Friday, December 31, 2004
War And A Devastating Natural Calamity
Dirty words that I have come across often in 2004:
And what about "smart bombs" ? Smart bombs! Just think of the people who come up with these terms. Let us hope that there is an end to them.
A few photographs taken by me during travels far and near.
Chapelle St. Jean between Castellane and La Palud, Provence, France
Pajaro Dunes, California
Berry Creek Falls, Big Basin State Park, California
To all visitors to my musings---the regulars, occasional, and the accidental: Stay well.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Back to Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
The year is winding down. What do we think of when we look back ? Personally, some of us have had good, joyful experiences---births, marriages, success in careers but, on a global perspective, there is the other side.
The havoc of the tsunami in South Asia
Massacre in Darfur
President Bush's war in Iraq ("I am a war president", "Bring 'em on")
Atrocities in Beslan, Madrid, Moscow, Abu Ghraib
The march of AIDS
Millions of people died horrible deaths, lost their homes, and are facing starvation and disease.
Bach composed Cantata No.131 (said to be his first cantata) in 1707 in memory of the victims of the devastating fire in Arnstadt. He was 22 years old. I think it is especially appropriate for these times as it was then.
“Aus der Tiefe rufe Ich, Herr, zu dir” (Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord). The CD that I like is by Virgin Classics, Collegium Vocale Ghent conducted by Philippe Herreweghe. Great voices and music.
I am not religious; I do not pray. Hard to explain my attachment to Bach’s music. A major part of his compositions consists of choral music, sacred and secular. The sound of Bach soothes my spirits, makes me look at the world in a hopeful way. Some of the songs written by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (Nobel laureate 1913) also give me a peaceful feeling. However, for me Bach is No.1
A few other CDs I would recommend:
The Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) by the late, great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould
The Well Tempered Clavier. I have Book I performed by the pianist Andras Schiff,and Book II performed by Glenn Gould. Both excellent
Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080(The Art of the Fugue), Musica Antiqua Köln, Reinhard Goebel. Archiv Produktion
Toccatas, BWV 910-916, played by Glenn Gould
The Complete Cello Suites (BWV 1007-1012) by Yo Yo Ma. The recording by Mstislav Rostropovich is said to be superior. The CD of Pablo Casal‘s performance is also great.
And two oddities (bits of pop):
Percussion transcriptions of Bach’s English & French Suites by the Safri Duo (Chandos Records)
New transcriptions for guitar by Philip Hi (1995 GSP Recordings)
“You are the music while the music lasts.”
Monday, December 27, 2004
A Stained, Blue Dress from Gap and "Operation Iraqi Freedom"
Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Clinton’s peccadilloes cost us $33,555,000
William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd president of the United States, survived the impeachment proceedings but the records of his two-term presidency will forever be overshadowed by his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.
Costs of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (make me gag every time I come across the words):
In human terms, as of December 22, 2004
U.S. Soldiers dead: 1329
The numbers are from global security.org
Now look at the dollar figures.
NPR Morning Edition
“December 16, 2004: The Congressional Budget Office projects that the cost of the war in Iraq could surpass $80 billion in fiscal 2005. That would send total expenditures for the war past $200 billion. The estimated price tag for the conflict has steadily escalated”
$200,000,000,000 and the end is not in sight
George W. Bush, who took the nation to war, was reelected to serve a second term !
"The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth."
----Albert Camus (1913-1960, Winner of 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature)
Sunday, December 26, 2004
Children of the Fallen (SHNS 12/15/04)
Much has been written about the war in Iraq. This item from the Scripps-Howard News Service covers a part that we don't see or hear much about. Whether you are for or against the war, spend some time reading it. Outstanding report by Lisa Hoffman and Annette Rainville of SHNS. The link (above) will take you to the article and photographs.
"War is not good for children and other little things"
----Vietnam era anti-war slogan.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Hypocrisy Of The Champions of Moral Values
Is the title of an article by Terry M. Neal in today's Washington Post. This link will take you to it. Read about the morality crusaders and their appetite for X-rated videos and shows on prime time TV that depict a world completely different than what they profess to believe in.
A friend, KCR, has coined a good phrase to describe the hypocrites: Mandarins of Morality (MOM).
"The Moral Majority is neither moral nor a majority"
----Mike Clark, Reporter, Memphis,TN (1981)
Iraq - Death Toll Mounts
The death toll keeps rising. Our soldiers are dying in battles and killing Iraqis. Iraqi insurgents (they just keep coming) are killing all who are within range of their bombs and guns. Strangely, the high number of Iraqi civilian casualties (see the link below to a BBC report) does not receive much attention from our mainstream media. "Collateral damage"? I am aware that there are people who believe that our soldiers are dying for a just cause. At first, the reason given for attacking Iraq was that Saddam Hussein was stock piling WMD for use against us. Now we are there,ostensibly,to ensure freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people. Count me among the skeptics.
Many observers feel that the current situation in Iraq is not one under which fair elections can be held yet President Bush insists on a January 30th deadline. "Baghdad Burning" is the title of a blog by a young Iraqi woman. Worth taking a look.
"Any man's death diminishes me" (John Donne). In this holiday season let us think of peace.....lasting peace for all people.
"Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country."
"Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both."
----Abraham Flexner, American Educator(1866-1959)
Friday, December 17, 2004
Maximum City - Bombay Lost And Found by Suketu Mehta
Suketu Mehta's Maximum City
Suketu Mehta’s book grabbed me from page one. I went through the 540 pages in three days.
Powerful writing. Mr. Mehta succeeded in bringing Bombay---the Bombay that tourists and occasional visitors are completely unaware of---to life. The gang leaders,bar girls,politicians, and the people who have made Bollywood famous,all parade through the book and tell their stories. Mr. Mehta was fortunate to have the right connections to reach them but he described the meetings in an unique manner and succeeded in making the sights, smells, and sounds come alive. Think of paintings by William Hogarth and Hieronymus Bosch.
Mr. Mehta made it clear that he disliked the trend in India of changing names of cities and streets. It was not Mumbai but Bombay that he wrote about. To him it would always be Bombay.
The graphic descriptions of violence and the squalor were repelling. As were the narratives of hit men who talked with cold detachment about their victims. The pervasive influence of leaders of the underworld and corruption among all levels of law enforcement personnel left me with a sick feeling. Between bar girls who made more money (and did so without taking off their saris) than strippers in New York City; their patrons who literally threw money at them; and the idols of the screen who were controlled by gang leaders, the city seemed to be a jungle inhabited by people without any compunction, all bent on pursuit of money, power, violence, and sex.
Mr. Mehta was born in Calcutta but lived in Bombay until the age of 14 when he became a resident of Jackson Heights,New York City. His love for Bombay comes through despite the ugliness that he portrayed. There could be other cities (perhaps in the former Soviet Republic) where the same kind of “law of the jungle” prevails. Calcutta, where I once lived, is another city with a dirty underbelly. Corrupt politicians,not gang leaders, call the shots there.
V.S. Naipaul's “An Area of Darkness”, written after his first visit to India in 1962, received a lot of flak from critics in India. Among other comments, Naipaul wrote “Indians defecate everywhere”. It is interesting that more than 35 years later Mehta, too, couldn’t escape the fact and wrote that each day about 2.5 million kilos (5,511,556 lbs!) of shit was left by residents of Bombay who used outdoor locations due to lack of access to toilet facilities. He remarked that while the flats in his building were kept spotlessly clean, the public spaces (halls, stairways) were filthy and strewn with garbage. Some things never change in India.
I remember spending three weeks in Bombay in the summer of 1989. I geared up for a run on my first morning and stepped out of the hotel on Marine Drive. The oily, slate-grey water of the Arabian Sea, the stench and the garbage pushed me in the opposite direction and that is what I did during the rest of my stay----ran through business district and residential areas, away from the promenade. Yet, thousands of people gather there every morning and, I guess, find pleasure in walking along the promenade.
India has made gigantic strides in the field of software engineering and is becoming a power house in Asia. China's burgeoning economy has made it the top dog but India is not too far behind. One wonders though about the very visible open drains and slums that are like suppurating wounds. Few Indians seem to be bothered by such conditions. Most have become inured; others are in denial; some are aware,feel ashamed, enraged, and suffer without venting their feelings.
"The city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo."
”The Jane Austen Book Club” by Karen Joy Fowler
This is what I am reading now.
Still on the library's waiting list for Elfriede Jelinek's "The Piano Teacher".
Le pas du chat noir, ECM Records
Anouar Brahem, oud
Francois Couturier, piano
Jean-Louis Matinier, accordion
A few years ago MD (a friend of a friend) introduced me to Anouar Brahem's "Conte de l'incroyable amour". Brahem, a 47-year old Tunisian is creating wonderful music. He began as an oud (African version of lute) player and performed mostly for the Arab world. Over the years he has collaborated with well-known performers of jazz as well as Indian musicians. It is a pleasure to listen to Brahem and his accompanists.
MD was doing doctoral work at Stanford when I met her. Now she is teaching at Swarthmore in Pennsylvania as part of a post-doctoral program.
Monday, December 13, 2004
Augusto Pinochet, A Monster for All Seasons
To those of us who followed the rise and fall of General Pinochet, it is a good day…sort of. A Chilean judge ordered house arrest of General Pinochet on human rights charges.
The Pinochet regime was accused of torturing some 28,000 people. An official report issued after the restoration of democracy in 1990 in Chile found 3,197 people had died or disappeared during the 17 years beginning in 1973 when General Pinochet assumed power after a bloody coup.
Let us not forget that the United States,under the guidance of Dr. Henry Kissinger, aided and abetted the Chilean armed forces to topple the legitimately elected government of President Salvador Allende. Subsequently,the reign of terror----torture and killing of dissidents and those suspected of being dissidents----continued with full knowledge of our government. A shameful chapter in our history.
"History is only the register of crimes and misfortunes."
Friday, December 10, 2004
More on "Kinsey" and neurotic, puritanical Americans
The sex patrol is becoming more and more visible. Prudes on a crusade battling a demon that exists only in their sick minds.
"The peculiarity of prudery is to multiply sentinels, in proportion as the fortress is less threatened"
----Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
Thursday, December 09, 2004
The Motorcycle Diaries
Gael Garcia Bernal
Rodrigo de la Serna
Director: Walter Salles
In Spanish with English Sub-Titles
Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna
Unless you get pleasure from watching high speed car chases, buildings being blown up, and people being killed, this is a film that you will enjoy. After the end of the movie JHL and I remained in our seats for a few minutes, reluctant to leave.
The screen play was based on notes and diaries kept by Ernesto "Che" Guevara and his friend Alberto Granada during a trip across the South American continent in 1951-52. They began the journey on a 1939 Norton motor cycle. The motor cycle did not last long but they continued and finished their trip using any means of transportation that became available. Director Walter Salles did a superb job in bringing the story to screen. It was a treat to see the Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal as Che Guevara. Bernal has come a long way from his role as a college kid enamored with an older woman in "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (2001). Handsome, and can he act! Rodrigo de la Serna was perfect as the prankish, extrovert friend Alberto. Don't miss it.
"No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight of the soul."
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
The Ghost of Alfred Kinsey and Osama bin Laden
An article in a recent issue of a well-known magazine mentioned that according to an organization of abstinence-education group called Why Know, the impact from publication of The Kinsey Report in 1948 was in a way equal to what the terrorists did on 9/11. Well, slay me with a dragon.
Fast forward to a cave somewhere in South Asia.
Aides busily preparing for a meeting. A tall, benign looking bearded man arrives and is greeted with bowed heads and murmured salutations: great leader, the wise one, mastermind of attacks against America,etc.,etc. The meeting comes to order. The tall, bearded man begins without preamble by slapping down a glossy magazine on the table and demanding to know who was Dr. Kinsey and how dare an organization in America claim that Dr. Kinsey caused as much damage as his carefully planned attacks on 9/11. He wanted a fatwa declared on the head of Kinsey.
The aides had done their homework or thought they did. They tried to explain that the whole thing was blown grossly out of proportion and the great leader had nothing to worry. There was no one who came close to what he and his martyrs achieved on 9/11. Dr. Kinsey was no longer alive and the findings of his research about sexual habits and practices of American males appeared in print more than 50 years ago. The tall man with flowing beard was incredulous. He thundered “Are you trying to deceive me, you imbeciles? How could a book about sinful habits of the infidels be compared to my jihad? I observe fast and abstinence on holy days; keep myself pure, carry a weapon and am prepared to give my life for the cause of the all powerful. Get the facts,the real facts about this Kinsey and his book. Report back to me in a week. If you fail in your task then you can forget about the virgins in paradise. Instead, your punishment will be 10 lashes every day. I have spoken. Praise be to the almighty.” He walks away.
The chief of staff was feverishly working the keys of his laptop. He announced that he had a strategy. He said that “We are going to do what the Brits did”. Everyone looked puzzled. He elaborated, “You know, they sexed up the dossier to justify the war in Iraq; we are going to prepare a sexed down dossier to convince our great leader that Dr. Kinsey was not successful in helping the Americans get rid of their sexual hang ups. Claims about the influence of his book were greatly exaggerated by a few puritanical ladies. Get to work. The first draft must be on my desk in 48 hours." The meeting concludes.
Dr. Kinsey’s ghost shook its head and thought that if only the tall, bearded man had paid attention to his treatise he would have been a sexually fulfilled and happier person, and the same applied to members of the abstinence-education group. The world would have been so much better off. He sighed, turned around and went back to sleep.
"Some things are better than sex, and some are worse, but there's nothing exactly like it."
----W. C. Fields (1880-1946)
Monday, December 06, 2004
A movie about the insecurities of men at crossroads. Also, a book about teen-age angst
JHL and I watched "Sideways" a week ago and loved it. Perhaps not going to be remembered as a classic but it made us laugh and commiserate with the central characters, especially Miles Faymond (Paul Giamatti). Most of the film was shot in the Santa Ynez Valley between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Familiar territory, which added a special meaning to us. Almost like a French movie,light-hearted,except that the French would have gone easier in the scene where Jack got walloped by Stephanie. Wine drinking is an important part of the story but the director, Alexander Payne, did not let that stop him from developing the differences in characters and outlooks of Miles and his friend Jack.
Towards the end of the movie there was a scene where a student in Miles' class read a passage from a book. That rang a bell. The next day I checked my meager library and found what I was looking for.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The dog-eared copy of the book belonged to my daughters. Both of them read it in their high school years. Known as a great "coming of age" story, I remembered how much pleasure it gave me although I was a middle-aged man when I read the book.
I flipped through some pages,found the passage that was read by the student in the movie and thought about Gene and Phineas as they went through high school and on into World War II. It was a different world then. A bitter sweet novel. Certainly a classic.
Other great "coming of age" fiction:
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
"The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles,
it distracts, it excites, it gives you the knowledge of the world and
experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination."
Saturday, December 04, 2004
Re-emergence of the Sex Police, Grundyism Ascendent ?
I have not seen "Kinsey" (the new movie about the late Dr. Alfred Kinsey) yet. I intend to. So
I was taken aback when a friend said "see it before it is banned". Banned....in America! Can't happen. Then I read an article in the December 6th issue of The New Yorker and her comments didn't seem so preposterous. Two women, Judith Reisman and Eunice Van Winkle Ray, are on the war path in a campaign to discredit Dr. Kinsey.
The New Yorker article mentioned that a recent newsletter of the abstinence-education group Why kNOw, compared the damage from publication in 1948 of "The Kinsey Report" on the same level as the attacks on 9/11! Wow. Isn't that stretching it ? Not according to the group. The members are dead serious. The bearded one would be most unhappy; he has probably never heard of Dr. Kinsey. No question that these people don't believe in enjoying sex. Perhaps they have holy congress or union at certain times only to procreate.
The hypocrisy is mind-boggling. Here we have a generation of Americans, most of who never said "No" to an opportunity to fuck (have intercourse, if you will) when they were growing up, telling the youth to abstain. Guess it makes sense with Commandante, El Jefe in the White House who admitted to "youthful indiscretions" but then saw the light as a Born Again Christian. Comprehensive sex education---teaching of pleasures as well as the pitfalls, respect for the opposite sex, and use of protective measures against diseases and unwanted pregnancies----is being completely re-written to emphasize abstinence. As the Iraqi blogger says: "Ya Habeebi" (not a dirty word).
Those who are interested can access Ceci Connolly's well-researched report "Some Abstinence Programs Mislead Teens" in The Washington Post 12/2/04
Remember what happened to Dr. Jocelyn Elder, President Clinton's Surgeon General? She was guilty of breaking a taboo---publicly stating that masturbation "is something that is part of human sexuality and it is part of something that perhaps should be taught." Medical opinion is
quite clear about the beneficial effects of masturbation. But the puritans were up in arms. Poor Dr. Elder didn't know what hit her. Bill Clinton cravenly accepted her resignation.
The History of Prudery
I came across Peter Fryer's "Mrs.Grundy: Studies in English Prudery" while living in Calcutta. A delightful book. Mr. Fryer dealt with the subject thoroughly but with humor.
Mrs. Grundy was not a real person but appeared in 1798 as a character in a play "Speed the Plough" by Peter Morton, and "Grundyism" became a part of English vocabulary. I learned from Mr. Fryer's book that the so called "dirty words" (four-letter words) were in common usage until they were attacked as being vulgar. Why? There is no hard fact available. Perhaps they didn't sound right to some ears.
But it was Wesleyans,not the Orthodox Church in England,that lead the movement for reform which included behaviour, marriage, and prostitution. Attack against prostitution was later enlarged to cover extra-marital sex. The Evangelists were against all activities that gave pleasure.
Don't let the prissy prudes teach you morality.
The Catholic Church
In other news today, the Catholic Church in Southern California settled 87 claims exceeding $100 million for charges of child sexual abuse. The Catholic Church was pro-active in the 2004 presidential election, exhorting the faithful not to vote for any candidate who supported the right of choice for women. And so it goes.
Prude. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. ...concerned with being or appearing to be proper, modest, or righteous.
"One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other."
----Jane Austen (1775-1817)