Saturday, January 31, 2015

cutting off the snake's head

What is it that U.S. and other power bases do not understand?

Around the world, one "dictator" or another, one "insurgent" leader or another, one "bad man" or another is cloaked by the U.S. et all in the glory of being the villain du jour.

Then he is assassinated or dies and the U.S. or other governmental entities crow, "Cut off the head and the snake will die."

And once the snake's purported head is in fact cut off ... the mission, the cause and the blood-letting persists.

Does this not suggest that another approach might be more effective? If you don't ask what it is that someone wants/needs and why they want it and then attempt to address those wants/needs, is killing them the answer to the question? It all feels like the exasperated parent who snaps at a reluctant child, "Shut up and eat your spinach!" Yes, there are "terrorists" with violence-laced, disproportionate and pig-headed demands -- who are dying to die -- but is it true that none of their goals/demands is within the realm of human sanity? I find that hard to believe.

A U.S.-backed action in the Philippines -- how wonderful it's not the Middle East for once, right? -- brought all this to mind.

Marwan seems to deserve a round of U.S. applause: It was he, among others, who allowed America to march resolutely towards a goal of allowing war to distract from more complex issues at home ... that and, as an adjunct, keeping the electorate in thrall to the fear of snakes.

I burn your books, you burn mine

BAGHDAD (AP) — When Islamic State group militants invaded the Central Library of Mosul earlier this month, they were on a mission to destroy a familiar enemy: other people's ideas.
Residents say the extremists smashed the locks that had protected the biggest repository of learning in the northern Iraq town, and loaded around 2,000 books — including children's stories, poetry, philosophy and tomes on sports, health, culture and science — into six pickup trucks. They left only Islamic texts.
There are those who adore books as if they were talismans of greatness and virtue and such people are horrified that a book burning took place. For them, book burnings are an apostasy.

But worse than that, in my mind, is the concrete fragility of the world view that indulges its feeding-frenzy fires: Are someone else's ideas so threatening to my philosophy and if so, what does that say about my philosophy? How convincing and practical, to say nothing of kind, are ideas that excoriate a world that does not share them?

This might all be hypothetical hand-wringing, if the feeding frenzy wrought by group-think agreement (good, bad and indifferent) did not end up spilling others' blood.

The mad dogs of group-think -- a spinoff of what may be elevated and inspiring and genuinely nourishing starting points -- are ... well they scare the shit out of me.

And what is socially true is a capacity that is singular and personal as well. I burn your books and you burn mine from time to time.

Lord, do not save me from the utter thoughtlessness of others. Instead, save me from the mad-dog and subtlely shaped stupidity within!

Let's just agree to be infidels, OK?

meditation video game

And now, of course, I can't find it any more.

A video of a meditating bald man/monk sitting facing the computer-user while an animated fly buzzes around ... in one ear and out the other, on his face, etc. The moment the computer user attempts to do anything with the cursor -- swat or catch the fly, for example -- the man's eyes pop open in disgusted surprise that anyone would interrupt meditation over so minor a matter. "Don't zzzzzz" the screen advises. The effect is both funny and serious.

I can't find it and save it as I should have. Maybe the video no longer exists. Or maybe I have just been zzzz-ing too much.

I mention it in case anyone else was savvy enough to save it and is willing to put a link here.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

intellectual coward

The Associated Press was in contact this morning, seeking confirmation of my mother's death and other odds and ends. The requests sent me here and there around the house and put me on a my-mother's-death frequency.

I wondered what I had learned from her. Probably a lot, much of it so tightly woven within as to be forgotten. But it crossed my mind that one of the positive things she taught me, though she never said it directly, was, "don't be an intellectual coward." She never was and, as a result, she was lonely I think.

What is an intellectual coward? Taking a swing at it, I guess I'd say an intellectual coward was someone who claimed to know something and was graceless enough not to admit that s/he was too tired or busy to do the homework implicit in that knowledge. Going the distance is too damned exhausting and it's easier, within or without, to say, "I know."

But I see nothing wrong with admitting that sure-fire or even much-touted knowledge is just the point beyond which the one with the knowledge refused to go. There are gross versions of this -- think "terrorist" or "hero" or "love" -- and there are far subtler versions -- writers or sports bettors or philosophers or whoever who rely on the sweat of others and then claim it for their own ... without that graceful nod to the distance they refused to go ... and for which they expect applause.

It takes some balls not to be an intellectual coward and my mother had balls.

cold weather

It is cold this morning -- minus two degrees Fahrenheit at the moment. The dawn sky was dotted earlier with pink clouds as if to bring credibility to the old saw, "Red sky in the morning/ Sailors take warning./ Red sky at night/ Sailors delight." The forecast promises a few inches of snow later today.

Cold ... a hard cold.

Bundle up as I have. Wrap yourself in layers of clothing...

I once listened to an East German telephone operator chatting with a fellow telephone operator in another city. It was so cold, she said, that her son had put on 17 sweaters. I listened to the telephone tap tape several times to make sure I had it right ... 17 sweaters.

Swaddle yourself in another and another bit of clothing.

Ordinary clothing, monastic clothing, police officer clothing, businessman clothing, homeless-person clothing, military clothing, au courant clothing, behind the times clothing ... layer after layer ...

The cold doesn't mind, but I do.

the price of Buddhist ritual

For the Buddhism-beckoned in the audience, here is an article from the BBC entitled "China's super-rich communist Buddhists."
"They may not be able to buy their way into Nirvana," Geshe Sonam says, "but in Buddhism, you can get more karmic reward the more money you spend on rituals."
Sometimes, but not often, I wonder how far anyone can stretch a perfectly-good rubber band before it snaps.

mummified Buddhist monk

Passed along in email today was this tidbit about a mummified, 200-year-old Buddhist monk.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Let's Go Fly a Kite"

Because I ran across the 2013 movie, "Saving Mr. Banks," a film about the tart and emotionally-immured author P.L. Travers and Walt Disney's attempt to make a movie of her "Mary Poppins," I have now got the following song stuck in my mind. It probably won't have the impact it does in the context of the movie, but still....

Israelis jail stone-thrower, 14

BETIN, West Bank (AP) — The fate of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl, tried before an Israeli military court for hurling rocks at passing cars in the West Bank and sentenced to two months in prison, has gripped Palestinians who say her treatment demonstrates Israel's excessive measures against stone-throwing youth....
The Israeli military said al-Khatib was charged with stone-throwing, attempted stone-throwing and possession of a knife and that under a plea bargain, she was sentenced to two months in prison and a $1,500 fine.

loss of what?

A strange sadness overcame me yesterday when I happened to learn of the death of my first bed-time girlfriend. The sadness seemed to complement or flesh out what I didn't seem to feel about the death of my mother on Jan. 11.

In fifty-odd intervening years, I hadn't kept up with the life and times of the girl who had popped my cherry and led me towards a richer and more confused and more human roundness. I found her married name almost by accident via the Great God Google. She died last year at 70 of cancer. She had had two daughters. Her husband survived her.

The obituary gave the information and something inside me exclaimed, "No! Things aren't supposed to be like that!"

Like what? Like ... however tenuous and uninformed my memories were, still they were my memories and formed a bit of who I liked to think I was. My memories were serious even when I didn't pay them much mind. Because the memories were alive, the person was alive ... and somehow was not allowed to die until the memories died. But of course things don't work like that.

In some small but pervasive way, I felt bereft and sad and surprised and upset.

My mother died at 98. It was her time, I guess, and, however complex the weaving she made in my mind, still I did not feel deprived or deeply sad. Maybe that will come later. Maybe not. But there was something touching and tearing about the 'loss' of a young woman with whom I laughed and gained a little humanity.

I'm not sure exactly what was lost, but I felt a sadness I imagine others feel when someone close dies ... even when they are not close.


A friend sent along the statements relating to the six-month withdrawal of a Zen teacher from his post as honcho for the Mountains and Rivers Order because he had "betrayed" his vows by camouflaging his relationship with a woman other than his long-time partner.

Although I have implicitly and explicitly beaten the drum, both within and without, for something akin to a "flawless life" when it came to spiritual efforts, the link my friend sent along left me tired out.

Flawlessness strikes me these days as a flawed notion, however hopeful and bright it may seem on the face of it. It may be inspiring as all get-out and may push a student in whatever field to excellence and a deeper understanding, but, well....

Things are indeed flawless.

Saying so is deeply flawed, a mote in the eye of the beholder ... and a misuse of energy that might be employed better in other ways ... lacing up unlaced shoes, for example.

The Buddha wasn't a Buddhist, and, nor, should sincere students get sidetracked or bamboozled.

I can hear the 'discussion' sabers being rattled in a variety of sheaths.

Sabers need to be carried.

Carrying stuff is not my best thing these days.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"everyone has suffered a tragedy"

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1918
Today, I remember anew a long-ago TV interview with Anne Morrow Lindbergh, widow of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. She sat in my television, straight and strong-jawed, with a single strand of WASP-obligatory pearls, and you just knew the interviewer would have to ask and yet cringed that he would: What was it like to have your child kidnapped?

In 1932, the kidnapping of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., aged 20 months, was, in H. L. Mencken's words, "the biggest story since the Resurrection." The boy was kidnapped, then found murdered and the perpetrator, who proclaimed his innocence to the end, was electrocuted.

The high profile that both parents had in the public eye (Anne was likewise an aviator and also an author and journalist) sent news stories through the roof. Yet here she was, so many years later (1980's?), sitting in my TV talking about I-don't-remember-what-precisely.

And finally, the shoe dropped and the interviewer asked what had to be asked ... what had it been like to have a child kidnapped? Anne Morrow Lindbergh did not flinch, even if I did. I had watched the interview up to that point with a certain skepticism about this well-heeled and well-connected personality -- "another smoothie," some class-conscious voice suggested in my mind ... everything under control, plenty of money, and no way into whatever inner sanctum she protected.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh did not flinch, but she sat still and straight and silent for a noticeable moment. But when she opened her mouth, she blew my socks off. She did, in one sense, deflect the question, CEO-fashion, but in another sense she hit the nail hard and right on the head. What she said was:
I think everybody has suffered a tragedy.
I didn't care if she was obfuscating or lying or waxing wise in the place of honesty. What she said, it struck me in that moment, was the truth or close enough for folk-singing. And what an excellent premise her words encased. And what an excellent conundrum they proposed. On the one hand, the presumption suggested we should all be a little more gentle with each other. And together with that there was the question, "how does anyone ingest, digest or 'solve' the tragedy that attends on this life like a shadow in the sunlight?" No one else cares, but I care about my cares. No one else cares, but you care about your cares. The universe is poker-faced and the tragic fires burn bright.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the World War II liberation of Auschwitz, one of a number of Nazi concentration camps in which millions of Jews, gypsies, and other 'untermenschen' were annihilated. It was an unspeakable tragedy which Jews and others try to recall and instill and remember. A tragedy beyond tragedy, much like other tragedies. Ironically, but still tragically, Israel visits some of the same thinking that went into Auschwitz on the latter-day Palestinians they do their best to eradicate under a righteous banner. Vile and horrific. A tragedy.

At Veterans Administration hospitals here in the U.S., many of the patients are still strangled by the tragedies they witnessed or took part in. Other veterans are not hospitalized and yet relive their tragedies every ... fucking ... day. Vile and horrific and hardly limited to U.S. service personnel. A tragedy.

There are wide-swath tragedies like the above and small-swath tragedies that afflict damn near anyone. It is hard not to wonder if a human being is a human being without a tragedy that lingers and claws, sometimes without noticing. Wide-swath tragedians may write off an individual's gremlins as "small potatoes by comparison," but comparing tragedies is self-centered and more unkind than it needs to be.

Bit by bit and drip by drop, the events dwindle in the rearview mirror of time and yet linger and lash, even as the universe remains impassive. There's no forgetting and no real ability to remember truly, but the tragedy can be as compelling as a rattlesnake biting a careless wrist.

Can anyone solve a tragedy by acceding to it through faulty memory? Tragedy is inescapable, little or large. The tragedies of others can hardly compare to This Tragedy ... but, but ... somehow to acknowledge tragedy -- up-close and personal -- and to learn that "this too shall pass" even if it never, ever passes is useful, if tragically hard.

I guess the best anyone can do is to pay attention and be patient and weep as necessary. The past cannot be undone any more than "learning from the past" stands much of a chance.

But there is the possibility -- touted by Buddhism but hardly limited to its limited realms -- of entering the world of tragedy with all the fear and loathing that implies and ameliorating the devil. You're right. It's no fucking joke, whatever the small smile on the face of the universe. But bit by bit and drop by drop, without insisting on maintaining what slips away ... the moments can become easier. Yes, yes and again yes ... it's tragic.

But in the meantime, remember that "everyone has suffered a tragedy."

Kindness is worth the price.


The snowstorm predicted for the Northeast did not live up to its billing this morning, though the wind and drifts and cold were sharp. Two feet turned out to be six inches in many areas and transportation systems, schools, and businesses were closed for protective purposes. Here, the snow is tickling still and the wind is whipping snow-beards off the roofs. In Connecticut to the south, my daughter says that what is six inches here is 30 inches there. Likewise, to the north, more significant amounts were recorded and are expected.

While discombobulating, I always like the increased level of kindness and cooperation that springs up during a "natural disaster." It's nice to walk the walk when it comes to "we're all in the soup together."

Monday, January 26, 2015

prison term for miscarriage

A friend sent this along in email:
Last week, a young woman in El Salvador who goes by the alias name of 'Guadalupe,' had very high hopes, and was all but assured she would receive a pardon from her 30-year sentence. She had already served seven years, starting in her teens. Her alleged crime? Fetal homicide. She miscarried, and was charged with murder.
Even without fleshing out the Daily Kos entry, the medieval nightmarishness of the story is compelling.

nameless snowstorm gains intensity

Juno, "queen of the gods," goddess of marriage and children, a protectress with an incestuous marriage... and now, perhaps, a storm worth noting.

Turn up the volume!

The weather service seems to have anointed an incipient snowstorm with a name: "Juno." Heretofore, to my knowledge, only hurricane/typhoons were named. The weather service label has not yet made it into the news stories, but I suspect it may as the storm actually does its thing. The storm is said to be due, in all its celestial fury, tomorrow.

There's no denying the sex-appeal of a storm with a name ... a bit of twinkly, focal sparkle in the midst of what must be a rather drab tableau of scientific observation and (hopefully) educated guesstimates. In times to come, perhaps people will remember "Juno" as they remember Hurricane Katrina ....
....Cecil B. DeMille, the director who brought us Hollywood blockbusters like "The Ten Commandments," presents .... !!!!! .... Juno... a fabled reality before it even arrives.

Does naming things help or hinder? Perhaps, tentatively, it helps, but over time its secondary nature cloys and drags the mind down into a quicksand of uncertainty. Is the snow more or less white when it has a name. Is sorrow or joy more or less potent with their name-anointed liturgies?

It's not just Buddhists who square off against such questions. And it's no joke trying to shovel your way out of this quicksand.

curious Reuters photo

A man rides his horse through flames during the "Luminarias" annual religious celebration, on the night before Saint Anthony's, patron of animals, in the village of San Bartolome de los Pinares, Spain, January 16, 2015. REUTERS/Juan Medina
Besides its arresting nature, what wonders me about this photo is the horse's ears. I am used to seeing determination and fear in a horse with its ears flattened, curiosity and kool with its ears erect. Oh well, another thing I have probably got wrong.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

pick your lineage

It was in the late 1960's or early 1970's that I first read books by John Blofeld, a man who wrote a number of books about Buddhism and other Asian religious thought. At the time, I was fresh as a daisy to Buddhism and ingested books with the desperation of a student trying to catch up with other students in a class I barely understood.

Something in one of his books made me send him a letter. Couched, no doubt, in admiration for his work (I might not know Buddhism, but I knew writers), I was secretly hoping I might hear from him in return ... but fairly sure I never would: What does a man of accomplishment care for a nobody of no accomplishment?

To my surprise, he wrote back. It was before the Internet, in the time of typewriters and handwriting. And so began a number of years in which I grew less shy about asking my novice questions. He never criticized or played lord of the manor, but he was not above poking and goading my adoration. He was also honest. "I don't like so-and-so," he wrote more or less of one Buddhist writer. "He's too cold." The statement struck me as very daring: This was a time as well when if something were written in a book it was true with a truth beyond mortals such as me.

With time, the correspondence dwindled ... perhaps after he died in Thailand in 1987. Somewhere around this over-stuffed house, the letters are saved as if to preserve the wonder that they brought to my life at that time ... much as I saved the letters of a Zen monk who did me the same epistolary kindness.

I thought of John today when I got an email from a woman who used to read this blog and with whom I have had occasional personal correspondence. She wrote to say she read my blog every day (flattering that it should be read at all), but that it occurred to her that such a daily ritual was really an attachment which she intended to put a stop to: No more reading the blog. I wrote back to say I thought it was an excellent idea and wish her well in her travels.

Her note made me think of Blofeld and of whatever my Buddhist 'lineage' might be. Surely it's not monastic and yet I was interested to think that this is the way lineage may really work ... someone purportedly better versed lending an ear to the one less versed or uncertain. John and I parted ways and the email writer and I now seem to have parted ways and yet "parting ways" is an overstatement and largely an untruth. The connection, though no longer connected, is, in fact, connected. Not in any oooooeeeeeoooo sense, just in truthful, common-sensical fact.

It's pretty straightforward and hardly requires the official seal of any organization or religion. I choose my lineage, you choose yours and maybe we can lend each other a hand ... even if we never meet. It's as if there were no strands, only a rope that balks and bucks when the oily word "connected" is supplied.

magical and mysterious

Strange to think how one event or person or word can infuse a life with a sudden, nudging magic whereas another passes by without notice. In one case there is mystery and layered meaning and in another there is nothing to write home about.

A small nudge in my life was a poem by "anonymous" submitted many years ago in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes:
The baby is
As soft and sweet
As if she were
How many magical nudges and mysteries have I missed while seeking -- sometimes desperately -- for magic and mystery?

keys to the kingdom

In the process of gathering information for a puff piece on home break-ins, I once asked a police captain how he personally protected his house when he wasn't around in the evening. 

He thought a moment and then said approximately, "Well, I put a couple of lights on, turn on the radio and leave the front door unlocked." Why would he leave the front door unlocked? "If someone is going to break into your house, they're going to break in. Look at all the windows. Why pay to have the door fixed into the bargain?"

Strange to think how anyone might assume that locking a door would protect and preserve when the fragility of windows is as plain as the nose on your face. True, it might slow things down, but not by much.

How reassuring the keys to life can seem. A religion, a philosophy, a belief -- they all have a reassuring and tentative protection and nourishment. The good stuff is defended and fertilized. The bad stuff is kept knowingly at bay, if not exactly vanquished.

The problem is, of course, that keys that provide a keep-out protection also imply an opening and ingress. The doors may be well and truly locked, but the windows remain. The keys to heaven are invariably the keys to hell as well.

I do not think anyone should go into a depressing funk about any of this, sit stock still as a means of falling into neither the trap of heaven nor the trap of hell. I just think it is worth noticing as a means of assessing the usefulness and perhaps truth of the keys anyone might choose.

How many literal keys does anyone own? Lots, I imagine. Something for the car, something for the house, something for the desk drawer, etc. The key ring jingles reassuringly in the pocket or pocketbook. And likewise how many mental keys are stored and jingle ... and wear holes in the pocket of the mind and heart?

Keep it locked up safe.

Unlock it when the coast is clear and the need arises.

No one's getting my flat-screen TV! No one's gonna disturb my equanimity!

But the walls that keep out likewise hem in. Wasn't it outside the protective wall of his well-appointed palace that the Buddha encountered what was fruitful in his life? I don't know, but I choose to see it that way.

But nor yet was unlocking the palace gate exactly complete, whether literally or metaphorically. The man or woman who unlocks is the same man or woman who locks. Safety and protection, danger and vulnerability are a package deal.

So where is the key to this conundrum ... the perfect safety and bliss? When all the perfect keys work imperfectly, is there a perfection of some sort, some "enlightenment" or "Nirvana" or "heaven" in which life is nothing but a bowl of Twinkies? Where's the key?

As I get older, the literal keys that I have become fewer and fewer. My control and assurance wanes with them. My ideas about safety and protection lose their savor. It's spooky and lonely on occasion, but it also has a strange correctness to it.

Turn on a couple of lights, leave your radio on and the front door unlocked ... and enjoy your night on the town.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

teenager sentenced for thoughts

This is America?

This is justice?

This is news reporting?
A young Colorado woman has been sentenced to four years in jail after she pleaded guilty to trying to help the militant group Islamic State (IS).
Shannon Conley, a 19-year-old Muslim convert, was arrested in April while trying to board a flight to Turkey en route to Syria to marry an IS fighter.
The only evidence adduced in the BBC news story is that the young woman took notes on the layout of her local church and had a one-way ticket to Turkey.

The judge, when buttressing the severity of the sentence, did have the self-serving decency to suggest that the young woman needed mental help. Did he feel uncertain? I certainly hope so. Anyway, it seems she didn't get the help.
Over the course of eight months, FBI agents repeatedly tried to discourage her from travelling abroad, suggesting she explore humanitarian work instead.
What ever happened to the adult recognition that teenagers are wont to stick beans up their noses when told that they shouldn't ... and hence that the FBI might rightly be investigated for encouraging rather than discouraging the mindset they claimed to want to ameliorate?

What ever happened to the stupidity of hormones ... the same stuff any reliable adult may be lucky enough to have left in the rear-view mirror?

What ever happened to certifiable acts of violence as distinct from perhaps-sincere-but-possibly-unpalatable intentions?

And what ever happened to a dig-and-delve reporting that brought some sanity to the punishment as proportionate to the crime?

At the risk of sounding unduly righteous ... it is shameful!

PTSD ... d'oh!

Does anyone actually need an academic investigation to prove the obvious? Perhaps so: Some will never trust what they themselves already know and will insist on conferring and confirming with 'experts.'
Evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder can be traced back to 1300BC - much earlier than previously thought - say researchers.
The team at Anglia Ruskin University analysed translations from ancient Iraq or Mesopotamia....
Prof Hughes' report - titled Nothing New Under the Sun - argues there are references in the Assyrian Dynasty in Mesopotamia between 1300BC and 609BC.
In that era men spent a year being toughened up by building roads, bridges and other projects, before spending a year at war and then returning to their families for a year before starting the cycle again.
How grueling a regimen is that? -- work hard at something creative and productive and then enter and be party to a  world of violent and vile destruction. Who, in any age, could help but be reduced, whatever the excuses? From family and creativity to destroying those likewise dedicated to family and creativity.

Brazil's very own Dustbowl

Brazil's Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira has said the country's three most populous states are experiencing their worst drought since 1930.The states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais must save water, she said after an emergency meeting in the capital, Brasilia.
Water, as currently in the American West and Southwest, is no joking matter. Something more than 50% of the human body is composed of water. And food production .... hell, even the neo-conservatives might pay attention: Without food, how could you possibly create a good and righteous and lucrative war?

the company of rabbits

Beneath the still-lit street lamp, would I know it had and continues to snow if the rabbit had not passed by my doorstep, leaving delicate and perfectly-etched tracks?

I suppose I would, but somehow the tracks are more confirming than the flakes falling like miniature baffles from the sky ... so, so silent. Strange to be convinced that those flakes create a palpably reinforced silence and yet, were they not falling I would be among the fools willing to describe the world as "silent." Is there a "silent, silenter, silentest?"

The organ recital tunes up the email orchestra this morning:

A friend has had a stroke. Another's wife was correctively diagnosed with starge 4 ovarian cancer while he has taken medical leave from his teaching position in order to address an upcoming hip replacement that will replace the cane he is now forced to use.

I woke up wondering if I would remember to forget, a habit that seems to like playing hide-and-seek ... a delighted child ... appearing when not expected, absent when tended to. I have forgotten whether I forgot. No doubt it will play peek-a-boo in its time.

My younger son goes to the gym to exercise his healthy body. No one in good health would willingly care much about sickness or waning capacity ... hell, even I find it boring. He cares about my condition, but is not sure what to do, exactly: There is connection and love, but what the hell can anyone do? A good lesson, perhaps, but sitting in a classroom day-in-and-day-out ... fuck that! It's pretty irritating, together with being boring. It's wearing without bearing any of the fruit that a passing rabbit might leave on the sidewalk.

Thank god for the company of rabbits.

Friday, January 23, 2015

the weather and "terrorism"

Around here in the northeastern United States, a snowstorm expected Saturday began its relentless march into the headlines on Thursday.

At first I thought my aging mind had skipped a day ... again. Who gets their knickers in a twist TWO days before a weather event when even a one-day-ahead-prediction has proven so iffy in the past?

But no ... I was right. The prediction was for two days in advance. Are news organizations really stretched so thin that such predictions are worthy of front-and-center interest? I guess so.

Two- to eight-inches -- and who knows, maybe more -- is being forecast.

In winter.

In New England.

And it's news.

Lawsy! Lawsy!

And it struck me that the weather and "terrorism" have something in common. Both attempt, sometimes in somber tones, to distill what MAY happen in a future that anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows is basically unknowable.

The weather projections are more benign in impact, of course. With terrorism, however, somber tones based on the merest suggestion of violence (who hasn't had a rebellious thought or issued a little hyperbole from time to time?) can lead to arrests and incarceration and battering down of the wrong doors.

Claiming to know what you only suspect is a thin basis on which to formulate policy and action. True, it may be better to be forearmed, but at what point do adults simply acknowledge that "the best laid plans of mice and men to sometimes go awry" ... sometimes awry in ways that harm the very public forecasters might claim to forearm?

It might all be laughably insane if it didn't sometimes become so seriously obscene.

Netanyahu to address U.S. Congress

In a breach of protocol, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted an invitation from Republican stalwart John Boehner to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Neither consulted President Barack Obama, as is more often the case between world leaders.

For Netanyahu, as for the Republicans who dominate Congress, it's an astute move: Netanyahu gets to strut his stuff before a contested election back home and the Republicans get to lay claim to a politically-correct position vis-a-vis the Jewish voters who may turn out for the 2016 presidential election.

As for the American people ... when was the last time that the leader of those opposing or subjugated by Israel was invited to make a similar speech? Friction between Israel and the Palestinians has been going on so long that comedian Woody Allen has made fun of it. The deaths -- always about 3-1 in favor of a vastly-better-armed Israel -- are far from comical and the U.S. claims to take the Middle East seriously.

How can it be serious if only one side is taken seriously? Is political posturing worth American lives? I guess so, as long as it's not their kids' lives.

in the crosshairs

Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle in the film "American Sniper"

With the run-up to the Oscar Awards on Feb. 7, movies in contention are jockeying for favorable consideration. Among them is "American Sniper," a biopic about Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who allegedly killed 160 people while on four tours of duty in Iraq.

My younger son, a member of the National Guard and a verbal enthusiast of military effort, camaraderie, and patriotic purpose, went to see the movie for the second time the other day. When I asked him if he had gone a second time because of friendship with his buddies who went with him or because the movie was worth seeing twice, he replied, "A bit of both, I guess." 

My son can wax fiery and rhapsodic about people who criticize war efforts without knowing from experience what the fuck they're talking about. It's an argument for which I have some sympathy ... blowhards, left and right, are like living with a fart under the covers -- no escape and stinky with ill-informed righteousness. Politics, religion, sports ... same stuff, different day.

The movie seems to have had two strands at least. One is the movie per se, which has gotten moderately good reviews. The second strand seems to be a heart-felt and fairly shallow investigation of reality-based events and policies and perceptions. Is Kyle a "hero" or a "villain" in the world as it currently and actually exists?

All the news-outlet buzz words come into play: "Terrorism" and "oil" and "warrior" and "hero" and "patriotism." And there is passion to the palaver and everyone credits his or her outlook as "thoughtful." And who knows -- maybe it is.

But two things seem to me to be missing: 1. In all the reality-based discussion of America's warriors there seems to be little willingness to back up a step from the individuals under consideration to the policy-makers who made it all possible. It's as if those stating a "thoughtful" position know implicitly that such a study would be enormously challenging and vague and unlikely to provide a knife-edge clarity of conclusion... and their supper might get burned if they went down that road.

Second, unless I am mistaken, there is a growing tendency to see things in terms of fear and the war and warriors it creates. Where is the consideration that if "terrorism" and its "terrorists" exist, there is some appreciation of the reasons -- well-founded or not -- for those activities? What happened to the good news that invariably shadows the bad? And vice versa? If you cannot acknowledge and snoop the positive aspects, how "thoughtful" is the appreciation of the negative? If you cannot know your enemy, how can you know your friends ... and vice versa? And what legitimate claim to being "right" can be claimed when what is "wrong" is the sole focus ... and vice versa?

I guess this sounds a bit airy-fairy and daunting, but I really do think that without such an effort (even if it falls short), the chance to be happy and at peace is sharply diminished. 

Having a hero is not the same as being one.

And flushing out the villain is not rocket science while the bathroom mirror exists.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

post-mortem sandstorm

Like some sandstorm in the the Sahara, the concrete and not-so-concrete particulars of my mother's recent death gather force and make me anxious. I want to do the "right" thing, to be responsible ... and simultaneously the task requires more energy than I am willing to or capable of expending. I do not want to be dragged into some "responsible" mode.

-- Yesterday, my mother's ashes arrived in a carefully-taped package adorned with stickers reading "cremated remains." It's perhaps 8x8x7 inches and weighs perhaps three pounds. What shall I do with them? I promised my mother to scatter her ashes in a river upcountry from here, but shall I include family members in the exercise? My mother wasn't either particularly close or particularly inclined towards my family and as a result my wife and children were not very connected to her. Shall I go alone? The questions are there and the box sits on a nearby shelf.

-- Yesterday as well, her death certificate arrived from the funeral home -- four or five copies looking very official. The document will be important in the bureaucracy yet to be navigated.

-- And then there was the phone call from my mother's one-time minder. He had been willing to help me navigate the business of shutting off electricity, emptying small bank accounts, paying bills and getting stuff out of my mother's apartment, but because she is now dead, he no longer has the power of attorney he once had. He can't legally go into the apartment and I am physically and mentally unwilling/unable to travel to New York and do what needs to be done. The minder cannot afford to jeopardize his business by exercising common sense ... get into the apartment, arrange to have it emptied, etc. He cannot afford to ignore the law which says he has to have permission granted by a court. So today, I will call a New York surrogate court house and throw myself on the mercy of what I hope will be a patient and helpful bureaucrat. I can't afford the lawyer who might travel this path and so ... I will have to be 'responsible' and try to keep calm. Ever in the past, the minder had sounded competent in his ministrations. On the phone last night there was an edgy panic whispering in his tone ... he was caught between a rock and a hard place -- a position he did not gladly assume. So ... shit flows downhill and I will enter the legal maw today and call the court, an anxiety-provoking prospect.

-- A note came from a very old friend/college professor/poet to whom I had sent the column I wrote about my mother. He was sympathetic to my loss and praised the writing and then apologized for not being in touch. On his way back from Paris in the fall, his wife had been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer which is now being treated. Then his hip began to give out and a replacement is planned. Somehow, my flurry seemed to wane in significance when I compared it to Jonathan's sandstorm. Friends -- like my children -- can excite a futile desire to take whatever difficulties exist on my own shoulders so the friend or child does not have to suffer them. It's a silly thought, but a compelling one nonetheless.

-- As if to put a cherry on top of the sundae that was yesterday, there was a doctor's appointment as well ... one of those lingering follow-ups that attend on the lung operation I had several months ago. The appointment meant I had to skip my afternoon nap ... I was not amused or pleased. There was nothing special about the visit, but the beige hospital walls and the doctor himself both put me in a place that I consider deleterious to anyone's health... helpers who want to help in a helping place but in such helping, simultaneously accentuate the lack of possible help and underscore the problem I see no reason to dwell on. I feel as the Russians felt about Y2K ... fix on failure and don't get your knickers in a twist before that. Time enough to work on problems when they arise.

I suppose writing this down and boring the shit out of the passing reader is just a way of pretending I am competent and even-tempered and can-do about the sandstorm I'd rather not be in. I'm almost 75: Actuarially, what the hell did I expect?

Writing quantifies, sandstorms do not.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

hooray for Wilson!

This year the [homing pigeon] champ was Wilson, owned by Roland Thresher, from Minehead, Somerset, beating some 2,500 birds for the top spot.

"no trespassing" invitation

Passed along in email today was this blog post about a fellow sitting at his computer when a uniformed state police officer entered his home without knocking and grilled him, allegedly because the writer had a "no trespassing" sign outside.

I dislike generalizations about police malfeasance about as much as I dislike generalizations about citizen malfeasance, but my first reaction to the piece was sadness that I was not more surprised.

It is one thing to have a somewhat jaundiced view of the drift towards a militarism/dictatorship founded in fear and quite another to run into concrete examples.

Hope is a commodity that is really worth scrutinizing. Knee-jerk hope is as painful as knee-jerk skepticism.

Without snarkiness, hope may be real, but is it true?

Well, thank goodness France can spend 425 euros in a time of economic hardship to create 2,680 new 'anti-terrorism' jobs.

column: "Reflections on my mother's life"

Monthly column appearing in the local Hampshire Gazette today.

Reflections on my mother’s life

Tuesday, January 20, 2015
(Published in print: Wednesday, January 21, 2015)

NORTHAMPTON — I suppose that since she was graduated from Smith College here in Northampton and because she married one of her Smith College professors, there is some local relevance to the death of my mother, Helen White Eustis, on Jan. 11. She was 98 and died at 8:11 p.m.

Shall I write an obituary? Obituaries “close the book” and give those who use words like “closure” a warm, unexamined satisfaction. No, I can’t write an obituary and wouldn’t even if I could. From where I sit, it’s too disrespectful, not to mention being untrue. As my Zen teacher’s teacher once put it, she has “joined the majority.”

My mother died one day after having been moved from her Manhattan apartment to a hospice where she could receive 24/7 morphine if needed for her apparent pain. She was largely unresponsive to the people around her and so her desire to die at home was not honored, but she didn’t complain, even if she knew. As agreed, her ashes will go to Ashfield and there will be no service.

Others may be wracked and riven and saddened by the death of a mother, but I am not yet sure what I feel. A piece of my whole cloth has been revised and perhaps the emotional shift will hit me harder as time passes.

I would like to think of her as whole and contradictory. Like a lot of self-aware people, she could be astoundingly unaware. But my point of view is just my point of view, fractured and half-told at best. She taught me to drive. She was a good writer. She thought sins of commission were more informative than sins of omission. She was the only “den mother” who organized a spitball-shooting contest for the Cub Scouts I belonged to. She ....

At the moment, I remember her anti-intellectual intellectualism — a courageous and sometimes searing capacity that led her to decline an invitation to join Mensa, a coalition of very bright people whose brightness dimmed my mother’s expansive and curiosity-driven view of the human experience. Likewise she dropped out of an attempt to get a Ph.D. in English after she realized that the love she felt for tale-telling was being segmented and freeze-dried and ... well, grad school was sort of like dissecting laughter and she was a person who preferred to laugh.

She was born Dec. 31, 1916. Her mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918 and her father, who had joined World War I by enlisting in Canada before the United States joined the fray, later committed suicide. The strangulation of the white, well-to-do WASP-dom that surrounded him in Cincinnati, where my mother was born and likewise felt strangled, was too damned much. My mother adored her father and wished unendingly for the Good Mother who died when she was 2.

Like going to college in the East, marrying my father, Alfred Young Fisher, one of her English professors, was yet another step away from Cincinnati. I was their only child. My mother married and divorced twice — once to my father, who worked and basked in an academic world that drove my mother nuts, and once to Martin Harris, a more loose-limbed fellow who helped photograph World War II. She joined the Communist Party when it was fashionable, but found soon enough that its strictures were another narrow enclosure.

And after college, she wrote. “The Horizontal Man” and won an Edgar award for that distinguished bit of mystery writing. Later she would write “The Fool Killer” and “Mr. Death and the Red-Headed Woman” and a book of short works entitled “The Captains and the Kings Depart.” She wrote for the then upscale magazine, The New Yorker, and once withdrew a submitted story in which she had used a word like “scrunch.” The New Yorker said it was not a dictionary word and she replied she didn’t give a (uhhh) hoot — it was her word. She gave up writing magazine articles when it became fashionable — or agreeably sissified — to make no assertion without adducing “expert” support.

During her writing years, she hobnobbed with the likes of Truman Capote and Carson McCullers and a collection of other wingnuts who were also very good writers. She also hung out with cops.

It was during her writing years that she sent me to a boarding school. From the fourth-and-a-half grade until grade eight, I went to North Country School in Lake Placid, N.Y.

On the first night there, realizing I would not “go home” in any literal sense, I cried and cried as any child might when his worst nightmare — the nightmare of abandonment — had been realized.

North Country, which a shrink would later tell me had “saved your ass,” was a progressive school filled with organic farming, hiking on weekends and kids with daily chores. My mother was appalled by my spelling. By the sixth grade, she asked me if I wanted to quit North Country to come home and live with her. I didn’t have to think twice and replied: “No.” This was a woman who, when I was little, once told me “I should have had an abortion.”

Shortly after I left North Country and lived at home, she began to drink and pop pills addictively. Living with an addict was no picnic. She drank and sent me to pick up her “prescriptions.” It was only after I joined the compulsory army of the time and went to a Europe that she hit the addict’s bottom and joined Alcoholics Anonymous.

Through it all, her mind was her playground. She remained intellectually gutsy. It was she who introduced me first to Hindu Vedanta and later Zen Buddhism. She was not beyond exploring the god or gods she could not, in the end, embrace. The fact that I got involved in Zen was not beyond her understanding, but it was not compelling enough for put her bets on: There were always hills in the distance.

All of this, and a host of other minutiae, cluster and whisper in my mind. It is arrogant and unfair to mention them, in one sense. Too limited. Too limiting. Descriptions of anyone living or dead are convenient to the one doing the describing. They are vastly incomplete as far as the one being described.

No doubt there is so much more to say, but I cannot, at the moment, say it. Maybe I should add, “the apple never falls far from the tree,” but I’m not sure.

People aren’t books and there is no closing them.

I do wish her a loving and peaceful journey.

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

America's bourgeois aristocracy

Perhaps the only thing that America's bourgeois aristocracy -- the rich-richer-richest -- lack is honor.

But who knows?

troubles for Islamic State?

The 'terrorist' Islamic State may be in trouble that is deeper than the western military efforts aimed in its direction:
Islamic State has not only lost some territory but, preoccupied by its military effort, it has been unable to provide [Iraqi] farmers with seeds, fertilizer and fuel at subsidized rates, as the Baghdad government does.
As a result, the wheat crop is seriously endangered and the Iraqi population may go hungry.

The dictatorial "caliphate" comforts retailed by Islamic State are in deep trouble if it cannot feed its adoring throng. Righteousness loses its savor when contending with an empty stomach.

Kalashnikovs and American drones may be persuasive and kool, but an empty stomach has other tales to tell. Perhaps the United States could learn a thing or two from Islamic State when it comes to depending on a well-fertilized fear to rule with righteousness.

the wisdom of robots?

In a world where many, if not most, seem to believe that Facebook or Twitter constitute a human relationship, now comes an addition to a world full of gibberish:
TOKYO (AP) — The scientist behind a new talking robot in Japan says people should stop expecting robots to understand them, and instead try to chime in with robotic conversations.
Hiroshi Ishiguro's 28-centimer (11-inch) tall button-eyed Sota, which stands for "social talker," is programmed to mainly talk with a fellow robot, and won't be trying too hard to understand human speech — the major, and often frustrating, drawback of companion robots.
I read the linked story from end to end and honestly couldn't understand what it was saying. In what way is a lawnmower's communicating with a lawnmower important? And not just "important," but vital in man's implicit search to offer respect to machines? What vision is this? I really did want to understand and really didn't.

I feel as if I missed something and am utterly flummoxed as to what it might be. Is it old age? Or perhaps skewed reporting? Or an acknowledgment that people are just not worth the effort? Or ... WTF?!

Monday, January 19, 2015

wealth, as if you didn't know

The wealthiest 1%will soon own more than the rest of the world's population, according to a study by anti-poverty charity Oxfam.
The charity's research shows that the share of the world's wealth owned by the richest 1% increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% last year.

erasing Israel from the map

Publishing giant HarperCollins is apologizing for losing its way with a new atlas that scrubbed Israel from the face of the Earth in a bid to cater to Middle Eastern nations.
The company, which is a subsidiary of NewsCorp, has been selling the atlas it says was “developed specifically for schools in the Middle East.” It claims to provide students an “in-depth coverage of the region and its issues.” The atlas shows Syria, Jordan and even Gaza, but the name Israel does not appear on it, according to a story first reported by the Catholic publication, the Tablet....
How did this happen? Collins Bartholomew, a subsidiary of HarperCollins that specializes in maps, told the Tablet that it would have been “unacceptable” to include Israel in atlases intended for the Middle East. They had deleted Israel to satisfy “local preferences.”

"for both God and country" ... not

An Army recruiting station has been ordered by higher ups to shelve a sidewalk sandwich board with the wording "On a mission for both God and country.”
The order went out Friday to a recruiting station in Phoenix that had been displaying the outdoor sign since at least October.  The sign board also shows an image of a Special Forces patch and Ranger, Airborne and Special Forces tabs.
An inquiry from Army Times to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command prompted the sandwich board’s immediate removal.

tampons in Argentina

(Reuters) - Argentines have been complaining for a while now about the country's product shortages. And, until recently, the government has managed to brush aside such protests, which have centered around Argentina's import restrictions.
Well until, that is, the country's 20.6 million women couldn't find their favorite tampons earlier this month - during the height of summer.

MLK legacy ... what legacy?

Where things lack in-your-face experience, I guess I think they are pretty squishy ... sincere and logical, perhaps, but front-loaded with a righteous squishiness. It's common enough and I am not immune, but that doesn't mean I can't notice it.

Today, in the United States, it is Martin Luther King Day -- a day off for some as the nation sort of recognizes the legacy of a civil rights leader who was assassinated April 4, 1968.

I wouldn't for a moment demean the energy King inspired in a nation trying to get over its hate affair with race. But what springs most vividly to mind, what is far from principled-but-squishy, is a couple of black friends I had during basic training in the army. They stick in my mind like a splinter under my fingernail ... embarrassing and revealing and instructive and somehow still painful. My painful ignorance.

The basic training installation was in Columbia, S.C. -- Fort Jackson. Most of the young men being trained ranged in age from about 18 to about 22 -- an age-range favored by nations intent on war. I was 21 and had joined up because military service was, in 1961, compulsory. I joined because I didn't have the courage for conscientious objection, the desire to go to graduate school or the ability to get pregnant -- any of which might have exempted me. And besides all that, like a lot of young men 18-22, I wanted experience more than I wanted or understood virtue.

I can't remember the name of the first black fellow I started to pal around with. We just fell into each other as pals will. We would tease and goad each other about who could do more pull-ups or push-ups or get a better shooting score. It was good-natured and friendly and fun.

But then one day, my black pal wasn't in formation and I didn't see him in the chow hall. This happened for two or three days running. Where had he gone? He was a bit of a cut-up, but he wasn't a fuck-up so I couldn't imagine his being expelled.

Then, after about three days, he was back. And it turned out that he had been in the hospital where, at 19 or whatever he was, he had had ALL of his teeth pulled out.

The news hit me like a large rock in a still pond. I had been brought up brushing my teeth (grudgingly) and going to the dentist. To have all of his teeth pulled out suggested that he was not like me ... that he had come out of a significantly different background, one that was impoverished by comparison to my own. How had I not recognized this about the world? How could I be so stupid, so blinded, so lacking in understanding? Somehow, I was deeply ashamed of myself.

My second black chum was named John. We bunked near each other in a bay of perhaps 20 double-decker beds. And a bit at a time, we warmed up to each other. John was quiet. He had returned to the army after some absence from an initial tour. He had to take basic training all over again and I thought his silences betokened a desire to keep a low profile and get through the bullshit.

Late in the eight weeks of basic training, everyone got a pass. This meant we could go into Columbia free from the strictures of military life. It was a big deal. I was dying for a good meal, a private room, and a chance to read a decent book. If I got drunk along the way, that would be OK too. Strangely, I didn't really think about women.

I took my enthusiasms to John. Would he come with me and hang out and perhaps celebrate a little? John remained silent. He said he wasn't planning to go into town. I was flabbergasted. How could he not want to get away from the olive-green conformities?! How could he not want to breathe a breath of unfettered air?! One, two, three times I argued and cajoled ... come on! we'll have fun!

Finally, he surrendered his silence to our friendship.

"No, man," he said without inflection, "I wouldn't want to cause you any trouble."

And it was then that I realized John was black. Black, in the South, and with a more informed understanding of how the world, the real world, worked.

If someone had stabbed me in the heart, I couldn't have been more informed. Out of ignorance and into a light that made me incalculably sad. Sad for the situation and sad for my own, ingrained and unintentional ignorance. Even today, I would do anything to erase or take back the awful black light that lit up my understanding. It was like a death. As I mourned my ignorance, I also mourned for my ignorance. "What the fuck does skin color have to do with anything?!" I raged. And the answer came back implacably, "quite a lot."

These are the memories I bring forward on Martin Luther King Day. They are my celebration. I'm not trying to do a mea-culpa, squishy, caring number by recalling them. They were experience and to this day I cannot recall them without cringing ... and hoping without much good reason that I won't be so stupid again.

Martin Luther King did a lot of wonderful things. I wish his legacy could wipe away my capacity for stupidity.

Unfortunately, it can't.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

will miracles never cease?

Photo credit: Athanasius Kirchner's Map of Atlantis (c. 1669)/Wikimedia
-- When the mythical island of Atlantis submerged into the ocean, it took all of its orichalcum with it. The legendary cast metal was reputedly second only to gold in value. Now, a team of divers say they’ve recovered 39 blocks of orichalcum in a sixth-century shipwreck on the seafloor near Sicily, Discovery News reports. The 2,600-year-old ship, likely from Greece or somewhere in Asia Minor, was carrying the metal to Gela in southern Sicily when it was caught in a storm and sank around 300 meters (1,000 feet) from the port.
"Nothing similar has ever been found," Sebastiano Tusa of Sicily's Sea Office says. "We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects." According to Plato’s Critias, the metal was mined only on Atlantis, where it was used to cover the inside of Poseidon’s temple.
-- More astounding still, perhaps, Fox News, a network rightly accused of inaccurate insinuations and misstatements in its 'newscasting,' apologized four times on-air Saturday for its anti-Islamic statements. Talk about "when pigs fly!" If Fox News cleans up its right-wing act, how will Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show and gadfly of the left, find sufficient material for his skewerings?

it's 'anti-Semitic' of course

(Reuters) - Israel is lobbying member-states of the International Criminal Court to cut funding for the tribunal in response to its launch of an inquiry into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories, officials said on Sunday.
ICC prosecutors said on Friday they would examine "in full independence and impartiality" crimes that may have occurred since June 13 last year. This allows the court to delve into the war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza in July-August 2014 that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis.
Of course it may be characterized as "anti-Semitic" to suggest that the truth is more persuasive than any particular point of view, but one thing's for sure -- you have to credit Israel with balls the size of the Ritz to try to undermine any relatively impartial investigation.

And the United States supports Israeli efforts. Once more, I am ashamed of my country and its need for oil and strategic power ... and all under the guise of "democracy" and caring.

In the Philippines, according to Reuters
An emotional Pope Francis, moved by the tears of an abandoned child, said the world needed to "learn how to cry" over the plight of the millions of poor, hungry, homeless and abused children. 
Responsible adults know how to cry. Self-serving teenagers only know how to manipulate and sell.

"what would Jesus do?"

Teacher and student -- who hasn't played one role or the other at one time or another ... in spiritual effort, parental relation or anything else?

In spiritual effort -- a format that has concerned me -- it is interesting how assured the student can be.

I've been there and speak from some experience: How damned convinced/assured the student can become as regards the teacher. Devotion or revulsion can sweep in like a tsunami and woe betide the questioning mind that tries to intervene. Texts and bones and utterances become proof-positive of the teacher's spotlessness, whether for good -- and it's often the best -- or for evil.

The student will use words like "authentic" and "true" without a second thought and the subtext message to those in the neighborhood is: Do not fuck with me!

It's a phase born out of the correct notion that a dedicated determination is part and parcel of a fruitful spiritual life. With any luck, it will wear out ... and sometimes not. Some will invariably go to their graves swooning, "What would Jesus do?"

What has always curious-ed me is what the teacher might say to the student's sometimes-unbridled, pedal-to-the-metal or squishy devotion. I always thought the Dalai Lama had a pretty good bead on things when he observed, "It can't be helped."

But likewise I also thought a pretty good response cropped up in "NCIS," a crime serial on American TV. In it, a group of naval investigators delves into and solves one murder or another. The focal point of the group is a former gunnery sergeant named Gibbs ... a crusty and thinly enigmatic fellow who leads the investigations and orders his crew around.

And in one of the episodes, Gibbs admonishes an underling: "I don't want you to BE me -- I want you to LEARN from me."

In one sense, it's a dicey distinction, but in another, it strikes me as what any good teacher might really hope for -- learn from what I do right; learn from what I do wrong; and make up your own damned mind.

Without such an approach, how could spiritual life flower in any meaningful -- not to mention truthful -- way?

There is probably no skipping over the land in which "authentic" teachings flourish. You've got to be a kid before you become an adult. But I see no reason not to keep it in mind. Everyone learns responsibility at his/her own pace.

And with that in mind, perhaps it would be useful to ask not so much "what would Jesus do," but who -- precisely and without catty posturing and fortune-cookie paradox -- is the teacher and who is the student.

From where I sit, the line is not just blurry. It doesn't exist.

Blow the candle out.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

insulting Islam

Does anyone else feel a burr under their saddle about last week's slaughter of workers at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that published rather amateurish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed? The righteous reaction has centered around a desire for "freedom of speech." I would have thought the outrage might center more realistically on the slaughter: Murder is not generally a socially-approved activity.

But more, what ever happened to your mother's admonition, "Put a sock in it?" In what way is it wise to insult another man's belief system and then be surprised -- let alone outraged -- by the reaction? There is something to be said for civility ... sometimes the civility of silence.

To the extent that murder is condoned or encouraged by free speech, to that extent it certainly deserves to be challenged. But people believe all sorts of things and basically things work out better if I allow you your bullshit if you will allow me mine. It may be that a bit of teasing is warranted, but a public humiliation is ... what? ... thoughtless and irresponsible, perhaps.
... throngs of Muslims around the world held protests Friday against the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad by the French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, with some of the demonstrations turning violent.
I realize that threading the needle between "freedom of speech" and irresponsible and self-serving insult is difficult. But much as I dislike the Muslim or Jewish or Christian invitations to, so to speak, 'kill the infidel,' still I think there is something stupid about deliberately insulting someone else. Those who act on their beliefs must bear the responsibility; those who merely believe are like teenagers ... wait a while.

Not that I am guiltless in all this: How could I recognize a flaw if I didn't have it?

a story left untold

Archaeologists have found a 132-year-old rifle propped against a tree in Nevada's Great Basin National Park.
It is unclear exactly how long the Winchester rifle had been left there, but it was long enough to leave the stock cracked and buried in dirt.

uhhh ... electronic surveillance?

So much for electronic surveillance:
... Aaron Tarjick was wearing the tracking device as a condition of pre-trial probation while he and his brother, James “Jamie” Tarjick Jr., committed over 100 break-ins between 2010 and 2012. Aaron Tarjick is in prison on unrelated charges.


Strange, somehow, to see the rise of conservative, clamp-down militarism in government and simultaneously witness an on-going swell of progressive and permissive activity.
BRUSSELS (AP) — Soldiers fanned out to guard possible terror targets across Belgium Saturday, including some buildings within the Jewish quarter of the port city of Antwerp. It was the first time in 30 years that authorities used troops to reinforce police in Belgium's cities, and came a day after anti-terror raids netted dozens of suspects across Western Europe. [emphasis added]
And, from the BBC:
Europe is on high alert following anti-terror raids and arrests of suspected Islamist militants.
More than 20 people have been arrested in Belgium, France and Germany and Belgium has joined France in deploying troops alongside police.
Meanwhile, with a relative speed that is hard to compass, the Supreme Court will take up gay (homosexual) unions banned in a minority 14 states:
(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether states can ban gay marriage, delving into a contentious social issue in what will be one of the most anticipated rulings of the year.
The court, in a brief order, said it would hear cases concerning marriage restrictions in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. The ruling, due by the end of June, will determine whether 14 remaining state bans will be struck down.
When I was a kid, the idea of homosexual unions, state-sanctioned or otherwise, was off the prurient American charts. It feels as if now, such unions are one step away from being what they always deserved to be -- yesterday's news. It's not that righteous, religious revulsion won't exist, but the balance of the scales seems almost reversed... a liberal step...

In a distinctly illiberal time riven by economic hardship.

Perhaps you have to be well-heeled -- or at least well-sheltered -- to entertain liberal philosophies that will eventually spill someone else's blood ... just like dictatorship.

I think I may watch "V for Vendetta" again today ... just a small fantasy suggesting that dictatorship is not the only option. It's a wet dream, but who doesn't like a good wet dream?