Art is good. Let's get some.
Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)
Some children's stories are not children's stories. (****)
Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall: A Novel
Tough sledding to get through, but brilliant in spots.
Anthony Bourdain: Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.)
If Hunter Thompson was a foodie. (*****)
Elizabeth Moon: Command Decision (Vatta's War, Book 4)
Good basic space opera (***)
Orson Scott Card: Ender in Exile
Boring in spots, but sprinkled with diamonds of writing. (***)
Timothy Ferriss: The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
Tim's a little crazy, but there's lots to chew on here in the area of questioning your basic assumptions. Good for that if nothing else. (****)
James Ishmael Ford: Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen
Middle section reminds me of Genesis (begat, begat, begat) but the best up-to-date (2001) explanation of how all those Zennies got here. (****)
Soko Morinaga: Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity
Delightful book about a Zen master's progression. (*****)
Linda Greenlaw: The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain's Journey
Nuts and bolts of swordfishing from the world's only female captain. More fish than polemic. (***)
Natalie Goldberg: Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
Best book on interior of writing I've read in quite some time. Great advice for we the writing afflicted. (*****)
For the most part, I was satisfied with the way that Julian Fellows tied up all the loose ends in the Downton Abby story, but for some reason I was uncharacteristically disturbed by the old butler Carson being put out to pasture.
Oh. Wait ...
Got the mail yesterday and opened a nondescript envelope from MIT. It was a check for $98,000 (the roll-over from my pension headed to my IRA). But you know, this sort of thing doesn't happen anywhere near as often as it should.
It is not a good day for Hillary Clinton. Not only did she get pasted in New Hampshire yesterday (a shire that has been very good to the Clintons over the years) but she lost a key constituency big time - women. Hillary undoubtedly thought that she, being the first woman who has a legitimate shot at becoming President, could pretty much take the woman vote for granted. But this was not the case upcountry. She lost to Bernie Sanders by 7 points in the distaff category and that's a lot of women to lose.
This would be bad enough, but her prospects for fixing the situation are not good. Points for your consideration:
1) The symbology of just showing up as a member of a category doesn't seem to matter much in this election. Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio don't seem to be pulling from their respective minority/majority groups very well. The only identifiable group that seems to have any sway is the evangelical vote, but even that is split between Cruz, Carson, and Trump. Identity politics isn't doing it.
2) What women on the Democratic side seem to want is a commitment to concrete policies that will help them and this, at the moment, seems to imply a clear economic policy or at least an analysis. As a part of the Good Old Girl network, it's hard to believe that Hillary will be advancing anything that will be anything but the status quo and this hurts her in the main issue of the campaign.
3) I haven't been a organizer in many years, but I don't think that Madeline Albright damning young women to hell if they didn't vote for Hillary probably wasn't a very good tactic. I've found that damning people to hell tends to alienate them. At least that's what my former Catholic friends tell me.
4) Hillary has never totally shed the air of calculated "inevitability" that she had earlier in the campaign. This tends to put people off. People want to be considered for their vote individually (the mantra of someone who knew something about politics - Tip O'Neal) and don't like to be taken for granted. This is especially the case in a Yankee state like New Hampshire. Big no-no Hill.
5) If young women don't understand what it took to get Hillary into the position that she's in, the only people to blame are the people of Hillary's generation who didn't teach them. It could be that women boomers just spent too much time and energy working their own way up the ladder to pay much attention to those behind them (e.g. - Carly Fiorina). This is the difference between being connected to an actual movement and not.
Given all this, I don't have a clue how Hillary fixes this problem. Bernie Sanders seems to have started an actual movement based on an analysis of what's wrong and an agenda for fixing it. He may be right or wrong, but these are two assets that Bernie has that Hillary doesn't. Record numbers of people on both sides right or wrong are involved in politics this year because they don't like what's been going on for the past few years. I would argue that Hillary offers neither Hope nor Change while attempting to wrap herself in the Obama agenda.
I think that she's got a tough sell if she doesn't change some very basic things in her campaign.
I don't get to see the sun come up very often these days - even on those days that Harry the Cat gets me up in what seems to be the middle of the night to feed him his breakfast. This is one of the benefits of not having a steady job and one of the ones that I've enjoyed the most. But I do get to experience the sunset coming much too early and the night coming to stay until I finally go to sleep deep in it's depths. And though I enjoy the quiet of the dark, I have to say that I am looking forward to the sun cycling back from the Solstice that we have on our doorstep. It's mid-winter and it's time to look forward to light and back to what has happened in the Spriggs/Wallace household over this past year.
There's no two ways about it: it's been a weird year.
First, there hasn't been much in the way of work for yours truly - at least any of the get-a-regular paycheck variety - since being kicked in the teeth by my upwardly mobile supervisor at MIT over a year ago. I wasn't the only victim - over half of my former colleagues have left or have been replaced in the "IT Transformation" that has been happening over there on the river this year. This fact and other evidence has led me to the conclusion that it wasn't just me that was the problem. Somehow I and most of my co-workers were in the way of the new bright future of IT at the Institute and therefore Madam Defarge decided that I and others had to be dumped over the side. Such is life in the big city – go corporate or go home.
Normally, this would mean that I would have to go right out and find another job. I have good credentials since I’ve been doing it for 20 years. But I am being forced into the conclusion, after of year of resumes going to some sort of HR blackhole, that the world doesn't seem to want a 65 year old desktop support person. It's a young person's game and I have probably gotten too old to be hired in the field where I have carved out a living for the past 20 years. So, it seems that it is again time to reinvent myself - a task that I have never looked forward to and one that I am only now, after somewhat recovering from the faceplant of being fired, am only slowly coming to grips with. What do I want to be when I grow up? That damned question again? I haven't had a good answer since I was 10 and I wanted to be an astronaut.
In the meantime, I do freelance work that I stumble upon, I'm spending down savings that I stockpiled for just such an emergency, and I wait for June when I can file for full Social Security and re-establish a positive cashflow as a pensioner. As always, Denise continues to work too much (working, teaching, thesis, freelance) and this holds up more than her end of the operation, so we're okay. I now only mumble about money periodically instead of constantly.
While my worklife has become somewhat of a blackhole, Denise's worklife has become overwhelming, as well as a living example of a "don't know" state of mind. In November, out of nowhere, Boston University, which had been in partnership with the professional Huntington Theater Company (HTC) for which D has worked for over 25 years, decided that the physical theater, that BU owned and the HTC worked, had become a much too valuable piece of real estate not to cash in on and they were going to sell it to the highest bidder. (They put it on the market the day of the announcement, actually.) They had already rejected an initial offer from the Huntington for a mere $25 million and, while they threw the HTC a bone by saying that they would not sell to anyone who would evict the Huntington before June 2017, sell they would. Given the current real estate situation in Boston, a significantly large plot across from Symphony Hall would bring in many dollars that would help them expand their empire.
So, what happens to the HTC? Maybe they could find more money to offer BU? Maybe find another college or university to be associated with? Pass the hat for contributions at Fanueil Hall? No one knows. Or, if anyone does know, they ain't sayin'. But it does look like if the HTC doesn't come up with mucho cash before some developer does, it may turn into a traveling company, if it exists at all.
All of this tends to make the current staff of the Huntington (including Denise) a tad anxious. Not to mention the difficult position that it puts someone like Denise in, who works full-time for the HTC yet has taught for the Theater Department of BU for over 20 years. Of course, like most of the teaching faculty at BU, she's an adjunct, a member of the new academic proletariat, so we could never live on just her teaching alone at this point.
All in all, worklife (or the lack of one) has been difficult for both of us this year. If I was looking forward to happy retirement in Florida, living on a golf course somewhere, and drinking beer with the boys of the bowling league, then it doesn't look like this is about to happen. Luckily, I wasn't looking forward to this.
Weight/Heart/Diabetes - In the absence of control of a significant part of my life (see above), I decided that one of the things that I could control is the number of calories that I put into my face everyday. I had been teetering on the edge of clinical obesity and the ill health that comes with it for a number of years and it was time to pay attention to what was looking like a health disaster in the making. This evaluation was later confirmed by a visit to the new health care professionals (I moved to D's health insurance after leaving MIT) who looked at my glucose numbers and EKG. Diagnosis: clinical diabetes and a heart problem associated with long periods of high blood pressure. Seems like my job was killing me.
Not good. Treatment: lose more weight and put even more emphasis on a proper diet. And so I put the hammer down on what I had been starting to do already. A medical visit a month ago showed that, after losing 29 pounds over the past year, I was back in the normal range for diabetes and my heart function had improved so much that it was better than it was 5 years ago. Now the problem is keeping the weight off, which is a new and slightly different problem.
Cancer - Five years out and the numbers just keep getting better. I won't be considered to be out of the woods for another 2 years, but so far, so good. Cancer has left me gifts that keep on giving, but I’m still alive.
D - Denise started the year working on recovering from a shoulder that she broke in October of 2013 falling on a wet sidewalk. This went well (after 6 weeks of being out of commission) since she was quite disciplined about doing her physical therapy and now she's back to full strength.
With the success of the shoulder, she decided that it was time for her to deal with the meniscus in her left knee that had been bothering her since she tripped over Harry the Cat two years ago. The fact that she was waking up a night with pain in her knee helped move the decision along. So at the beginning of the month, she had the knee cleaned out. She was on the couch for a few days (mainly trying to recover from the effects of the anesthesia) and now she's walking around without pain (and doing PT exercises three times a day).
So, we're all better off in the health department than we were last year at this time. The only recurring problem is that Harry the Cat has developed a fondness for eating plastic that then makes him throw up. We're trying education, but I don't think he's listening.
Iaido - I continue to study Japanese Sword drawing with my indulgent Sensei Don Laliberty every week. I've been on the mat for three years now and I've gotten to the point where I can get the sword back in the scabbard most of the time, so I guess that I would no longer be considered a beginner. Now I'm on the long plateau toward not being a danger to myself and others. Another 20 or so years and I might get good.
Drawing/Painting - I haven't been doing much in the way of visual art this year. There have been drop-in life drawing opportunities, but I'm so rusty that I really don't like what I produce. So, I guess the message is that I either have to really focus if I'm going to do this or I shouldn't bother.
Writing - You're looking at it. The Annual Report is the longest and most complicated thing that I do every year. Yes, I still consider myself a writer, but I'm one that doesn't produce much. I wish it were easier, but for the last 50 years that I've been doing it most every day, it just hasn't been. I don't expect this to change.
Every year I give my take on the current political situation. I could fill quite a few Annual Reports with what's been going on in the Presidential race this year, but I'll try to boil it down for my Solstice audience.
Republicans: There was an interesting study that came out of Princeton this week about global life expectancy. The good news is that almost everyone on the planet is getting healthier and life expectancy is going up, with one exception: White Americans in the their 40's and 50's. They seem to be killing themselves with suicide, drugs, and alcohol and, as a result, the life expectancy of the whole cohort is going down.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there are your Trump and Cruz voters. We've been talking about the disappearing middle-class in America for quite some time now. We all know the figures - no raise in middle-class pay for the past 35 years, cost of living going off the charts, 45 million people in poverty (mainly white, by the way), all the growth in a sputtering economy being directly sucked up by the 1 percent on top. But the figures have real ramifications - personally and politically - and we're just at the beginning of seeing people be so alienated from a political system that has done nothing for them that they will run into the arms of anyone who promises them simple solutions to the complex problems of their lives and their country. Can't find a job for a couple of years? There's always drinking to ease the pain or going to the Ted Cruz rally where he'll tell you that he'll fix it all if you just vote for him. And, as if there isn't enough to be afraid of, where you're wondering how to avoid foreclosure on your house, pay for your kids college, or where the next meal is coming from, these people are more than willing to jack up your fears to get you to vote for them. Trump and Cruz are the current beneficiaries of this strategy of playing to the Desperate, but there isn't one person running for President as a Republican that isn't using the same political tactics. It's tried and true. Let's remember that demagogue is a Greek word and they knew all about them from times BC.
Desperation cuts across all political lines and is the new factor in American politics, just like it was in the 1930's in Germany.
Democrats: We all know where Hillary is at. She continues the tradition of Clinton corporatism (all you have to know is that she once was on the board of Walmart) and she (like Bill) will probably not be a great President. But she's also probably not going to get us into another war if she can help it since she's not on the "recover past glory" meme that all of the Republicans are. I can't say that I'm excited about her becoming President, (first woman or not) but at least I probably won't have to leave the country.
Sanders speaks the truth of what's actually happening and is mostly supported by those who are not invested in the lies of the past - youth. This, however, is his problem - the truth usually sucks. And there is the assumption that you should actually do something about it once your know it which can be a turn off. After many years of research, I have found that people in general, and Americans in particular, not only have little appetite for the truth and they have a nasty habit of killing the messenger. Despite this, Bernie has already had a salutary effect on the campaign by making Hillary deal with at least some of the truth, the question that I have is whether he will continue to be a positive influence after Hillary (most likely) wins the nomination.
Speaking of not dealing with the truth, how about this ecological one: throw enough crap somewhere and bad things happen? This principle includes the atmosphere, by the way. And despite the people who refuse to believe the above basic principle, there now seems that the truth is starting to bubble up to the people who make policy. This is good news, even if what they agree to do is much less than what is required to save the planet, parts of the human race, and a large part of the planetary flora and fauna. Many of those with short-term interests still will attempt to block us from long-term survival for their short-term gain. This will not change despite the mounting evidence of floods, tornados, massive snowstorms, and drought. But maybe it will change enough for us who like the planet the way that it is to keep the really bad stuff from happening. Maybe. We'll see.
The veil between this world and the next seems thinner this time of year for me. Added to the ghostly visitations this year is my old Aikido teacher Paul Keelan who succumbed to a many year battle with Alzheimer’s in March. For over 20 years, his was the steady hand of my ongoing practice to find out more about myself and others - the real heart of the martial arts - and I miss him and others that have helped me along the way that I can no longer see, but deeply feel, this time of year. I've been a foster kid since this date in 1964, when a phone call told me that my mother had passed on and nothing would ever be the same again. And it hasn't been. I thank all those that have helped me through. It is a sad fact of life that the older that you get, the more people you lose. This is the natural order of things, but that doesn't make it any easier.
It is at this time of year, when the sun is at it's nadir, that many of these people who have kept me alive all these years come back to me. And, of course, there are many still with me who have done the same. I thank you all. I am particularly grateful to all of you and I want you to understand that I hold all of you in my heart everyday, not just on the Solstice. Everyday I seek to justify your faith in me.
I'm finding that the aches and pains of getting old are real and seem to be cumulative. I have a bad knee and a cranky back. I have more Solstices’ behind me than before. But that doesn't dim the wonder of the turn of the year. We all have challenges, but hope, like the light returns. We all have each other and remembering this at the darkest time of the year is what the season is all about. We move forward into the light.
Thank you all. I remain your not so obedient servant.
Marshall T. Spriggs
"There are no rules. All of the rules have changed." - Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press
Yes, Tom. We're not in Kansas anymore. And just because the rules (including the ones that don’t seem to exist) have changed doesn't mean that there aren't any - it’s just that you might be a little slow to catch on to what the new ones are.
From over here, the way that the American public seems to have decided to deal with the almost total disfunction of their national government is though the creation of separate movements (one per party) to “throw the bums out.” We haven’t seen anything like this since the anti-war movements of the 1960’s. As usual, the people who are the last to know what’s happening outside of the lines are the people running (sic) the ship, and that includes the talking heads at NBC News. I guess that Tom just got the memo that things aren’t as they were.
There are signs that at least some media folks are getting beyond the “horse race” of individual candidates metaphor however and they are starting to analyze the campaign as a fight between a collection of interest groups. It’s good that someone in the media is waking up. For example, Matt Taibi has a good analysis of the Trump campaign in this month’s Rolling Stone, for example.
With the Dems, we have the corporate verus the anti-corporate, with the anti-corporate surprisingly gaining steam and making people nervous.
On the Repub side, at the moment it’s clear that Cruz and Huckabee are vying for the religious right (Huckabee going to pray at the altar of St. Kim), Scott Walker is the candidate of the Koch’s, Bobby Jindal is in the total thrall of Grover Norquist, Pataki is looking for someone (anyone) to listen to him, and The Donald seems to be the candidate for the White Nationalists. All of these guys (and girl) are fronts for somebody or are looking to me and the only question is who. The primary process is the process where we get to find out which of these interest groups win.
So far, the racists are way ahead. Stay tuned (you too Tom).
Getting a early, early start on his campaign, Kanye West announced his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States at the MTV Video Music Awards last week. He may or may not have been announcing for the 2016 race, his announcement was not clear. I’ve never found anything very clear when it comes to Kanye, but maybe I’ve just run out of hip-hop.
I personally would love to see a Trump/West Republican ticket. What would happen the first time that there was the two of them on the stage with only one microphone would undoubtedly be priceless.
I ‘m so happy that the multi-millionaire was freed from the restraints of unfair treatment by the multi-billion dollar corporation for which he works. Hopefully we can now spend time and attention on finding other multimillionaires with beautiful wives that are in trouble and need our support. Play ball.
All ears on Amherst Street have been tuned for the past few days to the sounds of our cat Harry about to cough up a hair ball (or not, as it turns out) at any moment. Day or night, when you hear that distinctive sound, you have to be prepared to rush to wherever the cat is and make sure that he’s on a bare floor and not on a rug. This makes cleaning up after the thing that I have no control over that much easier.
There’s a metaphor for the current state of my life in there somewhere, I just don’t know what it is.
As you know, Paul Keelan has made the transition to teaching Aikido (and life) on another plane. All of us will miss him until we catch up with him at the new dojo. However, though he has gone, there is still a couple of housekeeping matters left to deal with:
1) Memorial - His daughter Laine has had his body cremated and he currently sits in the house that they both shared over the past couple of years in northern New Hampshire. Since he had no friends in the area (except for some people in the local diner that he, of course, managed to charm even while not being able to talk), Laine decided that a full wake/funeral didn’t make much sense. All of his friends and family are in the Boston area, so it would seem to make more sense to have some sort of memorial here. Laine and I agree that the fall is probably the best time to do this.
At this point, what shape such a memorial would take is very much up in the air. If anyone would like to help us define and organize such an event, please let me know and we can start to move toward something that is worthy of his legacy.
2) Money - Joji Sawa told me that it is a Japanese tradition to send money to the bereaved family on the death of a member of the family. This would especially be appropriate now as a personal memorial to Paul. Lanie was not able to work during the winter into the spring since Paul needed 24 hour care and, as a result, she is flat broke - they were living on Paul’s pension checks and now those have disappeared as well. People have been very generous over the past months in keeping the both of them going. Now I would ask that you continue to be so for a short period while Lanie gets her feet under her. She’s got a rough transition to go through (and she has to find a job as well) anything that you could spare would be very much appreciated by both of us.
3) Me - Last (and least) there’s me. People have been quite sweet expressing their concern for me over this final stage of Paul’s illness and I very much appreciate it. I’m really okay. I don’t like death much, but at my age you do grow somewhat used to it, even the death of someone who was as important to me as Paul.
I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed the role that I’ve had in Paul’s illness for the past few years, but it had to be done and I knew that I could do it and, most of all, that he deserved the effort. Oddly enough, I haven’t “practiced" Aikido in over five years (bad back) but nothing in the previous 25 has made my feel prouder and closer to the community than the response that all of you have made to Paul's illness. I knew when I first walked into the dojo in 1981 that there was something special there and it’s good, after all these years, to have that feeling validated by the concern and the generosity of all of you during the past five years.
There really is an “Aikido Community” and we take care of our own. You have no idea how good this makes me feel.
If you have any questions about all of this, please let me know. I will keep you informed about Memorial preparations as they develop during the summer.
Thanks for your love and support.
I have to admit that my first reaction to hearing that Boston was in the running for hosting the Olympics was - run!
Have people forgotten that the last major infrastructure project in the city was the Big Dig and it's cost went from $4 Billion to $14 Billion during it's construction?