About Me

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A man of many words. Profane, profound, loyal to a fault and a right rat bastard. I love the finer things in life: expensive cigars, cheap women and all the salted, cured meats I can eat. A friend to dogs, lover of humanity and despiser of people. If I were King the world would be a better place, because, well...I would be King! Oh, and I like ice cream.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Seven years

But the good times always outweighed the bad.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Now It Can Be Told...

May 19th, 2011 I received the payoff from the sale of my house. The place had been on the market since January 2007. On other words straight into the teeth of the most massive real estate downturn in U.S. history. Had I tried to sell it one year earlier odds are I would have sold it much easier and for (I estimate) double what I eventually received.

But OK, that's history. Others had it far worse. Life marches on.

But there's a heck of a story leading up to the actual sale.

We were in China. This was last February. At the Wudang Taoist Kungfu and Taiji Academy foreign students come from virtually everywhere in the world. They do so for all manner of reasons and lengths of stay. Some we became close to. Others not so much. It depended largely on how long they were around (often only a week or so) and of course personality.

Over the winter, when it was very cold, the number of students dropped to maybe six or seven students. So we all tended to bond together more so than in the spring or summer when the roles would swell to three or four dozen folks.

Around the first of the year we had been joined by a French woman whom I'll refer to as Dana, a very pleasant, jovial lady, who was always a joy to be around. She had been with us for close to two months when it came her time to leave.

On her last night in Wudang several of us gathered in her room for a bit of socializing and to bid her a safe journey. We had some snacks and a bottle of "Great Wall" wine. A very pleasant evening. In the event I was telling her my basic life story, lamenting the difficulty in unloading the house. I actually did have a buyer who was living in the house paying me on a "Bridge loan" until he could qualify for bank financing. But the contractual time limit for the financing had expired and even though I had agreed to extend the limit it was looking unlikely anytime soon. I had a constant fear of learning he had moved out with no forwarding address (It had happened before on an earlier sale attempt).

At this juncture I should mention that Dana is a self-described Shaman (Shawoman?). No, Shaman. That in itself is a very interesting yarn. But it's hers, so I'll roll on with mine.

So I'm giving her the sorry details when she asks me to hand her some cards she had laying on a nearby table. They were little, business card-sized things. Laminated and connected with a kind of ring as I recall. She also had a little pyramid-shaped charm, like you'd see on a decorative bracelet. She began waving the pyramid over the cards and having a private conversation in French, which I couldn't understand. It seemed as though she was asking some questions, making the odd comment, occasionally nodding her head as if in response to something.

After a minute she looked up and said "You have a ghost in the house. It doesn't want the house to sell. Until you get the ghost out the house won't sell."

I was stunned! But the shock was just beginning. So, who is this ghost? Turns out it was my mother-in-law! I will tell you that in my story I had mentioned how my mother-in-law had lived in the attached apartment for several years, but a few years before her death had moved in with her surviving daughter. Some might say "Aha! She picked up on that and used it to 'work' you." OK, maybe so. But in the end I don't care. I'm not one for mumbo-jumbo, metaphysical crapola. As a rule I don't buy into Aliens, Yetis or spirit world/human interaction. But read on...

"How could this be!" I asked. She didn't die in the house! Dana replied it wasn't necessary to have passed away there. She explained how the spirit of those "beyond" sometimes go back to a place where they were happy during their physical life. I knew my mom-in-law had loved her little apartment, so that made sense as far as it went.

"What about my wife? She actually DID die in the house. Was she still there?"

No, she has moved on. In the spirit world she is not Jan as you once knew. She is a different "facet" of her spirit. But she is happy and well and wishes you good things (I'm paraphrasing.)

"So what do I do?" I asked.

Dana gave me explicit instructions. I needed to write a letter to my mother-in-law, read it to her aloud, burn it and spread the ashes into the hillside. Even though I was in China the message would be delivered.

I looked at Cabrini and said "I gotta go!" Cabrini had been in other conversations and didn't know what I was up to. "What?" she asked. "What are you talking about?"

I just said I'll be back in a few minutes. Then I ran to our room, grabbed a piece of scrap paper and wrote my letter. I basically told her that, much as I loved her and appreciated her many kindnesses to me during her life, it was time for her to "go into the light." In fact I wrote "I command you to go into the light." I then set fire to the sheet and blew the ashes to the winds.

Afterwards Dana told me the house would sell by the end of March. She added the proviso that since she didn't speak English well and all the messages she received were in French it was possible she may have mistaken certain details of the message. But we agreed to stay in touch. I would let her know what went down.

Well, March passed by and no sale. Oddly, I had been hopeful. I don't know why, nothing else had worked in four and a half years. But I'm a generally positive guy.

About halfway through April I finally emailed Dana to inform her nothing had happened. It was a couple weeks before she replied (some people apparently don't LIVE on Facebook). But toward the end of the month she wrote back. "I checked and checked again for your house... just be patient... it s ok now, just it needs little time more ;-)) that is the message from "Upstairs"...just wait..."

The very next email I checked that morning was from the guy in the house. Suddenly he had come into enough money to give him the down payment he needed to close out the sale.

To shorten a long story my accountant emailed a few days later telling me to check my bank account, it was a little heavier. Indeed it was! My long financial nightmare was over. The house was gone, Baba was in heaven (or where ever) and the cash was in the bank. Zip-a-dee-do-dah!

So how far off was Dana's original call? March...May...How similar are those in Francais?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

All Too Soon It's Over

A couple days ago I posted about the sale at long last of the old homestead.

An even better story was occurring practically simultaneously. Literally (and by literally I mean literally) five minutes after the confirming email of the sale Cabrini got an email from an agency that recruits for the US government. She had posted her resume online the night before.

Long story short she's been offered a job as a (civilian) Social Researcher with the US Army. She reports to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas the 11th of June for training followed with deployment in four or five months. Its the kind of position she is extremely qualified for and will give her great "Street Cred" in years to come.

We leave for the States in two days.

These past couple days have been bittersweet. Nine months living here has changed us in a fundamental way. We feel like we belong in our little unusual Wudang Taoist community. The temple monks and nuns, the ladies who run the tourist shops, the kids in the school, our teachers...all have made us feel so welcome and accepted here. It's been a time in our lives which we will always look back on with deep fondness.

But life moves on and so must we.

Friday, May 20, 2011

228 South Albatrossaroundmyneck, Columbiana, Ohio

I thought May 19th was a big deal last year.

Four and a half years ago I put my house of 16 years on the market. Those who have seen or visited the place will agree it was a pretty sweet layout. Secluded, lake front 3800 square feet ranch-style, completely finished basement, attached "Mother-in-Law" apartment, detached Guest house, 40x40 two-story pole barn, all with matching facade. All in all one great house in the great little village of Columbiana.

In the midst of the most drastic economic downdraft of my lifetime I have ridden waves of angst over this. At least five times the house was supposedly sold only to have the deals fall through.

But today, May 19, 2011, exactly one year after leaving the Peace Corps the deal is FINALLY done! Woo! Hoo!

I would like to express my undying appreciation to the bastard SOB bankers of the world who so torched the financial system for their own personal cocaine habits that they completely hosed me (and basically everyone else along the way) out of at least half what I would have gotten five years ago.

If I ever have occasion to visit the graves of the chief culprits from Countrywide Lending, Lehman Bros., Merrill Lynch, etc. KNOW I will happily relieve my bladder on their tombstones. Then I'll shit on their burial mounds. Or vice versa.

Because in the long run we're all dead and all that junk they accumulated will go to someone else.

But for the moment I GOT MINE!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May 19, 2010

One year ago today we did the Botswana Bugout. It's been a wild, crazy, wonderful ride.

The best metaphor for it is a once great Akron, Ohio-based tire manufacturer: Goodyear.

A few more years like this and I might just live forever...

Friday, May 13, 2011

This Great Idea is also Stolen

Politicians should be required to wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers. The product logos plastered all over them would represent corporate donors. The size and placement of the patches would indicate the size of the largesse.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

All My Best Thoughts Are Stolen From Someone Else...

I'm reading "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood," by James Gleick

It's a wide-ranging book, sometimes pretty difficult to parse. But he includes a quote from a play called "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard. It's my philosophy of life in one paragraph:

"You should no more grieve for the rest than for a buckle lost from your first shoe, or for your lesson book which will be lost when you are old. We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it."

And that explains where all my old T-shirts went.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

I was a Jimmy Carter supporter...

...Until he failed to lay on a back-up aircraft (Iran, 1980 Failed Hostage Rescue Attempt). Kudos on that Barack.

Some, unwilling to credit the President for making the call to go after bin Laden, are saying HE didn't do it, the American soldier did it. True in the strictest sense.

However from every wet-behind-the-ears Second Lieutenant to the highest General officer and on up to his boss this one thing is also true:

The Commander is responsible for everything his unit accomplishes or fails to accomplish.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

This About Sums Up How I Feel About the Osama bin Laden Deal

All this flag waving and talk of justice served doesn't obscure for me the (now apparent fact) that we gunned down an unarmed man. They say he resisted. Was he throwing rocks? (The conspiracy theorist in me suspects a CIA Wet team did the actual deed, including the crashed helicopter in the compound. Navy SEALS provided the legitimacy of the hit. But hey, that's just me.)

We are so desperate to believe in anything as a united people that this pathetic action is rousing our spirits. It's not a sporting event like the Olympic games. Chants of "USA! USA!" turn my stomach.

We have conveniently forgotten Osama bin Laden was trained, unleashed on the world and betrayed by the U.S. government during the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Remember the Rambo flick "Dedicated to the brave freedom fighters of Afghanistan?" That was the Taliban.

It's easier to cheer on the murder of a super villain than to take stock as citizens of the country that we have let run astray. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the SOB is dead and no longer poses a threat to the world. If I were President I would have ordered the hit too. But it sickens me to see my fellow Americans taking such zealous glee in his murder. That's the thing that sticks in my craw. As a nation, we have forgotten many things, among them the ability to think critically and the resolve to make our government accountable for its actions against the rest of the planet. The notion, if anyone truly buys it, that killing Osama bin Laden makes the world a safer place is inane. Our actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have guaranteed a ready supply of terrorists willing to blow down our doors. Stop waving your flags with such ignorant delirium.

Somehow I think Thomas Jefferson would be spinning in his grave.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama bin Laden is Dead

For months after 9/11/2001 I was in kind of a state of stunned disbelief. Oddly similar to how I feel now. I take no pleasure in this. It's justice served and deservedly so, but what price have we as a country and culture paid to achieve retribution? This is no time to breathe easy.

I gotta ponder on all this...

Friday, April 29, 2011

This "Birther" Business

I'm following this bullshit via the New York times and many of my Facebook friends. Now President Obama has felt compelled to post his birth certificate online so the world will know that being born in Hawaii makes you an American citizen.

Still, the howling mob of idiots scream "Fake! Fake! Fake!"

And I'm wondering just what is really going on here. No one can seriously doubt that Barack Obama is a natural born Amurikan. This goes deeper. Almost beyond race. But not quite.

Then it came to me in the night. "Our" world is passing away. What do I mean by "Our" world. I'm a 61 year old white guy. From my earliest years I was taught the history of the world through Caucasian eyes. Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, George Armstrong Custer, Teddy Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, George Patton, John Glenn. All white. Mostly men. No doubt, like you, that was my frame of reference.

For almost all of American history our story has been dominated by white folks. Oh sure, there were the likes of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, even Muhammad Ali. But they fit into the story because they were "homegrown" so to speak.

But now the story is shifting. It's been shifting for some time, but the rise to the White House of a black man has brought it into sharper focus, especially since he is the son of a non-US-born father. That's key.

For years we've known the fastest growing minority in the US is among Spanish speaking people. There's that whole movement to have English declared the "official language" of the United States. Bet you find a lot of Birthers are involved in that.
You can declare all you want. People are still going to speak what they're comfortable with.

The east and west coasts teem with people of Asian descent. Pockets of various ethnicities exist in what seem like the most unlikely places. Somalis in New Marshfield, Ohio? Who'd a thunk it in 1968?

We always like to claim America is a melting pot. But that seems to work only if the ingredients come from Europe. If you're from east of Istanbul or south of Cairo the welcome mat isn't always so welcoming.

Doesn't matter. People are still drawn to America because our economic, social and political potential is still the best in the world. We are inexorably linked to the world outside our borders. And the world is linked to "us."

The sooner we quit thinking about "Them" and "Us" the better off we'll all be. It's ALL US! The face of America is changing every day. The America of 2111 is going to look a WHOLE lot different than the America of 2011. Get used to it. Better yet, embrace it. We are a better people and a better country when we realize this.

The Birthers don't get this. Probably they'll never get it. They'll be swept away by history.

Good riddance!

Friday, April 15, 2011

World’s Oldest Man Dies at 114

Walter Breuning of Great Falls, Montana was the world's oldest man. Not person. Apparently there's a woman in Georgia who is 26 days older. But Walt passed on a couple days ago. In a recent interview he laid out some some interesting advice for living a long life:

Embrace change, even when the change slaps you in the face. ("Every change is good.")

Eat two meals a day ("That's all you need.")

Work as long as you can ("That money's going to come in handy.")

Help others ("The more you do for others, the better shape you're in.")

Then there's the hardest part. It's a lesson Breuning said he learned from his grandfather: Accept death.

"We're going to die. Some people are scared of dying. Never be afraid to die. Because you're born to die," he said.

And so it came to Walter Breuning. All in all he sounded pretty Buddhist.

We could do worse...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wishing Good Fortune to Purple Heaven Temple

Some pilgrims from Taiwan laid out this message today. I took the picture from a terrace above the courtyard so it's actually upside down. Odds are you can't read the Chinese characters anyway. After almost eight months here I recognize maybe five characters...out of the three thousand (or is it six thousand?) total.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Hooray! Hooray! The Federal Budget has passed!

This bit of political theatre only served to remind me that "We the people..." are totally irrelevant to the whole process. It was just a show. Not even a good one.

It's a sorry example of American life.

The 2010 Federal budget was $3,456,000,000 so we can assume the new one is in that neighborhood. The talking heads are saying they cut $38 billion. So basically they cut one percent.

A pox on all their houses!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Climate Change and "Experts" Who Deny it's Existence

"It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." Upton Sinclair

OK I cribbed this from a NYTimes Paul Krugman Op-Ed. But it pretty much nails it.

Of ebooks, China, and the internet

Oh how I love living in the 21st century! In the brief hiatus between Peace Corps and coming to China I got myself an ebook. Amazon's Kindle seems to be the most popular model, but I had to order it via mail. Maybe after two years in Botswana I was untrusting of postal services in general, but I never got around to placing the order. Instead, while visiting my buddy Mark in Toledo, I picked up a couple Barnes & Noble "nooks" at a local store. Mark, nice guy that he is, even bought me covers to protect them.

And I must say they are fantastic. Purchasing books was never so easy! But it turns out B&N will only allow online purchases from a computer located in the United States. This was a problem since I was on my way to China for a year.

A Barnes & Noble rep in New York suggested I get a Virtual Private Network or VPN. A VPN, through the magic of the interweb, allows your computer to "appear" to be in the continental US. My VPN runs around $80 a year and makes my laptop appear to be in Oakland, California. Ergo I now have 90+ books on my nook and never have to leave behind favorites in my travels because my backpack is too full and I'm over the 20 kilogram airline weight limit for checked bags.

Many people say they prefer an actual book, that they like the feel of the pages, etc. Fair point. I do too. But ebooks are the wave of the future for those who still read. In fact I predict young folks will be more inclined to read on these gadgets. Time will tell. Fact is the growing sales of ebooks (now an official category on the New york Times best seller lists) bodes well for the technology.

It turns out there is another advantage to a VPN. It is a well known fact the government of China blocks such internet sites as facebook, Youtube and many blogs (doubt if they've picked up on this one). Of the 500 million registered facebook users in the world only something like 14,000 are in the People's Republic of China. that's an incredible number considering China has 1.4 billion people. Yet I have many friends here in-country, foreigners and Chinese alike who regularly post on facebook and Youtube. The reason? VPNs and other software that allows this.

Except for dissidents and some attempts at protests against government policies, the Chinese rulers seem to take a fairly light-handed approach to life online. It's true they employ official hackers to try to counter the potential deleterious effects of the web against them. But I suspect ultimately it will be to no avail. Regular citizens can read about the 1989 Tienanmen uprising and arrests, beatings and jailings of well-known dissidents, including Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. The lid is off this Pandora's box and it will be very difficult to put it back on.

This is a big country with a LOT of people. Much of it still rural and still developing. The critical mass for political change may still be decades off. Or it may not. Six months ago who saw the uprisings in the Arab world coming? No one. Not even them.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Why Is It...?

If someone is against gun control, is for increased defense spending and thinks Ronald Reagan was a great president you can bet money they think man-made global warming is bullshit.

But if they are for same-sex marriage, increased spending on education and thinks George Bush was a tool of Dick Cheney you can wager that same bet they think man-made global warming is real.

None of the mentioned beliefs have anything to do with global warming. I wonder what that says about us.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Taoism and Buddhism

The Buddha is represented in several different ways. Sometimes Caucasian, sometimes Asian depending upon where in the world he is found. Often a laughing fat man is considered the Buddha.
The Yin Yang symbol is often used to represent Taoism. Many natural dualities—e.g. dark and light, female and male, low and high, cold and hot— are thought of as manifestations of yin and yang (respectively).

For seven months we have been living, training and learning in the Wudang Taoist Tai Ji and Kungfu Academy. We train in a Taoist temple. Often the temple is visited by Buddhist monks and nuns. Many Taoist monks and nuns live and work here.

Much of the philosophy of our martial arts training is incorporated in the Tao. And much of the Tao is very similar to Buddhism in it's precepts.

We had a Taoist monk here to teach us about Taoism a couple weeks ago. He laid out some things about both schools I thought might be interesting.

I won't get into the whole Taoist "catechism" nor the history of Gautama, who became Buddha. I just want to throw up a simple comparison given by the monk in which each purports to teach us how to live.

To boil it down, each philosophy (I refuse to call them religions as neither are confessional) has three basic "Pearls."

Buddhism's are:
1. Wisdom
2. Patience
3. Compassion

Taoism's are:
1. Compassion
2. Moderation
3. Humility

You can right away see the similarities. Buddha preached "The Middle Path," which could also be considered Moderation.

Both start within ourselves, but in a sense face different directions. Buddhism teaches us how to deal with the world outside of ourselves, while the Tao looks more inward. Another way of looking at them is that Buddhism is more concerned with one's mind while Taoism is more focused towards the body, hence the martial arts component.

Now these are VERY simplistic explanations and I wouldn't want to assert any authority on these words. But it is clear to anyone exposed to these bodies of belief that the keys to being a good person lie within.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

This is Kungfu. This is What it's Like Here (Thanks to Hani for the Quote)

“The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.” Lao-Tzu

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Thoughts on Botswana

I'm coming up on the one year anniversary of finishing my Peace Corps service in Botswana.`Haven't written much about that episode of my life but a couple thoughts have been buzzing around my head in recent days.

Peace Corps released a sort of self-congratulatory video celebrating it's 39 years in Botswana. I was amazed to see how similar scenes of villages in photos from the 60s and 70s were to the village I lived in and to most of the villages I saw when I was there. The same mud and stick houses, pit latrines, chickens in the yard, etc.

Forty years of not only Peace Corps, but uncounted millions in dollars, Yen, Euros, Pounds and Renmimbi have been poured into this country and except for the Gaborone area (The Capital city) not all that much has changed. This is a country that has had no wars, has natural resources (e.g. diamonds) and a booming tourist industry.

I was struck by that because in 1975 and '76 I was stationed in South Korea with the army. At that time the countryside was pretty similar to Botswana's. Rural, under-developed, mud and stick houses, old men carrying firewood stacked high on A-frame "backpacks." Seoul, the capital was pretty modern. But once you left that city it got "country" real quick. In 2003 I returned to find an extremely modern developed country. Nothing could be found of the "old" Korea I once knew. This was a country with no outstanding natural resources and sharing a border with North Korea and their two million man army poised for attack.

I just wonder what is the difference.

This isn't about Peace Corps or any of the dozens of other Aid programs and their effectiveness. I'm not against helping others in need. It is after all the Golden Rule. But after 40 years what's the point?

Spirituality and Mount Wudang

We are here studying TaiJi and Kungfu on one of the most sacred places in Taoism. Taoism is a major philosophy or religion if you will here in China, very closely akin to Buddhism. Both TaiJi and Taoism began right here on this mountain so it draws people from all over the world. Seekers.

I suppose you might say we came here as seekers as well. For me it was just to get into great shape and experience 21st century China for a bit. But our school gets people often who seem to be seeking some kind of ethereal, quasi-religious, transformative experience. Kind of a "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," floating through the bamboo trees kind of thing.

Of course there is no such thing. Even here on this holy mountain physics rules. No one floats. People get insight, sure, but that can happen anywhere.

Life for us here is very physical. We get up in the morning, train for two and a half hours, rest for lunch, train again another two and a half in the afternoon. It's hard. I've dropped 13 pounds. Gained flexibility. Gotten stronger. But it never lets up. Day after day it's the same program. Winter, 19 degrees Fahrenheit? Outside in the snow kicking. Summer, 85F? Kicking. Rain? Kicking. It never ends (Except Wednesday afternoons and Thursdays).

Still no out-of-body experience.

And yet it's a transformative place. We have looked into our lives and found deeper meaning to who and what we are. But it occurred to me this morning this is not my first time for such a similar experience.

Military veterans of every branch of service from any country in the world will relate their basic training to this experience. I went through Ranger training almost 40 years ago. Yet I carry the lessons learned there with me every day. Now NO ONE in their right minds would try to sell the military as an "ethereal, quasi-religious, transformative experience."

But brother let me tell you, it is as life changing and meaningful as anything one can ever experience.

And I think that's what we have here on Wudang Mountain.

I do like to watch the bamboo swaying in the wind though. From the ground...

On Michel de Montaigne

I've been reading some of his essays. Montaigne has been called the world's first blogger. He lived in France in the 16th century. But if you read him you'd swear he wrote yesterday, and specifically to you.

So the dude has inspired me. I've said before I was going to blog more. But I haven't. This time it'll be different. Every stupid, insipid, insulting, asinine thought that pops into my head is going up.

Let the insanity begin...