels," the porn actress who alleges she had an affair with Donald Trump and got paid $130,000 to keep her mouth shut about it. Her lawyer shows all the signs of keeping Stormy -- and by extension, his own career -- in the public eye. In interviews, I think Stormy comes off more credible than her presidential antagonist. Go get 'em, Stormy!

Meanwhile, back in what used to be called the United States of America ....

Sunday, May 6, 2018

and the beat goes on

As Hawaii's Kilauea volcano munches man-made structures with a slow inexorability that once again brings another perspective to human life and as Maine lobster prices level out ... even so, the Palais du Tokyo museum opened its doors Saturday to art-loving nudists in Paris.

Did the works of art on display blush to see so much humanity en plein air? Was the exhibit itself lacking in customers and thus manufactured a little off-beat publicity?

Strange, the gimmicks and gizmos that draw the attention and yet have no thought of their own gizmo-itis.... like Louis XIV's probably-apocryphal, "L'État, c'est moi" ... Louis had gizmos up the yingyang... "the Sun King" -- imagine that! I doubt that such a man would give it a lot of thought ... of course he was what was important. Volcanoes are scarce in Paris.

When he was nine, my younger son wrote this poem which I found gizmo-less:

The very big trees
Are in my backyard.
I visit them every day
So they won't get lonely.
They give me shade
And keep me dry from rain.
I can climb them
And get delicious fruit --
The most delicious fruit.                 -- Ives Fisher
Which puts me in approximately-remembered mind of the shepherd's prayer I once read was admired by the Baal Shem Tov:
Dear God,
Though I keep others' sheep for money,
For you I would keep them for free
Because I love you.
Naked is interesting as it bubbles up out of the earth and sea.

spring day

A rainy, May, grey day today. Daffodils, tulips, crab grass and more are making the most of it. A quiet, plip-plop of a day.

Yesterday, my son worked a 12-hour shift as a bar bouncer and his lady friend worked her usual eight as the graveyard-shift nurse at the local jail. There were parades for the LGBTQ community and balloons and no doubt both my son and his lady friend were busy, booze being what it is. The school year is winding down and there are a lot of schools around here.

I still haven't got the computer under my belt yet and it's exhausting imagining I could understand the minds that confected the possibilities. The mind cannot idly wander and imagine when the machine sticks its tongue out. Of all the gears in this car, "neutral" is the most appealing.

German students seek linguistic relief

High school students in Germany are complaining about the difficulty imposed by the English section of the final exam they must take in order to get a coveted university slot.
BERLIN (AP) — High school students in Germany have gathered tens of thousands of signatures in an online petition to complain about an “unfair” final English exam, saying the test was much harder than in previous years.
By Sunday, the students from the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg had gathered almost 36,000 signatures — even though only 33,500 people took last month’s statewide exam.
They complained that text excerpts from American author Henry Roth’s 1934 novel “Call it Sleep” were too difficult and obscure to analyze and asked for the grading to be more lenient this year.
Meanwhile, students in the United States -- a country where English is often spoken -- have no such complaints and, to the best of my knowledge have little or no capacity in any language ... even English. Why English should have become the lingua franca of the world beats the hell out of me. It's irregular, often unpronounceable, spelled weirdly ... the list goes on and on. Americans rarely know another language: As Tocqueville noted, America is buttressed (or hemmed in, if you prefer) by two oceans across which language does not flow freely. In Europe or Japan, kids know another language by proximity or because more is expected of them. America requires no such partnership and it is a great pity ... another bit of ignorance.

It strains credulity to imagine American kids banding together to complain about any foreign-language test they might be compelled to take as a ticket to a college that is positively salivating over the potential tuition income.

A clip from the romcom movie, "Love Actually" has always warmed my cockles (you have to dismiss the ad in order to see the subtitles):

Saturday, May 5, 2018

crass times

In a time when money and morality sometimes seem to be holding each other in a DNA-helix head lock, I really cannot claim to understand money. Or don't want to. Or something. Each night, on TV, I watch something called "The Nightly Business Report," a public television wrap-up of the bets Americans have placed on the stock market, which is owned most prominently by the clean-finernails cartel in America. 52% own no stock.

To hear the public television show is to see credulity in action. If it's good for Wall Street with its newly-acquired tax rollback, then it's good for America. The tax bill was premised, as others before it had been, on trickle-down economics, a discredited theory that suggests companies that can keep their profits will plow them into workers whose wages have stagnated since the 2008 Depression (called a "Great Recession"). Contrarians dispute the theoretical trickle-down and say the companies will simply buy back their own stock, thus raising equity for those who do own stock. And -- watching the Nightly Business Report -- that is exactly what is happening. Everything's rosy except for the man or woman whose finger nails are not so clean.

But the TV show is based on credulity -- the belief that if you create nothing, still you deserve to be paid for it because you took the great gamble in a rosy society ... and besides, you probably know your wines. Bamboozling others is considered good for a nation ruled by president who sells away the country's patrimony -- a crass and immoral man well-versed in man's lesser angels. Trump's tax bill plays to the politicians who need the money to get re-elected and are loath to surrender anything to anyone. Where there's money, they surrender like nine-pins.

Jobs were created, but what jobs are they, precisely? The Nightly Business Report doesn't tell me that. It doesn't tell me if the man or woman who had once earned a living wage at one job is now reduced to two or possibly three jobs in an effort to stay ahead of the tax man, the doctor, the lawyer, the banker and the others with their droit du seigneur status. 

Millions have been bamboozled into the 401k trap that urges workers to be "productive," a word used to insulate and elevate the well-off and simultaneously immures the well-heeled. Bamboozling is kool, dontcha know. Bamboozling is the way the world goes around, dontcha know. Bamboozing is the way the 'players' of any consequence play, dontcha know. Wouldn't you like to be as well-to-do as those who bamboozle others? Caveat emptor, dontcha know.

In the "Dhammapada," a book alleged to be the encouragements that came directly from Gautama the Buddha, there are a gazillion translations, but one translation of one verse I always liked (if ill-remember) was, approximately, this:
If you meet no equal or better in this life
Go alone.
Loneliness is preferable
To the company of fools.
The loneliness may be awful in a land that can idolize a Jesus who is merciful and gives what he has to those who do not have enough. Fuck-the-other-guy is at war with treat-your-neighbor-as-yourself.

The crassness of our times and its hungry bamboozlers ... I guess that sometimes I wish I knew more about the savvy world of liars and cheats and moral incompetents. I wish I could find out more and be Vaseline-slick in a world of self-serving credulity. But roughly speaking (though far from perfectly), I have chosen a moral skein and it's too late now to go back. I know too much about shame in a world where shame is sorely lacking.

Am I the better for it? I honestly don't know. But I do know I miss living in a matrix in which to keep a weather eye on the those who may claim to espouse morality. Strange to think: There needs to be a moral framework within which to assess the overreach of morality ... is that true? I suspect it is.

The Hindus call this era the Kaliyuga -- the era in which the shit hits the fan and things come apart, the Iron Age. I hate stuff like that ... a lawsy-lawsy confusion that is helpless and tells (Kaliyuga-like) tales and explanations and nostrums in the face of that helplessness. "It is what it is" ... go fuck yourself!

But I miss decency and a mostly-shared outlook that is not endlessly sullied and impoverished and morally corrupt.

I never did learn to sell out well ... complacently ... forgivingly.

Oh well ... too late now.
If wishes were horses
Beggars would ride.

Friday, May 4, 2018

removing 132-pound tumor

DANBURY, Conn. (AP) — Doctors at a Connecticut hospital say they removed a 132-pound tumor from a woman’s abdomen, and she is expected to recover fully.
The ovarian tumor was diagnosed after the 38-year-old woman reported rapid weight gain of about 10 pounds per week over a two-month period.
The doctors at Danbury Hospital announced Thursday that the five-hour surgery was completed successfully in February after extensive planning by a team of 25 clinical specialists.

squeezing the human heart

There they were, today, one stacked above the other in the local paper ... two stories that squeezed the human heart, at least as I read them: 

1. The tale of the former president of the Massachusetts Senate, Stan Rosenberg, 68, who announced he would resign from his political seat today in the wake of an ethics report that found his now-estranged husband, Byron Hefner, 37 years Rosenberg's junior, had compromised Rosenberg's standing by promising to leverage his (Hefner's) marital status in pursuit of sexual favors from those seeking political assistance. Hefner has apparently agreed to alcohol counseling.

2. The tale of a local boa constrictor shot to death after it escaped from its enclosure and throttled a small dog or puppy while the owner was overseas.

Both stories springboard my mind to the old Meat Loaf song "I would do Anything for Love." ... a long song by a band I don't much care for, but whose theme I admire.

Both stories made me wonder about the back story ... the longing, the love, the blinkers that a love can seem to impose, and the oh-shit moments that are human-human-human. Aging man, younger spouse; slithering pet doing nothing out of the ordinary ... and then, and then, and then ... the longing, loving heart is pierced.

No doubt there are ways to dance and improve and explain, but in the end ... well, what end? Sad to think the boa constrictor missed its meal; sad to think another marriage hit the rocks ....

I would do anything for love, I guess.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

serial numbers/dog tags

In an era when numbers and gods can be hopelessly intertwined, I thought of the dog-tag numbers of my old and now deceased friend William B. McKechnie III.

It always amazed both of us that our dog-tag numbers should be so relatively close, one to the next, and that we should become friends during our (mandatory) military service in the early 1960's. And that both or us became German linguists and ended up stationed in Berlin together.

I had thought to look up on the Great God Google whether there were any recollection of my old friend's serial number ... or mine either, come to that. The numbers were things we had to memorize very early in our three-year hitches. Bill's was 14-779-051 and mine was 14-779-240. Like everyone else, both of had two and they were worn around the neck pretty much at all times. They clinked together. If the numbers meant anything, then Bill an I were in a multi-million-man gene pool. Among millions, somehow we ended up friends, working at the same place in Berlin, sharing beer-drinking extravaganzas and equally-extravagant hangovers.

Unbeknownst to each of us, both of us signed on the military dotted line in Florida. Both went to South Carolina for basic training. Both went to what was then called the Army Language School in Monterrey, Calif., which is where we met. But the closeness of our serial numbers was somehow magical ... think of it: gazillions of recruits and yet our numbers were so relatively close ... a mere 189 separating us. The impact, I suspect, was reinforced when I looked out on the various parade grounds were I was stationed ... zillions of young men running around in green fatigues and vastly different serial numbers. What are the odds?

Well I don't and didn't know the odds and the topic is not top-drawer interesting, but for all the seriousness with which we took our serial numbers (you would get yelled at if you could not rattle it off at some sergeant's command), I thought perhaps the Great God Google would have some record or recollection of those 'serious' times. Gods, and perhaps number gods most particularly, have long memories I imagined ... or was it "hoped?"

My search on Google turned up nothing. Whatever seriousness had been seemed to be long since forgotten. Where do serial numbers go when their users are no longer using them? I remember mine and I remember Bill's, but ... where did all that importance and relevance and damn-near DNA go to? And how is it, so late in the game, that I should wonder where my friend's serial number had got to?