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Friday, March 26, 2004

I listened to the 9/11 Commission hearings all day Tuesday and Wednesday, plus watched the TV news with Janna in the evenings. I was all out of patience yesterday and took a complete break. I mean to say...

"Tell me, Mr. Secretary, would you say that bla, bla, bla,"

"No, I would have said it more elegantly!"

"Haw! Haw! Haw!" Manly guffaws from all present. This is our circus, we are all putting it on for you.

Just as our Commander in Chief had everyone laughing, Wednesday night, pretending to look for Saddam's WMD's under his desk in the Oval Office. ("Nope! Can't find them there either!")

The moral of all this is that if you lie down with dogs, you must expect to get up with fleas.
Late last night, after spending some time doing a little medical research, I broke down and went to BBC's Newsnight, where I found the quote of the day:

Lieutenant General Jay Garner, interviewed by Greg Palast, closed the interview with his priceless: "I'm a believer that you don't want to end the day with more enemies than you started with."

* * * * *

I am still struggling with getting into neuter before going shopping for a new Urologist. I don't want to walk in, all vulnerable and weepy, all whiny and wimpy. It's not the real me, for starters. I'm more kick-ass. Some say arrogant, but not really, what I am actually is insolent.

My occasional weakness manifests when I am overwhelmed by a concatenation of unfavorable events, when everything appears to happen all at once. In this particular instance, my urinalysis results have finally arrived, indicating I have a drug-resistant nosocomial infection. Translate: a superbug caught in hospital, most probably during my last stent change in April last year. I draw this conclusion from the fact all my previous infections were by proteus mirabilis, which is something a normally healthy human being might harbour without it causing an untoward infection.

So, in fact, when I got the very acute infection after the stent change last year, where I was in such a state that I was ready to go to the nearest emergency room, and Carol said: "I don't think you have an infection at all, bla, bla, bla,", the opportunity was lost to address this particular superbug earlier rather than later.

To be honest, after all the reading I did last night on this superbug, it's not sure it would have made much of a difference, because nothing is actually known to work against it.

I suppose I must learn to live with it, Hehhehe! Well, that's exactly what I have been doing for almost a year now. It's "fluctuat nec mergitur", all over again, forever. Go with the flow and keep bailing out the slops, lest the ship sink.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the test results were accompanied by a prescription for an antibiotic not mentioned, either on the test evaluation or anywhere else on any drug site, as being specific to what I have. I have to wonder whether it was Carol who wrote the prescription, instead of the good doctor, "Eh, her test results came in, I sent her a prescription, it's all taken care of".

Of course, everyone knows it's against my religious beliefs to sue... Hehehe!

* * * * *

My little $3 daffodils all opened up and there was a bonus because some had pale corollas, and some had bright yellow ones. Now, they have all shriveled up and I must throw them out. What did I expect, ten days of pleasure?

For Doug and his "Where I blog from" collection. On the right hand side of my desk sits the mother of all large steel filing cabinets, slathered with luggage tags from places I have never visited. There is also a magnet on the top drawer which says:

"Instructions for the Assembly of Just About Anything

Grasp the gizmo in your left hand. With your right hand, insert the doohickey into the little whosie just below the bright red thingamajig and gently -- gently! -- turn it in a clockwise direction until you hear a click. Attach the long thingamabob to the whatchamacallit. Do not under any circumstances allow the metal whatsit on the end to come in contact with the black plastic thingummy. Failure to follow these instructions will result in damage to the doodad."

Right next to it is another one:

"If an otter can't have fun doing something it simply won't do it."

That's my mantra, Doug.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

I was crying when I woke up in the morning... Something about having to change Urologist, feeling vulnerable and let down. I know his decision to "fire me" as a patient is because he thinks it's in my best interest, but something in the back of my mind still thinks it's really in HIS best interest, because he is the one who walks away clean and clear, I am the only one who loses and agonizes.

At this moment in my life, I have the sneaking suspicion I have been trashed by almost every man who has ever been important to me. Nothing like reaching the bottom of the barrel and making a fresh start.

On Friday, someone from my Urologist's office (not any one of the women I have been dealing with regularly for almost seven years, but some stranger, personally unknown to me until now) called to say I had some infection and did I want her to phone in the prescription to my pharmacy? Well, dearie, I am the one who has been saying for a year now that I have an infection, so you are not surprising me at all, and "you" are the ones who have been telling me "you" don't think I have an infection, and heck, the good doctor himself was so surprised I had been on antibiotics for some six months last year, prescribed by my surgeon, to whom "you" , Carol, had sent me, saying "she" did not think I had an infection, "she" thought it was a recurrence of my "other" cancer, and "she" thought I should go and see my surgeon, and no, "she" wouldn't send me a prescrirption.

The problem as I see it with a lot of doctors is that they have what I call "Dragons at the Gate", who think they know more than the doctors and won't let you through. They are more protective of the doctors' limited time than of the patient's interest. They know which side their bread is buttered and it's not yours. They make the executive decisions, they call the shots, they decide how much "treatment" you are going to get.

It's a natural development. Seriously, let's face it, doctors very seldom have time or make time to listen to their patients, and the "Dragons" normally have heard it all, whether they wanted to or not, they are captive audiences both in the office and at the end of the phone. Quite naturally, they feel they are taking better care of the patients than the doctors themselves and it is a fact that by the nature of things they know more of what is going on.

In the case of my Urologist last year, he actually called me to warn me that my surgeon was not a Urologist, and if I had a urological problem, he thought I should be consulting him. Well? That's exactly what I thought too, that's exactly what I had tried to do. That's exactly what "you", Carol, prevented, I had no option to appeal.

I have the strong feeling that "his" Carol has presented the facts in such a way that he has decided to fire me. She wouldn't give me eye contact, when I was there last week. As a matter of fact, her co-worker, Maureen, took me aside into the office kitchenette, plied me with a tuna fish sandwich, baby carrots and grapes, and said: "I am so sorry -- I think Carol is actually being very rude to you."

"I think so too," I agreed, "I was wondering what I might have said or done to provoke her..."

"I don't think it's any of your doing," Maureen said cheerfully, "Sometimes, she is that way, she hates the whole world."

Maybe.

I am girding up my loins to go see the possible new Urologist. I have many concerns: will he accept to take me on, will he listen to me and honor my wishes, will he always frankly tell me the truth, will he be a good stent man, will we be compatible as a doctor/patient team, will he be able to admit me, if necessary, to something other than Kingdom Hospital (Mount Sinai, to the uninitiated). I am gathering for him a precis version of my voluminous, complex and horrifying medical history.

Last, but not least, I hope my medical coverage will suffice to cover his expectations and his expertise! Hehehe!

* * * * *
A further thought on Madrid, which I did not make clear on my previous post.

To say that Al Qaeda won the elections in Spain is, in effect, to side with Al Qaeda. It is to admit to the effectiveness of terrorism and to vindicate it. It vindicates terrorism because it equates it with a political act, instead of recognizing it for the violent, criminal act which it is.

If one were to take a fresh look at the Spanish elections, with their resultant "shift to the left", it might be useful also to have a look at whether voter turnout was greater than expected.

The civilians targeted in Madrid were for the greater part either students going to school, or poor people from poor suburbs and neighborhoods going to work early. In other words, they were more "have nots" than "haves".

Is it conceivable that some "have nots", who normally feel that their opinions don't count for much, suddenly said: "Basta! This time we've had enough and we will be heard", and went to vote, when in the past they might not have thought it worth the detour or the effort?

Everywhere in the world today, where elections are held, it is not so important what parties run, what personalities represent them, what promises they make which they will not keep (remember the old saw: "Promises are only binding on those who listen to them"), what labels and little boxes are set up on the stall of democracy, what pigs in a poke are being offered, what catchy slogans chanted: the real question is "What will the voter turnout be?" I mean to say, if you got 45% of 38% of the voting population, what kind of a majority do you have? What kind of a popular mandate?

Most of the time, for the "have nots", it is just another horse race, of real interest to a limited portion of the population because there is actually no trickle down effect when it comes to power and money.

After 9/11, the whole world had the consciousness "We are all Americans". Bush, by his actions has turned that tide into the greatest worldwide anti-American movement of history, just as he trashed the biggest ever surplus into a historic (and growing all the time) deficit.

Since 3/11, it is time for the whole world to take on the consciousness "We are all Europeans".

For Americans, or any one else, to proclaim that Aznar was punished for joining America in the war on terrorism is divisive. It does nothing but reinforce the notion among the suicide bombers, the death squads, the death cult heroes and heroines, the purveyors of random violence, that if they persist in their bloody actions they can win.

Whadda ya mean, Nobbog? Well, "You're either with us or against us", is divisive. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend", is divisive. If you don't like the word "divisive", try "polarizing".

We could all of us learn from the kitchen: "How do you make tomato soup?"

A lesson in "cooking" from recent history. Poland under Communism.

It was liberated from Russian exploitation by unarmed, peaceful workers who did not take to the streets.

My friend Joe was one of the men who started Solidarity. From the beginning, the emphasis was on containing the testosterone, which wanted to go into the streets. Again and again, gung ho workers had to be persuaded to do it differently, not to be slaughtered like their fathers and grandfathers. Lech Walesa was selected to be the masthead because it was essential, if the movement were to be qualified as a workers' movement, to have a worker heading it, otherwise it would have been all too easy for the Russians to pick off the real leaders, those thinkers and organizers behind the movement.

It required patience, and courage, and going to prison again and again. It included a solidarity beyond patriotism, and it avoided unnecessary violence and killings.

It also required absolute trust between strangers and the postponement of satisfaction, and sometimes a good deal of intuition, and sometimes a good deal of luck (like going home early one evening, to celebrate a kid's birthday, instead of staying at work as usual, to be plucked as a sitting duck when the policemen came to arrest everyone).

In the long run, it brought down the "Evil Empire" (Domino effect, Hehehe!). It was the thin edge of the wedge.

You can disagree with me if you like. Before you do, take another look at what happened in Budapest in 1957, and Prague, in 1967.

* * * * *

My father died, a few minutes after midnight, March 20, 1978. He had announced to me that his widow would not survive him more than six months, "This will break her, this will kill her!" he kept saying. How little he knew her! She still lives to worship at his altar.

There is one such altar on every wall in the house, with a framed portrait of His Holiness taken by yours truly, before which sits a live floral arrangement of some kind, in fresh tribute to old scars.

The reason for evoking my father's death at this time can be found in the recent release of the Sean Penn film "21 Grammes". The title refers to the weight differential between a moribund man and his corpse, and this weight is understood to be the weight of the human soul, which Man has never so far been able either to locate or to prove its existence.

My experience with my father's death is on point because he died at home, and during the final weeks of his life, my stepmother and I took care of him 24/7. Even though he ate full meals almost until his last days, his tall frame was reduced to skin and bones, as all his bodily functions slowly shut down. He was so weak that he could not sit up, or roll over onto his side, without assistance, and during the day, we would prop him up on his pillows, wearing a fresh white shirt, as comfortable as we could make him. Gradually with the passage of time throughout the day, the dead weight of his body would cause him to slump down the bed, and it would take the combined strength of both of us, Yo, Heave Ho!, to bring him one, two, three inches up again. We seriously doubted whether our backs would hold out as long as necessary.

When someone dies a few minutes after midnight in a country house in France, you must wait until at least 9 a.m. to call the undertaker to come and measure the body for a coffin and to organize the funeral arrangements, doctor's certificate, etc. You therefore have a short window of opportunity to dress the corpse for burial before rigor mortis sets in and you can no longer do it without much difficulty.

When my father had quite clearly drawn his last breath and there would not be another, it also was clear to me I was the only person present who could dress him. My stepmother was keening hysterically, her sister had long left the room to go stew in her own personal psychological morass, and the sister's husband had no motivation whatsoever to offer to do the deed for me. I thought that if I gave my stepmother the task of fetching underwear, socks, shirt, suit, tie, shoes, her normal commonsense practicality would return and help her reestablish control.

I had never handled a corpse in my life before. I was doubly squeamish because this was my father, dammit. Besides, I was not at all sure that I could do it singlehandedly: I thought my dead father would be as difficult to budge as my deadweight live father had been.

My father died wearing a pyjama top. The first thing I did was to climb up on the bed beside him, kneeling parallel to his torso, and pull him toward me to release the pyjama top from behind his back.

"Heave Ho!" I thought.

To my horror, the body, all loosy-goosy, flew up into the air and flopped onto me, and his mouth opened and spewed a gush of black vomit all over me, both his arms waving crazily this way and that way through the air.

I felt at the time that my father was cursing me from his grave.

Something weird awakened deep inside me, some warped sense of humor that fought back at this notion of doom, some sort of detached witness started recording the events as if they were not happening to me, as if they were happening to someone else.

Flip, flop, the arms would not go into the sleeves.

Flop, flip, the legs were dodging the trouser pants.

"Bring me a toothpick!"I am the adjutant on the parade ground.

"A toothpick?" The keening has stopped.

"Yes, a toothpick. My father would never go anywhere without a toothpick. Also, please get me a fresh handkerchief."

I work as efficiently as I can. The corpse is like soft rubber, it's almost flying all over the place. My father's soul was not a mere 21 grammes soul, his must have weighed a peck.

"Bring me his tobacco pouch, please!"

"But he stopped smoking thirty years ago..." she protests.

"Sure, but he always kept it, to prove to himself it was a choice he had made, that he could start again any time. While you're about it, please also bring one of his pipes."

The matchbook followed. Then I wanted something that would be from both his official children, and I remembered a small ceramic cat we had bought him with our pocket money in Totnes, many years ago, when we were very young and cycle-touring through Devon as a family.

"My sister is an Egyptian," brother Alain commented when he showed up.

Yes, I buried my father like a pharaoh.

I also spent a huge amount of time putting a pleasant expression on his slack face (for a wild moment, I struggled with the wicked notion of putting a huge grin there instead), tying it up, gently, so very gently, with a silk scarf so that it could set into place as rigor mortis set in.

"He looks so peaceful," everyone said, "He looks at rest."

The body, yes. I could do that for you, Puss, Pop, my Paternal Father, my Old Paludal.

But that peck of soul? Did I affect that at all, as his affected mine and informed me forever?

* * * * *

Doug posted a picture of "Where he blogs from".

I am not equipped to reciprocate, but I have been in a frenzy, since his post, to simplify where I blog from. Just think of this: I have a small white fluffy owl on top of my monitor. Whoooot! The rest of the surroundings really don't bear description. The canals are all silted up, is all I can say. I need to dredge and purge the whole caboodle.

Yup, it's time to spring clean!

Until then, a three dollar bunch of daffodils wafts a so-soft, so-timid scent of a garden right next to my keyboard.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

I woke up with a start in the middle of the night: "Nam myoho renge kyo, nam myoho renge kyo, nam myoho renge kyo -- Purify my six sense organs!"

Yes. That's it.

Purify my eyes, in order to see clearly and have the courage to see what is there.

Purify my ears, in order to listen carefully and have the courage to hear what is being said.

Purify my nose, my sense of smell, in order to "smell the rat" in the cheese factory, or "find the pony" in the stable full of manure, and have the courage to face the reality of both.

Purify my sense of taste, in order to distinguish between sweet and sour, salt and sharp, in order to be able to distinguish the "poison pill" masked by a favored flavor.

Purify my sense of touch, in order to have the courage to retain it in the face of pain, or discomfort, or accustomation, in order to be in a position to take appropriate action.

And finally purify my mind in order to avoid being fooled by the wrong interpretation of the sensory data provided by those five physical sense organs (for instance, "Don't believe your lying eyes", Hehehe!).

So, here I am back to the War on Turr.

In Spain, we are saying Al Qaeda won the elections. Let's take a look at a few facts and try to pick a courageous course through the rubble.

The first reaction of Aznar's government, his spin, was "It's ETA". Even though ETA, whose usual method of bombing was: 1. To give advance warning; 2. To minimize civilian casualties; and 3. Always to claim responsibility.

Now ETA has been in the business of terror bombing in Spain (and southwest France) for more than thirty years. The Spanish population (and the French in Basque country) have been living with this fact for thirty years.

I myself, as a tourist in, let's see, 1977, remember most clearly the strange feeling of muffled anxiety involved in driving a rental car through Basque country and enjoying the incredible beauty of sleepy little San Sebastian, walking along its seaside promenade with thousands of Spanish residents, of an evening, before and after dinner, people-watching and leisurely and peaceful, with the knowledge in the back of my mind that "they" were there, right beside me.

The War on Turr has been a local fact of life in Spain (and southwest France) with respect to ETA for over thirty years, I repeat myself.

When Aznar joined Bush's Coalition of the Willing, the Spaniards who did not want to go to war (they had some of the largest turnouts in Europe for anti-war demonstrations, pre-March 2003 invasion of Iraq), were suddenly caught in having to extend their terror-consciousness to a country most of them probably had very little interest in, either personally or as a nation. Suddenly, they were in duty bound to hand over their sons and daughters, and their forfeit tax pennies away from health care, education, social services, etc., to join another Bush incursion in the Middle East.

One might understand their increased reluctance in participating, if one were to stop and think for a moment on the high proportion of Spanish sons an daughters who returned from the first such Bush expedition with what is called by everyone who has been touched by it "Gulf War Syndrome". If you look at it this way, you might be tempted to believe that was also an important factor in the reluctance of other countries to join said new Coalition of the Willing. Particularly in light of the fact the sacrifice of these young people's health was in large part made in vain, as Old Man Bush walked out of Iraq prematurely, allowing Saddam to crack down ruthlessly on all those people who had been encouraged to overthrow him, and who were ready to die in the attempt, taking advantage of the presence of foreign troops, never thinking they would so effectively let them down by abandoning them to certain repression and the murder of thousands by a triumphant Saddam.

Peoples all over the world are still questioning whether an invasion of Iraq was timely and well-founded. The debate goes on and on, < strong>ad nauseam, whether Saddam had any WMDs at all, or whether they were just a wet dream of his.

Meanwhile, in dribs and drabs, dozens of people are dying in Iraq every day, and proportionate numbers are being maimed or psychologically imbalanced. Those figures are not being revealed, and you can bet it is not because they are insignificant, but because if the truth were revealed, we would all of us become absolutely disgusted and we would react.

This is a silent terror and the fact we choose to ignore it doesn't mean it's going away. In my opinion, it's only a matter of time before some Madeleine Albright, finally admitting to the numbers of real casualties and being asked whether it was worth it, will blandly yet emphatically state: "We think it was worth it".

Going back to Madrid, the Spanish came out and said "Basta Ya!", "Enough Already!"

They were saying it to ETA, to their local terrorists.

They were saying it to Aznar, whom they perceived as having participated in a lie which involved them in spreading violence into another sovereign country.

They were saying it to all terrorists, local or international; they were saying it to all lies, all liars, all manipulators, all spin doctors.

They were saying in effect that they understood that if you attempt to control violence by bigger, more impressive violence, you are just merely escalating violence, you are stepping out of the world of Humanity into the world of Animality, distinguished by the double-edged dichotomy, where you kow-tow to those more powerful than you and where you dominate ruthlesssly those less powerful than you.

The French have a quaint saying in this respect. They will advise you, of a devious partner or an unreliable interlocutor: "Watch your back, he might get you pregnant from behind". And if you watch the monkeys at the zoo, you will know exactly what that means, as you may notice all the females and all the young adult males presenting their rumps in submission to the alpha male.

The Spanish actually said on Sunday: "We are not bending over any more. We want to remain human and assert our Humanity."

Look again a little closer at Spain.

It's not ETA wot did it, any more. It's Al Qaeda associates. Three Morroccans, who were already indicted/suspected/investigated/under constant surveillance/etc. for having been linked with the recent bombings in Morrocco, and two Indian nationals, have been identified as the primary suspects of the Madrid bombings.

Now, my question is, if these guys were in any way connected with the Casablancva bombings and were "under constant surveillance" in a country alerted to frequent and regular terrorist attacks for more than thirty years, How in Heavens' name were such individuals able to execute such a sophisticated series of bombings with impunity?

What is wrong with this picture? Is it a rat or a pony?

Switcharoo.

I was watching a program a little while back about genetic engineering. They don't call it "eugenics" these days, because unfortunately Hitler gave that a bad name.
Of course, that's what it is. You seek out the undesirable gene, and you splice in the desirable gene. Neat and simple. You are just improving the stock. (This is a really good time to ask Cui Bono". . . again and forever).

Anyway, the top American scientist being interviewed was sitting behind a small table, on which one of his genetically altered mice was free to roam -- all the way to the edge of the table, no further, natch.

This special mouse had been genetically created to provide a mouse whose eyes could not blink. The interviewer asked: "What for?" The scientist answered: "Because some human children are born this way, with eyes that cannot blink." The interviewer asked: "But surely, that is irrelevant, mice are not human beings." The scientist answered: "No, they are not. However, you should remember that the genetic code of a mouse is 99% the same as the genetic code of a human being."

Aaah! "Velly intellesting!"

I know mice are not rats. But rats are intelligent beings too, and in fact there is a problem with all forms of rat poisons and rat extermination, which is that the rats are quick learners and share information among themselves, so that when rats become aware of the connection between a food source and a poison, based on circumstantial evidence, they all avoid it in the future.

There is another fact about rats that bears relevance to the point I am making, and that is that rats learn from experience. They don't tend to flog a dead horse, as we do.

For instance, if you create a maze for rats, and place a piece of cheese in one of the corridors, the rats will find it eventually and enjoy the cheese. You could put a piece of cheese in that same spot every day for a week, and on the second day, the rat won't explore the maze at all, he will go straight to the place where he expects to find the cheese.

If, on the eighth day, you fail to put cheese in the cheese spot, the rat will not go back there: it will not go down that cheeseless corridor in vain.

Only a human being is capable of going back, again and again, to that cheeseless spot, surprise, surprise, "Where is my cheese?", or, plaintively, "Why isn't my cheese there today?" or, tearfully, "Who took my cheese?"

* * * * *

Today is a very low-tech day in my house. It's cold outside, the snow hasn't melted yet, there is no heat inside, and there is no hot water either. Oh, a woolly sweater is a sweet thing!

I have received my Aquasana water filters from Texas. They leak. The adapters do not fit my standard fittings. I am unable to flush the thinggy singlehandedly, I need to use both hands, which means I can't flush it into an upside-down glass. I could not twist the replacement caps to check (as the instruction booklet said I should) whether the correct filters had been set in the appropriate casings, and the white plastic tool "included" to depress the grey valve collars was not included. Aaah!

I am sorting fabrics to design a quilt, and human faces of all sorts are peering at me from the random folds of the many piles teetering all over the place, on the bed, the table, the chair, the floor, the ironing board. I feel surrounded by a world of possibilities.



Friday, March 12, 2004

My appointment with my New Jersey Urologist was for 2:45 pm. on March 11, I took an early bus out because I wanted to pick out a piece of obsidian for my friend Grace-Ann, and I showed up at the office in plenty of time: "I'm early!" I beamed. Three jaws fell to their knees: "It's tomorrow!"

I don't wear a watch, I should start wearing a calendar, get the broad strokes right.

Thinking the 11th was Wednesday, I had made an appointment with my old boss and his wife for what I thought was the 12th. So, all of a sudden, I found myself with a double whammy, a trip to New Jersey and a night out on the town. It had taken me hours to get back into the city on Wednesday night, there was horrendous traffic, plus an accident involving nine cars and two buses, the bus I was on had to head back out north to get an alternate way in, on and on. Should I plan for disaster and warn Mrs. Ex-Boss I might, just might, be late? I decided not to -- Why "put it out there?" It all worked out perfectly, and I was half an hour early for my evening appointment.

The point of seeing my Urologist was to discuss, eye to eye, what my options might be right now. I have a long-term JJ stent catheter in place in my left ureter for, let's see, seven years now. Must be some kind of record. The kidney is dead. It's been dead for years now. It's referred to by the cat-scan people as an "endgame kidney". Oh, joy!

Having done my lay person research on the net, it appears to me the consensus among specialists the world over is the impossibility to control, contain or eradicate opportunistic, chronic and acute, infections in patients with long-term in-dwelling stents, and that a high proportion of such patients actually die from these infections, rather than from whatever it was that had made it necessary to place the stent in the first place.

My two-week old baby bunny question was this. If the kidney is dead, presumably nothing is draining through the stent (although admittedly some noisome necrotic matter might be, which we can't know for sure ahead of time), so, since the very purpose of a stent is not operative, could we not just take it out, instead of replacing it? This way, I might just get rid of my persistent urinary tract infection.

The clear answer is "Yes". The problem is, there is no way of guessing what might happen next, and one of the things that might just happen next is a really massive infection. It's not hard for me to go out to New Jersey when I am normally stable and able, as I was this week, but it would be impossible with a fever, say of 105F, or even if in terrible pain. It's medically unsound to just pull out the stent and see what happens without having some sort of back-up plan, in case something bad happens after the stent removal.

So, we are revisiting the possibility of a change of Urologist, to someone more geographically convenient to where I live. I am not at all happy about having another total stranger go up my Kazoo.

I love my Urologist. He is the answer to my dreams. Nobody is perfect, but he comes closest. He respects my wishes, he talks to me frankly and openly, as if I were a real human being, he is a great stent man. I saw one, two, three, four, five, Urologists before him, I fired them all, I'd almost rather die than be handled by any one of those again.

On the way to catch the bus back to New York, I kept seeing real estate signs "Apartment for Rent". Should I move out to New Jersey? It's tempting. Great little place, with a gem store. Large cemetery. Good funeral parlor. Large Women's Community Center. Clean, jolly little hospital (I've been operated there, a few years ago, it's squeaky clean and friendly, your stay there feels more like a visit to a spa).

I must needs ponder deeply on all of this!

My old boss had invited me to attend a program at the New School run by the World Policy Institute. Last night's panel discussion was "Is Terrorism Forever?"

Very interesting, very thoughtful, thought-provoking, smart and well done, all in one short hour or so.

Random things I heard (I purposely won't attribute them because this would require me to go into more detail than I want to right now).

There was a moderator; to his left there was a law professor, who gave us an overview of the definition of terrorism, and where it is, and a lesson in careful choice of words; and to his right, there was a special projects partner responsible for Middle Eastern and North African affairs in an outfit located in Switzerland which specializes in studying terrorism ("I can definitely say it is not connected to the CIA ", he said laughingly to someone who asked, in the most convoluted, unclear verbiage possible, whether it was).

So, random facts:

Terrorism is a method of obtaining leverage to obtain political advantages. It is like someone trying to get through a cacophony of sounds to obtain the attention of someone who can give them what they want. It has been with humanity from the very beginning of time. The first terrorist act documented is God, in the Bible, slaying every first-born Egyptian child in order to get Pharaoh to release the Israelites from bondage. (I really enjoyed that particular reference!)

Terrorism is committed, wherever it is committed, with a principal aim of obtaining something locally. That is why most people are disinterested: by and large, it is happening in places they don't live in, to people they don't know, in places they never go to, where they have no family or friends, it just does not affect them directly. Few people even think about it enough, for instance, to avoid going to Bali on vacation, or Spain, or Morocco, or Turkey. The only Americans directly affected are the 19-year old kids patrolling Kabul or Mosul, and they are definitely directly affected, but it doesn't affect all of us at the same time. You get the picture.

The difference with Bin Laden is that he was the first one to think and act globally. He declared the war "worldwide". Still, his goals are local. The WTC was not about America, its focus was the suicide bombers; the WTC, the victims, etc., they were just "incidental" in his mind. Like extras in a Hollywood production. The focus was the martyrs, those who were going to heaven to get their reward of 74 young virgins. They never actually thought the buildings would come down, but by golly, when they did, WOW! They had outdone, outreached, themselves, it was God's intervention, God is great!

The significant aspect of this is that Americans tend to be in denial of the fact that we have our own local terrorists. For most Americans, terrorists are "them" , "out there", we must keep them from coming "into this country". (Notice how Americans never say "into our country" -- I wonder why not?)

The reality is there are plenty of homegrown terrorist groups in America, who are never referred to as terrorists. The Oklahoma bombing would be a prime example. The Puerto Rican bombings in the early 70's would be another. The ongoing killing of abortion doctors and the bombing of women's health clinics are a blatant, ongoing example, because these acts of violence are never referred to as acts of terrorism, but just as "pro-life activities of [insert description] groups".

Just remember one of the characteristics of terrorism is that it should scare the bejesus out of you sufficiently to guarantee that you will change your opinions and your behavior.

When it came time for Q and A, someone asked about nuclear weapons and the possibility some radical terrorist group might obtain some WMD's. The answer was simple. Modern day nuclear bombs are the most sophisticated devices invented by man, humongously complex, full of incompatible elements, they are not so easy to make, to obtain ready-made, or to set off. Few people actually have them in stock to be bought "off the shelf", as it were. There are apparently a few examples of Al Qaeda operatives who bought nuclear bombs (at a hefty price) from the Russian mafia, took them home and gleefully "Opened the box to reveal a mass of useless nuclear waste materials". The equivalent of the suckers on the street, who buy cut-rate mobile phones from con artists and find out when they get them home that they are just holding a plastic molded casing without any sort of wiring inside. Caveat emptor, all over again and forever.

The real description for WMD's might be weapons of mass distraction, because their desirability is limited almost entirely to the realm of deterrence, or blackmail to obtain something in exchange, or extortion. A country like North Korea, for instance, doesn't really have the money available to develop their own weapons, and it knows that if it did have one such device and it used it, it would be annihilated in very short order, probably before sundown, and that is not North Korea's goal. Nor is it that of any other state or nation on earth.

A question was put how best to eradicate "radical Islam". The short answer was, you can't eradicate them by tracking them down and killing them. Suicide bombers lead to a form of cult of death, which you cannot terrify out of existence. The only way out is when their supporting cultures and societies, instead of turning them into heroes and martyrs, condemns them for what they are, terrorists. This will come about only by evolution from within moderate Islam, and, therefore, we should be clear we are not at war against Islam, but against radical islamists, and we should support moderate Islam and encourage them. How? We should learn more about them, not be willing to have them remain strangers and outsiders, we can only engage in dialogue when we know each other better and can learn to trust each other.

Someone asked whether the war on terrorism justified the loss of civil rights. The answer was we should recognize we are in a state of war. Those of us who lived through World War II remember how everyone had to carry an ID card at all times during those years. It's a small price to pay if it can help sort out who's who. It's also a small price to pay to have to take off our shoes at the airport. Since 9/11, the Arab Americans have borne the brunt of the burden, in terms of loss of civil rights, but we should not be overly surprised if at some point we were to be required to share that burden equitably.

Someone asked what else could be done to make us safer?

"Fire Tom Ridge!" Without hesitation. [Laughter]

That's it in a nutshell. It was just one short hour.

* * * * *

Madrid: almost 200 dead, over 1400 wounded, some critically.

The Spanish authorities say it's ETA's MO. Maybe, but with a difference this time: they usually target the military, the political, the police, etc., and avoid excessive civil casualies by phoning in warnings ahead of time. This time, there were no warnings, civilians were specifically targeted for maximal casualties, and ETA has not yet claimed responsibility. In the meanwhile, Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility, but this is not proven to the Spaniards' satisfaction.

The French have already had some antiterrorist personnel on the ground, working with the Spanish, since they have some cooperative systems in place on a regular basis, and they have flown down some of their ... I don't know how best to put it ... "arabic-speaking antiterrorist specialists". I hope that says it without putting an offensive twist to it.

The police had collected a whole lot of backpacks which they stored in a room and were sorting through when a phone rang in one of them. They opened that particular backpack and found one whole explosive device, which they were able to dismantle safely. They are now trying to make that cellphone talk.

They also have two cars, one of which was filled with unexploded bombs, the other had seven trigger devices and some sort of evidence of an Arab connection. They are trying to make those cars talk too. One of them had been stolen a few days ago.

The ETA have been committing terrorist acts in Spain and southwest France for the last thirty years. Somehow, their attacks have escalated in viciousness since the dismantling of their so-called "political" branch some while back. Is there a connection? Or is there a connection with a small Al Qaeda splinter group?

* * * * *

I must finish on a small joke, courtesy of Jerry Paxman of BBC Newsnight.

"This from Gregory Hicks. A snail goes to the police station. He's terribly beaten up. The policeman asks who did it. "A tortoise," says the snail. "Can you describe the tortoise?" the cop asks. "How big was he? What colour?"

"I don't know, " says the snail, "It all happened so fast."

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

I forgot, almost. If Peter were alive, it would be his birthday.

Happy birthday, Peter!

I still miss you.
I don't know why I woke up this morning all sentimental and mushy about the matter of parenthood.

It does not matter in my mind whether one is orphaned early or late. The moment when a human being loses a same-sex parent is the moment he or she loses the example, whether accepted or rejected, consciously or unconsciously, of what a man or a woman is, should or should not be, could or might be. It is a moment of choice without prejudice, by which I mean, for instance, that if a woman's mother dies at age 45, when that orphaned female child reaches that same age of 45, there is Haha moment of "What next?" It is natural for a child to be all shook up at the mere idea of overtaking their same-sex parent.

There is, of course, a similar anxiety for a male child who approaches the age of 45, when he knows and actually remembers all too well the day his own father dropped dead at his job of a sudden massive heart attack.

Caught in the web of time and space, we naturally appreciate facts on a linear basis: past, then present, then future. Birth, maturity, old age, death. That would appear to be the natural lifespan of human beings.

The reality, however allows for very many variations, and many parents, through the vicissitudes of circumstances, both natural and man-made disasters, etc., have to witness and outlive the untimely, unexpected death of their children. I think of the ancient mother in a small backwoods village in China, in her nineties, with a few worn-down teeth left in her head, bleary-eyed and disconsolate, laying the body of her Aids-wasted son to rest. He was one of those who donated his blood in exchange for small change to send his children to school.

I shall always remember the sight of Muhammar Qadaffi on TV, after we had bombed his compound, with two great streams of tears running down his cheeks in sorrow for the death of his little 4-year old daughter. And she was not even his own, she was adopted.

As Nichiren Daishonin put it so well: "Even a monster loves his children".

During the so-called active Iraq war last year, the pictures that struck me most were those of Iraqi women walking down what looked like endless roads to nowhere, ageless and shapeless, ships in full sails of mourning in their black hijabs flapping in the wind, with the US and British tanks filling the skyline, puffs of gunfire and sand flurries muddying the focus, usually with a small figure scurrying to keep up at their side, a small child in floppy sandals and bare stick legs, sometimes two skinny little sisters in identical candy-colored cotton dresses -- going to do what had to be done, was it seeking food, or water (not to wash or do the laundry, just to drink and cook the rice), or gas for the car, or fuel for the cooking stove or the tempest lamp, or medicine for the sick baby, or to give relief and comfort to a family member or friend who had just been bombed out by the war games.

There is one such image which is etched in my heart. It is shot through volutes of barbed wire. An Iraqi man is sitting on the sand in a white dress, both legs stretched straight ahead of him, sandals on his bare feet, a black sack over his head. Close to him, clutched close to his bosom, he holds his tiny son with one arm, and covers the kid's face with his left hand. The little kid must be scared shitless and the father is doing his best to prevent his son from seeing what is happening, the most significant of which is the fact that he as a father is unable to protect his child. The little kid's feet are bare, two small sandals are set down forlornly, most tidily, besides the father's feet, out of the reach of the child.

The controversy still rages about whether we should or should not have gone to Iraq, whether it was legal or illegal, right or wrong. The fact is, this is not just a harmless debating society issue, where there is nothing but fun in taking sides, even changing sides, to argue for and then against, each in turn.

This is something that had life and death consequences for a lot of people, that actually happened, that actually still affects a lot of people today, and will continue to do so, way on into the future, that actually includes us and our own children.

Remember also that dreadful, frightening and threatening little Iraq, after ten years of UN sanctions, was a country whose population was -- what was it, 60% below the age of 15?

Shame on us!

Where am I going with all this? What am I advocating?

Simply this. We all of us have a debt of gratitude to our parents: whether we are left-wing or right-wing, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transsexual or transgender, not a one of us could have come into this world without a biological father and mother, no matter whether we later dropped out of the breeding game and failed to pass on the flame of life, either from choice or because of incapacity or circumstances, as we like to say, beyond our control.

Even if our mother were to have put us in a dumpster at birth, still she had harbored us in her womb during our gestation, and she had experienced our birth, viable and screaming, with all ten toes, and ten fingers at the ready to grasp and to hold.

At some level, the level of our own choosing, we all try to make sense out of life. The society that brings us forth, raises us up, embraces us, tries to help us by sharing or imposing its values and best wisdom on us, of course has a major role in forming our awakening. We are patterned not only by our own personal development but also by the many influences we meet. Our race, our culture, our country, our climate, the religion of our parents, their socio-economic background, our education (and theirs), our friends (and theirs), our personal propensities (and theirs), on an on. We are all interdependent and subject to influence, or driven by curiosity, or rebellion, or doubt, or hunger, or anger, or greed, or stupidity.

So it is important to question any label. If one, two, three hundred people repeat a lie as a truth, that does not make it a truth, it still remains a lie.

"Stupid Nobbog! If you hear something from one person, and then, a second person confirms it, it must be the truth!" (As in, "I heard it on Fox News and CNN!")

OK. The moon is made of cheese. If you pull a funny face, and the wind changes, you will stay like that forever! The earth is flat. The Sun circumnavigates the Earth. God made the whole universe a mere four thousand years ago. God made man in his own likeness.

Er... The last coal mine was closed down in France recently. Did you ever wonder when the last oil well will run dry? Oh, you're not worrying about that? You're a Republican no doubt, everyone knows they have plenty of oil. Never mind that it happens to lie under someone else's sand. In any event, you'll be playing your harp "up there" by then. Or roasting "down there", poking gentle, friendly fun at your likeminded friends with your very own personal toasting fork. What a hoot!

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, are we talking about the US presidency in terms of service in the National Guard or not, jobs here or there or not, single payer health care for all or not and certainly not and how, our standard of living, etc.

Why are we not passionate about alternative lifestyles, healthy lifesyles, sources of energy, ecology, biodiversity, sustainability of life, equality of opportunity, for all, for heavens' sakes?

We still make babies (whether we be married or unmarried), we still have children, we try and give them the best, sometimes even endeavor to give them what we missed most, in our own childhoods, to the best of our ability, which as we all know can be variable.

Yet we are so selfish and self-centered, and greedy, and stupid, and blind, that we are going to leave them and their children with nothing but debts and dust. And swamps -- with clouds of huge disease-bearing, jumbo mosquitoes. And jumbo weather, whether we agree it will be an ice age or global warming. (You should read some of JC Ballard's sci fi, he wrote it all.)

Please, if you don't believe me, take the time to do some research on the state of little Roumania, after their attempt at modern industrialization. Little Roumania, which is planning to enter the EU later this year (the impoverished, backward little New Europe wanting to join the decadent, prosperous Old Europe, Hehehe!), and which is still selling their children.

Yes, for some poor people, children are still a resource.

When I first came to New York in 1970, I used to go to a bookstore called Bookmasters on 57th Street. They had bins where they sold strange books, for $0.67, $0.57, plus tax, and in the evening during the week they played opera. I didn't have money to buy books at that time, I used to stand there, dipping and reading and listening to the music, and if I found something interesting, I would come back the next day.

One day, I came across a very strange book translated from the Polish. I don't remember the title or the author. It was the story of a father and a mother who were convinced their only son would have been happier if he had been born a tree, and maybe they were right, as far as it went, because they bought a large pot and potted him, at least they set his feet in the dirt, and bound his arms to the sides of his body to streamline his trunk, and they set him up in a bright corner of their apartment. They watered and fertilized him regularly, of course, and they weeded the dirt with a special little rake, they took great care of him, they cared.

It was a dark tale of misplaced values, well written, and for once I did not cheat and read the last page to find out what happened in the end. I am infamous for doing this, sometimes it's the only way I can read on, if I already know the end. Anyway, in this case it was a big mistake, because the book was bought by someone else before I finished it and, unfortunately, it had been the only copy. I don't have many regrets in life, but this is definitely one of them.

I think it behooves us to reexamine all our established beliefs with a good dose of courage. Are we just conforming to a "truth" established by a vast majority of liars? Or are we merely the fashionistas of fabricated myths? Remember that old saying, "Cui Bono", who benefits from this or that, what is someone getting out of it at your expense, and most importantly, who?

In the first weeks/months of 2000, I was hospitalized four times on an emergency basis. During that period, I received a letter from a stranger living in California. Through the Internet, she and her sister had conducted a search for women with the same name as their mother, who had abandoned her and her three siblings when she was, by her reckoning, four years old. Was I, by any chance, her mother? I did have the same name...

I was not. I'm not anybody's mother in this lifetime. The young woman's letter disappeared among my papers during this period of recurring emergencies, I never answered. I hope her mother was one of the people she contacted and that they were able to heal the past.

I leave this hanging in the air. What in our past do we all need to heal, in order to improve the present? To renew hope for the future? Whereas we can't change the actual facts of the past, we can always change our point of view and it does make a difference when we do.

We can all apologize, and we can all make amends, and we must all make a fresh start. Therein lies sanity.

* * * *

Oh, by the way. When you have a dirty sweater and you wash it, at first all you can see is the clean washing water getting dirtier and dirtier. Keep rinsing until the water becomes clear, at that point the sweater will be good as new and clean. Q.E.D.

Monday, March 08, 2004

The roller coaster continues. I am not exactly a happy camper.

Let's count my blessings, in random order, this is not a competition:

Ihath -- In particular for her posts on the Happiness pills and "getting a wife".

Doug's Dynamic Drivel -- I tried to thank him directly, found what I thought was a comment link, typed in my euphoric comments and when I got to post, was told comments were turned off. Ah, well. Thanks for everything, the fun and the seriosity ("Tell Me Again Why I'm Fired") and most spectacularly, for the outer space pics.

Laughing Knees -- His posts humble me to a point where I am ashamed o presume to comment on them, they are so exquisite.

Pinole Creek -- For the fresh air, we just get wind in NYC.

The courage and vital exuberance of Harsh Betty. I know all too well what it's like to have things fall behind a radiator, and fit ten pounds of shite in a five pound bag.

Brad Zellar -- For comforting my own anxieties, allowing me not to feel isolated in there, he writes posts where I often recognize myself and feel, yes, that is exactly how I would have put it, if I had been able to put it that way (as in his recent posts "The Undisputed King of the Divan" and "It's Time To Get Beneath the Wheels").

The Iraquis and the Iranians, for their lessons in sheer courage, grace under pressure, wit and smarts, and their willingness to go out on a limb.

Sale Bete -- For the consistency of his blog, the quality of his prose and photos, the pertinence of his comments, his photos of his dog Betty.

Douze Lunes -- For -- is it his or her -- links?

Call Central Confidential -- For the sheer fun of it.

Stuart Hughes and Mark Morford -- Well, quality and courage, both. Novelty too. Youth and vitality. Talent.

Eeksy Peeksey -- The only person I have ever come across in my life who might just one day convert me to "Less is More", from my habitual "More is More".

I appreciate all my links, but I have a tremendous debt of gratitude to the abovementioned, most especially these past few days.

Thank you. Thank you.

I have a short list of six items to take care of today, it's probably more than I can handle, so I'm off to the races.


Saturday, March 06, 2004

Welcome back to my life!

Woke up feeling awful this morning. It was a long night. It had been an early night too, in bed before 8 p.m., instead of watching "Rush Hour 2" with Janna, or being with Larry and Carol and the children on the East side.

I have been unwell since Monday, when I was hit by a turn while doing some xeroxing at Kinko's. What happened? Well, my gut fell out is what happened. This is a "normal" prolapse, nothing to worry about, just get horizontal, push it back in gently, and refrain from exertion until it's over, which usually takes a few days. The pain involved is the useful indicator that things are not back to normal. Normal? Well, usual.

Anyway, this morning there was pain, a killer headache, nausea, weakness. What now? I usually wake up all rested and full of beans, put on the kettle for coffee and the slices of Ezekiel bread to defrost. Today, the idea of eating was most unattractive. I dragged myself to make a cup of coffee, put on a cozy sweater and climbed back into my bed with a big pile of pillows, sipping gratefully.

Nobody can overestimate the magik of a good cup of coffee with a large pile of pillows to recline against (as in "wallow in"). It's almost as good as room service in a first class hotel, even when you had to grit your teeth to make it yourself.

Gone the nausea, the headache, the pain now a manageable muscle ache, the idea of breakfast suddenly become attractive, and here I am, back in bed with the remains of my exceptional second cup of coffee (I normally only have one), feeling that there is, after all, life before death. Hehehe!

There is so much to rant about, I can't get exhaustive about any of it. Randomly, therefore, let my boat drift today.

Martha, who broke the law but actually hurt no one, is to be sentenced June 16. I spent more than half my life on Wall Street. I know where I worked, I had continuous access to "insider" information. I was not held in thrall by fear of the securities laws and their various enforcement agencies, but by some inner sense of honor. I was on my honor, and over the years was able to observe, in a non-judgmental way, that many people in my world, ruled by law, made some game of the whole process: their sense of achievement no doubt came from "not being caught", for outsmarting the system.

At my "grade level", I knew what I made. I also knew that anyone at the same "grade level" made about the same amount, in all probability, barring small discrepancies or variations due to disparities in annual evaluations.

And yet, I saw people at my "grade level" buy country houses and fast cars. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to surmise something was going on not entirely attributable to "overtime", or better performance.

What I am saying is this: Martha is most certainly not alone in New York to have taken advantage of her connections. She got caught, and the clear lesson is not so much to stay on the straight and narrow as to "not get caught". She is being punished for choosing to trust the wrong people.

If you think I exaggerate, will you then tell me how come we are still awaiting (with bated breath, I don't think) the disposition of the TYCO, Enron, Worldcom, scandals, where all kinds of laws were not only broken but more significantly humans beings' lives were trashed, and in the not so distant, but already forgotten if not forgiven past, the Savings and Loans debacle, BCCI, etc.?

Now, we have our wonderful president (and his crew), members of whose family were connected quite closely with some of these old forgotten scandals, this our present president would like to encourage the privatization of Social Security.

Yea, go ye and gamble in the market place and hope you don't land yourself in the future Enrons, Tycos, etc. (Actually, if you are a Republican, you don't need to worry your pretty little head about it at all. Just keep the power in the hands of the Republicans, the neo-cons will make sure there is perpetual war. And if you keep your investments in such things as GE, Dow, Martin-Lockheed, Halliburton, B&R, you know, the defense contractors, you will have a good long-term growth yield to look forward to. Nothing spectacular, no roller-coaster ride as with the dotcoms, but a healthy little nest egg, as your long-term investments benefit from stock dividends, stock splits, mergers and whatnots. You will have to draw your own balance sheet about the real merits of your "long-term growth", the real cost basis of your holdings, as the beautiful children you manage to raise to adulthood through the iffy times of a constantly expanding War on Turr eventually become a part of what your investment has to be, on top of your disposable income.)

After President Clinton left office, there was a healthy surplus which has in a mere three years been transmogrified into an abysmally tragic deficit. Alan Greenspan, Hehehe, says no problem, let's just get rid of Social Security, for the good of the economy, Hehehe.

Well, all you gung ho Republicans, guess what? Someone like the retired partner of a Wall Street law firm, or the retired CEO of say, Disney, will get a Social Security check cut exactly to the same size as a middle management administrator who contributed to the fund, based on the so-called Social Security ceiling base.

Now, in all probability, such a retired law firm partner, or other captain of industry, has stashed some of his "surplus" income in securities holdings, the honest ones without benefit of insider trading, natch, or other forms of investment available to those who have serious money (real estate, pension funds, tax-fee municipal bonds, treasury bonds, etc., etc.). If you take away his Social Security check, even if it be a "top of the line" Social Security check, he will not starve, and he will most likely still be able to meet his condo payments and his health club dues, and have his yacht refurbished whenever he fancies.

In all likelihood, the same "top of the line" Social Security check of the middle management person will be essential to allow him/her to keep living in the same house, even those empty nesters who have already downsized to something smaller.

For a -- this is just an example -- single parent, who raised children and did their loyal best to give them a good start in life, to wit, some sort of education, there might not be any other source of income, besides Social Security, there might not be any additional "pension fund" check.

Tuff? You betcha! "Should have been taking care of bizzness, saving for a rainy day." Smarmy pants, you sure of yourself, ain't you, you sure you can just have it work out according to plan?

Let me tell you a cautionary tale. It might help you wake up to the fact there is nothing sure in life, except change, and there is no such thing as security in the material world. Here it is.

Some few years ago, the news was made public that Mayor Giuliani in NYC had voted an exceptional budget provision, a one-shot deal, to cover the expenses of a former mayor of NYC, John Lindsay, living somewhere in some old people's home, because the money had run out on him to pay for his retirement home bill.

Ah, the splendors and miseries of those in power! Who'd have thunk it? John Lindsay was mayor in NYC for two terms, as I recall. He was a partner in a prestigious Wall Street law firm, from which he resigned to take up public office, and which readmited him to partnership when his term was up. He even ran (unsuccessfully) for the presidency of the United States on one occasion.

Priviledged? Captain of industry? Educated, smart, well connected, savvy? You betcha. All of these. He was the prototypical Golden Boy, the one with the Blue Eyes, as they say where I come from.

I was appalled by the news. How could this happen?

I asked my old boss over lunch one day. He was quite matter of fact about it. "Oh, didn't you know? His law firm went bankrupt/was dissolved... (I don't remember, to be honest, what the exact nature of the calamity was.) ...and he lost his pension plan."

All of you who feel safer for being "vested" in your pension plan, take heed. When the company goes out of business, even if it just transfers out of town (or as is happening more and more these days, out of the country), chances are very, very high your pension plan will be just another sigh in the wind. You better have your personal Rudy in the wings to absorb the sudden slack in your sails.

I learnt the lesson of insecurity many, many moons ago, when as a preteen, precocious little girl, I listened to the grownups talk over dinner. My father had a small company, and as an Englishman living in France he had to hire a Frenchman to be the legal representative responsible to the commercial authorities. This man's wife was the daughter of a French magistrate who had spent his entire career in Syria, working for the French civil administration.

In those colonial days, the French franc had been based on the gold standard, so a French franc was actually a gold French franc, and its value was based on the price of gold. This old man had paid into his French government pension fund during his entire career in gold standard francs. Shortly after he took his retirement, the gold standard was abandoned by France, and his pension was suddenly paid to him in paper scrip, and what had been a comfortable nest egg for the golden years suddenly became insufficient even for a subsistence existence. At the age of eighty plus, the frail old man announced to his children he was obliged to look for a job if he were not to starve.

Had he behaved like a foolish virgin in his youth? Certainly not, he had been full of foresight, frugal to a fault, his nest egg had been guaranteed and secured by no less an authority than the French government, but it didn't do him a bit of good in the long run, there was no appeal. He still was cast out and became dependent on the kindness of strangers.

Yup, that does include his family. Don't underestimate the disattachment that evolves, inexplicably and imperceptibly, with the passage of time, or the occurrence of certain events, or the combination thereof. "Nuff said.

Those willing to brush up on the reality of economics, in distinction from the Lalaland of Replubican politics, could do worse than brush up on the writings of Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel prizewinner for Economics in 2001. He was for a while economics adviser to Bill Clinton (who was a Democrat, yeah, but had the smarts to pick smarter men to advise him on matters where he was not an expert), a vice president of the World Bank, and is now a professor at the Columbia Business School in New York.

His message? Succinctly put, don't expect too much of an economic recovery, given the "considerable debt" accumulated by the "deplorable Bush government".

Another one of his pronouncements:

"Neoliberalism is an unhealthy economic system. It generates poverty. It is dogmatic and unjust. It threatens democracy."

My own take is the following: The United States is a Republic, not a Democracy. The word Republic has for its root "res publica", Latin for public matters or affairs. The confusion comes when people take "res publica" as being synonymous with "public good", as in for the good of the general public, but it's not necessarily so, is it?

A Democracy is a governance by people selected and elected to represent the wishes of the greater number, in accordance with what they have chosen as a desirable lifestyle goal. No matter what, in a large group of men, there will always be a tug of war between those of contrary opinions, between those who want the windows open vs. those who want them shut, between those who turn down the thermostat vs. those who want it maxed up, etc. The main reason for this is that most human beings function entirely in reaction to the perceptions of their six sense organs (eyes, nose, ears, taste, touch, and the integration and evaluation of incoming messages by their individual minds), without regard to the fact that for instance, in a matter of color, standards may be very different for those who are color blind, or those who don't like purple or a certain shade of green.


So? Well, "stylistically" it may be OK to be a Republican, but you'd better wake up and smell the reality of where it's taking us all, whatever our preferences may be. The tub is leaky, no matter who the captain will be, we will all of us be spending a lot of time bailing out the slops if we want to avoid sinking. Also remember the lesson of the Titanic: there are never enough boats for the survivors at best of times, and the scarydest bastards will not wait for the heroes to bring their wives and children on board, they will put out quietly before anyone notices the ship is even going down, they won't even bother to fill their early boats to capacity.

What is being done in the dark right now will eventually be done in full daylight. At high noon the truth will be revealed clearly for all to see. It will all be a matter of public record, but it won't necessarily translate as public good.

You want to be all excited about Man walking on Mars? Let's hope by then Man will still be able to walk the Earth safely. Or will your feet not touch bottom in humongous flood waters, or will they be blown off by landmines?

"Hurah! We are developing better landmines?" What kind of nonsense are you enthusing about? Would that be landmines that never explode, or that explode more easily? That maim less, or kill more swiftly? Oh, they are just easier to detect? By whom? You mean, the smart will be safe, the dumb will be dead, get smart quick or die? Will they be part of a game of chance or a game of skills? Like "Minesweeper" that comes on all our computers nowadays, along with Solitaire and Free Hearts?

"Was there water on Mars?" What's your problem? Are you bored, or something? Will there be drinking water for all on Earth, by the time you find out? Oh, wait a sec, there'll be manna from heaven for the righteous? Sorry, I forgot about the Tooth Fairy (or is it the "Truth Fairy"), the Easter Bunny, Father Christmas, come on, faith moveth mountains, we all know that.

"You want a genuine Mars rock on your coffee table?" Did you know the Bedouins in the desert of Morocco already have thousands of them, without interplanetary space travel, just by getting down off their camels and stooping down to pick them up off the hot desert sands? Not kidding. Scientific fact. And you know what? Those rocks flew all the way from Mars all by themselves, the result of formidable collisions on Mars with interstellar meteorite showers. Could happen again any time. Just hope you're not doing the exotic trip, riding camelback with the Bedouins in the Moroccon desert, when it happens again. Just as in Western Africa, south of the Sahara, you can pick up tektites for free, that is Moon stones, as in stones from our very own Moon, that fell down to Earth at the end of similar catastrophic events. (I remember reading about a dog once, who was killed right in front of his owner by one of these falling tektites. I wonder, too casually I'm sure, whether the dog had time to yelp.)

We Earthlings are just a bunch of greedy children, eating together at the big family kitchen table in our parents' house, and Mum divvies up the food equably to each kid, but each kid is googling enviously at the other kids' plates to see if perchance anyone else might be getting a choicer morsel.

* * * * *

Oh, I was going to forget to comment on the Passion of Mel Gibson. It appears (he has it on authority) that the Devil is a Woman. Some people might be tempted to add: "And I know exactly where She lives."

Proof again that based on the six senses, one man's fish is another's poisson. Or, in other words, that one's man's poisson is another's poison.

You got it wrong, Mel. Ask me. I know. Clearly, the Devil is nothing but a regular, opinionated, prejudiced, confused, evilthinking, evilspeaking, evildoing, man.

Nichiren Daishonin said it best. Hell is not a physical place. Hell is in the heart of a man who despises his mother and hates his father. It's no good looking for it anywhere else. And it's no good looking for the Devil anywhere else, either.

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