Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Here iss a hot, stimmy gritting from Yoshua Treeshua.

Why doan you open it?

No! ¿Why doan CHEW?!


Illustration by Matt Williams, dba überkraaft.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

the theocrat

Writing in this week's New Yorker, Ryan Lizza tells how Michele and Marcus Bachmann while still in college fell under the influence of Christian dominionist author and film-maker Francis Schaeffer, who produced a film series, "How Shall We Then Live?"

Schaeffer died in 1984, but one of his disciples, Nancy Pearcy, carried on his work.

When, in 2005, the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked Bachmann what books she had read recently, she mentioned two: Ann Coulter’s “Treason,” a jeremiad that accuses liberals of lacking patriotism, and Pearcey’s “Total Truth,” which Bachmann told me was a “wonderful” book.

(Read more.)

Ryan Lizza also reports that in a recent Iowa speech, Bachmann asked the audience if they were familiar wth "How Then Should We Live?" and when greeted with applause, said:

That also was another profound influence on Marcus’s life and my life, because we understood that the God of the Bible isn’t just about Bible stories and about Bible knowledge, or about just church on Sunday. He is the Lord of all of life. Every bit of life, including sociology, theology, biology, politics. You name the area and walk of life. He is the Lord of life. And so, as we went back to our studies, we looked at studying in a completely different light. Not for the purpose of a career but for a purpose of wondering, How does this fit into creation? How does this fit into the code and all of life that is about to come in front of us? And so we had new eyes that were opened up as we understood life now from a Biblical world view.

Sounds like theocracy to me.


Saturday, August 06, 2011

the sun's light

What follows is an edited version of a post which first appeared here on February 13, 2009.

The wise man Patanjali, the apocryphal transmitter of early yoga tradition, spoke of a "seer," or that part of us which sees, and taught that the right kind of mental discipline would establish (or reveal) this seer "in our own true nature." The discipline, according to the teaching, will enable a person "to see clearly."

The ancient Indian texts called the Upanishads identify this seer as Atman, also called the self, "hidden in every object of creation," being "the very Self which descends down...through self-projection and participates." According to this view, then, the center of the human being (or any other living thing) is the supreme being itself, incorporating itself into, the individual.

This sounds very much like the "collective unconscious" theory of Dr. Jung, who wrote that "A more or less superficial layer of the unconscious (i.e., subconscious mind) is undoubtedly personal. I call it the 'personal unconscious.' But this personal layer rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience and is not a personal acquisition but is inborn. This deeper layer I call the 'collective unconscious.' I have chosen the term 'collective' because this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal..." (S.V. Wikiquote: Carl Jung, en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Jung)

Not everyone agrees. Prince Gautama, who became the Buddha, did not believe in a Self separate from the individual, and taught that "Self is but a heap of composite qualities." He believed that what some call the Self or Seer is a bundle of loose ends, and simply another component of the individual.

But for our purposes, defining this part of our brain we see with as God or not-God is not important. What's at issue is the possibility of seeing "clearly," which both Patanjali and the Buddha agree is only possible by overcoming our social conditioning. William Blake expressed this same idea when he wrote that "The sun's light, when he unfolds it / Depends on the organ that beholds it."

This is all very deep stuff, and confusing to one not used to thinking in terms which can only seem abstract until experience has made them concrete. I find myself referring to something I heard my grand-teacher say about the G-word (God) when he expressed his preference for simply lumping all notions of Atman, Self, God, etc. under the phrase "that which never changes." What he's saying is that our attention, as distinct from that upon which the attention is directed, never changes.

The analogy I use to illustrate this principle is a goldfish bowl, which holds fish, water, plants, pebbles, and dirt. The contents of the bowl are the objects of attention, and the bowl is the attention itself. If your mind perceives goldfish in the bowl, you're perceiving accurately. If you see piranhas, you're misperceiving, and if you see miniature sea monsters, you're imagining. If you see not the goldfish swimming in the bowl but the ones who used to swim there and are now departed, you're remembering. And if you see nothing, you're asleep.

But if you empty the bowl and wipe it clean, and allow it to remain empty, avoiding both the temptation and the tendency to fill it with this or that, then there will be nothing to occupy the attention but the attention itself, which unlike its constantly-changing contents, never changes. It's always transparent and reflects accurately, like a clean mirror.

Since beginning a yoga practice I've attempted with limited success to empty my mind's attention of its contents. Changes in the mind have occurred, and I sometimes see things in my mind's eye that I don't understand. Also, life, and even the most mundane daily events, sometimes seem extremely strange and unfamiliar. I'm sure this is some sort of manifestation of the practice. I guess there's nothing to do but go on with it.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Lion Sleeps

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight," recorded by the doo-wop group The Tokens in 1961, shot to number one on the pop charts immediately on its release. Part of the song's appeal was its uniqueness, and it certainly sounded completely different from any other American pop music of that or any other time.

Very few people were aware that the Tokens' hit was a cover, and that earlier versions had been done by the Kingston Trio, in 1959, and Pete Seeger's folk revival group The Weavers, in 1952. The Weavers' version had actually gone all the way to number six on the Billboard Top 100, but pop music fans tend to have short memories.

Virtually nobody was aware of the song's South African origins, even when, in 1994, it gained renewed popularity after Ladysmith Black Mambazo recorded it for Disney's animated feature "The Lion King," using its original title, "Mbube." The success of this latter-day version, which was incorporated in a live Broadway musical and a TV series, generated millions of dollars in revenue for Disney and a lawsuit by the dirt-poor descendents of the song's author, Solomon Linda, and the back story of "The Lion Sleeps" finally began to circulate.

Linda, at far left in the photo above, was born in 1909 in South Africa and wrote "Mbube" in the '20's. He was working as a cleaner and record packer for the Gallo Record Company in Roodepoort, South Africa in 1939 when he got the opportunity to record the tune with his vocal group, The Evening Birds. It was a hit in South Africa, selling over 100,000 copies, but Solomon Linda was paid only a small recording fee and sold the rights to the song to Gallo for a pittance. He enjoyed regional success as a singer and songwriter for some years thereafter, but died impoverished in 1962.

In about 1950 the American musicologist Alan Lomax discovered the recording and shared it with his friend Pete Seeger, whose subsequent concert and recorded versions were titled "Wimoweh," a mishearing of the song's Zulu refrain "Uyimbube" (You are a lion).

I became aware of the song's origins in the early 90's when I heard it on the CD "The Secret Museum of Mankind: Ethnic Music Classics; Vol. 4, 1925-48" on the Yazoo label. No American version that I'm aware of conveys the powerful and extremely African essence of the original, in which Linda used three bass singers in his back-up chorus.

If you want to learn more, see the excellent Wikipedia articles "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "Solomon Linda."


Saturday, July 23, 2011

china is kicking our butts

China tested their new Beijing to Shanghai bullet train last month. They're griping about how much it cost them, but people everywhere and at all times gripe about the cost of things.

We could be building trains like this in this country, and there was a time not so long ago when we would have. Building infrastructure that looks to the future is an investment. One inter-city train project would put thousands of people to work.

Anyway, that's what the Chinese are doing. But we're too busy debating whether or not we should fail, and become a deadbeat to even recognize that there is something called the future.

The train is powered by electricity, and its 5 hour run to Shanghai takes about half as long as a conventional train.

I took a train from Portland to Seattle a few days ago, and it was great! Unlike flying, taking the train is actually fun.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

clock with sphinx, cards, miscellaneous

The mantel clock was manufactured in New York City by the Ansonia Clock Company, probably between 1879 and 1920. It was the kind of mass-produced "luxury" item available in the popular mail-order catalogs of the day, such as those distributed by Sears and Roebuck and the St. Louis Hardware Company.

It's a study in contrasts: the extraordinary late-Victorian ugliness of the clock body seems not to belong to the beautiful cast-iron figure of Calliope, the muse of epic poetry with her wax tablet and stylus.

The face of double-headed iron sphinx looks remarkably like that of a Czech gangster I knew in my youth, a hoodlum named Dennis. It was most likely the ornamental top piece for a now-departed large clock.

The Victorian composition is completed by the inclusion of "fortune-telling cards," popular at the time.

Photo and images on cards created by Dave b and © 2011 by Daveb, Horney, and Smeavey Productions.

Click for bigger.


Saturday, July 09, 2011


I always thought I didn't like rap at all, and I can still do without most of it. All the posing and gratuitous cussing are, well, adolescent bullshit, if you really wanna know.

I always thought it was mostly just the sound of it I didn't like, but either I was wrong or tastes change.

First I rediscovered the politico-socio-psychological work of Oaktown Mike Franti and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.

And then, quite by accident, I stumbled across the Polish rapper Dongularesko and his sidekick Dj Kostek doing "5 Chinek."

What's a chinek? Is it currency? I have no idea what this guy is rapping in Polish about except when he says 'Bam bam bam," but I love the sound. It's that synth-loop melody that drives it, I think, a combination of Middle East and old-time carnival carousel.



Saturday, July 02, 2011

What it Is

A Very Short History of the US since the Turn of the Century

What it is, cats and kitties? The prelude to the new century, the pro-log as it were, was good old Bill and the good times. We knew it was too good to last. Besides everybody workin and makin money, there was the stuff that was just good plain fun, you know, spunk on a blue dress and all that really hilarious "We gotcha, you pervert!" shit that made everybody's Aunt Anna gasp and clutch at her pearls.

But then it was 2000, and Bill's curtain call where he said "Bye, y'all. I gotta go now. Last one to leave, turn out the lights."

Then came darkness followed by a hangover, then came Bush. And his merry band of mentally deranged palsied harlequin mummers, such as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul "Smellysox" Wolfowitz.

Under Bush, everything became dreadful. It was still a great country to live in, but only if you were the "right" kind of person.

So we spent the greater part of the first 10 years of the new century in a kind of mental and spiritual gulag, relieved only by occasional outbursts of catastrophe, such as first, 9/11, then the war(s), and finally the bubble bust and collapse. But now, something rather odd has happened.

So along comes (ta da) Mr. Wonderful, that nice young black guy who didn't even sound or act anything like Bill O'Reilly's stereotype of how a nice young black guy is supposed to sound or act. And he was all like, "Hopey," and "Changey," so a lot of people said, "Hey, why not? Things might get a little better, and I sure as hell don't see how they could get worse," so went to bed and to sleep.

Then we woke up to a new day, same old shit. End of story.

And the moral of the story is: Bad situations get worse when they remain the same because they start to look like forever.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

bouquet & brickbat

If I knew her name and address I would send a bouquet to the property owner who hired Seattle muralist David Heck to decorate the oft-graffiti'd blank wall of this vacant building she owns at 105th and Aurora, on the border between my neighborhood and those to the east.

Her thinking is that even spray-paint vandals and would-be street artists will respect competent artistry enough to bypass this location, and she's probably about 90 percent right.

The mural, still a work in progress, takes us on a nostalgic drive down old Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue) as it was during the golden age of our car-centric society, when the automobile was an object of veneration and symbol of liberation rather than an odious impediment to progress, as it is more accurately viewed today. Heck included some still-existing landmarks such as the elephant, eye-catching enough to have survived over a storefront through many changes in ownership and function, and the Klose-Inn Motel, which still offers rooms although it has seen better days.

Most of what you see here, however, is long gone; the beloved Twin Teepees Restaurant is just a memory, the Chubby and Tubby hardware store is a now a used furniture, junk mart, and eyesore called "Stupid Prices," and Playland, the amusement park which stood on the shore of Bitter Lake, was demolished many years ago.

I have mixed feelings about celebrating the advent of something as incredibly destructive of the natural environment, the urban landscape, and social relationships as the car has proved to be, but I suppose it's best viewed as a celebration of innocence. Forty years ago we sat in our gas guzzlers gulping down burgers and fries without the slightest apprehension of what we were doing to ourselves or others. In those days, the answer to too many cars was seen as more of the same -- more and bigger roads, and everybody believed the tremendous traffic jams along Aurora/99 would be solved by building Interstate 5 through town. They were right in a way; Aurora is now a pleasant if somewhat scenically ugly drive most of the time, while I-5 is the largest parking lot in the state.

If I knew the name and address of the owner of this blight on the neighborhood at 107th and Greenwood, I would throw a brickbat at his car, which I strongly suspect is a Cadillac Escalade. I don't know how long this pestiferous blot has stood in its present condition; it was abandoned and trashed when I moved here over a year and a half ago. Why the city has failed to condemn and seize this property as a public hazard and eyesore is beyond me. The "For Sale" sign is still on it, along with a public notice that hearings to assess the environmental impact of erecting a four-storey apartment complex with shops on the ground floor have recently concluded. So there's hope, but the wheels of civic improvement grind extraordinarily slowly.

And it's the automobile (again) that's responsible for this affront to the community festering for years. People driving by it at 40-plus miles an hour don't notice it enough to care. How long do you think such an insult to civic pride would be allowed to stand if all those drivers had to walk past it every day?

Photos by Catboxer. Click on them for larger views; click a second time for even greater embiggening.


Monday, June 20, 2011


June 20, 2011

Dear AARP:

I've been an AARP member for 17 years, but am now resigning from the organization effective immediately.

This was not an easy decision, but considering the AARP's recent announcement that its leadership is now considering cooperating with bipartisan (but chiefly Republican) plans to reduce Social Security benefits to future recipients by raising the full retirement age, I feel I have no choice.

In the wake of the June 17 Wall Street Journal story which announced the AARP's change of position, a spokeswoman for the organization declared that "our position has not changed," when it clearly had. All subsequent AARP pronouncements on this matter have been vague and nebulous, rather than expressed in the language of what was once a vigorous and committed advocacy group for older Americans.

It seems to me that AARP should now be signaling total opposition to this bipartisan sellout, agitating for a restoration of the full retirement age to 65, and turning up the heat on Congress to pass a much-needed cost-of-living increase for 2011, one which would be retroactive to include 2010.

Paying lip service to politicians' attempts to short-change and eventually gut the most successful social program in the country's history indicates the AARP's new willingness to play along with the economic falsehoods we're subjected to daily, courtesy of the corporate-owned mass media. It gives credence to the notion that the need to reduce the debt is the country's most pressing problem (it's not; mass unemployment is), that "austerity" is the way out of recession (it isn't; spending on jobs is), and most ludicrous of all, that Social Security is in trouble, when even an oligarch like Alan Simpson will admit under pressure that the trouble is 26 years away.

For the last 30 years, our bribed-and-paid-for political establishment has been vigorously engaged in attempting to funnel all this country's wealth from the working classes upward, into the hands and pockets of a corporate plutocracy in whose service they labor, and with great success if the income distribution numbers are to be believed. Any advocacy organization for older and retired, working-class Americans must take a clear and uncompromising stand against this trend and its proponents. Searching for "common ground" with fat cats and Republican ideologues sends exactly the wrong message.

We had a saying back in the sixties: You're either part of the problem or part of the solution. The AARP's leadership urgently needs to do some deep soul searching.

David T Brice
Former Member #--- --- --- -

cc: Editor, Seattle Times

Photo: President Roosevelt signs Social Security into law in August of 1935.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

high water everywhere

Lord, the whole round country,
Lord, river has overflowed;
Lord, the whole round country,
man, is overflowed;

(You know I can't stay here,
I'll go where it's high, boy)

I would go to the hilly country,
but, they got me barred.

--Charlie Patton
High Water Everywhere, Part I

Charlie was singing about the great flood of '27, and probably never imagined there could be a worse one, like the flood of 2011.

One of the differences is the historically record-setting high level of the Missouri River as well as the Mississippi. Another is that the flood of 1927 drew massive newspaper and radio coverage, while today's disaster has so far been covered minimally, if it all.

This begs the bigger question of why the most significant and worthy stories are frequently buried by the corporate media, which instead of reporting them emphasizes shiny objects with personal-interest value, such as Tony Weiner's Excellent Adventure. Jim Kunstler says the national media is being held hostage by Little Caylee.

The biggest story of all is the national media itself, now owned and tightly controlled by the same corporatist influences which have total control over everything that happens in "the village" (Washington, D.C.). So even though the Times ran a story about the Missouri River flood, it was buried in the Greenwire blog of the Business Section, nowhere near page one. And it's not a very good story because it concentrates mainly on the Corps of Engineers response to the flood and politicians' criticisms of the
Corps, rather than the magnitude and significance of the disaster itself.

There's probably some decent reporting on it in the localities where the disaster is occurring (I'll check some of those out today) as well as unofficial places such as blogs and Facebook pages maintained by residents in the affected areas. I've seen some pictures from local sources, and they're scary as hell.

The corporate media is making every effort to downplay and suppress news of the Great Flood of 2011, since reporting it would clearly inform people that global warming is now a life-and-death situation for us, and broadcasting the news would cause unrest. People would start to put two and two together and recognize the situation we're in, and maybe begin to wish they had the terrorists back again as their main worry. Better they should be distracted by Tony's weiner, Kim's wedding, and the trial of Little Caylee's mom.

The Missouri River at Omaha. AP/Sioux City Journal photo by Jim Lee.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

the monolith

Here is the monolith, the beating heart of our contemporary civilization, if we can call it that.

All the organs of government and order but one are housed here. The two top floors are occupied by the Ministry of Truth (Minitru), and are where the templates from which the contents of all mass media -- television, movies, print, and cyberspace -- are hammered out then disseminated. These templates are the raw material of what is commonly called "the Matrix."

The two middle floors include all the operations of the Ministry of Plenty (Miniplenty), and encompass departments as diverse as the Full Employment Wing and the Abundant Retirement Administration.

The ground floor and basements are taken up by the Ministry of Love (Miniluv), where you will find the notorious Room 101 in the deepest sub-basement, hidden away from the eyes of the world due to the overwhelming amount of love constantly dispensed there.

The blank facade of the monolith has shoved aside and rendered obsolete the human face of the old paternalistic social order, with its feudal hierarchies and quaint, polytheistic Christianity, replacing them with the uncompromising monotheism of total devotion to Moloch, whose name is Profit.

Only one ministry, Minipax, is housed outside the monolith, in its own five-sided building. So vast is the domain of Minipax that it constitutes almost a separate nation on its own, for there is much peace to dispense, both domestically and throughout the world. The foundation and global reach of this colossal and remarkable institution will be the topic of another essay.


Saturday, June 04, 2011

defending your rights

The fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens the right "to be secure in their persons, papers, and houses." Unfortunately, it doesn't confer a right for us to be secure in our electronic transmissions, since those things didn't exist at the time the Bill of Rights was embedded in our law.

"What does it mean" asks the social agitator and journalist Naomi Wolf, "to live in a society in which surveillance is omnipresent?"

It means, she continues, A concerted effort is underway in the US – and in the United Kingdom – to “brand” surveillance as positive. New York City subway passengers are now advised that they might experience random searches of their bags. Activists in America are now accustomed to assuming that their emails are being read and their phone calls monitored. Indeed, the telecom companies Verizon and AT&T have established areas on their premises for eavesdropping activity by the National Security Agency.

The paranoia of a government which conducts blanket surveillance of its citizens is obvious, and it's the reason why a pacifist/anarchist like Scott Crow of Austin, Texas ends up on the FBI's "domestic terrorism" watch list.

Besides monitoring all his phone calls and e-mails, government agencies closely watch Crow's house for any potential acts of terrorism that may be committed by his housemate, his pair of backyard goats, his flock of chickens, his turkey or his vegetables, or possibly enacted through some nefarious use of the solar panels on his roof.

In an article in the May 23, 2011 New Yorker, the award-winning political journalist Jane Mayer details the emergence of a vast new security bureaucracy, in which at least two and a half million people hold confidential, secret, or top-secret clearances; huge expenditures on electronic monitoring, along with a reinterpretation of the law in order to sanction it; and corporate partnerships with the government that have transformed the counterterrorism industry into a powerful lobbying force.

Considering the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, it becomes obvious that the Bill of Rights notwithstanding, the only rights we truly possess are those we're capable of defending.

With this in mind, I've recently cut back my presence on the internet by about 75 percent. I post here once a week and check my e-mails, but I no longer visit Facebook or post on the discussion boards at BeliefNet, since those places, besides being subject to government snooping, are under constant surveillance by armies of advertisers, con men, and scheissters.

At a time like the present, I would encourage fellow-citizens to reconsider the virtues of the United States Postal Service, which is also subject to surveillance, but of a much less comprehensive type due to physical limitations, and to re-visit the habit of letter writing. Also, printed newspapers, published anonymously, may enjoy a renaissance in the near future, since they would provide a much more secure medium for spreading revolutionary information and sentiment than blogs.

One thing is certain: we have a right to privacy, and cannot possibly continue living under the tyranny of a surveillance state, since its existence is incompatible with a free society.


Friday, May 27, 2011

us & them

I really hate and despise them with an undying passion.

They stole our _______!

At the Battle of _______ in the _______ Century, they used unfair tactics to defeat us. We can't rest until we get revenge, by fighting fairly, of course.

Their religion is absurd and offensive. Did you know they actually believe __________? And they won't be happy until EVERYBODY believes it!

It's not "politically correct" to say so, but science has proven them to be _______. And they smell weird.

They live like animals. Children, education, and the future don't mean anything to them because they live only for __________.

Their music is crude and primitive, and encourages people to _______.

Can you believe they eat _______? Think about that — they actually put _______ in their mouths.

They want to have sexual intercourse with our women.

There are so many of them because all they do is _______! If we're not careful we'll be submerged beneath a flood of ________!

If there's anything worse than a _________, it's a _________-lover. Those who sympathize with them are, knowingly or unknowingly, helping them, and are on THEIR side.

Yes, there are a few good _________s. But better safe than sorry.

Okay, so, we killed ________ of them. but it was in self-defense. Violence is the only language they understand.

We may seem prejudiced, but only because the media is obviously pro-_______.

They're the reason we're so unhappy. If it wasn't for them, we might be have the time and inclination to confront and deal with our own character defects. And I have no idea what you mean by "projection."

This is a re-working of something I found while randomly surfing the net some time ago. I'd credit the source, but I can't recall where I got it.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

body & soul

Ken Wiley, the host of our excellent weekly jazz history program on KPLU Public Radio ("The Art of Jazz," Sundays from 3 - 6 p.m.), calls this exercise "chasing a song."

"Body and Soul" was an immediate hit from its first appearance over America's radio airwaves in 1930. The melody by Johnny Green, spooky and ominous with its prominent minor chords, and the lyrics by a committee (Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton) are an over-the-top lament of a crushed heart, dousing listeners in a bath of bathos. Then as now, America loved a sentimental tear-jerker.

When played well the song is affecting, however, mainly because of its inventive and unusual melody. Its popularity insured that it would be covered by top vocalists and jazz artists, and it was recognized as a standard by 1950. The many versions of this classic give us an opportunity to "chase" it at length, and to compare and contrast the styles and approaches of many famous singers and instrumentalists.

One of the earliest recorded versions (1930), by the gorgeous and talented Ruth Etting, gives us the full vocal treatment of the piece, and includes the only appearance of the song's lyrical introduction I've ever heard.

The month after Etting's record, Okeh released Louis Armstrong's orchestrated rendition, which combines vocal and instrumental virtuosity in one of Satch's greatest sides. Of particular note is Armstrong's beautiful muted trumpet improvisation over the melody, laid down by the sax section, with which the song opens.

Django Reinhardt's version, recorded in France in the mid-30's, is strictly instrumental, and features the legendary guitarist playing what is undoubtedly one of his greatest solos ever, accompanied by his long-time partner, the great Stephan Grappelly. This song is one of the reasons Reinhardt's reputation continues to grow year by year, right down to the present.

One of the most famous recordings of the song was made by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins for the Bluebird label in 1939. Fronting an orchestra as Armstrong did, Hawkins uses the same approach as Reinhardt's, dispensing with the lyrics and improvising freely on the melody, but always with close attention to the song's chord structure. Hawkins's version was a big hit, unusual for a modernistic improvised jazz solo, and has remained immensely popular with jazz musicians over the decades. It was enshrined by its inclusion in the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry in 2004.

There are numerous other well-regarded versions of "Body and Soul" as well, most notably one by Ella Fitzgerald recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957, but I'll leave it to the reader to track them down and continue chasing this tune, as each is so inclined.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

low crimes

Since today's post deals with socio-politico matters, you'll find it at Catboxx under the title JAUCA.

These are momentous times we're living in, and the gravity of what goes on in the world today is discernible in both the large and the small acts of the principle players.


Monday, May 16, 2011


My friend Rich is an inspiration. His name is also descriptive, and though not wealthy he leads a rich life, working, tinkering (his most recent project is a restored Model-A), socializing, and mostly spending a lot of time with his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Depression, idleness, and moping are not in his nature.

His medical history has been a rough road full of potholes. Ten years ago he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had the diseased organ surgically removed in a standard procedure which, though common, is a terrifying bloodbath. Today he's cancer-free, but after the operation began showing symptoms of both diabetes and Parkinson's Disease, and today lives with both.

A few months ago he read in a magazine about a contraption that "fools the brain" of Parkinson's sufferers, and can cause the tremors associated with the disease to temporarily stop. Being the practical, hands-on kind of guy he is, Rich built one using just the description in the article to guide him.

Piece of cake.

He brought it into our morning yoga class today so we could try it out, a simple three-sided box, open at both ends, with a mirror mounted on one side. "Stick your right hand inside the box" he says to me. "Now lay your left hand on the table and look at it in the mirror."

I did, and my trembling right hand went slack inside the box. The muscles of the right forearm began to relax and in a few seconds were completely at rest. Apparently what happens is the brain "sees" the mirror image of the left hand as the right while the "real" right hand is invisible. Because the eyes and brain perceive the illusory hand at rest rather than shaking, the brain responds by making manifest what it sees as reality. There are some profound philosophical insights in that last clause.

"We are what we think." So opens the Dhammapada, purported to be the actual sayings of Gotama, the Buddha. "All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world."

An interesting detail of this little experiment is that the box can only short-circuit the brain if it is to one side or the other of the person using it. The mirror trick works because the thumb in the mirror image of the left hand appears to be pointing left when the palm is down, while the thumb on the "real," invisible right hand is pointing left. Also, the fingers appear in reverse order. If the mirror is in front of you, the mirror image doesn't reverse; the left hand is still on the left, with its thumb pointing toward the right.

The human brain is an inconceivably complex and mysterious organ, and the human mind a strange and frightening place. We should never go there alone.

Pencil drawing by M.C. Escher; German, 1930's.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

love and death

Impotence -- the kind originating in physical rather than psychological causes -- is one of the earliest harbingers of death, and generally precedes the final dissolution of a human male into his constituent elements by about 20 years. Since organisms don't require sexual potency to survive, it's one of the first functions cast aside by a dying body.

The physical consequences of impotence, other than the absence of an ability to participate in an act that's usually enjoyable, are negigible, but the psychological consequences are enormous. Only after he has become impotent does the aging male realize how much of his human identity is tied up in and inseparable from his sexuality.

Lately, I've begun to wonder why humans have evolved sexually precisely in the manner that we have. Most species of mammals are ready to mate for a few days every six months or so, but well-adjusted humans in their prime are ready to boogie 24/7. Also, most mammals don't have prominently visible genitals; females have vulvas which only swell to easy visibility (and access) when they're in season, and the males of most species demurely conceal their penises in sheaths most of the time. But human genitals, especially the male's, are quite prominent, and, when the desires supplied by nature have evaporated, unattractive. The genitals of a naked man look like something the designer added on as an afterthought, are disharmonious with the rest of the body's structure, and seem not to belong.

Or maybe my criticism of the creator is just sour grapes of the "life sucks" variety, who knows?


Friday, May 13, 2011

fearful places

A couple days ago I fell into a conversation about the growth of ethnic studies programs in high school and college curricula, and found most of the people participating motivated mainly by fear and anger. They seemed threatened by the existence of these courses, and zeroed in on boogeymen -- mainly Ward Churchill -- associated with them, although I don't know why they feel this way.

The history of race and ethnic relations in the U.S. is, like any other history, based on documents: letters, diaries, wills and other legal records, books written by the people under study, phonograph records, movies, etc. There may be lies in the documents, but the documents themselves never lie (unless they've been altered -- a whole other topic).

A case in point is the 1929 motion picture "On With the Show," billed as the first all-talking musical review in color (although all color prints have been unfortunately lost). The film itself is mediocre, a variety show whose acts are held together by a flimsy and unnecessary plot, but one scene in it might provide a trove of potential topics for an ethnic history class.

I don't think I've posted this link before -- Ethel Waters singing "Am I Blue" in the above-cited film. In addition to her inspired chirping, the specifics of the director's presentation of this dignified African-American songbird are most interesting. However, as always, I'll leave it to the students to draw conclusions, or not as the case may be, and limit myself to retrieving and presenting the documents.

Note: I would have posted this sooner, but Blogger was down for about 24 hours. That's OK, though, since unlike in the old days, time doesn't mean that much to me.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

the old victrola

I think I need to look for a bigger place so I can have enough room for a victrola. It's not just lack of space that's kept me from getting a hand-crank phonograph, but also the knowledge that as soon as I get one I'll start haunting the record bins at the Salvation Army and antique stores looking for records.

There's a lot of stuff out there that you can only get on old 78's, and there's no other kind. They don't make 'em any more.

The treasures are rare, but are worth the hunt, and pop up in the most surprising places. Listen, for example, to this German-label gem from the twenties, The Peanut Vendor (Der Erdnußverkäufer), played by John Brigs und sein Jazzensemble, and flawless in its straightforward, simple love of beauty. I wonder how many known copies of this baby there are.


Sunday, May 08, 2011


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
--Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

Playing himself in his 2007 novel Diary of a Bad Year, J.M. Coetzee wrote: "I have no desire to associate myself with the people behind the Intelligent Design movement. Nevertheless, I continue to find evolution by random mutation and natural selection not just unconvincing but preposterous as an account of how complex organisms come into being. As long as there is not one of us who has the faintest idea of how to go about constructing a housefly from scratch, how can we disparage as intellectually naïve the conclusion that the housefly was put together by an intelligence of a higher order than our own?...

"It does not seem to me philosophically retrograde to attribute intelligence to the universe as a whole, rather than just a subset of mammals on planet Earth. An intelligent universe evolves purposively over time, even if the purpose in question may for ever be beyond the range of our idea of what might constitute a purpose.

"Insofar as one might want to go further and distinguish a universal intelligence from the universe as a whole -- a step I see no reason to take -- one might want to give that intelligence the handy monosyllabic name God. But even if one were to take that step, one would still be very far from positing -- and embracing -- a God who demanded to be believed in, a God who had any interest in our thoughts about it ("him"), or a God who rewarded good deeds and punished evildoers.

"People who claim that behind every feature of every organism lies a history of random selection from mutation should try to answer the following question: Why is it that the intellectual apparatus that has evolved for human beings seem to be incapable of comprehending in any degree of detail its own complexity?...I cannot see what evolutionary advantage this combination gives us -- the combination of insufficiency of intellectual grasp together with the consciousness that the grasp is insufficient."

Noam Chomsky explored a related topic in the introductory paragraphs of his 2003 political study, Hegemony or Survival? Referring to the work of contemporary biologist Ernst Mayr, Chomsky wrote that "Mayr estimated the number of species since the origin of life at about fifty billion, only one of which 'achieved the kind of intelligence needed to establish a civilization.' It did so recently, perhaps 100,000 years ago...

"Mayr speculated that the human form of intellectual organization may not be favored by selection...beetles and bacteria, for example, are vastly more successful than humans in terms of survival.

"We are entering a period of human history that may provide an answer to the question of whether it is better to be smart than stupid. The most hopeful prospect is that the question will not be answered: if it receives a definite answer, that answer can only be that humans were a kind of "biological error," using their allotted 100,000 years to destroy themselves and, in the process, much else."

Happy Mothers' Day!


Friday, May 06, 2011

tweet counter tweet

May 5, 2011 -- 8:06PM, JohnQ wrote:

"Some have given former Pres Bush a lot of credit for the demise of UBL/OBL. Some have given him little to no credit.

Is he receiving enough credit or too much credit?"

A day later catboxer replied:

In my opinion, he's getting precisely the right amount.

Another chelloveck quoted a pretty good item from some bircher wrag which read:

Conservative economists, commentators, and politicians are blasting a draft Obama administration plan that envisions using Big Brother-like tracking devices on private cars to tax drivers on how many miles they travel.

The new tax scheme, designed to help fund transportation spending, would determine your mileage by installing electronic equipment on your car. This would involve monitoring your location and how far you’ve traveled.

And the inevitable reply:

What I'd like to know is why they're going through all this song and dance with tracking devices and electronic monitoring and whatnot, when they could achieve the exact same results by just raising the gas tax.

Plus if they did that they wouldn't have the expense of setting up this whole hypercomplex mileage gestapo. It would yield enough revenue to build trains with, and gas would be more expensive so people would drive less.

Well I could drive my kar or hop on a bus,

But if I catch the train I know I'll get there, and I must

Get to Sequim, West Kansas, Sequim, West Kansas here I come

They got some paranoid-critical women there, etc.

OK one more.

May 6, 2011 -- 12:05PM, KindredSai wrote:

I'm all for the US and UK ploughing money into Pakistan in terms of health services and education because it will reduce extremism.

And then the inevitable platitude issues from the catboxx (but it's a true one which makes it OK):

Now you're talkin.

Kind of like the old slogan "Make love, not war" in action. Works better than dropping cluster bombs on em and costs less too.

See that, Bob? We had er right the first time.

Painting by Salvador Dali: The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011


I was wondering in an idle moment, of which I have an abundance, what the total effect of substituting beans for meat would be. I don't mean just for me, but for everybody everywhere, all the time.

Vegetarians frequently cite their desire to be kind to animals by not eating them as the primary motive for their dietary restrictions. But there's a more practical reason to eliminate meat, or, at the very least, pork and beef, from the menu. The Scientific American reports that "according to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), our diets and, specifically, the meat in them cause more greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, and the like to spew into the atmosphere than either transportation or industry." What we're looking at is warming due to deforestation to open up grazing land and the heat produced by fecal contamination, not to mention the price paid in transporting millions of animals and industrially processing them into meat.

The world's billions of cattle also belch and fart constantly and prodigiously, releasing enormous amounts of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So the price of that hamburger is higher than you thought.

But wait! There's more! There's also cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Now how much would you pay? By substituting pinto beans for steak at dinner time, you'll eliminate an unhealthful dose of cholesterol from your diet and simultaneously add a significant helping of fiber. Some researchers, such as Mark Brick of Colorado State University, actually suspect that certain varieties of beans might contain ingredients that actually help prevent cancer and diabetes.

This becomes a political issue when you think about the possible savings in our enormous annual expenditure on medical care, which most experts agree is the single most critical element driving the ballooning national deficit.

Considering all this, here's tonight's menu. For one person, steam 1/2 a cup of brown rice. In another pot, boil 1/2 a cup of washed pinto beans. The rice takes about half an hour, the beans two hours. During the last 20 minutes of cooking, add six to eight ounces of fresh organic spinach to the beans. Then as you're eating it, consider all the implications of such a diet if 95 percent of the people on earth followed it all the time.

And one more thing -- if and when you do eat meat, keep in mind that chicken husbandry produces about 1/13 the environmental impact of an equivalent amount of pork or cattle raising.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

count it off

In 1623 Galileo declared that "Mathematics is the language of the universe," and he might have added, echoing the words of Pythagoras who preceded him by 2,000 years, that mathematics is also the music of the spheres. For music, with all of its emotions and passion, is based on the same kind of mathematical, clockwork-like relationships that govern the movements of the celestial bodies.

A musical note is a vibration, producing a measurable and predictable number of waves per second, and it's always the same number whether that note is plucked on a string or blown through a horn. If you shorten the string by half or reduce the empty space in the horn's chamber by the same amount, you'll produce the same note exactly one octave higher. Double the string's length and you get the same note an octave lower. The relationships among the notes get more complex from there, for example, if you shorten the string by one-third, you'll produce the fifth note in the eight-note scale determined by the original note. But no matter how complicated they are, the relationships between and among notes, including harmonies, are all by the numbers.

Some music is arhythmical, and marrying rhythms with tones combines two independent sets of mathematical relationships into an interdependent whole. Rhythm, after all, is just the musical counting of time, and the pulse which gives rise to the dance. Rhythms can be as simple as counting to two, or disarmingly complex even though natural-sounding. Have some fun here, seeing if you can discern the time signature of the Afghan National Dance.

Speaking of dance calls up another separate but related universe of mathematical relationships, one which translates numbers into muscular movements and numerically-expressed postures.

To paraphrase Gottfried Leibniz, melody, rhythm, and dance are "pleasures the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting."

This topic was derived from a random blog topic generator.

Photos: top left -- Wild Bill Davison (left) and Tony Parenti at Jimmy Ryan's Club, New York, 1946. Bottom right -- rembetika singer and dancer Marika Papagika, New York, early 1920's.


Sunday, May 01, 2011

hmm...vapour trails

As we labour away in our chosen fields of endeavour, the colours of others' intentions are not always clear. However, close inspection reveals the presence of vapour trails, as it were, left as residue of their pasts.

Cat Filosofico

Saturday, April 30, 2011

the monthly pundit

I had something political to say this morning, so I posted it on the "other" blog, catboxx.blogspot.com.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


I've been finding this occurring more and more in yoga classes I'm taking, and it doesn't seem to matter too much who the teacher is, as long as he or she has deep teaching skills. It doesn't happen so much when I do my own asana practice at home.

As movement begins, the mind begins to seek the inside of the body. The mental self sinks down ever deeper into the physical self as the movement deepens and intensifies. Mental contact with the outside world becomes tenuous, and asana becomes a form of meditation. At the conclusion, I'm barely aware of the transition between movement and rest, and only at the end of Savasana, the rest period, do I become aware that I've entered into a state of profound bliss, which immediately begins to dissipate at the resumption of normal activity. However, a residue of that state of mind remains throughout the rest of the day, and it's great.

In my own practice, that state doesn't occur during movement, possibly because I'm functioning as both teacher and participant (and it never happens when I'm teaching a class, which involves thinking). But then I usually fall down a similar rabbit hole during pranayama (controlled breathing) and, especially, during meditation.

I never thought about asana as a form of meditation before, but now find it to be that (among other things) when I have the opportunity to turn off the front part of the brain, follow simple and familiar instructions, and sink like a stone into the depths of my own muscles, sinews, and quietly but ceaselessly moving organic life -- blissed out and loving it.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

the word

The greatest news story of the week was provided by an antique book expert who stumbled across a bona fide copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle in Sandy, Utah.

The Chronicle's owner inherited it from a great-uncle many years ago and it's been gathering dust in his attic for decades. Ken Sanders realized what he was looking at as soon as the owner pulled it out of its sack. The binding of the 1493 volume is literally falling apart, but the pages are still white, as the paper is made from rags rather than wood pulp. The words applied to the pages by letterpress are as sharp and vivid today as when they were pressed, and nearly every page is full of black-line woodblock illustrations.

The Nuremberg Chronicle was intended to serve the need for a comprehensive history of creation. It was published by Anton Koberger about 60 years after Johannes Gutenberg perfected the letter-press in the city of Mainz, and has an original Latin text by Hartmann Schedel.

However Ken Sanders, now displaying his find at his rare book shop in Salt Lake, knows that what he's got, while astonishing, isn't worth a lot of money. He doesn't really have the book, but only about a third of its pages, and there are several hundred known copies of the work, many in much better condition. But "Just the opportunity to handle something from the very beginning of the printed word and the book itself, especially, ironically, in the 21st century with all this talk of the death of the book, and here we have a book that's survived 500-plus years," Sanders said. "It's just exciting ... The value of an artifact like this to me is the least interesting part of it all."

Before the printed word there was no history for ordinary people, there was only myth and legend, and the study of history was reserved for those who had access to books and other written records After printing started, it became impossible for church or government authorities to suppress and extirpate any idea whose time had come, because they could never find and burn every last copy.

Print is speech frozen in time, and speech is a god-like power. Consider the first verse of the Gospel John, as seen here on a page letterpressed at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz in 1986. The text following the blue capital reads "In principio etat verbu," -- In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.

Click twice on the photo of the Gutenberg page to see the image in real size.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

tarot de besançon

I bought these cards about 10 years ago from a private dealer in the Netherlands, but this is the first time I've used them for a reading, and possibly the first time anybody has.

The Renault Deck was made the old-fashioned way in Besançon, France nearly 200 years ago, printed from wood blocks and then hand colored by the artisan using four large stencils, then cut from the large sheets they were printed on into 78 approximately 4-1/2-inch by 2-1/2-inch cards. Their heavily-thumbed backs and the smell of strong tobacco that still lingers in the deck tell me they were used primarily for playing the game of tarot during most of their long life. All 78 cards remain in reasonably good condition considering their age and hard usage.

The woodblocks the cards were printed from weren't carved by the cardmaker Renault, but by an earlier artist, Jean Jerger, also of Besançon, in about 1800. Renault purchased them a few years later, but made his own stencils. The coloring of the Jerger deck was much more thoroughly and carefully done than that of the Renault cards, which appear somewhat slapdash in execution -- one of the reasons I love their unmistakable folk-art quality.

The Tarot de Besançon is based on but not identical to the Tarot de Marseilles. The cardmakers of this southern French city opted for a regional variation, made to placate the clerical authorities, and replaced the II - Female Pope and V - Pope cards with images of the Roman gods Juno and Jupiter. For card players the change was insignificant, since what matters in gaming is the value of each card rather than the symbolic meaning of its image. For card readers, however, the switch weakens the integrity of the tarot sequence.

So even though I've had this deck for 10 years, I hesitated to read with it. What I finally decided was that if Juno or Jupiter showed up in the spread, it would void the reading, and I went ahead with the result pictured here.

The Reading

Three cards read left-to-right (no Fool card this month). The three cups signifies indecision, hesitation, or confusion in matters of love. The female person in the center is the "Valet de Baatons" (sic), whom I conceptualize as what might be called "the Jill of clubs," is the individual referenced in the the three of cups.

The trump card on the right, designated "Capucin" (with a backward "N") in this deck, and called "the Hermit" in most modern tarots, was originally called either "Time" or "the Old Man" in the oldest decks, and was meant to be associated with the Greek god Cronos (Roman Saturn). His lantern was originally an hourglass, and he means to remind us that the passage of time is relentless and irreversible. Yes, it's true that I'm not getting any younger, but there's still plenty of life left in me, and I'm ready to meet that special someone who will confuse me, and cause me to hesitate and have hard time deciding.

Click on the image for a larger view; click twice for actual size.


Friday, April 22, 2011


The discussion was about gambling, but the larger question arose, "Is this a free country or not?

To which I replied, "Yes, it is, Gail, yes it is."

"We are all perfectly free to eat Cheez Doodles™ and drink beer until we weigh 400 lbs., to sit on a couch and watch American Idolatry until we're lobotomized, to gamble in casinos until we're a million dollars in debt to VISA, to repeat fascist excuses for wholesale larceny and making war on all Muslims and vote Republican, to become addicted to tobacco and smoke it till we cough our lungs out, and to be fat, dumb, and happy.

"Or we're free to choose, as I have, to do none of those things. Some people say this is far-left radicalism and political correctness, but I call it self-preservation.

"And it really comes down to that simple question, would you rather live or die?"


Thursday, April 21, 2011

bible movie!

The disc player on my computer is busted, so I bought a little portable dvd player to watch movies on. Up first is a 1997 made for tv biopic of the life of king solo-man.

A coupla guys in leather hats are drag racing their two-horse chariots in the desert east of bakersfield, and old solo-man wins when his brother A Donija crashes.

Then there's a line of extras carrying spears marching single file in the foothills up by Garlock, CA, and a line of fellows on horses, with very horrorshow like swelling of martial music with cymbal crashes.

Solo-man, son of king david, talks with a very upper-crust Anglo accent. In fact, the old testimony sounds like shake spear in this movie. King David is totally starry, lying under a pile of blankets.

Too weird. These chellovecks are prancing around on horseback in leather jerkins and conical leather hats talking like lards and borons.

Then, a sudden shift of ambulance, and we focus in on solo-man's mom, bath sheba, and she was very stiff and proud and haughty. This is like the old testimony if Jane Austen had wrote it.

Lines of priest guys in brown hoodies carrying candles in a castle or church, and some of em don't like solo-man. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, some good-looking Latina is playing a little lap harp in Israel as David, who sounds an awful lot like the late John Huston, is getting ready to croak.

Now the children of israel are having a barbecue by those pink sandstone pillars that line the wild rose canyon road entrance to death valley. This is a really lo-budget movie where I recognize lots of the holy land locations, the only set seems to be an abandon bldg, and the director likes having people in lines.

No real skillful segues here. The music changes abruptly, and now we're getting a montage of some sort. Uh oh, trompettes! Must be a war! A Donija vs solo-man again.

Some kind of religious ceremony -- david up on his feet wearing his crownaronie, making a speech and all, and rappin down to solo-man how he's gonna build the grate temple.

king david is taking his time, and waxing philosophical. This is turning out a very slow, boring, and tedious experience cinematique. OK now it looks like the funeral, then solo-man gets topped with the brass hat as his useless and despicable brother plotzes.

this is an on-the-fly so-cal production with a bunch of professional english stage actors sitting on thrones and making speeches, and this particular one is about how A Donija will sleep with the fishes. After comes an interlude that looks like it was shot in a nevada ghost town like rhyolite. I must say, though, the mojave in late spring can be very green and pretty.

Ah, now comes the dirty business with nathan and his (coff coff) egyptian wife. I think the stories of solo-man and david are getting mixed. God, this flick is a yawner. I think i'll turn it off and go fix somethin to eat. Guess I'll miss solo-man's temple, which I understand was on the side of his head.


Monday, April 18, 2011

the mighty morgan

The US silver dollar pictured here, designed by George T. Morgan and struck in the millions but intermittently by the US Treasury between 1878 and 1904 and again in 1921, is what people used to call "hard money." It's easy today to forget that when it was minted in 1895, the Morgan's value was universally accepted as one dollar, even though the silver in it -- a little more than 3/4 of an ounce or 90 percent of the coin's weight -- would trade for less than that.

But now, with silver futures trading at over $43 an ounce, the deeply conservative impulse of which hard money preferences are so much a part resonates with renewed vigor. One web pundit educated in such matters wrote that "Clueless central bankers seem incapable of understanding why printing billions of pieces of colorful paper (currency) might affect the price of gold," an observation that underscores the popular conviction that the money the Federal Reserve creates simply by declaring that it exists isn't real money.

It's still real enough that we can exchange it for the goods and services we need and want, but the erosion of the American greenback's value has accelerated dramatically since the end-of-decade economic calamity and the corresponding flood of fiat money meant to stanch that calamity. Today we see that erosion in hard-edged relief, as if backlit, and awaken from our dream of fiat money to see essential commodities such as food and gasoline on the one hand and the US dollar on the other, at opposite ends of a gigantic see-saw.

Some point to the Hunt brothers' cornering of the silver market several decades ago, which caused the price to bubble out to $50 before it precipitously collapsed in 1980, or the sudden spike in gas prices to five bucks in the summer of '08, to argue that today's run-up in commodities prices is the result of speculative manipulations rather than the dollar's erosion. But they're wrong.

Hundred-dollar oil, three-dollar avocados, five-dollar bread, 1500-dollar gold, and forty-dollar silver are here to stay, and it will only get worse from now on, or if you're one of the lucky ones in possession of some hard money, better. And if you're looking to acquire some, you couldn't do better than the Morgan.

Both the Morgan and its successor, the Peace Dollar, are viable currency because of their uniformity and ease of authentication. They are also universally acknowledged to be worth many times their face value -- $33.55 at this precise moment -- such is the effect of fiat money. In addition, they're easily negotiable, unlike gold which is now so valuable that it's impractical as a medium of exchange except for very large purchases.

The Morgan, is far and away the sexiest US coin in semi-circulation today. Many if not most were hoarded in Treasury Department vaults for decades, because the government feared the inevitable easy-money inflation that would have resulted from circulating all of them when they were minted. Sold off in huge lots to eager and rich collectors in the early '60's, many still have the deep mirror-like luster of uncirculated money. If oil is the king of commodities, the Morgan Dollar is the queen of currency.

If this topic interests you, there's an interesting article here on how the JP Morgan banking firm might be attempting to keep silver prices artificially low, and how their ability to do so may be at an end.

El Gato Negro

Saturday, April 16, 2011

the long way home

Yesterday after my longtime friend Ron and I along with his roommate Aaron had been held captive by the hugga-wugga monster for several hours (not an unwelcome imprisonment, but real nonetheless), I realized I had to drive home from Capitol Hill before darkness fell. I can't drive after nightfall any longer because the fading eyesight of advancing age causes me to become too easily confused.

Fortunately we've reached the season when twilight doesn't begin until after eight p.m. It was Friday evening, when the insanity of our car-dependent culture is at its most intense, and the congestion of the week's-end commute is compounded by everyone's wanting to get home as quickly as possible. What I found, though, is that if you just wait it out, even on a Friday night the thundering herd disappears as quickly as it materializes between three and four in the afternoon, and yesterday by 6:45 it was gone completely.

So in very light traffic, moving at a relaxed and moderate 30 miles an hour most of the way, I took the long way home as daylight began to wane. Descending Capitol Hill, I was impressed by the number and size of the trees there in the heart of this lovely city, only a mile or so from downtown, then motored slowly past the University of Washington and through its densely populated student ghetto. Rather than getting on the freeway, dreaded I-5 from there, I turned left at 70th Street and drove along the margin of Green Lake.

The lake is a jewel, the inescapable geographical feature of the urb's northern half, sitting between and adjacent to the two busiest roads in the state. Yesterday evening its water was smooth and still as a sheet of silver reflecting the setting sun, its calmness mirrored in turn by my own mental tranquility. I directed the gently purring engine of my decade-old VW Beetle onto the Green Lake cutoff, pulled into traffic on Highway 99 for one block, then turned left again to ascend Phinney Ridge, aiming toward the gentle declivity on the other side and Greenwood Ave.

And there I was back in my own neighborhood. Piece of cake, even on a Friday evening.

Photo by Ionna Dodu of Bucharest, Romania


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

hero needed

When the dragon came among us no one dared to oppose it. "Let it do what it wants," they said, "and it will leave us alone."

But then the dragon ate the sun, and all life on earth began to die. Still, nobody made a move against it. Paralyzed by fear and despair, they counted the days until the end, or would have if there had been any more days and nights. But with the sun gone there was nothing left but perpetual darkness.

Where is the hero who will save us? We need a hero willing to seize the day, attack the dragon in his lair, split him from head to tail, and recover the sun, if it's recoverable. If there's no hero, then a band of brave men can do the job. In either case, we can't simply sit waiting for the same people who have allowed this intolerable situation to develop to help us.

Watercolor by Carl Gustav Jung, leaf 119 of "The Red Book." Click on the image for a larger view.

El Gato

Monday, April 11, 2011

bright shining star

So Carl, who manages the medical cooperative where I fill one of my prescriptions, asked how my medication was treating me.

"It's great," I said, "It completely gets rid of the Parkinson's tremor and the anxiety that goes with it. The only thing is it makes me feel heavy, almost like I'm paralyzed sometimes."

When I told him the specific type of remedy I've been using, he said "You might want to steer more toward the Sativa types of medicine," as opposed the Indica varieties, which tend toward more physical effects.

I later found out that this was something I should have known already, because it's an essential diagnostic element in effectively prescribing marijuana for treating specific illnesses. In short and fairly accurately, Sativa strains are mostly cerebral, Indica strains mostly physical, and the shiny "Sativa Star" I got today seems like the perfect treatment to relieve my symptoms without side effects.

The reason I'd never thought about these things before is because the idea of having a choice of what kind of cannabis to get is new for me, and something I'm not used to, but I have to say I like it. Plus, the people at Seattle Medical, once you establish your legitimacy as a patient, are friendly, helpful, and always knowledgeable. Today was a perfect example.

It's great having the laws that allow this. I spent many of my 66 years buying what was available without giving a thought to what variety it might be -- it was that kind of transaction, I'd be in sad shape if I had to do that now. So it's nice to be able to treat my illness with legitimate medicine, without having to feel like a criminal, and it's great having a place like Seattle Medical, who provide a much-needed service to the public in the spirit of the law.

Dave B

Saturday, April 09, 2011

skeletons updated

Further researches into my great-grandfather's history (see the post directly below this one) have turned up new information as well as a couple of discrepancies in my initial understanding, and these make clear why no serious historian ever relies on a single source.

The discrepancies and omissions are connected to the one important issue of the day, especially for a young southern male of that faraway time: establishing one's manhood and full citizenship in the crucible of the Civil War.

My great-grandfather, 23-year-old Timothy Brice and his brother, my great-uncle David, one year older, volunteered for service together in the 50th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company "K" (Brooks County) on March 4, 1862. But when the regiment marched out of Savannah four and a half months later, traveling north where it would be attached to Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia , only David marched with them. He went on to participate in some of the bitterest fighting of the war, eventually meeting his death on the second day of the Battle of the Wilderness, May 6, 1864, not at Gettysburg a year earlier as I previously wrote.

Timothy was left behind. He was discharged from the army on July 17, 1862, the same day the regiment marched from Savannah, and presumably returned home to Brooks County, where he later married, fathered 10 children, and lived out his days. Why he was discharged and under what circumstances I have not a clue.

It would take a very serious flaw in one's constitution or character to be unconditionally discharged from an armed force as desperate for manpower as the Confederacy's was. Perhaps my great-grandfather was gravely ill, or maybe he was painfully unfit for soldiering and warfare. In any case, Timothy Brice had a very short interlude in service and did no fighting for the C.S.A.

This story will be updated and completed some time in the future. Four of the five questions every historian and every reporter always asks (What, where, when, how, and why) are answered, but the final and most important one remains elusive. For now.

What little information that survives about my patrilineal ancestors demonstrates that for the American generation coming into maturity in the 1860's, exactly as it was for my father's generation 80 years later, the great and earth-shaking wars of modern times are the central and defining events which order their lives.


Thursday, April 07, 2011


My grandfather, Sam Brice -- that's him sitting in the foreground with his feet tucked under -- was born in 1889, and looks to have been slightly less than 10 years old when this family picture was taken, dating it to shortly before 1900.

His father, Timothy Brice, is seated at center beside his dour-looking wife Mary, surrounded by their ten children and, on the other side of the white picket fence holding the clan's first and at this date only grandchild, the inevitable "Aunt" Ellen. This was, after all, Brooks County in Southern Georgia.

I've never known any but the barest facts about my great-grandfather, that he was born in 1838 and looked a lot like me. He probably fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War like his brother David, who was one year older and was killed at Gettysburg in 1863, but I have no hard evidence of that. A bigger question has to do with inheritance. Why did Timothy's father, Francis Brice, choose to pass over his three older surviving sons at his death in 1878 and bestow the inheritance on his youngest boy, Mitchell?

Timothy's family looks moderately prosperous, but Mitchell, after inheriting his father's plantation in 1878, became a local baron of the type for which the south is famous. He added to the lands he inherited, and in time also augmented his empire with a large sawmill and general store. Slavery was gone by the time Tallokas Plantations fell to him, but black labor was governed by peculiarly southern laws and rules which historian Douglas Blackmon calls "Slavery by Another Name."

He became rich, acquired extensive holdings in local banks, and became a director of at least one of them. He was Chairman of the Board of Brooks County Commissioners and developed an English gentleman's habits, acquring a taste for fine horses which he raised on his property and raced successfully in Atlanta, New Orleans, St. Louis, and New York as well is in local venues.

How did this extended family come to be what they were, and where did the opportunity for them to develop lands and businesses originate? The answers lie in some of American history's greatest high crimes and misdemeanors.

Timothy Brice's grandfather, my great-great-great grandfather Joseph Brice and wife Martha emigrated from England shortly before the turn of the 19th century, settled initially in Pennsylvania, then moved to southern North Carolina, where Francis was born in 1804. In 1833 Francis and his wife made the overland trek to southern Georgia in a covered wagon, and there he acquired the land that would become the family seat and source of great fortune.

From whom he acquired it, or under what terms I have no idea. But I do know that this happened two years after President Andrew Jackson began enforcing the Indian Removal Act, forcing the former Cherokee owners of that area to move west, to present-day Oklahoma. In doing so, he ignored a Supreme Court decision declaring the act illegal.

Lots of Americans have skeletons in their closets, and many of these, perhaps most of them, are non-caucasian. It's difficult to notice this after a while, however, because when the skin comes off and the flesh falls away, we all tend to look the same.

Eram quod es; Eris quod sum.

See also geneologytrails.com, and scroll down to "Brice."

Click on the image for a larger view.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011


A friend took me to see The Adventures of Prince Ahmed last night, and I have to admit I'd barely heard of it before. Big oversight.

This is not just an unusual and innovative filmwork from mid-1920's Germany, but also the earliest surviving animated feature (two earlier ones from Argentina by Quirino Cristiani are lost). Using scissors, paper, cardboard, and sometimes very thin lead sheets, artist and filmmaker Lotte Reininger, along with her husband, two assistants, and half a dozen avant-garde artists and animators, spent three years (1923-26) cutting the film's human and inhuman characters and backgrounds, while cinematographer Carl Koch painstakingly photographed them frame by frame, in the manner of modern claymation.

The results of Reininger's scissorwork and artistic conception alone demonstrate amazing skill and patience. Look, for example, at the elaborated featherwork on the prince's costume, and the lace trailing from Princess Pari Banu's headdress.

Adapted loosely from several stories in The 1,001 Nights of Scheherazade, the plot includes elements of Prince Ahmed's story as well as the famous Aladdin story, has the inevitable evil sorcerer, a sympathetic witch, and a flying horse. It's pure fairytale and all archetypes.

No original nitrate copy of Ahmed has survived. For a while only black-and-white prints were available (the original was hand-tinted). Using one of those black-and-white prints and a highly-technical, complex process, British and German archivists restored the movie in its original colors in 1998/99.

One more thing made this event memorable: the movie's soundtrack, and yes, silent movies need to have them, or lose a lot of atmosphere and mood. Last night's soundtrack was by David Keenan and Nova Karina Devonie, Seattle composers and performers, playing the score for Ahmed they were commissioned to write in 2008, on accordian, guitar, banjo, glockenspiel, viola, percussion, and slide whistle. They've performed this work extensively since '08, all over the world, from Australia to Waterloo (Iowa), and complement the film immeasurably.