Hamlet’s question recidivus

“On his attaining to nirvana, Sakyamuni became the Buddha, and had no longer to mourn his being within the circle of transmigration, and could rejoice in an absolute freedom from passion, and a perfect purity. Still he continued to live on for forty-five years, till he attained to pari-nirvana, and had done with all the life of sense and society, and had no more exercise of thought. He died; but whether he absolutely and entirely ceased to be, in any sense of the word being, it would be difficult to say. Probably he himself would not and could not have spoken definitely on the point.” — from The Travels of Fa-Hien, Ch. XII (trans. Legge)

Geo. Washington slept here

“There is a tradition that when Buddha came to North India, he came at once to this country [Udyana], and that here he left a print of his foot, which is long or short according to the ideas of the beholder on the subject. It exists, and the same thing is true about it, at the present day. Here also are still to be seen the rock on which he dried his clothes, and the place where he converted the wicked dragon. The rock is fourteen cubits high, and more than twenty broad, with one side of it smooth.” — from The Travels of Fa-Hien, Ch. VIII (trans. Legge)

A kind of desert

“Mourning: a cruel country where I am no longer afraid.” — Roland Barthes, 1977.

The Center for Bioethics and Humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University publishes an annual litmag called The Healing Muse.  In their most recent issue (#10) they included my short piece, “The Take-Out,” which is the story I’m posting this week.

You can depend on it

“If a people is to be judged solely by its crimes and its sins, all the people of this planet are utterly damned.  Such judgments can produce only the deepest kind of anarchy.  The civilized judgment, on which depends all the possibilities of a decent human life, requires that men, while condemning and resisting evil deeds, should be unfaltering in their faith in and their response to the healing impulses of their fellow men.” — Walter Lippmann, 1933

Is this why American schools are a dysfunctional mess?

“In every State it should be a fundamental maxim that the education of youth should be particularly formed and adapted to the nature and end of its government.” — Thomas Sheridan, 1756 (from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XIV, Ch. 14)

Job security

“The history of diplomacy is the history of relations among rival powers, which did not enjoy political intimacy, and did not respond to appeals to common purposes.  Nevertheless, there have been settlements.  Some of them did not last very long.  Some of them did.  For a diplomat to think that rival and unfriendly powers cannot be brought to a settlement is to forget what diplomacy is all about.  There would be little for diplomats to do if the world consisted of partners, enjoying political intimacy, and responding to common appeals.” — Lippmann, The Cold War

Oh, come on, let them eat cake

“Laissez-faire is dead and the modern state has become responsible for the modern economy as a whole.  The task of insuring the continuity of the standard of life for its people is now as much the fundamental duty of the state as the preservation of national independence.” — Walter Lippmann, Godkin Lectures, 1934.

Now for something completely different

The story I’m posting this week, “The Congenital Fiance”, first appeared in Caketrain a couple of years ago.  I wrote it some years back, not long before the Umpteenth World War started.  The world wasn’t any younger or more innocent or necessarily safer or nicer in those days, but part of the world that ended on the bright autumn day when the towers came down–ending in the unpredictable way in which worlds end–was the world in which an American could casually engage in street photography with a 35mm SLR without being suspected of being either a terrorist or a government agent.

Which is neither here nor there and has practically nothing to do with “The Congenital Fiance”.

Bargain prices in the Potemkin village

“In an earlier era men like John Milton and John Stuart Mill had argued that liberty depended on a press free from censorship and intimidation.  They were concerned primarily with freedom of belief and expression.  But in modern democracies the problem was different.  The press could be ‘free’ and still fail to do its job.  Without accurate and unbiased information the public could not form intelligent decisions.  Democracy would be either a failure or a sham.” — Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century

Or about anything, for that matter?

“Most political theory assumed that the average man could, if presented with the facts, make reasonable decisions.  But what if access to the facts was blocked by propaganda, ignorance and willful distortion?  How would this affect the assumption that the average man could make intelligent decisions about public issues?” — Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century

You know, those were different times

“The decade 1840–1850, preceding the rush to the gold-diggings, was an important period in the history of Australian poetry. The development of New South Wales brought about an increase in the number of newspapers, and the newspapers gave opportunities for the publication of verse.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XIV, Ch. XII

It’s a job (or it was)

For two years I worked as a criminal defense paralegal.  As with everything I’ve done since I was twelve or thirteen years old, I did the job with one eye on how I could milk it for stories to write.  Some might call that “bearing witness,” which would be a very nice thing to call it.  Others might call it things that are not so nice, but would probably be just as true.

Last week I posted “Legal Advice,” one of the stories derived from my criminal defense paralegal days.  This week I’m posting “Taking Calls,” another such story.  It was first published a year ago in Cutthroat.

The fallacy of misplaced intrinsic value

“Dying used to be accompanied by a prescribed set of customs.  Guides to ars moriendi, the art of dying, were extraordinarily popular; a 1415 medieval Latin text was reprinted in more than a hundred editions across Europe.  Reaffirming one’s faith, repenting one’s sins, and letting go of one’s worldly possessions and desires were crucial, and the guides provided families with prayers and questions for the dying in order to put them in the right frame of mind during their final hours.  Last words came to hold a particular place of reverence.  These days, swift catastrophic illness is the exception; for most people, death comes only after long medical struggle with an incurable condition–advanced cancer, progressive organ failure (usually the heart, kidney, or liver), or the multiple debilities of very old age.  In all such cases, death is certain, but the timing isn’t.  So everyone struggles with this uncertainty–with how, and when, to accept that the battle is lost.  As for last words, they hardly seem to exist anymore.  Technology sustains our organs until we are well past the point of awareness and coherence.” — Atul Gawande, “Letting Go”