Friday, February 27, 2009

Milton Berle and I

Milton Berle and I have always had something in common, namely, lifestyles ending in esk — Burlesque in his case, Dilbertesque in mine. When I was gainfully employed a decade ago, I had a pointy-haired boss of the prestigiously educated female persuasion (hence, "Dilbertesque"). She had an extensive if somewhat mysterious vocabulary, sometimes punctuated by Greek, in addition to pointy hair.

I remember one notable occasion when she called me into her office, along with a couple of Q.A. guys, to discuss some lingering bugs in the fixit database that I had not yet got around to fixing. The funny thing was, everyone had chairs but me. But as an habitué of the beatnik life, it was second nature of me to drop into lotus position on the floor and continue the conversation from there.

One of the Q.A. people read off an impossibly large number of program errors and glitches, which I privately dismissed from consideration since I knew every one of those bugs was a separate instance of odd behavior caused by one and the same typo in the source code. One of several, I might add — I couldn't say which off the top of my head — but only a few dozen, as I well knew, not thousands. The Q.A. people were adamant that all four million bugs still had to be fixed, and Ship Date was only a week away.

Ah. I presented the immediate, and obvious, solution to this problem. Simply move the deadline back by two weeks, or a month would be even better. Suddenly, from a position of lordly repose on the corner of her desk, my pointy-haired boss began speaking in Greek.

In point of fact, she uttered the name of her old Wellesley (or was it Bryn Mawr?) sorority, Phi Upsilon Kappa (ΦΥΚ), mantra-like, several times in rapid succession. I was hugely relieved and reassured, because this language was a familiar feature of my own comradely college daze, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear it come so charmingly from a woman.

Well, Berle's tale and mine are alike in one other respect, viz., that neither has a moral or much point although I'm given to understand that his was longer.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rice Checks

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is not the former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I noticed in Thomas Merton's Asian Journal that he tends to be a bit sarcastic about articles in the Thai press, for example, a Thai boxer has his head kicked off, an American woman screams when she sees it, Merton records his reaction in all caps. — "October 19/Calcutta," p25, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton [ISBN 0-8112-0570-3]

Even gold howls when you beat it.


Salt Fog

There's salt everywhere, left over from the snowstorms. Yesterday, as I was headed down Interstate 380 to work, I could see gray clouds of finely powdered salt rising in gusts off the pavement. It looked like something out of Riddick's world. Time to visit the carwash.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ain't Misbehavin'

A domino is a small black mask. This picture is an absurd triple-decker visual pun by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill about Fats Domino's pizza. Unfortunately, I can well imagine the kind of free association under deadline that makes this stuff up. Crazy 88's? Lots of keys, no kazoo. Take the lithium, Quentin.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Things I've Finally Learned

i. Nirvana

There's an old Chinese scroll which depicts a couple of Buddhists jumping off a cliffa, apparently convinced that self-annihilation and Nirvana are one and the same.

Folks who should know better get hung up on that all the time, but Nirvana and nihilism are nothing alike. The Buddha smiles and holds up a couple of fingers, right? It's an enigmatic smile, like the Mona Lisa's. The gesture means, hold that thought.

The Buddha's point is, yes, the words mean exactly what they seem to say. Yes, self-annihilation and Nirvana are identical. But... Your question is not properly framed. If I jump off a cliff and kill myself, I have not attained Nirvana, and even more woefully, I have not attained self-annihilation. My suffering continues unabated. But the Buddha has attained self-annihilation. The Buddha has attained Nirvana. The Buddha smiles.

Technically, this is a koan, a logical paradox that can, if meditated upon for however long it takes, bring the seeker to the threshold of that same enigmatic smile. Of course, such a realization must be abetted, it must be confirmed by the Buddha. Pretensions can't be turned loose in the world, or they will result in a great deal of embarassment.

There's another criticism that gets thrown at the Buddha, which is that Buddhism seems to be entirely self-absorbed, passive and lacking a social conscience or any desire to solve the great problems of the world such as poverty, war, disease, hunger, ignorance and dissatisfaction. Not so. The Buddha is something of an inkblot, a Rohrschach, on this account, receiving your disquiet about social issues in a vast sea, not of complacency, but of compassion. Let's solve your problem first, and then the world's.

aRather a hair-raising image which I first saw in a Japanese art history class at the University of Iowa, 1970. I can't find it on the web, but the painting is notorious. It was a faded vertical wall scroll, and showed two young bodhisattvas or arhats in mid-plunge down the face of a high cliff. No bungie cords. I'm not sure what the purpose of the painting was, but Japan has long had a penchant for religious satire. Buddhist monks are often represented in sumi-e as frogs, while their Shinto critics are monkeys.

ii. Koan

My favorite koan is the one about the two monks.

The younger monk is sitting in meditation. The older monk is puzzled and asks the younger what he's trying to accomplish by sitting in zazen (i.e., meditating).

"I am meditating like this in order to become a Buddha."

The older monk picks up a brick and begins rubbing it against a rock, probably one of those old "growing" rocks in Zen gardens, tracking a minor havoc through the carefully raked sand.

The younger, applying the timeworn principle of monkish dialectic, asks the elder what he thinks he's doing. "I'm polishing this brick in order to make a mirror."

The thunderbolt should have struck by now. If not, "How can polishing a brick make a mirror?"

And the rejoinder, "How can sitting in zazen make a Buddha?"

True to formula, the younger monk instantly became a mirror.


Well, ok. So, D. T. Suzuki somewhat maladroitly called this moment The Great Renunciation, but it's also called satori and it's described as "mingling eyebrows with all the Buddhas," not face to face or nose to nose, but as though wearing a mask, from the inside, slipping on a domino and an altogether other point of view. The eyebrows mingle, the eyes are alike, the same.

It doesn't last long. The moment slips away, the world returns...

Satori is slippery in these psychological times, because anyone who sits quietly in meditation will experience something like it sooner or later. The anime Tenchi Muyo illustrates it like an interior snap of light inside the meditator's skull, a moment so commonplace every Japanese schoolkid recognizes it instantly.

Zen is nothing special. Suffice to say, that as far as bull goes, it arrives tenfold.

iii. Rant

This was all brought on by an extraordinarily irritating program on EWTN, the ultraconservative Catholic channel, Wednesday evening last. The "expert" they brought on to dismiss discuss Buddhism was not a Buddhist, but Anthony Clark, a Catholic polemicist and assistant professor of Asian history at the University of Alabama who praised my cross-cultural hero Thomas Merton with the faintest of damnations. Rather than letting Clark get away with ever so gently kicking the electric fan into Merton's bathwaterb, let me tie this nihilism stuff and my favorite koan, back to Christianity.

Remember Buddha's seeming lack of social concern? I mentioned it just a little bit ago.

When you bring a social conscience to Buddhism and demand to see a little action, especially if you're a Christian, you get the Christian answer: "Go, sell all you have, follow Me."

God delegates.

Be a perfectly reflecting MIRROR to all sorrow, spend everything you have and everything you are on what you see and what you hold, like a mirror, within yourself. Hang on that self-abnegating cross, embrace that descent into hellish judgment from your fellow human beings. Do good works, lose yourself in action (and Imitation), and you're not a dumb, dunderheaded, unconnected BRICK any more. That's Christian — heck, that's Mother Theresa!

And that's Buddhism.

bWhy is December 10, 1968 different from all other Tenths of December? Because, like Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Merton encountered an improperly grounded fan.

iv. Disclaimer

A friend of mine gave me a poster many years ago which I have to remember whenever I spout Buddhism (because she got very tired of it). It's a quote from G. K. Chesterton, "Satan fell through force of gravity." Indeed, the dilettante's path is beset on all sides with banana peels.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Croque Monsieur

It's just a crunchy, broiled, hot ham and cheese sandwich on peasant bread, but... how do you make it, really? There are recipes all over le web, no two alike. E.g., some people do open face, others put the ham & cheese between the sheets.

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Top Ten Finish

The Wiesy haters are all clucking about how Michelle Wie choked at the SBS Open, Turtle Bay, Hawaii last week.

Uhh... choked? She finished alone in second place at her inaugural opener as a fully-fledged, card-carrying member of the LPGA. She earned $108,332 bucks before taxes. Did your 19-year-old do that?

Most of the rivals I mentally pair her with, like Natalie Gulbis (T10), Paula Creamer (T15), Morgan Pressel (T26) and the unthinkable Julie Inkster (T32), who has jowls older than Michelle Wie, barely clawed their way into the top half of the field. (Lorena Ochoa was off getting engaged to some lucky stiff in Mexico or something.)


Saturday, February 14, 2009


What? Castlevania has pathos? Kill a Ladycat and get a Heart Repair (or possibly a Croque Monsieur, which is a nice crunchy hot ham and cheese sandwich). Lord, there's an untold story.

In fact, I'm having Qualms about this. Can I play Castlevania if I have to kill the Ladycats? What is a Ladycat, anyway?

Well, when the horrible quasifeline murder is over and you've successfully dispatched your spitting, slashing, rampaging Ladycat, what remains is not the mortal dregs of a cat at all, but a pathetic naked girl collapsed into a little ball like a whipped child (these are a few pixels on a tiny screen, you understand, not a pre-Raphaelite romp in a lilypond).

Moreover, the Ladycat in all her feral glory is a lithe woman with yellow fur and a green bikini, a cat's small head and a long writhing tail. She stalks on palms and heels like a human child, she attacks, slashes, pounces and yowls — and dies far too easily. And she may drop, now and again, on expiring, two of the best possible gifts you can receive in this game, namely, a massive infusion of HP courtesy of the ham sandwich or a generous and unexpected burst of a dozen or so Hearts, which is real power in the heat of battle with your direst foes.

So, a maddening confluence of four of my favorite things — hot ham and cheese sandwiches, hearts, girls and cats — in a little package of tiny murders wrapped up in a bow. Can I do that? Can I kill the Ladycats? I dread the karmic consequences.

Werebats, I understand. No problem there. But Ladycats? No. This time, I take a stand. Dracula may win, but I can't defeat him by killing Ladycats. That would not be Right. Maybe I've been hoodwinked by evil in a beguiling form, but really it feels like the only evil here is mine, marauding through the Ladycats.

Unless they're just pretending...

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Turtle Bay

I wonder who's tied for first, 8 under after the second round, at Turtle Bay?

[Update] Saturday, Michelle Wie came in second at seven under par, winning a mere $108,332.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ayn Rand

I've burned every book she ever wrote.

On the other hand, there's a Sasquatch in the Tymeo Mountains.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Engulfed by the Tiny Screen

I haven't been so swallowed up by a tiny game on the small screen since Final Fantasy I (GBA). Nonlinear play. Many dungeons. Intense frustration from simple-seeming puzzles. Droll enemies, self-aware humor. Lots of stars.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009


Honinbo Shusaku figuratively boxes Gennan Inseki's ears with the "ear reddening" move.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Darjeeling Tea


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hot Enuff For Ya?

Just for you loons who don't think global warming is real. It's GLOBAL, ya idjits ya!


Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Castlevania, Order of Ecclesia is kinda fun. I was stumped at the first boss for several days. I blamed my lack of progress on aging reflexes, but it was just a case of stupidhead. The easiest boss battle ends immediately when you finally use your wits.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

The last 20 minutes

I fell asleep during the Blues Brothers DVD last night. Usually, there's a kind of inevitable sympathy for artistic license when the networks bleep a cussword. But Blues with shock language intact, in a post shock world, just seems tired and commonplace. Aretha, fat, but sans the Mammy hat dripping with rhinestone respect, is still classic. The family watched, I slept with my feet up in the big ol' easy chair.

This was followed by the last 20 minutes of the Super Bowl, the best 20 minutes of any football game — almost as good as the last five minutes on the clock, IMHO. Plenty of time for commercials. Are they even trying anymore? After that last ballerina-like touchdown and the hopecrushing fumble, I surfed through the rest of the wasteland.

Apparently, Americans now have the attention span of three-year-olds. Sunday evening television on February 1, 2009, was so bad I actually thought for a moment it was deliberate ... heh heh ... like psyops, you know, a kind of topical anaesthetic sloshed onto the collective American brainpan to dull wits, deaden critical thought, and prevent awakefulness.

Then I pondered (weak and weary) who'd do something like that? A few ideas crept unbidden into mind. Fortunately, we have paranoia to throw a wrench into that dreary cognitive wheel of dawning realizations. Such a convenient diagnosis, that paranoia stuff. You gotta be crazy to be paranoid. There's gotta be a rational explanation.


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Israel promises "disproportionate response"

Oh, god, Bill Murray reruns...!

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Actually, I enjoy any movie where Bill Murray tries to seduce women by exuding the boyish charms of an allegedly bashful cutup who stuffs jellybeans up his nose ... over and over and over until he gets it right. Pshaw. Screw Bill Murray. We're watching Blues Brothers tonight instead of the Super Bowl.

I agree with one thing. Murray's personal best fillum was Lost in Translation, with Bob Wiley ("It's the wrong movie, Gromit!") drowning in Sophia Coppola's racist blue funk Tokyo. It would be fun to mark up the Icelandic dub with random excerpts from Ulysses in Nighttown as subtitles. The final whispering tongue in Charlotte's ear could be done in English, perhaps "Meat me in Sarajevo."