Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pun Intended

Half a life is
better than none;
They will need you
till you're done.
Then you're sliced
and quite consumed;
crumb trails follow
from your tomb.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What To Believe

A well-known golfer has reported that he needs to return to the Buddhist teachings that he learned as a child.  This return, he believes, will assist him in his efforts to restore his standing with his family and the society in which he lives.  If only it were that simple.
It might be more useful to explore why and how he left those Buddhist principles.  The problem may not be what to believe, but how.
There is no lack of systems or programs for people to follow in order to stay on the correct moral path.  We have the teachings of the classics, the fables of Aesop, the parables of Jesus, the Ten Commandments. 
We even have the 10 Cowboy Commandments, by Gene Autry.  A good cowboy:
1.  must not take unfair advantage of an enemy.
2.  must never go back on his word.
3.  must always tell the truth.
4.  must be gentle with children, elderly people and animals.
5.  must not possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
6.  must help people in distress.
7.  must be a good worker.
8.  must respect women, parents and his nation's laws.
9.  must neither drink nor smoke.
10.  must be a patriot.

That's a worthy set of instructions for holding to the social covenant.
No, the real problem for this golfer, for each of us, is not what to believe, but how. 
Henry David Thoreau wrote "It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil." 
That's a start.  Somehow, in the mashing messiness of daily life fueled by steroidal thought and tremendous economic pressures, each of us must stay attuned to the inner voice which calls from the past and says "Hold on.  This is not what you promised to do or be."
I am no student of Buddhist teachings.  I have read a little on the subject and the most apparent quality of it seems to be the concept of not craving things or attachments outside one's self.  That is a difficult task.  There are so many wonderful and exciting things that are desirable.
I believe this golfer's road to the future was split into two paths from the start.  Believe the Buddha and be the greatest golfer in the world.  Those two objectives seem incompatible.  A good place to begin his quest.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Changing America (cont'd)

When I was in military service in the early 1950's, I had a good buddy who told me that his favorite movie was "Meet John Doe".  Several of us were discussing the affairs of the world when this admission was made.
I had never heard of the movie but found out later that it was the capstone of Hollywood's love songs to "the little guy", the John Does of the world.

Scroll ahead fifty years.  This buddy and I have renewed acquaintance through letters.  In one of them, he reports the experience of picking up a hitchhiker in Colorado who looked like someone living on the road.  Apparently this hitchhiker complained about how tough it was to get ahead.  He told my friend that he needed a D battery to operate a light he owned but could not find any store which sold less than two batteries in a pack.  The hiker was disturbed by this.  He could not afford to spend money for something he didn't need, and he thought it was greedy to require that people be made to do so.
My buddy commiserated with him, but in his letter to me he commented that the poor guy hadn't caught up with the philosophy of Milton Friedman and the importance of profit.
Wow, I thought, you met John Doe and didn't know it.
I think this story serves as a good example of the change of cultural attitudes in America in the last half of the 20th century.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Most Perfect Day In The World

In his autobiography "All The Strange Hours",   Loren Eiseley has a chapter called The Most Perfect Day In The World.  When he was riding the rails in the early 1930's, he found himself sitting on an empty loading platform by a water tower on a warm autumn afternoon with three other men whom he did not know.  He notes that the situation was ordinary but the experience, in a subjective form, was totally his, "severed from time and reality". 
"Every man", he writes, "must treasure such a day into which he can retreat when the years grow desperate."
Fortunately, I had such a day and, now that the years grow more and more desperate, I have a special place to go.  I relate it here.

In 1944, my brother, Alan, and I lived on a small rural homestead in southeastern New York State.  In the late Spring of that year, when he was 9 and I was 10, we were exploring fields and woods near out home.  Alan's dog, Gus, was with us.  Gus was a fine non-neutered male dog of the American Staffordshire Terrier breed.
After a time, we came upon a lowland expanse of thick brush about six or seven feet high.  It was completely covered with green leaves and appeared impassable.  But Gus disappeared into this forbidding looking small forest so we followed.  To our surprise, we found that we could see for some distance.  Thin black woody stems rose about five or six feet with a thick crown of leaves that formed a canopy.   The ground was damp and spongy and littered with sticks.  We looked around, pleased with what we saw.  We were inside the envelope of a separate place, unseen by the world outside.  We were in a magical place.
One of us picked up a stick and threw it.  Gus chased it down and picked it up, then stood there looking at us.  Bring it here, Gus, but the dog didn't move.  My brother went toward the dog who began to trot away.  Alan gave chase and I headed away at an angle to drive Gus back to my brother.  It worked.  Alan got the stick and threw it again and, again, the dog retrieved the stick and moved away.  And again we gave chase and repeated the game.
And so it went.  Two boys and a dog playing a running game.  Throw.  Chase.  Yelp.  Bark.  Laughter.  Shout.  Throw. Catch. Chase.  Over and over, on and on it seemed forever.
There was release of animal spirits, complete unfettered freedom of joy and play.  We seemed  to reach a state where there were not two species. 
Probably Gus tired first.  He stopped to sit and rest, his tongue lolling from the side of his mouth.
Alan and I had stopped.  We looked at each other, eyes bright with excitement.
Boy, that was fun.  Yeah, and Gus, he was perfect.  And so he was.  And so were we.  And so was the day.
I recognize that this experience, on the surface, is very ordinary and not uncommon.  But we, the three of us, transcended that.  This was, as I say, magical.  There was special connection of brain waves and heart rhythm that made us glow.
Nothing that I have ever seen, felt, or done has matched the perfect happiness of that day. 

On the back of this photo, in our grandmother's handwriting is written:
taken July 1944"
My brother is on the right.

Monday, February 8, 2010

TV For Thinkers

In the August 2000 edition of the Palm Beach Post, there appeared  a small ad for a TV show that was so over-the-top that I had to cut it out to save it (and savor it).  Here it is:

Bash ( Showtime, Monday, 8 P.M.)
Calista Flockhart, Paul Rudd and Rod Eldard star in three dramatic monologues by writer-diretor Neil LaBute that artfully and thoughtfully plumb the depths of modern-day depravity and despair.

No comment necessary.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Media Misconduct

In colonial America, the Puritans used stocks to punish transgressors of what passed for anti-social behavior at that time.  The offender was taken to the village green where his head and hands were put between a two-piece yoke.  The yoke was locked down and the unfortunate party was left exposed to public humiliation for an extended period of time.
Today there is a very different method for punishing those who offend the taste of the social arbiters of America, said arbiters being the media, the pundits, the bloviators, the gasbags, and yes, I dare say, the assholes who pollute the airways with their views and news.
Today the offender's face is on the TV screen.  Sitting in our living rooms we can watch the punishment, shame, and embarassment as the tape of the transgressions is played repeatedly.  Old transgressions committed years ago are shown again and they talk of 'a pattern here'.
When a question is raised about the propriety of these activities, the defenders state that the reporters are asking "legitimate questions".  I wonder about that expression.  What is a 'legitimate' question?  For that matter, what is an 'illegitimate' question?  Anyone?  Anyone?
Over the past few decades, the Media has grown in power and influence.
Today when a movie is released, the major stars sit for an entire day to be interviewed either in person, by telephone, or via closed circuit TV in 20 to 30 minute segments with "Entertainment Reporters" all around the country.   These appearances are mandatory.
In the sport of tennis, when a match is completed the players go to a press room and sit to be questioned by reporters about their game, their feelings about the game, their health, their mood, etc, etc, etc.   These press appearances are mandatory subject to fines if not done.
As a rule most questions are insipid and boring and useless.  The answers are tiresome cliches and boring.  Why wouldn't they be?

The best that reporters can hope for is that someone will get upset and make a 'gaffe'.  (Oh how they love that word.)  When a gaffe is made, the Media smell blood and move to feed on it like the parasites they are.

Poem for February e. e. cummings

For this month of Valentines, I chose a poem by e. e. cummings.

if i have made, my lady, intricate
imperfect various things chiefly which wrong
your eyes(frailer than most deep dreams are frail)
songs less firm than your body's whitest song
upon my mind-if i have failed to snare
the glance too shy-if through my singing slips
the very skillful strangeness of your smile
the keen primeval silence of your hair

-let the world say "his most wise music stole
nothing from death"-

you only will create
(who are so perfectly alive)my shame:
lady through whose profound and fragile lips
the sweet small clumsy feet of April came

into the ragged meadow of my soul.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Hurt Locker - A Review

Last night we saw the movie "The Hurt Locker", a film that has been nominated for some honors.
The story follows the activities of American soldiers in Iraq whose job is the defusing of roadside bombs, IED's, and other explosives problems.
Let me get right to the review.  The directing is competent but ordinary, and time transitions are badly handled.
The acting is above average but the characters are either stereotypes or caricatures so acting doesn't save the movie.
But what bothered me most was that the action was not plausible.  The sergeant in charge of the three man team is emotionally supercharged and behaves in such a way as to endanger the team as well as himself.  His conduct is never reviewed by a superior officer.  Indeed, the team seems to live and work in a bubble of their own making and do not have to answer to any higher authority.  There is no oversight, and apparently there are no other teams working in the same area.
In the first part of the movie we are shown a robot which is used to help reduce danger for the men who do this dangerous work.  After the first incident, we never see the robot used again..
No reason given for that, but we can see that the new team leader is a hot dog who not only approaches live bomb sites without the robot but also without a helmet, and once even without his heavy armor.  
This can make for an exciting movie if you are not a veteran or if you have a limited amount of life experience.  Otherwise one recognizes the action as faked and forced and is required to condemn the film as defective anti-war propaganda. 
That's really too bad because this is a war to be condemned and what is happening to our soldiers in the real world is a travesty of sanity and justice.

Monday, February 1, 2010

On The Making of Lists

There are two very popular subjects (which are also pastimes) that I find useless, and even destructive in a passive way.

They are the Lists Of Ten Best this or that and, a corollary, the naming of the Best Novel of the Year, or the Best Actor, or Best Movie, or Best Play. All these choices and decisions are subjective. There are standards applied, of course, and often a committee or board of nominating peers make the selections based on their expertise and knowledge. But personal taste and bias play a role, whether admitted or not.

Certainly, for the general public, the choices are received solely in terms of one’s subjective response. “Oh”, one will say, “that was the best book of the year”. But another will say, “No way. Many books were better than that one. I don’t know how it got nominated.”

Recently there were many lists of different kinds due to the end of both a year (2009) and a decade (the Noughts). This timely occasion produced scores of lists in the newspapers, magazines, websites, and blogs.

The Ten Best Movies of the Year. The Ten Worst Movies of the Year. The Ten Best Movies of the Decade. The Ten Worst Movies of the Decade. And so it went on and on for category after category. You get the picture.

I realize that these lists and contests are marketing tools designed to keep the public interested and increase sales. Other than the resultant cheapening of our intellectual life, there is nothing wrong with that.

However, an outgrowth of this was the appearance of a plethora of lists on various blogs that made the process look absurd. These lists tended to be in the literary field because books are the main subject of many blogs.

So we were treated to the Five Best Spy Novels, Five Best Crime Novels, Five Best Novels about teachers, Five Best Novels about faith, Five Best Novels about War, and so on and on and on.

These blogs of which I write are managed by educated and intelligent people with very good minds. Nearly everything that appears on their blogs is rewarding and useful. So I commented to one blog and expressed my opinion about lists. The response from the blogger and some of his readers was that they knew this very well, but they found the making of these lists enjoyable and felt it created situations for discussion that would increase sociability.

So there it was again. I held the correct opinion but the wrong position. I didn’t see opportunities for socializing. Well, that’s true. But, then, I can’t remember when I ever did.

I should do something about that.  I'll put it on the list.