Archive for June, 2008

Dang, I guess that makes me a rainmaker…

June 27, 2008

  Amazing.  After just having remarked about what a great magazine is the Economist, the very next issue carried a short bit about my father’s first cousin!  The interview was shorter than a haiku, but cool just the same. 

  It had to do with the terrible flooding here in Iowa.  “Surveying his farm [with the reporter, he] saw glistening pools where corn stalks should have been.  Where the water had receded the earth was muddy, dotted by feeble plants.  ‘I consider us lucky’…  Much of his farm has survived.  Others have seen their land almost totally submerged.” 

  When I called out to ask if he was signing autographs, his wife answered and paused at first.  She hadn’t seen the article.  But, someone had called from town a few days back and asked if it’d be ok for a reporter from NYC to stop out…  

  They’d agreed to help, but with some concern.  They’d been interviewed before about life on the farm and the experience had done little but reinforce their innate reticence.  One’s life should speak for itself. 

  I read the bit to her.  She said they had been lucky, that the Lord had always been good to them. 

  Doesn’t all that make you wish your were a farmer? Had an intimate and interactive relationship with the earth?  No BS, no whining, no spray, no bling. 

  Reminds me of a poem (and source of the name of this little digital acreage): 

Subtle Signs

by Michael Carey – from his book The Noise The Earth Makes 

Although they had worked for days
hardly a word was spoken between them –
just hand gestures and a waving
of arms.  From tractor to truck,
from hillside to house,
these said what was needed.
 
His father, once, had called his uncle
a “terrible talker.”  he knew, now, what
he meant; that sometimes over dinner
and beer, Uncle Al found a use
for words, making them dance
around the pudding and cranberry sauce
and fall down upon them
like a crazy invisible rain.
 
Helping his father and brother with harvest,
he learned to read the subtle
signs in the subtle landscape:
how nature speaks to those who listen,
and those who listen when she speaks
hardly speak at all.

Also just like last time, I am reminded of something Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard once said: 

“You don’t see farmers as climbers.  You see city people.  Farmers don’t need to climb”

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And I thought it was because I am a Gemini…

June 20, 2008

  Awesome!  The Economist is such a great magazine!  I just learned from reading the current issue (June 14 – 20 ) why my attention span is so short.  Ahem.  Among other things.

  It’s about attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.  Those with ADHD are impulsive.  They “have trouble concentrating on any task…they flit from activity to activity… tend to perform poorly in society [and] are prone to addictive and compulsive behavior”.  C’est moi!  Yo comprendo!

  Turns out I owe my restlessness to nomadic ancestors.

  Testing has shown that ADHD is a genetic condition. “It is associated with particular variants of receptor molecules for neurotransmitters in the brain”.  Variant 7R of protein DRD4 has been shown to be associated with “novelty seeking, food and drug craving, and ADHD”.

  The neurotransmitter here is dopamine which, as you may know, is associated with reward and pleasure.  The thought is that people with ADHD are getting hits of dopamine (aka positive feedback) for behavior that seems inappropriate in today’s society.

  How could this have come to be?  Well, we’ve not long been desk jockeys and the sorts of things associated with ADHD might have well served our nomad and hunter-gatherer ancestors.  Couch potatoes would not have fared well, would they?

  Recent research in Kenya supports this hypothesis.  The Ariaal people are historically nomadic.  Those now among them with the variant receptor and who continue to wander were found to be “better nourished” than those without.  By interesting contrast, those members of the group that had the variant but had settled down were worse than those without.

  A further question is why, if important, the variant is found only amongst 20% of the population.  Could be that the “effects are beneficial only when they are not universal”. 

  I buy that.  Somebody’s got to poke sticks at snakes and do the peyote ceremonies etc while the rest keep the fire burning. And the latter would tolerate the presence of the former for only the briefest of intervals – eg long enough to drop off the day’s catch.

  I’ve always felt like the odd one out.  Now I understand.  Everybody else is missing a gear. 

(For some reason, this reminds me of something that Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard said in an interview that appears in the June/July issue of Businessweek Small Biz:  “My favorite quote about entrepreneurship is that to understand an entrepreneur, you should study a juvenile delinquent”.)

Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world a better place – Martin Luther King

June 13, 2008

  For me, it is not about the war in Iraq.  The decision was made to go, we went, and we’re still there now.  Arguing about whether or not we should have and who voted how is even worse than pandering, it is a waste of time.

  That region – Istanbul to Calcutta – is the locus of the most grave threats (those of a political nature anyway) facing this planet today. All sorts of scenarios can be constructed wherein throw-weight is an important consideration and zealotry and sacred values make for scary hair triggers.  An escalation by either side for whatever reason could lead to a level of turmoil heretofore unseen. 

  Amazingly, contemplation of the situation took my mind back to my youth.  In the early sixties my mother drove my brothers and me through the deep south on our way to visit our grandfather in Florida.  Didn’t really have to get that far from home to find the restrooms at gas stations labeled Men, Women, and Colored. 

  First time I saw three rooms so labeled we battered Mom with questions.  Why separate?  If they have to be separate, why aren’t there ‘Colored Men’ and ‘Colored Women’? Why is the ‘Colored’ sign hand scratched and the other two, well, regular? Consciousness raised, we looked around and asked other questions such as: “why are all the men in the chain gangs ‘negroes’?” 

  When Dad joined us at Grandpa’s house, there were adult conversations discussing race related protests, Rosa Parks, segregation, lynchings, and murders.  The phrase: “there’s gonna be a bloodbath” really scared me.  When we got back home I began to notice the similar if more subtle disparities.  Took longer to realize that I wasn’t ‘lily white’ myself.

  Didn’t think about it in 1968 but there was momentous paradox, incredible irony during those years in which we should all find hope. For while it was white European men who forcibly, violently enslaved black Africans several hundreds of years ago – thereby sealing a cruel fate for them and as well as for the continent left behind – the figure most associated with the mostly peaceful passing of the era was a black man.

  There is hope again today.  What must the leaders of non western nations, as well as the dispossessed, think when they see that a black man, with the middle name Hussein, has an excellent shot at being the president of the United States of America?  I am about as far from being a statesman as my dog (no offense Sauger), but I think it matters big time.

  Perception and words make all of the difference.  We do have an embarrassment of riches in the back stories of both major candidates.  But who, walking through the doors of difficult foreign capitals would be the most, well, disarming?   How could it not be the articulate son of a white mother and black immigrant from Kenya?

Freewheelin’? More like a stick in the spokes. A big stick…

June 6, 2008

  Several weeks ago Terri Gross interviewed Suze Rotolo on NPR’s “Fresh Air”.  Rotolo’s book: A Freewheelin’ Time has just been published.  It recounts her relationship with Bob Dylan which began in 1961 when she was 17 and he 20.  They appear together on the cover of the album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” which was his second studio album and held, among others, “Blowin in the Wind”.

  The discussion, during the interview, of the song: “Boots of Spanish Leather” (from the album “The Times They are A-Changin’ 1964) induced me to listen to it again for the first time in many years.  Rotolo called it a fictionalized version of her sabbatical from their relationship which took her not to Spain, but to Rome.  She had become nearly overwhelmed by the attention and adulation attendant to Dylan’s rise in Greenwich Village. 

  The song is antiphonal alternating between first, the fictionalized Ms Rotolo with Dylan in response: 

“Oh, I’m sailin’ away my own true love,
I’m sailin’ away in the morning.
Is there something I can send you from across the
sea,
From the place that I’ll be landing?  
 
No, there’s nothin’ you can send me, my own true
love,
There’s nothin’ I wish to be ownin’,
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled,
From across that lonesome ocean.
 
Oh, but I just thought you might want something
fine
Made of silver or of golden,
Either from the mountains of Madrid
Or from the coast of Barcelona.
 
Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean,
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss,
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’
 
That I might be gone a long time
And it’s only that I’m askin’,
Is there something I can send you to remember me
by,
To make your time more easy passin’.
 
Oh, how can, how can you ask me again,
It only brings me sorrow.
The same thing I want from you today,
I would want again tomorrow.
 
I got a letter on a lonesome day,
It was from her ship a-sailin’,
Saying I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again,
It depends on how I’m a-feelin’.
 
Well, if you, my love, must think that-a-way,
I’m sure your mind is roamn’.
I’m sure your heart is not with me,
But with the country to where you’re goin’
 
So take heed, take heed of the western wind,
Take head of the stormy weather.
And yes, there’s something you can send back to
me,
Spanish boots of Spanish leather. 

  In the recounting at least, Ms Rotolo’s departure seems to have been instinctual.  Only after some reflection at sea does her emotional tone catch up to her position and does she realize how revitalizing a break promised to be – whatever the cost.  In contrast, Dylan was pained and cognizant of possible ramifications of her journey from the moment she announced her intention to him.

  His final response to her repeated request was an effort to ensure that she be fully conscious of him at least one last time.  In searching for the proper pair of boots, she’d have to take her mind back to him and reconsider the nature of his body, soul, and spirit.     

  The song is both achingly beautiful as well as illustrative of Jung’s description of an artist:  “Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument.  To perform this difficult office, it is sometimes necessary for him to sacrifice happiness and everything that makes life worth living for the ordinary human being.”

  Even though it must have been crystal clear to Mr. Dylan why his “own true love” had left, he was unable to restrain himself from putting the story out there for all the world to know.  He does not evince bluster and swager like his besequined cod-pieced brethren.  More like cauterized torment.      

  It’s Dylan alone on acoustic guitar.  The repetitive pattern of his picking seems to procure the rasp of his voice like hot firing  synapses do obsessive thought. 

  It’s unforgettable.