Wednesday, May 26, 2004

bumble bees and birds

i started gardening again. the new yard is pleasantly smaller, and the major weed in the yard, a few different vines, seems an easier thing to tackle than the crab grass that had overtaken the shotwell garden. more importantly my upstairs neighbors have been keenly working on it, and so the garden's fate is not completely dependent on my attentions.

in short, i'm starting to get to know the denizens of my new neighborhood. a couple of hummingbirds are often zooming about. their odd little chirps can be heard quite often, and they seem to be having a tiff with a large scrub jay who, one day was, hopped from tree to tree trying to break off twigs. i watched one hummingbird, hover, climb vertically in a rapid fashion then make a swooping dive. he or she repeated this a dozen times -- a mating dance, or so my liz informs me (having learned it on a trip to idaho); i saw the pair another day, flying through the air together, kissing each other it appeared, long beak to long beak.

digging up the jasmine, i stumbled across a nest of bumble bees. i'd read they nested in the ground, but this was my first evidence of this fact. the bumbled around me, making me wonder yet again, do bumble bees sting? i should find out.

ruby, the old sheperd dog of my upupstairs neighbor comes down to hang out with me on occassion. but i've only seen two cats so far, our upstairs neighbors, a fat old thing, but friendly enough, and an orange tabby who i've only seen in neighboring yards, and i've not been able to tempt it over.

speaking of birds, i was riding back from the ocean through golden gate park watching the antics of crows. the wind was streaming inland and they were playing a game around the old windmill -- what looked like king of the castle, floating higher and higher and trying to knock off whomever they found at the top. that one would swoop down, sometimes another crow in chase, zooming down into the forest before rising again in front of the windmill. it astounds me how they hover, rise and fall in the wind, some might deny they are having a good time, but i cannot.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

the last and second to last samurai (movie review)


a group of friends and i chortled our way through Tom Cruises the last samurai this past monday. not that it was a bad movie, or even funny, but it's hard to sit through a movie with friends in someone's house, without heckling.

the movie was actually beautiful shot, and showed the perfectionist side of Japanese culture, its economy of motion and emotion, through the eye's of Tom Cruises' character brought to Japan to help defeat yet another "savage" race. most economically described it was "dances with wolves" in Japan, or shall we say "dances with samurai." much of the movie seems to be about retaining honor in changing times as some Japanese seek to become a "modern" society. the lesson seems clear that the real savages or those who are seeking to modernize.

just last night, i went to see twilight samurai a much more nuanced film about the same period of history. i was amused to find that in the postscript that the main character dies, shot to death, in a rebellion of his clan against the meiji restoration. he could have been one of the foot soldiers who is laid to waste in the climatic battle of the last samurai his finally honed samurai skills useless.

in any case, TS is a much quieter film, dwelling mostly on the lowly samurai and his family life. the characters clearly realize that change is upon them, but suffer it, a storm they must weather rather than something they must fight tooth and nail to stave off. a different sort of honor is presented here, one that is not so willing to throw itself away for the glory of the last fight.

we see too something that is not presented at all in the last samurai, the hardship of a feudal society and the obligations and duties that the lower ranks have to bear, where the leaders are not all wise men fond of poetry and the dictates of buddhism.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004


i left out more positive aspects of our desires for inefficiencies and a larger point. The other aspects being: artistic endeavors, fiction, poetry, movies, gardening, music, enjoying the outdoors, just hanging out with friends and family, etc. A larger point being that there are good and fine reasons for being inefficient - it could be said (arguably, of course) that humans are most happy when they are being inefficient.

so perhaps, we could simply talk about our economic motives differently: we don't want economic growth for growths sake; we don't want efficiency to maximize our profits; we don't want to be productive for the sake of capital, we want to do it in order maximize the inefficient use of human time outside of work (and perhaps, channeling my inner environmentalist, making things efficient and productive so they have the least impact on the environment).

how would this square with capitalism as it currently stands? what would have to change? does personal efficiency (convenience) trump global efficiency? how would things be different (the growth of big box stores, sprawl).

Monday, May 10, 2004


I've been dwelling on thoughts of efficiency and economics of late. the thought occured to me that it's very strange that our economy -- at least in the litany of numbers we are read everyday -- is so focused on efficiency and productivity. Not so much, that that is a bad thing or anything, but it is strange that our cultural life is focused on the opposite.

Our culture's aspirations are to lead wasteful/inefficient lives, have huge houses, big fast cars, a ton of food, and lots of leisure time. Add to that that a lot of efficiency is geared towards creating intentional inefficiencies -- disposable items, planned obsolescence -- that are meant to increase sales, to keep people consuming.

In fact, the health of our economy may be heavily dependent on our inefficient use of items and services.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

moral high grounds, and lack there of

it frankly does not surprise me much that american troops have been caught torturing (not that Donald Rumsfeld is aware of any torture) Iraqi POWs. this is not bismirchment of the american character, but a simple pragmatic look at the circumstances and who is in power.

we are certainly no means above torture, it is well documented that our "School of Americas" taught well to certain Central American militaries. i'm not sure the addage, "those who can't do teach" quite applies here. look at the stuff that we freely admit to doing: sleep deprivation, and cramped quartering -- described by some as "torture lite." no doubt helped along by not so kind words. we may not be inflicting bodily harm (although even that could be argued), but it is most certainly not a pleasant experience to go through mentally, and is explicitly meant to break the prisoner. "To break" is not a word indicative of just treatment. alas, however, the Geneva Conventions do not actually state explicitly what torture is or is not (or at least I could find no such reference).

back to circumstances though, our troops find themselves in a country where they can't speak the language, where they are prevented from having much contact with the populace, and where an unknown quantity of the populace is actively shooting at them. this is not a situation which is likely to breed mutual respect. add to this the nature of terrorism, which follows no Geneva Conventions, and you can expect that the soldiers are not above dealing harshly with the enemy.

just think of all the hollywood movies where you feel like cheering when the terrorist is finally getting his just deserts, and the protaganist is getting his revenge. now imagine being a soldier in Iraq where you have the opportunites to take out some of your frustrations.

i imagine there are americans out there that actually say, "torture? well duh! we got to get these bastards," "let god sort them out," etc. never mind the political niceties of actually wanting a stable middle east.

of course, the majority of soldiers probably do not act out on those impulses, i imagine our training (as well as our general cutural respect for human rights and innocence) is better than that. but still, the soldier who stepped forward with this story -- even in anonimity -- now there is a hero. just imagine being in his or her shoes ratting out your brothers (think of all the cultural respect we have for that).

the real travesty of this is again, we were not prepared for the aftermath. the accused -- military police -- did not know the geneva convention, in a wartime situation!? they should have seen this coming.