Friday, February 29, 2008

Keely Smith, Prima, & Butera

Video Finds of the Day

Almost forgotten greats.

Keely Smith and Louis Prima had a great chemistry. He was wired, she was dead-pan, but they worked perfectly together.



This one shows Keely Smith off.

Louis Prima & Keely Smith - All Night Long 1956



This next video has three songs. The first two are sung by Prima. The third is sung by Sam Butera.

Louis Prima & Sam Buterra - Oh Babe -My House- Fever



The last is a super rendition of Night Train by Butera, while Keely Smith looks on unmoved. Priceless. "Embedding disabled" so go see it at YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pekh6TbUCUk

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Dalai Lama

Video Find of the Day

Tenzin Gyatso, Fourteenth Dalai Lama, will be in Seattle for 5 days in April and we here at Real Change are thrilled. We think His Holiness is neat.

But who is this guy? What is a dalai lama? What happened to the other 13? Could the same thing happen to me?

The Wikipedia article begins with this:

"In Tibetan Buddhism, the successive Dalai Lamas form a lineage of (tulku) magistrates which traces back to 1391. According to tradition, the rarefied mindstream of these tulku take repeated births and embodiment to fulfill their Boddhisattva vow. They are of the Gelug School of Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists hold the Dalai Lama to be one of innumerable incarnations of Avalokiteśvara ("Chenrezig" in Tibetan), the bodhisattva of compassion."

[We've seen Avalokiteśvara before, by the way. He's the boddhisattva of compassion with the thousand arms and the 11 heads. If you want to know why he has so many arms and heads, look him up.]

There's this video, which has a prolonged interview with the man, so you can get a good sense of him. Of course, the prolonged-ness means it's a quite long video, too. Sorry 'bout that. You could watch it in shifts.

Charlie Rose - The Dalai Lama

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tibetan Songs

Video Finds of the Day

I'm finding truckloads of classical and semi-classical and not-at-all-classical Tibetan music.

This one has a nice beat.

Tibetan Song Classic Dance Song



The next one is reminiscent of some Romanian folk songs I've heard. On the screen it gives the following information.

"Love songs are usually sung in secluded places, or at a party after all the elders have left."

"The singer must be careful that none of their relatives hear them singing."

No love songs for old people! They might get ideas! They've caused enough problems!

Tibetan Love Song



Check out the back-up dancing on this one. The names in the title are the four singers. An English translation is provided in the description.

Tibetan Song Yadon Kunga Tsewang and Gangshuk

Very Bad Night, Part I

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened the night of my Mother's birthday in February, 1958. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

During most of the six weeks my Father was at the Mountain my Mother subjected me to moderate but almost daily sexual abuse. It subsided as she began her preparations for the romantic evening to celebrate his return.

In spite of all the sexual abuse I knew next to nothing about sex, really. In fact I wouldn't have called anything my Mother did to me sexual at the time. Sex was something else. It was what Mommies and Daddies did in their bedrooms at night. I didn't know what that was, but I was sure my Mother missed it and that what she did to me was at least partly an inadequate substitute. It wasn't the real thing, it was a poor imitation.

My theory was that when people get to be really, really, grownup, like 13 or 14, they start to need this sex thing and have to have partners to help them with it (touching yourself makes you sick, Mommy said) and if the partners they get aren't around or they spend all their time being mad then they start hurting. And to fix the hurt they need to do things to their kids that are icky. But it's not their fault, it's nature's fault. Nature makes grownups sick.

[Below: The same person, before and after puberty. Note the "bedroom eyes" on the right.]

So I felt sorry for my Mother, and I was really hoping that when my Father came home and saw how pretty she was in that dress and saw what a great dinner she made for him and how nice she smelled, and how I said I loved him and then excused myself and didn't cause any trouble for the rest of the night, that he wouldn't shout or anything, and they'd end up in bed and have sex, whatever that is, and Mommy would be all better.

He was supposed to get home at 6 PM. He actually called at 6:30 or so to tell us he got delayed and wouldn't make it until 8 PM. So that was nice.

But after 8 he wasn't there, and he also wasn't there at 9, 10, and 11 PM. There were no more calls to apologize for being late.

I stayed up late with my Mother. It was a Friday so I didn't have to get up early the next morning. She cried off and on for hours. I said, maybe something bad happened to him. She said, "Sure." But she didn't bother making any emergency phone calls.

He came to the front gate at about Midnight. After my Mother unlocked the gate a couple of other officers walked him to the door of the house and put him in a chair. He was only able to stand with support.

He was supposed to come straight home after getting back to Taipei, but instead he spent 6 hours in bars with his buddies.

As he was brought in the door I said, "I love you Daddy," just like we rehearsed it. Then my Mother gave me a sign to get the hell up to my room. I listened from the top of the stairs.

The dinner had already been done away with. My Mother started out explaining that. Dad muttered something like, "That's nice." She then tried, "Do you want to go upstairs or do you want to have fun down here?"

He said, "Why don't you get me a beer?" About then, my Mother started screaming. I don't remember a lot of what she screamed. Then she broke out into sobbing, and she said, "You don't love me anymore." Then she screamed at him some more. Then there was more sobbing.

It went on for about an hour. There were sounds of dishes being smashed. By the time it was over I had retreated to my room for real and was trying to deny that anything important was happening.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This Is TOMORROW!

Video Find of the Day

I was sent notice of these videos by Justice Works. They're all the videos posted under the username unite4justice. They concern a pending Washington State law going by the name of "the gang bill" that would, among other things, establish a database on gang suspects, to be run by the state patrol, that will achieve a very serious ratcheting up and legitimizing of police profiling if it is allowed to pass. It has already passed in the House as HB 2712, it is in committee in the Senate as SB 6608. There is a public hearing TOMORROW, 3:30 PM, Feb. 27, at the Capital Building in Olympia, which may be the only chance to speak out against it in person. Phone numbers to call are listed at the end of video #3. There will be a caravan to the Olympia meeting leaving from the Starbucks at 23rd and Jackson at noon tomorrow.

The point made by Priest Amen in #1 about men harassing youth is solid. Also listen to James Bible's story in #2 about how a false jaywalking charge followed him into adulthood, and don't think it was a fluke. That's how the system is set up, and this horrible law will make it worse.

The bills and legislative reports are available here.

WA Gang Bill - Pt. 1



WA Gang Bill - Pt. 2



WA Gang Bill - Pt. 3

Monday, February 25, 2008

Obi's Little Light-Up Sword

Video Find of the Day

I tried to look away but I couldn't. This kid is so unbelievably cute.

Star Wars according to a 3 year old.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Short Shorts

Video Find of the Day

Some of what America was listening to while I was in Taipei. I think one of the neighbors told me about this, but I had to wait till I got back to the States to understand the reference. I don't think I even believed it, actually.

Short Shorts ‐ The Royal Teens

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dame Edna Everage

Video Finds of the Day

Today I was working in the office and noting that one of our vendors is French Australian. One thought led to another, and I recalled Dame Edna. Not French, quite, but Australian. And, wouldn't you know it, there's videos of her on YouTube.

Here's one where she asks k d lang a controversial question.

Dame Edna interviews kd lang 2007



Here, she meets face to face with her creator.

Dame Edna meets Barry Humphries



And, here, she just wonderfully embarrasses.

Dame Edna's Neighbourhood Watch

Friday, February 22, 2008

Interlude, With Zipper

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened in Taiwan when I was 8 and a half. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

My Father went back to the Mountain in the first or second week of January, 1958. While he was gone my Mother took advantage of connections with other military families and American ex-patriots nearby so we could get around better, and so that I could be gotten out of her hair some of the time.

One of those ex-patriots was an old American man who spoke Chinese. I was turned over to this guy for hours on weekend afternoons. He lived nearby and agreed to meet me at the house and take me on long walks. He wore a threadbare old black suit and a black hat. I'll call him Mr. Dunn, he was thin as a rail. I'd guess he was in his 70s.

Mr. Dunn took me straight into the thick of the poor people's market near our house. He knew what was being sold at each stall and could answer questions about it. But he wouldn't buy anything except occasional fruit. When he did he haggled, and later told me, "If you don't argue the price down they'll just take advantage of you."

He took me further. The walks took us through many parks and a zoo. I think we walked several miles each time. There were street vendors and musicians. There were street magicians. I always dragged my feet as we passed by these, and Mr. Dunn always said, "They're just trying to get our money."

One such encounter made a lasting impression. A street vendor was selling glass prisms. He held one to my eyes so I could see the colors. I wanted one, but Mr. Dunn said no. The price was probably pennies American.

Well, it was his money, but I had to wonder why I was being shown all this if the purpose was just to walk on by.

I fared better at home when my Mother arranged for an older boy to come over to keep me company. He was about 11 years old, so 3 years older and not someone who'd usually want to spend time with me. He was there, if I remember right, because his parents made him come. It was the Christian thing to do. At first he resented it. But he started to enjoy his visits when he found out I liked math. It was something we had in common. He gladly tutored me.

I was supposed to be learning long division in school, but, as often happened, the technique was taught as a mechanical procedure. When I asked my friend to teach me long division, he began the same way. I told him I didn't want to know how to do it, I wanted to know why you did it that way. That led to a wonderful afternoon, in which the two of us worked out the reasons together.

My Father's extended stay at the Mountain was set to end on a Friday in February that happened to be both my Mother's birthday and their 10th anniversary.

As the date approached, my Mother began to lay plans for his return. I was supposed to eat early, before he arrived that afternoon. She was going to set up a romantic candlelight dinner, just for the two of them. She would be wearing her sexiest dress. I would have to greet my Father at the door, and tell him how much I missed him. But then, I was supposed to excuse myself and go to my bedroom and stay there no matter what I heard.

It was clear to me that my Mother was desperate. There was trouble in the marriage. Putting on this special dinner and wearing this dress and keeping me out of the way was going to make everything better.

Dad was supposed to arrive around 6 PM. My Mother worked on the dinner and getting dressed and made up just right the entire afternoon. I helped when I could. I remember standing on a chair to zip her into her man-killer dress. I liked zipping. The zipper is a really cool invention.

Jewish Argentina in LA

Video Find of the Day

Tango and Klezmer mated in a 2007 show celebrating the Jewish culture of Argentina. Both videos are provided on YouTube by YiddishkaytLA.

The first is a Yiddish Tango.

Una Noche Idishe - A Shoa Daine



The second is a performance of the song Papirosn (Cigarettes) written by Polish-born Herman Yablokoff.

Una Noche Idishe - Papirosn

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Janitor Machine

Video Find of the Day

The comments to this indicate no understanding of what is going on. I shall explain. The Evil Scientist has a machine that transforms poor innocent animals into worker-slaves of different kinds. The machine turns the Bunny into a janitor. The Bunny escapes. The Evil Scientist takes chase. The Evil Scientist suffers an ironic fate.

Having had to be a janitor for six years, cleaning up 5 nights a week after the explosive bowel movements of fat lazy software engineers and picking up for secretaries who couldn't successfully dunk their snot rags into a foot wide wastebasket they'd wedged between their legs, I relate.

The system needs janitors because stupid rich people can't clean up after themselves. But nobody wants to pay janitors what their work is worth. So to make janitors, the Fed engineers an economy that has just enough unemployment. That's the real machine.

Bunny Animation

Face It

More Doing It, Religiously

Talk of prayer and meditation often turns me off. Prayer brings to mind intercession and prayer for relief. However noble the ask, it's time spent asking that could be spent doing. Why ask for world peace? Peace doesn't belong to God. He doesn't keep it in a back shed. Peace is ours and our doing, or it doesn't exist.

Meditation turns me off because almost all the advertisements for the product could just as well be ads for balms or energy drinks.

Oh boy, I can haz higher consciousness? I can haz inner peace?

Or it's all about being tight with the Supreme Being. "Yeah, me and YHWH are buds, we hang out 2, sometimes 3 hours a day. You know, we just sits."

A fellow I know who practices meditation says it makes him One with the Godhead. If he and the Godhead are one, the Godhead is a vain, arrogant, jerk, whose greatest accomplishments are gaseous.

They say "Tat tvam asi" = "You [singular] are that." Why always singular? If we are all that, why not say so?

Then there's the meditation that achieves concentrated awareness by the incredibly lame act of concentrating on something utterly pointless for hours on end.

A current trend in local politics will illustrate that last point. The people who are bringing us the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County have a new mantra they have been repeating at all the meetings and all media opportunities. "We have to keep focused on ending homelessness." Repeating the mantra over and over again keeps them focused on the mantra, "We have to keep focused on ending homelessness." The mantra is itself not the ending of homelessness. That is not getting done, only the mantra is getting done.

My alternative to prayer and meditation is summed up in the words, "face it."

Find the emergency. Face it. Address it. Engage it. Move it. Change it.

The first step, facing it, is the only part that takes effort. If you face it with all your faculties, your whole mind, feeling, and imagination, the rest will take care of itself. If you really see the emergency, you will act out of your nature, because "you [plural] are that."

Skip the mantra. The mantra is not the emergency.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Irk

Video Find of the Day

I love the word "irk". It's so onomatopoetic. It's the precise sound that welled up from my throat repeatedly and insistently as I watched this video and contemplated the differences between what I was seeing and Seattle. "Irk" is what comes out of me when I think of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on making Seattle a "world class city" ever since Century 21 and 1962, while Seattle has enjoyed not one decent open space.

See what's possible. Benches are possible, and can bring people together, not apart. It's possible to have functioning drinking fountains (Gosh, where do they get the money for that? Let's ask Paul Allen, he always knows where money comes from!) It's possible to have children in a downtown neighborhood, and places for them to have fun.

Notice the sign "This Area Reserved for Children and Their Guardians". It doesn't say "This Entire park Reserved For Children and Their Guardians." It doesn't say, "Poor People Out."

Check out the "Three Rights of Man" -- "The right to sit down, the right to get a drink of water and the right to use free public plumbing." Irk.

Irk, too, is what comes out of me when I see the segment on bocce courts, and I think how Seattle and Paul Allen are trying to graft bocce courts into South Lake Union parks and other downtown parks. But the bocce courts in the video were established by immigrants who brought the game with them. Seattleites include very few people who have ever even heard of bocce ball. Meanwhile, where are the skateboard parks?

Irk yourself at the very next segment, where people who would be stereotyped today as homeless and undesirables are proudly exhibited in the film enjoying public card games, in a park next door to tenements with clothes on the line. Human beings, showing all the signs of poverty, not hated and chased out of a park, but seen as proof of the life of the park.

"Sidewalk games flourish in the city." Not in my city. My city despises children and despises any game that isn't organized for commercial profit.

"After all, being human, it's human beings that interest us most." Not in my city.

How to Live in a City [1964]
Produced in cooperation with the
University Council on Education
For Public Responsibility

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Balinese Dance

Video Find of the Day

Three of a Balinese classical dance, Legong Legod Bawa posted by elibris. The description says the dance concerns the struggle of the gods Brahma and Vishnu to find Shiva's lingam. Shiva's lingam is a fiery pillar that forms the axis of the universe from earth to heaven, connecting them while also holding them apart.

Tari Legong Legod Bawa part 1



Tari Legong Legod Bawa part 2



Tari Legong Legod Bawa part 3

Peeve: Epistemic Incompetence

Our schools blur the distinctions among Knowledge, Memory, Intelligence, and Cleverness. We've invented the meaningless quality "Aptitude" and test our children for it. We test IQs and pretend we've tested intelligence, actually a broad ensemble of attributes that we know can't be assigned to a linear scale without choosing to scale the different factors against each other, which opens up opportunities to institutionalize our own culturally based values.

So for example, since losing my Hawaiian, I have never again succeeded in achieving fluency in another language besides English. This failing goes undetected in IQ tests, and my scores are off the charts.

It should be the main job of our schools to teach kids how to think and how to know. Instead we give them the impression that it's just a matter of amassing facts.

Because I have a doctorate in math and use it for comic effect in my column, and because irony-impairment is epidemic, and since the irony-impaired are also very often the epistemically incompetent, people will say the darn'dest things to me.

I had a guy suddenly, out of the blue, blurt out "εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον και θεος ην ο λογος" to me. When I said, "Excuse me?" he said, "Surely with your doctorate in math you MUST recognize that." Turns out it's the Ancient Greek of John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Oh yeah, right, that Analysis 611 seminar was TOTALLY devoted to memorizing Biblical fragments in dead dialects. You simply can't expect to understand the Spectral Theorem until you know your spectra, and you can't know your spectra until you're on intimate terms with the God, the Word, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost. In Greek.

There's one guy I know who is so epistemically incompetent he should be the EI Poster Boy. I don't want to use his name because he is incredibly thin-skinned, so I will call him TS.

An example illustrating TS's severe EI, taken from my recent life:

"Hey, Wes, isn't that the new 2008 Focus?"

"What are you talking about, TS?"

"You know what I'm talking about."

"I don't. Tell me."

"You MUST know what I'm talking about, you have a doctorate in mathematics. You know everything."

"Great. Humor me. Tell me what it is I know."

"That car, parked out there. It's the new 2008 Focus, right?"

"How the hell would I know?"

"But you've driven, Wes. You used to be a cab driver. You MUST know cars."

"I haven't been behind the wheel of a car since 1987, and even then I barely noticed the differences in how cars looked. I only paid attention to how differently the ones I drove handled."

"OK, but you can look at it now. You can see the difference between that and the 2007 Focus, can't you?"

I was so pissed at that point that rather than tell him that there is no way I could tell a Focus from a late model Honda, I instead told him that there has been research done that shows that guys like him that can instantly recognize car models are doing it using the same parts of the brain the rest of us use to distinguish faces. Therefore I said, "Since you know car models so well, you don't see the variety of women I do. How sad."

In his defense he actually said, "I can tell women apart well enough. They're either pretty or they aren't."

"Exactly. So sad."

[Below: A Ford Focus. Test your Car Model IQ! Guess the year of this Focus! Check your answer by clicking on the image. If you get it right, it will mean you can barely tell women apart!]


Monday, February 18, 2008

You've Got That Thing

Video Find of the Day

... and video provider. kspm01 specializes in 20's and 30's recordings, mostly, and mostly audio. Here's a random sampling. There are hundreds more.

Clicquot Club Eskimos - You've Got That Thing



Jack Pettis & His Pets - Hot Heels



The Goofus Five - I Need Lovin'

Doing It, Religiously

More On How I Do Religion

Let's talk about morality and religion!

When I was a kid the assumed connection between morality and religion among Christians was often expressed through the use of the term "Good Christian." "So-and-so is a Good Christian" meant he was moral. If you were mean you were not a Good Christian. No one checked whether So-and-so was even Christian, or not, to begin with. There was no comparable term for non-Christians of any type that paid respect to the religion. If a good person was Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, or Atheist, you would not say they were a Good Buddhist, or Good Jew, or Good Muslim, or Good Atheist, respectively. The only way to acknowledge that they were not Christian and nevertheless good people was to say they were LIKE a Good Christian. "If So-and-so found Jesus he would be a Good Christian."

In respect to Christianity, it was deemed essential to at least appear good in public to give credit to Christianity. "Ye shall know them by their fruits." But if a non-Christian behaved morally, no one would admit that they gave credit to their non-Christian religion.

When we went to Taiwan my Mother warned me to watch out for myself because so few of the people would be Christians. But I found good kind generous people wherever I went, in a country that at that time was more than 95% non-Christian.

So I got thinking about that. What I concluded, over time, was that "Ye shall know them by their fruits" is right, and that the rampant bigotry and defiance of that valid precept of Jesus and other good teachers, in denying its application to non-Christians, regularly gives discredit to Christianity.

A good religion makes a person who does it good. If your version of Christianity leads you to deny the goodness of others, then it has led you to meanness. Therefore that version of yours is not a good religion (for you! It might not have such a poor effect on someone else.)

There are of course, truly Good Christians. But there are also Good Buddhists, Good Jews, Good Muslims, Good Atheists, Good Hindus, Good Wiccans, etc.

The issue for me became this: what ways of doing religion lead to a morally good life?

And when you put it that way you can see that to some extent it may be a matter of fit. A way of doing religion that leads one man to become moral may have the opposite effect on another.

The way that I use is a way of becoming aware of rights and wrongs through observation and consciously evoked empathy and imagination. I want to do right by knowing right. I can't be the best judge of how it works, but I'm quite sure the other ways that people have hashed out and promoted won't work for me.

In the course of studying and perceiving rights and wrongs, I came to a realization that there is very little absolute wrong in the world. What we have, mostly, are competing rights.

Therefore discernment of goods is essential. And therefore it is presumptive, and premature, in my view, to speak of an existing highest good that integrates all good. It presupposes that the work of integrating is a fait accompli.

This observation lies at the core of my polytheism, which is not a belief, but an attitude that guides and informs the imagination in the work of discernment of values and enables me to visualize the active balancing and negotiating of values that can bring a higher good out of them.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Damon Wayans, YouTubian

Video Find of the Day

I love that YouTube has guest editors pick the featured videos. Today's guest editor is none other than Damon Wayans. Check out wayouttv. How cool is that? Well, here's him telling you what he thinks of it, followed by a couple of my picks of his picks.

Damon Wayans explains his YouTube picks



Black History Month Presents-BLACK INSIDE



The W. Kamau Bell Curve

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Egyptian Bellydance

Video Find of the Day

A short but awesome video of a Russian bellydancer performing Egyptian style at a Cairo show.

Nour - Tabla Solo (Egyptian belly dance)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Distractible Me

Video Find of the Day

I'm watching (right now) Rebel Without A Cause, and I tell Anitra that Sal Mineo's got my vote for best actor. Damn, he's good. I think, Sal Mineo is better than James Dean even. I'm going to prove it, I think. I'm going to find the definitive clip on YouTube that shows what a genius Sal Mineo was. I think I've found it, in the form of Sal Mineo Rebel Without a Cause Screen test when I look at a related video for just a second, and it's Juliet Prowse dancing with Mineo in an altogether different movie I never even heard of, and I remember, oh yeah, I had a screaming crush on Juliet Prowse. Oh yeah.

Oh. My. God. Is this much sexiness legal?

I bet no more than 10% of you ever heard of Juliet Prowse. "Known for her striking beauty, sultry smile and famous long legs," says Wikipedia, she was a dancer above all. Krushchev called her dancing immoral. He was a prude. Her dancing was just too rich for him.

Who Killed Teddy Bear? 1965 - Sal Mineo & Juliet Prowse

Bethe

As she got older my daughter didn't like the way she photographed, so there aren't many pictures of her from high school on, and until she died I was only able to see the one I posted in Beth. By the way, she varied the spelling in her letters and emails to me, so that is why I'm varying it. These pictures of her were sent to me by her Mother, and I'm very grateful. I just wish Bethe could step out of them.

There's a Halloween picture [left above], a couple showing what look like two degrees of what she called her Goth Period [left below and beneath that], and one with short hair [furthest down] that I'm guessing was post-Goth, or post-post-Goth. There's another picture in a costume, perhaps from a different Halloween, that I'm not showing, because my paternal instincts forbid that I show that much of her legs off on the internet, but take my word for it, she was as stunning in that one as in these.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

J. Krishnamurti

Video Find of the Day

Is the problem our institutions or ourselves? One philosopher (a hero of mine) weighs in.

"Can the content end?"

Society

Hippy Dancing

While I was at the Real Change Organizing Project retreat, someone (the director) put some music on that sounded sort of, remotely, hippyish. So I began dancing in the hippy-appropriate fashion. I was astonished to find that almost none of the other participants knew what I was doing. They had never seen hippy dancing before. It occurred to me and Anitra that countless others around the world within the reach of the Blogger blogcast may also not know what hippy dancing is. So we decided that at this year's Union Valentine's Day Party we would do us some educating.

Before you view these I'll tell you the main rule about hippy dancing. The rule is, whether you're stoned or not, you dance like you are. Therefore, you dance to the cosmic beat, not the beat of the music. When the music is over, you keep dancing for at least five minutes or until the drugs wear off, whichever takes longer.

Anitra Demonstrates



My turn.



Anitra again, this time, with a prop.

The USO Show, Part IV

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened in January 1958, in Taiwan, when I was 8 and a half. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

So. I was seated at the post-show banquet with headliner Ms. Whiting (or whoever she was) and my parents. I followed prior instructions and kept quiet as much as possible, and just tried to enjoy the adults' banter. That ended when my Mother told me to eat my potato salad.

I didn't want any potato salad. I don't remember why. Maybe I didn't like the way it looked. Maybe I didn't like the way it smelled. Maybe I was trying to save room for dessert. Anyway, I balked. "Do I HAVE to?" My Mother's knee-jerk reaction was the, "Do what I say, we're in public," reaction.

Margaret Whiting defended me by making fun of the situation. She basically asked the question, when would there ever be a dinner special enough that I could eat what I want? The show and banquet were supposed to be fun. The message was essentially, "Lighten up, Mrs. Major Browning." (I remember her calling my Mother that.) My Mother backed down.

After that I wanted Ms. Whiting to be my new Mother. So when dinner was over and all were standing around smoozing over drinks, I hung around her. As soon as she had a moment's break I asked her if I could talk to her in private. She asked what it was about, and I whispered to her that it was about my parents.

She gave me a knowing look, and then she announced to the others that she would be right back and she led me outside the tent.

We couldn't have been out there for more than ten minutes but we covered a lot of ground. I told her my parents abused me and she said, "Your Father? He doesn't seem the type." I told her he used to beat me but now just yells and that the worst was from my Mother. I told her about the rapes. She said, "Oh, yes, I noticed something bad in her eyes."

She told me she had been abused too. She said she couldn't take me away from my parents because it wouldn't work. She would just land in prison. She said if she reported it, my parents would probably retaliate against me before the authorities would act.

I was in tears after hearing all this. No one had ever laid out the barriers to getting help so clearly before.

But she said she might be able to help with advice. She questioned me about how my parents talked about me. I told her they called me idiot and basket-case and freak all the time. She asked me what I liked doing. I told her I liked music and math, but since surgery I wasn't able to do music anymore. She said, probably the music won't work, but I'm sure that if you worked hard on the math they'd eventually be amazed and they would back off some.

She came up with a trick to play on my parents to get me started off as a math genius in their eyes, and quickly rehearsed it with me. My line was simple. I just had to say "39" at the proper moment.

Before we rejoined the party, she offered special advice on dealing with my Mother. She said that she looked like people she had known before that had "an evil eye.'" Her face changed from right to left as she went from kind to mean. Ms. Whiting told me that I should try whistling or humming a tune my Mother wouldn't know and move from her right side to her left and back again, and one side should elicit the kind face, the other should elicit the mean face.

Then we returned to the party and she brought me by the hand to where my parents were standing and announced, "Hey, everyone, I've just been talking to this kid outside and he's is a mathematical genius!"

My parents laughed. My Father said, "That's no genius, that's my son."

Whiting said, "Well, he may be your son, but he's a whiz. I'll prove it to you.I'll give him a puzzle, and I'll bet while all of you are scratching your heads over it, he can solve it in a blink of the eye!"

[Above: Numb3rs establishes the genius of Charlie Eppes simply by briefly showing this formula that you don't understand in the opening credits of every show.]

The puzzle was a word puzzle having to do with ages. I don't recall the exact puzzle but it could have gone like this: "I'm twelve years older than my brother. In 15 years I'll be twice as old as my brother was 15 years ago. Think hard. How old am I?"

"Think hard" was my cue. The idea was to blurt out "39" even while she was asking the question, so no one would get it before I did.

Needless to say, part of the fun was that she was older than 39. But no one thought that I would have come up with the joke. They assumed she did.

My parents were suspicious, but Ms. Whiting did a great job of acting, denying any coaching.

By the time my parents got around to asking me if I was coached, during the drive back to Taipei, I was able to present an elaborate explanation of how I had solved the puzzle, because i'd had enough time to work it out on my own by then. I just let them think I had done the reasoning on the fly.

They were floored by it.

After we got back to Taipei, my Father spent a couple of days and nights with my Mother and I, and then returned to the Mountain. The next 5 or 6 weeks I was alone with my Mother in the Chinese house.

Oh, by the way, my parents and everyone else who was at the banquet who ate the potato salad fell violently sick in the evening after. It was tainted.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Mountain or the Bedouins?

Video Finds of the Day

A metaphor in videos of a spiritual choice.

You're a tourist in the Sinai Peninsula, about to ascend Mt. Sinai itself, with the aid of Bedouin guides. Do you spend the night climbing by flashlight to view the sunset from the summit?

Mount Sinai - View from the Peak near Sunrise



Or, do you accept an offer from your guides to spend the night with them? These tourists chose the Bedouins.

Bedouin at Night - Mount Sinaï



I think I would always choose the Bedouins.

A Bedouin Night

How I Do Religion

I don't usually discuss religion in my columns, even though I have very strong opinions on the subject. A blatant religious slant would cloud my political agenda. The exceptions: When religion gets in the news (think Huckabee or Ken Hutcherson) or when I know that what I say won't be recognized as religion by 99.9% of my readers, so what the hell. For example, how many people would recognize that my muse Cindy Holly is actually a religious image to me?

Very few would, in part because most people don't do religion that way.

Which gets to, "Why talk about it here?" Well, 1) this is my personal blog, which I have distanced from Real Change (the blog-of-less-distance is Adventures in Bloggery) and 2) most people don't do religion my way. It occurs to me that people might be interested in how I do religion, sort of like how when people want to know how frogs have sex. It doesn't mean they want to have sex the frog way. It's just a curiosity.

So I want to start a new category of post, consisting of posts that talk about how I do religion.

The first thing that needs to be said about it is that I have a religion of one. There is no one, not even Anitra, who shares this religion. It's a religion that presupposes some concepts rarely encountered in the mainstream traditions of Abramaic religions. It has no name, other than "how I do religion", because I don't do religion the religion-naming way (naming a thing tends to freeze that thing, and a religion is the last thing you want to freeze.)

Since it's a religion of one, I am sole prophet, mystic, shaman, priest, and don't forget layman. Of those I try to be layman most of the time, because I see that as my highest calling.

My religious teachings to myself are full of nonsense and contradiction. I am proud of this. I consider contradiction a sign that I'm covering all bases, and you can't know where sense lies until you've stepped in its opposite, because it's dark out here.

I do religion the sweet-and-sour way. Sense and nonsense together, and sense against sense, contradictory sense with sense. Humor and seriousness together, humor with and against humor, humor with and against seriousness, seriousness with and against seriousness.

To be continued...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Give Me Back My Joy

Video Find of the Day

Sort of reminds me of the last 7 years of Bush. Go Obama.

Lucinda Williams JOY (live)



I can't get enough. Here's Bettye LaVette's version with a bonus:

Bettye Lavette - Joy & Let Me Down Easy - Jools - 11-11-2005

Retreating Thoughts


We had that retreat we were talking about last post. According to Tim Harris we were 8 Real Change vendors plus 8 other participants such as myself of the Real Change Organizing Project, plus Tim and our facilitator, exploring class, class identities (our own and others), and cross-class organizing. Tim discusses the serious need for this kind of work in building an effective movement. As usual my own participation alternated between the serious and the frivolous and passed through every point in between and some points on Mars.

Before the memories dissipate I want to record some moments of the retreat that were special to me, in a purely Wes-centric account that in no way violates anyone's confidentiality.

We were car-pooled by the middle-class among us from the Real Change office to Dumas Bay Centre and Knutzen Family Theatre, at the end of freak-all nowhere off the coast of Federal Way, in a land that never learned to spell "center" or "theater."

We quickly found our new home for the next 28 hours, Banquet Room 2, maximum occupancy 49, next to Banquet Room 1, maximum occupancy 49 (already occupied by a convention of quilters who brought their own sewing machines.)

We sat in a circle (on chairs, thank you St. Giles, patron saint of the lame) and briefly introduced ourselves, ate lunch, introduced ourselves some more, checked in to our rooms, and introduced ourselves some more. I think we read a poem by Sherman Alexie, which made us think. It made us think we were all, underneath our underwear, basically the same. Then some of us thought exactly the opposite, just to show we aren't going to be clones of Sherman Alexie. Alexie says he and his girlfriend share 99% of their genes. I said, to Anitra, viva la 1 per cent.

[Above: A portrait of 99% of me. Especially the hands. Note how the left-hand is waving so hard it's blurred. Part of the 1 per cent difference: He has lots and lots of money.]

When we were to check-in I learned the place has no elevators so I limped as fast as I could to the main desk to beat everyone else there so I could get a room on the first floor and not have to go up and down stairs.

The very next thing we did after we rejoined in Banquet Room 2 was march DOWNSTAIRS to a BASEMENT room to select two photographs, one representing ourselves as we think others see us, one as we see ourselves internally. Then we climbed back UPSTAIRS, in agonizing arthritic pain. But I'm not complaining.

The picture I selected to represent myself as others see me was a shot of a crusty old fossil. It was a fossil of a fish. The picture I thought best represented my internal self was one of Machu Picchu just like this one.

The thought was that my real self is wheelchair-inaccessible, and even if you got there, there'd be no one there who could explain it to you, because no one knows how or why it got there, or what purpose it serves.

The next thing I remember that our facilitator, I'll call him "Alan", did to us was an exercise called [Class] Stepping Stones. You did this by wasting index cards putting notes about turning points of your life that related to your Adventures in Class and Class Identity and Perceptions, or things like that, then trying to assemble 5 or 6 of those in a nice presentation on 11"x17" sheets of construction paper.

I made about 15 cards, threw 9 away, tried to arrange them on paper and gave up in favor of little crude graphic representations instead. Then, we broke up into groups of three and each three shared their histories of careening through the class landscape. This was pretty cool. It was my favorite part of the whole retreat, and I don't just mean my fifteen minutes. Alan was one of my three.

Somewhere in the midst of this we ate dinner and Alan saw how much cayenne pepper I put on all my food. When I told him it wasn't the ordinary 35,000 Scoville-rated cayenne pepper you get prepackaged, but the bulk purchasable 90,000 Unit stuff, he asked to try it. I said I wouldn't stop him but urged him to be careful. In seconds he was at the other end of the room looking for milk or other fire-quencher. That was fun.

There was a social time. I didn't last long for that because I'm old and need to sleep 20 hours a day, and had already been up twice as long as normal. But before I turned in I got out some ginseng & ginger flavored rice wine I'd brought from home, heated it in a microwave and wound down with some of the rest of the gang.

One of the great things about drinking home-made rice wine is, soon as anyone smells it, they allow that you shouldn't share.

The rooms were all small rooms with single beds so Anitra and I had to sleep in separate rooms across from each other, which felt weird. On the other hand, it was very quiet, initially, what with the retreat center being located on the outer boundary of space. I set the alarm for 6:15 AM because our caterer had said there would be coffee ready at 6:30. I fell asleep quickly.

I woke up at 3:30 AM to loud snoring from the next room. Later, another participant who was two rooms away told me she heard loud snores, too. We compared notes and triangulated, and figured out it came from the room between us. That room was inhabited by one of our vendors. In the future I am going to ask that he get a room at the end of a hall, and no one have to stay in neighboring rooms, or we get to hog-tie him and duct-tape him to a wall at night so he can't sleep on his back.

Waking up at 3:30 AM had an up-side though. I was able to reflect on the fact that I had set the alarm for 6:15. Here I had only spent some 10 hours at a retreat with a bunch of other people, and all because of that I was all set to wake myself up a God-o-clock 6 fucking 15 in the A fucking M.

Only 10 hours at this retreat and I was already fucked up. This group-think stuff really works.

So I reset the alarm for 7:15 thinking that was plenty early enough for breakfast. Naturally, Anitra was banging on my door before that, wondering why I wasn't up yet. I expressed my great fucking joy that she would show such fucking concern for me in my hour of need to get the fuck up for a hot beverage, when I still had hooch to heat if I was desperate. Then we laughed. Ha, ha. We related all this to the group and gave Alan permission to use my sentiments expressed in the preceding paragraph as an endorsement.

We got breakfast. More cayenne pepper flowed. Then we explored class, using clumping. We clumped at different ends of the room according to different measures of class.

This led to the most frustrating experience I had at the retreat. Part of the goal of clumping was to figure out who came from the poor or working classes, and who from the middle and owner classes. I couldn't do it. I kept finding myself on the line of different measures. I ended up joining with the middle class just because that was the name of the state of my indecision at the moment of the final cut. Had the final cut been delayed just two minutes I would have landed in the working class group.

The two groups, the poor & working class group and the middle & owner class group, collected at opposite ends of the room and explored themselves. In a publicly appropriate way. Then the groups faced each other and revealed the results of our explorations. For instance we middle classers said how much we value education. Then each group got to list 5 or 6 questions we'd like the other group to answer. My fave was when the lower classes asked us upper classes if in all our efforts to "help" the poor, did we ever think the poor might resent any of the "help"? We had a long session where we all took turns answering the questions for our respective groups. Not being sure which group I was really supposed to be in made this awkward.

Finally we had a talk about defining leadership. As part of this we split into pairs and shared our stories of times we acted as leaders in our pasts. I told my partner about my experience trying to achieve peace on Fort Devens between the Anglos and the Puerto Ricans, and getting beat up, and my experience as a one of the leaders of the StreetLife Art Gallery. The two experiences convinced me of the need to always seek consensus and to work at making sure that the people working with you share your understanding of the undertaking. Don't lead people to negotiate peace if they think negotiating peace means beating up anyone who negotiates wrong, for example.

We finished by taking turns saying how we each would commit to be leaders of RCOP, and what goals we would take up. I committed to hanging in, "keeping in touch" as I put it. I spoke of my commitment to being humble, by admitting that I want to learn humility, but I am incapable.

All in all, the retreat was fantastic, and I am now a convert to this kind of shit, and will prove my commitment to it by coming to every other retreat we put together in the future. I got religion, baby.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Retreats and Retreaters

Video Finds of the Day

I am about to retreat to Federal Way's Dumas Bay Retreat Center along with a cadre of other Real Change Organizing Project retreaters. We are going to overnight there in order to, uh, increase myself and my sense of connection to me, increase my class, my identity, and my assumptions, and build my understanding and trust, so that I may return to the battleground refreshed and advance across class lines, vanquishing all in my path, or something.

Anyway, that explains why I already posted today's video find and I've already turned in this week's column. Just in case I'm too tired from retreating to do anything but crash when I get back tomorrow, here are apropos video finds for Monday, suitably post-dated to appease the OCD gods.

Plato's Retreat



Bonaparte's Retreat



Deutsche Wochenschau No. 703 1944 - Army Group North



1700 Local. Retreat.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Nagaland

Video Find of the Day

I don't know about you, but when I think of India I think of places like Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay, Hyderabad, or Madura. I don't think of any of that appendage of India that juts out the other side of Bangladesh. In particular I don't think of Nagaland. In fact, until I found this video I didn't know there was a place called Nagaland. Now I want to be there, just for the fashions.

Tangkhul Naga Ngashan

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Witch Doctor

Video Find of the Day

Here, "Marvin Suggs and his MuppetBalls" cover the hit Alvin & Chipmunk song, which was a cover of a '58 hit by David Seville.

The Muppet Show - The Witchdoctor

Friday, February 8, 2008

The USO Show, Part III

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened in January 1958, in Taiwan, when I was 8 and a half. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

And, Video Find of the Day

First, I have to address my own confusion about this part of the story. When I first talked about it for the Art in Balance article for Real Change way back in 1995, I remembered the headline act of the the USO show was Betty White. Then, as I back posted that about a year ago to this blog I convinced myself that the last name was Whiting, not White. So I fessed up to the confusion and noted the changes called for.

Well, now I think we're not talking about a Betty Whiting, but one of the Margaret Whitings. There are two listed on IMDB. I've gone back to the Art and Balance post and made those adjustments.

The confusion continues. I think the Margaret Whiting who headlined was the one IMDB calls Margaret Whiting (I). I think so because of the list of songs she's noted for. She sang at the show, and I recognize some of the titles.

I'm not the only one who has confused Margaret Whiting with someone else. I confused her with Betty White not only because of the name, but because she did some stand-up that had a kind of humor I associate with Betty White, and because of the physical similarities, as shown by these two photos that show them as they appeared in the 50s.

Others have confused Margaret Whiting with Doris Day because of her voice and singing style.

Baby Its Cold Outside - Margaret Whiting & Johnny Mercer



So, OK, this decade I think it was Margaret Whiting.

The show was held in a giant tent. It was a rectangular tent, but bigger than a three-ring circus tent. There was a raised stage at one end and in front of it were long files of rectangular banquet tables stretching back to the other end with a few breaks for waiters to pass between. Dinner wasn't served until after the show, though.

I can't remember any of the other performers. Whoever she was, Margaret Whiting, Betty White, Betty Whiting, or Margaret White, she gathered up all my attention. Her voice told me I could trust her.

A perk of being the boss' son: my Dad was running the base, so the headliner, let's call her Margaret Whiting, was seated at his table. Of course, so were my Mother and I.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in the USA

Video Find of the Day

... the r&b/rock&roll revolution had reached the sha na na stage...

The Silhouettes - Get a job

The USO Show, Part II

The Liaison Officer

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened in January 1958, in Taiwan, when I was 8 and a half. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

My Father took me further into the quonset hut. His office was at one end. There was a window looking out at the base airfield. My Father's desk was next to the window. When we walked in there was another man sitting at a separate desk. He didn't look particularly Chinese to me but he was introduced to me as my Dad's ROC liaison officer. I don't remember his name so I'll call him Captain Li. The two of them shared the office.

After that introduction my Father left me in the office to check out preparations for the show. There was an awkward silence for at most a minute as I sat next to my Father's desk, looking across at Capt. Li, which ended when I caught sight of his abaci. He had two Chinese abaci lined up on his desk in front of him. Seeing me staring at them Mr. Li grinned widely and said, "So, you're interested in these. Do you like numbers?" I said I did. He said, "How high can you count?" I told him that I could count as high as nine hundred ninety-nine trillion, nine hundred ninety-nine billion, nine hundred ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine. He swept his right hand across the abaci, in a fraction of a second, setting that number up. Then he said, "How much is one more than that?" I said I didn't know what it was called. He swept his hand back across the abaci, clearing beads and setting one, and pointed, "There it is, it's one quadrillion."

[Below: Capt. Li's abaci were Chinese-style suanpan with rounded beads, two above and five below the horizontal bar, like the one shown here on top. The other kind pictured beneath, with the diamond shaped beads, is the Japanese-style soroban.]

Then he said, "What's the largest number I could show you on these abaci?" The man knew I didn't know how to say it. He read it off. It was something in the septillion range. Then he said he could count higher than that, stating, "I could count to nine hundred ninety-nine dectillion, nine hundred ninety-nine noventillion, nine hundred ninety-nine octillion, nine hundred ninety-nine septillion, nine hundred ninety-nine sextillion, nine hundred ninety-nine quintillion, nine hundred ninety-nine quadrillion, nine hundred ninety-nine trillion, nine hundred ninety-nine billion, nine hundred ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine, if I had time enough. Of course, I'm too busy, working here!"

He pried into my grades. I admitted they weren't that good. He said, "But in arithmetic you're good?" I told him that lately arithmetic was my best subject, followed by reading. He said he wasn't surprised, since I was the son of the Major. He then told me that my Father was in charge of the entire mountain base around us. Then he asked me, "And what do you think we do here?" I admitted I had no idea.

Just then a one-propeller plane was visible through the window. Its engine was being fired up. Capt. Li told me to watch. As I watched, the plane slowly lumbered down the runway toward us, and turned, and the engine raced, and the plane took off in the opposite direction. It looked like a fat swan trying to take off. Capt. Li said, did you notice anything unusual about that plane?

I said, "It was too heavy."

"Yes!" he said, "and why is it too heavy?"

I had no clue until he asked. His speaking the question out loud made me see the answer at once, and I blurted it out, "It's loaded with equipment... it's going to spy on the Mainland!"

He giggled. He said, "Yes, yes! You are so smart! You ARE your Father's son! Electronics! And who is spying on whom? Can you tell me that?"

I said, "Well, my Father is spying on the Communists, right?"

"Oh yes," he laughed, "he is spying on the Communists, certainly, and who else?"

"You?"

"Yes, yes! And we spy on the Communists, too, and also on your Father!"

We both laughed at that. I loved that captain. We had a great time.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What I'm Talking About

Video Find of the Day

To get a sense of what my trip to the Mountain in early 1958 was like, imagine this video played in reverse.

Cycling across Taiwan

The USO Show, Part I

My Father came back to Taipei to take us to the Mountain for a USO show. Early in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday we set off. My Mother and I rode in the back seat of an Army staff car, while Dad rode in front with the driver.

It was my first trip outside of the city and the first hour or so was wonderful. I'd never seen anything like the Taiwan countryside. I still see images of it in my dreams. It wasn't only beautiful, it was strangely beautiful. One of the scenes that had a huge impact on me was the sight of a cliff, not far from Taipei, in which there were built homes. All you saw of the homes were massive doors reinforced crossing iron bars and barred windows. I was impressed by the adaption to the terrain.

It wasn't all cliffs and hills and mountains. We traveled for some time from town to town through a plain. The towns were generally dusty, impoverished, and bleak, but they seemed to me to be places that the people living there must care about.

As we reached hills the driver pulled the car over, and my Mother and I were blindfolded. We remained blindfolded for what seemed like an hour. The idea was that we wouldn't be able to tell the spies who captured us how to get to the Mountain base.

Finally we were allowed to see again. By then we were into mountains. There were miles and miles of winding roads past of terraced rice paddies. Then the roads snaked higher into rocky cliffs and the occasional temple or isolated dwelling that looked carved out of rock.

After those scenes the actual mountain base that my Father worked at was a let-down. When we got there we were on the top of a mountain alright, but it was an undramatic rounded mountain, so rounded that the top was almost flat. Flat enough that it had a small airfield. I had imagined pinnacles, or at least precipitous drops from an edge. There was just a gentle slope falling away from the top.

We got there early enough that we had a few hours to kill before the show. My Father took me to the quonset hut where he worked at a desk and introduced me to his staff.

There was a bookshelf near the entrance to his office that was filled from top to bottom with Ace Doubles. It was the science-fiction stash of one of Dad's subordinates. I had not been introduced to written science fiction up to this time. I poured over the covers oohing and ahhing over bug-eyed monsters abducting leggy women while being zapped by guys in sleek spacesuits. Even after I was told that there were never half naked women in the stories, I was still sure I wanted to check them out. It was another way science hooked me.

Peeve: Lent

So, what are you giving up for Lent? I want to give up poverty.

It's like the day after Thanksgiving, No Buy Day. If you're poor, every day is No Buy Day, unless there are big sales with massive discounts. Let's think of a day of the year that has big sales with massive discounts. Hey, I know, how about the day after Thanksgiving? Thank you Concerned Middle Classes. Enjoy those big screen TVs and X-Boxes you buy the day after the day after Thanksgiving with the extra money you have that we don't.

Lent's like that. When the churches that push giving up for Lent do without tithes and collections for forty days, I'll believe they know what they're asking of people. It doesn't have to be the same forty days. They could still gouge people during Lent, while backing off during Advent, so folks would have more money for Christmas. And post-Thanksgiving and post-Christmas specials.

Let's see the Pope wear plain clothes and live in a single room at a Motel 6 for 40 days. Then he can tell harried housewives they shouldn't touch that Valentine's Day chocolate.

[Left: Only 12 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, San Rafael's new Motel 6 is ideally located to serve the needs of the major religious leader during any Advent papal cut-back. Above: Of course, his home-sweet-home will still be there when the 40 days are up.]

You may wonder why I care. "Wes," you may be saying, "we know you don't consider yourself a Christian, so why do you get worked up about Lent?"

This is a good question and I am glad I asked it. The fact is that Christianity is part of my ambient culture whether I like it or not. They even baptized me without my expressed consent!

While I'm at it I can't resist relating the etymology of the word "noon", which I found by reading the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Lent. The original phrase was Latin nona hora, meaning the ninth hour of daylight by Roman reckoning, meaning 3 PM.

When the church started you were supposed to eat only one meal a day after nightfall. But already by the 5th Century it was acceptable to break the fast at the none hour.

By the 9th Century the "none hour" came to be understood as a duration which began around 2 PM and ended at 3 PM.

[Right: Nobody tells Charlemagne "Big Charles" he can't start breakfast by 2 PM.]

Following that, people simply started their none meal sooner and sooner.

By the 12th century it was common for the word none to refer to noon.

A shift in spelling and pronunciation later, and "noon" means noon.

Ironically, I don't even get up most days until after noon and I take my breakfasts between 3 and 5 PM. My wake up times are post-industrial, depending on the availability of artificial light, but at least during Lent my breakfast times are right in step with the Middle Ages. Cool.

Peeve: Primaries

Here's a peeve where I break with a lot of my liberal & progressive friends. Most of them want a return to the old Washington State primary system, on grounds that "that's what the people want."

Well, screw that. We're not just democratic, we're a constitutional republic. That means we don't always let the people have what they want every single moment. We make them think long and hard about it and force them to arrive at a partial consensus before changing the fundamental rules.

One of the fundamental rules that the people haven't taken the trouble to change is the one acknowledging the right of the people to assembly. The 1st Amendment told Congress not to mess with peaceable assembly. A later amendment took that to the states.

The argument the parties used to end the Washington State primary was based on that. The parties have a right to assemble. Those assembled have a right to choose their new members. They do not have to tolerate party crashers. But the old system let people vote Democrat on one slate, Republican on another, Green on another.

The parties were right to make that objection and I'm glad the old system was struck down. But that decision didn't go far enough for me. I want to see presidential primaries of all kinds outlawed in all states.

Why should taxpayers pay for a process designed to help the major political parties read their minds? If they want to poll us to figure out who among them is electable, let them pay for the polling. There should be no state-run presidential primaries to determine who the parties should nominate. If a party can't do its own nominating it's not a party.

Also, look at the results of yesterday's Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses on the Democratic side. Obama won almost every single caucus (he lost in American Samoa.) Clinton won a couple more primaries than Obama did. This is exactly what I would expect. The people who participate in caucuses tend to be more passionate partisans who don't mind getting up and arguing for their candidates. The people who vote in primaries include the political couch potatoes who are less likely to follow politics and more likely to vote for an old familiar name. Or, in many contests, they aren't even members of the party in questions.

I just heard Mark Shields assert that party partisans support Clinton and that Obama's strength is with youth and independents. Mark Shields is confusing party partisanship with age. The people who voted for Obama at rates of 3 to 1 and 4 to 1 in state caucuses yesterday proved their partisanship.

The presidential primaries favor candidates that are relatively centrist, because they must appeal to independents and cross-overs. It is no coincidence that we have been having closer presidential elections just as the parties have been resorting more and more to primaries. By trying to appeal in their nomination process to voters outside their own parties, the two major parties have created an institution that compels them each to resemble the other.

So "Democratic" and "Republican" end up being mere brands, and the people have fewer choices, and candidates with bold new ideas that break with the thinking of the general public don't get a chance to be nominated by either party.

The purpose of the 1st Amendment was to prevent the government from taking actions that would suppress the free flow of ideas. Primaries look democratic, but by helping to take people with new ideas out of play they actually undermine democracy, by reducing genuine choices.

Finally, a caucus is a place for people to argue their views and try to persuade other voters to their candidates and platforms. People say that's an argument against caucuses.

Oh, gee, it's the United States of America of 2008, and we can't be bothered to speak out about our views. We have to do politics anonymously?

You all do know don't you that even states with primaries still have caucuses and it's the people who attend them that argue the platforms of the parties and decide what directions they should go in?

By dispensing with argument, primaries add to the impression that people have no real political voice.

The voice is there, you just have to use it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

More Mehndi

Video Find of the Day

I just love this kind of stuff. More Mehndi art, this from Winnipeg of all places. If you're planning a marriage in the Winnipeg area, give her a thought, OK?

Henna / mehndi / henna video of my work

Dictatorship & Thievery

The Republic of China took over Taiwan after the half-century Japanese occupation ended with the end of WW II. In 1949, the ROC was driven from the mainland to Taiwan in the Chinese Civil War. The capital of the ROC thus passed from Nanjing to Taipei under Chiang Kai-shek's rule. There was one political party, the Kuomintang, and the country developed under the martial law that already had existed earlier in the civil war, under the "Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion." Martial law was in effect legally until 1987.

Today all that sounds that ancient history, but I was there in 1957, only 8 years later, when it wasn't ancient at all. There were a few ways that the political reality made itself felt. There were pictures of Chiang Kai-shek everywhere. One of the buildings at the start of our dirt road housed businesses and had hole-in-the-wall hovels in back where poor people lived. They cooked their meals and ate in the road, squatting around the fire. (I tried to learn that trick. Imagine not needing chairs, ever.) Behind and above them, always, the windowless wall of the building they lived in was wall-papered with dozens of identical posters of Chiang Kai-shek.

Military police directed traffic at all the busiest intersections. They all carried automatic rifles. My Mother and I were instructed to always be deferential to the Chinese, whether in uniform or not. There was a sense that the Kuomintang was insecure. They were trapped on an island and not sure they could even hold that. So there was a great deal of propaganda. In addition to posters there were speeches broadcast by loudspeakers around the city.

There were rumors of war. My Father confirmed nothing, but other children talked about military activities going on, such as shellings of off-shore islands. Some activities were evident but impossible to interpret, like the long convoys that would snake through the city, sometimes ROC convoys, sometimes US Army convoys.

The rumors of shelling may have just been out of date stories circulating about the First Taiwan Strait Crisis (1954-1955).

The US Army was expanding its role on the island, and that meant there needed to be good mess halls and servicemen's clubs. Over the Christmas break I was taken to such a club. My parents enjoyed a party while I and about a hundred other dependents were herded into a large ballroom to watch an American Western. Off to our right were windows maybe 6 feet high, for the length of the room, that had to be curtained during the movie. Before the curtains were drawn we had a view of a hole within which contractors were working to put a swimming pool.

Just before my Father left for the Mountain I found out that the swimming pool was what was keeping him at work late. He had discovered (surprise!) that graft was involved in its construction. The contractors were overcharging and my Father believed that Army officers who were supposed to monitor the contractors were taking bribes to look the other way. There were irregularities in accounting that appeared deliberate, and so forth. Dad was trying to get at who was responsible. There was fierce resistance and he was stressing out and drinking more, including after-work trips to bars with confidants.

My Father left for the Mountain right around Christmas. My Mother and I thought at the time that we wouldn't see him for the full six weeks, but just a week or 10 days later he was back in Taipei with a staff car to take us to the Mountain for a day, to see a USO show there.