Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spanish is fun

Today's Gaturro, for example, a sort of Garfield from Argentina, only funny, has the word golazo — and Google can't translate it! (Ok, ok, un golazo is a seriously cool sports moment like a great gol (with echoes). So Gaturro says to Agatha, "Agatha, being at your side is a real highlight for me." Flash through the panels, then Agatha says, "What's happening, Gaturro?" And Gaturro says, "Well, like any good highlight, we replay it from every angle."

Sometimes, too, Spanish is just cooler than English. A truck driver is a caminero, e.g. And swine flu is gripe mortal, which sums up my view on that subject just fine.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Whitehouse Cabinet: The Would-Workers

The members of President Barack Obama's cabinet make a pretty exclusive country club. Some of those jobs are what you make of them, like former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack's Secretariat of Agriculture, a post vastly more important when cities actually understood where their next meal was coming from.

Since Earl Butz, Nixon & Ford's boy at Ag, the post has diminished, but in the daze of chronic ag overproduction, post-Castro sugar price supports — as you no doubt recall, "C&H" used to mean "Cuban and Hawaiian" — Butler bins and farm set-aside programs (before the Green Revolution, in other words), the job actually meant something.

These days, climate change, environmental agronomy, neopestilence, proteomics, bioengineering and the Agrichemical-Industrial Complex (to coin a phrase) pose challenges only dimly appreciated. Vilsack is an ok administrator; I have doubts about his interdisciplinary imagination.
This is a bit recherche, but remember back in 2001, when the source of "weaponized anthrax" turned out to be a veterinary research project at the National Animal Disease Center (ARS) in Ames, Iowa? There's no such thing as "agriculture" anymore, not in the pre-biotechnological Jethro Tull sense.
Kathleen Sibelius, by comparison, the Kansas governor just sworn in (rising far above the toxic Republican spew) as Health and Human Services Secretary, is on the fast track to stardom if she wants it. But the truth is, her job and Vilsack's overlap — with just about every other Cabinet level position. [N.B. I live in Iowa. I'm from Kansas.]

It's probably a "logical oversight" that two members of the Legislative branch, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate President pro tempore Robert Byrd, have been left out of the Whitehouse list of order of succession to the Presidency. Both follow Vice President Joe Biden and precede Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The order of Cabinet succession is the order in which those posts were created by acts of Congress, so the cavil is germane.

But we would all probably be better served by abandoning these 19th Century entelechies, with their built-in God-derived top-down heirarchies, in favor of organically networked structures that no one pretends are "independent." Maybe the Brits have got it right; a parliamentary system is preferable to an artificial pastiche of unelected incompetencies?


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

With friends like Arlen Specter...

Hoodathunkit? The hard white core of the boil on the Republican Rump is livid about Specter's switch, as revealed by the most perfunctory of visits to FoxSnooze. I'm not sure if they're madder about Specter leaving the Republican party, or Specter flipping off the Pennsylvania right wing lynchmo... er... "primary election."

Lots of Eisenhower democrats out there, evidently. I notice from the byplay at Specter's press conference that he's claiming to have greater seniority (as a turncoat pretending to be a Democrat first elected to the Senate in 1980) than Tom Harkin (a well and proper true blue Democrat first elected to the Senate in 1984).

Also, please note that Specter's first act as a Democrat was to oppose Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's nominee to head the Office of Legal Counsel. Not to mention promising to vote with Republicans on cloture sometimes, if not most of the time — aginnit, i.e.

Specter would probably be more comfortable as an "Independent" with Joe Lieberman in an AIPAC phone booth.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flew?

Over reacting? I dunno. It seems like SARS was a bigger concern. This one is just an H1N1 swine flu mutant, pretty well understood by now, I'd've thought.

I guess it depends on how quickly the pharmaceutical companies get with the program, assuming any of them are remotely interested.

There was a huge contretemps a few years ago about how the major drug factories had abdicated the national interest — demonstrating unreadiness, inability or sheer pigheaded unwillingness to tool up for the development of vaccines against H5N1 avian flu, weapons-grade anthrax or unprofitable third-world diseases like malaria, in other words — in favor of high-volume, high-priced, unbelievably cheap to manufacture money spinners like Viagra.

Just another reason for Obama & Co. to get off the dime about national health care. Let's not see another Bush-style crisis du jour administration. These things are easy to anticipate, and respond well to informed (and informative) leadership.


Saturday, April 25, 2009


Went to the Cyclone Go Club's All-Iowa Go Tournament at ISU (Ames, IA) today. Got beaten up and humiliated — cannon fodder, really — but I may finally get an AGA ranking out of this weekend. Pretty good fun, but maybe KGS is easier.

We played in the Gallery of the Memorial Union, a small meeting room on the third floor. It hasn't changed much in forty years (where they held Dick Gustavson's eulogy, last time I saw the place). The rest of the Union is some other planet. The Commons used to be as dark and friendly as Hogwarts. Now it's infested with fast food outlets — no McDonald's, at least. Subway, yes. And Panda Express. The Cy Burger is not bad, but who puts Mayo & French on a cheeseburger?

One big change after 40 years (I graduated in 1969) — two or three laptops at every table, all hooked into the MU wi-fi.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Odysseus Takes The Low Road

I'm 64. My life expectancy is another 20 years tops, and I can't even begin to imagine my life transcribed in the Calvinist ledgers of some spiritual bean counter at the Pearly Gates. Is God that bored — or boring? I've met demonic personalities that sarcastic, that maddeningly, sadistically tedious, yes. Those counters up, those jotters and totters! God gave Hell to Lucifer for a reason, one suspects. Some ungodly reason like double entry bookkeeping.

I can, all too easily, think in terms of Sunday School stories — after all, that was how my well-meaning parents brought me up. I had to train my own mind in the rigors of Buddhist logic (or illogic, or both, or neither, or not both and not neither), I had to teach myself to find the Tao.

Like a doubt, "The way you're going's not the way to go..."

In ancient Egypt, the dead came to a hellish place where they confronted a monstrous judge who ripped out your heart and weighed it on a scale, against a feather. If your heart soared light as a feather, you were allowed to pass the gates. If not, they threw your Ka to a fiery crocodile and not even a memory of you remained.

So which is true? None of them. But your question makes you a spiritual S & H Green Stamp; you've been saved and pasted in a book; you may be redeemed for an ashtray, or a dashboard hula girl. Would you be expecting something bigger, then, something better? Ah, I know what your problem is... You're an American!

You can't live in the moment either, can you? It slips away like water in your palm. You are not a Zen gong, sorry. At best a windchime. If the living is easy. If the zephyrs sway.

Sunlit butterflies
    like philosophers — or kings —
        dream in palindromes.

Like a whisper, "It'sh not the way you shay it, it's the what you shed..."



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trees Talk?

Judges 9:8-15

Besides the Green Man in England, there are tree trolls all over Scandanavia — and Russian documentary footage shot during a reconnaisance mission to the vicinity of the 1908 "Tunguska event" depicts Siberian trees with grotesque human faces presumably carved after "the end of the world."

Actually, the Siberian tree faces seem a little contrived; it's not clear if the trees were carved by local shamans or bored Russian cinematographers. The only other evidence for largescale Siberian tree carvings has been a shaman's coffin hewn from larch, not a sculpture. One of the best indicators that Disney's film Pocahontas is not a story about Native Americans, but about Rousseauvian eurofantasy Noble Savages, is the culturally displaced old tree woman. And here in Cedar Rapids, there's a ten-foot-tall Viking hewn and varnished from the standing trunk of a storm-blasted tree not half a mile away from where I live.

Trees with faces seem fairly eurocentric to me, so the mention of talking trees in Judges is unexpected and a bit peculiar. Did the ancient Hebrews have some kind of trade and gossip contact with ancient forest peoples? The only Graeco-Roman tree spirit I'm aware of (though my ignorance is vast) is the Laurel once pursued by the hardy Apollo. Where were the Celts 4,000 years ago? And anyway, I thought they were cattle barons, not woodsmen. Were the Goths and Vandals still in Khazakstan about then? Or Taklamakan?

But anyway, on its merits in context, what does the story in Judges mean? The greenwood mocks its lesser, agricultural sisters, domestics all — the olive, the fig, the grapevine and the bramble. Each of the mild, economically important varieties decline the honor of "ruling the trees," and the bramble (just thorns, presumably) is actually sarcastic about it, predicting that if the woods are not serious about seeking a king among brambles (which of course they are not), then they — the "cedars of Lebanon," standing in for the Urwald as a kind of placeholder, evidently — will be burned to the ground.

Which, in Europe and most of North America (where even the tallest trees are second growth remnants of the forest primeval) and today in the Amazon basin, is exactly what has happened. But the Bible, in Judges, is about murder and betrayal, kinship and politics, not trees. Trees would be better.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Jangle Gently When You Walk

"Mmmm... Satchel Paige..."
"... Emperor Palpatine... and..."
"... Barack Obama..."

I took my Obama bumpersticker off the Honda last night. Time to be Independent again, especially on The Graveyard of Empires, Afghanistan. I applaud the return of pragmatism in foreign policy, but wish we had a few more folks in there who can think nine levels deep into the briar patch.

But what really bugs me is all the lip service to health care, education and the environment. Obama needs to stretch his paradigm.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Connect the Dots!

Remember this?
The worms crawl in,
The worms crawl out,
The worms play pinochle
On your snout!
Could it be? Is that the real lyric to the Laurel and Hardy theme song?

(Don't be fooled by this ersatz Cuckoo Song nonsense which claims to be the genuine article!)

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Farming Castlevania, The Order of Ecclesia

This is Ruvas Forest the hard way, very early in the game...

The easy way? Just re-equip Shanoa (Lv. 48) with a few hard-won items: Inire Pecunia, Treasure Hat, Thief Ring, Gold Ring, Nitesco and Vol Ascia. This turns the Ruvas Forest into Shanoa's personal Savings & Loan — and before you can utter Jack Rumpelstiltskin Obama three times fast you've got 9 Super Potions.

Double clutch, downshifting heavy load... Ok, the thing that bothers me about real cut-throat capitalism is, where does the money come from? I understand that the amount of wealth in the world increases over time, in general. That was Douglas Adams' Truism, right? "Bang the rocks together!" Voila! Tunafish in cans, and a videogame in every pocket!

No, what I mean is, who owned the cash equivalent of that 3.14% APR due on my CD's before the certificate matured and I got it? Isn't all profit (even my kind of teensy weensy interest profits) a giant Ponzi scheme? In fact, isn't that the reason for the secret Wall Street fury about Bernie Madow, that he let the cat out of the bag? Well, Karl Marx did it first, but he wasn't "one of us." Don't the rich get richer? Don't the poor get poorer?

Sooner or later, that bill comes due. Somebody repaid a loan at an even stiffer rate of interest to the bank, the bank took their cut and paid the tiny increment due on my CD. Somebody stiffed somebody else to repay that bank loan, right? Marx thought that eventually the debt landed on the backs of the poor, who paid in labor what they couldn't pay in cash. Class warfare. But it has to be more complicated than that.

The economy resembles an ecosystem, a rainforest, say, but a rainforest is easier to understand. Ultimately, that which drives the rainforest, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower to quote Dylan Thomas, is solar energy — sunlight and photosynthesis. What corresponds to sunlight in cash and carry economics? Agriculture? Are all economies ultimately agrarian? Maybe so, even hunter-gatherer societies rely on vegetarian intermediaries between themselves and photosynthesis. Even miners, as removed as possible from the sun, trade their ores and metals for potatoes and radishes.

So, do fishermen owe their entire wealth and weal to solarphilic phytoplankton? What about defense attorneys who live off the scum of the earth? Honest young American black women with callused hands like rock, buying their first Apple computer with the blinking green gotcha P that won't let the system boot until you turn on the printer? How is that solar? But it has to be, considering the Earth's Goldilocks carbon chemistry.

If so, then as it says in the Rig Veda, the world is made out of food, and our own sun is the ultimate source of all wealth in the world — and by wealth of course we mean the kind of joyful elaboration that appeals to the human mind: Weaving, hearthfires, metallurgy, farming, pottery, tea, morphine, polyester, symphonies sycophantic, architecture, dolls, operas and ragas, rants, poetry and song, scifi, post-impressionists, warfare, leisure, lust and circumcision, love, hate and heavy metal.

So! Economics is easy to figure out, but why wasn't I ever taught it this way in school?

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Curiously enough, I had a cat named Teabag. He started out as a greymalkin kitten named Sinbad, but turned into Teabag because he would chase and fetch these little U-shaped paper springs that I origami'd out of Lipton teabag covers. Quite a three dimensional character, that cat, but not the smartest. This is by way of registering the following snide comment on Rupert Murdock's astroturf ("fake grass roots") teabaggery campaign: Pbbbffttt!


Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Without Emptiness

The Catholic schismatics at EWTN may have a problem with Buddhism, but Buddhism does not have a problem with fabulous hagiography — miracles, immaculate conception, virgin birth and resurrection (not necessarily in chronological order) are all perfectly kosher to Buddhists.

Here's my thesis. The Resurrection is taboo, not even discussed. Like drawing a cartoon of Mohammed, it is simply Not Done. In Islam, that means respect. In Christianity, it means the believers are at a bare minimum candidates for their own special olympics of the mind. Fortunately, we can discuss this from a neutral-seeming corner.

The kicker is, if you become a Buddhist Catholic for the right reason (namely, because everyone you love is Catholic), then you do the whole eight point seven yards. For Buddhists, the notion that God might suspend the rules of the natural universe and do miracles is not even out of the ordinary; from a Buddhist point of view, the universe is suspended from moment to moment already — time steps from one unliklihood to the next, from instant to instant, miracle to miracle. Time is momentary, and if the Buddha smiles, the moment is gone before you're sure you saw what you think you saw. The Universe is not the Universe. No past, no present, no future. So what does it really mean, that stuff happens?*

So, Resurrection. No problem there. It drives secular liberals nuts just thinking about it, and the ultra-orthodox either bananas or pineapples, depending how close they're standing to Mel Gibson at any given moment. At any rate, the point of Easter is not that we've lost another one in the trauma ward of faith — God is, after all, not playing benihana in a butcher shop — but that the rules got bent — that Law bent its knee in service to the Son of Man. Why is that so hard too get your head around? You'd think it could at least show up in the funny papers.

*Some theoretical physicists think it could mean the Universe is virtual, a kind of program playing on an enormous (or tiny) computer of some kind. Time in a computer is an organizing principle, a metronome, not an arrow, and metadata would be entirely unaware of it, like a fish is unaware of water. In this sense, Time is not Time, the Universe is not the Universe, and everything is meaningless without its freaky observer.


Saturday, April 11, 2009



Friday, April 10, 2009

What's good about it?

My wife is sick. My kid is sick. I'm sick (well, sort of... morbidly interested in my own list of petty ailments, anyway.) The economy is down, and ducks are flying east for Spring.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bottle in a message

I pity the gifted,
so busy, so driven!
Mediocre lives
have all the best of it,
We cautionary tales,
or are we just an audience
for some dumb universal mime,
flecks of scintillation, fire lit
lips, eye shadow, assaulting scent?
When the last curtain falls like a
plague of locusts on my last
remaining hope, will I have eyes to see
or any mind to remember you?
Did you sit beside me in the bleachers,
did we laugh or cry?
Let me call for my Mercedes and
go home.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Pedestrian, uninspired, serviceable

A dried lima bean the size of a dime expands to the size of a quarter when you soak it overnight. Bear that in mind.

Put your bag of dried beans into a sauce pan larger than you think you'll need, then cover the beans with fresh water overnight. Throw out the water in the morning, and cover the fullsize beans with fresh water again. That's the beans.

The soup part is even simpler. Add salt, thyme, black pepper and bits of ham that you have cut up with kitchen shears. Simmer on low heat for about three hours. Don't overdo it, or you'll get mush. Unless you like mush, of course.

Vegans don't need permission to leave out ham. The soup is still ok. There's a lot of it. From there, you can elaborate. Click on the image for another recipe that looks interesting to me. Yes, all bean soups go well with fresh, uncooked onions and a slice or two of week old whole grain bread. Won't improve your life expectancy, though. Try vitamins.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lives of the Golden Geeks Dept.

I'm a great believer in the hidden lives, buried in obscurity, who secretly shape our worlds. I sometimes flatter myself to believe that in my own miniscule way, maybe I've been one of them. Then there's this guy...

He calls himself Joi Ito and he blogs occasionally on Japanese Culture, which is how I noticed him. I thought he was an American lost in the Kansai wilderness, trying to teach English in that dwindling market. Nope. Native-born Japanese, from a Todai-class mom and a business-class dad, or was it vice-versa, who spent some time in the States as a boy in the company of a nanny whose happy associations earned him to this day the nickname Jon-Jon among the geishas and maikos of Kyoto. (Quoting here... ;-)

He also happens to be the CEO of Creative Commons. One of the gods of geek, in other words, like Naruto, only more so. And the only thing wrong with his English is that he occasionally drops the "-ly" from his adverbs and shows a slight predilection for the null-set article ("I bought book"). I've met Noo Yawk bubblegummers who don't get that right.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

It's stupid, but wottheheck

Ok, I traded in four Nintendo DS games I had laying about and never play, and got one new one for "free" (with an extra $3.05 credit voucher). It's not free, of course. But you can't tell about these shrinkwrapped games until you buy them, mash the buttons awhile, and slowly come to realize a DS game can be that bad.

I traded in:
  • Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi (used) - worst game I ever bought, bad controls, unplayable, and the cover has a green and purple color scheme

  • Myst (used) - the NDS screen is too small for this game, and it is truly bad by modern standards, even dumbed down (there used to be that gratuitously balky switch on top of the tower near the spaceship, remember?)

  • Space Invaders Extreme (marked down) - not actually a bad game, but too fast for my 64-ear-old reflexes

  • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time - not unplayable, just irritating. Remember block graphics with jagged edges? Moving is that way in this twinky. You can't go NE without going N, E, N, E, N, E... It gets old, and so what?

Received in return, even up:
  • Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume - This one is playable, but twisted evil. Kid blames the Valkyrie who found his dying old man on a battlefield and added him to her Einherjar collection. He wants to get even. That's bent. Complete misreading of the mythology, kinda makes you wonder if Square Enix has their head on straight this time. We'll see. It's another of those games that are too much fun for Lent, so I have to wait until next Sunday. I mean that ironically, of course.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Extraordinary Book

Yellow Mountain Imports ships this book in the box it arrived in from Taiwan. When you unwrap it, the volume has a dark blue velvet slipcase — a bag, in other words! — and a pungent, new book odor sort of characteristic of Chinese printshoppery. Either that, or it's that antifungal fumigant they use on wood and paper products in Vietnamese warehouses. The pages are thin, the text is (I presume) Mandarin, and the bottom half of each page contains a kifu (棋譜, i.e., a game record printed in the old style used for centuries prior to SGF computer records.) This copy is not autographed. The book lies flat (and stays flat) when opened.

The first game is numbered #1 and dated November 9, 1839 with 191 moves spanning two pages; the last is numbered #471 and dated May 22, 1862 containing a mere 38 moves. I cannot read the opponent's names, and Shusaku's name is not always Shusaku. When games produce ko during play, stones played into the same position are listed by sequence and identified by the first move played or by "equals (the move marked) Triangle," for example. I was wondering how they did that.

In the deep scale of universal mysteries, I suppose this book is precious in entirely the wrong sense of that word — i.e., an elaborately enshrined example of sheer genius applied to the utterly trivial — but... The fact remains that human minds capable of the kind of concentration required to produce these games (on both sides of the board!) are rare indeed. The awe that attends study of these games has been lavished on the book itself, from boards to binding, from page to page from endpaper to endpaper. If you buy a copy, enjoy.

Download the companion Chinese language sgf files. The Big 5 font (or just mojibake?) may cause problems for some game readers, such as Many Faces of Go v12 or CGoban3. On the other hand, PANDA-glGo works well.

So, what is the point of buying an obsolete book for $47.97 (includes shipping) when you can download the same 471 games in excellently up-to-date sgf format scot free, you ask? Well, what about cultural preservation in a post-apocalyptic world? If you survive the [ meteor impact | PRK nuke | North American electrical grid blackout riots | other unpredictable Rumsfeldian event ] that destroys all post-microprocessor civilization as we know it, then you, my friend, have a Go board, Go stones, Go bowls and 471 of the great classical kifus to while away the deadly winter nights, and speaking of a boy and his dog, will you save A) your girlfriend, or B) your Thursday night Go-playing beer buddies? It's a trick question, numskull. Think fourth dimensionally.

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Friday, April 03, 2009


Buy me something.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Paper Cuts

And the winner is... Michelle Wie, Kraft Nabisco Open. Of course. The rest of you can go home now.

[Update 5 apr 2009] Wow, Wie! Made the cut!