Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

Obama Gets Osama

May 8, 2011

While we can all appreciate a well-executed execution, the death of Osama is cold comfort indeed in the face of the dismal decade after 9/11, and the changes in America we have wrought with our response.  The difficulties around flying alone (which used to be pleasant) are sufficiently expensive and unnecessary Kabuki, but we have a whole cultural attitude coarsening that I lament – with increasing bitterness in my tears, but maybe I am just getting old.  Two wars, burning Korans, and a culture of fear and separation that threatens to undermine the entire constitutional republic that despite its flaws has been, in fact and in deed, a beacon of freedom, opportunity, and easygoing acceptance to the world.

Whoever you think is responsible for 9/11, it is our response to this savage but brilliant crime that has been the sadder if slower offense.

The Abbotabad raid happened while I was in the plane coming back from Japan.  In my last dinner there, the conversation was not about the old days of Ida Rolf as usual, but of a world before computers, with these young people laughing as I described the first clunky small screen Macs and switching out floppy discs every 10 seconds.  All the computers on the Apollo capsule equaled about the computing power of the iPhone – something like that.

These young practitioners find a world before computers worthy of historical, somewhat hysterical note.  Anyone from puberty on down will similarly have no memory of a sunnier, pre-9/11 world.  Thus is the world changed – one funeral at a time, one birth into a new world disorder at a time.

I am no friend of Bin Laden.  Being a strict constructionist of the Old Testament, I am against capital punishment as contrary to the sixth commandment.  It would have been a better idea to take him alive, IMO, and put him on trial in Kenya and Tanzania, where his bombs killed innocent Muslims, and then just keep putting him on trial in various countries for the rest of his natural life.  No martyrdom, no jihad, just the long, slow death of being a perpetual defendant, subjected to the rule of law for his criminal acts of killing the innocents.

And you can say he killed our innocence as well, but I hold our own national response more accountable.  We have done exactly as he wished; we could hardly have answered his call in a way more pleasing to the jihadis.  I applaud Obama for not, as he said, ‘spiking the ball’.  Time to tone down the rhetoric, accept this small globe for the unsafe place that it is, and make the world an impossible place for any new Bin Ladens to emerge – through a return to core, and I do dare say, American values.

Last night, a dinner guest asked: “What will the next generation do for work?  Manufacturing is gone, they cannot all work at Wal-Mart.”  My answer, my hope: “They will stop building weaponry and build livingry.”

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Japan: Running It Off

April 26, 2011

In the hotel gym is a treadmill whose screen counts off the calories in terms of food items – takes a while to run off a beer, but a tuna sushi is burned in no time.  A little disheartening that after more than half an hour’s run, I seem barely to have accounted for last night’s meal.

Everyday there is a bit of aftershock – today right at the end of class – always completely unannounced and unexpected, but always mild and almost pleasant in an odd way.  I don’t know how I would feel if a big one comes, but these little ones just seem like the earth giggling.

Gradually you get used to these things.  I felt confined when I first arrived, especially when it was raining, as rain brings down the radiation, but with sunshine and a fresh south wind, walking abroad is irresistible.  Tokyo, like New York or London, is endlessly variable and interesting.

A few cherry blossoms were hanging on, waiting for me as it were, but yesterday’s wind has swirled them into beguiling piles of petals on the sidewalks.  Still, at night the city seems gloomier without the lights, the red winking bulbs on the tallest building are like warnings, or blinking Buddha eyes.

Daichi is still a long-term disaster (for the entire world, not just Japan), and here the fishing industry may have taken a terminal blow, and industry is in for a rough ride for sure.  The hotel, in other years bustling with every nationality, is nearly deserted. The Japanese are resilient, efficient, and community-minded, but we see the long weave of their post-war economy fraying and coming unraveled.  None of the rest of us are far behind.

11/18 – III: The Glass Flowers

April 22, 2011

Across the Charles to Cambridge, I meet my friend Martin at the door to the Natural History Museum.  Martin’s brother Lucky, a composer and conductor, had an untimely death, and the Harvard Music Library is archiving his manuscripts and recordings, so Martin is completing a geosh (a wonderful Gaelic word for a family burden handed down that no one but you can resolve) by trucking the boxes of his brother’s work from Boulder to Boston.  He is waiting for his bold-as-brass daughter to come down from my class, where she is working handily through the process of becoming one of our graduates.

Always priestly, always real, and always keenly observant, Martin is a pleasure to be with, and I am sorry that I have only a short hour before I must drive north again.  We go upstairs to see the famous glass flowers, of course – Martin is a master gardener.  These glass flowers are amazingly real – no Chihuly undersea fantasy forms here, but flowers, leaves, stamens and seeds so accurately rendered a century ago by a couple of Russian craftsmen using simple tools on a bench.  So real that they become totally prosaic in minutes – yes, they’re glass, but they have the dusty museum look of just-gathered real plants, no artifice involved and therefore no artistic ‘lift’ either, beyond the ‘how did they achieve that?’  And anyway Martin and I are chattering away to each other sixteen to the dozen, catching up and singing our spirits to each other, close friends that we have been these twenty years.

Inside this building I suddenly remember my other visit there: As a freshman, and with all the innocence a plebe possesses, I had requested, and been granted, an interview with Ernst Mayr, the eminent evolutionist of the time.  I brought along my reel-to-reel recorder – this was 1967 or early ’68 – which the old gray man with a large chest and head looked at askance, but said nothing.  With a distance of more than forty years, I cringe at my ignorance of evolution.  My questions would be better today, but still not up to Ernst Mayr’s standard.  As it was, he must have wondered how he got stuck into this, a meandering and inept interview from an undergraduate with no point beyond a freshman anthropology paper.  When I brought up something about eugenics, the old German bristled and I was soon sent packing, but with enough for my paper for sure.

I am surprised to see that he lived until 2005 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_W._Mayr) – he seemed quite old then.  He got to comment on Dawkins and all the modern neo’s.  May I also live to pass one-hundred.  Martin too.  Misty too.  You too.

Today is – would have been – Teddy’s 95th birthday.  She was forgetting things and people.  Always a sharp observer, timekeeper, and a rememberer of facts, she hated her diminished capacities, and checked out fairly quickly after they started to fail.  My father checked out quickly after he was forced to leave his beloved home of many years for the retirement apartment.  Obviously, Mayr kept his grip.  What will make me lose my grasp on this life that I love so much?  When will my words fail me, and my ability to understand the developments in my own field? What cleavage from my sense of purpose will send me tumbling toward my death?

Japan 2: Confined to Quarters

April 22, 2011

At the end of my second day of seminars in Japan, I must say that the appreciation of people for my coming is genuine – not just the organizers, but the students.  Japan has always had earthquakes and tsunamis – they accept it as the price of living on this island nation on a patchwork of tectonic plates.  We are all helping in whatever way we can: one fellow just came back from giving bodywork to the municipal workers up north, another Alexander Teacher is wondering how to help with traumatized survivors, a third is selling T-shirts to aid the north.

In the Japan Times, an English-language newspaper stuck in my door slot each morning, I read an independent reading of the air radiation levels around Tokyo (very low), and the shocking way the nuclear plant workers are being treated – overworked, underfed.  The embattled Japanese Prime Minister went north himself yesterday and got a very uncharacteristic earful from the refugees up there, still sleeping in shelters with not much being done.  It must be a nightmare for the people trying to administer the recovery.

Toyotas have started rolling off the line, as the early reports have the Japanese economy grinding to a halt.  The ability to keep going, even this little set of seminars, is truly gratefully received.

Ironically and irrationally, I don’t feel like walking around much in the open air to see the last of the cherry blossoms hanging on.  I don’t trust governments or corporate spokesmen any farther than I can throw them, but I truly believe that if radiation levels here were bad, someone independent would have detected it.   But especially when it is raining, I stay confined to quarters, catching up on emails and using the hotel gym rather than run-walking the streets, which is what I did in earlier visits.

There is still some aftershocks, and a major one rumbled the hotel room for about 45 seconds last night.  It felt like a gentle bed massage, but weird when I realized what it was.  I’m on the 35th floor, so it’s a long way down, but these buildings are way, way over-engineered by law.

I keep taking all my nostrums to ward off evil spirits, but all is well so far.

Japan: Landing at Narita

April 20, 2011

I have been called a ‘hero’ for coming to Japan at this time, one month after the tsunami and with the Daiichi nuclear plant still out of control, by the people who have a financial interest in my coming.  I was called a ‘coward’ by the same people when I was contemplating not coming.  My wife and several others would have reversed the epithets, calling me a hero if I had stuck to my guns and stayed home, and a coward for blindly keeping my commitment when the situation had so clearly changed in a way that might damage my health, and thus my deeper commitments to them and the future.

Never has one of my gigs so divided my household or myself.  My promise to myself has been to keep my professional commitments, and last spring’s declining of a lecture in St Petersburg (because of the volcanic ash that was grounding planes all over Europe – good thing too, I would have missed my daughter’s graduation) was a rara avis indeed.

But I chose to come this time, in spite of the possibility of earthquake and irradiated air.  I pray that I may be of some help, and that this choice will be validated.  The clouds coming into Narita looks ominous, with the sun shining through them like the rays of radiation, but my brain is working overtime.

The ominous feeling continues through my sunset ride to the hotel – how much am I adding with my Edgar Allen Poe imagination?  Red sky at night is supposed to be sailor’s delight, but now it looks nacreous with glowering clouds.

My room is on the 35th floor – a long way down if the building goes – which gives me a great view of a subdued Tokyo, but this is more than my overheated perception.  Tokyo, like Paris, is a city of light, but in order to save on electricity, they have ordered extra lights and escalators turned off, so the somber nature of the crisis is reflected in the dimming of neon and company signs, so the predominant night view are the red eyes warning the planes at the tops of the higher buildings.

So it looks like a Dantean circle of hell, but it feels all normal at the hotel and on the streets – I even have seen some late-blooming cherry blossoms, but I am uninclined to eat them.

Reverb

March 29, 2011

Last year, I think I was crowing about having three springs in my travels – this year I have had none: straight from English and Maine winter straight to Australian summer and back to Norwegian and Danish winter.  Even Germany in late March is still crispy and bare.

I had unusual carry-over, perhaps because my schedule is way too thick this season. Accustomed to the cheery and irreverent Australians, I started lecturing and hectoring the stolid cold-resilient Norwegians in the manner I had been joking with the warm-resilient Ozzies.  It did not go down well.  I course-corrected by the second day, taking on the somber correctness suitable to the frigid drizzle and cobbled streets of Bergen.

Somewhere over Tahiti on the plane back from Australia I developed a minor virus that makes my nose drip.  It attacks randomly, starting with an allergic itch in my right nostril that quickly turns me on like a faucet – very annoying and embarrassing when I am teaching.

Wiping and washing constantly in the middle of a bunch of healers, I have been given various pills and nostrums, all kindly of course, but I suspect they all work at cross-purposes.  Mostly these viruses just seem to have a life, so you can abate the symptoms but not the arc – at least so I find.

Most annoying are those who are self-convinced that their method will cure you.  A gentle Scandinavian giant – white haired, moustached, a tall man’s stoop – stopped me on my way to the bathroom to do his Chi-Gung work on me, pointing his sausage fingers millimeters from my face (“Can you feel that?”) and tapping points on my wrist (“Does that feel better?”).

I will be honest with these people – “No, not particularly” – so he kept on, ever more desperately trying to prove a point.  The thing with these people is that it is not so much about making you feel better as them wanting you to share their conviction that their power can heal anything.  When I continued to drip, he simply redoubled his efforts – and my break whittled away.

Finally after minutes of this, I got so annoyed that adrenalin cleared my nose and I was honestly able to tell him it felt better and he let me go.  Lord, save me from the convinced – the fool is so sure of himself, while the wise are so uncertain.

God knows I’ve been there myself in the early days, but now I know to wait for an invitation.  Leave it to The Bard: The readiness is all.

Nuclear

March 23, 2011

In the next few days, I must choose whether I am willing to go to Tokyo to do a series of workshops.  Apart from the Fukishima reactors, I wonder whether this is not too sad a time in Japan’s history for such a venture, but my organizers assure me everything will be back to normal within a few weeks.

However, the nuclear situation is real – this morning they are talking about increased reactivity in spinach – no oshitashi for me!

I am reminded of Bucky Fuller, when asked about the then-current, pre-Chernobyl enthusiasm for nuclear power, said (and I paraphrase, not quote), “God, in His infinite wisdom, loved  power from nuclear fission so much that it happens all over the known universe.  But also in his infinite wisdom, he placed the nearest such heating plant 93 million miles (that would be about 150,000,000 km, or 9 light minutes) away from Earth, and I think we should respect that distance.”

I love Japan’s organization, and it’s efficient and caring response to this disaster.  But placing nuclear power plants over a subtending tectonic plate is of questionable judgment.  Maybe placing nuclear power plants anywhere near this planet is of questionable judgment.  When there is so much power in the wind and sea motion, do we need to use such dangerous (and absolutely unrenewable – indeed, hard to get rid of) fuel?

Sap

March 21, 2011

It’s the warm days and cold nights of late winter that power the rising of the sap in our New England maple trees.  The expansion and contraction (plus some valves in the xylem) insure a one-way flow of slightly sweet water against gravity from root to bulging bud.  The larger trees are tapped with bungs and buckets to catch the stream, and this next weekend will be the ‘sugaring-off’, where gallons of sap are carefully cooked down to jars of syrup (40:1) or even the soft and distinctive maple sugar candy (60:1).

If this season produces a one-way flow in the trees, it has a two-way effect on the humans: we head up to spring in the sunshine, and back down into winter at night. The ‘warm’ days are maybe 45F / 9C, and the pond is still covered in ice, but any sign of warmth’s enough for those of us who froze all this extra-snowy winter.

‘Spring-cleaning’ may be simply a tradition in most of America, but for us northerners it’s a physical urge that borders on necessity.  There’s too much ice and mud out here yet for a real turf-out of the garage or the blankets the cats have been sleeping on, but the warmth of the day demands that we do something different and helpful, so one of the early spring jobs is to re-stock your woodpile.

We’ve been using wood all winter long, but we’re about done – even if we get some more snow, we won’t be lighting too many more fires.  The remaining dry wood must be brought to the front, and the wet wood outside brought in to dry out for the summer to be ready for the cold again which comes much too soon, no matter how I try to extend the sailing season.

But it feels good, like it’s cleaning something up, to throw the old dusty wood around, and lug successive armfuls of heavy beech and oak from the pile steaming in the sun to stack neatly in the shed.  It’s real work, man’s work, body work after two weeks of running seminars – which is work, sure enough, but requires so much of my feminine side.  My body revels in it, aching a little as the sinews stretch, but falling gratefully into the rhythm of a repeated task.  Slowly the shed fills with neat rows  of wound-up sunshine, which will dry and then unwind in our stove next winter. Quan and I do it together, and by the time we are finished, the chain saws and old bits of wire and the rest that has been thrown wherever it’ll go over the winter is all in order.

Stuff! It accumulates around us so easily in this Western world, and with such a big place, stuff of all kinds keeps filling in our spaces and has to be sorted and recycled.  Spring-cleaning leads to garage sales.  Going to other people’s garage sales results in more stuff.

It’s still too early for all that – not even any crocuses yet, let alone daffodils.  By nighttime the air chills down, the fat old moon rises huge (full and at a rare perigee). Our ‘sap’ changes direction and pulls down and inside to light one of those fires and eat soup that’s been simmering all day.

Tomorrow we will bring food to the fox under the barn on the hill; tomorrow we will go to the river to scope out what has to be done to be ready for summer, tomorrow I will pack for the next two weeks of teaching in Europe.  But tonight we lie together watching the fire dance, spooned in the comforting fit that only comes with a long marriage.

Australia – Tale Ends

March 18, 2011

My one regret on this trip (besides not having any time to go out bush or dive the reefs) is that, between the rain and the city lights, I never saw the Southern Cross.  The moon however was new – visible at dawn as it waned over the sea in Sydney, and another fingernail as it waxed in the early evenings over the odd skyline of Melbourne.

Yes, the water spins the other way (so, more to the point, do weather systems), but this moon thing was more of a surprise.  At home, you can tell whether the crescent moon is waxing or waning by drawing a line from point to point: if it forms a ‘d’, it’s waning (decreasing); if it forms a ‘p’, it is waxing (progressing).  The opposite is true down here; as we go out tonight for the last meal, the waxing moon over the Melbourne skyline definitely forms a ‘d’.

And everyone wants a northern exposure for their house – the opposite arc of the sun through the northern sky really threw my sense of direction off.

In Melbourne we have been wandering among the Moomba Festival in the evenings – a party for not much that I could see, culminating in my final night with fireworks over the river Yarra.  But the Aussies like a party, whatever the reason.  When Moomba was established, in the late sixties, the authorities went to the Aboriginal leaders and asked, “What would be a good name that means ‘let’s get together and have a good time?”  The aboriginals answered ‘Moomba’, and thus the festival was born.  It was only later that other aboriginal scholars pointed out that ‘moom’ is vernacular for ‘butt’, and ‘ba’ means up, so the rough translation was closer to ‘Up yours, whitey.’

I am told that ‘kimosabe’ – what Tonto called the Lone Ranger all the time in the TV of my youth – actually meant ‘horse’s ass’.  I am tickled when native cultures over-run by white man’s time and the white man’s oppression get to strike back, however secretly.

The bridges over the river are thronged.  Every style represented: hot pants and high heels, tattoos and lip rings, beachwear, eveningwear, jeans and grunge, Gothic, punk, country, and even the Aussie white socks with the khaki shorts – you name it.  No European fashion sense here; anything goes.

The Australians in a crowd are not a pretty people compared to, say, the Icelandics, the Ethiopians, the Italians, or the Vietnamese. As a bunch  Of course there are pretty girls and handsome men, but there is obesity like America’s (which you almost never see in Europe) and many a bulbous nose and large ear and imbalanced walk that needs our work.  But intrepid, funny, cheerful, practical, generous, forthright, athletic, enduring, kind, and welcoming – all these traits more than make up for any coarseness, and these are the memories I will take home.

The tallest mountain in Australia – Kosciuszko – is a mere 2200 meters (7300 ft), a morning’s run for Meissner.  It is a flat country of flat vowels.  It is a country of desert plains, and the plainness is a reflection of their frontier struggle with this unforgiving land.

One such plainswoman with large expressive eyes in one of those broad faces made an extraordinary gift to me during my hip course: an adult male kangaroo pelvis.  Shy and retiring, she made little of the gift and doesn’t want to be named, but I was deeply moved, and treasured it immediately.  A grey kangaroo, an older male, probably ‘boxed’ out of his ‘mob’, dead this 20 years.  I packed the dry but ungainly shape in the middle of my suitcase, supported all around.  When I was sent down the second screening line at American customs in LAX, I thought sure I would lose it, but I put one my most hearty, “Welcome to look, nothing but dirty clothes” and even that special agent waved me through unopened.

So now, standing under the moonlight (the same moon, of course, but restored to its waxing ‘p’) with the memento mori – pelves always look like masks to me –in my hands in the utter silence outside my woodsy home.  I have been in the city, in the constant noise, questions, obligations, just noise, for two weeks now, and now I am back in my element: silence.  I drink in the silence to my plane-irradiated bones, I drink in the ‘track’ this kangaroo left via his pelvis.

This pelvis is one of those objects removed out of its element – this air is cold and damp, the geology glacial, the culture New Englandy, where this desert creature will join my other bones from all over – the skull from the Portobello Road, the cat skull from Europe, the deer bones from New Hampshire.

Bones feed on smoke, the old shaman told me – blow some smoke over your bones from time to time or they’ll steal your spirit.  So I do – burn the sweet grass, and blow smoke up its nostrils.  Seems to keep them happy.

Aussie Rules Football

March 12, 2011

Brad (shaved-head, sharp-eyed, explosive mover, running-addicted, funny as hell) was the only one among all the folks at the seminar (including all my graduate assistants) to see my exhaustion and lie me down on the table for ‘a bit of a shake out’ after all the students left.  His knowing sports-fix-it hands immediately softened, doing a bit of gentle massage, the kind that none of us long-term specialists ever do any more.  He ended by whacking me a few times on the sacrum with a sandbag hand, which had me cocking an eyebrow, but when I stood up I had to admit it was effective in resetting me down into counter-nutation.  It takes some understanding and chutzpah to work on the visiting ‘master’, and this one was grateful.

He might have been trying to wake me up for his night out: his irresistible insistence that I must see a game of Aussie Rules Football.  I went back to the hotel room to change (and was shocked by the images of the Japanese tsunami carrying boats, cars, and buildings inland in a wall of dirty water), and off we were.

I went to a Red Sox game with Misty some months ago, as I was working with their rehab team, but mostly regard spectator sports as a waste of time.  You could see the jerseys with the team colors – red and black or black and white – becoming more prevalent as we approached the stadium; clearly a bunch of rabid supporters, though I never saw or felt any of the over-the-top yobbo violence that would keep me away from a European football game.  But enthusiastic they are – 45,000 people for a pre-season game that counted for nothing.

Brad was determined that I get that full experience, so we had flat warm stadium beer in a plastic cup and a meat pie in a plastic wrap.  A baseball hot dog is bad enough, but this was no excuse for food.  That meat pie was undoubtedly the most foul thing I have eaten in years – a lardy crust enclosing a liquid meat somewhere well south of Dinty Moore or corned beef hash – I was discreetly pulling pieces of cartilage from my mouth and dropping them between the seats.  It tasted indigestible, and I rather hope it isn’t, as I don’t want any of it to become part of my body.  Geoff’s wife, up from Sydney, looked at it dubiously and said “Crikey, coming to Melbourne, I was expecting a splash of red wine and some good Italian” – Accordo!

There were more bathrooms than anything behind the bleachers, insuring a steady flow of processed beer into the sewers of Melbourne.  Honestly, I said as I availed myself, what is the point?  Above us, seagulls wheeled around the top of the open state-of-the-art stadium, picking off the thousands of bugs that milled around the night lights.

The game itself, however, was great – no use trying to explain it, I barely understood myself – but it is played on a huge oval field nearly twice as long and much wider than an American football field.  We had great seats, but no matter where you sat, it was hard to see what was happening when play was at the other end of the field, but exciting as hell when it was right under you.

The ball is somewhat oblong, and there are uprights at each end, but here all similarity with American football ends.  The players are dressed as if for soccer, no pansy padding.  The refs (they need four, and they run, I am told, between 15-20 km / game) wham the ball down on the centerpoint of the oval, and like a basketball toss-up, the teams vie for possession from the bounce.

There are no touchdowns (we derive that from rugby); the goal is to kick the ball through the uprights.  No downs, no yard markers, just ongoing chaos.  Brad, whose family has played the game for four generations, was feeding me expert commentary when he wasn’t yelling himself hoarse. No point in trying to explain the game when I don’t understand it myself.

But if you get tackled, you actually lose the ball to the other team, so there is constant passing and kicking with no offsides, and the only time the game stops even for a second is when someone catches a kick of more than 15 meters, in which case he gets to kick it again unimpeded.  If someone gets a goal, the ump does a bounce up in the middle of the field again, and off it goes at full speed.

‘Our’ side was a green team, lots of first-year players, whereas the other side was highly-experienced premiership material.  The creamed us in the first half, but in the third quarter Essenden made a comeback, getting to within a few points of parity.  The crowd was on its feet for our boys, but in the last quarter, the more experienced team reasserted itself, and the final score was 102-79.  Lot of goals, plenty of action, great game.  Superb athletes, playing a rough but clean game with no protection, I really got into it and am hoarse myself this morning.