Sunday, June 30, 2013

Your Sunday Poem

A friend vacationing in Ireland, sent an email saying. in part, that she was staying in "Magherafelt (Machaire Fiolta = The Plain of Fiolta) originally Teach Fiolta (The Monastic House of Fiolta). The guest house, Laurel Villa, was built in 1870 for Doctor Murdoch.  On his gravestone in the Church of Ireland graveyard opposite his tombstone reads, "was called away from a life of usefulness in Magherafelt in 1882." Which, you must admit, is a pretty swell epitaph for any of us.

Anyway, she was staying in the Longley Room.  Dedicated to the Ulster poet Michael Longley, born Belfast 1939 and now "reading" Classicas at Trinity College in Dublin.  I am unfamiliar with his work, but here's a wonderful poem of his (and her added footnote) which she sent along to share.

The Lifeboat 
I  have imagined an ideal death in Charlie Gaffney's
pub in Louisburgh: he pulls the pluperfect pint
As I, at the end of the bar next to the charity boxes,
Expire on my stool, head in hand, without a murmur.

I have just helped him solve his crossword puzzle
And we commune with ancestral photos in the alcove
He doesn't notice that I am dead until closing time
And he sweeps around my feet
     But it's Charlie Gaffney
Who has died, how do I buy a fishing license?
Shall I let the dog out? Would the fire take another sod?
The pub might as well be empty forever now.  I launch
The toy lifeboat at my elbow with an old penny.

(The toy lifeboat is on every counter; a fundraiser for the National lifeboat Association, a volunteer organization. Sod is peat, a traditional fuel harvested and dried from the peat bogs.)  

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Calhoun's Cannons for June 27, 2013

Well, there's no mistake, now.  The Supreme Court, that ideologically muddled hot mess, has made it vaguely clear, sort of, that when it comes to marriage, gay people are finally semi-full citizens, maybe.  At least in California and several other states, they can get married, just like regular folk.  And with the fall of DOMA, that politically motivated piece of cynical, shameful expediency, federal laws will now treat them like their married straight brethren. 

But being full citizens will have to wait until the Supreme Court finds the courage to apply the motto above its front door --equal justice under law --and/or Congress stops dicking around and  passes ENDA, among other laws that will at least give gay folks some federal civil protections in the workplace.  Without those measures, full civil rights for gay people will have to wait until the Court weighs in again and again on more un-civil state laws, a grindingly slow legal version of Chinese water torture that eventually ensures that the arc of history bends to equal justice under law.

But even quasi-equality is bringing with it delicious muddlement -- How to sort out the practical, day to day changes needed to ensure equality of marriage.  And if the devil is always in the details, it's the details themselves -- all those little things one never thinks of -- that offer a fascinating glimpse into just how many and how far-reaching are the presumptions, assumptions, accommodations and benefits behind the word "married."  And just how much of their "civil rights" straight married people have taken for granted. 

Meantime, the country finds itself once again divided into free states, where gay citizens have full rights and social acceptance, and decidedly un-free states, where gay citizens better head for the state line before the sun goes down. It's all a creepy rerun of the civil rights battles of the 1960's.  Which is both hopeful and dispiriting, because once again we have to face the same slow social slog to a more perfect union, with no guarantee that real parity will ever be achieved.  Bigotry has deep, deep roots and religion-fueled bigotry goes deeper still. So, we will have to wait generations for most of the poison to abate.

But, in California, at least, gay folks can once again head for the altar.  Yes, yes, I know, this is proof positive that the state is surely doomed and damned.  But California has always been sliding into the sinful sea, a condition that's been its original fatal attraction to so many straight arrow Baptists from Butte heading west for the street of broken dreams or maybe a movie contract.   

So, bring money, boys and boys and girls and girls and boys and girls. The wedding industry is gearing up for a blow-out, and the state's economic recovery needs a shot in the arm, complete with balloons, confetti and rice. Mazel tov!  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Life, Redux

Mallows in bloom, zuri, finn, backyard 009
The Great Mother Mallow

Mallow collapsed, backyard 003
The Mother Mallow after the heavy rains came.

Mallow cutting, back yard, Mar 12 003
Starting over:  The Mother Mallow's cutting.

Mallow's clones 002
Mother Mallow II, 2013

Mallow's clones 004
And her triplets.

And who says, given a chance, life will not renew itself?

Silently a flower blooms,
  In silence it falls away; 
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
  The world of the flower, the whole of 
  the world is blooming. 
This is the talk of the flower, the truth
  of the blossom: 
The glory of eternal life is fully shinning here. 
                               Zenkei Shibayma

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Aural Assault

Look!  Up in the sky!  It's a bird?  It's a plane?  No, it's SuperDooper KerFlooey Man!

It's Rococo Man! (If one is good, 79 are better!)  It's Kettle Drum Man! Bring on Hans Zimmer screaming , "Ach tung! You VILL listen to my music! MORE LOUDER!" until the audience is crouched under their seats, fingers in their ears.

It's Demolition Man!  See Superman fly through buildings! Again and again and again and again.  It's Building Crumble Man! See buildings crumble and fall!  Want to see that again?  You got it!  How's about buildings crumbling and falling and .  .. disintegrating!  Want more of that?  Sure, here 68 more!

It's Bring on the Earth Disintegrator Ray! No, bring on TWO Disentegrator Rays! More Rays! More Rays! Who's got the cow bell?

It's "Man of Steel," an interesting, often touching take on Kal-El's  origins, a sweet story of young Clark Kent's coming of age and his search for his place on earth that was mercilessly hijacked, not by Kent's nemesis, General Zod, but by Blockbuster Movie Makers who only know how to appeal to 14 year-old BoyFans who are addicted to obsessively repetitive masturbatory CGI effects and endless, ridiculous Ka-pow! fist-fights, MORE! MORE! Faster! Faster!

Until the audience is bludgeoned into exhaustion, whimpering at the screen, "I can't take any more of this," while Hans shreiks, "MORE LOUD! MORE LOUD, jah?"

For 2 1/2 hours.

Oh, the humanity!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Thought for Sunday

This by the always sly and witty, Rumi, is from "Love Poems from God; Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, " translated by Daniel Ladinsky.

                           Spiritual Health

A good gauge of spiritual health is to write down
           the three things you most want.
                If they in any way differ,
                      you are in trouble.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Orwell's Children

Calhoun's Cannons for June 11th.

Another foolish young man has donned the mantle of Hero of the Republic. And, like Bradley Manning before him, Snowden will pay a fearful price for absconding with and disclosing classified information he gained while working for three months as a $200,000-dollar-a-month infrastructure analyst for Booz Allen Hamilton, a NSA defense contractor.

Snowden popped up in Hong Kong for a TV interview that generated a couple of key questions:  How does a three-month employee get access to secret documents that, if disclosed, would pose a "huge grave danger  . . .to our intelligence capabilities?" And, if one of Snowden's statements was true, how did a three-month, low-level employee have the "authorities" to tap anyone's phone and email?  And, most importantly, is the nature of modern surveillance such that the old model of "need to know" no longer works? 

I suspect that the top-secret can of beans that Snowden's waltzed away with hints at what an impossible game we're now playing in our Brave New CyberWorld.  He was a low-level "infrastructure" analyst," a "systems" administrator and telecommunication "systems" officer.

Systems. Infrastructure.  Networks.  Links. Platforms. Spiderwebs. Tapestries.  Nothing discreet, no firewall, no mushroomy low-level drones toiling away in the dark, operating with scraps of paper on a "need to know" basis.  Now, even low-level,  sub-contractor worker-drones need to know whole systems just to do their low-level jobs.  And that's where it gets interesting.  As geeky hackers the world over can tell you, it doesn't take a PhD to bring a system down once you understand the system. And if you're spying on everyone in the country, you may have set up a very large system, but it's still a system.  And somebody has to run it.

So who will watch all those somebodies?  And if the system starts to run amok, heading into a civil liberties nightmare, as Edward Snowden claims, who can set it right? The private contractor running the system whose paycheck depends on asking no questions, making no waves?  A rubber-stamp FISA court that apparently has yet to turn down any warrants brought to it?  A dysfunctional Congress more interested in scoring political points than thwarting terrorists while safeguarding Constitutional rights in an era of Perpetual War?

Or should we depend on The Media?  They covered this story some time ago but  recently went on the warpath only when one of their own was threatened for printing classified disclosures.  Or perhaps, we'll have to depend on whistleblowers who abscond with top secret documents and just hope that their document dumps won't actually end up helping terrorists and harming us? 

Or maybe we will have to rely on The Public.  But nowadays, The Public is The Facebook Generation.  For that Public, it's not a violation of privacy when they type the word  "headache" into Google Search and instantly a Tylenol ad pops up on their email page.  That's not snooping, that's not spying, that's, well, a useful "service." Ditto the Affinity Card Era, the Credit Card Era, when Ralphs and Amazon knows everything you buy, and Costco sends specific customers an email alert on a product recall three months after its purchase.  So, what then is "spying," and what is "privacy?"

The Snowden kerfluffle may finally goad our useless Congress into revisiting the Patriot Act, perhaps even rewriting and strengthening Whistle Blower protections so Watchers have a safe way to watch and report on even outsourced, private contractors.  Maybe this issue will also prompt even The Facebook Generation into having a "dialogue" about balancing safety and privacy, in a nation rightly described as operating in "a paranoid style," even when it's not engaged in Perpetual War.   

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Your Sunday Instructions

This excerpt from Anne Lamott's wonderful new book, Help. Thanks. Wow.  The Three Essential Prayers.

"Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention; mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds.  This happens more often when we have as little expectation as possible.  If you say, "Well, that's pretty much what I thought I'd see," you are in trouble.  At that point, you have to ask yourself why you are even here.  And if I were you, I would pray "Help." (See earlier chapter.)  Astonishing materials and revelation appear in our lives all the time.  Let it be.  Unto us, so much is given.  We just have to be open for business."

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Holy Wheatena, Batman!

So back in the day (1998 - 2005) Monsanto developed and test-planted a new type of genetically modified wheat that was designed to be resistant to Roundup herbicide.  There were eight field trials of the new seeds in Oregon, among the 16 other states where test plots were planted.  They shut down that program in 2005 before ever growing the wheat strains commercially.  And, we presume, destroyed the seeds and went on to develop other GMO products that are used commercially.  Or should I say, other plant products, like GMO corn, that seems to have ended up everywhere in our food chain.

Fast forward to today.  A farmer in Oregon found a patch of wheat growing in his field like a weed, so he sprayed it with . . . you guessed it, Round up . . . but it didn't die.  So he had it tested and . . . you guessed it again, the wheat was found to be the same Monsanto engineered variety that has supposedly never been released onto the world.

No harm, no foul, said Monsanto.  Genetically modified wheat has not been authorized to be grown or sold anywhere so these few rogue wheat stalks, growing like weeds since they're resistant to weed-killer, are rare as hen's teeth and pose no problem, heh-heh.  Monsanto also claims to have absolutely NO idea how that wheat got where it got to.  (Coincidentally, shortly before this reveal, Monsanto conveniently secured, in a last-minute, earmarked, back-room deal, a Congressional "waiver" in the budget bill that would exempt Monsanto from any and all lawsuits arising from GMO backlash from irate farmers. Convenient?  Prescient?  Guilty knowledge?)

Well, "backlash" arrived in the form of Japan dropping its bid to buy 27,500 toms of Pacific Northwest wheat.  The Japanese don't look kindly on GMOs.  South Korea and the EU followed suit.  Taiwan is also getting antsy. Seems that a good many people in the world don't like GMO food and certainly not GMO wheat.  And since America is the worlds biggest wheat exporter ($8 billion a year), rogue GMO wheat that could transmigrate into regular wheat would mean a collapse of the wheat industry.  (Or, I suppose, every single bushel of wheat could be checked, grain by grain, to identify and pick out the GMO grains?)

Monsanto, meanwhile, isn't worried.  It has that convenient lawsuit-protection earmark.  In addition to that carte blanche, Monsanto's GMO products are patented/copyrighted and any farmer who is found with Monsanto grains on their land without having the proper purchase license, can be sued by Monsanto for unauthorized use.  Indeed, just such a lawsuit has already occurred.

So, farmers better be on high alert.  If they can't sell their crops because a few rogue Monsanto GMO grains have contaminated their fields, not only will they go broke, but Monsanto will sue them for unlicensed seed use. 

It's a perfect set up for Monsanto, and a perfect example of how effective having friends in high political office can be. And if farmers around the world die because of Monsanto's policies?  Who cares. It's not the staff of life, baby, it business. 

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Off Base

Calhoun's Canon for June 3, 2013

There was weeping and gnashing of teeth in Comedy Land when the news came in. Oz was tumbling.  There would be no more joy in Satiric Mudville. The Queen of Crazy was abdicating. Beset with ethics investigations and falling poll numbers, Minnesota Congresswoman, Michele Bachmann, was packing her bags.  Her fourth term in Congress would be her last, which prompted certain people to ask, "She got elected four times? In Minnesota? How is that possible?"

I think it was possible because in 9/11, America had a nervous breakdown when the Twin Towers fell (just as Osama bin Laden predicted)  and a massive upwelling of darkness in the American psyche began a self-destructive flow that swamped the country in irrational fear, ugly bigotry, high-octane rage, deadly war-mongering, know-nothing unholy Apocalyptic religiosity, all of it a deadly brew that unleashed and justified America's Paranoid Style, only this time it was paranoia on steroids.

Toss in an economic meltdown and the election of a black President and for a certain segment of the population (helped along by corporate interests feeding and manipulating the fear and rage for their own purposes) it was all too much.  And so the Era of the
Republican Crazies was upon us. 

And what a crop they were. What a show of ignorance, idiocy, misogyny (Who can forget "legitimate rape?"), anti-science stupidity, mind-numbing foolishness (Birthers?  Really?  Birthers?)  and jaw-dropping demagoguery. And these folks were actually running the store (Congress and Senate) or running so they could shut down the store, or showing up in eye-popping numbers for try-outs for the little theatre production of, "I Want To Be President Just Because I'm So Wonderful!"  

A national Clown Show by and for the deranged, while outside the hallowed halls of government, citizens (ramped up, funded and run by the likes of the Koch Brothers or Republican operatives like Dick Armey, Grover (drown-government-in-a-bathtub) Norquist and Karl Rove) threw Tea Parties and frightened, distressed citizens showed up dressed in tricorn hats, guns on their hips, carrying posters with photo-shopped pictures of President Obama with a bone through his nose. And lots of befuddled, oxymoronic cries of,  "No Socialized medicine!  Keep your hands off my Medicare!"

The media loved it.  Comedians loved it.  It was party night in Bedlam, while the country bled out its wealth and sent more of its finest off to bleed out in one big endless War on Terror. The country was sick and in its deranged state, weirdly elected and re-elected representatives who would vote to inflict the maximum amount of punishment on themselves (Main Street), while administering the maximum amount of soothing salve to the wealthy (Wall Street).  It was one long self-inflicted Medean act of fury: Take that, you mooching 47-percenters! 

While the political Kings and Queens of Crazy vied to see who could grab the most headlines and raise the most funds with their "Can You Top This?" stupidities.

And now, the Queen of Crazy is folding her tent. The comedians are in mourning.  And I can only pray that soon, soon, a sufficient number of Americans will wake up, shake their heads in wonder, and ask, "What the hell were we thinking?"

And the long nightmare will be over.


Sunday, June 02, 2013

Your Sunday Shout Out

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills before you
will burst into song,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn
will grow the cypress,
and instead of briars
will come up the myrtle.
This will be for the glory of the Lord,
for an everlasting sign
which will not be destroyed.

               Isaiah  55:12-13