Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Sometimes Nirvana is unattainable

You know the world is wacked when Buddhist monks form rival gangs and flash each other from across the road.

Today, from Reuters (emphasis mine):

BANGKOK - Five Thai Buddhist monks have been defrocked and fined after a brawl with monks from a nearby temple, police and newspapers said Tuesday.

The street fight was the culmination of years of antagonism between monks from the two temples who had often exchanged curses, insults and rude gestures as they collected alms on different sides of a road, the Manager newspaper said.

"When an ordinary person is given a middle-finger sign, he will be mad. So am I," it quoted one of the defrocked monks, Boonlert Boonpan, as saying after the brawl in the northeastern state of Nong Khai Monday.

Boonlert said he usually carried a knuckle-duster in his shoulder bag during the morning collection of alms on which Bhuddist monks depend, it said.

Boonlert and the four other monks, all aged between 15 and 28, were each fined 1,000 baht ($25) by police for public brawling and were defrocked by senior monks, Wut Pomraksa, head of Nong Khai police station, told Reuters.

But Boonlert was unrepentant.

"If senators can fight in parliament, why can't monks?" he said.

So if they moved to America, what would their colors be?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Good luck, Villaraigosa ...

So this is what Levy had to say about LA:

The Anti-City
A city is like a text, Roland Barthes once wrote. Just as there is a language of dreams, so there is a language of cities, more or less well articulated, more or less elegant or legible. I wonder, then, if the prototype of a city with a poorly developed language, the prototype of unintelligible, illegible discourse, isn't Los Angeles.

For after all, what must be true for a city to be legible?

First, it has to have a center. But Los Angeles has no center. . . .

Second, it has to have a border beyond which it dissolves or breaks apart. But Los Angeles has no border. . . .

Third, it has to have a vantage point, or several, from which it can, as in the Paris of Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, be embraced with a single glance. ... The fact is, these viewpoints do not exist. . . .

Finally, a legible city has to have a heart, and this heart must be pulsating. It has to have, somewhere, a starting point from which, one feels, the city was produced, and from which its mode of production is still intelligible today. . . . But this place, too, is nonexistent. . . .

For an illegible city is also a city without a history.

An unintelligible city is a city whose historicity is nothing more than an ageless remorse. And a post-historical city is, I fear, a city about which one can predict with some certainty that it will die.

And despite the fact that I agree with Levy's intellectual assessment, I liked LA! Especially the suburban life, despite the enviro-unfriendly car culture and the lack of non-mall neighborhood hangouts, despite the sprawl, despite the arachnids, despite the un-views of the mountains because of the smog. Maybe it was the shopping. =) Or the jacarandas:

City of Quartz, indeed.

Monday, May 16, 2005

In the footsteps of de Tocqueville

The Atlantic Monthly's recent series, "In the footsteps of Tocqueville," have been the most interesting part of this gift-subscription magazine lately. French writer/philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy quite literally follows in the footsteps of his countryman, whose famous Alexis de Tocqueville, whose book Democracy in America is still mandatory reading for historians-in-training.

Like de Tocqueville, Levy can observe aspects of American culture and society from a relatively objective standpoint. Unlike de Tocqueville, Levy does not comment as extensively on social interactions or hierarchies. Instead, he postulates about the roles of myth in national identity. He is obsessed with symbolism -- prisons, bridges, the flag, baseball, monuments. In this way, he must differ from his 19th-century counterpart, since the repertoire of a common mythology was rather scant in de Tocqueville's time.

Since de Tocqueville's journey ended before the great American expansion began, Levy picks up where he might have left off, and visits the west coast. This is what he had to say about the Emerald City:

I loved the air of freedom, of nonconformism, that reigns over the economic capital of this state about which they said, during the time of the great strikes after World War I, "There are forty-seven states in the United States, plus the Soviet of Washington." And I loved the fact that this city that in a distant past endured the most savage anti-Asian riots in the history of the United States is today near the top in welcoming the influx of people from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing. I loved the fact that this post-American metropolis—where, if it has to invent itself somewhere, the American civilization of tomorrow will invent itself—remains, despite everything, so obstinately European. . . .

I liked absolutely everything about Seattle. . . .

If I had to choose an American city to live in—if I had to pick a place, and only one, where I had the feeling in America of rediscovering my lost bearings—it would be
here, in Seattle.
I admit that this analysis both surprised and impressed me. But maybe I'm just a restless native!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Look, Ma, no hands!

Don't know whether to laugh or cry.... Today, from the Washington Post:

White House Defends Not Telling Bush of Plane

The White House yesterday defended the decision to not interrupt President Bush during a bike ride to inform him of a suspected threat that led to the evacuation of thousands -- including his wife -- from government buildings.

The scare on Wednesday turned out to be merely a wayward pilot.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said a review was under way on how the situation was handled, but he said Bush was not upset that he was not filled in.

"The president has a great amount of trust in his security detail," McClellan said. "If there are any improvements that need to be made, they will be made."

But Leon E. Panetta, a chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, said, "I don't think there is a legitimate excuse for not telling the president of the United States about
that kind of potential emergency."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Somewhere Only We Know

So I'm 3 for 3 for Keane's Seattle appearances, the latest being last night.

Cheesy but idealist lyrics, with rather macabre imagery flashing on a projector screen. An adorable lead singer who shakes his hips uninhibited and wears Make Poverty History and cystic fibrosis awareness bracelets. Seriously, what else could be heaven on a rainy Monday night?

Quote of the evening: "This is truly All Ages!" (Fans 16 to 60 rocked out to songs from Hopes and Fears). I had one brief moment of panic, however, when the youth group teeny boppers behind me decided to sing praise and worship songs before the opening band came on. It occurred to me that Keane's songs are vague enough and have enough of a redemptive undertone to get them onto a youth pastor's recommendation list. But then the band took the stage, and Tom Chaplin really likes to say the word "fucking" (though more in the Bono sense, as an adjective). So no worries about a Brio endorsement!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Senator #5

As a rule, I don't generally read autobiographies. Of course, the rule is flexible. It bends, depending on my mood. I do make exceptions --the exceptions tend to be first-hand accounts that contribute to a historical and philosophical understanding of humanity, like Holocaust survivor stories. Personal autobiographies that detail birth to fame or rags to riches, IMO, can sometimes be little more than ego-inflation and self-congratulatory pontification.

But after Barack Obama's speech at the '04 DNC, and his election to the Senate, he emerged as this odd ray-of-hope figure in the minds of despairing (and unrealistic) Democrats. I bought his autobiography on my New Year's trip to Chicago, continuing a cheesy tourist trend of mine (last time in the Windy City, I bought Sandburg's Chicago poems....)

Written years before his current popularity, the book follows the identity politics of a half-white, half-blackAfrican emerging community leader. The reader follows Obama around the world: Kansas, Hawai'i, Indonesia, California, New York, Illinois, Kenya. He is blunt in his observations about race, class, and American cultures and subcultures.

Above all, Obama is a superb writer. His use of language is both lyrical and analytical, and his observations and analyses of people and the social forces that shape them are incredibly perceptive. I, for one, am glad he's in the Senate for the next six years.

Friday, May 06, 2005

But the pesticide-sprayed corporate apple is cheaper and looks so GOOD!

So for those who support the environment in theory, the snide Seattle-based enviro e-zine Grist offers opportunities for soul-purging confession.

Oooh, eco-gossip imitating Catholic guilt! Can't cast the first stone, can't cast the first stone, can't cast the first stone.... But damn, it's tempting!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

SO cruel...

Why are halter tops the trend for beachwear this year???? This is unnecessary pressure on the cervical vertebrae.... and it's so unfair to all the C's out there, who risk decapitation for the sake of fashion!

Especially when the alternatives are slightly prudish:

Monday, May 02, 2005

"There is a society, where none intrudes, by the deep sea

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar;
I love not man the less, but nature more ...

Thy shores are empires changed in all save thee--
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Thy waters washed them power while they were free,
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey
The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts; not so thou;
Unchangeable save to thy wild waves' play.
Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow:
Such as creation's dawn beheld, thou rollest now. ...

... And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward: from a boy
I wantoned with thy breakers--they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror--'twas a pleasing fear;
For I was as it were a child of thee,
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane--as I do here.

--Byron, "Apostrophe to an Ocean"