Saturday, December 31, 2016

retrurn from the hospital

On Dec. 19, 2016, I checked into the local hospital sporting flu and heart problems and just today was released from a  durance vile. There were hallucinations that included zillions of pencil-prick ants; there were colors that bore in on eachoher like yellow and white water colors .... there was sfuff and uncomfortable beds passing for ever-so- expedient ... ... everyone seemed to want to make me feel better. I missed the ones I actually believed

Back home now. Tired, frazzled.. My wife and sons bore the brunt.  Dying didn't much matter ... or it didn't seem to. And night of sane sleep wouldn't hurt.

Monday, December 26, 2016

"Jingle Bells" in Mongolia

A bout of physical bumpiness saw Christmas come and go, though this perky jingle, passed along in email, added a little spice:

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

sick day & Rachel Maddow

A sick day and simultaneously one on which Rachel Maddow's straight and searing analysis was passed along ... nothing serious, of course, just the sale of the United States to Exxon. I have to admit it -- the woman leaves me gasping as she connects to dots no one else seems willing to connect.

schlocky column for the month

Here are some of the columns I did not write in 2016 – a kind of stocking-stuffer of ideas I was too research-averse to attack and parse and issue an opinion about.

-- Not long ago, as is her occasional wont, Janet sent along the following pithy observation penned by her late husband, science writer Isaac Asimov:
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always had been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’ ”
Strange how cozy and confirmed the mind can feel when hearing what democracy is not and yet how stymied (and loud) it can become when asked to nail down what it is.

-- Walk into any supermarket and check out the tomatoes. The uniform redness and roundness are a sight to behold. But are these things tomatoes or are they really some better-living-through chemistry, a thick-skinned, largely juiceless fruit that can be harvested by a machine that will reduce the need for manual labor?
As a kid, I can remember walking through tomato patches, plucking an irregularly-shaped-and-colored fruit off the vine, taking a bite and having the juice dribble down my chin.

-- Today’s tomatoes remind me a bit of the 2-by-4s sold in lumber yards but don’t measure 2-by-4 ... or the Defense Department that lost the courage to label itself the Department of War ... or the life-insurance policy that rests squarely on the ability to drop dead.

-- Funeral homes and doctors both seem to be in businesses that confer upon them the right to call me by my first name. How did this happen?
My mother always taught me that until otherwise instructed, Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms. and whatever other polite prefix is popular these days was a way to depict respect and a warranted distance. And that includes “doctor.”

-- On the internet, there is an “algorithm” (code) that allows the site to remember my interests in the past and serve up more of the same. This coding magic is granted a round of applause.
But when I head to one of a number of news sites that I read daily, I most emphatically do not want more of the same or even something that is similar. That’s not the nature of news.
More important, this algorithmic magic means that whatever anyone’s interest might be, they are in some measure confined to their interest bubble and that as time passes, that bubble gets smaller and smaller.
Put politely, individuals become “intellectually challenged.” Put directly, more of the same is likely to make people “stupid.”

-- “Multi-tasking” is a word used by those who wish the drones of any given business will produce more in the same amount of time. It’s a money-maker to the extent that it is real.
The problem is that it is not real and anyone who says it is is either greedy or lying or possibly both. Human beings do one thing at a time and a study in Texas showed that shifting back and forth from one topic to the next produced less efficient results and, into the bargain, tended to depress the person attempting it.
Those who say, “We need someone capable of multi-tasking” are simply saying they want more money and less work for themselves.

-- Several weeks ago, a 300-plus-pound mechanical engineer who had played Santa over the better part of a decade was called to a Tennessee hospital where a 5-year-old boy was dying and wanted to see Santa.
There was no time for Eric Schmitt-Matzen to don more than his Santa suspenders and adjust his own, very real, girth When he got to the hospital, Schmitt-Matzen, 60, said he asked family members to remain outside the room if they were going to break down in tears. “The little guys and girls have a hard time fathoming the whole concept of death, but they know Christmas and they know they have a lot of fun,” he said.
“When I walked in, he was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep,’’ Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I sat down on his bed and asked, ‘Say, what’s this I hear about you’re gonna miss Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas. Why, you’re my No. 1 elf.’ ”
After Schmitt-Matzen assured him that he was passing on to a better place, the boy gave Santa a hug and asked a final question: “Santa, can you help me?”
“I wrapped my arms around him,” Schmitt-Matzen recalled. “Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him.”

And that’s what I want for Christmas – the courage and kindness and generosity that the Schmitt-Matzens of this world can provide.

Adam Fisher, of Northampton, is a regular contributor. He can be reached at

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

a psychiatric take on Donald Trump

Passed along in email:

3 Professors Of Psychiatry
Ask President Obama To Conduct
‘A Full Medical And Neuropsychiatric Evaluation’

Guardian photo competition

The gorgeous little children of the Hamar tribe in southern Ethiopia were only too happy to make this circle of feet for me, laughing their heads off all the time. MICK RYAN, JUDGE: Maybe a set-up shot, but many are. The most poignant memories of a trip often aren’t the grand vistas or the glorious sunrises and sunsets, but the smallest details. These children sitting in a circle and this lovely composition of just their toes, feet and legs, says so much. You decide what.   
I like this, but I'm not sure why or even that I think it is especially a "winner." Perhaps it is somehow peaceful. I honestly don't know.

Monday, December 19, 2016

"Alice's Restaurant" ... again

Others may find it dated and out of synch, but I ran into it again today and found that I enjoyed the smiles and determination of another era:

water, water everywhere...

Yesterday, I whipped out a newspaper column that focused on the columns I had not written in 2016. It was the best I could manage. Where have all the ideas -- and more important the succulence with which I could imbue them -- gone? I feel like one of those p.r. pix for global warming ... the polar bear standing on a great slab of broken-away ice. Nothing but water in all directions. I can't seem to find the caring and the oomph.

Not that I begrudge anyone else their cares. It's just that I can't seem to find them any more. The importance, the meaning, the associations and hook-ups -- all of it has a slightly vapid feel: Do I really need to follow that train of thought? Why? Isn't the richness rich enough without investing it with richness?

There was a time when I would lullaby myself to sleep with one thought-weaving or another -- some spiritual or sociological skein perhaps -- but now I drop of the cliff without any humming necessary. Only god can pray to god, so it seems sensible/inescapable just to let the prayers be spoken without my lookit-me additions.

It's kind of strange and vaguely lonely, but it seems to be the way of things.

Once, when I was acting as an intermediary between a Smith College student and my mother whom the student wished to interview about one of my mother's novels, I asked my mother how she felt about the interview. My mother was hard of hearing and it was a long time since she had written and won an Edgar for "The Horizontal Man," a book many considered a roman à clef about the college. When I asked my mother about the interview, I thought she might play the age card as she declined. Instead, she took another tack: "I can't really remember what it was about," she said simply. She knew she had written it. She knew it enjoyed a small patch of literary sunlight. But ... well ... what was the fuss about?... I can't quite remember.

A column should bear some stamp of "importance" or "meaning" or "relevance," right? But now there is more water and less ice. An odd kettle of fish.


At 8:30, the first sip of morning coffee
Is as good as it is at 4:30.
But at 4:30,
It's better.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Obama takes some Middle East responsibility

I suppose there are those who view U.S. President Barack Obama as another spin-doctor -- a wheedler and a conniver looking to pass the blame buck and shelter from the fallout of an anguished world. And no doubt there's an element of truth to the critique. Like speaking of a rich man, "No rich man ever got that way by being nice."

But I honestly cannot think of another (wo)man in power who might even skirt the responsibility for the slaughter and sorrow in Syria ... and most notably of late, Aleppo. If it's a lie, I think it is a better lie than most, not that those who are suffering give much of a rat-fuck.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

pig gives a raspberry

the serious and the silly

Just a couple of sillies in a world full of solemnities:

-- Police in Hudson, N.Y., got whip-sawed into breaking into a car where an overly-realistic elderly woman had apparently frozen to death in the latest temperature tumbles. The woman turned out to be a dummy/mannequin. The owner was pissed. The police issued a statement reading, "Just to clear the record, all citizens of Hudson should be put on notice that if you park your locked vehicle on the street on a sub-zero night with a life-size realistic mannequin seated in it... we will break your window."

-- Hundreds of Australians have gathered to roll on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra, in protest against plans to build a security fence there.
Under new anti-terror measures, a 2.6-metre barrier could soon block public access to the much-loved grassy space.
The mass tumble took place on Saturday morning, after news of the event spread on Facebook....
Mr Broad said that while he has not indulged in a hill roll since he was a child, Australia's leaders should consider taking part.
"I reckon at the end of the year that'd be a good look; all the pollies [politicians] finish the parliament with a good roll down the grass and tell people that parliament ultimately is about a bit of fun," he said.

God bless the Aussies!

Friday, December 16, 2016

the dream/the nightmare

Fashion photos ... The Guardian


Of all the human burdens, selfishness is the most irksome.

And if you don't believe this, then please, choose another and use that.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

elector to withhold vote for Trump

This is old, but I missed it and thought it was worth the price of admission since listening to author Christopher Suprun speak on the car radio earlier today: He sounded like someone who cared about the country he and I share:
DALLAS — I am a Republican presidential elector, one of the 538 people asked to choose officially the president of the United States. Since the election, people have asked me to change my vote based on policy disagreements with Donald J. Trump. In some cases, they cite the popular vote difference. I do not think presidents-elect should be disqualified for policy disagreements. I do not think they should be disqualified because they won the Electoral College instead of the popular vote. However, now I am asked to cast a vote on Dec. 19 for someone who shows daily he is not qualified for the office.
Is it a useless gesture? I would say not. Trump will be president, I suspect, but the country will be left begging as a result.

another day

A snippy-snappy day in which newscasters, who no longer have budgets that would allow for news casting, are predicting increasing cold, petty crime and bureaucratic plans for which the money has yet to be ponied up.

How I wish someone would take these broadcasters into some back room and lay a belt against their back sides:  There is no knowing the future and talking about it as if it could be known is an abdication of responsibility. How I wish someone would simply draw the line and say, "yes, human beings are important and their doings deserve investigation that is factual and thoughtful. It will never be complete, but that incompleteness is an aspect for which decent newscasters assume responsibility."

"I choose THIS story ... not THAT one. I may be wrong. Being wrong is not so bad." Running away into a future that cannot be known is chickenshit.

But of course they are well-dressed, talk loud, have unimaginative vocabularies, and display flashy tits.

It's the money, honey.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Bashar al Assad, U.S. ally

Though I haven't got the energy or brains to parse it, my sense is that the United States has sold out to its former arch-villain, Syrian president Bashar al Assad and has decided to stand aside as so-called rebels and civilians are massacred in Aleppo, Syria's second largest city. The slaughter may rank historically with the 1994 genocide once witnessed in Rwanda. Everyone seems to look back in anguish at that slaughter, but the anguish is for the dead and not, as in Aleppo, for those still, somehow, living.

Does the U.S. hope to escape a charge of complicity? Of course it does. But can it? I seriously doubt it. And having Bashar al Assad as an ally is ... unspeakable. Out-of-hand executions, gas attacks, no mercy.
Rebels groups have been supported by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies, but the support they have enjoyed has fallen far short of the direct military backing given to Assad by Russia and Iran. [Reuters]
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the security council that the Syrian government, along with Russia and Iran, bore responsibility for the deaths of civilians in Aleppo. She accused the three states of putting a “noose” around civilians in the city, asking: “Are you incapable of shame? … Is there no execution of a child that gets under your skin? Is there literally nothing that shames you?” [The Guardian]
 Of course knicker-twisting does little or nothing. And a lack of principles deflates still further a nation awaiting the inauguration od Donald Trump as president.

Before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, there were numerous assessments/projections that suggested that an end-game scenario needed to be formulated if the Middle Eastern arena were not to fall prey to sectarian in-fighting. Well, in Iraq and elsewhere, there still is no end-game scenario and the infighting, as promised, flourishes.

I can't pretend to know the answer or even AN answer. But I do have a strong sense that with friends like Bashar al Assad -- and possibly Donald Trump -- who needs enemies?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

buying and selling the U.S.A.

NEW YORK (AP) -- President-elect Donald Trump announced Tuesday he has picked ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state, calling him "among the most accomplished business leaders and international deal makers in the world."
"Rex Tillerson's career is the embodiment of the American dream. Through hard work, dedication and smart deal making, Rex rose through the ranks to become CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world's largest and most respected companies," the billionaire real estate mogul said in a pre-dawn news release from Trump Tower in New York.
Tillerson "knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department," Trump said. In a tweet, Trump added that Tillerson "has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments."
As far as I can see, there is not a word in the story about Tillerson's diplomatic capacities except to the extent that dollars-and-cents deal-making and diplomacy amount to the same thing. The mercantile cheesiness of Trump's would-be Camelot makes me wonder -- is there anything about this country that Trump loves? As far as I can see, it's "the price of everything and the value of nothing" that motivates him and many of his down-on-their-luck supporters probably agree: Fuck principle -- I'd like a little filet mignon myself!

Can anyone imagine Tillerson or his ilk making America "great again" for those most in need of a job or a bit of security? What principle(s) do men like Trump and Tillerson adhere to? Trickle-down economics? Trickle-up wealth? The little guy is going to get fucked -- again -- if I had to guess. Trump will find someone else to blame.

It feels pretty slimy. The 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings echo faintly in my mind: "Have you no decency, sir?"

Monday, December 12, 2016

Santa despite the clothes

A US man who dresses up as Santa Claus fulfilled a dying boy's Christmas wish by visiting him at his bedside, before the youngster passed away in his arms.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen rushed to a local in Tennessee hospital after receiving a call about a terminally ill five-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus.
The 60-year-old impersonator said he gave the child a present and a big hug before holding him as he died.[BBC]

snow day

First demonstrable snow of the season -- five or six inches -- and I wonder if elephants wish they could walk as silently as snow flakes. I have always wanted to be able to walk like an elephant, so perhaps the thought is not that weird.

The boys are out arguing with the snowblower -- a crafty and luxurious machine that is a bit logy after a season out of commission. So far, the machine seems to be getting the better of the argument.

The air is raw and, in writing this entry, I am sidestepping a column I would like to write, but for the moment seems too ephemeral to get my hands on. The impelling line is "some things are more important than equality. Love and friendship are two of them." I have the incident in mind -- the one on which I would like to make the case -- but its impact in my gut is hard to transfer to the page. So I waffle between the impact within and the mediocrity of delivery it might induce or ... shall I just pick an easier topic?

If I whine long enough, maybe the Column Fairy will descend and wave her twinkling wand.

the bullshit of "multi-tasking"

How many job applicants are encouraged to be good multi-taskers by the companies hoping to hire them? Are those companies hiring the dummies at the expense of good employees and then bemoaning the results? As Forrest Gump's mama observed, "Stupid is as stupid does." It's probably important to pinpoint who, precisely, is stupid in this equation.
Multitasking “produces shallower thinking, reduces creativity, increases errors and lowers our ability to block irrelevant information,” says Dr Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director, Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, via email. Because the brain was not built to multitask, over time it can lead to heightened levels of stress and depression and lower overall intellectual capacity, she says.
Yet despite mounting evidence that multitasking isn’t effective, old attitudes combined with new technology make juggling prevalent in most work places. [BBC]

Sunday, December 11, 2016

how would Stoicism fare today?

Stoicism is a school of philosophy which was founded in Athens in the early 3rd century and then progressed to Rome, where it became a pragmatic way of addressing life’s problems. The central message is, we don’t control what happens to us; we control how we respond.
The Stoics were really writing and thinking about one thing: how to live. The questions they asked were not arcane or academic but practical and real. “What do I do about my anger?” “What do I do if someone insults me?” “I’m afraid to die; why is that?” “How can I deal with the difficult situations I face?” “How can I deal with the success or power I hold?” [The Guardian]

a pardon for Edward Snowden?

Edward Snowden has been the subject of several high-profile appeals this year, calling on Barack Obama to pardon the National Security Agency whistleblower and allow him to return home to the US. Writers, intelligence experts, film stars and tech tycoons have all Now the most audacious display of support for Snowden is under way. Messages calling for his pardon are being beamed on to the outside wall of the Newseum, the Washington institution devoted to freedom of speech and the press that stands less than two miles from the White House.

jailing the least dangerous

A quarter of the US prison population, about 364,000 inmates, could have been spared imprisonment without meaningfully threatening public safety or increasing crime, according to a new study.
Analyzing offender data on roughly 1.5 million US prisoners, researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice concluded that for one in four, drug treatment, community service, probation or a fine would have been a more effective sentence than incarceration....
The Brennan Center calculates that this could equal a cost saving of $20bn a year, greater than the combined budgets of the US departments of commerce and labor.

"cult of personality"

Swimming up from the eddies and depths of sleep, it occurred to me that if there were a tailor-made descriptive for U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, it would be "cult of personality." In my mind, it was bang-on for a short-and-sweet, let's-not-waste-our-breath-on-this-topic summing up.

It was bang-on and yet a closer examination of the phrase exuded fragility and blurred edges. What was the difference between charismatic leadership and self-anointing raiment?
The terms "cult of personality" and "personality cult" were further popularized by Nikita Khrushchev's initially secret speech On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences given on the final day of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, February 25, 1956, which criticized the lionization of Josef Stalin.... -- Wikipedia
Of course the meaning, if not the words, spread further back into history. Perhaps every (wo)man is his or her own cult of personality, whether in subtle or in gross, so bad-mouthing the one and leaving the other unscathed reflects more on the source and less on the object of that source's observations.

When "cult of personality" is positive, everyone applauds. Viewed negatively, people get shot or hanged. And still, for all the parsing and poking, "cult of personality" strikes me as fitting Donald Trump right down to his bourgeois puttees.

He loves nothing and he'll sell it to you all day long.

I had a Zen teacher like that once.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

cell-phone revenge fantasy

Passed along in email:

Trump du jour

Passed along in email:

postmortem art

"A new exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum recalls a time when portraits were seen as a way of remembering and celebrating life outside of mere memory."

Friday, December 9, 2016

city of love, city of rats

Ah, la citéde l'amourappears to have suffered a couple of setbacks  

1.'When Parisians are literally tripping over rats on the sidewalk, it is clear that the City of Light has a problem." and 

2. "With more and more asthmatic children needing hospital treatment in Paris amid an exceptional bout of pollution, France's government is putting medics on alert and warning residents to limit outdoor activity over the weekend."

shut up

A little silence never hurt anyone and so, as an early Christmas present, it might be nice to take a moment and just shut up. I don't mean some new and improved and goopy activity: I mean personally, in a time when no one is looking ... when, in fact, even you aren't looking and chewing and digesting and protesting and extolling and relaxing and improving. Just shut up. Literally. For a literal minute. Shut ... up.

I don't know about you, but for me, these are times that feel like a case of national rug burn. Volume has replaced veracity and, even when I am not discussing or dismissing the arguments of others, still there is a sense of discomfort in my mind. Common decency dwindles as the president-elect issues some new round-house edict that lacks supporting evidence. The delight of one persuasion is dependent on the discomfort of another. The ills are real enough, but the raucous anger seems to find no rest or reprieve.

My friend Dave sent me an email: "I don’t get it.  The state of being angry is almost considered a badge of honor by many – an emotion one should aspire to. But when I was growing up, I was taught that anger (though we all experience it times) is a negative emotion and that angry people were not to be admired or emulated."

Everything is for sale. Honor goes begging. Is this my country? Is it yours? Discussions that begin as sharing and caring and all the other nice words shudder and slump into something akin to my-sorrow-is-more-sorrowful-than-yours. Or, alternatively, my-joy-is-more-joyful-than-yours. Words like "Marxist" or "socialist" are hurled, yet there is little evidence that anyone might be willing to investigate their actual meanings. And the volume increases, even when there is no one there to listen. Even when there is no one listening, still I am forced to listen to myself.  

In general, I dislike relying on the words of others as a means of expressing my opinion. But today, I will borrow the words of Max Ehrmann's 1927 "Desiderata," which encourage a politer form of my sense that shutting up and letting the silence have its say is a good idea. Anything -- anything at all -- can happen in the silence.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

One minute.

Shut up.

What's that like?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

"Welcome to the Age of Anger"

Thus far this morning, I have been immersed in an article in The Guardian entitled "Welcome to the Age of Anger." ("The seismic events of 2016 have revealed a world in chaos – and one that old ideas of liberal rationalism can no longer explain.")

Of late, I had pretty much sworn off Donald-Trump-linked hair balls of analytic thought, but the willingness of the article to take a look at both liberal caterwauling and conservative triumph -- and to look beyond the easy I-can-explain-that's -- kept sucking me deeper and deeper into the article's maw... people of good will infused with viciousness; people of viciousness veined with good will....

People are people first and intellectuals or red-necks, atheists or believers, infuriated or joyful only later. The arrogance of leaving out the people when discussing the "voters" has made my teeth itch.

This is a hell of an article, even if I have to concede the author is smarter than I by miles. It's a long, long article by Internet standards and it is probably far from perfect, but there was enough there to force me to say it felt like something closer to the truth.

Anyway ... that's how I've been spending the last hour.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

why did god create man

For the godly in the crowd, why did god create man?

By whatever definition or parameter accorded to god, why create man?

Was it boredom? Was it the fact that no one had invented video games?

And to those who would stroke their luxuriant beards and say that the question is "imponderable -- don't waste your time," the obvious follow-on is that if you can't/won't answer that one, how could anyone prattle on and on about the other prattling stuff that follows in the wake of man's creation?

Somewhere, there must be a tale of sorts to respond to this question, but I can't remember it.

And if there's a tale to tell, did god make it up or did man?

I'm only half-kidding about any of this. It's kind of weird in my head at the moment.

having children ... NOT

The other side of the coin ... or, perhaps rather, the point at which heads and tails intermingle and wonder is no longer a bright and shining star but rather a dust storm with bright spots or a bit of wheat within the undeniable chaff. Having children is, if you listen to the whispers, a "blessing" that, ipso facto, cannot be gainsaid in social settings. There is no room for "but," and yet any parent who has taken the trouble to be a parent has slammed into the "but" wall. Rituals shudder where "buts" assert themselves. And yet, without the "buts," how honest could anything be? Is ritual more important than honesty? I don't know.
French author Corinne Maier has two children but can't wait for the youngest to leave home, saying they have left her "exhausted and bankrupt".
Her attack on "idealising parenthood" struck a chord with many mothers and fathers around the world. Here are some of their comments - followed by the responses from others who completely disagreed.
Perhaps some TED talker will come up with an oleaginous, one-size-fits-all approach to all this, but I have a feeling that the bottom line is simply learning to live with the I-don't-knows. Good, bad, having kids, not having kids ... it's nice to air the laundry, I think.

PS. And associatively there is a study:
The regular use of Caesarean sections is having an impact on human evolution, say scientists.
More mothers now need surgery to deliver a baby due to their narrow pelvis size, according to a study.
Researchers estimate cases where the baby cannot fit down the birth canal have increased from 30 in 1,000 in the 1960s to 36 in 1,000 births today.

Monday, December 5, 2016


As is her occasional wont, Janet sent out one of her multiple-recipient quotes from her late husband Isaac Asimov yesterday and I was on the list:
There is a cult of ignorance  in the United States, and there always had [sic] been.  The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.
Given the on-going horror/anger/surprise/anguish/outrage/delight over Donald Trump's winning of the 2016 presidential race on Nov. 8, the quote carries with it a series of up-to-date barbs from one point of view. Without getting terribly specific, Trump's stream-of-consciousness campaign volume dissed a great deal of what the intellectually-inclined held dear. Women, immigrants, outsourcing of jobs, racism and a host of other issues were just the surface of what he was willing to trash. Never with much intellectual specificity, mind you, but with enough so that a lot of people just knew what he meant. Hard-working, church-going, health-care strapped, three-job-holding Americans had had enough.

For some time, I have felt that drugs has skewed the activities of the ignorant ... and the smart ... but slowly it becomes clear that blaming drugs is too easy:
US police have arrested a man wielding an assault rifle who entered a pizza restaurant that was the target of fake news reports it was operating a child abuse ring led by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her top campaign aide.
Also worth considering is the sensitivities [enforced ignorance] of ....
"To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"  have been suspended from the curriculum in some Virginia schools, after a parent complained about the use of racial slurs.
But back to the quote: I find myself not quite convinced: On the one hand, ignorance can be unspeakably cruel, confining, consoling ... and just plain dumb. I find it unspeakably stupid, for example, to dislike a person just because of his or her color or sex and that stupidity deserves a slammed door from where I sit. I also find it pretty damned dumb to deny history.

And yet the quote would not resonate, I suspect, if those laying claim to intelligence didn't sometimes smugly overlook the ignorant and less-fortunately endowed. Kindness is lovely ... if you can afford it, if the kids aren't hungry, the bills unpaid.

No, "ignorance" is not as good as "knowledge," but it is a knowledgeable person who is likely to know this. It is the knowledgeable who must learn to exercise the patience and courage to turn back to the tide of ignorance. This means education and a certain comfort level. The knowledgeable get tired of saying "no" and the ignorant get tired of being said "no" to.

Never mind ... I'm losing the thread of this argument. I guess maybe smug-dumb and smug-smart both make my teeth itch.

Color me Dumbo.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

snooker champion

An entire news story, as near as I can see, in which the winner was lauded and the play extolled but the name of the game went utterly unmentioned. A lot of sports writers seem to take that liberty, which makes me wonder why they should consider themselves adequate news writers.

Not until the commentary at the end of the story did I learn:
Former world champion John Parrott on BBC Two: "That was one of the finest games of snooker I've ever seen. The evening session really was snooker from the gods. Everything about that match from both players was just stupendous. It's going to be hard to top a final like that this season. It really was that great."

silent monks sing "Hallelujah..."

Passed along in email:

spic 'n' span

Grey day, vaguely crabby....

I guess I wouldn't mind so much if feather-merchant millennials reiterated "it is what it is" if 1. they showed some evidence that they had actually looked into what "it is" or 2. showed come capacity to wash the supper dishes properly. And the same goes for "living in the moment" or the insistence of tacking "artisan" or "hand-crafted" onto shoes, toothbrushes, beer or whatever.

Doesn't anyone else get tired of the fact that a 2x4 is no longer a 2x4 and yet is called with a wave of the laced cuff, "a 2x4?" From my crabby perch, I think of them as "the app assholes." Without electricity, the sense of loss would be enormous.

But never fear ... there's an explanation. Explanations explain stuff, right? And with an explanation in hand, you've got an app. And with an app, you've got...

Another asshole?

Ah well, I'm probably just hungry. How's that for an explanation? Soma here I come.

Why wash dishes when there are dishwashers -- blessings on whose name -- to do the work?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

progress in spiritual practice

If there is progress in spiritual practice, you're not doing it right.

If there is no progress in spiritual practice, you're not doing it right.

Of course, I could be wrong about all that.

Friday, December 2, 2016

a blivet of tears

Over a lifetime, I suspect, there has grown within me a blivet of tears filling drip by drop. Last night, watching the news from the war-savaged Middle East, the blivet began to leak and the tears slid down my cheeks. It was all, somehow, just too damned much.

Two 27-year-old young men, each with not much more than a modicum of medical experience, were treating the young children deliberately wounded by snipers in Aleppo. The men, Americans I believe,  knew from the wounds that these injuries had been deliberately inflicted and were not just collateral damage. There were no doctors. There was no anesthetic. Everyone was hungry and frightened. The voice-over informed the TV viewer that this man or that woman had lost a brother. A father kissed his young son's forehead. The boy was petrified.

Both of these young men did what they could. One boy would not lose his leg. The girl shot in the face died despite all best efforts. One young man said that seeing any child die was horrific. He estimated he had seen 200. On the TV screen, the drip-drip-drip mounted and my blivet of tears-withheld bulged until I began to feel the wetness on my cheeks. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the man whose snipers were at work, appeared on the screen, long and lanky and dressed in a clean suit.

Suddenly I was ravenously sad. No amount of cajoling and consoling helped. I was crazy with sorrow. I didn't care that my self-serving anger and sadness went nowhere. I didn't care that few if any problems was ever solved out of an emotional vortex. I could no longer hold it together. This was vile. Screaming went nowhere and nowhere claimed the scene. Was I indulging myself or was it simply that not-indulging-myself was no longer an option?

As a news reporter, I had always did what I could to put sympathies to the side, to stuff them in a tear-filled blivet because sympathies and screams clouded any possible solution or resolution or diminution of whatever latest hell presented itself. Get the facts, stuff the reactions. In the hellish heat, cool the atmosphere.

But last night, somehow it was all too much. I was a Donald Trump supporter sick of filling my blivet so that others could proceed with creating the conditions that filled that blivet. Two young men doing what they could in the face of conniving and well-dressed forces ... a part of me roared, "SHOOT THE FUCKERS!" Fuck the dignity of silence and perseverance and holy-roller serenity! Please, please, please don't tell me how you would fix it!

But it was all going nowhere and I knew it. The boy would not lose his leg. The girl died. The two young men did what they could. Few if any cried on the TV screen and I sat there crying, raw as a popped blood blister ... and woe betide any asshole who tried to conjure solace. It was all too much. How do you say "no" in a world where no is no-where near the mark?

I am reduced to tears. Is that better or worse than being reduced to understanding?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

high-schoolers recreate price-gouged drug

A group of Australian high school students have managed to recreate a life-saving drug that rose from US$13.50 to US$750 a tablet overnight after an unscrupulous price-hike by former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli.
The Sydney Grammar students reproduced the drug, Daraprim, used to treat a rare but deadly parasitic infection, in their high school laboratory with support from the University of Sydney and global members of the Open Source Malaria consortium.
Business being what business is in the U.S., it wouldn't be legal to sell the Australian students' product in the U.S. without going through a lot of ... uhhh.... business hoops.

psychedelic salvation

Is that Timothy Leary I see dancing in the streets?

NEW YORK (AP) -- The psychedelic drug in "magic mushrooms" can quickly and effectively help treat anxiety and depression in cancer patients, an effect that may last for months, two small studies show.
It worked for Dinah Bazer, who endured a terrifying hallucination that rid her of the fear that her ovarian cancer would return. And for Estalyn Walcoff, who says the drug experience led her to begin a comforting spiritual journey.
The work released Thursday is preliminary and experts say more definitive research must be done on the effects of the substance, called psilocybin (sih-loh-SY'-bihn).
When I was reading some book about the magic of psychedelic drugs and asked my then-shrink, Jack, why I couldn't just down a tab and skip over all the talk sessions we were going through, he kept a straight face that would have done the Las Vegas poker championship proud. Gently, but firmly, he steered me away from the notion of magic bullets.

The upside of epiphanies is that they lay out the potential for a wider vision. The downside is that where there is no capacity or muscle to digest the discovery, a bad-trip sense of failure can enter and fester. I think Jack's point of view was to proceed patiently and deliberately to build the foundation on which an organic understanding might be nourished. A wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am opening, while enticing, was just too iffy by half.

The key phrase in these discussions of psychedelic-drug-use is "under proper circumstances." The trouble is that the people relying on such reasoning imagine such circumstances can be controlled. Sometimes they can. But equally, sometimes the psychedelic takes control and outstrips the capacity of the reasoning and reasonable controller... let alone the patient in question.

But it is interesting, in an age of Facebook and texting and other quick fixes, to see Timothy Leary back in the running. The pain and confusion of psychological black holes are real and compelling. The longing for a Tooth Fairy is compelling.

Compelling ... and then there's the question of what actually works.

men and women

Dandling my toes lightly in some speculative pool, I think...

Men concern themselves with imagination, with parkour and with chaos. Women are concerned with no-fucking-around lullabies although, living as I do in a town that concerns itself from time to time with raucous sexual assertions, it's probably well to remember the fact that it is the female lions who do the serious, slinking hunt and kill.

No one ever gets all of the kudos, which is probably reason enough to put all kudos on the back-most burner.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

spiritual practice

... helps clarify what is not obscure

... eases the sense that the universe doesn't care

... maybe

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

support for Edward Snowden

The campaign to persuade Barack Obama to allow the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to return home to the US without facing prolonged prison time has received powerful new backing from some of the most experienced intelligence experts in the country.
Fifteen former staff members of the Church committee, the 1970s congressional investigation into illegal activity by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, have written jointly to Obama calling on him to end Snowden’s “untenable exile in Russia, which benefits nobody”.

volume as veracity

With the presidential election of 2016 in the middle range of the rearview mirror, I guess it's as good a time as any to consider the encroachments of volume-is-veracity. Not that even Donald Trump could lay claim to creating the paradigm, but it does seem to be part of today's warp and woof: The louder it is, the more it must be true.

Given the repeatedly-proved ludicrousness of the proposition, you might think that this would be or might be a quieter and more judicious time. But it hasn't come to pass and news shows have ever-increasing numbers of talking heads, many talking at cross-current to the person currently speaking ...

But I am out of step.

I once took one of my sons to see a Red Sox game. It was a birthday present. The bus took us 90 miles, deposited us outside the stadium and we found our seats which were made of hard-wood slats and didn't have enough knee-room for someone as tall as I. It was a night game and the field was beautiful. But when the game got going, sitting on the uncomfortable seats was not an option. Everyone seemed incapable of watching the game from a seated (and pricey) resting place. There was no "watching" the game -- there was just the option to stand and have beer dribbled on you while someone who was likewise standing made his was back to his seat. Standing was louder, somehow, than cheering from a seated position. The volume and group-ness took over for any enjoyment of the game.

Oh well, I knew from the get-go that I wasn't a fan of crowds. And my son had a good time. And the bus ride home could be enjoyed while seated and in relative silence.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"infinite speed"

João Magueijo, of Imperial College London, and Niayesh Afshordi, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, propose that light tore along at infinite speed at the birth of the universe when the temperature of the cosmos was a staggering ten thousand trillion trillion celsius.
Question 1: If light moves at "infinite speed," does movement any longer have any meaning? Wouldn't everything (including light) be everywhere simultaneously?

Question 2: Am I wrong or is there something simultaneously wacky and weird that people should be paid to study such matters?

making a buck on atheism

Nice to wake up to a smile, which, in a couple of instances, was provided in emal today:

Making a buck on atheism


The Bud Lite clothing drive.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

l'état, c'est moi

It may be a long or a short haul to the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States. It depends on the point of view, I suppose. But here's what feels like a relatively sane depiction of the businessman-turned-president's potential conflict-of-interest pitfalls:
Constitutional lawyers and White House ethics counsellors from Democratic and Republican administrations have warned Donald Trump his presidency might be blocked by the electoral college if he does not give up ownership of at least some of his business empire. [The Guardian]
Louis XIV's alleged-but-undocumented bon mot, "l'état, c'est moi" (I am the state), comes to mind.

It is hard not to munch on the idea that Donald Trump might create a leadership coterie, decline or be denied the role of president and then ... and then ... all of his properties gain in value. His claim to fame, as he has often said, is that he is a businessman. What's one more rat-fuck for a man of such shameless, blameless stature?

challenging the 'best-before' sticker

Picture-perfect food ... NOT.
A UN panel said earlier this month that supermarkets’ preference for perfect-looking produce and the use of arbitrary “best before” labels caused massive food waste that, if reversed, could feed the world’s hungry.
Nearly 1.3bn tonnes of food are wasted every year, more than enough to sustain the 1 billion people suffering from hunger globally, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said.
The "best-before" label, as I understand it, has everything to do with the producer and nothing to do with the store that may be hawking it. Best-before medicines encourage more sales. Best-before bananas find green bananas for sale. Best-before grapefruit places a thick-skinned, little-juice fruit in the bin. Well-gassed tomatoes are red-red-red where what's on the vine varies in hue. Upscale pork loins, sold at a well-trimmed premium price, have become premium-price meats that need fat-trimming once brought home. And avocados are seldom less than rock-hard green. In toto, the shelf-life of a product is extended through reduced quality.

Naturally, the markets mewl, "it's not my fault." Only of course it is. If I buy a product and then resell it, whose responsibility is the quality? Markets hire public relations firms to counter any criticism or resemblance to the truth.

Come harvest season, news stories and pictures depict mounds of tomatoes or oranges that were not perfect enough and are destined to be plowed back into the soil. It is hard to look at such pictures and not be aware that there are people literally starving. But of course this is not the market's fault. And heaven forbid that it should be my fault.

Well, in Denmark there seems to be some pushback:
It may be past its sell-by date, but for many Danes it’s a tasty proposition: surplus food being sold in a Copenhagen supermarket has proved so popular that a second store has been opened.
After launching in the district of Amager earlier this year, the Wefood project attracted a long queue as it opened a second branch in the trendy neighbourhood of Nørrebro, this month.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

RIP Fidel Castro, 90

Cuba's Fidel Castro dead at 90.

UK passes "Snoopers' charter"

May our children learn never to forgive us:
After months of wrangling, Parliament has passed a contentious new snooping law that gives authorities - from police and spies to food regulators, fire officials and tax inspectors - powers to look at the internet browsing records of everyone in the country.
The law requires telecoms companies to keep records of all users' web activity for a year, creating databases of personal information that the firms worry could be vulnerable to leaks and hackers.... 
Officials won't need a warrant to access the data, and the list of bodies that can see it includes not just the police and intelligence services, but government departments, revenue and customs officials and even the Food Standards Agency....
Some aspects of the new law remain clouded by secrecy. Not all internet companies will have to comply - only those that are asked to by the government. The government won't say who is on that list, and the firms involved are forbidden from telling their customers.
And if the UK can put its stamp of approval on such a thing, it's a sure bet the U.S. will want one too. "Terrorism" has such an enormous and diverting wardrobe.

Friday, November 25, 2016

John Currin exhibit

Well, there's a display of some of the works of an artist named John Currin. It's in London so you don't need to feel bound to go, though I admit I would like to. Currin seems a bit weird. Weird is good. I can do weird ... especially if someone else is doing the doing.
Filled with visual jokes, art historical pastiche and unlovable people, Currin’s paintings are hard to take seriously – in fact, hard to take at all, and certainly not at surface value, although surface is all they are. As absurd and decadent as their high prices, and the art world in which they circulate, Currin’s canvases stop you in your tracks....
Things happen to the people in Currin’s paintings and things happen in the paint. He paints people and scenes that are really hard to take. Misanthropic, misogynistic, cruel, absurd, silly – all these criticisms could be – and have been – thrown at him....
This group of new paintings is more than a laugh, a recoil and a grimace – though it is all these things. Once you get over the initial knowing wince, there is an awful lot to unravel. I don’t think I could live with a Currin; I certainly wouldn’t want to live inside one. But perhaps I already do.

not speaking

I stopped speaking on my 27th birthday in 1973....I decided not to speak for one day, as a kind of gift to my community. My girlfriend thought I was doing a nice thing. When I woke the next day, I didn’t see any reason to speak, so I didn’t. When others spoke to me, I mimed that I was being silent. They were thrilled.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

fantasy coffins

Joe, who turned 69 this week, is Ghana’s most prolific coffin artist and, after five decades in the funeral industry producing some of the world’s most extravagant designs, his work is being celebrated in a major exhibition in Accra.
Joe’s work – which includes coffins in the shape of Porsches, naked women, Nike trainers, cameras, Coca-Cola bottles and chilli peppers – is designed to represent the life of the deceased, with each item handcrafted and painted for the funeral procession, which can last up to three days and three nights.

high school reunion

My wife informed me, as she and my sons loaded up the car for a Thanksgiving get-together in New Jersey, that my daughter would be returning with them this evening after the festivities. "It's her 10th high school reunion," my wife explained.

What?! How did that happen, some voice inside me asked. In some part of me -- as no doubt with a lot of parents -- children would always remain children ... sort of in the 5-8-year-old range, thigh-high and deeply committed to one Walt Disney adventure or another. But now, instead, my daughter is married and has been out of high school for 10 years.

All of which took me back to my own high school. High school -- a time of teetering and tottering on the edges of adult-dom and all the confusions that occasioned. I graduated in 1958 and was as confused as any high-schooler might be. Would I ever get laid ... a lot? It seemed improbable since I went to an all-boys school. And yet the population kept growing so perhaps there was hope even for such a confused individual as I.

Like any high school person, I had little or no perspective, no wider contrast or comparison. Everyone wore a jacket and tie where I went to school. We went to school because going to school was what high schoolers did. The first hint that I was going to a high school of note was when one student stood up in the middle of an English class, walked across the room, and punched another student with whom he was having an argument about the homework assignment under consideration. Actually punched him. Somehow I knew that was the mark of a good education and not just a teaching moment. Imagine being in a class where someone got that pissed off.

We studied Latin and French and had a Bible course tucked in in deference to the school's religious beginnings. Nothing heavy -- just a nod to the culture we lived in. Everyone was expected to go to college and when one kid decided to join the army, I was flabbergasted. There was "chapel" each morning before classes began. There was grace said before lunch. For fun, I took an after-class course in Italian. It was a time of the Beat Generation upsurge and when some of us tried to mimic the writing style of Kerouac or Corso or Ferlinghetti, the English teacher -- an exceptionally-tightly-wrapped homosexual was my guess -- slapped us down hard with lousy marks. He was one hell of a good teacher.

As a college sophomore, I once wrote a paper on the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, most of whose stuff I had read in high school. The teacher of the college class pissed me off so badly (teacher burnout, I think) that I made up most of the paper out of whole cloth ... the plays referred to were real, but the source material quotations and commentary AND publishing houses that published those analyses, were entirely fictitious. The paper was a quite ornate fuck-you. I was never quite sure if I was sad or happy that I got an A-minus on the paper.

In the high-school student body were people who would become Hollywood directors and bartenders and bankers and ... well, everything, I suppose. I was fortunate, but had no way of knowing it. I was too busy being confused and horny and a teenager and ... didn't someone have the answers that would still the confusing waves?

Of course they didn't, but I was just beginning to learn that faking it was the only option.

It seems impossibly long ago and far away. And now my daughter collects her own version of long ago and far away.

Confusion's not that bad.

limerick-like smile du jour

A small Thanksgiving silly passed along in email:
There was a young lady called Sally
Who enjoyed the occasional dally
She sat on the lap of a well endowed chap
And griped, sir you're right up my alley

the theremin

Passed along in email:


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

stick with the expert

My mother once told me that she had given up writing magazine articles in the early 1960's when it became apparent that the compact between writer and reader had been trashed. Her sense of writing was that the writer put forth an argument on a given topic. The reader's part of the bargain was to bring whatever common sense s/he possessed to the table and assess the internal logic of the article. This contract was broken when editors began insisting that conclusions be backed up by some bright bulb in a particular field.

No longer was it enough to exercise common sense. That common sense needed to be persuaded by one "expert" or another. "As Freud says..." or "as Beard wrote..." needed to be dragged into the fray. Well that, from my mother's point of view, was bullshit. If the argument was poor, the reader was charged with sorting it out rather than being nudged by some alleged "expert."

And here we are today. Back, with the help of the Internet, to the notion that the reader will find a couple of brain cells to rub together. Everyone is an expert. Why? Because s/he can write what s/he likes without any challenge ... and what is written is right, right? Everyone's a pundit. Challenges go un-exercised.

One of the reasons I like writing in a blog is that the implication, though unstated, is clear: It's just my opinion, you nitwit. It's up to you to grab your very own challenger six-shooter and poke holes in what is egregiously illogical or self-serving or petty or politically-slack. No need for raising a voice or interrupting someone else -- just rub those two brain cells together and winkle out the bullshit where bullshit seems to exist.

I hate citing "experts" and yet am as guilty as the next person of doing it. Lookit-me! Lookit-me! I'm so smart that even an expert agrees with me ... which makes me an expert, right? It's like the spiritual teachers who implicitly claim a high seat by quoting some text or teacher already sitting on it.

What expert, after all, adjudges the experts?