Nov 15

Leaves of Brown Sugar

A carpet the color of cherry syrup has appeared uniformly on a neighbor’s terraced yard, each terrace covered as neatly as if it had been laid by a professional using measuring tape and sheers. I stare at it, as I walk the dogs. It is a fall of small candy red leaves from a series of ornamental plum trees, the leaves seem to have come down all at once as if coordinated to someone snapping their fingers to give the signal.

This time of year, when Central California finally, sniffingly, admits it’s no longer autumn, the sun is discouraged, hunches only a short ways above the horizon, and it throws shadows through windows that didn’t appear in most seasons: my own shadow on the wall, as I stand in the bathroom trying to carve my beard in some fashion that disguises the pouchiness a little more; the shadow falls on the wall in layers, me in the middle and around it a nimbus of other shadows roughly in my shape; they quiver like an aura that’s only in black and gray. It pulses around me in black and white. On another window the low sun throws shadows of shrunken leaves, truly intricate and detailed, every vein marked in black on gray; they pulse and quiver too.

But when I walk I think about what must going on under the coat of fallen leaves, a whole new biological response as they break down with the help of bacteria and damp; insects that only rise up and prod about at such times, bringing rodents to hunt them. Crows thrash in the leaves seeking the bugs out. I try to see the reflection of its prey in the black and gold eye of the crow as it tilts its head. There’s something there–could be me.

In a gutter a little further down the slanting light catches small, wet yellow leaves, piled up so that they look crystalline like brown sugar. It’s a fine sight. I think of the pictures I’ve seen of crystals spreading, and how they look like the branchings in cypress, and how cypress looks like branching crystals, and it’s like nature is pushing out this way and that way to see itself better.

Nov 15

SPECTRE review

We saw SPECTRE, the new James Bond film. It’s kind of a reinvention of a couple of classic Bond films, especially referencing LIVE AND LET DIE. It’s not the same story…yet it is in some respects. I quite enjoyed it, especially all the references and the pure-Bondian moments. Bond, you know, never says the wrong thing, ever. That’s one of the things that men low on self confidence (which is pretty much all men except psychopaths) like about Bond. He doesn’t say the wrong thing–anyway, in the context of the story it’s the right thing. Some of what the old Bond would say to women would be cloddish now–but the writing for Bond’s dialogue with women has evolved, and now he just plain says the right thing. And having Daniel Craig say it really helps, with his piercing blue eyes, brutish-but-handsome profile, and perfect timing. He’s a very good actor–probably the best actor to do Bond, though Connery had talent.

I don’t know what people expect from a Bond film now. This is a kind of superhero movie, actually, and it’s somewhat formulaic and WE LIKE IT THAT WAY and while this film is well directed and fairly nuanced, most of us don’t want it to be “art”…By the way, while some people dislike the opening song over the titles, I thought it was alright and, anyway, I was caught up watching the splendid computer animation that went with it…

SPECTRE has so much of the classic Bond stuff it does occasionally make one think of Austin Powers. A secret base in a crater, the smooth offering of drinks to Bond before he’s introduced to the villain in his lair, other elements…

But for me, SPECTRE worked. I didn’t think it was too long, as some did. I think it was about right. Great cinematography, Craig very good, enjoyable action. First scene especially fetching visually…

The movie makes a good point. While I have defended the NSA and the use of surveillance, to a degree, the movie early on (hence I don’t think this is a spoiler) warns that the wrong people could get hold of the NSA’s data…and of course, as you’re thinking right now, maybe there’s no right people. There’s also a bit of an anti-fascist message here…

It all culminates satisfyingly, for the fan of Bond books and films. I doubt Daniel Craig will be back…he’s getting slightly old for the part, and anyway he’s kind of too good an actor to be typecast as Bond…and this is a good finale for him.

Nov 15

GIANT WASPS! Run for cover–PaleoEntomologists Invade!

VANCOUVER – It was literally a huge discovery.

Bruce Archibald was searching for fossilized insects in British Columbia’s southern Interior when he cracked open a rock and found a beautifully-preserved giant horntail wood-wasp.

“I immediately jumped up and split my pants,” he recalled with a laugh. “Probably, the species should have been named Latin for pants-splitter, but we went with something a little more technical.”

My friend Bruce, here, and I, go way back to being in bands and the alternative — very-alternative– music scene in Portland. He was in Tu Tu band with Jim Baldwin and in other bands after that. But he is now a scientist; eventually became a paleo-entomologist. A professorial person finding giant primeval insects. He is known for having discovered a new ancient giant ant, too, amongst other things. And now…

“Archibald said the discovery gives researchers insight into how the modern world started to come together after the extinction of the dinosaurs. All the elements enjoyed by today’s giant horntail wood-wasps were in place 53 million years ago — including trees such as fir, pine, spruce, hemlock, sequoia and cedar.”

Read all about it:


Nov 15

Why the Attack on Paris Makes Americans So Angry

There have been a number of sniffy self-righteous people delighting in being the first (they suppose) to ask “where was all the outrage and coverage when more than a hundred students were killed at a university in Kenya earlier this year? Why do we react like this to the Paris attacks?”

Actually, the April Kenya attack by the Al-Shabaab extremist cadre was widely covered here, and great sympathy and concern was expressed and everyone was upset about it, and the US govt sent investigative help. But it’s true we were not as focused on it as we are now on the Parisian attack. No, the reason isn’t racial (there are lots of black folk in America and France)–the reason is historical, cultural, geographical, and even familial.

I myself have twin sons who have dual French-American citizenship. Their mother, my ex, is French, their step-dad is French, they had two French grandparents. I lived in Paris with them…And I’m not alone in this. Many many Americans have connections in France–some are familial, some are close friendships; some connections are business or intellectual. Also, the French are our allies–have been since the Revolutionary War. We fought on their land, side by side with them, in WW1 and WW2. The French have been part of the coalition fighting Isis/Isil.

There’s also the vast cultural overlap, the cultural identity, we share with western Europe in general and especially the French. The English we speak includes countless French words…We’re influenced by French thinkers, writers, composers, film makers, artists; we glory in French cuisine. We vacation in France. Numerous Americans are descended from French immigrants. We have French-American schools here in America, and we have a variety of French spoken by many people in and around New Orleans. The French were among the very first to show their concern and support after 9/11. I could go on and on…We are interlaced with the French, as well as the British and the rest of Europe–it’s not skin color, it’s history. It’s family in more ways than one–and it’s natural that we feel the attack on them is an attack on us.

Nov 15

Hillary Clinton May Lose the Election Because of the ABSS

If someone electable like Rubio gets the GOP nomination for President and Hillary gets the Dem nomination, she may have to scramble for enough votes to win the general election because of Angry Bernie Sanders Supporters. I will vote for Sanders in the primary and if he gets the nomination but there’s a good chance he won’t get the nom nod, so ABSS voters may well refuse to vote or hopelessly write-in Bernie Sanders; the latter is legal but hopeless, as it’ll only divide the Dem/independent vote. A boycott of voting in the general election, perhaps because ABBSupporters will assume that Bernie was somehow inveigled out of his rightful nomination, would be childish and uninformed and something they’d regret later.

If Trump gets the nomination, or Carson, maybe there’ll be fewer ABSS dissenters refusing to vote for Clinton, as they’ll be sufficiently alarmed by the foreseeable consequences of a Republican win…

Oct 15

Nature Doesn’t Have Wi Fi, Bruh

Nature is, like, so lame. Nature doesn’t even have wi-fi. Nature doesn’t have a cell phone, or even a pad or laptop, bruh. Nature has pretty good graphics design, I guess. That’s what it has. Good graphics. But it has, like, no firewalls against shit like mosquitoes. And you can totally design better trees online. My friend has a tree app, he can design trees, to go with his digitalpet, and he can make the trees fly. Nature doesn’t make trees fly. Seeds don’t count, dude.

Nature doesn’t have Twitter, birds so totally don’t count; nature doesn’t have Instagram. If you’re in the Grand Canyon nature doesn’t Instagram you to Niagara Falls. Nature doesn’t have Snapchat. Does, like, a bear send chat with its poop or glands or something? I don’t want some gland-chat. Nature doesn’t pay you for clicks. Nature doesn’t have ‘order your food’ apps. No pizza delivery. You have to catch and kill the pizza. Check it out, rain-sound on youtube. You can’t turn that off in nature.

Oct 15


There need to be new rating codes for some of today’s television.

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER, rated MLV–for people who were at the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam war and nothing shocks or disgusts them after that.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL, rated SBR for Spiked Butt Rape

BLACKLIST, rated ASJ for Always Shark Jumping

HANNIBAL, rated PP for Prefer Psychopaths

MINORITY REPORT, rated CSF for Confused SciFi

FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, rated TIF for TortureIsFine

ARROW, rated ASO for Actually Soap Opera

BLOOD & OIL, rated DC for Deep Cynicism

GOTHAM, rated PNB for Pencil Neck Batman


Oct 15


Bernie Sanders has plans for better safety nets, healthcare, and democratic-socialist regulations to level the playing field and modify the marketplace–and all those plans are being attacked, by Democrats as well as Republicans, as too expensive, or as just plain impossible to pull off. The claims of expense are exaggerated, but the *issue* of expense is fair in a general way. However, Sanders offers a solution:

Eliminate corporate tax loopholes, he says; reduce spending on the military, increase taxes on the top ten percent…and that’ll pay for all of it. And I think it really will cover the expense of a fairer society, if you go far enough in improving revenue with reform.

But — eliminating corporate welfare and increasing taxes on the top ten per cent “just can’t be done”, people say…because of Congress. He’d never get the necessary laws passed and he couldn’t do much of it by executive order.

And yet, he *could* get it passed…if in the coming elections for Senate and the House we get the vote out; if we persuade more Democrats and Independents to vote in every election. And if we register more people to vote…and then launch a massive campaign to get those newly registered people to *show up* to vote on those elections. Far more people tend to show up to vote for President than for their Senator or Congressperson. That lapse in voting needs to be eliminated. We have to value voting, in the Democratic party; independents, Greens–we all need to value voting again. Our attitude toward voting needs to change if Americans genuinely want a fairer society.

Oct 15

Curmudgeon Doggerel

The aches, the pains, the discomfort list
–enough to make an elder pissed.
In your 60s, crackling joints:
you start to wonder what’s the point.
And that is when you realize:
“old curmudgeon” is just your size;
You’ve earned the right to be a grump
you’ve just cause for that cane’s thump;
You comprehend the glint of eye
flashed from the man of sixtyfive;
You dig that look from the inside
as you buckle for the final ride.

The right to be a grouch is yours;
you yowl at cats and bark at curs;
you snatch their ball from on your lawn,
and toss it on their roofs at dawn;
you pass your gas in subway cars,
you glare at bearded hipster bars;
“Oops!”, you bump their iPhones down,
to sewer gratings–never found.
Call the cops on that loud party,
even when the band is arty;
you sneer at teen girl’s skirts at malls–
“When I was young they were twice as small!”
Aging’s a creep, but it’s worth it all
–to be free to mock millennials!

–John Shirley

Oct 15

When My Wife and I Have a Head Cold Together

We are sick,
my wife and I–
not in the mental sense:
We each have a cold,
possibly the flu;
virally immense.
Our noses swell
our lungs are clogged;
coughs instead of talks–
our eyes are red
our heads are hot:
a familiar sort of pox.
I bring her tea,
and fetch her meal,
coughing on the dish;
I bring her pills,
and ice cream too,
fulfill her febrile wish.
Both of us sneeze,
both of us gasp,
we lay abed and groan;
it’s just a cold,
a virus that
we have only on a loan.
She says, “It’s you,
who’ve brought it here;
you’ve given me the flu.
I point at you,
shout in your ears,
You’ve done this, John–