Friday, May 30, 2008
TALK ON THE WILD SIDE
Yesterday evening, in that short spell of quiet buildup that precedes the starry magnificence of night, the silence broken only by occasional finales from the manic warbler, a slight wafting of breeze now and then ruffling the cedar tops, I was cleaning the tools after working in the garden, using in this instance the planting trowel to scrape dirt off the spade. I scraped once and immediately a frog sounded once from beneath the porch. I scraped again. Frog again. I scraped twice. Scrape scrape; frog, frog. I scraped faster, frog frogged faster, I scraped rapidly, frog frogged rapidly; I scraped fast and extendedly, frog emitted a pointed silence. Who did I think I was, anyway.
We were holding a conversation, but my Frog is rudimentary at best, and apparently I had made a froggy faux pas. Did he think me a usurping male? A comely female? Were we talking froggy politics? The latest amphibian news? Tree frog gossip? To change the subject I tried scraping the hoe, and then the rake, to see if the frog appreciated dialect, but there was no response. Didn't like my tone of voice, or the direction the conversation was taking, or perhaps he found such talk too small.
To get back to the original gist I resumed the shovelish tone, and as we conversed, lo and behold another frog joined us from up in a cedar; and then another and another joined in, and before too long I found myself part of a large froggy committee discussing various amphibian topics; I listened for the most part, now and then shoveling in an interjection, and did my best to understand, but they spoke awfully quickly; at one point I ventured to point out in my clumsy croakery that I was not amphibian, but they seemed to think it was ok.
I began to think that perhaps they were conversing with a human via a shovel because they were lonely, dying out so such and all as the scientists were saying; and as soon as I had that thought the more talkative frog asked me how long we humans have been around; I scraped out "a few million years"; the frogs chuckled among themselves, croaked they'd been around a hell of a lot longer than that, and had seen a lot worse, and were far more adaptable than we who are causing the 'frog' problem. We humans hadn't seen the worst yet, though, and are a lot less adaptable than frogs. "Can't even lay eggs in water for goodness sake." Maybe we'd make it, maybe we wouldn't. The frogs would, though.
I asked what they thought our chances were, and an unsettling silence followed. We quickly went on to talk of other things, very earnestly and apparently to great depth, discussing a number of interspecial topics for some time and at various tempos until the shovel was clean, but I have no true idea what we were talking about. Our little gathering reminded me of the UN in many ways, but unlike that august body at the close of session I had at least a clean shovel. I then put the shovel away and went in to dinner and a bath, but we must have started something, because the frogs went on talking all night. If you ever want to talk to one of my amphibian neighbors, I'll let you borrow my shovel.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
THE FOUR FOOD GROUPS
When I was a teenager the four major food groups were the cheeseburger group, the french fry group, the milkshake group and the jelly donut/cheesecake group, though not necessarily in that order, and you can throw in a double sub plus a large pizza with extra cheese. And some chocolate creme pie after. Time of day didn't matter much, either. A Snickers for breakfast was good.
It was a constantly changing bunch of groups that comprised our towering food pyramid, a shifty structure-- could be some cherry coke or potato chips or a sundae in there for example, depending on what store you were in, how much cash you had in your jeans and how many broke friends you were with. When times we hard we could do 8 on a Mars bar. There were prodigality controls at work, as in any natural system.
And as reflected in the morphing menu it was a different world back then, a better-tasting, scarfier, more edible world, at least for us teens. In school we were taught at yawning length about the conventional food groups and pyramids, with their grains and vegetables and milk bottles cluttering up the foodscape, but who lives according to what school says?
Ours was a food group you could dig into with both hands and not stop till the last crumb of cheesecake; ours was a food pyramid we were willing to climb over and over to the summit, a banana split with everything. Our pyramid was built of stuff we could appreciate day in, day out and in between. Oddly though, there was no obesity among us; not a single member of our gang was overweight. Times have gotten heavier, somehow.
Our rampant and broadly undiscriminating diet may have had much to do with the ignorance and inexperience of youth, but now, with the food police everywhere checking salt and sugar intake, cholesterol, transfats, vitamins, minerals and roughage, greens and yellows on down the long and growing list, we're living in the shadow of looming pyramids that blot out the view as they stretch to the nutritional horizon. It's no longer the simple and satisfying nomnom of eating, but the correctness of ingestion, the appropriateness of diet, with bibles of restraint, health, beauty, vitality, longevity-- buzzwords like a full colonic, how buff can you be, carbon footprint on the nape of the neck.
Jelly donuts with fat labels, cheesecake borderline criminal, like smoking and drinking. When will we return to the heedless glomming that is our birthright? Pretty much never, in my case. It has a lot to do with aging and unavoidable wisdom. As much as the distant teenager in me would like to follow up my tofu and lightly stir-fried fresh organic vegetables with a chunky wedge of New York cheesecake the size of an industrial door stopper - the kind of dessert I used to scarf like a hungry dog when I was ignorant of time and capable of promethean consumption - I'm chronically wiser now, and can enjoy the amazement that I've survived. I'll follow up that lunch with a nice grape.
My former food pyramid is but a molehill now-- time and wisdom will do that to a man, though when I return to the States on my vacations I still frequent the aging structure; nothing lasts forever...
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
ABOUT THOSE FOLKS WITH THEIR GENES IN YOUR FOOD...
Iraq's new patent law: A declaration of war against farmers
"When former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer III left Baghdad after the so-called 'transfer of sovereignty' in June 2004, he left behind the 100 orders he enacted as chief of the occupation authority in Iraq. Among them is Order 81 on 'Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety.'"
They sure move fast, don't they...
Almost as if it were a military-industrial complex...
Monday, May 26, 2008
THE WEEDS OF INTELLIGENCE
Early this morning while waiting for the dew to dry (now there's a pleasant task) so I could go out and do some seriously overdue weedwhacking around the deck and out into the garden without coming out of it looking like the jolly green giant, I looked out the front window and saw a solitary monkey sitting atop the electric meter on the pole outside by the road, one arm around the pole, one leg hanging down, casually chewing on a piece of grass and surveying the view of his vast possessions in all the tranquility of Huck Finn with his line in the big river, sitting on the bank and meditating on the meaning of life.
He gazed at the panorama before him, scratched an ear, then settled down and his eyes took on that distant look of deep thought, of whatever is the monkey equivalent of existential matters (is there a monkey Kierkegaard?), which was as infectious as a yawn, because as a fellow simian elsewhere on the same long branch I too began pondering such aspects of being as the distinction between him and I, at least at the surface level, where 99% of the differences lie. As to the depths, we haven't even begun. The monkey and I wandered the big mindspace together.
The hairy thinker was clearly satisfied and doing perfectly well without a house, an automobile, a television (having myself glanced at tv not long ago, I don't see how monkey tv could be any worse than our prime time.) As to a car, I doubt if the thought of wheels had ever entered his head, which must be a pleasant absence, to say nothing of insurance, licensing, carbon footprints and all that baggage; his gas prices aren't going up, either. Moreover, he pays no taxes, has no mortgage, needs no clothing, requires no schools, lives off the land, has no government, never needs to whack weeds (what are weeds?). The sky is his roof, the forest his walls, the whole great outdoors his house. He was also making better use than I of my electric meter, and he enjoys the fruits of my garden. Our much-touted intelligence was withering radically before my mind's eye; it was a welcome moment when the dew was dry.
The monkey just went on loafin' where he was-- waitin' on Tom, I 'spect.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
BRAIN SCIENCE FROM THE INSIDE OUT
"How many brain scientists have been able to study the brain from the inside out? I've gotten as much out of this experience of losing my left mind as I have in my entire academic career."
Saturday, May 24, 2008
I am pleased to announce that the monkeys - whom I haven't actually seen in my garden since they hired a shrewd new PR manager - came by some time during the last couple of days while I was at the office (the PR guy has my schedule on his Blueberry), sampled my radishes, went Ptah! Ptooey!, pulled up some more and threw them around to register their disgust and disappointment, as well as their puzzlement over why one of their generally reliable providers would purposely plant such a revolting item in blatant violation of our unspoken contract their ancestors drew up unilaterally about a million years ago, when we humans left the beastly path and began climbing the precipitous road to higher intelligence and its attendant burdens of honesty, integrity etc., qualities still too heavy for monkeys and politics.
When I went out this morning to get some radishes and saw the mini-chaos the disappointed absentee landlords had left, I noted with satisfaction that the token radishes they had pulled up and bitten bitterly to register their extreme disapproval of my gardening behavior were mostly small ones (strike one against the new manager), leaving the larger and ready-to-eat ones for me to harvest (strike two) and making room for the smaller ones to grow. They had helped thin out my radishes! (Strike three.) I think the axe is about to fall, and a new PR manager soon to be hired from among those who answer the ad in Monkey BusinessWatch. There are mental rumors that the ousted PR guy will go into politics.
Next year I'll plant some red peppers where this year's radishes were, see what happens to the new guy.
Friday, May 23, 2008
MORE MEMORABLE J > E TRANSLATIONS
Unless otherwise specified, all work shall be done perfectly.
As far as economic consideration goes, the Japanese boats ended up in red ink.
A patient dosed with nifedipine is said to be dead.
The bureau meeting will be free to those not attending.
Ground the DC motor case via the shielding housing or something.
They can be divided into two types: one of them is glucose non-fermenting gram-negative rods and another is the other.
It is only quite recently that we began to speak interminably.
Also, this treatment might diffuse viral particles into surrounding normal cells in intolerable patients such as children.
Local volunteers are throwing their hearts into meals for the aged.
Dear Mayor: I greatly appreciated your visit, along with your wife.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
MORE KOOL-AID, ANYONE?
"Flash forward: Real life, Washington, new leaders, a new Congress, old wizardry. Be forewarned: No matter who's elected president, America will soon see a massive statistical curtain pulled back, exposing a con game of historic proportions. And when that happens, you and I will suffer another ear-splitting global meltdown, bigger than today's housing-credit crisis, dragging us deep into a recession and bear market for years...
How bad is it? 'The real numbers ... would be a face full of cold water,' says Phillips. 'Based on the criteria in place a quarter century ago, today's U.S. unemployment rate is somewhere between 9% and 12%; the inflation rate is as high as 7% or even 10%; economics growth since the recession of 2001 has been mediocre, despite the surge in wealth and incomes of the superrich, and we are falling back into recession.'"
UBS (NYSE:UBS) has told members of its former private banking team
responsible for rich US clients not to travel to America.
Could get arrested for something, I guess.
Laws are such a pain in the bank.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
The sky darkens, the birds call low in the still air, the islands are shapes barely visible in the lowering mist, like memories of islands that once were there... Errant brightness from the south intensifies the stillness here; the leaves hang limp, the trees themselves stand waiting, as if something important is about to happen... Nothing moves... The sky hangs... The dragonflies are all in hiding... The world around is one vast verging...
What stimulus to the spirit, that knows the verge so well...
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Recently, Japan as an anciently cultured nation has been taking firm steps forward onto the world stage, having named Doraemon its anime ambassador; now they've gone even further, and are teetering above the orchestra pit.
The monoexpressive Hello Kitty, who got her start on a plastic coin purse back in 1974 and brought the blissfully Hello-Kittyless world to a screeching halt, will soon be named the nation's newest Tourism Ambassador, presumably so as to demonstrate to all the world whatever it is about Japan that is cutely monotonous.
As a result (in case you want to head for the wilderness a bit early), HK will be even more ubiquitous than the everywhere we once knew, though why beholding this emotionless countenance would inspire anyone to visit Japan is beyond my Kitty-weakened powers of understanding (HK has a kryptonite-like effect on certain areas of perception).
But there is a plus here: unlike the other noisemakers representing Japan (Ishihara et al.), HK is mouthless. An ambassador who can't say a single word has gotta be a plus.
Wonder if a life-sized Hello Kitty with biometric scanner nose will scan tourists' faces and take their full set of fingerprints at the airport...
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Friday, May 16, 2008
YOU CAN'T GET IT THERE FROM HERE
Reading lately of all the coast-to-coast US lamenting and gnashing of teeth and gears at the looming 4 dollars per gallon price of gasoline, I can't help but chuckle with satisfaction over here in Japan, where gasoline is already heading north of 6$ per gallon, at the mileage of my Honda Cub (the best-selling motor vehicle in history), which I use for local journeys and which gets over 300 miles per gallon. I've had it for 10 years and only had to fix a flat once. It starts instantly every time, winter or summer. I fill the 3 liter tank about once every three months. They don't sell Honda Cubs in the states, though I can't imagine why not... Must be that folks in the US don't want Honda Cubs because they're not there...
Then on Saturday I read this "Say what?"headline:steadily decreasing domestic consumption [my bold] due to a peaking population and the increased popularity of fuel-efficient smaller cars." AS THE GAS PRICE HEADS FOR THE SKY?
Excuse me while I run outside and check what planet I'm on...
Thursday, May 15, 2008
SHADOW OF ICE
I have to laugh when I read US 'news' like I read this morning, where it said that "Republicans fear public has lost confidence" following another surprise congressional loss in Mississippi - after surprise losses in other special elections in Illinois and Louisiana - the well-spun headline indicating only a vague suspicion that there might be shreds of evidence here and there suggesting the possibility that perhaps some sort of negative change could be on the verge of occurring in a small way, or not... No hint of the Shadow of Ice that resides in the White House, of the deep voter revulsion that has been evident and growing to the full heave for some years now...
But then those media are heavily pwned, are they not...
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Every Spring, with no deeds or Japanese bureaucratic permits at all, the swallows build their nests above the doorways of houses and shops in the village, and homeowners and shopkeepers in a very pleasant spirit of community tenderness create ingeniously ad hoc structures of newspapers, magazines, plastic bags and bits of wood, cardboard, string and tape to catch the droppings, keep their doorsteps and wares clean, and soon the nests, just above head level, are home to eggs, and not long after come the tiny cheeps from bright yellow bigmouth beaks poking over the nest sides, when people-neighbors gather beneath for oohs and ahhs that lead to chats about the goings on in their own nests; and the adult swallows, of evenings after whirling the curlicues of their airy calligraphy of catching insects to feed the swelling brood, and soon having been put out of tiny house and home by the size of the kids, sit near their nests on a convenient awning rod or a telephone wire, soft little featherbundles calm even though within easy reach of shoppers and homeowners passing by beneath, and severely tempting kids to grab for them but the kids always find the wherewithal within themselves not to, for the tiny birds mean so much more where they are, sitting up there so proudly in their fine white ties and tails, about them a confidence and majesty that simply cannot be treated lightly, they are grace in every aspect; even male teenagers, who in the itchy clutch of hormonal chaos are tempted to scare the tiny creatures very satisfyingly into flight, nevertheless never do, the swallows in return for such restraint giving the teenagers the priceless life lesson that grace, not size, is what really matters, and so the neighborhood kids are educated by the swallows in essential regards, then one morning the adult birds take their own gawky teenagers to a nearby overhead wire, where the grownups sit like the people-parents in the park, taking what ease they can at last while cheerily prompting the kids to fidget and whir, whiffle their wings, learn to leap and flap and dive and climb and back and again and again, swooping over and over like people-kids on swings and sliding boards all day, until finally one evening the fledglings too are soaring through the summer sunsets, feeding themselves for autumn, and so the flocks both bird and folk are winged from day to day and year to year, and every village neighborhood is lifted to heights that once known are not forgotten, even in the swallow-empty airs of winter.
Monday, May 12, 2008
You’ve heard of bonsai, the miniature trees perfected in Japan over centuries and now popular all over the world? We at Monsane Laboratories have compressed centuries into seconds, and with our research have developed just the things to go with those bonsai trees: a complete line of bonsai livestock!
It’s no longer a dream: now, in the privacy of your own metro lifespace, you can operate a bonsai farm! Spend leisurely moments each day, watching your bonsai herd graze your bonsai pastures beneath your bonsai trees! Think of the joy of waking each morning to the tiny crow of your bonsai rooster! There’ll be bonsai omelets! Bonsai cheeses! Bonsai burgers! And ultimately, bonsai shoes, even bonsai leather jackets!
And who are all these bonsai products for? Simply send us a small sample of your own cells for cloning, and we will send you a perfectly reproduced bonsai self! That’s right! Sit back in easy chair comfort and watch your self doing the back-breaking chores on your bonsai farm: mending bonsai fence, putting in bonsai crops, hunting bonsai varmints, tacking bonsai problems, digging into those bonsai steaks at the end of a hard bonsai day—all without lifting a finger!
Your friends will be amazed! And if you send us a small sample of their cells, we’ll send you a complete set of bonsai friends! To help out on the farm! So start collecting yourself and your friends today! Order promptly, and we will reproduce your family, absolutely free!
Sunday, May 11, 2008
SORRY, WE'RE ALL OUT OF UNPATENTED HAM...
Part 1 of 5
(2, 3, 4, 5)
Folks who eat these probably don't mind...
(w/thanks to Martin Frid)
World Summit on GMO-Free Diversity in Bonn (Germany), 12-16 May 2008:
"We, the participants of the 3rd Conference of GMO-Free Regions in Europe invite the farmers, gardeners and consumers of the world to celebrate the diversity of our seed and food and cultures and their freedom from GMOs, patents and corporate control... We call upon organisations, communities and institutions from around the world to join us in organising this event and to contribute to its program. Let us join forces for the freedom of seed and reproduction and the freedom from GMOs and patents on life. Let us also make our message be heard [by] the representatives of governments as well [all] the people of the world."
Friday, May 09, 2008
The older farmer, bent-backed in his worn work-clothes and muddy boots, comes at evening with his young son - who has dyed hair and wears flashy city fashions before his Saturday night date - to unload from the back of the old pickup the trays of rice shoots for planting in a couple of days onto the paddy that is now just a sheet of sky-filled water, waiting.
They are a picture of what is happening here in the countryside of Japan - a scene straight from the ages those two, quietly carrying on with their work by the mountain field in the end of day—the father on one side of each tray, in his head perhaps thoughts of these mountains and this labor, memories of war and hunger - as spoken in his bent back - of perseverance and generations of seasons; on the other side stands his young son: well-nourished, modernly educated, immersed in nights of music and crowds and high-speed city life, now anxious in these moments with his father beside this way-up-here rice field because it's getting late on a Saturday night in the unknown matter of young life—
They are like two mutually alien creatures quietly circling, respecting each other for polar reasons: one not to insist too much on the finer points of farming-- for infrequently pondered and anyway incomprehensible reasons; the other to at least go along with the ritual, it won’t take long, the night is waiting...
It is like watching an ancient river slowly diverge, its flow dividing over a new topography of earth and dusk, of hands and life, seed and springtime, sustenance and education, enka and hip-hop, go and Grand Theft Auto, hard drives and tractors-- who can see and who can say which is the truer nourishment, the truer path, the one that leads to higher places?
Together the two men work, lifting the trays from the truck and arranging them by the paddyside, the older familiar with earth and time, the younger trying to keep his clothes clean, not yet grasping what it means to have food four months from now, his body actions tacitly expressing puzzlement over the true value of this upmountain sheet of water, these repetitive tasks, that are somehow his heritage, as his father bends willingly again to this familiar routine, performed so many lifetimes before even his own, as the older man knows to his heart and hopes one day to pass on to his son, through these trays of life they carry together now...
The sunset panorama of the lake goes unnoticed for the task at hand-- it is only the work of moments; when next I look the two are gone, and there are long new rows of green life beside the water.
The young man, even if he goes away at last, and stays in the city - as so many of his farm generation are doing - may one day remember, perceive the heft of these moments, and return... If not to here, then to somewhere he will find that is as worthy - and if he is so fortunate, he will bring his growing child to lift up the other side.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
The barn swallows are out in full now, filling the dusking sky with their chatter and stunning aerodynamics— but what is the value of those skills, exquisite as they are, compared to the ability to appreciate such beauty?
I watch here wingless, at least in fact (the least of our leasts), winged in a greater way than even those swallows, for I can behold their elegance above fresh-watered paddies lined with sprouts of rice, reflecting sunlit clouds that spell the sky with calligraphies silently relating the vastnesses of beauty occurring around this tenuous planet of ours, beauty that every concept of god falls far short of, once it is perceived... Now that's flying.
Here's hope for our fragile species, which long ago mysteriously pursued the wingless path...
Sunday, May 04, 2008
From the Archives: May 2, 2002
HOW TO SWING A CAT
In the evening getting the kids to the table for supper I noticed that Haru the cat was inside the house playing with something over in the corner behind the trunk, I picked him up with my right hand, having a dishrag or a paper or something in my left, and sort of held the squirming beast in place with my left forearm as I headed to open the door to put him outside so we could eat in peace but the cat was playful, and grabbed my arm quite painfully with his claws, and I went OW! OW! OW! and pulled the arm away from him and held him out at a distance with the other hand, when I felt that he must have extremely long arms because though in my right hand he was still clawing my left forearm, and then I looked and saw that it hadn't been the cat, it was a large hissing beetle the cat had been playing with, that had fastened itself to the cat's hair in the righteous fury it was now taking out on my completely innocent forearm, and I was going OW! OW! OW! but had both hands full and couldn't put the cat down or it would understandably run upstairs and hide unreachably under the bed or worse, and so I couldn't get at the beetle, who was hissing pissed off pinching for all it was worth the tender skin of my as I say innocent forearm and I was going OW! OW! OW! and Keech was going WHAT? WHAT? WHAT? and so I started swatting at the beetle with the cat I happened to have conveniently at hand, swinging the cat in wider and wider arcs (note to cat swingers: it's hard to get pinpoint accuracy and solid impact from a cat; if you hold them by the scruff they tend to flop around when you swing them less than top speed at anything as small as even a large beetle, so you lose control on the first few swings, whereas swinging them by the legs or tail creates too great an arc so forget about accuracy; and if one is swinging a cat with any sense of urgency, one should ideally have a short stiff cat and a large target), trying for the very first time in my life to hit a beetle with a cat's head, though this fact was unobserved by me at the time, as I was still going OW! OW! OW! as the beetle went HISS! HISS! HISS! and Keech went WHAT? WHAT? WHAT? and the cat went YOW! YOW! YOW! what is this guy trying to do with me till finally I got the vectors together and swung the cat (thank god we have a living room big enough to swing one in) so that his head hit the beetle and knocked it off my forearm, altogether a very suitable YOWling HISSing OW-ing WHAT-ing bug adventure of another kind. The bite was not venomous, just a pinch, and so to dinner, cat and beetle not invited.
Friday, May 02, 2008
When it comes to stimulation, often as not you'll find me first in line. I've got nothing against being stimulated, as long as it isn't by a government; that's like being stimulated by an oversized steam-driven contraption in desperate need of oil.
So I chuckled when I heard about the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, the Diebold president’s Surge-like plan to save the US economy from what he and his crew have done to it, by giving each not-yet-completely-broke citizen a nanodrop to put in their personal debt bucket-- if they don’t, under the circumstances, simply blow the check on a few cases of beer.
With a national debt in the trillions and a derivative threat of many more trillions, the crew call $300 an Economic Stimulus. (Those with qualifying income of less than $3000 [!] and tax liability of zero don’t get stimulated at all; somehow that makes a GOP kind of sense.)
I expected, though, since I’ve been living outside the country for the past 35 years, that I personally would not get stimulated in such a way. But not long ago I received one of those classy tear-along-dotted-lines-to-open letters from my relentless friend the IRS, addressed precisely to my foreign home, informing me of my possibly being entitled to a payment of anywhere from zero to $600 "plus additional amounts for each qualifying child.” In natural disbelief I looked the pulp document over carefully, searching for the must-be-there clause along the lines of “...those who have lived overseas for more than 34 years and have never paid any US taxes do not qualify for the Stimulus Payment, and will be liable for $10,000 or more in Life Elsewhere Tax for every year spent abroad.”
But I could find no sign of the naysay clause that characterizes hopefully scanned government/financial/insurance documents; there was nothing specifying my ineligibility, not even in the small print or between the lines. Can I therefore expect-- my “Net Income Tax Liability” being “Zero” (Foreign-Earned Income Exclusion) and my “Qualifying Income” being “At least $3000"-– a check from the IRS for this summer’s beer? According to this hedgy letter, I can.
Actually, I suspect I’ll get the old steam-delivered naysay clause instead of a check, but that's ok-- I’d rather not be stimulated by the G-device; who knows where it's been.
Anyway, E pluribus unum, Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes and so forth.
In re which: How I Spent My Stimulus