Recently in human behavior Category

Running another Philadelphia marathon

| No Comments

I never expected this. For over 20 years I was a typical jogger, going out two or three times a week for about four miles at a leisurely pace. With no goal other than fitness and enjoyment, I was unconcerned about going farther or faster. Suddenly I was 55 years old and lacing up my shoes for my fifth marathon.

It started in the winter of 2008, when a friend with marathon experience invited me to join him for a half marathon in Central Park, and I discovered that I enjoyed running nonstop for two hours. The idea of a marathon, hitherto almost inconceivable, became attractive. In the fall of that same year I ran Philly in 3:51, and loved it. I had the appropriate attitude of humility and respect for the distance, running a disciplined, well-regulated race the likes of which, ironically, I haven't been able to match ever since.

Next was New York in 2009. By now I had moved to South Orange and fell in with a delightful gang of experienced, enthusiastic, and talented distance runners known as The South Mountain Running Collective. I became ambitious, and wanted to meet the Boston qualifying standard of 3:35. Like a fool, I went out too fast, and had to struggle and suffer to hang on over the last 10K, attaining the goal with only seconds to spare. Going out too fast is the classic mistake in distance running, though you might think it would not be so difficult to avoid.

But this performance got me to Boston in 2011, where I repeated the same error, albeit not as drastically: another positive split, but I beat my goal of 3:20 by five seconds, and easily qualified again for Boston in 2012. (Runners call it a negative split where the second half of a race is faster than the first, and it is well established that it is far more effective than the reverse.)

And how could I resist going back to Boston again? I could not, and trained with a view to another personal record (or PR, which is also a verb in runnerspeak) of about 3:17. But the temperatures were in the high 80s that day in April. We were forced to revise our plans and focus on simple survival. Hence my disappointing 3:43, 13 minutes short of Boston qualification (BQ) for my age group.

By now I was thinking it might be nice to get off the crazy train. Marathon training is a time- and energy-consuming pain in the ass, and try though we might to keep it tucked away in its own discreet little compartment, it inevitably has an impact on other people in our lives. And sometimes those people don't like it. But could I really go out like that, credible excuse notwithstanding? With a 3:43?

No. In November 2013 I was back in Philadelphia again to settle accounts with the marathon gods. This time, however, the training cycle had been more challenging. It is not unusual to encounter setbacks of some kind during 20 weeks of training. Sickness, injuries, family dramas, the demands of work — in short, life — sometimes interfere. I had successfully navigated through bronchitis, a death in the family, and other challenges in previous training cycles. But this time injuries cost me a week and a half in August and several more days in October, and I was not able to get all the mileage I would have liked.

Even so, when I walked up to the line, I felt fit to run a successful marathon. The key workouts in the final stage of training had gone well. My injuries had subsided, the weather was fine, even my pre-race jitters seemed noticeably less severe than in the past. This time I did not have a fixed, specific goal. I thought 3:15 was conceivable, but decided anything up to 3:17:30 would be acceptable. And I had a plan, known as 10 + 10 + 10: go out relatively conservatively for the first 10 miles, i.e., at a 3:17:30 pace; pick it by a few seconds per mile for the next 10 miles; and for the last 10K, be in a position to pick up the pace even more, possibly enough to get me there in 3:15.

Once we got underway, embarrassing though it is to admit, I am not really sure what I was thinking. I do recall making a conscious effort to hold back initially. Over the first mile, traffic was congested, and I decided to go with it rather than fight. My first mile was a 7:42, but that was perfectly OK. A slow start was desirable; there was plenty of time to make it up.

For the next 18 miles or so, it seemed that nobody was in charge. The data on my GPS watch says that mile 2 was 7:18; mile 3, 7:08. For miles 4 and 5 I dialed it back to 7:24, but that was still about 8 seconds per mile too fast. The next few miles included a couple of moderate ones, and my average pace for the first 10 was around 7:30. The pushing and pulling continued over the second 10 miles, but the average overall was around 7:25 — consistent with the overall plan, yes, but too late because I had already blown too much energy in the first 10. By around mile 17 or 18 I was still feeling OK, but tired enough to predict that after 20 miles it was going to be hard to maintain the pace. Miles 22 to 25 were 7:40, 7:44, 7:48, 7:56, 7:55.

Crossing 26 with the crowds screaming encouragement, I was able to pick it up to a 6:53 pace, but over the last 10K I averaged about 7:48 and came in at 3:17:23. (The gory details are published at

This marathon experience was different from the previous two in which I was seriously trying to reach a goal. In New York, the last 10K were hellish, but my addled mind had enough command of the numbers to understand that I would meet the BQ threshold if and only if I ran like hell. This motivated me to fight hard against the fatigue. The same was true in Boston in 2011: I knew the 3:20 mark was still within reach, but I had to dig. In this race, the goal was comparatively vague: sub-3:17:30, hopefully something closer to 3:15. For the last 10K I felt fatigue, but it wasn't especially painful — I simply couldn't convince myself to run faster. But I also felt pretty sure that the 3:17:30, and certainly the PR, was in the bag. That complacency probably hurt my cause; a bit of drama, pressure and anxiety might have provided helpful motivation.

3:17:23 represents a PR by over two minutes, and a Boston qualifier with over 22 minutes to spare; it was also good enough for 16th place among 319 men in the 55-59 age group. Maybe I ought to be happy with that. And although I am not completely disappointed with the bottom line, I am pretty disgusted with myself for not having better discipline. The objective numbers demonstrate that I had the fitness; the subjective experience of how smoothly the whole 26.2 went by, weak finish nothwithstanding, confirms it. I am almost certain I was physically prepared to run at least one, maybe even as much as two minutes faster. But I positive-split it by 1:22 and squandered this splendid opportunity.

Why is it so hard to slow down in those early miles? For me, I think one problem — if it can be considered a problem — is that proper marathon training really works. On race day you are fit, tuned up, but also tapered and rested — not to mention jacked up with the excitement. When the gun goes off and you start running, it is extremely difficult to believe that running can feel this easy and still be fast enough. It seems like you should be exerting at least a little bit. Even the minutes and seconds your watch displays at the mile markers do not convince. So, for me, the lesson is: believe it, bitch. It may even be that I could run a faster marathon next time by setting out to run it slower. Then there might be enough gas in the tank at the end to finish strong enough to get a better result.

Wait — did I just say next time? Uh, yeah, I guess I did. Which brings us back to where we started. I said I never expected to be running marathons, much less running them this fast. I said I would like to get off the crazy train, and maybe I will. But it isn't easy. When you're an athlete, you enjoy the challenge of seeing how well you can do, so you keep trying. Eventually the inevitable effects of age overcome the positive effects of training, but that's no reason to give up prematurely. Another factor is that running marathons (and shorter races as well) is really cool, and fun, and profoundly rewarding. It gets into your bones and becomes part of your identity: you're a runner. What's the use of trying to be anybody else?

for Victor (1918-2011)

| No Comments

in the dead man's closet
trying on his clothes
not bad

Back pain, bane of human existence

| No Comments

I wrenched the holy fuck out of my lower back while getting into the car to drive my daughter to school last Friday morning. That simple act seems to have triggered it, but an accumulation of insults must have contributed. I had never had a back experience quite so bad in my 50-plus years. I could barely walk, and had to miss a couple days of work. I could not dress myself without assistance, and was only just able to maintain that essential, minimal autonomy and independence: lower myself onto the toilet to take a shit, and wipe my own ass.

The back is hard to ignore, being right in the center of the body, the hub of everything: arms, legs, head. For the first day or two or three, I tried to be tough. Pain? Fuck pain, I can deal with it. But after about four or five days of it, when you are stiffly shuffling around in your bathrobe, staring out the window at the rain falling from the quiet gray sky... then you understand how a person could get depressed.

I had planned to run a local 5K race Saturday morning, even indulging fantasies of winning my age group. Indeed, the guy who did win it is an acquaintance, and his pace was 2 seconds per mile slower than my last 5K, on August 14. There would have been a dramatic battle to the finish line! (I could have this, I would have that --- yeah, so go into a bar and brag about "could have" and see how many people you impress.) Instead, as runners were milling about the starting area, I was struggling just to get from bed to toilet, taking tiny baby steps, gasping and holding the walls for support.

Debilitating injury and pain get to us for any number of compelling reasons, but foremost among them is that such episodes are prefigurations of our eventual, inevitable death. Yeah you heard me: one of these days you are gonna go down and stay down, and your life will end. We should regard these illnesses and pains of our decaying bodies as opportunities to reflect on impermanence.

And yet there is a hilariously comical element mixed into this mess. A couple of times I burst out laughing at my predicament, stuck somewhere in the middle of a room, unable to stand still, unable to move forward. The vibrations from the laughter made my back hurt worse, of course, so I laughed all the harder -- erasing from my wife's mind any lingering doubt that I am crazy.

Why I am a de facto semi-vegetarian

| No Comments

The short answer is The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I was already generally aware of the atrocious ways of meat production in the United States: extreme cruelty to animals; adverse impacts on human health and on the environment. But the gory details were sufficient to compell me to decide not to participate any longer. There is no excuse for treating chickens, pigs, and cattle the way large industrial producers do, and I refuse to be complicit in a system of which I so strongly disapprove. Indeed, it would be hypocritical of me to do otherwise.grilling_veggies.jpg

That doesn't mean I am a full-blown vegetarian. Homo sapiens is one of those animals that eat other animals in order to survive, and I have no problem with that in principle. If you can serve me a piece of pork that was once a pig who was raised and killed in as humane and environmentally sustainable a way as is reasonably possible, I will happily eat it, mindful of the pig's sacrifice. A roasted rabbit, who led a natural bunny life hopping around and eating and fucking until dispatched so skillfully that Mr/Ms Bunny never knew what hit her or him? Bring it! But getting that kind of meat requires substantially more expense and effort than does the supermarket kind, and as of yet I haven't made the effort, so I have gone without eating the flesh of cattle, chickens, pigs, turkeys, and so forth.

Fish is another matter. Figuring out which kinds are harvested in an environmentally responsible fashion also takes some homework, and they have faces, and they probably don't like suffocating any more than you or I would. But I am content to rationalize that a sardine does not have the cognitive functioning to realize how bad it's getting fucked before it ends up in a can. Maybe I will eventually change my position. For now, I need protein and don't want to depend solely on nuts and tofu. So I eat fish with some qualification.

One might say, let's see you kill and butcher that animal yourself, and then see how you feel -- as Michael Pollan did. I would certainly be willing to give it a try some day -- killing my own food sounds kind of cool, in fact. But for now I am a creature who lives in the suburbs, works in a city, and going hunting with my crossbow is not really a practical alternative. The idea is certainly not forever foreclosed, but for now I am content to allow someone else to kill my food animals for me.

Opting out of industrial meat has not required any difficult adjustments in my diet, because I was already eating a lot of vegetarian meals, rarely consuming red meat, and increasingly eating fresh and local food. I have had to renounce that Cambodian style noodle soup from a Cantonese place near my office, a delicious concoction made with sliced and ground pork as well as shrimp and egg noodles in broth probably made from ducks who undoubtedly fare no better than the pigs.

As for eggs, we generally buy the most environmentally correct ones available, and willingly pay a premium over the industrial kind (think of it as insurance against salmonella poisoning courtesy of a mass producer in Iowa who churns out millions of eggs a week -- you don't need to be a Slow Food connoisseur to see the problem inherent in production on that scale). But that's also a tricky game, since what you read on the carton -- "cage free," for example -- may be bullshit. But I eat salads from a deli near my workplace, sometimes containing a hard-boiled egg about whose origins I know nothing. I am not a purist; I compromise. When I eat my kids' left-over pepperoni pizza, I peel off the pepperoni and eat it, unconcerned about the pizza being tainted with pepperoni residue. And maybe -- maybe -- when Thanksgiving rolls around I will decide to go along with the program and partake of the turkey. We'll see.

The result of this modest dietary change is that I feel fine both ethically and physically. I like to burn a lot of calories running, and have kept on setting personal record times since quitting the meat. Over time, I suspect our family will be eating still more local and fresh, and adjusting our diet according to the seasons in New Jersey. The rest of the family might even phase out the industrial flesh consumption. For now, this is working well for me.

Walking out on sesshin

| No Comments

I signed up for a sesshin, or retreat, at a place called the Zen Mountain Monastery upstate: a week of lots and lots of sitting in a formal and disciplined monastic setting. I wanted to experience someplace other than the one zendo which I have attended exclusviely since I started practicing, and be an anonymous face in a large crowd. I also wanted to hear what the teachers had to say, after being deeply impressed with a couple of talks that I had read online. Two people I know who had trained at ZMM encouraged me to go. One of the founders, now deceased, is regarded as a major figure in western Zen -- John Daido Loori.

[An aside for readers not familiar with Zen as practiced by most Western lay people: the core of the practice is sitting, or zazen -- seated meditation. It's important to sit every day, and it is likewise important to do intensive practice as often as your schedule permits: that is, all-day sittings, or zazenkai, and multi-day sittings, which we call sesshin or retreats. During these extended sittings there is no talking, reading, or fooling around with phones or computers. There are periodic breaks (sometimes barely adequate) in the zazen schedule for things like meals and sleep. The idea is to keep practicing around the clock. Sesshin tends to sharpen your skills and, ultimately, make you more acutely aware of where you are and what you are doing. This is also known as being awake. It can be said that Zen is for those who would dare to wake up.]

So I drove up to Mount Tremper, NY, on a rainy Monday afternoon, and sesshin began that night. The next day at about two o'clock in the afternoon I packed my bags and walked, deciding that this was not a fruitful use of my time right about now.

The place had about it a slight fragrance of psychopathy mingled with the incense.

My mattress was seriously fucked up, and made my back hurt. The ratio of showers to people was too low to expect more than one shower over the six days. The schedule was 3:55 a.m. rise, and lights out at 9:30, with a number of short breaks and only one one-hour break for all your rest and exercise. Breakfast and lunch were taken as formal oryoki, an extremely elaborate ritual involving lots of chanting and drumming and bells, folding and unfolding cloths and arranging bowls and utensils in a very particular way.

Maybe I gave up prematurely. I was uncomfortable and got but little sleep my one night there, and sleep deprivation has a pronounced negative effect on my mood (so it is for everyone, but I seem to do worse than most). My lower back ached, although not bad enough to be a crisis. There came a point in the oryoki ritual in which you put a bit of rice on the handle end of your little wooden spatula as an offering to your supernatural imaginary friend the Hungry Ghost. That's when I realized this was not for me. I deliberated over the next hour or so to give myself a chance to reconsider, but that was pretty much the turning point in which I said fuck this.

If this sesshin regime were a prison, Amnesty International would have something to say about the inadequate opportunities for sleep, exercise, exposure to the outdoors, and bathing. But it is by no means a prison. You go in on a purely voluntary basis for a limited time -- and although it is discouraged, you can get up and leave, as I did.

I packed my gear and took it out to the car as people were assembling in the zendo for the next round of sitting, following lunch. Drove down the driveway and found there was a gate that I was going to have to open in order to get out. When I got out of the car, I saw one of the monks walking towards me, and understood that I was going to have to speak to her. I had half-tried to tell myself, prior to escaping, that walking out and hitting the highway was going to be a satisfying act of self-liberation. But when I realized I was going to have to explain myself to someone, I felt a sheet of emotion extending from somewhere around waist level to above my eyes. She asked whether something had happened. I explained as best I could that this just was not for me, not now. She said, why did you come? I knew the question was not rhetorical. She wanted me to consider why I had come in the first place. Unable to recall any reason, I said it sounded like a good idea at the time. She tried gently to dissuade me from leaving, suggesting that I might try hanging around for the afternoon, talking to one of the teachers. I pictured myself re-entering the building with my baggage and re-installing myself in the room, and found the image intolerable. If she had said, come on, I will help you get your stuff back inside, it might have been a closer contest. I told her, as respectfully and tactfully as I could, the same things I just said here. I am attached to my bourgeois lifestyle, and have trouble tolerating a week with scarcely a shower and a bed so uncomfortable that it will take my back days to recover once I get home. She said, we could do something about the bed. I said, I am a wordly and unspiritual sort of dude for whom offering blobs of rice to supernatural beings is not the way I want to spend time that I could otherwise be with my wife and kids and cats. I said I understood that walking away from the commitment to stay till the end was not approved of, and could accept it if I was banned for life. She was perfectly gracious about it, and said on the contrary, I was welcome to come back and try again any time.

I was practically in tears as I drove away, because leaving was an anguishing decision, and I felt -- rightly or not -- a certain shame and humiliation from the failure. It took the rest of the week to process and get over it.

It isn't necessary to justify myself, but I am gonna do it anyway and state for the record that I am not a one who typically quits when faced with adversity or difficulty. I have done week-long sesshin a couple times before, with schedules that were perhaps not as grueling as this one, but certainly not leisurely -- and walking out was never under serious consideration. I have kept other tough commitments in this life, like training hard for 20 weeks to run a New York Marathon at a Boston-qualifying pace even when the last 10 kilometers were brutal.

So what happened here? I think this experience can be seen as analogous to a computer crashing under excessive load. Too many hats: father; stepfather; husband; computer programmer; professional court interpreter; distance runner; single-payer healthcare activist; ....Zen monk? Crash!

There is only so much you can do at a given point in your life. You can stretch the container pretty damn far, but we all must reach a limit at some point; then you have to choose between this and that, not both. Far be it from me to find fault with this style of practice. I might even go back and try it again some day, as the monk kindly suggested that I could. For now I belong on my mat at home and zendo, and in my supremely comfortable bed with wife and purring cats.

The end of insomnia: how to get to sleep

| No Comments

As someone who struggled intermittently with sleep problems for decades and ultimately beat them, I am pleased to share what I consider the secrets of my success. None of this can be proven objectively; none of this is science; all of this is subjective and anecdotal. But it's consistent with both science and common sense.
I assume you're already familiar with the conventional wisdom: take it easy on the caffeine; don't eat heavily too soon before going to bed; don't work out hard too soon before going to bed; and so on. All that is fine. But here's what seems to be working brilliantly for me.

Step one: clean house. Everything else can almost be considered a subset of this overarching principle. By house-cleaning, I refer metaphorically to getting one's personal shit in order. This may seem self-evident at first glance. But this sort of mental-personal hygiene is forever a work in progress, and many of us are wandering around in various degrees of denial and delusion, so it bears a closer look. Hate your job? Deal with it. Hate your spouse? Deal with it. Need a shrink? Get one. Need to change shrinks? Do it.

Next, be very careful with alcohol. Even though I've always been high-functioning, I used to drink abusively most weekends of my life, thinking of it as a form of recreation. A few years ago I realized I had had enough, and abruptly quit binge-drinking. Few things disrupt sleep as cruelly as alcohol, and it gets worse as you get older. Moreover, the effects of boozing are more subtle, pernicious and persistent than we might think. You might be smashed on Saturday night and think that sin should be in the past on Wednesday, when you can't sleep. Not so. Moreover, a penchant for getting hammered usually points to some underlying issue that has to be addressed: see step one above. I am still in the process of examining my own story, but getting to sleep is no longer an issue.

Next: exercise. Seriously burn some major calories doing hard cardiovascular exercise several times a week. The benefits are amply documented, and getting more so all the time. Don't make excuses. Do it, and learn to love it. It's good to lie down at night with a body that is really, legitimately tired, not just an exhausted body and a mind buzzing with all of life's bullshit.

Next: sit. That's the simple, unpretentious term many meditators like to use for what they practice. We call it sitting because it really is just sitting. There are many different meditation techniques, but the form I favor is arguably not meditation at all because there is no external object of concentration, no mantra, no effort to stop thinking and attain some pure state of single-pointed concentration. Sit up straight -- on a cushion, or a kneeling bench, or even a chair -- eyes open, looking down at about a 45 degree angle, and inhale and exhale. It's good to set a timer so you don't have to worry about the clock. Pay attention to what you're doing: breathing in and out, receiving sensory input, thinking thoughts. Keep returning your attention to the experience of right now. The attention will wander -- will crawl away like a turtle, or fly off like a bird. No problem, just keep coming back, time and again. Don't worry about goals and objectives. Just sit. As Matthieu Ricard puts it with elegant understatement in one of his books, the benefits of meditating for 15 minutes a day far outweigh the scheduling difficulties. And by the way, the state of pure concentration -- moments of astonishing clarity and calm -- will eventually begin to happen from time to time. But not as a result of chasing after it.

Next: when it's time for sleep, do not try. I can't emphasize this enough. Stop trying to go to sleep. What could be more ridiculous, and self-defeating? There is no hurry. I have found it far more effective to just lie there doing nothing than to worry about the clock. Just lie down and let it happen.

Or not. The final point here is that you may do all this stuff with great diligence, and still have occasional difficulties getting to sleep and/or staying there. Maybe a bit too much coffee, or anxiety, or food, or some combination of these -- whatever. When this happens, it happens. Do not worry about it. After all, what good does it do?

Running the 2009 New York Marathon

| No Comments


I had the privilege of running the 2009 New York Marathon on Sunday, November 1. This was my second marathon; the first was Philadelphia in 2008. I trained for 20 weeks using a program from specifically designed for a 3:40:00 marathon. In the final week of training I decided to reset my goal to 3:35:59, which qualifies a male in my 50-something age bracket for the prestigious Boston Marathon.

The NY Marathon is a logistical tour de force, with its 40,000-plus runners. Organizers clearly went to great lengths to keep everything moving and avoid excess congestion. Thus the start was divided into three waves, and these in turn were further partitioned into separate routes that only merged several miles later, where the streets were wider and people were naturally spread out more than at the start.

The streets were lined with hordes of cheering people. The atmosphere was highly charged, and despite the fact that I knew better, and even as I knew what I was doing, I committed the classic marathoner's mistake known as going out too fast. Instead of running around 8:14 per mile, my pace over the first 10K was 7:53.

Gradually I calmed down and ran the middle third of the race at a more reasonable pace. But you can't change the past, and by mile 18 I knew I was going to have to pay for my earlier lack of discipline. I had taped to my left wrist a timetable showing how much time had to have elapsed at each mile if I was to attain my goal time, and from consulting it I knew I was ahead of the pace throughout the course. But by mile 20 I was fading and the margin of error was getting slimmer. I concluded that I had nothing left, therefore nothing to lose. I would ask myself, can you stand another six miles of this? Yes I can. At five miles to go: can you stand another five? Yes I can. And so on.

The split times over the last six tell a tale of alternately fading, then fighting back. Mile 20, 8:22 -- too slow. Mile 21, 8:28 -- even slower! Mile 22, 8:12 -- excellent, two seconds ahead of the goal pace. Mile 23, 8:10 -- great. Mile 24 which is largely uphill, 8:49 -- despair! Mile 25, 8:04 -- heroic. Mile 26, 8:22 -- too slow, but we're almost home. For the last 0.2 I was running at an 8:35 pace -- definitely fading fast.

When at long last the great sign that said Finish came into view, I was so spent that it took me a couple of beats to comprehend what it meant. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch at 3:34:44: success.

Weaving and unsteady on my feet, I was accosted by a volunteer who led me to the medical tent, where I ended up lying on a cot recovering for about 25 minutes. On the adjacent cot was a guy named John from New Zealand, apparently in his 40s, who had also nailed his BQ (Boston qualifier) at 3:17 -- and who had likewise spent everything he had and then some, and landed in the medical tent like me. In a shared state of total exhaustion and elation, we had a wonderful conversation about the nature of this amazing thing known as marathon running. It was a highlight of the whole experience.

During this conversation with John I had an insight: a marathon is at once both a communal, public event -- a grand party, an orgy of thousands running through the streets! -- and at the same time, as intensely personal and intimate an experience as you can have. It is absolutely solitary, but in a way that is neither good or bad. You drop down into ever deeper realms of your own consciousness and find out about who you really are. Think ten years of psychotherapy compressed into a few hours. Or, for you Zen practitioners, think of a week sesshin crammed into a single morning. No wonder the marathon game isn't for everyone. I believe that many marathon runners are motivated by nothing other than a search for the Truth. We intuitively understand what Master Bassui teaches: the Great Question cannot be resolved by the discursive mind.

Second-guessing myself, I speculate that I could well have attained the same result or better if I had run a more disciplined, strategic race. It would have been more elegant if I had conserved energy in the first half and had a powerful finish, running the last miles faster, not slower, than any of the preceding. But as experiences go, what actually did happen cannot be surpassed. It was a marvelous adventure.

Going to Jail for Health Care for All

| No Comments

On October 15, 2009, I participated in a nationwide campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience to demand Single Payer health care and an end to the profit-driven private health insurance system. Supported by some 50 legal protesters in the street, 14 protesters entered the lobby of One Penn Plaza in midtown Manhattan, a building that houses offices of the insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, and sat down on the floor. When we refused to leave, police arrested us and loaded us into paddy wagons.

Our group consisted six women and eight men. Of the men, two were in their mid-seventies; one of these was a retired Episcopalian priest, whose bearing and clerical color gave our group an air of respectability and gravitas; the other happened to be a Quaker.

Most people who do civil disobedience hope to get what is known as a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT), where the police take you to the precinct, check your fingerprints for warrants, and if they find none, hand you a piece of paper like a traffic ticket and send you on your way. The whole process takes typically four to eight hours, and is perhaps only slightly more (or maybe less!) unpleasant than typical airline travel, where you are in a sense imprisoned, and your patience is tested. But we were not so fortunate. It was determined -- I don't know how or by whom -- that we were to go through "the system" with the rest of humanity in all its wretchedness. Some of us speculated that this determination may have been political, i.e., someone powerful made a phone call and said that protesters should be discouraged and not given any breaks.

First we were taken to the 9th Precinct, in the East Village, where we were divided by gender and kept in two cells for over 10 hours. For the first five or six hours, morale was high. We had lively and stimulating conversation, got to know one another, sang songs, had some good laughs. After seven or eight hours had elapsed and we still had not been provided water, much less food, we began to complain. Ironically enough, the priest had headed a commission some years ago that promulgated a set of reforms for the New York law enforcement and penal system. Among these was a regulation that any prisoner detained for over five hours between midnight and 7:00 a.m. had to be provided food and water. When the priest pointed this out to one of the officers, she argued that the rule applied only to Corrections and not the NYPD. The priest insisted that it wasn't so, and encouraged her to consult her supervisor. Eventually, she offered to take a few dollars from us, go to a vending machine in the building and bring some bottled water. I don't think it took much effort. Shortly thereafter one of the support team was allowed to send in a bag with refreshments: more water, some fruit and energy bars.

In the meantime, the police went through an arduous process of fingerprinting us one by one with a scanner that kept failing to recognize our fingerprints. Whether it was software or hardware that was defective, or both, the machine balked if your fingers were too oily, or not oily enough, or if you were simply too old and your prints were too faint. The cops muddled through with commendable patience for the several hours that it took to fingerprint all 14 of us.

It was approaching 10:00 pm when we were transported downtown to a place known as the Tombs, in the basement of the courthouse at 100 Center Street, too late to appear in night court and be released. The place was packed, and we all stood handcuffed in a slow-moving line for over an hour to be photographed one by one, and finally, around midnight, admitted as a group to one of several large holding cells.

Some of us were still wearing white T-shirts with black lettering that said "Victim of Private Health Insurance" on one side, and "Medicare For All" on the other. We were repeatedly asked by both police and prisoners why we were protesting, and we seized every such opportunity. People were overwhelmingly receptive. (Only the intake photographer at the Tombs was hostile, but then again, from what I was able to observe, he seemed to have hostile attitude towards everyone.) Thus the system handed us an opportunity to promote our cause and continue the very sort of work for which we were arrested.

The Tombs was not particularly pleasant. I was grateful not to have known in advance what it would be like, because if I had, I might have hesitated to get arrested. We were in a windowless rectangle with a built-in stainless steel bench along three walls (the fourth being the bars). There were a lot of miscellaneous arrestees, people sleeping on the floor or on the benches, overwhelmingly black. A group of kids, whom I found vaguely menacing, had apparently been arrested together for drugs; they monopolized one of the two phones. Shortly after we arrived, the guard announced a feeding and let us all out into the hall to collect little boxes of corn flakes and milk. When we returned to the cell there was a confrontation, basically about territorial boundaries. Another prisoner struck one of our group in the face, breaking his glasses and giving him a black eye. Another of our group yelled for the guards, who came promptly and removed both victim and assailant to different cells. This was how our evening at the Tombs began. (Note to those considering doing CD who have an aversion to violence: this incident could surely have been avoided had we exercised a bit more caution.)

A guard came to the bars to ask witnesses about the incident. A couple of us went over and provided a narrative. Then there was some grumbling in the cell about snitches, and I had some fears of getting my white ass beaten. But the whole affair seemed to blow over, and the hours dragged on.

And on. After so many hours under flourescent lights with no windows and little sleep, the time of day reported by my watch became a meaningless abstraction; there was no discernible difference between 4:30 a.m. or p.m. There was a water fountain in the cell, but I distrusted the foul-tasting water and drank sparingly. As for food, it's too painful to remember and I'd rather not talk about it. Seriously, though, the nourishment provided was evidently designed to keep us from starving and no more. For a good meal you should look elsewhere.

At some point, a handsome, well-dressed, articulate black man was brought into the cell. He and a like-minded friend began to lecture the assemblage about God, and His purpose for us all, and what we had to do to attain true manhood. "Gentlemen," he said, "there are four attributes that you do not find in a real man. A real man is not a gangsta, a pimp, a thug, or a playa." This seemed to be directed at the vaguely menacing kids. Eventually, there was a genuine conversation to which everyone who was not asleep appeared to pay attention, many of them participating. We discussed spiritual and philosophic issues and basic personal values. Where we could find common ground, we did so. When our well-dressed friend argued the inferiority of women, we called him on it. It was a remarkably fruitful exchange of ideas. But the preachers outlasted us, and the dialogue degenerated back into a one-sided lecture that became oppressive.

Our Episcopalian priest had been placed in a separate, more private cell -- presumably because of his age and status. Towards morning, they put him back in with the rest of us. His appearance apparently humbled the two lay preachers, as they finally quieted down as soon as this real clergyman arrived.

The morning wore on and became afternoon, according to my watch. At last the guards started pulling small subsets of us out to go to court, where a judge released us on our own recognizance. Mine was one of the last three bodies -- as we call humans in the judicial/corrections trade -- to be summoned. Our lawyer, a volunteer who enjoys representing protesters, stood up for us in court without having had a chance to talk to us beforehand. The prosecutor offered Defendant Yours Truly a plea to Trespass Violation, the lightweight version of the misdemeanor Criminal Trespass, and one day of community service. Community service? Excuse me, I have been serving the community big-time for the last 32 hours. For our septuagenarian Quaker, who has more of a track record than most of us, the offer was seven days in jail. Apparently he is deemed a danger to society and in need of some deterrence. Fuck that. The UnitedHealth 14 will be holding out for much more favorable dispositions.

My brief encounter with the system was sufficient to underscore what I already knew: we live in a profoundly racist society. There can be no justification for the extreme overrepresentation of minorities and the poor in the jail population. If patterns of law enforcement have a disproprortionate impact on non-whites, which they undoubtedly do, that is inexcusable; and if dark-skinned people in fact commit crimes at a greater rate than light-skinned people do, then they must be disproportionately affected by inequality and social problems that make it so, and which must be addressed. Most people would rather make a living wage than spend the night in the Tombs for shoplifting cosmetics from Walgreens.

The experience also reinforced my feelings of gratitude. I knew I was lucky to enjoy a bourgeois life, but after being released from the can, sleeping in a comfortable bed next to my warm and yummy wife, with the cat Master Lin-chi curled up purring next to my legs in all his astounding furriness -- this was delicious beyond description. I slept like a god.

When I awoke, the first thought in my head was this: Patients, not profits. Medicare for all. I realized my determination was now all the stronger.

* * *

Since you've been good enough to read all these words, you can now be rewarded with pictures and video. An excellent YouTube piece is at, and there are still photos at -- scroll down past the silly HCAN stuff about the meaningless public option to see some great shots of the UnitedHealth action.

And yes, there is something you can do: The struggle is far from over and we have no intention of giving up.

the joy of stealing -- from Pathmark

| No Comments

Oh, excuse me, was I recently berating people for their thievery? I must have conveniently forgotten that too I have enjoyed stealing a little bit, albeit rarely and in a petty way.

You know how a lot of supermarkets nowadays have those self-checkout things rigged up? A computerized female voice prompts you to "please place the item in the bag" after you scan the barcode. Ever tried just putting shit in the bag without scanning it first? The robot doesn't like that. "Please remove the item from the bag and place it on the scanner, " says she. It's hard not to anthropomorphize that humanoid voice. After the fourth or fifth repetition of this routine I am surprised that she/it remains so patient and polite, and doesn't say, in the same even-tempered robotic voice, "please stop trying to steal shit from the Pathmark corporation."

But you can occasionally steal shit just by leaving it in your cart and wheeling your way through, pretending it's an oversight. I had the pleasure of purloining some figs this way a while back, and it really was a mistake that time. "Oh look!" I said to myself in the parking lot, "free figs!" Some months later I stole a nice can of sardines because I had recently read or heard something about how nutritious they were and decided a couple more sardines in the diet would be healthy. They were also delicious! I was really glad I stole them. I might even pay for some next time. (Which gives rise to the interesting possibility that this free sample, so to speak, will ultimately benefit the grocery store's and/or sardine provider's profitability.)

The sole employee overseeing the several self-serve checkout stations doesn't give a shit. It would have been fun to be a fly on the wall at some meeting of Pathmark executives where they decided to do this. You just know they had to have known customers would get away with some filching, and decided it was still cost-effective because it meant fewer humans on the payroll, hence a savings that would outweigh the loss of loss prevention.

Comcast, PSE&G, and don Adilio: thieves

| No Comments

Once again, my friends, it's time to review an important teaching: people will steal your money if you let them.

I had three different entities try to reach into my pocket in the space of about two weeks. First it was the management of the building out of which I moved. The building manager Alberto presented me with a check for my security deposit -- without interest.

"Dude, it's with interest, I explained. "This isn't just me; it's the law."
"Oh, well we don't do that," he said.
I repeated, "that's the law of New Jersey my friend. Interest."

I went on to suggest that at 2% per year the interest should be something like $50 for $1500 over a year and a half. This took place in the back office of the small supermarket that occupies the first floor of this building in beautiful and historic downtown Jersey City. The old Cuban gentlemen who owns most everything on that block was sitting at his desk witnessing this, and my effrontery apparently upset him. He went into a screaming rage. I did my best to ignore this and waited for Alberto to write out another check, accepted it, and bid them goodbye. The encounter was sufficiently unpleasant that it took tens of minutes for its residue to leave my body -- those chemicals that tell you to fight or flee.

I have been considering how much of his tenants' money don Adilio González has had on deposit for how many years. From a little consultation with don Google I see that he has been lauded as a hero of entrepreneurial capitalism, received honors and awards, for building his business up from very little. I wonder how much money he has cheated his tenants out of. He certainly didn't like it when I refused to let him cheat me.

Next up, Comcast. I called to shut down the service in the first days of February. They said I was subect to a $150 early termination fee. I said fine, so what's my final balance going to be? A hundred sixty-one dollars and change. Thank you very much. Imagine my surprise -- I was simply shocked, flabbergasted! -- when a few weeks later Comcast billed me for $293. Sarcasm aside, I was mildly astonished, speaking of effrontery, to read the invoice and see that on its face it plainly showed they were charging me for services not rendered. The itemization said termination, February 02, followed by the service for the following month. In other words they acknowledged it was shut off and yet continued to charge. Does it surprise you to learn that it took over 30 minutes of voicemail menu navigation, holding, and grappling with so-called customer service personnel before the matter was finally straightened out? Now, suppose I had gone ahead and paid the extra $132 they tried to overcharge me. Maybe they would have eventually detected their mistake, and said oh gee we're sorry Mister Bludgeon, here's your refund. I rather doubt it. Indeed I doubt it was a mistake. Closing an account is normal, routine business operation. A corporation of their size ought to be able to handle it properly on the first try, don't you think?

Next up, PSE&G, the electric and gas utility. Service at this apartment was discontinued early in March. So they sent me an "estimated" bill for $86 for the last few days of service. Please note that in the entire history of the account my bill never once exceeded $53 and change. Odd, isn't it? Does it surprise you to learn that I had to call them on the phone to turn it into $12? Again, do you think they'd have refunded my money if I had simply paid them?

Comcast, PSE&G, don Adilio: shame on you. I only wish you would find a means of livelihood that doesn't involve stealing from people.

Fuckheads block my mail to my dad

| No Comments

My dad, a retired professor of musicology, is a DSL customer of the Ontario and Trumansburg Telephone Companies. We have carried on email correspondence for years, peppering our prose with F-bombs whenever the urge arises. One fine day he stopped receiving mail from my gmail account, so I suggested he contact his ISP to see if I was being blocked. It turns out that his provider had begun applying "decency filters" to his incoming mail without his knowledge or consent, and my messages had been quarantined. When he demanded that they stop inspecting his mail for "decency," they replied with boilerplate instructions on how to whitelist my address. He got on the phone and explained that what he wanted was not to whitelist his correspondents one by one, but to have the decency filter disabled outright. The drone with whom he spoke appeared not to understand. He is escalating his case up to the telco's CEO Paul Griswold, and copying his correspondence to the New York ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Grouchy old bastard that he is, my dad has little patience with mindlessness and stubborn stupidity of this sort. So in his latest round of correspondence, he busted their balls thus:

One of your people called me a short time ago, and astonished (and, I must admit) infuriated me by his real (or feigned) inability to understand what I was trying to say to him. So let me try to get at it in writing.

There is a world of difference between filtering spam as such and filtering for what you mistakenly take to be "decency." The first is allowable; the second is abominable. And to do either or both without telling the subscriber what you are doing is detestable. If your technology is so crude that it cannot distinguish between spam and four letter words, you need new technology. But be that as it may, your minds should be capable of grasping the point.

So got it? It is really very simple.

Now, I am an old professor, so let me read you a lecture; please hold still for a few moments. The US Constitution of course has nothing directly to do with our dispute. It does, however, bear on it indirectly in a most profound way. The Constitution is not merely the legal basis of our country, it also has determined our ethos.

Now read it. You will see that it is profoundly mistrustful of the political judgments of what its authors thought of as "the mob," a group to which you and I probably would have been thought to belong. That is why the Senate was originally elected by state legislatures; that is why even today with direct election, it remains profoundly unrepresentative. On the other hand, The Constitution in its first final form -- that is with the Bill of Rights added to the original document -- is deeply concerned about individual liberties. It is accordingly at once quite libertarian and somewhat undemocratic.

To leap to our little situation: not only are you not my censor, but your attempt to assume this dreadful role really does violate America's basic ethos and is accordingly deeply offensive to people like me. Despite everything, we still believe in each citizen's basic responsibility for himself. We refuse to turn this responsibility over to others. You have no right to take it away from for me on your own initiative. And in truth, I have no right to turn it over to you so long as I am sentient.

That your definition of "indecency" is idiotic and contrary to sound morality is another matter and could be explained to you only in the context of another little lecture. I fear you have had enough for now.

Please actually read and understand what I have written you. Do not reply with some canned nonsense from corporate headquarters or anything of that silly sort. There's no point in that. If you cannot engage me in reasonable and intelligent discourse, do not engage me at all. But do turn off that thrice damned decency filter.

What do you make of that? What are the odds that anyone will understand what he's saying and respond appropriately?

Car buyer's dilemma

| No Comments

I have not owned a car since my aging Honda Civic was stolen eight years ago, when I banked the modest payout from the insurance company and never looked back. I had the use of my wife's car up until September 2006 when we separated, so I have truly been carless for not quite two years -- and loving it. I live two minutes from commuter trains that take me to downtown Manhattan in a matter of minutes, then it's about a 15 minute walk to my workplace. If I need to get somewhere that isn't reasonably accessible by public transportation or walking, then I take a taxi or someone gives me a ride. If the destination is not local, then I rent a car. You might be surprised how beautiful and liberating it is to live this way. No parking hassles, no insurance or maintenance expenses, no sitting in traffic wishing I were somewhere else.

Alas, my carless days are coming to an end, because my daughter and her mother are moving over 20 miles from where I live. I had long since decided that I wanted my next automobile to be a hybrid -- fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly. The fact that I need a car now, as gasoline is up to $4.00 a gallon, is an unfortunate coincidence. Gas prices have driven demand for hybrids to the point where dealers can get away with a little gouging. Perhaps six months ago you could have negotiated and paid $200 over the dealer invoice price for a Toyota Prius. Now you will likely pay at least $2000 over the so-called MSRP, and you will wait anywhere from several weeks to three months for the privilege. Moreover, you will be forced to pay for leather seats, GPS and other luxuries that you might not need or want, because the more economical "packages" are sold out till fuck knows when.

Now, suppose you aren't comfortable paying over $30,000 for a car equipped with stuff that you don't want? Further suppose that you do have the money to do it anyway, although it will be a sacrifice. Further suppose that you might well not drive the car enough for the fuel savings to pay for the expense of the Prius relative to a less expensive car -- in other words in pure financial terms you'd do better with something like a Honda Fit or Civic, Toyota Yaris or Corolla. That's a purely selfish economic calculus that does not factor in the environmental impact. What to do?

Here's what's disturbing: in order for Americans to begin to wake up to reality and look for fuel efficiency, they have had to be struck hard on the head with the large, heavy club of $4/gallon gas. Capitalist market dynamics being what they are, consumers are forced to pay a premium -- to put it politely -- to do the right thing by getting a responsible car. This is the inverse of what should be. Government should be forcing auto manufacturers to adhere to a timetable for phasing out 100% gas-powered cars entirely, levy a surcharge on buyers of gas-powered cars, and use the revenue to provide rebates to consumers who buy hybrids. Environmentally friendly behavior should be encouraged and rewarded -- but no. Instead they shove it up your ass so far your eyeballs pop out of your head.

On turning fifty

| No Comments

I had the honor of turning 50 the other day. My girlfriend (not quite 42 years old) generously hosted a back yard party at her house. There were about 25 delightful people, flawless spring weather, splendid food and drink. Had I been invited to say a few words to mark the occasion, I would have said something like the following.

I have no scruples about making a big deal out of my 50th birthday. If multiples of ten are noteworthy, multiples of 50 are huge. Living 50 years is an accomplishment one usually does not repeat. It's a good time to take a look at one's life and notice how it is unfolding, developing, changing, and to savor the pleasures of getting older.

When you get old enough, your past becomes so long that it can be considered history. When I turned ten the year was 1968. Martin Luther King had been assassinated a couple weeks before, and cities were burning. Robert F. Kennedy was to be assassinated in June, as Hillary Clinton so tastefully reminded us the other day. The United States was mired in a catastrophic imperial misadventure in Viet Nam, where what is known as the Tet Offensive was in full swing. The Pentagon and the CIA were in a power struggle over lying to the American public about enemy troop strength. Grim and bloody news of the war came to us daily through radio, television and print media. Many young people were rebelling and doing a lot of drugs. I was in fourth grade and my friends and I would ride around freely on our bicycles with neither supervision nor helmets.

At 20 I was a music student, working diligently and with determination to become a classical guitarist. Remember the Jimmy Carter administration?

At 30 I was a fairly accomplished classical guitarist and quit the business in favor of "real" full time employment. Late Reagan era, Bush senior about to ascend to the throne.

At 40 I was well established in a reasonably honorable and well-paying career, a homeowner, married, no kids. The Clinton years.

At 50 I am in the same job, the divorce very nearly a done deal, my daughter recently turned five, the house about to be sold (profitably, housing collapse notwithstanding). I live peacefully and contentedly in good health with two superb cats, and things have never been better. I am immensely grateful for my good fortune. Meanwhile, as Barack Obama prepares to defeat John McCain in the fall, the human race has probably never been in greater peril. Will my daughter's planet be inhabitable when she is approaching fifty?

* * *

In our society a lot of us have a troubled and complicated relationship with aging. We lie about our age, or we snicker and chuckle and joke about it. "You look much yonger than fifty" is considered a high compliment. I can't help but think that underlying that attitude is fear of nothing other than death. We grasp and cling to life and run like hell from death, we generally avoid thinking about the inevitable extinction of our selves and our loved ones -- until it's too late. Life is replete with unspeakable suffering, and then, in the best case scenario, you get old age, sickness and death for your trouble. That being the case, what -- if any -- is the purpose, value, meaning of anything? Is "I don't know" a satisfactory answer? Does it matter?

I am convinced that the time to face the large questions is now, when you can still reasonably expect to have a couple decades to work on it, not when you're in the hospice with three days to live. And the most important way to work on this little side project is to stare at the wall every day without fail. If I have to confess to having a goal or objective in practicing Zen, it is this: keep stilling the scattered, chattering mind and use the tools Zen provides to help us face facts. When it's time to go, be prepared. In the meantime, enjoy living life instead of worrying about losing it.

Having money -- more or less

| No Comments

The wisdom that he who knows he has enough is rich dates back at least as far as Laozi, a/k/a Lao Tsu. Countless studies have since established that material prosperity does not equal happiness. And while it is one thing to nod your head and say yes I agree with this proposition, it is quite another to acquire direct knowledge of it through experience.

I have had the good fortune to suffer enough of an economic reversal to be able to learn about having less money, while at the same time not having my essential economic security -- food, shelter -- seriously threatened. And I am pleased to report that you can be happier with less money in your pocket. Having bills come due with my checking account balance running as low as $124 is inconvenient, but it is little more than an inconvenience. Again, especially when one is still gainfully employed and can expect some relief at the next paycheck, within a couple weeks at most. One comes to appreciate that other aspects of life truly are more valuable and important than your checking account balance. Indeed, having that balance plunge and not caring is immensely liberating.

One also learns something about fear and anxiety. I stand in the very situation that terrified me couple of years ago when it was an abstract possibility: having to make do with less, paying a hefty child support obligation while also maintaining my own household in an area where the cost of living is high. And yet here I am, and not only is it OK, it's a good deal better than OK.

I am reminded of something my teacher once said, à propos of anxieties that come up during zazen: we should be grateful for them, because we often discover that the thorny problem we were so worried about is not thorny, or if it is, the thorns are not as dangerous as we thought. The logic is rather subtle -- why does that mean we should be grateful? I suppose the reasoning is that you should be grateful for the teaching that eventually comes out of those anxieties that arise while you are studying the paint on the wall.

So it is with having less money than you previously did. I like to joke that if I had a more abundant money supply, I would permit myself two self-indulgences. One is that I would buy a great wheel of high quality parmesan cheese, far more than I need. This would be for pure greed and amusement. I think it would be a kick to have that much cheese in the house. I would give away big hunks of it. The other eccentricity I would indulge in is reading glasses. I would buy perhaps a thousand inexpensive pairs and scatter them everywhere: every surface of every room, every pocket of every garment. That's because I frequently misplace them. The reading glasses market is highly volatile in my household, not suitable for the risk-averse. My reading glasses portfolio can gain and lose large percentages of its value in a single afternoon. I start with two, then I have seven, then one. I would insulate myself against those shocks by owning a large reserve -- very large.

So there you have it. Not having a lot of cash to spare is not bad. If I had more, the only things I would change are my parmesan cheese and reading glasses inventories. But I don't, and am quite happy to buy these items in modest quantities.

Grits or homefries

| No Comments


When I saw this sign I thought of a couple of people who would appreciate it, so I went back later with my camera to take this snap. "We served grits or homefries." Past tense. Ha ha ha. Get it? They are ignorant, I am superior. How are they going to attract customers with a historical trivium such as this? And an ambiguous one at that: does "grits or homefries" mean they don't know which they once served?

The joke was on me, as the photo turned out to be strikingly beautiful in its own right.

"Either you real or you ain't"

| No Comments

The other day one of the teachers in our zendo gave a talk in which she likened the practice of zen to classical ballet: one of the most painfully demanding of disciplines. Dancers must show up for a 90 minute class every single day without fail, no matter how experienced and accomplished they are or think they are. Always showing up, always striving, tuning, preparing for the stage -- that's what it's about. So it is with the Zen practitioner. You show up at the zendo for formal zazen as often as you possibly can, regardless of whether you feel like it or whether it's convenient. Formal zazen is essential, a necessity. LIkewise, extended sittings such a as zazenkai and sesshin are not optional add-ons. They are what you do when you're a Zen practitioner.

This idea was reinforced by a scene that I recently saw in an episode from the fifth season of the venerable HBO series The Wire. During a prison visit, the incarcerated father admonishes his son to apply himself with greater diligence to his work in the drug trade. Either you real or you ain't, he says. Irony notwithstanding, this paternal advice underscores a valid point. The teacher's talk was evidently aimed at students who she thought needed to hear it. She might as well have said, either you real or you ain't.

I was reminded of something my family has said about me over the years: you are a fanatic, an addictive personality. When you set your mind to something, you go at it relentlessly, obsessively. I have always tended to think, well, ok. When they suggested that going away for a week-long sesshin last summer was an example of my fanaticism, I figured, whatever. Now I am not so sure. Sesshin is what zen practitioners do. Why do this at all unless you're serious? Either you real or you ain't.


Looking at the above three months later, I see the fallacy in the argument "I am not a fanatic; sesshin is what Zen practitioners do." Sitting in meditation several hours a day for a week is extreme -- fanatical, even. Dedicated Zen practitioners are fanatics.

On being burgled

| No Comments

I came home the other day to find that one of the two windows in my bedroom had been shattered. My apartment is on a third floor; the fire escape is accessible through these windows, and vice-versa. At first I thought, that's odd. A window broken, yet everything seems otherwise intact. The previous day had been a holiday for us public sector workers and I had devoted nearly all of it to cleaning and straightening out this apartment, so it was exceptionally neat and organized. Computer equipment and sexy skinny TV, still in place. Beautiful flowers on the clutter-free dining room table.

Later that evening as my four-year-old daughter and I were sitting down to dinner I had the impulse to take a picture. Oops, no digital camera. Hmmm, how about that portable computer that my mom gave me? Also gone. I had been considering whether to report the incident to the police -- what can they do? Is there any point? -- but at this point I decided I would definitely do so, if only to become an official statistic. Let the record reflect that this guy's apartment was broken into one day in February 2008 and his laptop and camera were stolen.

Two Jersey City police officers came promptly, and were impeccably courteous and professional. They summoned two more cops to the scene to look around and ask questions, then they left.

My bedroom was impossibly cold, and my daughter's is closer to the gaping window than the living room is, so I decided my daughter and I would both sleep on the fold-out in the living room that night. I felt curiously equanimous in the face of an experience that most reasonable people find distressing -- "violated" is the word people use to describe the feeling resulting from such intrusions. It was disturbing and inconvenient, but my material losses were modest and I felt I had gotten off easy. We went to sleep.

Ah, but at 3:30 a.m. I woke up a bit paranoid about the window open to the world, and did not get back to sleep. At around 5:00 I decided to get up and do zazen. The blinds rattling in the wind sounded like a person sneaking in, and scared the shit out of me before I figured out it was just the wind. As my mind meandered along, it ocurred to me that next time I come home and put my key in the lock, I will not know what to expect. In the next instant I thought, yes, but you never know what to expect when you put your key in the door. Indeed you don't even know if there will be a door. Welcome to reality. Back to the breath.

I have no ill will against the intruder. I do not want the incident to recur, but that's entirely different. In the days since the break-in I have wondered about the experience from the burglar's point of view. Who is she or he? A drug addict? How old? What race or ethnicity? The intruder evidently exited through the window adjacent to the one through which she entered, because I found it unlatched, and why risk cutting yourself on broken glass? She thoughtfully lowered it behind her, perhaps to keep the cats from escaping. I imagined Vernon and Lin-chi, ever sociable, greeting her warmly as she made her way through the kitchen and into the living room searching for portable items of value. Will you feed us, they must have asked.

You know how it is when you enter someone's home for the first time as a guest. You look around and take in the whole environment. Then, if left to your own devices for a couple minutes, you amble over to the bookcase and inspect the titles. You look at the art on the walls, perhaps the music collection. Looking, looking with pure, normal curiosity for things of interest, points of contact between guest and host.

What did my apartment look like through the thief's eyes? What did she observe? What registered? Anything? Did she notice the photographs on the refrigerator? The zabuton and seiza bench? The childrens' drawings taped up everywhere? Did the intruder form any impression at all of the apartment and its inhabitants?

We will never know, but it makes for interesting speculation.

Too Many Political TV Ads?

| No Comments

There was a soundbyte on NPR the other day in which an Iowa voter complained of being tired of so many political commercials on TV. The simplest solution -- much simpler than campaign finance reform -- apparently was beyond this person's imagination: stop watching TV.

Pick a Precept, any Precept...

| No Comments

During Ango we Zen students studied the Ten Essential Precepts, and were encouraged to make an extra effort to follow one or two of our choosing. I was drawn towards number six: not talking about others�?? faults -- to accept others as they are. For years I have been increasingly uncomfortable whenever I hear myself speaking about the faults of someone who is not in the room, and indeed have even made a modicum of effort to avoid it. I thought, let me not talk shit about anyone for a month.

That quickly proved to be harder than I thought, as I discovered that bashing people is a staple of our conversational diet, at least in my world. I think A and B speak ill of C in a misguided effort to strengthen the bond between them. We are cool, he's a jerk. Misguided, because of course criticizing and gossiping about C strengthens nothing.

With heightened awareness, I learned to see it coming just as surely and inexorably as a train coming down the track -- an other-bashing on its way out of my mouth. Sometimes I found I could re-phrase and spin a thought away from judgement and closer to objectivity. Thus, instead of "the guy who installed the windows in my apartment is an idiot," perhaps "I am dissatisfied with the workmanship of the guy who installed my windows."

Still, a month was unrealistic, so I made the goal more modest: let me not talk about another's faults for one day. I go into work and within a couple minutes someone comes up to me with a piece of paper with some names on it and says, this guy is an idiot. Yeah. I say, and that one -- indicating another name -- isn't the sharpest tool either. Boom, just like that. Why? It wasn't even true. The guy on whom I was casting aspersions is actually perfectly competent and decent. I think I had once seen him turn in a performance that I found underwhelming, so I participated in the aspersion-casting. Try again tomorrow.

The following day a group of us was gathered around a table on which was a newspaper with a photograph of George W. Bush. He is such a piece of shit, I sighed to no one in particular. Why? What's my point? Everyone already knows my politics, and furthermore, knows the President is a piece of shit. Perhaps the photo caught me unprepared. See how hard this is?

In the ensuing days I think I did make it through an entire day, unless I spoke ill of someone unawares. In any case, the exercise was illuminating.

During the last few days of Ango I had some fun with another of the Precepts, Number Nine: not being angry �??- to see things as they are and not as they should be. One of the teachers at our zendo gave a talk in which she said, when you are displeased with things because they are not as you want them to be, take your attention -- and with a sound effect like a creaking, recalcitrant old machine, she made a gesture of hauling something from over to one side to straight ahead of her -- and drag it over to what is rather than what ought to be.

I discovered that just a little effort in this regard yields interesting results. I was leaving my apartment for work, running late as always, when I decided to take out the garbage. As I removed the container from under the sink, splat goes a little blob of garbage onto the floor. Wet tea leaves and such, a nice little mess. The immediate reaction was: you incompetent fucking moron. Then I thought, ah HA! There ought not to be a pile of garbage on my floor, I ought to be sure-handed, nimble, mindful, not a klutz. Yes, but there is garbage on the floor. Clean it up and go to work. End of story.

It's easy with petty things like the garbage incident. But you have to begin to train yourself somewhere. The next opportunity posed a greater challenge: have a phone conversation about something delicate with my estranged wife without having it erupt into warfare, in the all too familiar old dynamic. She came out with a couple of rhetorical flourishes that one might consider provocative, but I managed to stand my ground without being drawn into combat.

It's satisfying and fun to practice not acting like a dick.

Joshua Bell, street musician

| No Comments

I read with great interest this piece in the Washington Post about an experiment that the Post did at a DC metro station: they had Joshua Bell himself stand there and play violin music for passersby during the morning rush, his case open for donations, to see how much of a crowd would gather. But for a very few of the adults and all the small children who passed by, people ignored him. I found it astounding that people could be so completely desensitized, dehumanized, so absorbed in their meetings and their spreadsheets and their iPods, that they could not see or hear something as extraordinary as this happening right in front of them.

What do you suppose would happen if they tried this experiment in New York? And not necessarily at the Lincoln Center subway stop. I would bet $100 he would draw a crowd at Union Square. I think New Yorkers are generally more attuned to street entertainment than federal bureaucrats.

Still, this article served as a reminder, a wake-up call of sorts. Pay attention. And not just to the extraordinary.

My Hilarious Adventure with

| No Comments

I swear the following incident is true: I am not making any of this up.

A few months ago I joined From time to time I have tweaked the little introductory text that they let you post, where you're supposed to describe yourself and what you're looking for. Whenever you submit a new draft, they save it separate and apart from your existing, live copy, and they review it "manually" for approval. In a day or two they send you an email saying your "portrait" has been deemed acceptable, in accordance with their policies; it is said to be "approved" and goes live, and the earlier version apparently gets overwritten.

Wiseass that I am, I have a satirical opening: "Fun-despising yet unstable, stupid, fat, ugly, lazy, inarticulate [...] unsuccessful nonprofessional seeks diametric opposite for a lifetime of mutual torture." Then I say sorry, I couldn't resist mocking the generic profile, let me try to get serious, and I proceed to enumerate my many virtues. Elsewhere in my "portrait" under "education," I say that I got some, and admit to occasionally enjoying using words like "perspicacious." Elsewhere I mention that I have a 3.5-year-old daughter who means more to me than words can say.

Last time I submitted a new draft for approval, I edited a couple things, but I did not touch any of the above parts of the text. Instead of the customary approval message, I got a boilerplate email that said there was an "issue" and reminded me of their guidelines: no offensive vile nasty racist et cetera stuff allowed. So I wrote back to them: what is it in my draft that you have a problem with? Answer: they sent back the same boilerplate. So I wrote back again: yes, but in order to answer my question, you're going to have to read it.

Meanwhile, I discovered that instead of leaving the previously accepted version of my "portrait" published, they had censored it outright. When you tried to access it, you got "We're sorry, the Portrait you're looking for could not be found. Please try another Portrait." My, that will certainly give me a competitive edge over the rest of the Match dudes, don't you think? But I was not amused, so I sent a nastygram through their web interface saying, inter alia, "if this is payback for questioning your unthinking overzealous misguided prudishness and political correctness, it seems a bit heavy-handed. Please make this right immediately, or refund my money pro rata as of the day you suppressed my profile. Your choice. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter."

Answer: call customer service during their business hours to address my "issue." This was on a holiday weekend, so I had to wait a couple days to call them.

When the next business day came around, I called them and spoke to someone who identified herself as Teowon. She said that the self-deprecatory humor in the beginning had to go because someone might find it offensive. Really, said I? Do you know of any actual complaints that you've received about it? No, but that's our policy. I said, well, I have gotten several positive comments about it and zero negative ones; it's been complimented as "funny" and "refreshingly hilarious." She said, that's our policy. I said, you are gutting my "portrait," this is the essence of who I am: funny. A funny guy. Get it? No one has complained, indeed people have said they like it. What's the problem?

She put me on hold.

A few minutes later she comes back and says the line "I couldn't resist mocking the generic profile" has to go. No mocking Against policy. I protest again.

She put me on hold.

Next she comes back and says what does perspicacious mean? I explained it to her, then said, do you have a dictionary there by any chance? Why take my word for it? She said that was what they were investigating while I was on hold. I suggested she try using the Google define keyword and look it up.

She put me on hold.

Then Teowon came back and said, you can't publish your daughter's age. That's against policy.

By now I knew for sure I was dealing with a semi-moron, so I said, OK, I will do your bidding, and you will provide me with the full name, title and mailing address of the highest-ranking executive in charge of customer relations at this company so I can address a letter to her or him and appeal my case.

She put me on hold.

A few minutes later she came back and declared that the entire text was now deemed acceptable and would be approved. This came as a surprise. I was pleased to have wasted only about half an hour, much of it wildly amusing. So I thanked her for seeing things my way and said goodbye.

The very next thing that happened was another email from someone named Ivan S., saying please call Customer Service. Savvy consumer that I am, I hypothesized that Ivan was responding to the complaint that I posted through the website, and of course the left hand has no clue what the right is doing, so just wait and see. Sure enough, soon thereafter I got the customary Your Profile Has Been Approved message, and all is well.

In the course of this conversation Teowon told me that she herself had been the one who evaluated my text and found it unacceptable. I suspect she had simply flagged it as no good, without specifying why, and could not remember why, so she had to search. Hence the long hold periods. Something had to be amiss, because she was objecting to parts that had been published for months and said nothing about the changes that had most recently been introduced. It would seem they aren't -- or at least Teowon wasn't -- running anything analogous to the Unix utility diff to examine only what what has changed since the last revision; every review is a de novo review.

Or maybe poor Teowon is just undertrained, or overworked, or just plain dumb, or some combination of the above.

Update: Fast forward to almost two years later. I don't want or need Match any longer, being completely satisfied with my girlfriend -- let's call her Amy, to protect the innocent -- whom I met on... match dot com, of all places! So I contact them and say I want my profile deleted. You can't do that. You have to log in and turn off a boolean signifying "display" or "do not display" your profile. I refuse. My position is no, I want to withdraw totally and completely, I want to leave, walk, depart, exit, disappear. Get it? No, you can't do that. It's like a street gang. Once you wear the tatto motherfucker you are one of us for life.

oooo888888888ooobhhhhhhgggggggggfggggh0j;;; [sic]

| No Comments

I like it when I go to a bash terminal window and press my up arrow to browse through my command history, and find this:


because it means my three-year-old has been hacking around this place.

In Praise of Shrinkdom

| No Comments

Psychotherapy is fundamentally a Good Thing. Here's the essential reason why, in my humble lay opinion:  There is no other way to unload your problems to somebody who is (1) professionally bound to keep his mouth shut; (2) is trained and paid to listen, truly shut the fuck up and listen; (3) is nonjudgemental and reasonably objective, having no dog in your fight, and yet (4) has your best interests in mind. There's no civilian that you know personally who can meet these criteria, because whoever knows you and your life personally is thereby involved in it, and can't be objective.

What's the downside? Let's see, there's the expense. No small consideration, depending on how shitty your insurance is and how pricey your shrink.

What else? Oh yeah, I almost forgot:  the stigma. I know a several people who assert that they've never been to a shrink but think they could benefit from one. So you ask them why don't they go ahead and do it and they're like, gee, I don't know, too busy, not hurting bad enough. Maybe so, or maybe a bullshit rationalization. If it's the latter, the likely true reason, IMHO, is that they are deterred by embarrassment, shame and stigma, even when they are in or close to a subculture in which being shrunk is supposedly no big deal, indeed almost de rigueur like some other hot consumer product. I think a lot of people are embarrassed to pick up the phone or hit a find-a-shrink website. Or maybe it's painful to admit to yourself that there is more on your plate than you care to handle alone. So Step One, if you fit this description, is Get Over It. It's nobody's business but your own, so fuck 'em and go do what you gotta do to take proper care of yourself. No one should expect you to govern the People's Republic of You without at least one good professional advisor on your payroll.

Step Two may be more challenging than Step One:  find a good one. Finding one that is both good and good for you may require some patience. You are the employer and they work for you, so keep auditioning shrinks until you find one with whom you feel completely comfortable. Some shrinks are a lot more equal than others, and one essential requirement is that they be your intellectual equal or superior. You are going to be having a lot of deep conversations with this person and if you aren't on the same wavelength in this regard, it ain't gonna work.

Once you hook up, make sure your expectations are appropriate. Shrinkdom isn't a panacea. It is, at a minimum, a chance to unload your woes for a little while in a way that is clean and harmless. At best, it is a way to come to a deeper understanding of what the fuck's up, which might really be helpful.

Masturbation as Spirituality

| No Comments

This one is sort of oriented towards the gentlemen among my immense readership, but ladies, feel free to mentally edit the genitals on the fly, to suit your equipment.

We occasionally hear people deride something as masturbatory, the implication being clearly pejorative. Masturbatory, as in some self-indulgent, half-assed substitute for the real thing.

Not so fast, say I. Don't be so quick to denigrate beating off, at least in the form that I am thinking of:

You stand there in that shower, hot water pouring down, soaped-up cock in hand, eyes closed, in a state of deepest concentration. You are transported from the here and now into an exquisite fantasy state, yet very much in the here and now, given the undeniable physicality of the moment. You are in a state of extreme arousal on one level, while nonetheless achieving a paradoxical relaxation as you release your mind from everything else and focus on this. (Besides, we don't have all day to bust a nut.)

Such moments are more than mere jerking off, my friends. This is more like a combination of masturbation, meditation, and prayer -- especially when you are in love, or at least infatuated, and that love is as yet unconsummated. Now the object of your desire is brought into the very shower itself, there with you, by the sheer power of your thought. Even the committed atheist would seem to be praying to the gods: please, please let this happen at least once before they put a toe-tag on me.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I could use a shower.

Professor B's Holiday Survival Guide

| No Comments

Hey guess what. It's pretty simple.

Christmas shopping:  If you have to do it, get it done. If it's isn't 85% done by the first week of December, you're fucking up. Get it done.

Stay out of the malls. This bears repeating so I will say it again: stay the fuck out of the malls. Shop online as much as you possibly can. If the package delivery is a problem because you don't have enough servants to answer the door when the UPS person comes, rent a drop from someplace like PostNet, it's worth it. Buy shit online and you won't have to listen to "It's a holiday season, it's a holiday season, doo dee doo..." and maybe just maybe you won't feel like slashing your wrists.

Spend some money on yourself. If you have to go on a consumption binge, blow some of that cash on some of that non-essential shit you've been denying yourself. The self-indulgence will make you feel better about all that generosity the season is coercing you into displaying.

Drink plenty of alcohol. Actually those are words of wisdom to live by year round, but they're especially important during this bleak season.

Enjoy! Happy holidays everybody (-: !

The Joy of Being Two Years Old

| No Comments

My two-year-old daughter has a pretty good deal, if you ask me. My wife's full time job is to take care of her, and she does a superb job of it.

That means young Gabriela has her own full time chauffeur, chef, personal assistant, wardrobe consultant, nutritionist, personal trainer, bodyguard, tutor, nurse, hair stylist, manicurist, pedicurist, travel agent, social secretary, and a hundred other things that I can't think of right now. Every day she is on some fabulous vacation with an extraordinary tour guide who handles everything seamlessly. Nice job, mami.

Airline travel now worse than ever

| No Comments

That's right folks. Just when you thought it couldn't possibly get worse -- airline travel in economy class now sucks more than ever, I have just determined after a round trip between Newark, New Jersey and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The seats have continued to get smaller and the rows closer together, while I have remained essentially the same size since 1983. The guy in front of you leans his seat back, and you can barely read your reading material, unless you like holding the text up to your nose.

With truly endemic obesity in the USA, most adults simply don't fit in these little containers any more. Now there is an unwritten law that holds that the more corpulent passenger takes possession of the arm rest, which in any case is marginally adequate for a single, normal-sized human arm.

As a captive audience you are treated to movies that are not only mindless and annoying, but also violent. I would have raised serious hell if I had had my two year old daughter with me, because her mother and I have decided that she has decades ahead of her in which to see people being beaten, shot and otherwise abused on film and television; she does not need to start yet. It is outrageous that some no-mind in charge of programming the in-flight entertainment for Continental should take it upon (her|him)self to override our decision.

Oh by the way. The seats in the last row on some aircraft do not recline. Maybe this is common knowledge to savvy travelers and I'm a bumpkin. Wouldn't it nevertheless be nice if the airline's website would warn you about that when you're making your seat selection? I had to find out the hard way on the way to PR and sit upright in my tiny seat for four hours.

Then they come around with "food." On the outbound trip I asked them if they had any lethal injections, which they didn't, so I said I'd pass. On the return trip they had "Philedalphia Cheesesteaks" for us sorry rabble. I didn't have the chutzpah to ask them if they had any non-red-meat alternative. Out of sheer hunger and boredom, I submitted to the humiliation of eating it.

I did find useful a psychological trick that I've developed for such situations: assume you have died and gone to hell to suffer eternally. Then you will be pleasantly and genuinely surprised to hear the voice announce your initial descent to earth.

The Trouble With Blogging

| No Comments | 98 TrackBacks

Who has time for this bullshit?

Brian Nichols as Hero

| No Comments

Here's one of the fucked up things about that Atlanta shooting/escape incident: as I was listening to the accounts of how this guy busted out, I felt a brief, involuntary flicker of admiration for the man's fearlessness and balls. Which should not be too surprising, if you think about the Hollywood violence-glamourizing cultural conditioning we are subjected to. Aggression is fascinating, let's face it.

It isn't hard to rework the screenplay enough to turn Brian into the heroic man of action. Despite his courageous resistance and awesome strength and fighting skills, Good Guy Brian Nichols is abducted by the Bad Guys and taken to Bad Guy Land, where he is framed for some heinous crime and taken to kangaroo court for a show trial. He must do something decisive and dangerous. The Bad Guys, in their arrogance and ineptitude, leave our Hero momentarily in the custody of just one guard -- some sadistic female bitch guard at that. The Hero overpowers her and confiscates her weapon, giving her the skull-cracking she deserves in the process. Then he starts dropping bodies of other Bad Guys in the course of his incredibly daring escape, to the thunderous cheers of the movie theatre audience.

Krazy Glue insight

| No Comments

Have you ever had a tube of Krazy Glue die a natural death, that is, run out of glue? No. Neither have I. And just today I had a sudden insight into something that should have been pretty damn obvious during all my decades as an occasional Krazy Glue user. I always assumed that when my Krazy Glue tube became hopelessly clogged with a glob of rock-hard, dry Krazy Glue, and cutting the tip (again) with scissors no longer worked, and the Krazy Glue had to be reluctantly given up for dead -- I always thought this was because of my own incompetence or negligence.

Well guess what. Are you ready for this? Sit down. I'm serious! Sit the fuck down and listen to me!

OK that's better. Here's the deal: the people that make Krazy Glue don't want you to use your Krazy Glue until the tube is empty! That's right: they want it to fail so you have to go buy anther one! So next time your Krazy Glue gets so thoroughly petrified that you have to discard it in utter despair, remember: it isn't your fault.

High End Parent with Too Much Spare Time

| No Comments

I read Barbara Ehrenreich's outstanding Nickeled and Dimed, and among other things, got inspired by one of the scenes she describes. She was working for a cleaning service scrubbing shit from the toilet bowl of a well-to-do mom who spent her time tracking her investments and her baby's bowel movements. Think of it: a nice little spreadsheet with columns for date, time, volume, aroma, color, texture... I decided I wanted to borrow a page from her play book but with a linguistic twist. I counted all the words I could think of in my 19+ month old daughter's vocabulary. Stuffed 'em in a MySQL database table because of my geeky proclivities.

I didn't cheat. These here are 72 genuine active vocabulary items, not random shouting or mimicking, observed as of 31-December-2004. I probably missed a few.

Good News: Drug Traffickers Use GPS

| No Comments

I heard on NPR this morning that drug traffickers working in and around Guatemala are using the Global Positioning System to locate points where they drop off and pick up 25-kilogram, bouyant, water-tight packages of cocaine in the ocean. It warms my heart to see another technology, originally developed for inherently evil military purposes, being used for something constructive. All the folks here at Vernon T. Bludgeon Consulting would like to salute our colleagues in the narcotraffic industry and wish them all success.

For let us not forget: the illegal drug trade — and its sine qua non, coercive prohibitionist policies — creates employment, opportunity and prosperity for countless thousands. Not to mention the pleasure that quality product brings to so many recreational users who enjoy drugs, and suffer negligible adverse social and health consequences! Yes my friends, from producer to processor, transporter to wholesaler, retailer to end user, just about everybody wins — including, of course, our thriving correctional-industrial complex. But the prison boom is hardly the only side-benefit of the multiplier effect. Drug dealers and manufacturers with money to burn drive the demand for all manner of consumer and industrial goods and services — think of the high-end tennis shoes favored by many drug retailers, or the precursor chemicals a Colombian processor orders from a German firm, or the speedboats those fellows in Guatemala are using, or the laundering services provided by so many financial institutions ranging from the mom-and-pop remittance agencies to the biggest names in the banking industry.

Of course drug prohibition has negative social impact on a few people, but that's just the way of capitalism, folks. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs! It's clear that the benefits of the illegal drug trade and our apparently (but not really) failed policies far outweigh the costs.

Lexical gap: the opposite of jealousy

| No Comments

When I see these ladies together — that would be my daughter and my wife — and see how profoundly they love each other, I feel an emotion for which there is no one word in the English language. The very opposite of jealousy, it's the satisfaction you experience when you see a relationship flourish between two others.

Cabe mencionar de paso que el español también padece la misma laguna léxica, que no hay ninguna palabra que signifique lo contrario del celos (A mi buen saber y entender (-:)

Speaking to speech recognition systems is humiliating

| No Comments

I have trouble talking to those speech recognition voice mail things. I find it vaguely humiliating, embarassing, degrading -- perhaps because it is! It is particularly irksome to do it in front of others -- rather like being bladder-shy, unable to pee in front of an audience. Pushing buttons, that's bad enough. But speaking to those things? Maybe it's like the very early days of telephone answering machines -- if you're old enough to remember, dear reader. When they were new and rare devices, some callers felt inhibited about recording messages. They got used to it. Will I likewise get used to talking to the voice mail robot?

I'm probably not the only user of such systems to discover that you can get "please hold while I connect you to a customer service representative" by screaming fuck you at the damn thing. Apparently it has yet to evolve far enough to understand fuck you.

Meanwhile, "for quality assurance purposes your call may be monitored or recorded." Two implicit lies are embedded right in there, to insult your intelligence: (1) recording and monitoring has some positive impact on quality; (2) quality is their objective. Customer service is exactly what they are firmly committed to avoiding. Fuck this, put the robot back on the phone.

Hookers made me miss my stop

| No Comments

Three prostitutes were seated across from me on the Port Authority Trans Hudson Interstate Rail System last Saturday night as I was on my way into New York City. From left to right they were: very pretty, mildly slutty and sort of middle class normal looking (and extremely attractive); very slutty but clean (and attractive); and extremely slutty and down-and-out looking. Naive and un-streetwise fool that I am, it takes me a couple minutes of staring to realize that these young ladies are on their way to work. Selling themselves in the street. Not having been laid for a while, and being a horny bastard even on a good day, I find the whores rather provocative, but also depressing and, in the case of the one on the right, repulsive. If I were their dad I would not want them sucking men's dicks for cash. At their age, they should be college students or something respectable like that. Then again, perhaps their dad is dead or in prison or too drunk to give a fuck. It's so sad. I wonder what they charge for a blowjob. I wonder how that figure compares to the amount of cash in my pocket.

Thus lost in so much pointless thought, I miss my stop at 14th Street and end up amazed to find myself getting out of the train with the whores at 23rd Street. So I walked back downtown.

New Addition to VTB Executive Staff

| No Comments

Vernon T. Bludgeon Consulting is pleased to welcome the newest addition to its executive staff.

sometimes people who don't know shit know shit

| No Comments

Two little anecdotes illustrate the point of our title.

Anecdote 1:

I'm at work and one of the geeks and I are playing around with a Dell laptop running Mandrake Linux 10 and trying to get its display output to a VGA projector. This should be trivial, but it wasn't. I readily acknowledge that I don't know shit about laptops and this guy does. But as he's struggling and fumbling around for minutes after minute, I say, hey maybe it wants to be rebooted. No, he says, that's not it. More minutes go by before he tries rebooting. Bingo.

Anecdote 2:

A client for whom I do web development emails me a spreadsheet in which there is a column of numbers that is supposed to match id numbers in a database table. I start fooling with the sorting and unwittingly commit the most bone-headed mistake any fool who knows spreadsheets knows not to do:  I highlight a column and say "sort..," and when the dialogue pops up and prompts me to "widen the selection" I say, "bah, I know what I'm doing" and bypass it, and fail to notice that it sorted only the values in that column and left the rest untouched. Being a database guy used to saying "select * from some_table order by foo," I suppose I just expect all the data fields in a row to stay together. But no excuses -- I continue to examine this spreadsheet, see the ids have apparently been randomly re-assigned, and start mentally accusing the clueless ones of somehow screwing something up, and proceed to waste numerous minutes of their time with emails trying to encourage them to get it right, because they don't know shit, and I do. Uh huh.

Giving in to mobile telephony

| No Comments

I finally, finally gave in a few weeks ago and got a mobile phone. I held out as long as I could on the grounds that (1) I was a contumaciously independent-minded eccentric who disdained herd mentality consumerism, and (2) I didn't really need one.

But I guess I said WTF and joined the herd. And right away I learned something interesting:   getting a mobile phone does not automatically make you more popular! Especially when you don't tell anyone your number. And here I was expecting the cute sexy little device to be ringing off the... hook?

Whatever, if you'll pardon the expression.


| No Comments

Don't you hate it when you wake up at 2:45am after a nightmare in which some invisible assailant is trying to kill you with a bow and arrow, and you are trying to defend yourself with a pool cue? And tens of minutes after you've forgotten about the dream, you're still fully awake, feeling all tense and weird? And you get off your high horse and pop one of those legally obtained, prescription anti-anxiety pills provided by Big Pharma via its drug dealing proxy, your physician, and thus join the ever-swelling ranks of the pitiful bourgeois neurotics too lame to just drink and street-drug their way out of their malaises? And the next day you sit around blathering on about it in your fucking blog?

Actually I don't mind it all that much, I find it rather entertaining.

random bits

| 1 Comment

While driving, I heard the first report that Nicholas Berg's body had been returned to the US. I wondered out loud - what about the head? I did this many times that day as it went around on the various news channels. I am still wondering about the head.

Jesus ate and drank but did not defecate.
- Valentinus

Yes, it is wonderful that the church cleared that up; but what about all the other bodily functions? I must say, I am impressed that they cared enough to clear that detail up. What have they had to say about wet dreams? I'm sure someone has mentioned that.

Al is a mean cocksucker for sure but I can't help noticing that he gets out of bed in the morning, in his obviously unlaundered long-johns and proceeds to piss in a chamber pot. He is getting back-splash all over his feet. Try it and then tell me I'm wrong. Louis XIV at Versailles, used to piss out the window and try to hit someone walking by. I would have written that into Deadwood - can't you see Al doing that? They should have consulted me.

One of the best boxing ring names I have heard in a long time: "Concrete" - Kind of sums it up. "And then, I makes the mutha-fucka kiss the curb"

"Blood Meridian" is now available as a "modern library" edition in hardback. Harold Bloom has written the introduction. Makes me want to take his class at Yale.

I am so happy that gas prices have gone up so I can have the pleasure of laughing at the assholes driving SUV's to pick up bread and milk at the grocery store. I have been waiting to find one of those monsters with a save the enviroment bumper sticker or something similar. Guns are a good thing.

As President I would raise the gas price to $5.00 a gallon and use the extra to undo the damage that little w has done to the economy. The whiney business men who cry foul because they use there "cars" for business? Fuck em. They can write it off on their taxes. Poor people? Around here they take the bus or walk to "work". Lets keep in mind - the excess from the gas tax. I think I can figure out how to cover the truely disadvantaged.

Why do we face the doors on elevators? I have taken to getting in a corner away from the doors and making sobbing noises. Makes the trip much more interesting.

How about those Minnesota Twins!

The variety of swearing


Lets make this clear: everybody swears, yes some more than others - construction workers, the homies hangin on the corner, someone with tourettes syndrome, etc. and there are those who swear only occasionally. Anyone who maintains that not once has a bit of "bad" language passed their lips is full of shit; a lot of it. My mother doesn't swear a lot for example, but she does. She hates the word "fuck" and I've been reprimanded for using it in conversation. However - when she really desperately needs to make a point.... you get the concept.

There is a scene in the movie "A Christmas Story" (Jean Shepard's writing - some of the funniest stuff around) where the kids father is down in the basement wrestling with the coal furnace and you hear the equivalent of writing #?!!*$@+!##"~! ; just a bunch of double-talk nonsense for the PG rating. The narrator says something like: when it comes to swearing, my father worked with words the way a great artist uses oils or a sculptor works with clay; his medium was profanity.

Recently I have returned to working on a car - the mechanical side of me. It had lain dormant since high-school. While replacing a front brake wheel cylinder and having a bit of trouble, I was helping myself with encouraging strings of really, really bad words. It hit me right then that I was using a unique combination of expletives. I came to realize that I have "working on the MG" profanity. What a concept! and as I pondered it more, came to recognize that I have special situational language unique to a lot of activities. Think about it; it's fun! Some examples: driving - choice phrases are used then and only then. Asshole is a prominent word; usually preceded by "you ought to be put to sleep". Asshole is almost a pronoun. Usually it is used for men and often combined with "fucking" Women get bitch with fucking or goddamn, actually, more often with both words. Upon hearing something really annoying; something that is going to upset my plans, perhaps: Then I get spiritual. First comes a prolonged aawwww... followed by: jesus (I'm not too put out yet -or a simple shit, when I'm not religious) then it expands depending on the degree of annoyance - jesus christ; jesus fucking christ; goddamn fucking jesus christ - if it is worse than that then things get very creative, but somehow that jesus guy stays with me. I saw a painting of "The circumcision of the lord" and underneath the caption read "Really? He yelled out his own name?"

When I drop something or miss a note or some other small, isolated mistake, what comes out is very close to spitting. Just one word is enough; said very quickly and with heavy emphasis one the first letter: "shit" "fuck" etc. Akin to the sound of a race car passing by at very high speed. If the little mistake repeats itself then the ante is upped and from there on it gets progressively more creative.

Then there is the issue of volume. Those little one word bits are almost whispers at times, because the moment is fairly intimate and personal. To my great surprise and probably what led me to this epiphany, is that my "mechanics" profanity is extremely loud and violent and doesn't go through the usual development section. Loud and unique. So loud that on occasion I have quickly looked to make sure that one of the cute neighborhood kids wasn't lingering about. The string of words is completely baffling because I am dealing with both myself and a bunch of inanimate objects. It is really, really entertaining - almost as if someone has taken control of my voice.

So play the game: what language is used with each event and how do the circumstances alter the creative process? And to all of you who say that people who swear do so because they haven't the capacity to express themselves any other way: "I'm extremely annoyed and quite beside myself, almost to the point of apoplexy because I can't get this 3/4 inch spanner to even begin to budge this recalcitrant nut" - just doesn't cut it. It is way too pleonastic. "goddamn fucking shit" is elegant and to the point of the matter. So eat shit and die mother fucker.

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Deadpan

| No Comments

Is is just me, or is there note something funnier-than-shit about this deadpan treatment of rock-paper-scissors:

I Can't Fix Shit

| 1 Comment

I can't fix shit. I can't install, assemble, repair, maintain, build or otherwise perform any manner of mechanical activity on any physical object whatsoever.

I am a klutz.

There, I said it, and I don't regret it.

Now I can go back to trying to install a gate to keep our eleven-month-old from tumbling down the stairs.

PS: I exaggerate. In fact, I have:  assembled stuff -- furniture, baby equipment, gas barbecue grill -- that still has yet to fall apart; patched and replaced bicycle tubes; replaced all manner of computer parts; done very basic plumbing repairs without fucking up (and have also done them with fucking up); and so forth. But it's slow, painful and perilous, because I am a klutz. Though I read instructions and how-to books, usually something comes up that is undocumented. That's when a person needs creativity, courage, imagination, balls, talent, skill. I have a little of the first three, but very little of the last two.

Alcohol Can Affect Your Judgement -- for the Better


I'm sitting at my computer struggling with GnuCash 1.8.1, trying bring my financial records up to date after months of neglect so I can get my data organized for my tax guy. (I have splendid excuses for procrastinating, but take my word for it so I can spare you.) I try to run a transaction report and keep getting a useless error message "There was an error while running the report." No shit. I go out there and google for some help and come up empty. I think, dude, let's see if there's a newer version. There is. I think, dude, you should upgrade. Ah, but if the upgrade opens some hideous can of worms and makes matters worse, what then? I confess: I am somewhere beyond newbie but way short of expert in matters Linux. The venerable RedHat Package Manager is famed for its ease of use, but how do you roll back an upgrade with RPM? I could research that and figure it out but I am under pressure here and have little patience. So I think, dude, just download the rpm and upgrade. But I hesitate. This is my only Linux machine, and if something goes seriously wrong, with all my financial data in a massive XML data file that dumb-ass Windoze programs like Quicken and Money do not understand, I am fucked. Time to make a decision.

Enter our reliable old friend, alcohol. I think, dude, go upstairs and pour a nice hefty vodka with cranberry and OJ, and knock it back. I do this. Then I go back to the machine, close GnuCash, become root, run

rpm --upgrade gnucash-1.8.8-0.9.i386.rpm.

It sits there thinking for a few seconds so I go back upstairs (to the liquor cabinet) to await my fate.

Bingo. GnuCash is rocking and I am back in the ballgame, thanks to a sound decision arrived at with the aid of the demon alcohol.

A Shout Out to My Nigga Ned

| No Comments

I like to use this blog for bitching and ranting and thundering against assholes. So today we're gonna change the tone a little bit and praise somebody.

I got a good buddy across the street -- let's call him Ned. Ned is one of the most generous people I know -- almost pathologically generous. He seems happiest when his house is full of his friends from the 'hood, eating and drinking and talking shit and enjoying themselves. And he regularly hosts informal, quasi-spontaneous gatherings of this kind. In cold weather Ned's parties are indoors. In warm weather we like to stoop it on his stoop, and we barbecue. Where a lot of us just talk about how we'd really like to host a get-together some time soon, Ned just does it. And does it and does it.

He also is skilled at producing great amounts of good food on short notice. Dinner for ten people in two hours? No problem.

Ned is like the hub of the social network we call community. He's the glue that helps make it all cohere. Here's to Ned.

Pharmaceuticals vs. Street Drugs: Which is Better For You?


Think I'm kidding with that provocative title? Hardly.

The other day I got fed up with being sick for about 60% of the preceding eight weeks and went to a doctor's office. I was seen by what's known as a physician's assistant. She prescribed two drugs: a decongestant, and an antibiotic. I bought the drugs, scanned the warnings about possible side effects, and dutifully started taking my drugs.

Imagine my consternation when I awoke in the middle of the night seized with something that must be similar to a panic attack. We're talking serious jitters. I went and took another look at those side effects... "Mild dizziness, mild drowsiness, headache, loss of appetite, nausea, dry mouth..." Ah, here we go: "Extreme nervousness, trouble sleeping." Thank you, Guaifenesin/Dextromethorphan/Decongestant Oral. Wait, what's this? "If any of
these effects persist or worsen, notify your doctor." Hmmm. Otherwise, tough it out? Not wanting to be a pussy, I tried it again for a couple nights before I finally said fuck this, I'm better off without it. That Guaifenesin/Dextromethorphan/Decongestant Oral is some bad shit.

When you buy street drugs you might well be buying a safer product and getting a better value than when you score from the pharmacist. Granted, that bag of cocaine from the corner spot contains a substance whose exact composition and origin are unknown. However, the dealer has a sincere market-based interest in your satisfaction. Can the same be said of Big Pharma? If they think the profits outweigh the risks of liability, they are capable of spinning their data and lobbying the FDA to approve their stuff even when they know it isn't safe.

Does the drug dealer really care any more than AstraZeneca does about your health and well being? No. But the active ingredient in that bag, cocaine hydrochloride, has been the subject of countless scientific studies, many of them responsible. Moreover, cocaine has been and continues to be tested informally by an army of volunteers every day. Its effects, both good and bad, are pretty well understood. Anyone who can read and think can make an informed decision whether to buy and use that bag; you know less about the drugs your doc thinks you should take.

True, cocaine will not cure your ear infection, and indeed may make it worse. But that's not what it's intended for. It's for mood elevation and temporary relief of fatigue. Side effects? Let's see.... loss of appetite, nasal congestion, trouble sleeping, nervousness, prolonged use may produce dependency. Not much worse than Guaifenesin/Dextromethorphan/Decongestant Oral, is it? And for the congestion you can always try... Guaifenesin/Dextromethorphan/Decongestant Oral! (I got some right here. You interested?)

Then there's price. We all know prescription drug prices are scandalous in this country. Street drug prices have been comparatively stable, obeying the economic laws of supply and demand -- pure market dynamics undistorted by the sort of corruption we see from Big Pharma. That bag from the homies on the corner is a better deal than that bogus antibiotic prescription your doctor gave you for an ailment that was not bacterial.

Do Not Eat Around the Brazil Nuts


Yeah you heard me.

When you're invited to my house you will be my honored guest. I will do everything I reasonably can to ensure that you are well entertained, well fed, well boozed, in short -- well loved. You wouldn't be there if I intended otherwise.

But there's just one thing you gotta promise me in return. When I put out a bowl of mixed nuts for your delectation, eat your share of the Brazil nuts. Don't make me eat them all. I don't really like them either. But we all have to pull together and do our share. So don't rely on others to keep picking up the slack for you.


Thanks for your cooperation.

The Absurdity of Pro Forma Security


I work for an organization whose employees include people than some people would just love to assassinate, so we have security for serious reasons, not just for paranoia or for keeping the unwashed masses from wandering into the building. We employees have electronic swipe cards and photo IDs and all that good stuff. Whenever the Ministry of Fear in DC raises the Terror Level, we have what I call crackdowns, during which times the security people at the entrances have orders to do "100% ID checks." That means you swipe your card and display your ID. But here's the ridiculous part. The security dudes quickly get bored and stop really looking at your creds after you've successfully swiped in, especially when they've seen your face several hundred times. I carry a little leather cardholder thingy containing stuff like aMetroCard and a photo of my baby daughter, as well as my employee ID and swipe cards, which are obscured by the former items. So I wave my baby picture/MetroCard at the security dudes and they nod and say thank you. "It's OK:  he's got a MetroCard and a cute kid."

However, if I forget my creds, then I have to go through the metal detector like an ordinary mortal -- usually. In such cases I invariably think, yeah right, the day I come unglued and bring my firearm to work with homicidal intentions is the day I will also forget my creds and be thwarted by the metal detector. Knowing me, that's probably exactly what I'd do:  forget my swipe card and ID. And with my last flicker of rationality I would think, ah fuck it, let's come back tomorrow and kill everyone when we have both our gun and our ID .

I don't mean any disrespect for the people whose job it is to watch our back. Most of them are decent people doing a necessary job honorably. But I can't help but sneer every time I look out my office window at the garage entrance below me, and see the perfunctory pro forma trunk inspections the guys do on cars coming into the building. I don't know about you, but whenever I install a car bomb, I mount it someplace discreet like under the car, instead of like, you know, leaving it hanging out in plain sight in the trunk? Cause it like so totally blows when the security dudes find your bomb?

blog bog


The blog is bogged down. Maybe more writers could be invited to blog?

Nobody knows what happens to us when we die. Nobody has died and come back to tell us about it. The Jesus story is myth and/or completely unprovable. For me the only reason I can see for religion is the fear of death. My question is: If we knew for sure what death is like and what happens, would religion still exist?

Blog on and yes,I can think of other reasons for religion but that is not what I am asking. Anyone out there have a "near death" experience?

Middle Class Classlessness

| No Comments

I wonder if the general lack of knowledge, culture and familiarity with the fine points of English could be partially attributable to the fact that, after all, we are still one of the nations with the largest middle class, speaking in socio-economic terms. In other countries that still retain clear divisions between the upper and lower classes marked by huge disparities in resources of all types, no one expects the lowly masses to know anything. Despite recent ecomomic hard times, the USA still offers the best shot at improving one's financial circumstances. Education and culture don't necessarily track that improvement, though. Of course, this doesn't explain moronic college students, but as they say, "Garbage in, garbage out."

language, ignorance, mindlessness


Let's continue discussing some of the questions raised by my right honourable friend dark-eye in his last post.

I take it we agree, then, that there's no point in being nasty to the checkout slave for using the harmless phaticism "have a good one." I think it's likewise anal-prescriptivist, and a waste of energy, to fulminate over people saying "where's it at." English varies by region and social class; different variations obey different systems of rules; so what?

It isn't so much annoying that people use clichés and buzzwords as it is distressing that they can't do any better. Too many Americans can't express themselves worth a shit or tell you in what century the Civil War took place. Why?

I think that's a complex question with no definitive answer, just competing theories. Part of the cause must be that fools sit around staring at the veg box for too many hours of their lives -- that'll make you stupid, for sure. Part of it is undoubtedly due to failures in the public education system, which in turn are attributable in large measure to severe underfunding and our policymakers' fucked up spending priorities. The way stuff like U.S. history is typically taught in school gives students little reason to remember it -- a series of disconnected factoids, trivia. Who cares? Chomsky called it right when he said (don't ask me exactly where) that school is a system of enforced ignorance. That's no mere eccentricity -- it's literally true in too many cases.

For people like dark-eye and me it is nonetheless appalling how ignorant people are. We're Old School. The fact that your history teacher sucked is no excuse. The fact that whenever you please, you could go onto the Web and find out when the Civil War was is no excuse. There are some things that people should know Just Because.

NY Times, the humor publication

| No Comments

The comedians over at the New York Times must bust a gut when they are composing those headlines. Today's edition has this belly-buster:

Bush to Establish Panel to Examine U.S. Intelligence

As Homer Simpson said of one of the films screened at the Springfield Film Festival: It works on so many levels!

dumbing down

| 1 Comment

Language rant: I agree professor, in the end we are all just a bag of rotting flesh. However, if someone calls me an elitist or intellectual snob, I thank them. In case you haven't noticed America is rapidly declining in culture, morality and intellect. Remember: you read it here first! The US ranks 49th in literacy of the 158 members of the UN. A rough estimate is that 60% of American adults have never (yes never) read a book of any kind and only 6% reads as much as one book a year - book can be anything - romance novel, self help, etc. Jay Leno asked questions, a series of eight actually, to students after a college graduation ceremony (college gratefully un-named). One of the questions was "How many moons does the earth have?" One woman said that she had taken an astronomy course a couple of years back but couldn't remember the answer. "What was the Gettysburg Address"? one student: an address to Getty; another: I don't know the exact address. I find this all unbelievable. 6% of adults went to the theater at least once so far; 3% to the opera (no surprise there). It goes on and on. There is a terrific book by Morris Berman titled "The Twilight of American Culture" some of this information was mined (stolen! plagiarised) from that work. I highly recommend the book.

So, our language reflects some of our descent into idiocy. "Have a good one". Overused by everyone. I think that people could be a little more creative if they tried - "hope your wife has the clap and you have a pleasant evening". I grew up in the south and "Y'all come back now, heah?" was heard alot and after the 50th time became tiring, too. In certain parts of the country you will "where's it at?". Charming but it ain't not good speechefying.

It just isn't his "for-tay". The word is forte - italian - loud to musicians. It just isn't his loud? Excuse me? It should be "fort" : thanks goes to George Carlin for that observation. Language reflects our thought processes; grows from our intellectual search; is the one thing that seperates us from the rest of the creatures on earth. Now lets not trot out the old whale song argument. If language becomes simplified to accomodate the uneducated, the marginally illiterate then we are in deep trouble.

Oh my happy bloggers, just wait until I get to religion. Now there is where the dumbed down really live. The press has come forth with numerous opinion columns about the christians, jews and islam all having the same god. "We are all the sons of Abraham" Oh really? Just him? Sarah wasn't involved? And lets not forget Hagar while we are at it.

Coffee is More Addictive than Cocaine


I can go almost indefinitely without cocaine. I can go for little more than 24 hours without coffee.

I can get up in the morning and consider leaving the house for work without first doing a blast of cocaine. I can't bear the thought without a blast of espresso.

I can concentrate on my work without my brain interrupting me to demand a line. I can hit a wall, fall on my ass and stay there for want of coffee.

If I wake up in a motel or someplace where there is no coffee I will go out and get some without even brushing my teeth, and persist in my quest for coffee until I score. Even on a bad day you won't see me out there copping a bag.

Therefore, coffee is more addictive than cocaine. QED.

death of language


Small language rant:

"How will this impact our company"? Sorry, that is wrong and doesn't make much sense. There is a tendency to dumb down language as if it is cute to do so. In the process, words or syllables get lopped off. In the example: what happened to the word "affect"? If they want to use "impact" then they need a few more words as in: "what sort of impact will this have on the company".

Next: "invites": "did you send out the invites Skeezik"? The abbreviation works fine if you say it with a southern accent and spit afterwords. "Invitations" just isn't that much of a tongue twister to be abandoned. Gotcher invite to the cross burnin floyd.

The queen mother of current language idiocy is the term "from the get go" (or fum de git go). What pitiful soul came up with that one? Sophisticated businessmen (I know - that's an oxymoron) use it all the time. Again it leads me to think that a bit of tobacco juice may be coming my way when I hear that expression. Ah hell, Billy I node yur wife was yur sister fum de git go. Yee-haw!

There are many, many more. "Have a good one"! said cheerily by just about every check-out person. A good what?? I usually say "Thanks, but I have other plans" and leave them staring blankly into space, the trickle of tobacco juice starting to bubble at the corner of the mouth.

"You know what I'm sayin?" - "I hear you" - "well, if you ask me..." (fuck you, I didn't nor was I even thinking of asking you) - "that's what I always say". The list grows and grows, doesn't it.

Add your favorites and we'll see how they impact this blog. This blog has been a good one from the git go and I invitation you to participate. Know what I'm sayin?

His Idea of Heaven is Hellish

| 1 Comment

I work in downtown Chicago, just a few short blocks from the famous retail establishment, Marshall Fields, affectionately known by insiders as simply, "Fields." In order to access the stairwell leading to the Red Line "El" train, passerbys must -oddly enough- pass by an individual who stands in front of Fields every single week day with a crackly amplifier and a poor quality microphone preaching loudly and passionately about the sinful ways of mortals. His sermon never changes and he always admonishes those whom he spots smoking that, "THERE ARE NO CIGARRETTES IN HEAVEN!" This assertion is followed by a related concept: "THERE ARE NO WHISKEY BOTTLES IN HEAVEN!"
Well, my question is simply this: What the hell is the point of a heaven like that?

Shit on Mrs. Leroy: An Anecdote

| No Comments

I was a first grade student in a middle class white Maryland suburb in about 1966. Think Johnson administration, automobiles with fins.

I befriended a kid named Dennis Godbald. Note the unusual surname, which I've never encountered again. Godbald was not from the same socio-economic stratum as most of the kids. He was white welfare trash. And he was "bad" -- a bit of a discipline problem. Maybe his home life was more dysfunctional than most -- maybe. In any case, I don't think he was stupid. He had a rebellious spirit and a well-developed sense of humor.

One day Godbald and I were walking through the schoolyard discussing the possibility of doing something -- I forget what -- and I remarked that our teacher, Mrs. Leroy, would probably disapprove. And Godbald said these exact words: "Aw, shit on Mrs. Leroy." I laughed at the disrespectful attitude and the blunt way it was expressed.

Shit on Mrs. Leroy has informed my thinking about authority ever since. Not that all authority is to be disrespected; rather, the burden of proof is on authority to prove its legitimacy. A test which the perhaps well-meaning Mrs. Leroy failed, from young Dennis Godbald's point of view.

The fighter in the white trunks...

| No Comments

You've noticed that when sportcasters are calling boxing matches on TV, they always tell you which fighter is which based on the trunks they're wearing. Occasionally the trunks are quite similar. "Héctor Rodriguez is the fighter in the white trunks with the blue piping, and Tyrone Jackson is the fighter in the the white trunks with the blue piping and little gold accents on the outer seams." Ever wonder why they don't say what everyone already knows, which is Héctor Rodriguez is the Mexican guy and Tyrone Jackson is the black guy? I'm sure the networks' answer is: Because that would be racist.

Racist? You mean there is something shameful and unmentionable about having physical attributes that are characteristic of certain races and ethnicities? That attitude itself is insulting.

Then, is it because they don't want to portray the fight as a fight between an black man and a latino? We can already see that for ourselves.

OK, so suppose both guys are, say, black. African American, if you please. So now you need to distinguish them by their trunks, even thought the ring announcer just told you who they were ("fighting out of the corner to my left...")? Why? Because they all look alike?

Getting Started

| 1 Comment

Oh shit ®. That's what Vernon has to say, and he is now saying it at long last. In other words Vernon T. Bludgeon has finally gotten around to starting his blog. Let there be blogging.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the human behavior category.

Previous: health etc

Next: life itself

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Powered by Movable Type 5.12