Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Major tsunamis are not common, even more rare are films & photos of them as they hit land. Tsunamis have not only changed the course of human history, the largest of them have caused mass extinctions & redirected evolutionary processes. So I feel some guilt looking past all the death & human suffering, at the phenomenon itself, which is fascinating.

We hear a lot of justifiable complaints from both the left & right about economic & cultural globalization. But the scope of these tsunamis, destruction from a natural geologic event spread across an ocean, two continents, & ten or so nations, demonstrates why globalization is ultimately a step forward for the human race, as difficult & inequitable as these early steps are. These countries had no tsunami monitoring & warning system like as the one ringing the Pacific Ocean. & even if one existed, it would not have helped people near the epicenter in Indonesia or in rural areas thousands of miles away. There have been larger tsunamis over the past half century including a localized wave 1,700 feet high in an isolated part of Alaska. If a volcano in the Canary Island collapses, the East coast of the United States could be hit with a wave 100 feet high. Or in the ocean closer to home. Going back in history, an earthquake & tsunami wiped out Lisbon in 1755. Japan has a long memory of great waves. Entire Mediterranean cities have sunk. A volcano blows up & the sea rushes into the caldera & there's another explosion & out rushes a wall of water. Continents move. Sometimes an asteroid falls into the ocean. Such immense tsunamis will happen. We could experience an event far, far worse than the tsunami of 12/04, caused by a 9.0 earthquake that made the Earth wobble on its axiz, vibrate like a bell, & shaved a fraction of a second off the daily rotation.

The tsunami uncovered landmines in Sri Lanka & the government & the Tamil rebels cannot cooperate to defuse them or even to distribute food & bury the dead. The waves reached the shores of Somalia. The killing in Iraq did not pause in mourning. Our's is still a world of nationalism, tribalism, religious extremism & xenophobia. Genocide happens in front of our eyes like a tsunami we cannot hold back. Someday, the human race is going to face a natural catastrophe of hardly imaginable proportions. It may be something we can prevent, or something we'll just have to endure. But whatever it is, I hope we will face it as a whole planet, not as thousands of squabbling nations & warring tribes.

Those of us educated prior to the discovery of plate tectonics wondered about the obvious jig saw puzzle aspects of the world globe in the classroom; we could see that South America & Africa fit together; the arc of ancient worn mountains extending from the Eastern United States to Scotland; the volcanic ring of fire circling the Pacific Ocean; the oddness of animals in Australia. Common sense evidence without an underlying theory. The basic geology I was taught was unconvincing. In a New York Times op-ed piece,. Simon Winchester looks at something we all know that science cannot yet explain.

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Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas is the greatest tradition in the Christian church. We don't know the date of Jesus' birth. Not only are Christians not required to believe Jesus was born on December 25th, it would be in error to believe he was born on any specific date (The essence of Christian belief is simply that Jesus is the Messiah foretold in Hebrew scripture; nearly everything else - even the exact meaning of his life - is debatable). The Nativity story appears in only one Gospel, & it is a literary add-on, & it combines a number of preexisting myths & traditions of how god-heroes are conceived & born. We're fortunate that Jesus gestated in a human female womb & wasn't regurgitated by God, or a potential omlet in a goose egg, or midwived by wood nymphs from a magic orchid. Among founders of major religions, only Siddhartha Gautama did not claim a unique relationship with the Divine; the first earthly Buddha was a seeker & discoverer, not an inventor.

The Christmas celebration at its best is wonderful theater. At its least it is window dressing. Everything else is Saturnalia & winter solstice festivities. Christmas has never existed without the latter. So I am not driven to apoplexy by the "commercialization" of the Advent season. I am bothered when references to its Christian meaning are taken out of schools, now even out of department stores. These references - the songs, the stories, the manger scenes with petting zoos, can & ought to be allowed to coexist with Hanukah, Kwanzaa (a recent creation), Santa Claus, the Grinch, Charlie Brown, It's a Wonderful Life, the Yule Log on WPIX TV, & decorated evergreen trees - a lovely northern yurrupean manifestation of the Tree of Life, which is also the Cross at Calvary & the fruit of knowledge in Eden, & even the spreading bodhi tree that invites all to sit & become enlightened.

If it somehow were authoritatively revealed through Roman & Hebrew bureaucratic paperwork that Jesus was born in June, this yearly season of lights, song & excessive spending & consumption would not end. First, most Christians would refuse to accept the evidence because we love our December Christmas too much to give it up. Second, like all religions, we're taught to accept irrational & illogical beliefs on faith even when refuted by physics, geology & anthropology, or just so fantastic that no one raised outside the church could take them as factual. But if Christmas was somewhow relocated to June - let's say by an infallible Pope with the rest of us figuring that if he buys it, we might as well go along, we would not get rid of the potlatch celebration that drives our economy & is the most important holiday on our calendar. We'd just let it become the secular event our courts, fearful elected officials, & the ACLU are pushing it toward anyway. I don't know what we'd do with "White Christmas," or "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire," or the "Bleak Midwinter" depicted in Christina Rossetti's beautiful poem, but we'd still have omniscient Santa Claus or Father Yule plus all the pagan rituals & symbols that have accrued to the Birthday of Jesus over the centuries (or were there from the beginning) & which, ironically, are now considered the non-religious, inoffensive aspects of Christmas & thus permitted to be observed & displayed in our public schools & common community spaces.
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Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas! Pretty uneventful here. Nice chat with a friend in Massachusetts (who also sent Ed Sanders' "1968"). Missed a call from Jim C. cause I was napping with headphones on. Had lunch with Bruce L. yesterday, here from California for just a few days. The people in the next apartment had the Christmas music cranked up for four full hours this afternoon, ai yi yi. They've been playing it since early November. Now slide into 2005 & the four longest weeks of the year - January. Fabulous how Victoria, a town southeast of Houston, got 12 inches of snow on Friday. It was by far the most ever recorded there, & the first white Christmas since the place got an inch on the 25th 86 years ago. A dream come true for the kids.

Go ahead & wish Merry Christmas to the Indians working at the convenience store. Chances are they are Gujaratis who practice a particularly devotional form of Hinduism; the festivities of Christmas with all the music, food & colorful decorations most resemble their own, & they have high regard for Jesus of Nazareth - but do not consider him or his message to be unique; they have no desire to be converted to Christianity or to make Hindus of Christians. Many Indians believe Jesus traveled to India as a young man, bringing back with him the ideas that got him in trouble with the Pharisees, that is, a certain practical laxity with regard to legalistic Judaism & a tolerant, compassionate attitude toward sinners & gentiles. I'm not sure about that, but it is known that Nazarene Judaism could be rather informal, & folks there had intimate contact with caravans from lands farther east. & let's not forget the astrological implications of those wise men coming to Bethlehem.

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Thursday, December 23, 2004

I like Booker T & the MGs' version of "Silver Bells." For Hanukkah they play "Silverman's Bells."
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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Hello Kitty Christmas Tree, Hong Kong

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Al Ristori has the best job on the Star-Ledger. He goes fishing, then he goes home & listens to the messages charter & party boat "captains" & bait shop owners leave on his machine - they all wanna be in Al's column. Then he writes about 500 words describing his own fishing & adds on another optional 400 from his answering machine called "Top Catches" consisting of names, fish sizes, & plugs for those boats & bait shops especially if they are also newspaper advertisers. If he doesn't go fishing himself, he just substitutes stuff about fishing regulations or an upcoming boat & tackle show or some pal who recently got back from a tournament in Bocas de Toro Panama.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Blackfishing likely to heat up again
Sunday, December 19, 2004
Hopefully, stripers will weather storm
Friday, December 17, 2004
Stripers remain abundant along Shore
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Striper blitz aided by westerly winds
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Sunday, December 19, 2004

From Sunday night's Boston Legal:
Alan Shore: I've always believed God has homicide planned for me.
Tara Wilson: Nice to know you believe in God.
Alan Shore: It's the law now.

How strange is this TV program? Lawyer Lori Colson's therapist is Dr. Allen Konigsberg.

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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Sequence from the 1980's [Call It a Blues]

Where the railroad lays down
a track of darkness,
a work engine rattles its chain,
shoving & pulling empty cars
to a factory’s back door.

The only open tavern
on this lonely stretch of avenue
has a screen door. Each glass shade
hanging above the bar
has the name of a brand of beer.

The customers sit out of sight.
I hear a woman’s loud laugh
spill into a coughing fit.
Someone breaks a rack of pool.
O those blue country song lyrics.

A distant whistle exhales skeletons.
the sky was in a panic
of bright flashes,
smoke from the refinery
smothered the highway.

a door opened in the west,
instantaneous explosions
pounded the car ó
broadcast static on the radio.

all of the frowning young women
with similar haircuts
were dressed in black,
some of them posing
an indeterminate
When the dancing began,
Jim said, Grab yourself
a woman, Bobby.

© 1988 by Bob Rixon

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Friday, December 17, 2004

The only two groups of people that really like poets are print journalists & painters. Poets don't often like many other poets - we can handle only a handful as friends & allies without feeling competitive, & any poet who denies this is lying. There are also tradespeople who like poets; the occasional carpenter, plumber, landscaper. We don't count on them. However, most journalists have read poetry. They're proud of their craft, they get paid for writing, but they rarely choose what they write about, & they appreciate the economy & freedom of poetry - which has much in common with journalism & reporting. Painters like poets because painters like talking while they paint & poets enjoy conversing with painters while we watch them paint. (Discovered last year that this applies to housepainters as well as artists.)

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

one two three four five

The idea of time had intrigued & troubled me from before I knew that time could be an idea. Now I know that time is of great concern to artists, poets & composers, not only physicists & cosmologists. My enrollment at Bloomfield College in the Sixties would have been a total waste if not for the elderly professor I studied with there who had himself studied at Union Seminary with Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich. Time was an important topic in his Introduction to the New Testament course, particularly the concept of "kairos" - historical processes creating the "right" time for something important to occur, a fulfillment of those processes. So one could wonder about the meaning of time. For Tillich, our time is an "eternal now," which makes time practical, mystical, & inescapable while one is alive.

I was touching on the subject of time with my therapist, Dr. K, today. She is one of the most thoughtful people I've ever known, & superbly educated. She's a Capricorn, a different type of personality from mine; solid, practical, who proceeds steadily from one goal to the next. She's also a Russian Jew, not particularly devout but aware & appreciative of her heritage, as one would be when brought up under Soviet Communism & now becoming an American. Thousands of years ago, the Hebrews developed & brought into human consciousness the concept of time by which you & I were raised, & take for granted; historical, nonrepetitive, noncyclical time. Our comprehension of time is one of the Torah's major themes: There was an "In the beginning." The Creator/Spirit embraces all of time, but for us time does not rewind or reset to zero & start over again; time is also a judgment, an end of opportunity. Justice cannot wait. We didn't go into this in detail, but I learned something new about Dr. K: time is one of her interests, it was the subject of her doctorate. She didn't say what the exact title was. She did show me a little demonstration. Dr. K asked me to count with my fingers. I made a fist, extended my thumb for "one," then my index finger for "two," middle finger for "three," & at "five" my fist was gone & my hand was open with all five fingers extended. Then she counted the way she was taught as a child; she made a fist, extended her pinky for "one" then put it back in the fist; extended her ring finger for "two" then put that back. At "five" only her thumb was up as if she were hitch-hiking. For her it was number five, for me it was one more one. But is linear, historical time ultimately real? Unfortunately, we had to move on to other matters.

How each of us experiences time - the quantitative & qualitative together - is not presently measurable although we are in mathematical agreement & thereby able to set our watches & be somewhere at a specific moment. But I am certain that many of the people I have met who suffer from various forms of psychosis are not experiencing time as I do; they are living in worlds with dream qualities. I wonder if they are experiencing (& not always nightmarishly) what we sometimes try to capture & express in art: relativity & simultaneity, past memory & forward projection, gathering & unraveling, & the essence of an "eternal now."

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Pixies on Letterman performed one of their most popular - & one of my favorite - songs, Monkey's Gone to Heaven. Black Francis/Frank Black singing-declaiming words, Kim Deal bemused, they still don't break a sweat, but they never looked in the best shape even when they were younger. Great group. Good to have them back.
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Monday, December 13, 2004

Today was the first day of winter. It always arrives one morning between Thanksgiving & the solstice. Up to now the season was Fall with a hangover, a bit of leftover color on a dingy gray background. We've had a few chilly nights & frosts, but not winter. Today I felt it before I went outside. & when I stepped out at noon I did what I always do on a fair winter day: pulled a knit hat over my ears, put on my sunglasses, & wiggled my hands into a pair of "magic" stretch gloves. The temperature may have been pushing forty degrees but there was a cold breeze from the west & the sun had about as much heat as a Bic lighter with only fumes left in it. Some years we've had a substantial snowfall or a deep freeze by December 13. Other years there's only chilly Mediterranean rain & dampness; But eventually the bottom drops out.

As a kid, I enjoyed all the seasons; the year was divided into "school" or "No School" periods & only the latter was worthy of further subdivision. Of course, I hoped for snow. But sometime around my late twenties I began to detest everything about winter; the cold, the snow, the short daylight, the lack of plants growing & animals making noises. I felt lonely during the winter & this sadness always began shortly after my birthday in November when the last cricket - always residing in a shadow near a sunny place like a parking lot - stopped chirping & dug itself in to snooze until the early summer sun stirred it into song again. There's a name for it now, Seasonal Affective Disorder, although that could just be a way to sell medications. & I hated winter for over two decades; my animosity toward the season aggravated by cranky old cars that didn't like winter either & that became especially unreliable at times one needed to rely on them most. In any case, winter took away my favorite outdoor places. Somehow I could manage the spells of hot, muggy summer weather no matter what shape I or my car was in.

One year my car broke down - electrical problem of course - & I left it parked in the street & while I was recuperating from eye surgery at my sister's there was a heavy snowfall & the city towed it away & I decided I didn't want it back because the car was also going to need tires & an exhaust system & brakes & inspection & I couldn't take care of a machine that was more sickly & depressed than I was at the time.

A couple of years ago I began to realize I no longer hated winter as vehemently or loved summer as passionately. I still disliked the long shadows & pale sun of January & February yet I rather enjoyed the dry cold air & the peacefulness of snowy nights. I still loved the balmy late sunsets of July & August but the thick afternoon air weighed more heavily on me & the occasional evening thunderstorms of which I was once a meteorological connoisseur turned into annoyances that kept me from getting out & about on a bicycle. & while if there's no snow in the way I'll bundle up & ride a bike to the grocery store on all but the most frigid days, I never go pedaling through humid 90 degree heat.

I don't know if this change in my seasonal attitude is permanent or temporary; if it has to do with age or wisdom or gradual adaptation. But it suits me right now, & I am glad winter is here. & that's about 600 words, a substantial newspaper column before editing.

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Sunday, December 12, 2004

The people in the next apartment started with the Christmas music before Thanksgiving; with two weeks to go their kids are already worked up into a frenzy. The mom over there has played music so ear-splittingly loud both I & this building's owner have had to bang on the door.

Good time to check out apartment buildings
from the outside. It's a plus if they have Christmas decorations, means the owner or super takes some extra interest in the outside appearance, chances are it's also kept up on the inside. For lawns & landscaping buildings fall into categories of Indifferent, Minimal, Professional, & Someone on premises planting flowers.

Acting Jersey governor Dick Codey missed an opportunity during a brief drive time interview on WCBS news radio the other day. He either had bad staff prep or more likely didn't bother to study what they offered him. Codey couldn't swat the easy questions the WCBS newsreaders lobbed at him. Homeland Security cut our funding, of course we're all indignant, but Codey should have explained in slightly better detail what we need that money for & how we use it beyond "Wyoming has to protect sheep & cattle, we got harbors & airports." We also heard current fantasies about a "new stadium for the Giants" & "minor league ballpark" & "keeping the Jets" & a zillion dollar trans-Hudson railroad tunnel in ten years, but he couldn't say why there's any great need for subsidizing New York Waterways ferries now that the WTC PATH is back on line. I should think the people who own Waterways knew that they were mainly filling a need in response to 9/11. & can the ferries hauling the monied classes from expensive condos on the Jersey bayshore that used those ferries as a selling point really be profitable? Codey had a chance to speak briefly & clearly to each of these matters without tough followup questions, & he didn't, & I imagined several of his assistants sighing, crumpling up & tossing their memos into the nearest trash can. He's a good man who needs a new suit for his new job. Add YOUR comments here

Friday, December 10, 2004

I wasn't the only one who considered Bernard Kerik a peculiar choice for Homeland Security Secretary. He has an odd resume, nobody seems to know much about him. The position is less about maintaining security than adminstering an enormous & complex federal department - including the Coast Guard, FEMA, Secret Service, immigration, customs & border patrol, & the Civil Rights Office. Kerik was not qualified for this job. He looked like a substitute for Rudy Giuliani, who does have the appropriate experience from having been NYC mayor. It's good that Kerik withdrew. Tomorrow we'll find out why.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Some 2004 favorites for WFMU:

Charles Ives: Piano Sonata No. 1.; William Masselos, piano (RCA 1967, vinyl LP o/p).
Originally composed between 1904 & 1910, the 1st Sonata had to be reconstructed by Lou Harrison in the late 1940s, & was premiered by Masselos in 1949, the version recorded here. Messier, jazzier & funnier than the more famous 2nd.

Nino Rota: Il Capella di paglia de Firenze (The Italian Straw Hat).
with Federico Davia, Mariella Devia, Magda Olivero, Augusto Pedroni; Orchestre Du Theatre Royal De La Monnaie, conducted by Elio Boncompagni (Gala 1999, recorded live 1976, CD)
Rota's music is of one broad cloth, including this silly opera composed in 1955.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 7 for soprano, small female chorus, & orchestra with narrator ad lib ("Sinfonia Antartica"); Symphony No. 8 in D minor; Bournemouth Sinfonietta, conducted by Kees Bakels (Naxos CD).

Bela Bartok: Works for Orchestra; Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (Vox 3 CDs o/p)
I dig the composer, the conductor, & the band.

Brian Wilson: Smile (Nonesuch 2004 CD)
Always had doubts about the assemblage structure, & never cared for Van Dyke Parks. But this proved it was for real - or could have been. Because unfortunately it's not a Beach Boys album, & so the performances are uncanny rather than authentic. Stylistically, Smile approximates California novelty doo wop more than anything else. I hope Jan Berry is smiling.

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Saturday, December 04, 2004

Have to be especially careful this time of year about my general outlook. Negotiating the period from my birthday to the New Year has always posed a challenge - a year older, diminishing daylight, the inevitable anti-climax of the "Holidays." It's a difficult passage for many people.

I miss working at Pearl Arts & Crafts in Woodbridge this time of year. I mean the way the store was before it changed owners & became understocked & understaffed. Business pickedup after Thanksgiving & I'd sell a lot of books. The "girls" in the craft dept always got into decorating their area. Many of of the workers were high school & college students, I enjoyed being around these artistic adolescents. There were, of course, the annoying musical ornaments & lights on display, & the tediously repetitive playlist of holiday music broadcasting out of the ceiling speakers. There was a special camraderie among those of us who worked Saturday nights; we breathed a collective sigh of relief when the manager & owner left the store sometime between six & seven. A sizable percentage of the younger employees smoked up during supper break on Saturdays. I never got high at work. But those evenings during December featured an extra amount of general silliness. The only drag was getting out of the parking lot after work, holiday traffic was near gridlock on that stretch of Route One. By the time Christmas actually arrived I was pretty much holiday'd out & it didn't really matter what happened on Christmas Day. I always had modest but cool presents to give friends & family. I'd made it from from November to year's end, & the sun seemed to shine a bit brighter & stay in the sky longer on January 2nd,
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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Let's congratulate Tom Brokaw (& Dan Rather & Peter Jennings) for presiding over the dumbing down of network national news. Does anyone who really cares about getting the "news" watch any of these programs? That stuff is softer than Dairy Queen ice cream. It's been years since I turned on the boob toob at 6:30 pm. I don't watch The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer either; when's the last time a talking head regular on that program delivered up an opinion or interpretation of current events that surprised you with its originality? I reached a point with Lehrer's program where I could predict - with remarkable success - what the commentators were going to say. We Americans look at the world through the wrong end of a telescope. One can be just as inadequately informed by listening to the four minute hourly national news on WCBS AM radio, or stretch a little with the BBC World News on channel 21 at 11 p.m.

Two lousy stories from Jersey today. The GM plant in Linden is closing, probably forever. It's been making SUVs, mostly for the Canadian market. If the plant were closing because people hated SUV gas mileage, or because you couldn't get a tax break when you bought one, it would actually be a sign of positive changes. But it's closing because the Jimmy can't compete with a Ford.

It was also revealed that the oil spill from a leaking tanker in the Delaware River is much worse than originally announced; could be as much as 400,000 gallons rather than the 30,000 gallon figure. So, it took days for the Coast Guard, EPA & all the other agencies monitoring the spill to even approximate its severity. Something not right there.
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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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