Sunday, December 31, 2006

On the joys of hyphenated Americanism

In a sense, the place is wide open, but not in the way the New York and Baltimore and Washington used to be wide open--vulgarly, garishly, hoggishly. The business is achieved with an air, almost a grand manner. It is good-humored, engaging, innocent. There is no heavy attitude of raising the devil. [...] It is a friendly place, a spacious and tolerant place, a place heavy with strangeness and charm. It is no more American, in the sense that American has come to carry, than a wine festival in Spain or the carnival at Nice. It is cut off sharply from all the rest of this dun and dour republic.
-- H. L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 21, 1920

Earlier this week there was a piece on NPR's All Things Considered about an American woman of Thai birth who is seeking to get more connected to her foreign roots. It is multi-culti with a vengeance--even includes folk-dancing! In brief, this San Francisco resident bemoans her parents' decision to try to secure her a better life in America.

PUENG VONGS: I realize that this was the missing piece for me growing up in the Midwest. My family does not have the support of a community, classes, a temple. In our isolation, my parents made the decision that it was better to adapt to our new culture. They knew the difficulties of not speaking well in America. So eventually, they began speaking to us strictly in English and a language barrier divided us.
So, to redress this perceived wrong, she joins Thai-American children at the local temple for language lessons, dancing lessons, and even this:

VONGS: At the temple before each lesson day, students sign up for the Thai National Anthem. I tower over most of them. I sing the complicated Thai phrases routinely, but my mouth stays shut. I'm so not quite that advanced. I must admit that I'm a little jealous of their knowledge at such an early age. But as we watch the unfurling of both the Thai and American flags, I am also inspired. When I was growing up, family believed that you had to sacrifice one culture for the other. One of the things that students are learning is that you can keep both.

That's a bit much, even for a deracinated San Francisco culturatus (culturata?). I wonder how many other Thai-Americans are unabashedly grateful to have grown up here? Who might feel, even, relieved not to have grown up in Thailand, because of certain risks that aren't quite so prevalent here? I wonder if All Things Considered could even do a story on them without duct-taping their own heads first?

I understand the yearning for the places and things of one's childhood. Even though I'm the first man in my family not to grow up on a farm, and I still feel a tug of nostalgia whenever I pass through rural settings. Same with being around small Southern towns. But I also remember something my father told me, a little prayer he used to mutter when he was out toiling in the hot sun as a youth: "Lord, if you get me out of these fields, I'll do my best to stay out!" He did, and I now have what every parent of his generation wanted to give the children of my generation: a better life. I hope Ms. Vongs life is better than her parents' too, and that she give due consideration as to why it is.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy Groundhog Day

On Sunday the Israeli cabinet approved the release of $100m of about $600m in tax revenue being withheld from the Palestinian Authority.

The move was agreed a day earlier at the first formal meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mr Abbas.

On Monday Mr Peretz announced the easing of travel restriction in the West Bank during a appearance before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Israeli parliament.

He said 24 roadblocks would first be dismantled, followed by another 35 at a later stage.

Mr Peretz told reporters that the plan was aimed at "increasing the number of Palestinians working in Israel".

The closures imposed around the West Bank frequently make it difficult or impossible for Palestinians to go to Israel for work.

He added that some Palestinian prisoners held in Israel would be released to mark the Eid festival, due to begin at the end of December.

"Improving the Palestinians' standard of living is part of Israel's security concept," the defense minister said.

Like re-living the 90s all over again, and again, and again... Wonder how many civilians this round of kissy face is going to cost Israel?

Staying on offense against the jihadists

War is icky and everything, but this is certainly a bright spot in the global war of defense against The Jihad. The ragtag, loosely-knit, weak, and otherwise failing to measure up to Western standards of democracy Somalian national government is rolling back the jihadist, fundamentalist Islamist Courts entity. This with the aid of Ethiopia, which incidentally is the only country in Africa which was never colonized. I can just see our Western rock music aristocracy's heads exploding. Why, only last year they were raising money for "the poor", that anonymous mass of little brown foreigners, into whom they projected their fantasies of revolution and one-worldism. Now here is one set of them fighting against another, for the exact same reasons that the U. S. is fighting Islamic terrorism. Ethiopia knows that if they don't beat them down over there, they'll have to fight them at home later. Maybe we'll be faced with the same prospect, on some evil day in the future, if our efforts fail, and Canada continues its multi-culti course of leasing itself out as one big terrorist residential motel.

Plus, Israel is going to resume pinpoint attacks on Qassam rocket-firing Palestinian killbots, like they did against Hamas'leadership, including the late and much perforated Sheikh Yassin. European, Arab, and progressive media will howl, as always, but also as always the alternative of innocent massacred Jews is a prospect at which they can barely stifle a smirk, a cheer, and a yawn, respectively. Target engage, guys!

I'm probably sounding uncharacteristically belligerent, at least for this blog. This is because I'm reading Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within It's just as rousing and alarming and full of zingers as Mark Steyn's America Alone, with the difference that Bawer lived in several countries in Europe, spoke the languages and read their news media, and thus delivers much more first-hand reportage.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas to all ROFTers and visitors!

The one person, Jesus Christ, both true God and true man, stooped into our littleness to draw us up to the greatness of life eternal, which is not this life infinitely extended but is the very life of God. From the beginning and through the millennia, human beings looked upward in search of the divine. Mary looked downward, at the baby in her arms. She looked into the very face of God. Finitum capax infiniti, the finite is capable of the infinite. This is the central wonder, the inexhaustible mystery, of Christmas.

-- Richard John Neuhaus

Which is a quite good echo of Chestertonian paradox, I'd say:

A mass of legend and literature, which increases and will never end has repeated and rung the changes on that single paradox; that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle. Upon this paradox, we might almost say upon this jest, all the literature of our faith is founded.

-- G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 1926

Hope you're having a jolly one. More later, if I can shake free.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Can't see the forest for the tree-wasters

After twenty plus years of this stuff--Marxism, deconstruction, radical feminism, "queer theory," and a host of similarly bankrupt ideologies--some English professors have really made themselves blind. They simply "see through" everything that interested the authors of our classics: whether it's truth, beauty, and goodness; the lineaments of human nature; sin and the possibility of salvation; courage and honesty; or the powers of the human imagination. English professors really believe that all these things that apparently concerned the human race have no real substance--they're just a mask for what's really going on, the whole time, underneath the surface: patriarchal oppression of women if they're feminists, exploitation of the workers if they're Marxists, and so forth.
-- Elizabeth Kantor, interview at FrontPageMag

Random Rock Bloggage...

Some musical discoveries I made thanks to Wal-Mart's music downloads store:

Vanilla Fudge: “Shotgun”
I first heard this song earlier this year, on a couple of clips on YouTube. I was amazed—what a kinetic, powerful track this is! It’s a snapshot of a transitional time, when psychedelia was morphing into early 70s hard rock. Meaning, there’s a fair amount of wah-wah, but Carmine Appice’s drums crack like rifle shots. It is surprisingly light on the “groovy” elements that date so much music from that period, although it does include a surprising “acid jazz” solo from bassist Tim Bogert. Why didn’t I hear this song on the AOR radio station when I was growing up? Why isn’t it on the classic rock station nowadays? I’ve seen interviews with Appice in some online rock e-zines, where he’s complaining about how undeservedly forgotten Vanilla Fudge and its spin-off, Cactus, have become. I don’t know about the rest of their music, but this song is a ripe candidate for widespread resurrection.

Just Plain Bill: “It’s All Too Much”
The original Beatles song, a Harrison composition (and his only entry in the mid-60s Guitar Hero sweepstakes), is a wild, acid-aided shout of joy for being part of The Infinite. This cover version is more of a pastoral, stoner take on the same sentiment. There's no fiery guitar work; instead the song is built on a thick carpet of...well, I guess you'd call them Beatleisms, sonic effects grabbed from a lot of different Beatles songs and re-woven into new material. I don't mean that it's cobbled together out of a bunch of samples; I mean the band recreated a Beatly tone. The organ-sounding flanged guitar, the sitar, the backward loops, they're all here, confected into something quite new, and special. The drumming is punchier than the original, but other than that the verisimilitude is spot-on.

Weather Report: “This Is This”
The title track to Weather Report’s final album. Jaco Pastorius was long gone, (and well on his way to being a derelict) but it’s no loss. Joe Zawinul’s keyboard serves up a burly big-band brass section, along with a funky standard synth part. And there’s a hot-hot-HOT helping of guitar ornamentation by guest ax-man Carlos Santana. This is the way to say goodbye!

The Picketts: “Baba O’Riley”
A slow country-tinged version of The Who’s titanic anthem? Yes. described this mid-90s band’s work as “grange rock”. It features a simply terrific twangy guitar riff, and some breathy female vocals. When they croon “Out here in the fields…” you can practically see the wind rippling through the wheat. A total, and totally successful, re-imagining of a hard rock classic.

David Belmont: “Moonlight Mile”
Much in the style of the late Michael Hedges. Features an acoustic guitar flanged and reverbed to positively oceanic depths, along with some shuffling, rattling electronica effects. Very nice, and not at all New Agey, even keeps some of the Stones character of the original.

Fanny: “Badge”
Proof that not all the obscurities are gems. A forgotten all-female band from the early Seventies, that didn’t even garner much of a cult following, does an acceptable cover of Cream’s final single. They go “waaahh!” in the choruses, a la Karen Carpenter in “Close to You”, firmly stamping this with one of that decade’s sonic watermarks.

UPDATE: Corrected Just Plain Bill; I guess I got 'em mixed up with Right Said Fred.

A broken neck for Christmas

There's no perfect time to choose, to be suddenly paralyzed for life. But having it happen at Christmas is especially terrible. Particularly when it was very likely the result of mis-diagnosis.

An acquaintance of ours from a local church, not far shy of retirement age, was up a tree cutting branches. This is admittedly a really dumb thing to do, so no need to belabor that point. He fell thirty feet to the ground, and was taken to a medical center in the western greater metro area. He couldn't move, but he was in serious pain. They x-rayed him, didn't see anything, and told him it was just a scratch and to go home. They literally stuffed him into the passenger seat of his car. His agony continued, so the family called back, and were told to keep an eye on him for a few days, work his limbs to keep them from stiffening up, and come back later. And that's exactly what they did. By the time his broken neck vertebra was discovered and he was finally admitted into an ICU elsewhere in the area, it was too late. Profound, irreversible spinal damage. Paralyzed for life. In his early 60s, just in time for Christmas. Please keep this suffering--and under-insured--family in mind this season. And consider making a donation to a rehab center or something. Unlike other minorities, the minority of the disabled is one that any of us could wind up joining at any time. Thanks for reading, and be careful out there....

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Give until it hurts...somebody

This Sunday afternoon I was listening to Bob Edwards' new show on NPR. He was interviewing Arthur C. Brooks, author of Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism. This tome purports to prove that religious conservatives give more in charitable donations than most other Americans, even richer Americans, and especially more than liberals.

You can read the particulars of the book's argument at the amazon link. What got me was that the author was almost apologetic about his findings. He did do an admirably meticulous job of qualifying his conclusions, and forstalling any unwarranted generalizations. He insisted that he was just a harmless statistician, no agenda at all, just happened to spot a worrisome trend in charitable giving. It's as if he was afraid of insulting Edwards and his mostly liberal audience.

The book sounds good, even given the insulting sub-title. "Surprising truth"... Surprising to who? Not to someone who's seen a'plenty of how some folks give without fanfare, to help others through this vale of tears--while others suffice with congratulating themselves on their own wonderfulness, for holding such enlightened views.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Israel can't be linked with other Arab conflicts... least not by reasonable people.

OK. Imagine that there is peace between Israel and the Arabs. No, imagine an even better solution from the Arab point of view -- an earthquake that tomorrow swallows Israel whole and sinks it (like Santorini, 1650 B.C.) into the Mediterranean. Does anyone imagine that the Shiites stop killing Sunnis? That al-Qaeda stops killing Americans? That Iran and Syria work any less assiduously to destabilize post-Saddam Iraq? It's these obvious absurdities that made the [ISG] report so dismissible.

-- Charles Krauthammer, "What did the Iraq Study Group tell us?"

But we know reason isn't driving The Jihad, anyway.
Rush - The Spirit of Radio (Toronto Rocks)

Random Rock Bloggage:

Canadians have a reputation, at least among themselves, for dry, understated humor. You can catch it in the novels of Stephen Leacock, for example. I'm pretty sure the laundromat onstage in this clip is in the same tradition--but hanged if I can explain how. But hey, I'm just an un-nuanced, literal-minded Yank. I've loved this song ever since it came out. If it wasn't where the whole 80s shred-metal scene got its inspiration, it sure shoulda been!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Counting the fillings in the crocodile's jaws

"We are mistaken when we compare war with "normal life." Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. Periclean Athens leaves us not only the Parthenon but, significantly, the Funeral Oration. The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumably they have their reward.

"Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the latest new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache: it is our nature."

-- C. S. Lewis, sermon, Oxford, 1939

Not being an Israeli, and not being Jewish, I have a hard time catching the spirit of that plucky little nation. Simple acts of defiance, like keeping a lunch date at a cafe during Hezbollah's rocket attack, those I get. Astounding, hi-contrast acts of decency, like delivering a Palestinian woman's baby in a military ambulance, while under fire from Palestinian terrorists, those I get.

But sometimes the Israelis sang-froid and irreducible civilized-ness are just jaw-dropping. Here's an article in an Israeli big-think magazine, Azure. I've never seen it before, but it looks roughly analogous to The Atlantic or Harper's or some such--in style and (virtual) heft, not necessarily content.

Anyway, here's a piece from the journal, by one Uriya Shavit, called The Road to Democracy in the Arab World. It's a sensitive and informed exploration of the prospects of democracy taking root in the Arab world, along with a mostly sympathetic and revealing account of why Arab thinkers are mistrustful of democracy's Western exemplars. I disagree with most of it. The writer asserts,

In truth, there is nothing unique to Arab societies that results in a preference for despotic regimes. Arab society does not possess an inborn aversion to freely elected governments, and particularly ones that uphold the basic freedoms of the individual; on the contrary, there is abundant evidence that liberal democracy can exist in the Arab world.

But the traditionally clannish and tribal nature of arab societies is a high hurdle to overcome, surely. And if democracy is so on-the-brink-of-happening in the Arab world, it seems that it would have come about naturally, before now. The examples of outwardly democratic institutions in 19th century Egypt he presents would seem to count against, not for, the viability of democracy. Same with the post-WWI democrat-ish regimes set up by Britain and France--they collapsed and were replaced with dictatorships after the Great Powers left. Democracy survived as an appealing idea to the Arab upper-middle class. Clearly, that's not enough to sustain a government based on demos, the people.

But the point of this post isn't to fence with this Israeli pundit, but to marvel at him, and by extension at the rest of the Israeli educated classes. Just consider what's happened in the past year alone:

*Iran has threatened to wipe tiny Israel off the map, and is rapidly acquiring the means to do so.

*Israel fought a dangerously inconclusive war with Hezbollah, in which Israel could not protect her citizens, could not close off Hezbollah's supply of rockets, did not rescue those kidnapped soldiers, and lost even more support from the international community.

*Palestinian killbots continue to seek the lives of Israelis, any Israelis, all Israelis, whether by rockets, guns, or bomb belts.

And so much more that doesn't even make it into our newspapers. Aggression against Israel is gathering for an awful onslaught, and Israel's former friends are increasingly allowing themselves to entertain the idea that Israel's very existence is a mistake. A rectifiable mistake.

But here is this writer, parsing the ifs and buts of Arab democracy as if he were writing somewhere safe, like here in America:

In the end, political reform cannot be viewed as an insurance policy taken out by the West against the possibility of democracy sustaining some blows. Liberal reform may bring to power irresponsible regimes. It may even bring to power tyrants worse than the previous ones. But if we take the long view, we must conclude that regional processes of democratization, despite the inevitable setbacks, can only contribute to the struggle against fanaticism and violence.

"If we take the long view"... God. You've just gotta raise your beverage of choice and toast the courage, optimism and generosity of spirit behind a sentiment like that, at this stage of the game. Scroll back up and read that C. S. Lewis quote again. What a country; may God preserve them...
Tom Thumb's Blues: Neil Young

Random Rock Bloggage:

I like Bob Dylan, and I like Neil Young, though I'm not huge, huge fans of either. But I think that this is one of the best songs from the 1990 30th anniversary tribute to Dylan. The avalanche of not-quite-surreal verbiage, set to Young's chunky guitar licks, with his trademarked palsied, trebly fills, is quite...something.
The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again - (live)

Random Rock Bloggage:

This is the pinnacle of what was possible in rock, so far as major-key power chording goes. The sheer visceral rush of this song simply erases the intervening decades from when it was created. I'm one of those Who fans of which Pete Townshend said that, when they get hooked young, they're hooked for life.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"20 million fish swarming in a school the size of Manhattan Island..."

Credit where credit is due: The international media is reporting that the oceans are brimming over with more life--variety and amount--than previously expected. In brief, the oceans are getting icky and empty around the fringes, but the vast pelagic depths are full of fauna--and surprises.

Another team came across a shrimp that was thought to have become extinct. Dr. O'Dor compared the discovery to one off Madagascar in the 1940s when scientists found a fish with legs that was known only through fossils and was believed to have disappeared. In the most recent case, a team surveying an underwater peak in the Coral Sea found the Jurassic shrimp, a beady-eyed crustacean which they thought had been extinguished 50 million years ago.

The fish with legs was a coelacanth, in case you don't know.

I'm especially glad to learn that there's a lot more remote and robotic exploration going on down there nowadays. There was a pioneering age of discovery in the 60s and 70s, with mini-subs and such, and then not so much. So it's great that we're getting back down there in a big way. The depths of the ocean are in large part lesser known than what Hubble and such can see of our own solar system.

Wonder how those Jurassic shrimp would taste in a Red Lobster scampi sauce...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Islam, A Friendly Faith

Or so it says here, in an article by one Iftekhar Hai, Muslim member of some interfaith group or other.

There should be more preaching of Islam’s message as an interfaith “friendly faith” to the American Muslim communities. Emphasize interreligious peace and harmony, get involved in interreligious activities, and not only be tolerant of others’ faith, but also join in its celebration, as long as it does not grossly violate your personal beliefs.

Of course, one source of our troubles is that "our" very existence, at least outside of utter dhimmitude, grossly violates the personal beliefs of a significant percentage of "them". And getta loada:

In the Islamic Society of San Francisco, the imam admonished the Friday Sabbath crowd of more than 500 Muslim worshipers.

He said, “Jihad does not mean fighting the infidels, but to struggle in the path of self-correction, a non-violent and self-cleansing act that will make you the best citizen.” The whole sermon was devoted to building wholesome communities in the Bay Area.

That message came more strongly from the Muslim Community Center of Santa Clara during a seminar on the Life of the Prophet Mohammed on Nov. 24 and 25.

That soap ain't never gonna be soft enough, to feel right on my skin.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Back from Thanksgiving...

...and I hope yours was good. One of the highlights for us was this: There's nothing quite like a beddy-bye lullaby on grandfather's lap.

I wish they'd warm up to their grandmother like that...