Friday, April 30, 2010

An Anniversary Unearned


30 April, 2010 HO CHI MINH CITY – Vietnam marked the 35th anniversary of the Communist victory in the Vietnam War with a grand military parade Friday through the former Saigon, with the government basking more in its economic achievements than its historic military defeat of the United States.


While this date is clinically the end of the Vietnam War, we were all aware it was over months even years before. Troops withdrawal had begun nearly three years prior to the ultimate surrender, which was an end only for the U.S. and not for the Vietnamese who had suffered under imperialists of one flag or another for decades.


So it might be hard to remember where you were on April 30th of 1975. It was a Wednesday, I was working the late shift at the pharmacy. We did see a shot of the U.S. embassy above on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, but there was little celebration. The anti-war movement had won but fifty-six thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese had died in the futile struggle for nothing more than a discredited foreign policy.


Nixon had already been run out of office in disgrace in '74. There was talk of healing the wounds of war but little was being done for the surviving veterans who still today carry the scars of this national hubris. All in all, not an anniversary to celebrate and apparently not a milestone from which the country has learned the lessons of attempting to impose democracy on other cultures.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

For Your Alternate Reading Pleasure


I began the month with a picture dump, for symmetry I penultimately end with a link dump, with pictures of course!

I had the pleasure to attend the inaugural seating of the Oakland Secret Kitchen, now it appears Eva has a website, which can only tempt locals and make those far from the Bay drool over their separation from the super secret suppers. I will report as the months and morsels roll on.

Lots of the olde poker crew complain that Amy does not update her personal blog enough any more. While that may be partially true, the quality of her commentary remains outrageously spot on, currently she equates bookies and Goldman Sachs. For those who need a more regular fix, you can always check out her day job

Staying in my olde haunts, while deeply immersed in poker I always read Dr. Pauly's Tao of Poker; I now consider it a sinful pleasure. But mirroring my own turn from poker to a more complete, if dyspeptic, view of life; I read his Tao of Pauly with a more camaraderie than before. Pauly plays with more sharp objects than I do and I wear chain mail when I venture out, he is more likely to go commando.

Somewhere in that same universe, the one described as birthed from poker but no longer there; this is where you and I find Brad Willis (Otis to his poker buddies). I get pleasure from reading, not from all reading, but when I do locate that pleasure center, well like any addict I tend to go back there time and time again . . . hence my penchant for Brad's writing on his RapidEyeReality site.

Another olde friend has launched her own website or blog or educational resource or alternate view of life on this rock. Clearly something completely different but I am back where I spent the 90s and far, far from the world both of poker and from what is often referred to as ordinary reality. If you have a passion or an interest in words like indigenous, sustainable, ecological, contra and far-out in a different realm --- you might want to check out Tina's view on the world




And now for yet another something completely different. One of my olde college roommates has been playing in a band for over a decade and now they are, well, nearly mainstream or at least moderately profitable, which means they can afford new sheet music. If you are fortunate enough to live the greater Boston area. I can without reservation recommend a night with the Party of 9. Check here for a sample of their faire.

And finally, I don't know him but I was sent a handful of his Hawaiian surf photos and just had to pass them on. You know I have a thing for web art that acts like a cyber flashbulb. The artist is Clark Little, his website is full of incredible images from the island surf. Below just one example.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Full Pink Moon


Tomorrow morning (Wednesday 28th) at 8:18 AM EDT [5:18 PDT] will be the exact moment of the next full moon, which means tonight will be the fullest those of us in the Americas will see the moon this month. I will have to hope for an opening in the clouds later tonight because right now its grey and raining across the San Francisco Bay, hopefully where you are, there will be better viewing.

Early civilizations often named the full moons and the months they appeared. Since I am in currently in a part of the world previously populated by "native american" tribes. I thought it might be interesting to look at those labels. So the Wolf Moon in January is in the Wolf month and the Harvest Moon is well you got that one, right?

Tomorrow's is the Pink Full Moon and that might need some explanation. Apparently the moon namers were mostly Eastern and Northern tribes, so the relevance might be lost on us Californians. The grass pink or wild ground phlox is a widespread flower of spring in many parts of the Eastern U.S., hence the pink of the Pink Full Moon. Other lunar names for this month include: the Egg Moon, the Full Sprouting Moon and for those more coastal tribes -- the Full Fish Moon.

In some years the Full Pink Moon is also the Pascal Moon, which sets the date for Easter. The pagan and now christian usurped spring holiday is held the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Vernal equinox was March 20th this year, followed by a Full Worm Moon on March 29th, so we had an early Easter this year on April 4th.

Wherever you are, take a peek tonight at the Pink Full Moon. I am sorely tempted to make some Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon reference. Well wait, I guess I just did.

Next month, the Full Flower Moon.
---
photo credit: NASA

Monday, April 26, 2010

Physics of a Sunset


About six weeks ago I slept for the first time in the Berkeley apartment, I noticed that first night the sun was setting just a degree or two north of the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Since that was mid-March the sun was progressing north and I wondered when I would see a sunset directly over the bridge. After reaching its furthest point north on June 21st, a rough estimate would have the sunset back to the bridge around the fourth week of August. So the second part of the question was: just how far does the sun move each day?


I wondered if my distance from the Marin Headlands was a factor (that's the land on the other side of the Bay those of you who don't live around these parts) but I quickly realized that the horizon (where the sun sets) is nearly equidistance from me at all times and the intervening land masses had nothing to do with my calculations. I did, however, correctly intuit that latitude had to make a mathematical difference. Since I was dealing with a tilting planet around a semi-constant axis. I made the only rational decision I could with my decades old calculus.


I went to google.


Between the solstices (approx. June 21st & Dec. 21st), the sunset point changes by about 62.6 degrees in half a year (about 183 days), for an average of 0.34 degrees per day. Near the equinoxes (March 21st, Sept. 21st), the sunset point changes about 0.51 degrees per day; near the solstices, it hardly changes at all. Which means the sunset appears to shift faster around the equinoxes and almost not all all near a solstice.

If you live south of 40 degrees, the change from solstice to solstice is less; if you live north of 40 degrees, the change is greater. Berkeley is at 37 degrees 87 minutes.

The earth's axis is inclined to its orbit by 23.5 degrees. The shift in the sunset point between solstices is roughly given (in degrees) by the formula [2 * 23.5 / cos (latitude)] but this is only an approximation. For a precise calculation, we need to use spherical trigonometry, which I will hold for another time. Nerds may proceed on their own.



What I clearly did notice was that the point of sunset did move quickly right around the time I moved in, near the equinox, in fact by the second week just a line of sight projection seemed to suggest that by the summer solstice the sun would be out of sight to the north. This, of course, assumed a constant movement, which google has help me discover is not the case. Already the daily progression to the north has slowed from the near breakneck half a degree a day when I moved in.


Come summer solstice, I will still have a sunset and somewhere in late August, I will post a week or so of pictures when the sunset beams through the Golden Gate.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Skype Fur Ball Safari

Now that I have become a domiciled person again, I got my Skype software issues resolved, so I am back in voice communication with Australia, France and several other distant spots on the globe. Being domestically permanent also means I have gotten the large monitor and full size keyboard out of storage; and the external hard drive; and the hand me down printer, scanner, fax. I wouldn't call it an orderly desktop exactly, I just no longer need 1200 mile USB cords.

A few days ago I "participated" in a nearly 80 minute Skype call. Participated means I listened a lot; those who know me will still find an over an hour call to be nearly impossible. I am not a phone person and running it through a computer does not disguise the fact that we are just talking without a handset. The video feed helps but unless you are juggling or stripping that too gets static in about a minute. I wonder what the Skype ratio is between free international calling and video phone sex?

But the point of my meanderings today, should you chose to believe there is one, focuses on the theme of idle hands. I have my Skype setup such that I don't have to sit in front of the computer arrays. I can stand even walk within a limited range or get down on the floor and do my back exercises. But over an hour plus, you can run out of non-distracting things to do while paying attention to the person on the other end of the cyber conversation.

Surfing is much too distracting. I would not tolerate such an extended conversation if I were not truly interesting in the other person and in the content of the exchange; so I am not going to multi-task in any way that distracts my mind. My hands, however, did find a task that grew to the point of . . . well to the point of this post.

First, I noticed the tub of wet wipes that were not fully expended cleaning the apartment for human occupancy. I tugged out one of those and wiped down the big keyboard that had been in storage for over a year. Being careful not to press down on any of the keys that would cause audio blips and pings. That took about a minute but I noticed some black schmutz on the front side of the space bar. Resistant to a gentle wiping, the removal required some pressure to effect a clean space bar, which only revealed a larger build-up of potentially contaminating crud on both the B and N keys. These would be more difficult to reach. Since neither duct tape nor WD-40 would solve this common household crisis, I went for the bent paper clip and spent perhaps another five minutes of the Skype call (you did remember I am on a call right?). About five minutes cleaning keys, only to discover that once the front side of the keys were de-filthed, I only had to lean slightly left or right to see the accumulation of grime on those surface.

I am going to cut the key cleaning soliloquy because I haven't yet gotten to my point for the day. At some point, while I was actually talking I let the paper clip stylus slip between the keys and when I recovered it, I discovered -- furr! Another more digitally directed sweep brought up a loose ball of fuzz the size of a dime.


Yes, my keyboard had cohabitated with not one or two but three cats as far back as Michigan (2006) and without Skype to free me to ponder the pelted possibilities, I had never thought to delve into the depths of the keyboard recesses. It took about fifteen minutes to fish out 97% of the cat fur without being too distracted from the conversation, which naturally took a serious turn at this exact time. Multi-tasking can be such a burden.


So that's my deep introspection for this Saturday morning. Should you need to take a break to ponder the existential aspects of these revelations, I would recommend the following supporting text:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

Forty years ago, the first Earth Day (1970) was small, peaceful, non-commercial and did I say small? I spent part of Earth Day #1 on the diag of the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor; today, I will send part of Earth Day #40 on Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus. What I remember most about that first ED (my how abbreviations have shifted meanings), what I remember was the number of teach-ins. Teach-Ins were a product of the Vietnam War protest era. Rather than sit-in or be-in or trash-in; faculty and others on campuses around the world would hold teach-ins to present in-depth points of view on issues that might not normally be part of the present day university curriculum.

Even back in 1970, wind and solar power were being pushed as alternatives to petro-chemical fuels before the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 or the Iranian Oil Crisis of 1979. Recycling was a novelty in 1970, the Boy Scouts picked up newspapers but that was about it. But like today there were resources, here are some I came across this morning.

Earth Day official website, where you can learn about the big rally this Sunday in Washington D.C. and see how far we have come both in saving and destroying the planet.

Earth Day as big business, an article from today's New York Times.

Earth Day Around the World Part I.

Teachable Earth Day moments from EducationWorld.com.

and one of two YouTube offerings for Earth Day 2010.

Insert hopeful inspiring phrase here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Secret Supper

I was torn between the Quentin Tarrantino Last Supper and the Big Lebowski version or even one from the Simpsons. But I went with Battle Star Galactica because that caught more of the flavour of last night. On a side note, if you would like to view over 50 Last Supper spoofs, a little click will do ya.

But today's post is not about the art but about the dinner last night. A good friend, of many names, has launched a new aspect of her culinary bricolage with the inaugural event in her Secret Supper. Once a month a select group of Bay Area elite email eaters/invitees receive directions to a Secret Supper. Menus are attached (for last night's delectables, see below) and payment is via PayPal. Last night was launched in a warehouse space in Oakland and by most mouthful utterances was a big hit. I particularly liked the asparagus soup and the warehouse cat, who braved the both dogs to locate a couple of cat people and receive generous pets and scritches.

My apologizes to any local readers but it may be several months before I can sneak you onto the limited invite list, but I am always looking for a monthly food date. Here is the essence and the edibles from this month's venture.


Secret Kitchen is an underground dining club which changes both the prix fixe menu and location monthly. Members will enjoy gourmet dinners in a relaxed setting, with great entertainment and thoughtful conversations with interesting people. Diners are asked to bring the beverage of their choice, and wear comfy clothes as you'll never know just where you'll be sitting til you get there! 

Here is our homage (menu) to Spring:

App:
Braised Pork Belly in Citrus-Maple Reduction

Soup:
Roasted Asparagus with Lemon 
Chive Creme

Entree:
Salmon Papillote with Smoked Chilies
Baby Potatoes in Green Garlic Butter

Dessert:
Spiced Fruit Phyllos with Wine Sauce and Marscapone


. . . and my favorite Last Supper spoof.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Flower Radiography



The father of a good friend of one of my best friends was a professor at the University of Michigan. In his nearly four decade tenure in the school of dentistry he became the expert in radiography and held several patents in the field. Later in life, one of his passions was taking radiographic photographs of flowers.

Albert Richards passed away in 2008 and since then his daughter, the good friend of my best friend, has been working on a new website to display and market his remarkable works of art. This week the relaunch happened. I encourage you to surf over to see some of the fascinating images that he revealed through this most interesting eye on nature.

I have been privileged to see various forms of the work over the past decade, now there is a well crafted website for everyone to engage with the radiographs. I recommend the slideshow (click autoplay).  I find the haunting images to be the most intriguing but one man's haunting is another's graceful.  I have tried to pick my favorite several times but each successive slide conjures a new adjective. It could be number 86, no wait 104 . . .

Monday, April 19, 2010

Yesterday, Today and Jane Fonda

I mentioned that I was beginning a reading list for my planned trip to Vietnam in August. Today I discovered there is a new academic book about Jane Fonda and her actions and image as it was attached to the war back in the 70's. I will at least put my hands on this book, if not give it a thorough read. Written by a sociology professor, it takes on some rather obvious themes that one has to wonder about the contemporary need to explore yet again.

The author seeks to correct the myths around Fonda's anti-war activities and to view or review them in the light of a less politically charged atmosphere. He concludes that much of what passed for fact was actually politically motivated commentary from the right. This quote is from the review in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

"The book argues that the demonization of Jane Fonda as the treacherous "Hanoi Jane" was a convenient way for the right to attribute American defeat in Vietnam to left-wing activists and to reassert an aggressive masculinity in American culture and politics."

Having not read the book yet, I can only speculate from the reviews that the author seems to miss the point about Ms. Fonda's actions and comments as, in fact, actually being politically motivated from the left. Seems many authors do not understand that the paintbrush works in both directions.

Whether this book will change anyone's mind or correct the historical record would seem to depend a lot less on facts then on human nature. The only comment on the first review I encountered forgivingly said: "She should have been shot as a traitor!" Hearts and Minds, we are seeking to change their Hearts and Minds.

Back in the fall of 1975, just months after the Vietnam War was over from an American point of view; Jane Fonda along with Daniel Ellsberg discloser of the Pentagon Papers and singer, songwriter, activist Holly Near were doing a 17 city peace caravan. The tour fed on the still wounded soul left by the 15 year long Vietnam War. One of my good friends was the local organizer in Ann Arbor and asked me if I would agree to be Jane's bodyguard for the day. My qualifications included being large and having long hair.

There are two images I remember from that day. First, I was to meet and pick-up Ms. Fonda at a late morning backyard brunch/fundraiser. When I arrived I spotted my friend the organizer and he waved me over, he was having a conversation with a woman and after I made my way across the yard, he introduced me to Jane Fonda. I had never before and have never since been speechless based on the striking physical beauty of a person. I was simply not prepared to meet someone who actually was beautiful. Sure I was much younger and more taken by superficials, but I can still vividly recall that feeling today.

In the evening there were speeches at the University of Michigan campus. We entered from the rear of the building and came up on stage via a spiral staircase from a level below. One of the columns on the stage hide the stairwell. The format following introductions was: Jane's speech, then Holly's talk and song; with Daniel finishing up. After her speech, while Holly was beginning Jane turned to me and asked if there was a bathroom down below. We went back down the spiral and when she came back she stood at the foot of the staircase and we had this conversation:

"Do you think I need to go right back up?"

"This is what? City 16 of 17 and you have heard those speeches many times already."

"Yes, it's hard to smile and respond to the same words and I'm just tired."

"Why don't you sit down and take a few minutes."

After sitting for a bit in silence, she looked up and asked:

"Do you think this will ever be over?'

Wiser then my years, I answered: "Not as long as their are human beings around to disagree."

She took a few more minutes and then we heard the applause following a Holly Near song, she rose and said:

"Well, I guess I should go back up."

I followed her up the small staircase. At the top before she pushed through the door, she paused with me one step below bringing us face-to-face in the tight, dim space. The sense of beauty from our morning meeting was long past, we were just two people, one of whom was clearly questioning her path.

"So, you think this is never going to end."

Again, much wiser than my years: "I think resisting war and advocating for peace will always be a worthy cause."

She gave a thankful non-Hollywood smile, touched me on the shoulder with her left hand and pushed open the door with her right. Thus endeth my Jane Fonda story.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gotta a Good Reason?

You know that look. Yep, that look! The good news is we are genetically encoded to recognize it and get the hell out of the way. The bad news is sometimes there is no way out. There are times when we just have to deal without someone who is carrying around a big, bad, nasty attitude. But what if they have a good reason . . .

I am not talking about Mr. Roarke the neighbor, who everyone knows is just an downright cranky bastard. Neither are we excusing Aunt Martha, who is just a walking, talking, nasty, meddling, controlling bitch. These people have some long-held issues and, unless you are getting paid, your life should not be wasted trying to rescue them from the pit they have made of their own existence.

Sometimes circumstances are such that we do have to deal with a boss, co-worker or relative who just seems to want to make today a slog through the muck for everyone. If you know the person and they are acting contrary to their usual manner, well then you can either give them some space or try to help. Being a trained professional, may I strongly recommend the space option. In fact, in the course of modern life, I take it as almost axiomatic that when faced with a myriad of potential courses of action selecting "space" is usually the safest course of inaction.

Reflect for a moment on the countenance of the cougar at the top of this post. No really, take another look. . . Go ahead. . . Is not your first reaction to slowly back away from the screen? See what I mean about genetically encoded. Follow your instincts and avoid the psychic scar tissue.

But what if they have a good reason . . .

What prompted my post today was this quote from the NYTimes. See if you can guess the missing words.

"Let me level with you -- sure, I'm grumpy and miserable and anti-social, but the rest of you are unbearable. I can't listen to you talk about your issues because [BLANK] makes me selfish. Your jealousy issues? Boo-hoo. I haven't [BLANK] in I don't know how many days and all of your yammering sounds like noise. You know when the adults talk to Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang? That's what it's like to listen to you.


I used to be so optimistic. Even now if I try really, really hard, I can see the upside to most things. But I have nothing good to say about being a miserable, [BLANK] lunatic. So if you're waiting for me to impart some delicious morsel of hope -- like how I find inspiration in my [BLANK] because, hey, I do my best writing when I'm angry, for example. Well, sorry -- this doesn't really end well for you or me. Try as I might, I can't think of how to go out on a happy note today."


Did you get it? Spoiler alert in one paragraph down.

Consider for a moment the difference between this person being a co-worker or friend as opposed to just someone you need to interact with, such as a sales clerk, bureaucrat behind the desk, police officer, judge  in your case. If you don't know them and will never see them again, you can either assume this is their normal state of gloom or you might select instead the more empathetic interpretation and assume they are being adversely affected today and just cut them some slack.

The missing words in the quote above are: insomnia, slept, sleep-deprived, restlessness. The author is a chronic insomniac. By the way, if you have such issues the NYTimes is running a whole series of pieces on insomnia this week.

Today's point: Sometimes people are having a bad day for a good reason. Allowing for that interpretation instead of the 'evil bastard' explanation gives both them and you the space to avoid conflict and confrontation. Sometimes people are going to be in a dark place, why volunteer to join them? Give 'em a break. I wish I did more often.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Getting from A to P




You know how sometimes you hear an argument, which implies some linear correlation, something like if A then B and if B then C and therefore D etc. But as far as you can tell the argument leaves out E, F, G, etc. and somehow just gets to the conclusion P with a kind of magical leap of something unexplained.

Some people refer to that leap as faith. More reason based individuals call the entire process faulty or incomplete logic. Still others come to this blog for entertainment or thoughtful tweaking of their consciousness. There are times when I do enforce the rigors of logic on my process and other times I wander closer to a stream of consciousness flow. Today's its more one than the other.

How long does it take for "the exception" to become "the rule"? And how do you recognize when that happens? -- Patty Paraphrase

Rules are what a functional majority agree on. The exceptions are those occurrences that fall outside of the rule and would disprove the rule but do not happen frequently enough to support changing the rule. Sounds logical right? 

The rule is that we fight a war against drugs and as a weapon in that war we incarcerate individuals who break the rules. The war has never worked. Since 1969 the drug war has been an abject failure. The prisons are overwhelmed with minor drug offenders; over half of all prison inmates are there because of the war on drugs. And over 80% of the citizenry are against the practice. Seems like a good example of a functional majority but the rule remains the exception.

Revolutionaries, guerillas, contras, freedom fighters oppose the reactionary, authoritarian, autocratic power structure. If and when they win and change the rules, they invariably establish a new government that is different but still authoritarian and nearly never populist or freedom loving. Human nature? or is that just another rule . . .

Rule leads to rulers, rule of law, living by the rules and yes, at times, the Golden Rule.

Exception leads to exceptional or perhaps the exceptional leads to the recognition of the exception.

Today's thought: Where in your life are you the exception? Where do you emphasize the exception over the rule? Be happy with those places where you don't follow the crowd and maybe even look for yet another aspect of your life where you would be happier if you left behind another rule and discovered the truly exceptional beyond the madding crowd.

Just to be sure . . .

Monday, April 12, 2010

One Interpretation or Another

I was reminded today of a story I heard back in the mid-70s when I was in grad school studying for a degree in psychological counseling. One of my instructors back then was a fifty-something woman, who had been practicing clinical therapy for over twenty years. That meant that she was a psychologist back in the mid-50s when most of America though psychology was either witchcraft or outright fraud. Her main thesis in teaching therapeutic technique was to continually remind us that there were many sources of psychological dis-ease and just as many interpretations of the what, when, why and how of a client's issues. Our task, she would remind us, was first to uncover the actual problem and then to assist the client in discovering tools to ease their pain and anxiety.

Here is her story that I was reminded of today.

As a young therapist she was interested in dream interpretation and used a dictionary of dream images to interpret any dreams a client might bring up in a session. At some point she had a 50-something business man coming in for counseling. After a few sessions she asked about his dreams and over the next several weeks, he told her of two what he called dream vignettes.

In the first, he was on a camping trip that he and his now wife had taken while they were dating. The scene was precisely the campground where they had been in Michigan's upper peninsula. In the dream, he was sitting out by the dying campfire, his wife-to-be was already in the tent but he was having trouble with the stem on his air mattress. The mattress was not fully inflated but he could not pull the stem out to add more air. His fingers were not nimble enough to grasp the retracted stem valve.

In a second dream, he was playing basketball with his intramural team from college. Again the scene was just as it had been in real life except that in the dream there was a small group of co-eds in the stands watching the game and the basketball was under-inflated so it was difficult to dribble the ball.

Our young therapist consulted her dream interpretation dictionary and found this entry:

Air:
1. If the air is clear and sunny, success lies ahead.
2. If the air is cloudy, foggy, misty or stormy, then you're not in a clear frame of mind. Perhaps you should postpone making important decisions for a few days.
3. Pumping air into a tire or air mattress implies that your support system (family, friends, colleagues) is weak and needs to be strengthened.

She offered the third interpretation to her client as an clinical intervention. The following day, she was informed by her supervisor that the client had requested another therapist. In particular, he had asked for someone male and more experienced. Being that her supervisor was the only older male in the practice, he offered to take over the client and also to share with her any insights he gained through the therapy about her work with the client.

Several weeks later, while discussing cases, her supervisor asked if she had taken note of the women in her patients dreams. The girlfriend in the tent in the first dream and the co-eds watching the intramural game in the second. She acknowledged that she had made the link with the "air" aspect in both dreams but had not gone any further.

It was then that our young therapist heard for the first time a diagnosis we are all familiar with today and one that you may have already made yourself -- erectile dysfunction.

The point of today's story is simply that there are generally many possible interpretations for images and symbols that substitute in our psyches for the actual cause of our fears and anxieties. Remaining open to possible explanations that lie beyond your own experience is a revealing practice that will potentially tell you more about yourself than you may already know.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Things Are Not What They Seem

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, it would. You see?
--Alice

About fifteen years ago I was sharing living space with a couple. They had a fight. The first evening one of the couple told me their story and I noticed that she gave herself a lot of the responsibility for the acrimony. The next day I heard from the other partner. I was amazed that they both told nearly the same story. They both were honest about their troubles and took responsibility for their own stuff. Sounds healthy and perhaps it was, but they still broke up.

Earlier this week I heard the guy side of another couple's spat and just this morning I got the gal side. He was very critical of her behavior and nearly as insightful about his own failures relationship-wise. She, on the other hand, made it out to be all his fault and uttered not one word about her own collusion in what for me is a very dysfunctional coupling. I am sure they will stay together and maintain their mutual misery for many years.

The funny bone is not a bone, it is the spot where the ulnar nerve touches the humerus.

I had to do a bit of shopping this week. I really hated it. If something is not short-term consumable and perishable, I don't want it. I am so happy that all the furniture in the Berkeley apartment was already here when I moved in and won't go with me when I depart. I just don't like stuff, you might be say I have an aversion to possession. I may be developing an allergic reaction to consumerism.

A shooting star is not a star, it is a meteorite.

Yesterday, I was walking on Telegraph Ave. near the UC Berkeley campus when I noticed a scruffy and potentially high or drunk young man accosting passersby. Generally speaking such noxious persons tend to avoid me with their act because well ... I am a very large male. But when I got to his sidewalk stage he did indeed jump in my face and say: "Hey, what's up man?" 

In a low and threatening voice, I replied: "Move now!" He stepped aside immediately. Now you might think that was the reaction I expected, but it was not. Urban living has taught me that if such encounters take place, the instigator is beyond consideration for his own physical welfare and will generally persist, which escalates the situation. But that did not happen, he moved and I walked on.

On the way back home, on the other side of Telegraph, I noticed from a block away he was still playing his street theatre game but as came abreast of the scene, I also saw a young woman on my side of the avenue watching intently and taking notes. I walked up to her and said:

"Did you run your little project by a Human Subjects Committee?"

Her shocked expression told me I was right and this was some student experiment in urban culture.

"You didn't think of that did you?"

"Ah, no. But..."

"So you felt it was OK to annoy people and disrupt their pleasant Saturday here in Berkeley for your little .. what psychology project?"

"Urban Anthropology and I guess..."

"OK, here is what you do. Go over there and stop Ratzo before someone kicks his ass. Then write up your report and include our conversation. I assume the point of the assignment was for you to learn something about ethnographic research and if you think about it a bit, you should have gained some insight into the process and your professor will recognize that as well."

I walked away and she scurried across the street to pull the plug on the ill considered, over-staged data collection by artificial confrontation.

A piece of catgut is not from a cat, it is usually made from sheep.

Things are not what they seem, the first appearance deceives many. -- Phaedrus

Saturday, April 10, 2010

From Above the Treetops

I know I promised my new view on the world would not dominate my posts, but sometimes....


First, there is the weather. While I still await a summer of San Francisco fog, which will dramatically alter my eighth floor view; I am already entranced by the drama of storms sweeping or creeping across the Bay. Sometimes a sea level disturbance will force its way through the narrows of the Golden Gate and burst into the open Bay; other times the grey will slowly make views and cities and bridges disappear as a western storm front advances. Today the weather is fickle. Right now the port of Oakland to the south is bathed in sunlight, while the Bay out to the Golden Gate is shrouded in a slush of rain and mist. San Francisco is a dark pop-up silhouette ducking in and out of the overcast.


Or would that be undercast? What I have noticed in my first few weeks up in my aerie is that a lot happens below me. Not only does much of the weather hug the ground but rain storms that fall past you have more character than those that simply fall on you. In addition, there are the birds.


The "average" treetop between my perch and the Bay is about thirty feet high. Here and there a grandmother tree reaches up to double that height and there are a few massive pines off to the north that nearly reach my window height. But I am generally well above the treetops, which means most of the avian activity is below me. Quite a different view looking down rather than looking up.


I am not a 'birder' though I appreciate their unique view on nature. In 1980, I traveled to Antarctica and hung out for most of three weeks with the avid birders. They were the ones who were willing to hike further and stay out in the cold longer, so I absorbed some of their birding culture by osmosis. One thing I have noticed from my new view, the bird identifications books are not as helpful since most of their photos and drawings are from a ground perspective and birds do look very different from above and below. Image trying to identify your friends seeing them only from behind.


There is an interesting flock of mostly white birds that hang out about three blocks west of here. They seem to have a big spreading northern pine as their primary roost. I am going to trek down there the next time they flock. They might just be a kit, a flock or a flight of pigeons. They don't appear to be large enough to be sea gulls, there are a couple of possibilities in the tern family. More information to follow. Signing off from the Berkeley promontory.
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photo credit: birds.org

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Images of Another Time


We have embedded in our consciousness billions of bits of memories and motes of images. Some are pictures of good times, but like all humanoids we have a deep genetic link to the darkside. For those of you old enough to remember, just look at that camo-picture above and you will recognize two of the enduring publicity images from the Vietnam war.

I have mentioned before that I have never read a more compelling book on the Vietnam war than A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan. The last time I referred to the book, I got an email pointing me to another Vietnam book, but I was just not in a place to engage with that particular slice of history back then. Now the New Times Review of Books has written about two new looks at the war. Apparently, it is time to once again converse with the ghosts of our collective past, at least for me. I will report back on my journey over the next several months.

Not only will I be reading and rereading some of the recent past history of Vietnam and the US involvement there, but I also need to familiarize myself with the current state of affairs in that corner of the planet. I have exceeded to some gentle but ever so compelling pressure and committed to making a journey to Vietnam late this summer.

I invite you to read along with my preparation and eventually the actualization of something I am not yet sure of.
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art credit: nytimes patrick thomas

Monday, April 05, 2010

Print Magazines in an Online World


The Atlantic (formerly Atlantic Monthly) is by far my favorite print magazine. I tend to read it several months in arrears but the articles are not meant to have the immediacy of the weekly mags. Besides I now live 2349 miles from my subscription's delivery address. I ran across an article from last summer about the rise and fall of print magazines. The obvious diagnosis is that the internet has made a weekly news obsolete. Faced with that reality, it appears that first Time and now Newsweek have gone through extensive facelifts. According to their own propaganda they are attempting to become high end, in-depth reporting instruments.


It would be unfair to judge the print version by what can be found on their websites, so actually picked up hard copies of both Time and Newsweek; I also got a current copy of The Economist. It seems that what passes for high end these days was basically the type of reporting that launched People magazine back in 1974. Let me give just one example: Time is running a Top 100 Most Influential People of 2010 poll; readers can vote online. Right now, Lady Gaga is in #1 position with the President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and a Korean figure skater also in the top ten. Obama did not crack the top ten. McCain's blogging daughter made the list, he did not.

High end indeed.

So as not to be completely negative curmudgeon on magazines, I would note that The Atlantic article also pointed out that The Economist has actually made the transition to something that resembles high end, in-depth and relevant. In fact, The Economist subscriptions and sales are up markedly in a market that sees nearly all other print formats declining. I can see why.


The Economist now calls itself a "weekly newspaper" and seeks out stories that literally no one else except obscure internet sites are covering and then they report with professionalism and facts. True, they lean to the right of center economically but there are dashs of social progressivism, particularly when such activity enhances a bottom line.

Personally, I have added The Economist to my weekly reading; though I will admit I don't buy it yet, that's what public libraries are for.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

April Fool's Picture Dump

I simply have too many images in my 'future file', so periodically I sort thru them and toss a dozen or so out. But I thought today a better solution might be to post them here for your perusal and approval.


You may have noticed I have a real thing for color. Bright vivid saturated colours. I are not a black&white guy.

 
. . . and yes, some of the "shrink" does leak through into the images, I still have a portfolio of Jackson Pollacks for some future distorted month of psychology posts.

I like kittens.


I like animals and color.

I like women, animals and color.


I am fond of Antarctic animals.

and then there are just images.