Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Quotation Project

I have always been attracted to quotations from the wise and witty personages that have populated my particular line of sight. I sometimes think I may be a "quote-a-holic" if there is such a thing, and I confess to having a nasty habit of posting them in prominent locations, as if they were some kind of totem. Sometimes I will drop one, post-it note style, in a public place. I like to imagine it will find the person that will derive some benefit from it.

It occurs to me today that this blog is a "public place". Limited traffic to be sure, but still public. To this end, I am going to begin a little "Quotation Project" here on the Monday Mike Chronicles. This will entail my simply posting various quotations. Sometimes with brief comment, but I imagine more often just letting them just stand alone.

My hope is that you may also find this enjoyable. Maybe you might be inclined to pass them on yourself. If a particular quote resonates with you, I would love to hear why. It would also be appealing to me if you would, from time to time, leave a quote of your own for me to chew on. If you feel so inclined.

Let me kick things off with a gem from one of the great wits of the 19th century:

"Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken" -Oscar Wilde

(Funny and wise at the same time. Not easy to do.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Deep Bow

You have probably seen or heard of the footage of President Obama giving a "deep bow" to Japan's Emperor Akihito this past week. Conservative commentators were falling over each other to complain about how "inappropriate" and "demeaning" this was for an American president. Ah yes...the shame of it all! To show respect, to be dignified, to honor the customs of another country, these are the occupations of wimps! "But", some have said, " did you notice that the emperoer did not bow back? What about that"? To which anyone with even a passing knowledge of Japanese culture would respond..."did you know that it is an ancient Japanese tradition that the Emperor does not bow to anyone"?

The real American way I guess is just to do what ever the hell you want and consequences be damned. I am sure our previous president would have likely tried to give the Empress a backrub. I mean it worked so well with the German chancellor! (Google: Bush Merkl backrub).

Okay... I am being a little sarcastic, but seriously, what is wrong with our country when it's front page news about the "scandal" that has taken place when someone (admittedly a famous someone) is "caught" showing respect?

I just heard today that one major poll indicates Obama's approval ratings have slipped below 50%. Well, I have a theory as to why. People may say it's the health care crisis, or it's the bailouts and the still sluggish economy, or it's the effect of the fearmongering waged by Fox News. Well I have a different theory. The problem is that President Obama is actually a decent, thoughtful man. He has spent a lot of political capital trying to reach across the aisle and find common ground with his detractors. And for this he is being pilloried. Well, Mr. President, it's time to wake up and smell the coffee! I have to say I am big fan, and I think you should continue being a man of honor, integrity, and decency. But just know this: If you want to get re-elected you are going to have to be more of a....what's the word? Oh yeah: Jerk

Many people, it seems, are more comfortable with that type of politician.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Last night's Colbert Report

I don't know if you have ever watched Comedy Central's Colbert Report, but this show (along with the Daily Show with Jon Stewart) have generally occupied my time from 11:00 p.m. till midnight for quite a while now. For my money, these are two of the best shows on TV. And speaking of paying for TV... that reminds me of when I was living in England in the early 1980's. Did you know that TV's in England at that time actually had coin slots on the back? You would drop a couple pounds in and get so many hours of TV in return. Some goverment chap would then stop by your house now and then to collect the money from the back of your TV. Weird Huh?

Anyway....back to the topic. The guest on last night's Colbert Report was especially interesting. He is a physicist from England named Brian Cox and has co-authored a book entitled "Why does E=MC squared? And why should we care?" I have put this book on my reading list on the strength of this guy's performance. He was quite a character. I had heard previously about this gigantic "Hadron Super Collider" in Switzerland. Its the worlds largest and highest energy particle accelerator. This machine, 17 miles in circumference, is designed to send particles smashing into each other at astronomical rates of speed. One of it's many functions to search for the elusive Higgs-Boson particle. This is the so called "God Particle" as it is supposed to be the animating force of the universe. When they were getting ready to start the machine up for the first time last September some were concerned that it could accidentally create a black hole and suck our whole planet down the tubes. As far as I have heard this has not happened yet. Correct me if I am wrong on this please.

Anyway, last night I learned the collider has been experiencing some bizarre malfunctions which has led two prominent physicists (Cox not being one of them) to posit the theory that the accelerator is being sabotaged from the future. Get that? It has (or will have) have created something so awlful that at some future point something or someone will be sent back in time to stop it. Let this idea swirl around your brain for while....


Another thing I learned was that if I had no mass I could travel at the speed of light.

Can't wait!

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Today, according to Christian tradition, is the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi. He has always been one of my favorite saints and I am surely not alone here. He is known as having a special, intutive relationship to Nature, and is often depicted in pious renderings as having animals gathered around him, with maybe a bird or two perched on his shoulder. I bet you know who I am talking about.
I think the reason I always liked him is he always seemed to me like some sort of medieval hippy. A sort of wandering, tree hugging, mystic. And in todays world, with all of our environmental concerns, he takes on an obvious added significance.

But as cool as St. Francis is, it is another Francis who I want to honor today. For it was 17 years ago today that our beloved cat, named after this saint from Assisi, came into our lives. On October 4th 1992 I picked up a 5 month old bundle of energy from a friend who had way too many bundles of energy on hand. Francis has been a great companion to both Lori and myself. A real friend. And yes, at 17 plus years he is still going strong!
So today, on his day, I wanted to honor him with these few words. You have been a peerless feline and we love you buddy!
I have attached the above picture because this entry obviously requires a photo so everyone can see what all the fuss is about. It's a fairly recent shot, taken within the past year.
Feel free to use the photo as wallpaper on your computer.
C'mon. You know you want to ...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


You will probably remember back in October 2006 when there was the news of the awful tragedy at an Amish school in Pennsylannia. Some crazed man broke in took hostages, eventually killing five girls before killing himself. After the tragedy it was noted widely how quickly the community forgave the man and even reached out to his family to give support. In 2007 a book called "Amish Grace: How forgiveness overcame tragedy" was released to popular acclaim.

I have not read the book, but something I saw this week reminded me of a news interview I saw back in 2006. A reporter was interviewing and elderly Amish woman about the tragedy and asked her how the community was able to forgive so quickly. The woman responded that they believed in "Gelassenheit"and it was an integral part of their Christian faith. This is a German word that translates as "yieldedness". They forgive because they accept, they "yield" their own feelings and agendas to realities truth. Which, of course, in their mind is synonymous with "God's will".

Whether one believes in God or not this is a very powerful and liberating frame of mind. Let me explore it a bit.

My first thought is that you find the same intuition in most if not all religious or spiritual systems. The one that comes to mind first is the Taoist path. The sage Lao Tzu said famously "The tree that bends does not break". This is pretty much it in nutshell isn't it? If we rigidly hold on to our desires and do not "bend' or let them go when necessary, we suffer. You find the same thing in Buddhism whose "first noble truth" is that "life is suffering". How do we over come suffering? By letting go of desire. Easier said than done I know! But lets face it...think back to any moment you were experiencing suffering, or even discomfort. The root of the problem can only be one of two things: either you wanted something you did not have, or you had something you did not want. It's as simple as that.

If you are not turned on by religion then you have (for example) the decidely non-religious teachings of the Stoics. This classical philosopical system, epitomized in popular culture in recent years with the Star Trek character Mr. Spock, goes back to the ancient Greco-Roman period. A basic example of a Stoic arguement would be as follows: It is the nature of glass, when it falls from a height, to break as it hits the ground. So why are you upset that your glass has fallen off the table and shattered? Is it not it's nature to break? How could it be otherwise? Why then are you being emotional? Accept the truth of reality and you are free. (It helps if you imagine Leonard Nimoy's voice reading the last few sentences)

What do you think people? Any thoughts?

Friday, September 4, 2009

We must protect our children!

I am watching with interest the current fracas over President Obama's upcoming address on September 8th to high school age students. It is designed to be played to the children while they are at school. Many parents are expressing concern and even outrage that the President would presume to"teach" their kids. Many are considering keeping their kids at home to "protect" them. According to the AP the speech is going to be about "the need to work hard and stay in school". Okay... now I understand the outrage. We must protect our children from these Commie priniciples of hard work and education!

But seriously, who are these people? And why are they angry? Please, can someone tell me what is wrong the President trying to encourage our young people?

These are of course rhetorical questions. The reason for the outrage is clear. In this era of hyper-partisanship no idea or action, no matter how lofty or noble, is to be countenanced as long as there are politicial points to be gained by opposing it. This is the new guiding principle of goverment. Seriously, it is. Rush Limbaugh summed it up neatly when, shortly after Obama was elected, he said he hoped that the new President failed. That's right! For those on the political right (I almost said Republicans) it is better for this country to fail at the highest level, than to succeed if it means seeing an opponent get the credit. You will get this same basic message anytime you happen to watch Fox News. Obama and his legion of Socialist Democrats are out to ruin this great country. They must be stopped at all costs.

And by the way, did you know that Fox News gets (by far) the highest ratings of any televison news program in this country?

Here is a non-rhetorical question for you: Are we a nation of mostly idiots?

Abraham Lincoln, when putting together his cabinet, purposely picked several people who were his opponents to be his closest advisors. The main reason being that the country was in peril, and he would rule out no ideas. Even from his detractors. Doris Kearns-Goodwin tells this tale beautifully in her book called "Team of Rivals". You may want to pick it up as a cure for the indigestion you get when contemplating the current political scene. Maybe send it to your Congressperson when you are done with it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sorry folks: U.S.A. is not "Number one!"

I am watching the whole health care debate that is now raging in this country with what could best be characterized as disgust. And for some reason it is not the inept politicians or the greedy insurance companies who are in my sights today. (I'll save that for another day). No, today it's your average flag waving, patriotic American that is making me sick. And this whole health care debate has underscored it for me. Here's why:

In general, I have always been I deeply suspicious of flag waving, patriotic types who like to loudly proclaim how much they love this country. Why? Because in my experience, these sorts also tend to be narrow-minded and often bigoted in their personal lives. I am talking about the folks you might see on TV who like to chant "U.S.A, U.S.A. U.S.A.". This will often be followed by "We're Number One !" or "This is the greatest country on Earth!".

Really? We are number one? Well, in relation to health care, we are certainly not number one. Not even close. We are not number one in education either. In education we rank #18 (with South Korea coming in on top). But back to health care... here are the stats.

1. Preventable deaths- rank #14 (France -that country with Socialized medicine- is #1)

2. Life Expectancy- U.S. rank #24 (Japan in #1)

3. Health Care System in general (as determined by the World Heath Organization) U.S #37 (again those French are number #1!)

So I watch these outraged Americans on TV at these Town Hall meetings and I see them shouting down anyone who wants to have a real discussion about health care reform, and why are they angry? A. Because our system is just fine and we don't want government screwing it up. (Again... France whose health care system is "socialized" and government run is number one in the world, but don't tell them this because facts make them angry). Anyway...I see these people disrupting these meetings and I just know in my gut these are the same folks waving all the flags and cheering on the troops, and telling people not to criticize the president (oops, that's okay now that a Democrat is in the White House) and it just pisses me off. Maybe we used to be a great country, but right now, by the yardstick I use to measure such things (Yardstick: How well do we take care of our own people?) we are struggling to be just a good country. Forget about great. Now don't get me wrong. This country, as envisioned by it's founders, and even practiced from time to time, is most definitely a fine nation. At times it has even been the finest. I love my country. I just need to report the facts here: We have slipped. And more than just a little bit.

But, to be fair, we do have our areas of excellence. We are number one in military expenditures (coming in at twice as much of all of Europe combined). So we are good at fighting.

That's something I guess.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A personal note: Turning 50

Well, tomorrow I turn 50 years old. Whoo Hoo...I made it! With my undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder I think smart money was against it (insert joke here). My first thoughts are to say thank you to my Mom and Dad who have been such a great support through the years. And to my sweetheart Lori for the same reasons. I also want to thank all my family and friends. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed it best when he said: "I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new". That's what I feel today: Thanksgiving.

To celebrate tomorrow I am going to climb Cascade Mountain in the Adirondack High Peaks region with Lori and three other friends (with a capital F for those of you who know what that means).

Last night I enjoyed seeing one of my all time favorite musicians and activists, Billy Bragg. Got to meet him and was pleased to see he was selling union made T-shirts for the reasonable price of $15. I don't know if you have been to concerts lately but the standard t-shirt price these days is about $35 bucks. Anyway...had a great time.

So what is the central thought I would like to share regarding my milestone B-Day? Take your pick, only one please:

1. Time goes fast so enjoy your family, friends, and all that life has to offer.

2. Alright! Made it to 50. Now I can just put it in neutral and coast to the finish line.

3. Have I always been in neutral?

4. Send me your credit card number and I promise not to charge any gift for myself that costs more that $25 and may ever consider supporting various charities other than myself.

5. We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time - T.S.Eliot

Friday, July 31, 2009

Baseball and Steroids

Okay now it's getting personal.

Yesterday came the report that beloved Red Sox hero David "Big Papi" Ortiz has been implicated in the neverending story that is the steroid scandal. I, for one, was not too surprised. When the full list of 103 names comes out I think many of the big name players of the era will be on it.

But here is what bugs me: the talking heads are beginning to pronounce that because Big Papi (and his team mate at the time Manny Ramierez) have tested positive that this somehow taints the Red Sox world series titles of 2004. This simply ridiculous and I will dismiss the arguement with a few simple points (although it is weak on many counts).

Simple points: There have been as many, if not more, pitchers implicated in the scandal as there have been hitters. So... if the both the pitchers and hitters are juiced then they cancel each other out. Right? No advantage to either side. End of story. If one still wants to "taint" the Sox achievement then I guess you also have to throw out the Yankess titles in the late 90's (Andy Petitte and Roger Clemons have failed tests). Also it is now generally accepted that the "Steroid Era" in baseball runs from 1992-2006. To be consistent I guess every title in that period must also be suspect. Yes? I mean surely one does not believe the only guys who were using were the ones who got caught...

And while I am at it I should weigh in on the Hall of Fame issue. Should players who have tested poistive be inducted into the Hall? Answer: A solid yes. Here is my reasoning. Anybody who knows or cares about baseball knows about the so-called steroid era. If you want to make a mental note of steroids guys and give them less respect, then go ahead. But the Hall is (or should be) all about career achievement. If you have the numbers you should be in. Period. And if you take a case like Barry Bonds it's adds another wrinkle. He definitely has HOF type numbers that he put up before the steroid era. What about that? Does one positive drug test cancel out everything? And then there is the fact that performance enhancers have always been around in sports anyway. There were guys taking speed in 60's and 70's. The spitball is cheating. Too much pine tar on your bat is cheating. There are guys in the HOF who have been guilty of these crimes. Arguably the greatest player in baseball history, Ty Cobb, filed his spikes to a point to scare guys and thus get an advantage when sliding into a base. Kick him out of the Hall?

Enough said.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Are The New York Yankees Evil?

I am very much into Major League Baseball and for those of you who care less I guess you can skip this post. There is so much about the sport to be admired I won't even begin to list things. But today there is bad news. Yes today the "Evil Empire" or as they are more commonly known, The New York Yankees, have regained 1st place in their division. The real surprise is that it took so long. The Yankees are the "best team money can buy" as evidenced by the payrolls listed below. I have listed only the payrolls of the top 5 compared and the bottom 5. To me the real disgusting aspect is that, with several teams toward the bottom, their whole payroll does not even make up the different between the the Yankees and their closest competitor, The Mets.

So the Yankees are in 1st place? Of course they are: They have purchased 1st place.

Baseball is, in my opinion, the greatest sport the United States has produced. But unfortunately, it's not the the best run. I believe it should have a "salary cap" like Pro Football. With a salary cap team the richest teams cannot get too far ahead of the poorest teams. It makes for a more competitive enviroment. And it is plainly more fair. In interest of full disclosure I should admit that I am a rabid Red Sox fan and the Sox are one of the richer teams. But hey, they're the not as bad as the Yankees! And of course Red Sox fans are over sensitive when it comes to the subject of the Yankees. They are under our skin like some festering pox. How bad is it? Well let this one example serve as my point. A couple years back I attended a Football game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills. About midway through the game a cheer began. It grew louder and unmistakable. The fans were calling out in loud voice..."Yankees suck. Yankees suck".

Yeah, I guess we have issues.

2009 payroll Top 5

Red Sox

2009 payroll Bottom 5


Friday, June 26, 2009


Here in the United States, Buddhism is mostly associated with sitting meditation. If you are a Buddhist your main "practice" is to sit. Pure and simple. It is thus iteresting to note that the largest sect of Buddhism in Japan is Jodo Shinshu. Which does not have sitting mediation as part of it's tradition. Often referred to as Shin Buddhism, this sect remains relatively under the radar in this country. Shin Buddhism developed with an emphasis on "other power" (Tariki) and opposed to the "self power"(Jiriki) that is the basis of schools, like Zen, that emphasize meditation practice. The founder of this school was Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) who, after spending 20 years in fruitless meditation at a monastery, left and then had an awakening that led him to espouse the way of "faith alone". The faith being in Amida Buddha, the mythical Buddha of infinite light and life.

It would be too long an essay to put forward an adequate characterization of this spiritual path here, but just a few words about the implications of a path based on "Tariki". The essential point as I see it is that when one walks a path of empowerment by "other power" it seems, by all reports, to be very liberating. One can relax into their life without the pressure of maintaining some level of spiritual performance. The food we eat, the water we drink, this is not self-generated. Our very existence is contingent on a whole host of factors that have nothing to do with our little "self". So, looked at in this fashion, everyone, yes even you, are saved/sustained by "other power.

Of course the concept of Tariki is not unique to Shin. Hindu's speak of Indra's net. Christ teaches "the Kingdom of God is within you". But I think the most fascinating aspect of this, and perhaps it's the reason I write these words, is that scientists too are talking about "other power". Especially when you get in to the area of relativity and quantum mechanics. I will mention two books for those who may be interested in exploring this connection. "The Tao of Physics" by Fritjof Capra, and "Belonging to the universe" also by Capra and co-authored by a Catholic monk named Brother David Steindl-Rast.

There was also a really cool movie that came out in 2004 called "What the bleep do we know!?" which was quite entertaining and deals with this whole science/spirit thing.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wendell Berry

Here are two poems by man named Wendell Berry. He is probably my all time favorite poet. He has also written in other forms, mostly novels and essays, but I think it safe to say he is best loved as a poet. At least by me. These poems were originally published in 1968 in a collection called "Openings". He is still alive and publishing today, but his primary occupation has always been farming. He continues to live and work in his native Kentucky and is 74 years old. I was fortunate enough to hear him in person once when I was in college, way back in the 80's.

The Want of Peace

All goes back to the earth,
and so I do not desire
pride of excess or power,
but the contentments made
by men who have had little:
the fisherman’s silence
receiving the river’s grace,
the gardener’s musing on rows.
I lack the peace of simple things.
I am never wholly in place.
I find no peace or grace.
We sell the world to buy fire,
our way lighted by burning men,
and that has bent my mind
and made me think of darkness
and wish for the dumb life of roots.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Obama and Abortion

Tomorrow hundreds of protesters will be at to Notre Dame University to protest President Obama's being invited to give the commencement address, and also for his being given an honorary degree. The reason is, of course, is that Obama is pro-choice and Notre Dame, as a Catholic institution, is supposed to be against such things. But the University is, thankfully, too smart to get sucked into that little quagmire. Obama is going to do his thing. The protesters are going to do theirs.

Now I could go in a lot of directions with this one people. But I will choose one so as to keep this post short (in keeping with my goal to not turn off those folks who don't like to look at anything longer than 4 or 5 paragraphs).

My point is this: why has abortion become the defacto moral litmus test for Catholics and other like minded religious folk? Why not, say, capital punishment, or maybe ...uh...war. These are also against "Church teaching". I can't tell you how many so called "pro-life" people I have have talked to who are ready to "flip the switch" themselves when it comes to killing the "bad adults". I guess it is really not just about Church teaching after all. And how about poverty? Why are all these so called religious folks not getting all outraged at the great gulf between the rich and poor in this country. Jesus seemed to talk about this issue a lot, as I recall. Sure, abortion on demand was not really an issue is his time, but what if it was? Would he be standing on line at an abortion clinic? I think not. He would certainly have been against abortion, as it is an act of violence. But I believe he would have taught that there are greater acts of violence as well. If he were around today I think abortion would probably be about #6 on his to do list. Maybe lower.

But to get back to my question: Why is abortion the big hot button issue? Let me suggest one possible reason: It's easy. I mean lets face it, it's pretty damn easy to be against abortion. You don't really have to do anything other than be indignant. If you are really motivated you can write your congressperson or go stand outside a graduation ceremony at Notre Dame. But for the most part all you really need to do to prove your morality is to be outraged. And you can do that in the comfort of your own home, after supper while waiting for your favorite tv show to come on.

I do not mean to impugn the good faith of people who feel really drawn to the pro-life cause as a moral imperative for themselves. To each his (or her) own. I can respect that. There are very good people for whom this is an important issue. But lets face facts: if you were to choose poverty (which is responsible for a lot more death), a much bigger task would be on your hands. After exploring it, you might have to look at the way you yourself live. You might have to make some lifestyle changes, you might need increase your giving, volunteer at a soup kitchen, even change your job. You might have to really work.

Whose got time for that?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger turns 90 tomorrow. There is going to be a big celebration at Madison Square Garden. Performers include Bruce Springsteen, Wilco, Billy Bragg and many more. I wish I could have gotten it together to go. Pete is certainly a kindred spirit as far as this writer is concerned. I saw him once in 2003 at a small congegational church is Greenwich NY and talked with him briefly. I remember asking him who he was reading lately and he mentioned Barbara Kingsolver and Arundhati Roy. He definitely had what I want to call an "earthy, spiritual vibe". I don't know that he professes any religious belief and I could care less actually. Many of the best people I know are non-religious.

I was listening to public radio earlier today and there was a call in portion where folks could share their "Pete stories". There was one that really grabbed me. A few years back someone was going to see Pete at some smallish music hall. He wanted to get there early to ensure a decent seat. As he was in line waiting for the door to open he looked over his sholulder. There was Pete Seeger standing in line behind him. Pete Seeger was waiting in line to get into his own show! This typifies what many know to be the man. Humble, unpretentious, and radically egalitarian. He believes he is no better than anyone else and that he should get no special treatment. I have heard that this even goes as far as Pete insisting that his name appears on posters and tickets in the same size as all others on the bill, even if they are virtually unknown.

How cool is that? How refreshing!

It seems so much of our society is geared toward self-promotion. Everyone is quite concerned with insuring that they get their "credit, where credit is due". I am often the worst offender, I must admit.

Thank God for guys like Pete Seeger, someone of great achievement who does not feel the need to be constantly reminding everyone of the fact.

He was very reluctant, by the way, to take part in the big party tomorrow at MSG. There is a cool story behind why he agreed to let it go forward, but I'll let you dig that one up yourself.

This reminds me of another guy of great achievement who likes to keep it simple. The Dalai Lama. This coming Wednesday, on May 6th, I am going the see him at the Palace Theatre in nearby Albany NY. Here is a man who is the head of very complex, ritualized, world religion. But for all of this, here is how he breaks it down:

"There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple. The philosophy is kindness".

Basic. Simple. One might even say quite "Seeger-like". Can you dig?

Now, if you got a few minutes, tell me what you believe. What is your "religion"? (or "philosophy" if you prefer that word).

As Frasier Crane would say....I'm listening.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hard Bop

I had a most unexpected experience recently. It was a couple weeks back, April 3rd to be exact. That was the night I saw the Terence Blanchard quintet play live here in town at Skidmore College. I have certainly appreciated jazz in the past. I have a few cd's. I enjoyed the Ken Burn's "Jazz" documentary a few years back. But in truth I really never reached for my jazz cd's when I wanted to really, well... get "jazzed". I am more of a rock and roll kind of guy. But for some reason, about half way into the Blanchard show I had an epiphany. I suddenly "got it". I realized the awesome power of jazz.

Maybe it was because I was sitting in the very first row and had a trumpet going off about 4 or 5 feet in front my face.

But I think it's more than that. There is something about seeing a top flight jazz combo live that is unlike anything else. Something primal. It's hard to find the words. It's like something hit me in my spine. Like fireworks. I know it sounds weird.

I am sure this would not have happened if I was sitting at home listening to a cd. I think it must be a"live" thing. But then again I have seen live jazz before and it never hit me like this did. It has even had some kind of lasting effect. I seem to hearing in different way. To test this I pulled out some of those aforementioned cd's and they sound different to me. They sound fresh. Vital even.

I have also done some exploring into genres and I have discovered that the recordings that really grab me are in a style that's called "Hard Bop". This is a category in which Blanchard is often placed. Coincidentally (or not) the seminal early combo in this movement, Clifford Brown and Max Roach, also occupy a place on my shelf with their 1956 offering "Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street". It's also probably not another coincidence that the one other jazz show I really remembering digging was the 1992 Bright Moments Jazz festival at UMass Amherst featuring....Max Roach. The late great Max Roach.

Another happy effect of this growth spurt of mine is that I now will also be of help to our flagging economy as I have to beef up my paltry Jazz collection!

Next album in my sights: "Mingus Ah Um" by Charles Mingus

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Teach your children well

Yesterday brought the awful and disgusting news of yet another deadly shooting rampage. This time 13 or 14 people lost their lives in an "immigrant services" center in Binghampton NY. I could go on about how easy access to firearms in this country makes such tradegies more common here than in other parts of the world. Or I could talk about how many media outlets turn events like these in to "entertainment" for the purposes of making money. But my thoughts turn to something else today. Why is it exactly that some people "snap" and go off like this? A lot of experts have a lot of theories about it. I am sure you have heard many of them.

Well I'm no expert, but here is my take.

To reduce it to it's simplest terms we, as a nation, need to do a much much better job in basic freakin education! In our school's we teach math, english, science etc.. and these are mandatory for all students. Why don't we also start teaching kids, from the earliest grades, about how to live life? We should have required classes with names like... "Coping Skills 101", "Alternatives to violence", "How to handle dissapointment", and "valuing differences" etc...

Some people might argue "that's the parents job!" or something like that. Well...why can it be societies job too? What is wrong with teaching people how to understand the causes of their rage, their anger, their hopelessness and then giving them tools to deal with these problems effectively?

I quess, sadly, the answer is probably that this would take too much work. In the final analysis it's much easier to just label people "monsters" and wash our hands of the whole business.

Or maybe not. Maybe we could just start with ourselves, look at the hatred and disfigurement in our own lives, get a grip on things, and then maybe share with someone who is struggling about how we began to let that negative baggage go....

Maybe then the idea could spread. And (dreaming big) before you know it one day little Johnny comes home from school with his report card and he's got an "A" in "Practicing Kindness".

Yeah, that's sounds better.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Scientists, Jesus, and freaks.

Yesterday I was in a doctors office and I noticed the February 2009 issue of Smithsonian magazine. Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin were on the cover; this year being the 200 anniversary of the birth of both men, who were actually born on the same day. I had quite a wait and got through two fairly long articles. The article on Darwin got me thinking about the whole Science vs. Religion thing, particularly as it has played out over the subject of Darwin's so called "Theory of Evolution".

Many people think this is a simple "science in one corner, religion in the other" type of debate. While this is how it plays out in many circles there are notable exceptions. One of the most fascinating and instructive is the case of Teilhard De Chardin. He was a Roman Catholic priest who wrote convincingly in the first half of the 20th century on the subject of the compatabilty of Evolution with his Christian faith. He was both a scientist (Geologist and Paleontologist) and a member of a religious order (The Jesuits). In nutshell, Teilhard believed that Evolution was the one theory to which all others must bow. Science had taught him this fact. And it was indeed a fact, with a capital F, and thus could not be ignored. (note: the Smithsonian article, while not mentioning Teilhard, or even the subject of religion, did point out that although there were "gaps" in Darwin's theory, which Darwin himself readily acknowledged, that all science since, and I mean ALL science since, has only proven Darwin's initial theory utterly correct).

So then, how does a priest, whose "traditional" religious inheritance is obviously challenged by this Theory of Evolution, deal with what appears to be (on the surface at least) two incompatable world views? Well here, in a slightly oversimplified form, is how Teilhard answered this question. In the physical world, before a species "evolves" there are what Teilhard called "progenitors" or "sports". These are freaks of nature so to speak who have jumped out ahead of the pack and evolved before the rest of the species. He believed that there was also, humanly speaking, an evolutionary component on the spirtiual plane. Christ was an example of this type of"progenitor". He was a human who had made this leap ahead of the existing consciousness. He was a freak. So far ahead in fact that people came to use words like "Divine" when describing him. The Buddha would be an obvious second example of this type of individual. Think about this for minute...okay now take another minute...

Pretty good news I'd say.

Now go and look yourself in the mirror and say "Hello you cute little future Buddha" or something like that.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I don't know if you happened to see or read about this years Academy Awards ceremomy. If you did you might not remember what picture won for Best Foreign film. If this is the case then you need to know about it.

The film is called "Departures" and it is about a failed Japanese businessman and sometime writer who, through unexpected circumstances, finds himself working as a mortician. Although I have not seen the movie yet, I have a connection to it as I have read the book on which it was based. The book is called "Coffinman" and it was written by Shimon Aoki. I read the book a few years back when it was an assigned reading of the Northampton Shin Buddhist Sangha, led by Taitetsu Unno, who also wrote the introduction to the book.

The book is a fascinating study of life and death as seen through a Japanese Buddhist lens. Toward the beginning of the book there is line which stood out. Early in his new career the author has been called to retrieve a body that has been uattended for some time. As he approaches he sees that it is infested with maggots. After initially being repulsed, he has a sort of spiritual awakening and he then confesses: "Maggots are life, too. When I thought that, I could see the maggots shining".

Wow. I have seen maggots too. My thoughts were not about their nature as shining lifeforms. But I guess that's the whole point. Pretty and ugly are our own judgements. Life itself doesn't seem to care about it. Life is unstoppable. Our end is another beginning. Even if only for maggots.

Now I must say I believe we have a much finer ultimate destination than being food for insects. But I also like the idea of someday being myself "food for life". I mean haven't I relied on "life" for my food all these years? Why shouldn't I give back a little?

So sharpen your teeth maggots! I hope to see you for lunch in about 50 years.

And I can't wait to see this film!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The meaning of life.

Monty Python's movie did not quite get to the bottom of this question, did it?

Well, let me have a whack at it...

First the thought occurs to me that the reason "meaning" eludes so many people is that we are altogether too complicated. Remember that book that came out a few years back enitled "Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten"? Well there is much truth in that little book. The central lessons in life are really very simple. Play fair. Be nice. To name but two.
I mean did not Jesus say "you must be like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven"? Why is that? What secret do the children have? Well, in a word, they keep it simple. Simplicity is the secret people!

Along these lines I was thinking about the "simple" children's song: Row, row, row your boat.

Consider these lines:

Row, row, row your boat
gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but dream.

Now each line it seem's to me has a very central lesson, and when all four "line lessons" are put together they make an entirely fine philosphy of life.

Line one means: Attend to the task that life has given you.
Line two: Relax, don't force things so much, take it easy!
Three: Have fun, be happy.
Four: Nothing is permanent, life is passing, so don't get hung up on the details. They will change.

There. Feel better now? Good. Now go and take nap!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Green Lantern

Are you possibly feeling like you need a new obsession to see you through the dark days Winter? Something a little more healthy that your old self destructive habits that you have now conquered through a variety of therapies? But you say want something a little distinctive. Something that is cool, but definitely under the radar. Well look no further.

May I suggest to you my lastest obsession: The Green Lantern. Yes, a comic book! Here my friends is a comic book superhero that is a notch below all the big name heroes (Superman, Batman, Spiderman etc) in terms of name recognition, but in terms of "coolness" he can stand toe to toe with anyone. I won't go into his whole storyline here, but part of his appeal is that "the Green Lantern mythology" is easily the most complex and satisfying of all the comic book characters that date back to the first half of the 20th century. Part of what I dig about GL is the fact that he is really the only old time character that brings in a really satisfying Science Fiction element into the mix. Most superheros adventures are limited to the planet earth whereas GL, although based on terra firma, can have adventures through out the universe. This really opens up the creative possibilties.

Rumor has it that there is a movie in the works. So become a fan early that way no one can acuse you of jumping on any bandwagon.

If you are still reading at this point I can anticipate an objection: Comic books are for kids, you say. Well yes some are, and some are not. But the goal of any comic worth reading is that it tells a successful story, usually heroic in nature. And "The hero" is a archetype that resides deep in the psyche of all human beings. There is a hero at the center of all religions, for instance. For an in depth look at the role of the hero I refer you to the peerless schlolarship of Joseph Campbell. None other than George Lucas of "Stars Wars" fame cites him as a pivotal influence. Now, what comic books do is combine word and picture to tell the hero's story in a form that is non-elitist, and thus universal. So please, put comics in the same category as fables, fairy tales, and parables. Hardly an inconsequential grouping.

Plus they are fun, cheap, and have definite collectible value. Perfect for these trying times we all live in.