Thursday, March 31, 2016

explain it to me ... not!

Growly and snappish as a bear waking in spring....

I demand a researched explanation behind a given assertion ....

And then grow even more growly and snappish when it is offered.

Some voice within says, "Asshole without substance. And then ... asshole with imagined substance!"


At first light, is it the dawn that creates the birds or the birds that create the dawn?

Bring me the line between those companions.

Guardian story unfurls Associated Press sellout

SS pamphlet ‘The Sub-Human’, using photographs by Associated Press. Photograph: AP
A Guardian story calls out the Associated Press and its cozy relationship not just with the Nazi party of the 1930's but also its ongoing relationship with the repressive North Korean government.

Does a news organization have a moral obligation to fulfill when it comes to the retailing of human events or is it sufficient that it should take what it can get from sources demanding a truncated version of local -- and sometimes unpleasant -- truths?

Historical research seems to show (vis a vis Nazi Germany)
The New York-based agency ceded control of its output by signing up to the so-called Schriftleitergesetz (editor’s law), promising not to publish any material “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home”
And as to more recent connections in North Korea:
When the French news agency Agence France-Presse signed an agreement to open a bureau in Pyongyang in January this year, AP’s former Pyongyang bureau chief Jean Lee commented that it was a sign of the regime’s “increased confidence in its ability to keep foreign journalists under control”.
The AP spokesperson denied that the agency submitted to censorship. “We do not run stories by the Korean Central News Agency or any government official before we publish them. At the same time, officials are free to grant or deny access or interviews.”
Nate Thayer, a former AP correspondent in Cambodia who published the leaked draft agreement, told the Guardian: “It looks like AP have learned very little from their own history. To claim, as the agency does, that North Korea does not control their output, is ludicrous. There is naturally an argument that any access to secretive states is important. But at the end of the day it matters whether you tell your readers that what you are reporting is based on independent and neutral sources”.
And the Guardian piece does not even make reference to the increasingly common unwillingness of news organizations to ask hard questions at purportedly public political press conferences. The risk of being denied future participation or access to the candidate is simply too great.

"Freedom of the press" is something that news organizations love to flaunt and stand tall for. The fact that its luster happens to rub off on those organizations is a minor matter ... NOT.

I think that for all its drawbacks, the Internet is a good thing when it comes to investigating the distrust consumers can feel for the news media and its wares.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

tears and napkins

Tears and napkins seem to be on the mental menu this morning.

Of the former, I was listening to a random collection of musical pieces last night and found myself welling up with tears. I had saved the music because, for one reason or another, I found it beautiful ... and by "beautiful" I mean dissolving in one way or another.

Putting that together with the fact that I probably didn't cry enough when I was little -- whether from joy or sorrow -- and the music uncorked my tear-filled casks. I wondered if musicians were aware of the magic they were capable of weaving. I wondered if their own music made them cry. No matter ... I had tears, inescapable tears, on my agenda.

Real men don't cry. Or is it real men do cry? Does it matter much if a man cries in the forest and there is no one else around? And no, I am not a politician who has been caught out in some routine dalliance.

Dissolved: Isn't it enough to weep for? But with a lifetime of not enough weeping, it's a newish occurrence in my life. Something has changed.  I do so love being consumed and am less afraid of the consequences.

Of napkins. Fewer people are using and/or buying them:
The use of paper napkins has been declining for 20 years. According to Georgia-Pacific statistics, six out of 10 households purchased paper napkins on a regular basis 15 years ago; today it’s slightly more than four out of 10.
This feels somehow important -- a social sea change of some sort or perhaps another knuckling under to that grubby harlot called Facebook. The last time I used a napkin was in a cafe over coffee and a sweet roll. There is a largely untouched stack of paper napkins in the paper-goods shelf in the kitchen. But generally, I use paper towels as napkins ... and Kleenex as well. It's convenient and -- as distinct from Facebook -- has a functional outcome that does not pretend to be something other than what it is.

Americans seem to favor torture

Fuck science! A majority of Americans tend to favor torture when trying to extract information about suspected 'terrorism,' an online poll declares.

Running life according to polls or majority applause without recourse to investigation really makes me want to ralph ... which I suppose is just another way of saying it scares the shit out of me. The smug carelessness and self-fulfilling prophecy of polls... well it can make you wonder why Jesus would ever want to roll back the Easter rock.

The article sketching the poll reaction was written with presidential candidate Donald Trump and his alleged willingness to use torture in mind. But even leaving him out of the equation, it's pretty damned spooky. Torture, as I understand it, has been discredited as an accurate means of extracting truthful and useful information.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe torture can be justified to extract information from suspected terrorists, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, a level of support similar to that seen in countries like Nigeria where militant attacks are common.
Torture is OK against SUSPECTED terrorists. It does open the door to the question, who, at one time or another, might not reasonably be suspected of harboring terrorist leanings ... as for example those favoring torture?

albinism photo series

Justin Dingwall's portrait series explores the aesthetics of albinism.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

John Oliver: Conspiracy!

the little stuff

Whether it's true or not makes no difference. There is stuff I like so much that it might as well be true ... or, if you prefer, false. It's like chocolate -- who cares what anyone else says?

-- Once upon a time, when I was largely in the throes of spiritual clouds, I read a lot about the Vedanta Hindu Sri Ramakrishna, a 19th century (1836-1886) holy man considered by some to be an avatar ... of Vishnu, I think. I purely gobbled the tales about him and the words attributed to him. Doubt was not my companion: I was in thrall.

And one tale was this ... that one day as Ramakrishna was walking down the road, he ran into Jesus. Obviously it as a mystical tale since Jesus had predeceased Ramakrishna by a number of years. I basked and soaked in the story as it rose up off the page. They met on the road before Jesus passed into Ramakrishna. And what made it convincing to me was the very, very small factoid that Ramakrishna noticed the tip of Jesus' nose was flattened.

Grigori Rasputin
--  I once took an interest in the Russian Revolution. In pursuit of the topic, I read what I once estimatedwas something like 200 books on the topic. And, although I could not then or now give a coherent dissertation on the chain of events that led to the overthrow of the tsar by Lenin and others (I have a lousy memory so history is not my strong suit), still there was one very small fact that came from one, fairly flimsy book that premised itself on the idea that it was the tsarevich's (prince) hemophilia that led the tsarina (queen) to trust in the wiles of the mystic Rasputin (1869-1916) and from there to convince her husband. Not a very good book, but popular since Rasputin, like Hitler or Lincoln, is always a juicy topic.

Anyway, it was in the midst of this book there was a truncated reference to a six-plus-foot, American black man who opened and closed the doors to the tsar's throne room.  There was no further information, but this small, unverified bit of information seemed to mysterious and good to disbelieve and so I guess I have always believed it.

There have been other, similar, little things that somehow gave me proof of what I cannot in all honesty prove and yet I do love the 'proven' nature of them. I have forgotten the others at the moment. Write me off as another slob thinker.

U.S. helps arm Islamic State

What a juicy, satisfying epithet: "Hypocrisy!"

Hypocrisy and the hypocrites who indulge in it require an axiomatic principle. This principle is then belied by the actions of the hypocrite. Roughly, hypocrites talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. How sleazy, right?

But this morning I have the sense that the juice and savor and delight and wind have dribbled and dripped away from "hypocrisy" and left it deflated and bereft like some suicidal whale on a Cape Cod beach.

The reason, as best I can guess, is that there is no longer an axiomatic principle against which to place these liars and pretenders. How can you cuss someone out when there is no agreement as to the preferred activity they may tout. If there is no principle in the first place, it's hard to excoriate the man or woman who does not observe it.

Take, for example, this small video passed along in email yesterday. Basically, it is a quick-and-dirty summation of the number-one slot the United States claims when it comes to worldwide arms sales.

None of it is especially surprising to a moderately well informed individual. Arms are a honey pot and the U.S. is a nonpareil bee. Arms provide jobs -- a touchstone for liberal politicians seeking to right the ship of income inequality. But they also stand in stark contrast to the "peace" that the mealy-mouthed may trumpet. A small segment of the clip alludes to the fact that Islamic State (the 'great Satan' that the West excoriates with regularity) has found a use for the M-16 rifles produced in, where else, America.

Given this scenario, it is hard not to conclude that the West promotes the war it claims to abhor. This is revolting and hypocritical right up to the moment that anyone realizes that the guiding principle of "peace" is not really a guiding principle. Instead it is an amorphous touchstone that shapeshifts according to its price tag.

I don't mean to play the ain't-it-awful guitar in all of this. Hypocrisy of this sort is demonstrable in a wide range of activities -- failing to state the principle and then adhering to it. If you have any doubts, just look at the world of spiritual endeavor ... full of peace and love and compassion and, when a closer examination turns over the rocks, a host of slimy and corrosive activity comes to life.

It's no biggie, perhaps. But the worst of hypocrisy is not so much the bitchslap that can be administered to others. It is the bitchslap that can deflate the decency and happiness of individuals forced to look in the bathroom mirror. I doubt that principles, whether political or personal, can ever be perfectly realized, but I do think that without the effort, life becomes a little grey-er and more painful.

Of all the good habits anyone might nourish, I guess I think most highly of attention and responsibility. These capacities come closest, as best I can see it, to a perfected principle that can never come true.

But being a little less the hypocrite beats putting a price take on everything and pretending that this hypocrisy is other than what it is.

Do principles matter?

Only if you say so.

Monday, March 28, 2016

man with a scam

Gilbert Chikli, 50, uses his phone at his home in Ashdod, Israel, Monday, March 28, 2016. Chikli, a visionary fraudster, ripped off some of the world's biggest corporations, and then laundered millions in China, which is serving as a massive money laundering machine for foreign criminals, an AP investigation has found. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
I wonder if Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders would not do well to hire Gilbert Chickli, a Tunesian convicted of money-laundering in France but living in Israel. Chickli is quite capable of putting flesh on the Sanders bone that the rich are in a wonderful position to take more than their fair share.
"I understood that the bankers were never convicted," he said. "If the bankers were never convicted, then I needed to indirectly become an official banker."
While laundering his money through China, Chickli became a multi-millionaire. Since he was only pretending to be an official banker, it seems fitting that he only pretend (if that) to be in jail.

A good AP article, if a bit wobbly: The Chinese aren't about to 'fess up any more than the bankers are.


Euphemasia: The terminal unwillingness to be direct while imagining that things become somehow less daunting or cruel in that way.

An issue, for example, replaces what once was a problem.

A procedure replaces an operation at the hospital.

A police action is a situation in which death is less wounding than it might be in war.

Moving forward suggests that someone might control what is patently uncontrollable -- the future. It also suggests that moving back is not a more sensible row to hoe in the elevation of your own compassionate stock.

Final results comfortably and comfortingly overlooks the fact that results are final.

Outcomes are way easier and smarter than an outcome.

Thank goodness for those who are challenged: At least they're not crippled.

And death ... well don't get me started as people pass or pass on or are lifted up. At least my Zen teacher's teacher created a sassy teaching moment when he referred euphemastically to the state in question as "joining the majority."

Obviously euphemasia is not an exact science, but it's obvious enough to be worth a look. How long is anyone willing to be squishy and kind and soft-spoken before s/he flies up her own asshole and disappears? ... before the courtesy becomes so ingrained and freighting and corrupt that the subject matter itself is obscured?

I suppose I am as guilty as the next person.

Well, sheeeeit!

Or heck, if you prefer.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

petition for forgiveness

It came up in another context, but I thought I'd note it here as well:
May we all find forgiveness for the answers that we claim to have found.


It really is better, from where I sit, to die for your own sins than to let someone else do it for you.

Why waste a perfectly good sin?

thoroughbreds and mongrels

Is it true or is it facile dancing...

Thoroughbreds mark the heights, but mongrels enrich the blood?

What is the one without the other? What is the other without the one?

And would the sun come up with any less assurance were either or both forgotten like some well-matched, mismatched, outgrown  childhood mittens?

There is something to be said for good habits -- less cruelty on occasion, perhaps -- but like the precepts of an ancient lore, sometimes I think good habits are only as good as the bad habits they underscore.

"Watch the clouds." Someone once said that about understanding Buddhism, but I'm not sure that Buddhism needs to be dragged into it. Just watch the clouds... distilled as the finest whiskey; rambunctious as sin almighty.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

mystery du jour

A tradesman pulled over by police in a luxury sports car has more than $590m in the bank but is not “at liberty” to say how he got it, a Brisbane court has heard.
Phillip Johnathan Harrison was granted bail in the Brisbane magistrates’ court on Saturday, a day after police pulled him over in an Audi sports car and found quantities of ice, Viagra and ecstasy.
The 29-year-old bricklayer denies his wealth is connected to illicit drugs.


profound superficiality

I dislike quoting others but...

Henry David Thoreau wrote, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."

By way of harmony -- or was it dissonance? -- I woke this morning munching on the verbal pistachio of "profound superficiality." As in, "Most men lead lives of profound superficiality....."


No snarky, from-the-high-seat critique.


Profound superficiality.

Anything more would be too much.

Anything less would be too little.


Friday, March 25, 2016

deconstructing Donald Trump

a loving god

What good is your god
If s/he has no room
To yawn and roll
In the tall grasses?

bringing a knife to a gun fight

Among the increasing number of things I suspect but no longer have the get-up-and-git energy to track down and document....
An Israeli soldier has been detained after a video emerged showing him apparently shooting a Palestinian in the head as he lay wounded and motionless on the ground.
The Palestinian was soon declared dead. He was one of two attackers who had earlier stabbed another Israeli soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron.
The Israeli military said the shooting was a "grave breach of IDF (Israel Defense Forces) values".
Like a guttering camp fire, these incidents crop up from time to time, though they seldom seem to be captured on video: An apparently-enraged Palestinian attacks Israeli police or military forces with a knife. The Israeli police or soldiers shoot him or her to death.

The old adage springs to mind, "Don't bring a knife to a gun fight."

And as such Israel-Palestinian incidents pop up -- usually spliced between more weighty bits of news -- it makes you wonder: Are the Palestinians who A. attack and B. are shot dead purely stupid ... bringing a knife to what is likely to be a gun fight or are they perhaps desperate?

With all the guns the U.S. peddles in the Middle East, you'd think the Palestinians might get their hands on something more lethal. But no -- the stories always have the Palestinians waving knives and the beleaguered Israelis defending themselves against the onslaught: Conclusion -- the Israelis are under incredible pressure and, implicitly, using restraint in the face of Palestinian insanity. Shooting such deranged and dangerous people makes sense ... but it's amazing how many of the Palestinians die and it's amazing how infrequent are any references to a taser or less lethal defense. Hell, even American cops have the good grace to try -- or say they tried -- some lesser defensive maneuver.

In the story cited, the one videotaped, the Israeli military said the act was a "grave breach of IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) values." My suspicion, the one I haven't the energy to search out and collate, is that far from being a breach, the fatal shooting was entirely in line with IDF values. From the Benjamin Netanyahu point of view, Palestinians are simply the uppity niggers of the Middle East ... deserving every bullet that brings them down.

Surely Netanyahu, like Donald Trump, is entitled to his opinion and his willingness to elevate and cement his political stature, but does that mean the American media should implicitly or explicitly condone these itsy-bitsy stories in which it's OK to shoot dead a man or woman who brings a knife to a gunfight? Is this justice? Does the U.S. wish to be party to such fatuous propaganda?

As I say, I haven't got the wherewithal to research these incidents -- to collate and place them in a single basket. I have no way of knowing precisely how dangerous the incidents were on the ground. Like a shark, I only suspect that there is blood in these waters: A military man, fully armed, cannot find and alternative to shooting? What sort of training or policy is that? Any killing is a tragedy, but the balance of force is out of whack.

I suspect.
At least 29 Israelis have been killed in a wave of stabbing, shooting or car-ramming attacks by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs since October.
More than 180 Palestinians - mostly attackers, Israel says - have also been killed in that period.
In March 2015, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress for some 40 minutes. The topic was the U.S. initiative to reduce its sanctions on Iran, Israel's sworn enemy. I wonder how many American politicians had the nerve not to show up. I wonder how many asked for a similar address from one of Iran's spokesmen.

I wonder and suspect ... the kind of blog nonsense that is increasingly seen as a legitimate way to address a situation. Oh well.... Maybe someone else will have the researching energy and let me know how full of shit I am ... again.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hot dog!!! BrewDog!

Inventive packaging for the world's most expensive beer.




Here's a snippet of the long and rollicking Guardian piece:

The End of History happened six years ago. It was a gimmick, a stunt, obviously. It also, sort of, was not. The company that pulled it, BrewDog, is a serial offender: it has, among other antics, driven a tank down Camden High Street; named a beer after the heroin-and-cocaine cocktail that killed River Phoenix and John Belushi; projected naked images of its two founders onto the Houses of Parliament; brewed beer at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean; dropped stuffed cats from a helicopter onto the City of London; employed a dwarf to petition parliament for the introduction of a two-thirds pint glass; and released, for the royal wedding of 2011, a beer containing so-called natural aphrodisiacs such as “herbal Viagra”, chocolate and horny goat weed, which it called Royal Virility Performance.

BrewDog has described itself as a “post-punk, apocalyptic, motherfucker of a craft brewery” and urged its customers to “ride toward anarchy”. Its slogans include “In hops we trust,” “This is the revolution – so help me Dog,” and “Changing the world, one glass at a time.” It has a document that it calls its charter, which contains phrases such as: “We bleed craft beer,” “We blow shit up, and “Without us, we are nothing. We are BrewDog.”

uncertain times

"It's Thursday," my wife remarked conversationally this morning as I rustled around in the multi-day pill dispenser that is the companion of the aging here in the U.S.

As it happened, I was aware that today was Thursday, but since I have forgotten in the past what day of the week it is, I was constrained to say, "thank you." Double-checking is a good idea. The reasons for knowing what day of the week it is lose their savor as age laps ever more insistently against the pier that is "me."

Where have I gone? What reason do I have to come back? These are just questions, not complaints or plaints. There was a time when knowing the day of the week was easy-peasy. It had relevance and social impact. It was a credit card I would not leave home without. But it is harder to remember why exactly that factoid is/was important or useful.

Where have I gone? It's a simple question -- one I feel I ought to be able to answer and yet can't. Although my incapacity is vaguely anti-social, still it is not as frightening or infused with failure as it once might have been.

OK, it's Thursday. And your point is? What do you know when you know it? On the other hand, when you don't know, life seems slightly less manufactured: "Thursday" is OK as a tentative matter, but the tentativeness is more impressive than the social OK-ness is or was. Time is not two things. Doesn't there come a time when un-learning becomes important?

I can remember a time when I could not imagine not knowing what day of the week it was. No big deal: I can remember a time, as well, when I really, really, really wanted to be a cowboy. If you know today is Thursday, what do you know? If you don't know today is Thursday, what don't you know?

I do still wonder ... where have I gone? I was there, and I can remember that, but now I am here and I haven't a clue where that is. The certainty of "Thursday" is missing; but what certainty has replaced it? I can chat this topic to death, but that's just chat.

Maybe it's like the old military approach to homosexuality: Don't ask, don't tell.

spring comes to India

A student with her face smeared in coloured powder, celebrates Holi at a university campus in Chandigarh, India March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ajay Verma

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

nipple wars

Back in the shadowed corners of history, when I grew up, television was frequently referred to as "the boob tube," a reference to the boobs or idiots who might stayed glued to it. Now, of course, things have moved on.

But now, Facebook, one of my least favorite purveyors of cultural claptrap, has seen fit to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable display of women's nipples. Kim Kardashian's boobs get a bye -- please notice I did not indulge my desire to say anything about a boob with boobs -- but the breasts of aboriginal women seem to be over-the-top in Facebook's catechism and have inspired a recent ban or two.

"Decency" is a strange word and Facebook is a strange venue in which to peddle it.

There are women's nipples and women's nipples.
There are women's nipples and men's nipples (the sexism in this realm all seems to be mirror image).
But no one seems to speak up for (spoiler alert) vaginas or their occasionally unshaved environs.
And everyone seems (you should pardon the expression) to positively pussyfoot when it comes to men's peckers.

Everyone is so damned 'grown up' in the world of decency that they remind me of the old joke about the bird flying in diminishing circles around a mountain top ... tighter and tighter circles until finally the bird flies up its own ass and disappears. If we all moved to Kentucky, would we really be better off or our randy bits any less randy?

Somehow it seems ludicrous to me to see lovers in bed together on TV dramas ... waking up after a night of frolic ... and she's wearing a bra?????? And it's a short step from there to wonder why, a little at a time, an audience may see a guy's bare ass on a boob tube melodrama, but never gets a good honest look at his tallywacker. Maybe if it had a nipple, there would be a better chance for display and yippee-indecency.

Naked is naked.

Frankly, I find it more enticing to look at a woman who is dressed instead of flaunting a low-cut evening gown. Naked is just naked. Dressed means imagining how delightful it might be to un-dress.

belated column

It being a full moon today, and full moons seeming to play a role in my occasional column-writing efforts on behalf of the local newspaper, the following appeared today after I dashed it off yesterday. An earlier column I submitted was deep-six-ed... even I didn't like it much. But my original agreement was to write a column a month and the moon seemed insistent yesterday. So.... I was surprised the editor moved so fast on it, but delighted that I got a chance to retell, old-fart-fashion, the egg story. The rest is a bit sloppy, but ...

Musings on the art of public school success  

You can keep your "genius award." I don't want it. I got mine from Northampton's Bridge Street Elementary School a long time ago and have been content ever since.
The award was not announced on stage in front of an approving crowd. What actually happened was this.

At about the time one of my three children was cutting a path through the Bridge Street forest, I volunteered to be a teacher's aide. I did this partly for my kid (daddy cares) and partly because I thought there were too few men on the elementary school teaching roster. Call me a sexist if you like.

The job entailed showing up one day a week and taking orders from the teacher in charge. Mostly, if I recall correctly, I drifted from one table of students to another, making myself available to help.

On the day in question, students were assessing the similarities and differences between a hard-boiled and an uncooked egg. Students had to write their scientific observations in a notebook that each kept near at hand. Weight, color and whatever other empirical data they gathered. In the end, each egg was cracked open and it was here that the trouble and my glory arose.

A large number of students did not know how to spell the word "yolk." I saw this again and again and again -- "y-o-k-e" made a lot more sense -- until finally I arrived at a solution.

Standing up from the table, I pointed to one little girl and beckoned her to come with me into a corner of the classroom. I leaned down by her ear. "Can you keep a secret?" I asked her as seriously as I could.

Her eyes widened with excitement as she nodded her head and she agreed.

Slowly and clearly, I whispered to her ... the correct spelling of the word "yolk."

Then I reiterated the ground rules: This was a secret. She couldn't tell anyone else. Once more she agreed.

The following week, when I returned for my next stint as an aide, the teacher told me that "not only can the whole class spell "yolk," the whole school can spell it."

But spelling is a small, if important, matter. There are thornier school issues, as, for example, the matter of bright students who go unchallenged.

"Did you ever notice," I once remarked to former Principal Johanna McKenna, "that school systems and their supporters have no apparent difficulty in identifying which students are ‘challenged?’ And they seem to have no difficulty identifying who might be ‘mainstream.’ But let one voice be raised on behalf of ‘gifted’ students and the whole world collapses into political chaos."

Anyone who has been to school knows there are the "smart" kids and asking them to meet the standards laid out for the less-smart is like asking a bike rider to put training wheels back on his or her bike.

But what other choice is there? Public education is "public," which is to say it is for one and all. Public education is one of America's proudest moments, although it is being slowly sold out to charter schools" Shall each and every class be dumbed down from the level at which the "smart" kids are? Shall each class be raised beyond the level at which the "mainstream" operates? And what about the "challenged?"

When it comes to education, two things are worth keeping in mind: Education is vastly important (TED talkers of the world, unite!) right up to the moment when someone writes the checks. And "gifted" kids do indeed deserve a greater challenge ... as long as you acknowledge that my kid is gifted.

In a March 21 letter to the Gazette, a woman urged parents to rise up and demand a greater voice in setting the "appropriate challenge" for bright students in schools. "Meeting the mandate," she suggested, is just plain not good enough. Between the lines of her letter, if I am not mistaken, is the broad implication that dumbing things down is no way to raise up young minds.

I couldn't agree more. But where the rubber hits the road, I am not self-important enough to imagine I could iron out the wrinkles in the challenged-mainstream-gifted tapestry with the same ease I won my genius award so many years ago.

But that's not to say I won't applaud those who give it a shot.

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

old friends

Yesterday, after a lapse of a number of years, J called and we had a nice catch-up gab fest on the phone. J, who is 15 years sober as a result of Alcoholics Anonymous and a packet of determination, was now living with her aging mother who had been left alone after her husband shot himself to death.

Why do men insist on committing a messy suicide? Isn't it bad enough that anyone should die leaving a bundle of loose ends to be tied up? Is there some need for going out with a spattering bang? Men, if I am correct, are more prone to shooting themselves to death. Women favor softer and less intrusive means ... things like pills.

J is now of an age when she is lined up for a hip replacement. She is also in a place where the come-to-Jesus enthusiasm of AA newcomers is tiring. Sure, she's glad she's sober and sure she gives thanks for AA, but listening to newcomers enthuse is tiring ... and lonely. It's like a piano player listening to someone who has read a lot of books about playing the piano.

It's lonely not to find someone who is more or less on the same page -- battles fought, mistakes made, vast efforts expended and yet now, today, the breath continues to enter and exit, enter and exit.

I told her I thought the only remedy was to take up stamp collecting. Fresh converts are invariably tiresome. The one-true-faith is invariably tiresome. But you can't say that to a one-true-faith-er ... so ... take up stamp collecting and talk about that. It's less lonely.

How nice it is to talk with old friends.

abandoned opulence

While most of Shekhawati’s havelis have crumbled and remain abandoned, a small window into the world of these painted mansions is being preserved.
Wherever there is great wealth, somewhere else there is great poverty. Is it any wonder that communism, before it got into the nitty-gritty business of gulags and the like, should hold out an allure? Sort of like Christianity.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

success ... sort of

A Guardian headline this morning reads:

Running: the art of never being satisfied

Runners have a habit of talking down their achievements, but is that such a bad thing? Perhaps there are benefits to negative thinking

The article sniffs and nudges the realms that the headline suggests. And who could read such a thing and not segue into any other endeavor in life ... setting out to succeed or overcome or return victorious only to look back later (almost immediately) with skepticism, if not an outright sense of failure ... even when the endeavor succeeded.

The article suggests that it is that sense of failure or imperfection that shapes the building blocks of future endeavors: It may not have been perfect last time, but in times yet to come there are successful markers to be passed ... until the latest post-mortem is put in play. This way of looking at things excuses the entire exercise: What the hell, you're just gearing up for another go at things, another go within which elusive "success" may at last be won.

But I wonder if this direction is adequate. It sounds good and it calls individuals to strive and striving is a human capacity worth praising, to hear the 'failure'-prone describe it.

I wonder if there is not something to be said for examining the wispy wiles of 'success.' Does anyone really need 'success' in order to find impetus? Would everyone turn into a gelatinous blob of uncaring stillness if there were no pep rally? If so, what's so bad about that? If not, why not?

Is it enough to be alive? No one can really succeed at being alive: They're either alive or they aren't ... end of TED talk. Circumstances rise up and fall away and invite individuals to take part ... or not.

If the empirical evidence suggests that the targeted success is not a rational goal, is this an excuse for continued irrationality? If living in the future doesn't work and living in the past doesn't work, what works?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

secret stuff

Ah, secrets. How gnarled and ingrown and metastasizing on the one hand. How smooth and powerful and worth the price of admission on another. How elevating ... how ... secret.

Of course, there are some secrets that can not be told, but for the rest, so much of the savor rests in the potential for telling: the raw awfulness; the relief and delight.

I guess what brought this to mind (again) was a Guardian story about a currently-popular BBC1 serial about a night manager at the stratospherically-upscale Dolder Grand in Zurich where spy novelist John Le Carré met and took and interest in Stephen Pike, the night manager whose aura Le Carré channeled into his 1993 novel.

Discretion. Sophistication. Dedication. And a trust whose hovering counterpart is always and forever distrust. Is anyone better at such veils than the British upper crust and the savvy Japanese? Or perhaps it is just packets of income that light the fuse. But even without income, secrets are a self-affirming wonder.

Ssssssh! Don't tell.

One of the things I noticed during my time in the army -- a time that required a Top Secret Code Word security clearance -- was how edgy secrets could make you feel. Yes, there was the delight of knowing what few if any others knew, but in what cause was such knowing projected? What was its usefulness? Did life really need to be held so close to the chest? The punishments promised to anyone who did in fact spill the beans were enough to keep buttoned lips buttoned. But what sort of existence was that ... not saying what you were perfectly capable of saying? The virtue attached to keeping your mouth shut may have seemed sensible at the outset, but after a while ... after a while ... after a while....

Secrets became like flechettes in the heart ... burrowing, stabbing, painful, restraining ... think of the secrets in your own life. For what? If a thing is true enough and useful enough to keep secret, what would happen if it were no longer secret.

Or, as Dorothy Parker once observed more or less: "How can we expect others to keep our secrets when we can't even keep them ourselves?"

Flechettes. Doesn't there come a time when removing these barbs becomes a deep longing or a necessity or whatever? What would it be like to air things out -- first to the bathroom mirror and then to some other secret-keeper? Yes, there is yowling -- "Oh no! I couldn't do that!!!!!" But the universe already knows, the world knows, the fallout has already fallen out.

Time to remove the flechettes and decline to inflict still more.

When I was a newspaper reporter, I felt some of the same secrets-prone delight. I knew things others did not. Or, if others did know them, still, I had known them first and by not revealing them, I had kept my word. My discretion could be counted on. I was a hotel manager in my own hotel.

To this day, I do not tell what others do not want me to tell. But it seems a bit contrived. Will the universe blush or crumble?

Of course there are the secrets that cannot be told, as for example, the Hindu tale of the monk who visited his teacher in order to receive a mantram -- a bit of text that was utterly private and tailor-made for the recipient. The teacher gave the monk a mantram, but then added, "This is utterly private. You must not tell anyone else. If you did, you would save the whole world." The monk, who was not yet entirely sure of his footing, left the teacher's presence, gathered a crowd in the town square and promptly proceeded to repeat his mantram.

Needless to say, the world was not saved any more than the world is saved by not telling some other secret.

Bit by bit and one by one, the flechettes of secretive separation come loose or are yanked free or simply dig a deeper hole in which to hide themselves.

Maybe it's like banging your head against a wall because it feels so damned good when you stop.

I don't know.
Internationally banned flechette of the sort used by Israel in Gaza.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

a salaryman

A salaryman stands at a pond in the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden in Tokyo, Japan.

the laughter in between

As the stillness impels the wind
So the wind impels the stillness.
And the sunlight weaves itself as well
Into the rippling wash until I wonder
How it would be possible to love less
Or be less lovable.

Where there is no middle
How could there be edges?
Or vice versa
When it comes to love?

Friday, March 18, 2016

the wonder fairy comes calling

Today and yesterday seem to have been times to reconnect or soar with wonder.

On the one hand, there were the first 20-odd pages of a novel I gather was popular when it came out in 2005 called "The Book Thief." I am slow in getting around to things and slower still to open a book, but I needed something to send me to sleep, so I opened it and began to read. I could feel myself balking at the time frame and tableau -- World War II and the Holocaust -- but the narrator's voice led me in, brought me along, and entranced me. The voice telling the tale was the voice of Death.

And yet, having read 20 pages, I went back and reread them. Yes, it was the voice of Death -- a ballsy artistic choice -- and yet I was not quite sure. Couldn't this voice as easily be the voice of Life? My answer was "mostly, yes" and there was a wonderful jolt that that recognition or imagining should be so easy and smooth and fairy-tale-esque without being a fairy tale. Death speaks. Life speaks. No point in falling for the old juxtaposition of "life and death," a false, if popular, duet. Just how plumb wonderful that the one might stand for the other or the other for the one. Not two.

And then today, somehow I got roped into listening to Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto," a marvel among marvels that made me wonder if the creator of so much of what I called beauty would have been aware of the tsunami he had unleashed ... for me and perhaps for others. JEEEEE-SUS!!!!!!

"Too Naked for the Nazis"

Too Naked For The Nazis - a book about the career of a vaudeville trio - has won the Diagram Prize, awarded to the oddest book title of the year.
Author Alan Stafford had nominated his own book for the award run by The Bookseller magazine.
It beat Reading from Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus, with 24.8% of the public vote compared to 24.3%.
Stafford does not win a cash prize, but instead receives "a passable bottle of claret".
His book is a biography of musical hall act Wilson, Keppel and Betty - said to be "the inspiration for the Chuckle Brothers" - while Reading from Behind is an academic text.
Other works on the seven-strong shortlist for the prize, now in its 38th year, included Transvestite Vampire Biker Nuns from Outer Space and Soviet Bus Stops.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

beautiful ceilings

I get a stiff neck even imagining how these intricate ceilings might have been created. Whether they are the "Ten Most Beautiful" is probably open to debate, but they sure as hell are marvelous.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Trump outpaces 'Houase of Cards'

"House of Cards" is an American TV serial that was popular in its cynical baring of American politics. For all I know, it is still popular: I've only seen a few episodes and found its through-a-glass-darkly too dark for my taste

But now, in a very good essay that compares "House of Cards" to the actual-factual political climate of this country,

fashion in Tokyo

A model presents a creation by Vietnamese designer Nguyen Cong Tri from his Autumn/Winter 2016 collection during Tokyo Fashion Week in Tokyo, Japan, March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Issei Kato

the world's happiest country

Denmark overtook Switzerland as the world's happiest place, according to a report on Wednesday that urged nations regardless of wealth to tackle inequality and protect the environment....
 "The message for the United States is clear. For a society that just chases money, we are chasing the wrong things. Our social fabric is deteriorating, social trust is deteriorating, faith in government is deteriorating," he said.

pigeon smuggling in Syria

As if Syria did not have enough problems, given its civil war, there is also the matter of its magnificent pigeons and their smugglers.
Many people in the Middle East love pigeons - it's a passion that can dissolve all religious and national divisions. Some of the finest birds were bred in Syria until the civil war intervened. Now Syrian birds are being smuggled to Lebanon, across front lines and through areas controlled by the Hezbollah militia.

tail-challenged whale

A humpback whale missing most of its tail has been spotted off New Zealand.
The whale was first seen on Monday off the coast of Kaikoura on the north-east coast of South Island.
It was not clear how it came to lose its flukes, said local Department of Conservation ranger Mike Morrissey, but "it could have been the result of entanglement" in fishing nets.
But despite what looks like a severe injury, the whale seemed to be doing fine, he told the BBC.

unpublished at last

Well, it had to happen sometime and yesterday proved to be the day. I knew a time would come when writing even a piddling newspaper column would outflank me, undo me, and force me to forget about the column in the way that other things have been crow-barred into oblivion. It's not that what follows (rough-cut column) is the last of my attempts to write a column. I can only say, the experience brought me up short and said "no."

On Monday, having roughed out a column topic, I had to go to the dentist with a very tender tooth. He attacked with Novocaine and his own good skills. I got out of the chair minus the pain, but feeling run-over by the experience. By Tuesday, when I had planned to tweak and rewrite or even find a new topic if necessary, the column stared at me and I simply had no mind for it: I didn't like it and I didn't know how to make it so that I did like it. Finally, after trying a different topic and finding my mind equally flummoxed, I just gave up and threw myself on the mercy of the editor ... tweak it or 86 it: I simply didn't have what it took either to care or to write. So ... no column in the paper today, the day on which I generally see something I submitted in print.

So it goes.

Hard on the heels of a newly-minted 76th birthday, an email arrived that asked conversationally, "What do you think of atheism?" It was not a peculiar question since I do not make a secret of my interest in religion or spiritual life or whatever you want to call it.

I wrote back, "Atheism is about as good as any other religion and carries with it the same imperative: Just don't be lazy."

But then I reconsidered what I had written: What might I have thought if I received such an answer 45 years ago when I first committed to the course I chose? And I decided that I would give myself a birthday present and indulge in a look back: What the hell -- when you're 76, you can be excused for swimming in the past in the same way that the more up-to-date can be forgiven for clawing at the future.

So this column is a birthday present of sorts.

I once calculated that I had read more than 500,000 pages before I decided to get serious about spiritual life. I began with only two provisos: 1.  I wanted to know if religion's promises were true. "True" meant true for me: True for anyone else was not good enough. 2. If whatever religion was did not reach into the bawdiest barroom brawl, I wanted nothing to do with it.

And so I set out. I got up at 3:30 in the morning so I would have time to read before getting to work at 7:30. I gobbled information -- first in Hinduism and later settling on Buddhism. I went through the obligatory phases of ecumenism ("Truth is one, wise men call it by many names"), imagining I knew what happened after death and doing my failed best to stop cussing. I flunked out of a Zen monastery where I learned to eat oatmeal with chop sticks and occasionally went barefoot in the snow. I polished the halos of those I imagined had them. I lived through three sex scandals. I learned all sorts of ways to assert and believe in paradox. I gnashed my teeth. I imagined I wasn't allowed to get angry. I wept. I laughed. And -- oh yeah -- I worried about getting horny. More often than not, progress seemed to be measured as three-steps-forward-two-steps-back.

There were experiences that blew me away. There were times as flavorless as wet cardboard. I learned to chant and bow. I had a robe. But once you have the gizmos and gadgets, two words remain: "Now what?"

Spiritual life was no walk in the park. It seemed to operate on the razor's edge of things. It was so sharp that the difference between nuthouse-crazy and unparalleled clarity was sometimes hard to see. This was no world for those who made themselves cozy and safe behind sandbags full of belief. No sissies need apply.

The years slipped by. Sitting on my Zen meditation cushion became less wondrous and, some might say (but not I), more wonderful. I got married. My wife and I had three children. I built a small meditation hall in my Northampton backyard and invited others in. Not many came: Zen is too simple and too hard.

And then, a little at a time, the years of practice, half-baked and otherwise, started to fade away. Like shards of some Antarctic shelf, first the chanting sheared off. Then the meditation. Unused incense sticks gathered dust. Then spiritual discussions became tiresome and redundant.

At first, this train of events frightened me. All those years, all that effort, all that intensity -- it had to have meaning and importance, didn't it? I had worked so hard to build it. Wouldn't I be punished like some wayward Catholic? There had to be something more, something virtuous and serene and assured and approving. But the dwindling sensation refused to be categorized or maintained. There had to be a payoff, but no one rang my doorbell with an outsized check.

And then, smooth as wet soap, I relaxed. Or perhaps I just got lazy. Or perhaps some dime dropped. What could be more appropriate than throwing yourself at something that then wanders away, like a happy, playful puppy?

If the best anyone could do for something s/he loved was to cling to it and protect it and save it ... C'mon: Don't be lazy.

Things come and things go. Not just some things. All things. Or perhaps "go" is too strong a word; maybe it's the solemnity that goes. This is not a threat and it is not a salvation. It's just a fact. Animal husbandry, poker, atheism, religion, stock trading, transmission changes, holiness .... get curious, love it, turn up the heat, dive in, cool off, climb out, dry off. Come again another day if you like. Or not.

I once enjoyed an email exchange with a Benedictine monastery. Since I live in a Christian country, it's important to understand a little of Christianity, so I asked him softball questions until I got around to what I really wanted to ask:

"It seems to me that only God can pray to God," I wrote to him. "What do you think?"

And I never heard from him again.


divine imperative

On the same day (Monday) that the Vatican announced Mother Teresa would officially become a "saint"  Sept. 4, Google's AlphaGo artificial intelligence program received an honorary award that asserted its "ninth dan" capacity -- a designation that amounted to all but an assertion of its "divinity." The machine beat Go champion Lee Se-dol, himself a holder of near-divine status, in four Go games out of five.

And let's not forget the "divine winds" said by some to have saved Japan from Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281.

Divinity is strange stuff.

Taking one aspect of the dictionary definition, what is divine is "of, from, or like God or a god." More loosely, it is what is supremely delightful and convincing, and yet....

And yet, no one can see, smell, taste, touch or hear it. Despite all the best efforts to do so -- and there have been some real money-makers -- what is divine cannot be marketed. 

When all else fails to explain or control or gift-wrap, "the divine" steps in with a smile. It is like the joker in a deck of cards. It can be anywhere. It can be everywhere. It invariably fits as those who say things like "everything happens for a reason" are willing to concede. What I cannot explain or control is given over to the wiles of the divine: It's easier and more comforting than admitting "I don't know."

But more than that, I have a hunch that there is a positive demand for the divine to be part of the human tapestry: There is all the stuff I can parse and explain and control and then there is everything else that I can't quite get a handle on ... ergo, "shit happens." Divine shit in some instances.

The divine is also the apex of some effort or philosophy. It represents the point at which anyone steps off a cliff into the unknown. If I worked so very very hard on something and then that something reached the pinnacle ... well, ain't that divine? To feel the words drop away, the warmth infuse, the smiles unfurl? It's divine.

But it's interesting. Is there any escaping the two words that invariably greet the divine as it arrives and infuses and delights? I have prayed and hoped and believed and sweat and insisted and finally attained the divine I just knew was waiting around the corner. And then, sure enough, there it was ... and the two words whisper laconically:

Now what?

Shall we call it a divine kick in the ass?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

forgetting the king

We will never forget ....

Right up until the moment when forgetfulness just seeps in like Mississippi flood waters under the door to the living room.

Who could forget World War II?
Who could forget the Holocaust?
Who could forget Roman Catholicism?
A son or daughter is returned home in a coffin?
A wedding?
Who could forget the earthquake-sized event that wracked or brought joy to a time in the past?

It's too big, too important, too visceral. No one could forget that ... right?
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- For decades, Las Vegas has loved Elvis Presley tender - and loved him true - but the King's presence in modern day Sin City has lately been diminishing, one impersonator at a time....
These days, Elvis registers only briefly in the consciousness of Melanie Casas, 22, of Phoenix. On her first trip to Las Vegas recently, she identified him as the singer of "Hound Dog" who was also featured as a character in the "Forrest Gump" movie.
"I know of him but I don't know anything about him," Casas said, shrugging.

Monday, March 14, 2016

"meditation olympics"

Passed along in email for those inclined:

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Toddlers outstrip terrorists in gun deaths

Jamie Gilt, who has built a thriving web presence on the argument that guns are perfectly safe around kids, was shot by her young child. Photograph: Facebook/Jamie Gilt
Here's some thinking on gun violence in the U.S., as if you needed more.

In the US in 2015, more people were shot and killed by toddlers than by terrorists.

Sanders supporters for Trump

In a carefully-couched article whose flimsiness is conceded, The Guardian newspaper offers a report on some 700 respondents who were Democrat/socialist Bernie Sanders supporters. 500 said they  would consider voting for the Republican blowhard Donald Trump if Hillary Clinton is the Democrat candidate.
A 29-year-old female data processor wrote: “As horrific as Donald Trump is, and he is a horrible, racist, misogynist idiot, I don’t think Hillary Clinton is any better. I feel like with Trump, he could at least inspire a revolution, even if it is against him. I prefer chaos to stagnation.”
Does that sum things up -- "I prefer chaos to stagnation?" Never mind examining what chaos might mean in all its particularity: Fuck 'em all!

The survey segment is minuscule and the likelihood small, perhaps, but I am glad someone addressed the possibility of seeing Donald in Bernie and vice-versa. A thousand things may separate them and yet their alleged outsider status joins them, however imperfectly.

In the clusterfuck of this political season, when issues evaporate into a miasma of heart-felt angst and anger, why not consider the possibility?

And to think that "principle" was once a usable word.

the world's smallest kingdom

These days, when he’s not fishing for squid or gardening outside his squat bungalow, his majesty lords over Tavolara's 11 part-time residents, 100 nimble mountain goats and a few species of endangered falcons that live atop the island’s 565m limestone peak. For the past 40 years, Tonino has been personally escorting visitors to his family’s island palace – first by rowboat, and now via a 25-minute ferry that he operates from Porto San Paolo.
King Tonino outside of his restaurant (Credit: Riccardo Finelli)

after losing 3, Go master wins one

Having lost three in the best-of-five series against an artificial-intelligence program, Go master Lee Se-dol won the fourth game. It is not clear to me why, in a "best of five" series, a fourth game would be played at all after three losses.

Reuters makes it a little clearer.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Barry Goldwater (1964) and Donald Trump (2016)

Thinking about the dust storm today that surrounds the presidential primaries, I remembered an old drawing that showed up on the Army bulletin board where I worked in 1964. Arizona senator Barry Goldwater had been prepared to take on an old friend, John F. Kennedy, but after Kennedy was assassinated, he was confronted by President Lyndon B. Johnson. As the picture depicts, Goldwater was sometimes viewed as a dangerous and rigid Republican.

And yet reading the news clips that were saved nearby this picture I tucked into my journal, there was a seriousness and civility to the media coverage of the time. Goldwater was a Nazi and worse in some vocabularies, but he didn't lack thought. The raucous rancor and lack of specificity of a Donald Trump had not yet borne fruit.

Here's a snippet (click to enlarge) of one New York Times article from July 1964:

artificial intelligence bests real intelligence

A computer program has beaten a master Go player 3-0 in a best-of-five competition, in what is seen as a landmark moment for artificial intelligence.
Google's AlphaGo program was playing against Lee Se-dol in Seoul, in South Korea.
Mr Lee had been confident he would win before the competition started.
Does this mean AI is now smarter than us and will kill us mere humans? Certainly not. AlphaGo doesn't care if it wins or loses. It doesn't even care if it plays and it certainly couldn't make you a cup of tea after the game. Does it mean that AI will soon take your job? Possibly you should be more worried about that. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

the once and future news room

Had a chance to read this article in The Nation while sitting in the dentist's office today. It's pretty good and resonates, for me, with a sadness that is both personal and impersonal:

These Journalists Dedicated Their Lives to Telling Other People’s Stories. What Happens When No One Wants to Print Their Words Anymore?

As newsrooms disappear, veteran reporters are being forced from the profession. That’s bad for journalism—and democracy.


Harmony of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship, has begun its first sea trial in western France.
Thousands of people gathered to watch in the port of Saint-Nazaire as the 70m (230ft) high vessel was guided out to sea by six tugs on Thursday.
The €1bn (£783m; $1.1bn) ship is being built for the Royal Caribbean International (RCI) cruise company.
Migrants try to get products from a truck at a makeshift camp on the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, Greece March 10, 2016. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Thursday, March 10, 2016

hawk reads the menu

At first I thought perhaps it was just one of those health glitches that insert themselves into the new normal of getting older. I was reading the paper on the porch when, in my peripheral vision, a shadow passed ... once, twice, three times. Maybe it was just a leaf on the warm breeze of the day.

But when it happened yet again, I stood up, opened the porch door and scanned the skies. And there, across the street, perched in a tree with an elegance of the Taj Mahal, was a red-tailed hawk. S/he took off, even as I looked, and proceeded to do a low-altitude cruise up and down my block. S/he was perhaps 10 feet above the roof tops, which is to say, something higher than 60 feet. Usually, the neighborhood hawks fly much higher over the nearby corn fields. What was it s/he was scouting at such a low level? "Lunch" was my bet, but what lunch?

And then I saw them at the end of the street -- the chickens of Valley Street. They were clustered together, three or four of them, and were pecking absently on a bit of lawn.  Would the hawk even challenge a chicken? A rat or mouse or mole is a manageable meal, but a chicken?

Slowly, the B-52 that was the hawk swam up and down the street. The chickens pecked in apparent unawareness. The hawk was beautiful and grand. The chickens are a constituency that helps to make my street a wonderful venue. Would the innocent fall victim to the hungry? The story line gained steam in my mind.

And then I had to run an errand and left the scene behind. When I returned, I looked at where the ladies of Valley Street had convened. There was no blood. There were no feathers. And the ambling chickens were no longer in place.

Gone too was the power and glory of the hawk.

Ah well ... another day, perhaps, and the story may finally write itself.

In the meantime, I am pleased to live in dramatic times.