Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Munching lotus

Today I feel like time has really passed me by. I started reading Buxton's Imaginary Greece from 1994 and can't believe I'd missed it. I haven't been smacked this hard by an academic book since Brendel's Prolegomena. His clarity is compelling, e.g., "In spite of (or because) of the fashionableness and obvious fertility of the topic [Greek myth] ... there is a residual feeling that to treat mythology as a distinct area of study ... is a gambit bound up with Theory, Methodology and The Continent, and is thus not quite sound." I also appreciate his honesty, e.g.,"I hope, in short, that the present book will reach the wider audience too. To that end I have tried to cut down the jargon with which scholars like to armour-plate themselves" (see Nimis' serious yet entertaining article on the use of footnotes for this purpose).

I really enjoy Stumble Upon and the concept behind it. Bumbling along I've found so much richness. Late last year, I found Rumi. Wow! 2007 was designated the International Year of Rumi by UNESCO and in commemoration of this event Coleman Barks wrote Rumi: Bridge to the Soul. This book has wonderful translations of 99 poems and an excellent introduction. My favourite line in the book is from Saladin's Leaving: "Like the moon you turn a grainfield silver."

I also found Californication. I can relate so well to Hank. I could be that character, sincerely stumbling along in the journey of manhood, though I haven't published a book, don't own a Porsche, and definitely don't have women throwing their phone numbers into my car. Oh the fragile artist. Damn those expectations. The journey can be very hard. Nevertheless, it's all worth it. You get the feeling and the vibe. You carve out a place of acceptance. Of all those people who claim to know you, only a handful ever does. The only question is whether you count yourself among them.

The show is also an introduction, for me at least, to many cool covers of songs, e.g., Rocket Man by My Morning Jacket and Paranoid by Gus Black.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Polyphonic bliss

I fully enjoy the entire realm of music; most of all, I love being surprised by the sounds of a new band. Sure, I like those masterpieces that grow on you and finally conquer your consciousness, but I also love those catchy tunes you like right away and listen to a hundred times. About an hour I read my JamBase newsletter, an awesome source for new music and concert videos, and clicked on the link for Polyphonic Spree's new video, We Crawl. Definitely a catchy tune and cool video, a collage of 23 video sources. Lately my repeat list includes The Maker by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Walk on the Wild Side by DJ Disse, Someone Send an Angel Down by Derek Miller, Reckoner by Radiohead, Count Yourself In by Ten Second Epic, Pukalani by David Kahiapo, Maburk by DJ Fabian Alsultany, Narayanate by Uday Shankar and Pan Pan Pan Remix by Nufin-Yin who samples Noam Chomsky.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

It's a sad sad day

I was hoping that Obama would draw much closer to consolidating his leadership in New Hampshire, but the same old prevailed. It wouldn't have been as bad if he'd lost to Edwards, another candidate with a strong platform, but Hillary? Sure she's strong, smart, powerful, and influential; however, she's also a chameleon constantly changing to suit the polls and has way too many vested interests. Indeed, being so tied down there is little she could change in terms of America's foreign policy and its general lack of regard concerning the environment and justice.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Mayan bliss

Right now I am sitting in the Solstice Cafe on the bottom of Pandora enjoying a cup of Mayan Hot Chocolate, a perfect balance of spice, sweet, and smooth. Although I can't escape the gravity of 2% for long, I intend to enjoy many more of these. Pausanias, a geographer/travel-writer from the 2nd C. A.D., is my surfing subject. Lately, I've been tuning my wife's Asus Eee PC, a totally cool ultra-compact notebook for $400. If you order it on NCIX they throw in a 4 Gb memory card. Although the machine is straight forward for a Linux machine it doesn't handle WPA very well. Thankfully the eeeuser.com wiki has an entry on advanced WPA configuration that worked well for me.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Identity and Culture (Finding myself through it)

Identity has always come hard for me. My childhood was a collection of moves: born in Canada, moved to California, then Indonesia, then back to California, then Saudi Arabia, then Italy, then Canada. A circuitous route, for sure. What made it more disparate were the visits every six months outside of these locales. So, after a spring in Saudi, I'd go for the summer to Scotland. Then there were the moves within these countries: from the busy streets of Riyadh to an isolated compound with rich fields for the seeds of an over-developed imagination. Marshall Sella, speaking of Viggo Mortensen put it this way, "... it has made him a little foreign everywhere, and everywhere at home" (GQ September 2007, 273). When I read this quote, it struck me, as I've always felt at home everywhere, but upon reflection often felt like an outsider.

In the popular media of recent months I've noticed some similar experiences. Sandra Oh states, "No matter how much you fit in, you're the outsider, and you only realize much later how deeply the assimilation affects you. You always feel like you miss out just a little bit. You are just not the same" (Onstad, K. "Oh la la," Chatelaine November 2007, 120). Wyclef Jean states, "I feel that I am part of the American Dream but I feel that for you to have the American Dream you need to have that immigrant background, meaning that at the end of the day we all are immigrants so we should still be treated with respect" (The Hour, October 30, 2007). Perhaps, the most extreme case of cultural dislocation is that of the American soldier in Iraq, who in the course of 48 hours moves from the front-lines to the couch at home; he then returns after a two week visit, a trip that includes moving through various paradigms, e.g., camaraderie vs. family integration, friend/foe vs. loved ones, alertness vs. relaxation, and duty vs. expectation.

My identity has been shaped by various factors over the years and has taken the form of many personal narratives, e.g., the traveler, the student, the independent. However, the obscure nature of Canadian identity has hampered my journey, i.e., establishing what is uniquely Canadian is a difficult task. Thus, my journey has included establishing what being a Canadian is. I have done so by learning the history, listening to its great musicians, reading its literature, and talking with many of its citizens. Nevertheless one can only do so much, but I have noticed a few things. First, many are looking for definition. It is a frequent topic that has spurned many debates and Molson TV commercials. Second, regional variation has muddled the issue. I once entertained one way of commenting on this diversity, as well as obtaining my 15 minutes of fame, but the threat of jail-time dissuaded me: during an election in rural B.C., I would post election signs for a fake candidate that was running for the Parti Québécois. The reactions would not have been pretty.

In the last ten years on the west coast (I can only comment from this perspective, though I live vicariously in the east coast through the music of Stan Rogers), native art has become a significant expression of our culture. It has dominated all new public buildings and I can't complain, e.g., Bill Reid's Jade Canoe is amazing. Nevertheless, I wonder what it is replacing. What would be the Olympic symbol if this weren't the trend? A lumberjack, a miner? Yes, pre-90's the west coast was defined by its dependence on natural resources. For some reason the Pacific Rim connection never took a firm hold on the coast despite a number of sister cities and Japanese immersion programs. Then came the wave of First Nation's art. At first I found this choice ironic, since there have been so very few treaties negotiated (Tsawwassen this year was only the second). Then, I realized that this art grounded us. It is an art that transcends the lumberjacks and real estate developers from Hong Kong; furthermore, by transcending the modern, it complements, rather than clashes with, the rich cultural diversity of the west coast. Its modern interpretation provides the sophistication needed for cultural cache in larger cities. Lastly, the art was authentic: it was part of a flourishing prompted by the return of many First Nations to their roots.

Among First Nations is one place that I have always belonged in Canada, though my white skin obviously betrays me as an outsider. Learning the history of the land has grounded me and provided meaning for me. Certain sites and landscapes take on new meaning for me as I learn the place name and its meaning in the original language. This experience has also made me more Canadian: I can't tell you the number of times I passed by the Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre, but this summer I finally visited it and was really impressed. The dancers, carvers and interpretive guides provided a rich experience among amazing displays and relics that was topped off by an amazing meal at the Riverwalk Cafe (the Bistro at Cherry Point also owned by the Cowichan Tribes is very good also).

Another source of richness in my Canadian education has been the CBC, especially radio: Peter Gzowski put me in touch with the personal, quirky and interesting; Michael Enwright with the sophisticated; Stuart McLean with the funny, but more so with a rich appreciation through his poetic descriptions of Canada; and Sheila Rogers with diverse, but everyday Canadians and issues. Then there's As It Happens that uniquely Canadian show and thanks to them I listen to Alan Maitland read The Shepherd every Christmas.

In the end the diverse nature of Canada does not make it indefinable, rather it's part and parcel to the process. Culture, though diverse, does provide the social norms by which Canadians can define themselves.

Mearsheimer and Walt

Mearsheimer and Walt were the first to provide a clear and concise report on the extent and impact of the Israel Lobby in the U.S. As would be expected, given America's unofficial, yet very effective, publication ban on the subject of Israel, they were unable to publish the article in the States (despite an initial interest by Atlantic Monthly). The London Review of Books (LRB) not only published it but also provided the links for an unedited version of the article. Both versions are well worth reading. The main point of the article is that U.S. foreign policy is directed by domestic politics and the Israel Lobby. To show this they note that Israel not only receives (and has since 1976) the most aid, one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, but also receives it in one lump sum at the start of the year without any stipulations. They then show that Israel is a prospering country that really requires no aid, since it has little strategic value for the States. To sum up their analysis, and really prove their case, they present a short history of the Lobby and its rise to such significance.

A few months after its release Mearsheimer and Walt were interviewed concerning the article:

In this interview they discuss the various accusations made against them, e.g., being anti-semitic and in league with David Duke, and the extent of Israel's role in forming American foreign policy.

Progress and Why I like Obama

About a month ago I was talking with some friends about the state of the world (see Middle East Mess). Inevitably, given I was talking, I mentioned the hope I have in Barack Obama to bring about some change for the better. At the time I was jaded by the polls, specifically Hillary's lead in them, so I mentioned Obama in a context of running with Gore; I said, "for the sake of humanity Gore must run". Although this thinking is no longer necessary, the knot in my stomach that American voters may once more be swayed from common sense has not diminished. I am tense with anticipation to see the New Hampshire results.

Since I have been blinded by Ate (like Agamemnon, so caught up in a rage about the situation) and have unconsciously omitted any mention of the solution, Obama, in my blog, I'll briefly discuss why I like him. I first heard about him when a friend mentioned his book The Audacity to Hope. My friend's description of the man intrigued me, so I read part of the book myself and checked out his campaign website. I watched his promo-video and was blown away by both his message and his oratory. Then I have followed the polls, read a number of interviews and watched his speeches. Although his charisma, intellect, and speeches are appealing, it is the sense that he makes that really impresses me. These qualities tell me that he has what it takes to make the changes he proposes. He has vision and appreciates consensus, though he is strong enough to stick to his guns. He has shone a light on the bad in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, though not in a demeaning manner. He has a conscience and is not afraid to be guided by it. I don't think he'll uphold the banishment of habeas corpus and extradition points.

Yes, I must acknowledge the sceptic. There is The Machine. Will he even know what the CIA is doing? Will they or some other person attempt his assassination? Will he even get elected? Sure, I worry about these points but something has got to change. How far can things go? Nevertheless, I feel Obama has what it takes to turn the country around. His actions may not be perfect, but he has one hell of a task to turn around such a mass with so much momentum. He is truly a Kennedy, Luther King, and Roosevelt for America. Come on New Hampshire!

Still too early to tell?

Bravo Iowans! Bravo Obama! I love what he said after his victory in Iowa, "We are choosing hope over fear. We are choosing unity over division and sending a message that change is coming to America." I really hope that the citizens of New Hampshire do the same on January 8th.


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