Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Closing Out

In a few hours it'll be 2014. Used to be I looked forward with at least some anticipation to the coming year. Can't say that I do anymore. Mainly, I think, because I don't really see a way out of the spiral of worsening mediocrity the country is in. Some examples that I've gleaned from an article recently in truthout. It chronicles the "Are You Serious?" Awards for 2013. These are global awards. I'm just citing some U.S. samples:
Creative Solutions Award to the Third Battalion of the 41st U.S. Infantry Division for its innovative solution on how to halt sporadic attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Zhare District: it blew up a hill that the insurgents used as cover.
This tactic could potentially be a major job creator because there are lots of hills in Afghanistan. And after the U.S. Army blows them all up, it can take on those really big things: mountains.
Runner up in this category is Col. Thomas W. Collins, for his inventive solution on how to explain a sharp rise in Taliban attacks in 2013. The U.S. military published a detailed bar graphs indicating insurgent attacks had declined by 7 percent, but, when the figure was challenged by the media, the Army switched to the mushroom strategy (i.e., kept in the dark and fed manure): “We’re just not giving out statistics anymore,” Col. Collins told the Associated Press.

Independent sources indicate that attacks were up 40 percent over last year, with the battlegrounds shifting from the south of Afghanistan to the east and north.
 The White Man’s Burden Award goes to retired U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and an expert on counterinsurgency warfare. McChrystal told the Associated Press that the Afghans don’t really want the U.S. to withdraw, because they are “Like a teenager, you really don’t want your parents hanging around you, but…you like to know if things go bad, they’re going to help.” The General went on to say the U.S. needed to stay because “We have an emotional responsibility” to the Afghans.
The Broad Side of the Barn Award to the Obama administration for spending an extra $1 billion to expand the $34 billion U.S. anti-ballistic missile system (ABM) in spite of the fact that the thing can’t hit, well, the broad side of a barn. The last test of the ABM was in July, when, according to the Pentagon, “An intercept was not achieved.” No surprise there. The ABM hasn’t hit a target since 2008.

The $1 billion will be used to add 14 interceptors to the 30 already deployed in Alaska and California.
The Golden Lemon Award once again goes to Lockheed Martin (with a tip of the hat to sub-contractors Northrop Grumman, BAE, L-3 Communications, United Technologies Corp., and Honeywell) for “shoddy” work on the F-35 stealth fighter, the most expensive weapons system in U.S. History. The plane—already 10 years behind schedule and 100 percent over budget—has vacuumed up $395.7 billion, and will eventually cost $1.5 trillion.

A Pentagon study, according to Agence France Presse, “cited 363 problems in the design and manufacture of the costly Joint Strike Fighter, the hi-tech warplane that is supposed to serve as the backbone of the future American fleet.”

The plane has difficulty performing at night or in bad weather, and is plagued with a faulty oxygen supply system, fuselage cracks and unexplained “hot spots.” Its software is also a problem, in part because it is largely untested. “Without adequate product evaluation of mission system software,” the Pentagon found, “Lockheed Martin cannot ensure aircraft safety requirements are met.”

Monday, December 30, 2013

Good Gracious . . .

Just when you are thinking about how to wrap up a year with a lot of bad news in it, you stumble across a miracle like this:

She's from Holland, and she's 9 years old. You can catch another video of her here. By the way, she's never had a singing lesson in her life.

Friday, December 20, 2013

How Shabby is the Media?

How shabby is the media? Well, I've got a quiz for you today that might suggest an answer. Maybe some of you will do well, most of you, like me, probably won't do all that well. The quiz is identify the source of the following quotations. The source will always be a major American newspaper. Keep asking yourself as you go: just how bad is the right wing media in this country?
  1. “It is not a crime to make stupid mistakes, and much of what happened in the years before the financial crisis was more foolish than venal.” 
  2.  Front-page identification of the rollout of the affordable care act as "Obama's Katrina."
  3. Editorial downplaying the retirement crisis and saying that social security is more a burden on the young people than a vital safeguard. Mocked a proposed bill to increase social security benefits
  4. "People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children.”
  5. “It’s not our job to inform viewers when Republicans lie.”
Source: here

Answers: (1) New York Times--Are you kidding me? That Wall Street skullduggery, which by the way continues, wasn't criminal, just stupid mistakes? (2) New York Times, again. Total government failure with Katrina and problems with a complex computer program rollout? Not even close. (3) Washington Post editorial. (4) "liberal" Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. Define "conventional views" please. (5) Chuck Todd, NBC News political director. Whose job is it, pray tell to blow the whistle on lying politicians of any party?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's a Go

It was pretty much all good news this morning. First, I really liked the doc. His name is Lyle Toal, a good ole Oklahoma boy, bigger around than I am. He made everything real clear and conveyed the distinct nothing-to-worry-about air. I'll just give you the outline of it: the aneurism of first concern is smaller than the initial estimate of size. Doctor said he would not even operate on it, but would rather keep his eye on it. But they found another aneurism, lower down in a smaller artery that needs fixing "early" to save the artery from possible loss if we waited till later. This one is what concerns the doc.
So we've got a date for the operation that will fix both these aneurisms: January 23 at nine in the a.m., about a month away. It will take about three hours, and I'll be in the hospital overnight, that's all.

Susan is just overjoyed. She has been real worried. Not to mention the fact that now we're going to get to travel to Louisiana as planned originally for the holidays.

And I have to confess, I'm feeling better about the whole thing myself.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Slacking Off

I'm not much in the mood for blogging. I've got nothing on my mind but this appointment with the surgeon tomorrow. I'm not as worried as I was before, because the prospect of having the guy who's going to do this tell me what's up is exactly what I need. More later.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Utterly Amazing

You have to check this out. When you open the link, slide down a little to see the .gif run. Sorry for all the extraneous stuff that comes with the URL. I could not figure how to get rid of it.

This gif of a microscopic bacterium is the most amazing thing you’ll see today

Once you’ve picked yourself up off the floor in amazement, you’ll probably want to know exactly what you’re looking at in this image.

At the final stop in this gif, which magnifies many times, is a tiny bacterium, which is resting on a diatom, (a class of algae that are known for their silica shells), which is sitting on an amphipod, a type of shell-less crustacean.

We think that Reddit user adamwong246 described it best:

There’s a bacterium on a diatom on an amphipod on a frog on a bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea!

The animated gif was made by James Tyrwhitt-Drake using a scanning electronic microscope at the University of Victoria’s Advanced Microscopy Facility.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It's Been Too Heavy

It's been too heavy this last few days. Time for a change of gears. This little chickadee is on an e-harmony video, one of those dating sites. You would not know it to look at her, but she's got an MBA from Villanova. Now if I were a young single guy, I'd be interested in what she had to say.
Can't say I'd remain interested for too long . . . Watch.  Post by Shocking Videos.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

RIP Nelson Mandela

There was a big ole memorial service today in Johannesburg to honor the memory of Nelson Mandela--he will lie in state and be buried on Sunday--a hero of conscience, a person who stood out and will be celebrated and remembered for his willingness to forgive. The flood of tributes that have poured in from every corner of the world since his death last week is a testament to the way common humanity recognizes uncommon humanity.

Mandela may have been a political prisoner for a large chunk of his life, he may have been a revolutionary who didn't eschew violence against his oppressors, he may have been a symbol for the aspirations of the oppressed all over the world. All of these things, but first and foremost a human being of great heart and soul, a man who forgave his enemies. What a power that is! The power to touch the souls of other people, it doesn't matter who they are. And it's the cold human soul that doesn't respond to such a witness with joy because of the recognition of what it really means to be a human being, and the love and commonality that links us all as brothers and sisters on this planet. Alas, we have far too few such witnesses.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Praying All the Time

This is Richard Rohr, whom I've talked about and quoted before.
Prayer is largely just being silent: holding the tension instead of even talking it through, offering the moment instead of fixing it by words and ideas, loving reality as it is instead of understanding it fully. Prayer is commonly a willingness to say “I don’t know.” We must not push the river, we must just trust that we are already in the river, and God is the certain flow and current.
I really love the "willingness to say 'I don't know'". Never thought of this being a prayer. If that's the case, then I'm praying all the time!

I guess in my heart of hearts somehow I realized that what I always perceived as mystery would remain so as I got older. But commonly I'll tell people that I'm surprised at the amount of confusion and befuddlement that attends this aging process. What I'm saying is, "I guess not really." It's just sort of a different flavor and vibe to it now. Somehow the "I don't know" seems . . . well, right. The way it's supposed to be. I'm afraid in my case, though, it leads to an overage of contempt, rather than sympathetic understanding, of all those people out there who think they've got it figured out. Even allowing for the fakers--those who act like they've got it figured out, but don't--that still leaves millions upon millions who go to preposterous lengths to defend their own certainties.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Going to Church

It's something that I do most Sundays. Church has always been for me about community, and that's what draws me back to it almost any week. I simply want to be with people I know and whom I've grown to love because I know them as people, their insides, who they are and how they hurt and what makes them laugh. It matters not to me how old they are or where they've been or come from, what color they are, or what kind of sexual life they lead. It's enough that they have a view of the Christian journey similar to mine. That would be one that's fraught with mystery and questions. Many, many more questions than answers. Even the question of how to proceed as a Christian--what does a Christian, a follower of Jesus, do in this world so full of suffering and injustice, so torn by hatred and violence, so twisted by greed, ignorance, and selfishness? And what's the course for old guys like me? Wondering even today why I've done so little to foster the gospel I have professed to believe most of my life.

So I go to church on Sundays and kind of hunker down with that little intrepid band that would understand such quandaries, even if they could not offer resounding answers for me. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Big "So What?"

A few days ago my blogger friend Montag had some comments about the readers of his blog, about he was anxious to have people read his stuff when he was "much younger." And now, I take it, he doesn't care that much. Got me to thinking about readers. Actually, I don't have to think that long, because I don't have many readers. And I think to myself: ya know, it'd be great to have hundreds of people wanting to know what I was saying and thinking on any given day, but then I'm brought up by the thought: why? Suppose that were the case. What would be different? What would change? Nothing really. People like Nelson Mandela and Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther King alter the seemingly inexorable arc of history, but if we take a moment to consider, we have to ask how much that arc has been altered by the lives of great and terrible people?

I think not much. We on a wheel of life and death: the only variant being how long we're on it before spinning off into the unknown. Great people and terrible people can momentarily affect the course of the lives of millions of people, who all eventually are swallowed up into the ultimate fate of everyone. The great and terrible can surely affect the quality of these millions' lives, but ultimately to whom does it matter but the persons themselves and those who love them? And to whom does it matter years, centuries, millennia later? What connects me to the victims of Attila or the medieval plagues or a machine gun bullet at Passchendaele or a passenger on the Titanic who went down with the ship in the frigid Atlantic, or the Muslim some Hindu murdered in India in 1947? Why, nothing at all, you might say, and you'd be right. Or you may say something like, participation in the common tragedy of existence, and you would be right also. Or you might see these long gone, long slaughtered or martyred people as intimately connected with the life that is yours, brothers and sisters in the swirl of the great mystery, as much a part of your life and you are of theirs.

I think it must be something like that, or it's just a big "so what?" and either writing or reading blogs is an absurd waste of time.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mourn We the Passing of Great Men

A one-of-a-kind man has died: Nelson Mandela, the father of modern South Africa, has finally passed on. He was 95 years old, and the world has been waiting for him to die for several years as we've witnessed his declining health. I join with a huge mass of people all over the world who mourn the passing of a great and good man. Mandella stood tall against racism, the apartheid system of minority white racial domination that made virtual serfs of the majority black population of the country. A blotch on the face of the world, not just the country of South Africa, this system held sway only by violence and cruelty.

Mandella fought it, at the point of his arrest he was the militant leader of the militant African National Congress (ANC). But his arrest put him out of sight and behind thick stone walls for 27 years, and during that time the man became the great man. Contemplation and solitude brought him to the realization that the only way to peace and harmony was the practice of peace and harmony, i.e., non-violent protest and the forgiveness of enemies. So this good man put both these into practice upon his release from prison and enroute to the presidency of his country. As prominent virtue always is, his actions transformed his country and made him a hero for millions.

But the racist outcry has already begun. The aspersions on the man: that he was a terrorist, a communist, a dangerous radical. Are you surprised?  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Faded Away

My daughter posted this on Facebook and it caught my eye. Interesting list. Notice how many of these things here are victims of digital technology. Maybe I'm fading into obsolescence because some of these things don't seem so weird to me. On this list, for example, bookstore (I go to 'em.), cursive (I was amazed to learn that kids don't learn it in school anymore), grammar (Are you kidding me?), ink (I habitually use a fountain pen, the only civilized way to write), newspaper (read one on paper every day), quality (it can still be found if you look for it), and zip code (I still do first class mail) still resonate with me to a greater or lesser degree. 

But when you think about it, there are just bunches of things that have faded away and out of our lives. How about general courtesy to others? Manners? Courteous truck drivers? Sensible packaging? Independent grocers? Reasons to trust politicians, bankers, businessmen, clergy? Something other than mindless drivel passed off as news? 

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Much Madness . . .

Sorry to lay a poem on you for two days in a row, but this one is by a far superior poet. I had never before encountered this poem by the incomparable Emily until today. And I was really thunderclapped by it. I can remember thinking throughout my life: what if all the crazy people are really the ones who are sane? What would that mean?

435 Much Madness is divinest Sense   by Emily Dickinson

Much Madness is divinest Sense —
To a discerning Eye —
Much Sense — the starkest Madness —
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail —
Assent — and you are sane —
Demur — you're straightway dangerous —
And handled with a Chain —

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What Is This Weight?

My most recent poem.

What Is This Weight?

Not like being on the bottom of a pile
of sweaty guys at the goal line. Or carrying
a stout box on your back. More annoyance,
but slight, a pressure oozing the oil
out of an olive, slowly, a drop at a time.

What’s this smell, lying like a light fog
over the fields at dawn? A whiff of rot
perfumed in subtle shades of rustic rust,
something swirled from a heap of tarnished
detritus, half shiny in the dampness.

And this disquieting chill snaking
into every crevice, every nook, every bone,
a silent shiver that bores like the point
of a pick between molars that glisten white
and strong, marred only by old crowns?

Monday, December 2, 2013


It stands for abdominal aorta aneurism, and I've got one, as I discovered today. You can read all about it at the link. I'll give you the long and the short of it. It ain't good to have one of these things, and they are going to have to fix it. Major surgery.

This thing was discovered by accident. Off some X-rays of my lower back which were being taken for another reason obviously.

Now, I've had lap-band surgery, and I've had my tonsils and my appendix taken out, and I've had my cataracts removed. But compared to what fixing this problem entails, all those things kinda fade into a minor pastel. This damn thing is a day-glo color. I have to confess to being concerned about this. The doctors don't have the same urgency . . . I have a test on Friday, an appointment a week later with the cardiologist, and then on the following Tuesday a CAT scan of my belly, followed by an appointment with the heart surgeon, the guy who's going to do the fixing. When that will happen is anybody's guess.

In the meantime, I'm left to fret and not do anything "strenuous." I don't like this. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Old Home Town

Oh, they be so broad-minded and accepting there in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I spent my late high school and college years and beyond. Where my wife's family, or rather a substantial portion of it still resides, one of my brothers and my mom, and where we're gonna be for Christmas this year. Home of the LSU Tigers and all that. Well, I'm surprised to learn that the white southern portion of town has proposed seceding from the rest of the city of Baton Rouge and renaming itself "St. George" (extraneous side note: when I was in grad school at LSU, Susan, Tanya, and I lived in a little subdivision called "Village St. George" and Tanya went to St. George Elementary School.). And they're circulating a petition in the proposed area to get the measure on the ballot. I'll give you one guess as to the majority in the part of town that will remain "Baton Rouge." Gold star if you said: majority of black and poor people.

I didn't even know such a thing was possible. But in Louisiana, anything is possible, especially if it has the tint of stink about it. I'll keep ya posted on developments.

Source which includes a video with maps and various people talking about the petition. Purportedly it's basically about the school districts.