Probably more insufferable rambling- Part I

          Just in case you were wondering, there is, in fact, a compelling, logical argument for the postulation that we create our own realities.  That we do is a common refrain from numerous corners of the contemplative world like spiritual seekers and philosophers.  These types spend time wondering how it is that we exist.  Now there’s also a refrain about creating our own realities coming from those who wonder not how it is that we exist, but how we exist: scientists.  Most physicists you have the opportunity to ask would pretty vigorously deny that the contemplative types are asking the same questions as scientists are in their algorithmic world, much less getting the same answers.  Physicists’ stock and trade is in hard physical facts – unless they get into quantum issues, where the facts are physical all right, but a lot harder – to understand, anyway.  Continue reading

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Headlines of note and other tidbits

 

“Tension Simmers in the Cheese Market” –  International Herald Tribune

 

“Busts, bail-outs and shotgun sales are re-drawing the banking map faster than you can say collateralized debt-obligation.”  – The Economist

 

Headline from Eurasianet.org: “Surprise Nuclear Power Plant in Kaliningrad” They’re popping up like mushrooms after a rain. 

 

“The sky grows dark with chickens coming home to roost” Wish I had a context for that one.

 

“Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities; not of income.”  – Raul Castro. Hmmmn, sounds like compassionate conservatism to me.

 

Sait Halim Paşa (1863-1921), an intellectual and bureaucrat said: “In Eastern thought, our mind always shapes things; but things do not shape our minds.”

 

“Life is like this: first you are temporarily immortal, then you are dying.”  – someone.

 

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket.” – Eric Hoffer

 

“A democracy will continue to exist until that time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.  From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by dictatorship.  Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence back again to bondage.”

                                                                                      – Unknown

 

 

Six snowmobilers found alive and hungry, which is good news for the most delicious looking one.

          – The Denver Post

 

Naomi Campbell, of all people, sits down with Hugo Chavez, proving once again that there aren’t too many fools on Earth, but rather that lightning bolts are improperly distributed

          -SF Gate

 

Aggressive coyote shot and killed near Colorado ski resort, rocket-powered ACME skis confiscated.

          -The Denver Post

 

Inquiry is a process of reaching a consensus on the best way of coping with the world and ‘truth’ is just a compliment we pay to the result.

          -Jim Holt in The New Yorker

 

Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.

          -Kierkegaard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Czech, Please!

          Just as the news on the international scene was beginning to look likely to drone on forever in an impossibly grim and boring list of stupidly violent and senseless acts of political prurience, relief is in sight. And in the shape of a bright pink Soviet Era tank, no less! I was really beginning to despair, since there was no possibility of unraveling the Gordian knot that is political and pecuniary relations between Gazprom, Naftogaz, Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Puti-Poot and both Medvedevs in any gainful way. And then the North Koreans, usually a good source of material, have been spending all their time photoshopping the ever-colorful and creative Kim Jong Il into photos since he’s either too coy (hah!) or ill to step up to the tragic-comedic plate anymore. Sigh. I was starting to feel like I could really understand what today’s political cartoonists are facing, with the exit of The Shrub. The future seems an unrelieved desert of dolorously wresting water from a stone. Blood from a turnip. Irony from a cherub.

          Not so! Enter David Cerny, the Czech artist who made his name by sneaking through the inky shadows into Continue reading

Jesus was a socialist.

       I confess that I have not managed to read the Bible cover to cover, so I might have missed something, but from what I’ve heard, Jesus was a socialist. What I think he said was: If you want to be perfect, sell what you own, give the money to the poor and follow me. He may as well have said “spread the wealth around”. But that was thousands of years ago. I don’t think that nowadays many people have set their sights on being perfect- at least, not so as you’d notice- so Jesus’ words are perhaps not pertinent today.  I’m pretty sure Jesus never said – but I wasn’t there, mind you, and I don’t know  first hand, so don’t quote me – “invest your money in mortgage-backed securities or credit default swaps, then spend your profits on business investment targeted at job creation and let the minty-fresh monetary goodness trickle down to the poor.” I’m pretty sure that Continue reading

Making bail

          Back in the day, I knew a Nepali guy who ran a whitewater rafting company. My friends and I hired him to take us on a four or five day trek down some raging torrent tumbling out of the Himalayas. It was so long ago I have no recollection of the guy’s name, the name of the river or even the names of most of my friends, but I do remember the time we emerged from some torrid whirlpool, soaked and disoriented, prying our white fingers reluctantly from the ropes that had kept us from being flung into the roiling, boulder-strewn moil.  Our raft was nearly sunk, full of water, and just as we were taking it all in the guide shouted “bail out!” I obediently and carefully began climbing out of the raft onto a nearby rock, which sent the guy into a raucous bout of merriment, because he meant to bail the water out of the raft, not to bail out. It was not the most Continue reading

In pursuit of the banal.

          Who, exactly, knows what it is like to be normal? I’d like someone to point out to me a normal person, and allow me to pose a question or two. I’d like to know what its like to be normal, but imagining what that would be like is like trying to imagine what it would be like to be smarter than you are. Besides, I don’t think there is one single human on this planet that is normal. But still, if you’ve never had a brilliant notion just pop into your head, I don’t see how you can ever really imagine what it would be like. People asked Einstein how he came up with the idea of the time-space continuum, and he said it just occurred to him. The  kinds of things that occur to me are much more likely to be that I need to buy peanut butter or that if bats really do sleep upside-down their fur must get all ruffled and itchy, since it would be falling ‘against the grain’. Those are the things that occur to me; not relativity. So I can’t really imagine what it would be either exceptionally brainy, nor what it would be like to be normal, but my day today was a smidgeon more normal -normal for me, anyway – than any Continue reading

colonies – the sequel

          It’s hard to see what’s not to like about Greenland. Once you remember that it’s the one that isn’t green. Iceland is green. Greenland is icy. Yeah, that one. Its been inhabited by Inuit forever, but been ruled by Denmark since the 18th century because all the profitable colonies had been taken by the time Denmark got in the business. Well, that’s not really true; the Danish also had Africa’s Gold Coast, which got that name for a reason, and I suppose that if it wasn’t for the Gold Coast, Denmark couldn’t have afforded its chillier real estate in Greenland, Iceland, the Faeroe Islands and Estonia. Like it would have wanted to. Heh. Those Danish. Sheesh.

          Anyway, the Gold Coast went on to be Ghana pretty early on, but it wasn’t until the 70s that Greenland got even limited home rule. It was a sort of frozen situation (oogh). For some reason Denmark wanted Greenland, and then, well, nothing happened for the longest time. Oh, some fishing and whaling went on, a ruby Continue reading

Babbling

          Okay, grab your thinking caps, kiddies, because it’s time for our language lesson. Today our lesson comes from the picturesque, pastoral and puny little Himalayan ex-Kingdom of Nepal. In Nepali, as in a number of other Asian languages, no one ever wants a thing. If a speaker of one of these languages feels a liking for a thing – say chocolate, or, perhaps, as is the case with the mountain-dwellers in Nepal, rancid butter – when they say so, they don’t say “I like rancid butter.”  Instead they say, “rancid butter falls to my heart.” When they are hungry for rancid butter or any other thing, it is not the speaker who is the source of said hunger, it is hunger that attaches itself to the speaker. They say “Hunger has attached itself to me.” Or they might say that “love” has attached itself to them, or, if the situation calls for it, hatred, chilliness, confusion, awe, nausea, tickles, sorrow or even indifference. They aren’t things you have, they are things that have you.

          That linguistic peculiarity might seem like nothing more than a footnote, but if you think about it for a minute, you might notice that a person who says “I hate you” is a lot different from one who Continue reading

autumnal pause

          Looking out my window at clouds so low it felt like you could touch them just by raising your hand the way you would to ask a question in class, I was struck by the fact that I could. Not only could I touch the clouds, I could just stand there and look. I could stand there and look, and ask questions. There was no, one nagging thing that it was just about getting too late to do, no other thing that was haunting me with how good it would feel to –finally, at long last – get done and no other thing that was ringing my phone or knocking on my door, so I just stood there, looking out on the sodden world. The clouds had been low all day, and where they dipped down over the forested mountains and into the valleys they deposited rime on the trees like Christmas scenes in a department store window. I could picture a little toy train choo-chooing its way down through the mountain across the way, sending a plume of cheery little-engine-that-could smoke up to blend with the clouds. And with the cold, damp, cottony, almost-frozen stuff of the universe settling in, it occurred to me how much I like winter.

          In summer you can’t stand there and look, wonder and ask; Continue reading

Rummy Rummy

Rummy:

Chiefly British Odd, strange, or dangerous; rum.

 

          For those of you laboring under the misapprehension that Eurasia watchers have a niche market with little or no competition from the population of wonks-at-large, I say follow the money. Or, in this case, follow the Rummy.  It turns out that Donald Rumsfeld has set himself up a foundation with his personal friend S. Frederick Starr (relation to Kenneth?….), head of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute.  So far they’ve only financed a fellowship here and there, sending students off to Pipelineistan to study, and so far the money has come from Rummy and some so-far undisclosed “friends” (eventually, when the tax man cometh, those contributors and any sundry un-indicted co-conspirators will have to be named, but that’s okay. For now we can guess. It’s not hard.)

          Ostensibly the raison d’etre  for the foundation lies in the fact that other post-Soviet countries have expats abroad (presumably because there was fleeing involved) and as far as diasporas go, Continue reading

Where in the World is Atticus Finch?

          Well no matter how you slice it, the world is happy that there is soon to be a grown-up in the white house.  After eight long years, it is just possible that the US will not be the lone hold-out in world opinion on such topics as ethics, equality, the environment, trade, diplomacy and, well, everything. Okay, okay; to say “lone” is actually a scurrilous exaggeration. Poland sent lotsa troops to Iraq. Kazakhstan did not sign the Kyoto Protocol. Somalia, like the US, has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. And there’s more! Just don’t ask me to look it all up; its too depressing, and right now there’s euphoria in the water, and I don’t want to spoil it by recognizing that there will be puh-lenty of opportunities in the offing to find out just how reprehensible all politicians are, no matter how dignified and generally Atticus Finch-y they might look at first. Perhaps it doesn’t take much to resemble a tall, spreading, sturdy and all-encompassing oak when you’re being compared to – in the words of the inestimable Molly Ivens: The Shrub.

          It shouldn’t have been a surprise that the oak won even though it was, since every worldwide poll or mock election favored Obama by a landslide, and any international paper you pick up Continue reading

let’s get unbalanced

          It is that stalwart of American Democracy, John Stuart Mill whom we should be thinking about today, don’t you think? I mean, he was the guy who said that only if votes were public could people be trusted to vote for the public good over their own interest. And it is today that an expected record number of Americans are casting their secret ballots; presumably for their own good- and why not?-  since we are all a long way removed from the great JSM’s understanding. Who doesn’t look after their own good – oh, I mean besides people from Kansas. And Jesuits. Oh, and of course, the visionaries of democracy like JSM, who never, not even once, succumbed to a sound bite. And that just might be why he argued that free speech is necessary for intellectual and social progress.  We can never be sure, he contends, if a silenced opinion has some Continue reading