Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Eight Lost Fables Of The Japanese Gardens

Ono No Komachi's Verandah

Ono No Komachi's Verandah

Ono No Komachi was a ninth century poet renowned as much for her own beauty as that of her poems. She's one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals and one of the very few women writers recognized in early Japanese history. Much of her poetry was written as she gazed upon the garden from this verandah in the early morning hours with her waiting attendants beholding her divine inspiration. A famous print captures one of these moments.

As I dozed
The man I love
Appeared, so
It is dreams that
Have begun to comfort me

Zatoichi, Protector of the Mikoshi

Zatoichi, Protector of the Mikoshi

Zatoichi was a blind swordsman of the late Edo era. Inside his walking cane resided his deadly flashing blade. Many was the fool whose last words were, "But he's just a blind man!" Although his skill was extraordinary, a great amount of cunning was also required for his survival.

As one who was handicapped and picked on, Zatoichi felt a natural affinity for the weak and helpless. This did not sit well with the predators of the day, causing Ichi much grief. Once his reputation grew, however, few were those who would take him on one on one. Small gangs were dispatched to end his career once and for all but Ichi always came out on top.

Guarding the garden's priceless Mikoshi artifact, Zatoichi cleverly drew the would-be robbers into this stream to even the playing field. As they sloshed around in the water his sharp ears knew just where to aim his sword while they struggled with their footing that Ichi could instinctively secure from his long practice of sightless walking. Once word got out Zatoichi would defend the Mikoshi, no robber ever dare try again.

Yojimbo's Pillars

Yojimbo's Pillars

The garden's Zen Rock Garden far predates the rest of the gardens, a remnant of early Shinto monks. It even survived the rough and tumble times when two rival gangs - one controlling the sake trade, the other the silk trade - vied for ultimate power letting nothing stand in their way. Yojimbo was a swordsman of legendary skill. Like many samurai of the Edo era he was left masterless and forced to wander the land.

His plan was to play the two rival factions against each other for his own profit. But once his treachery was discovered he was badly beaten, only escaping death by crawling under the Rock Garden's walkway. Later, once healed, he came back and sliced them to pieces!

Sen Rikyū's Tea House

Sen Rikyū's Tea House

Ironically, the wide open warfare of the 16th century Sengoku era also ushered in the era of chanoyu, the way of tea. And its most heralded practitioner was Sen no Rikyū. Oda Nobunaga, the first great unifier of Japan was a huge fan of the tea ceremony as was his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Of the tea ceremony Rikyu is claimed to have said, "Though you wipe your hands and brush off the dust and dirt from the vessels, what is the use of all this fuss if the heart is still impure?"

Hideyoshi, though a great conqueror, was in over his head as a ruler. Flummoxed once all of Japan had been unified, he set his sights on Korea and hoped to eventually "sit on the throne of China". Rikyu warned him against such delusional thinking and for this Hideyoshi ordered him to commit seppuku. Had Hideyoshi heeded the tea master's words, two disastrous incursions into Korea in the 1590's could have been avoided. Hideyoshi came to deeply regret his rash order and commanded Rikyu's tea house be preserved for all time.

Minamoto no Tametomo's Final Stand

Minamoto no Tametomo's Final Stand

In the early days of the samurai struggle for power the two dominant clans were the Minamoto and the Taira. Although ultimately victorious, the Minamoto suffered setbacks in the beginning. Minamoto no Tametomo was a legendary archer who was rumored to have his left arm six inches longer than his right which enabled him to shoot more powerful shots. Legend has it he once sank an entire ship with a single shot below the water line!

Although Tokugawa famously said the sword was the "soul of the samurai", the bow and arrow were the main weapons of warfare. In Tametomo's final stand he swam out to this rock knowing his pursuers would suffer his deadly arrows were they to try to do the same. While killing dozens who approached over the hill, at last the numbers were too many for him, forcing him to commit seppuku (the first in recorded history to do so).

Hidden Christians' Crosses

Hidden Christians' Crosses

The Shimabara Rebellion of 1637 was Christianity's last stand in Japan. The revolt was prompted by the shogunate's persecution of Christians whose religion had gained quite a foothold in southern Japan. Afterwards the ban on Christianity was strictly enforced, forcing true believers underground.

But ingenious believers were still able to slyly include Christian symbols such as these crosses by disguising them as framework support.

(Credit to Scott Brooks, senior gardener, for relating this tale to me)

Oda's Palisades

Oda's Palisades

The Battle Of Nagashino is one of the most famous in Japanese history. It marked the end of the famed Takeda clan who was left in the foolhardy hands of the son of the legendary Takeda Shingen. Shingen was taken out by a lucky sniper shot and it was the gun that would also play a pivotal role in his son's demise.

Oda Nobunaga embraced the new technology of the gun but also realized its shortcomings with the comparatively long load times required. To defend against the well reputed Takeda cavalry, Nobunaga devised a two step plan. The first was to adopt the (then unknown) European tactic of rotating firing so that at least part of his troops were always firing. The second was to build wood palisades behind which he could more safely shoot.

Part of these palisades remain as a reminder to Oda's pioneering brilliance in his ruthless quest for victory.

Signal Blossoms In The Castle Stream

Hostage taking was a common method of ensuring peace - or at least a slowing to warfare. Some took it as a fact of life but others would not stand for it, such as Kenbei. Kenbei's sister Kimiko was taken hostage at the great Himeji castle. Problem was, even a large army would take a months long siege to bring the fortress down.

But as a builder of the castle's keep, Kenbei knew a secret way in where he and his consorts could possibly overpower his sister's guards and sneak her out to safety. But Kenbei had no way of knowing if his secret access had been discovered or if any other traps lay in waiting until he penetrated the castle firsthand.

Anxiously, Kenbei's warriors waited outside, not knowing if he had been captured or stymied in his efforts. Kenbei's absolute orders were to wait until his signal: he would sprinkle white blossoms in the castle's stream. Every castle needed a water source and while bars may keep out human invaders nothing could stop the delicate blossoms.

Play the video to see if the blossoms appear and Kimiko can be rescued!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Flashback To 'Nam: Huey Chopper Ride (Video)

Huey 9
That's my seat there in the back, facing outward.

Some nightmares never end. That's what I love about America! Never admit a mistake! As we here in the loser 21st century reap what we've sown in the 20th century I take a step back in time to board the legendary Huey helicopter. After all, aren't our wars of today merely an extension of the Vietnam war, one where we're fighting ghosts of our own imagination?

Huey 6

Nothing new under the sun, eh? In Vietnam movies, the Huey helicopter is a must-have staple as gun ship, troop transport and a host of other duties. It's what the Jeep was to WWII. They have entered into war mythology and as a fan of mythology I climbed aboard to see if real life matches the mystique. Let's just say my camera was not so steady as Coppola's.

Huey 3

In a Huey there's no place to hang on in the back. Won't see any grab handles or bars to cling to. Basically, all I had was a strap around the waist and my white knuckled non-camera hand clutching to the edge of the seat as I peered downward to the ground below me on every sharp turn left.

Huey 4 Looking out over the Tyler airport

The Collings Foundation is an aircraft preservation society who take their planes across the country. Some are to view only, on some you can purchase a flight. My last chance at a Huey was three years ago and I missed it thinking I'd get it next year but the Huey did not return. So after this long drought I jumped at the chance. I highly recommend this rare experience to taste what our fighting soldiers endured in the past.

Huey 2 Each ride has to be full before it will take flight

The seats look more dangerous than they are. It seems you could fall out if the chopper takes a dip to your side but the centrifugal forces keep you in place. However, without time to acclimatize to this it makes facing the ground during a turn no less disconcerting! By the end of the flight I was just ready to kiss the sweet ground.

Below is the video of my flight. I intentionally did not film any of the others passengers or anyone else without their consent except for the pilot. He lost my sympathy anyway after that first gut wrenching turn to the left after take off. Had I to do it again I could do a much better job knowing what to expect but here it is nerves and all my first time through:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Uncivil Rights Afforded Government. Sheeple Applaud

He's black. Good enough reason to track him for me!

From the Grits For Breakfast blog which tracks issues of justice and civil rights:

Despite the US Supreme Court's ruling in US v. Jones that such an activity constituted a Fourth Amendment search, John Boehner continues to maintain that the government may install a GPS tracker on personal vehicles without a warrant or demonstrating probable cause. (From Wired see: "Feds: No warrant needed to track your car with GPS device." Boehner's latest brief (pdf) on subject to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals says the Feds should be able to use such trackers to develop probable cause, a notion that turns the Fourth Amendment on its head.

If the court doesn't buy that argument, the Senator maintains judges should apply the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment that allows a lower standard to search a vehicle at a traffic stop than a person's home. The automobile exception, though, was created to let police look for contraband. It's quite another thing entirely to say it justifies continuous tracking over time.

Incidentally, Mr. Jones, of US v. Jones fame, saw his case result in a deadlocked jury earlier this month. The government, after being told it couldn't use information from the GPS tracking device in his car, used tracking data from his cell-phone instead to generate the same location information. So it wasn't the lack of location data that soured the case but the state's failure to provide other, sufficient proof of his guilt. Still, the episode shows the relationship between cell-phone tracking and US v. Jones - if that loophole isn't closed, Jones becomes essentially useless for protecting personal privacy in an era where nearly every adult has a cell phone.

Blind trust helps us keep watch on terrorists

These federal cases demonstrate why Rep. Bryan Hughes HB 1608 has received so much support in the Texas House, along with bipartisan support for a warrant requirement for cell-phone location data in the Senate. Opponents of the measure have been arguing of late that your personal location information does not belong to you, that you've given up any "reasonable expectation of privacy" regarding your location simply by carrying a cell phone. This is the "third-party" exception - an ill-advised, SCOTUS-written carve-out of the Fourth Amendment that Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued should be reconsidered in her concurrence to Jones in an era when so much data about us is now held by private companies. Sotomayor argued that to allow continuous, warrantless tracking by the government would "alter the relationship between citizen and government in a way that is inimical to democratic society." She's right.

Nine Justices in Jones said putting a location tracker on your car is a search, and a majority of justices held it was a search not just because of the physical intrusion of placing a tracker on your car but because continuous tracking of one's movements violated reasonable expectations of privacy. Judges, though, aren't the only ones who take an oath to uphold the Constitution. Legislators, too, bear that obligation and when judges or the executive branch fail to act, it's incumbent on legislatures to step in to protect constitutional rights. The Texas Legislature has a chance this session to exercise leadership on this question, rebuffing Boehner's absurd, self serving contention that we have no "reasonable expectation" the government won't track us everywhere we go.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Interview With A Running Man

"Can't find no place to sleep. Can't find no place to rest."

Rodney had that same stressed sound to his voice I'd heard countless times before in the homeless strife life. It's the kind of tense fear you hear from someone trying to tell you they're dying without telling you.

"I know, man, I know. Home is a hard place to find."

"I feel ever'thing slippin' away. Can't get no ground under my feet."

Rodney was a tall, once husky black man, 49 going on 79. Street ages you quick, like dog years.

"Everybody wants something for something. Never going to work that way but that bottle's not going to help."

"What about your man, Vincent. How much drinking him do?"

"Too much or not enough, I guess."

"Exactly. All them great paintin's he done with a bottle in his hand. How 'bout that?"

Rodney let loose a few terrifying coughs.

"Didn't give him a home, either. Just don't want you to miss out on your chance because you're too drunk to see it.'

"Chance? What chance is there out there? No fuckin' chance nowhere!"

Yeah, I know there's few chances. But I knew allowing him to give me that sharp rebuke was a chance for him to blow off steam, to plead his case.

"Sometimes the universe gives us chances we never expect."

"Chance for what?"

"I dunno. Whatever you're open to."

"I ain't open to nuthin'!"

"OK, then nothing's what you'll get."

"Like I said then: what fuckin' chance."

I let Rodney brood for a bit. He had no idea this conversation was one I'd repeated with myself over and over - never getting through. I was just hoping to find someone smarter than I. Rodney broke his own silence.

"That some crazy talk you givin' me."

"Yeah, man, it scares me too."

"Then why say it!"

"Scares me more not to."

"I don't even know why I bothers anymore. I been runnin' with no place to go. Been thinkin' lot about that, lately. How crazy is this shit? Jus' gonna run till I dies."

"But you're all some got."

Had I been a black man I think Rodney would have said at that point, "What you talking about you crazy nigger?" At least, that's what the expression on his face said. So I continued on.

"Look, you see the same disconnected people I do every day. White breaded fuckers in their teflon cars, shuttling back and forth from their ginger bread houses in bubble land, frightened like hell of their own shadow, never knowing what's going on, never wanting to know what's going on and always angry about it. Those people are depending on you."

"Man, I don't want none of your fuckin' bullshit philosophy."

"Not giving any. Don't have time. You telling me some lady lurching around in her padded SUV has any clue what's going on?"

"What's that got to do with me? Them folks don't give me time o' day unless they feelin' guilty."

"You can't hide. You can't lie about the world we live in. They give you money just hoping you'll say the world has a future."

"This world got no future no way at all!"

"I know. And how many fuckers you think walked out of city hall here today knowing that? They're babbling about 50 years down the line thinking they can keep heading off this cliff without hitting the ground. We know better. We have reality shoved down our fucking throat every damned day. They fear our words more than God's!"

"Don't you go blasphemin' there, Harry!"

Aw fuck, religious people are such a pain. "There is no god higher than truth."

If he pulled scripture out on me I was going to quit. Might as well move to Plano as think like that. But Rodney was soaking in what I was saying. He thirsteth in his soul. Even the idea he had any purpose on this planet was so astounding to him it breathed life into places long since covered in cobwebs.

"You mean I should go 'round preachin' to them folks?" he asked with a light in his eyes.

Ack, pendulum swung too far the other way. Rodney was going to cling to this for all it's worth. Seen it before. "Not unless you want a fist in your face. Trust me, you haven't seen violence until you intimate to someone the status quo is not going to work. They'll call you up and down every name in the book in the most vile manner possible. They'll do it without hesitation or reserve, like animals trapped in a corner. Even if it means their own death they'll cut you six ways to Sunday before you get another word out."

Rodney coughed again, looking more tired than ever. "Ain't no hope in that."

"No, there's not. Doesn't mean deep down they aren't crying to hear every word you've got to say. Their homes rest on a lie. Imagine how hard you'd fight to keep yours."

"Don't want no lie. Won't build no home on one neither. I just want to be an honest man."

"In a dishonest world."

"So what you sayin'? I'm not standin' on no street corner like a prophet o'doom. They got minds too. They can see anything I can if they wants it." That Rodney, he's got something! He's just got no home for it. "So them people's out there really dyin' to hear what I gots to say, and I'm really dyin' to be sayin' what I gots to say but nobody can say nothin' without gettin' killed?"

"Pretty goddam silly, huh?"

"What kind of world has we got ourselfs into, Harry?"

"The kind without love."

Rodney took a swig from his paper bag bottle. He looked up into the night sky to ponder the infinity of it. I feared he was going to ask me why I didn't have any life in my love. But I could see he was already asking himself that question - and coming up short too.

Like an autobot, Rodney stood up and sauntered to the nearest trash barrel, dropping his bottle inside. He paused for a second with his back to me and I wondered if he was going to blame me for losing his booze. Instead, he turned back around, plastering me with fear. Whose life had I fucked up now?

From the corner of his eye he said in a heavy voice, "There be lots of pain in this world." He continued on his way with lingering small coughs. Time to start running again.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Great Gatsby (Book Review!)

"A dream you dream alone is just a dream."
- Yoko Ono

The Great Gatsby is a book to read slowly - deliciously - aloud even (though reading it out loud and absorbing it at the same time is a difficult balance). It's like a fine steak, rich with juicy flavors and succulent desires. It would be a crime to take two chews and swallow before its full impact is felt. Oh sure, you might get an impression of what you'd taken in if you did but you'd be forever bound to only have an impression. It's the longest short book I've ever read.

It's the kind of book as a writer you dream of creating, extending out a childhood fantasy. You write as if one who moves through life in a forever dream, letting the ebbs and currents flow as they may around you but never knocking you off course. Doing this causes you to feel the edge of roughness to the world but also to see its lurking, hidden magic. It's as if all the world lives just around the corner from paradise - but never quite reaches it. F. Scott Fitzgerald makes that journey for us - into us - detached from this world while others anchor themselves to it.

From the Wiki:

With The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald made a conscious departure from the writing process of his previous novels. He started planning it in June 1922, after completing his play The Vegetable and began composing The Great Gatsby in 1923. He ended up discarding most of it as a false start, some of which resurfaced in the story "Absolution". Unlike his previous works, Fitzgerald intended to edit and reshape Gatsby thoroughly, believing that it held the potential to launch him toward literary acclaim. He told his editor Maxwell Perkins that the novel was a "consciously artistic achievement" and a "purely creative work — not trashy imaginings as in my stories but the sustained imagination of a sincere and yet radiant world". He added later, during editing, that he felt "an enormous power in me now, more than I've ever had".

It's not the plot that matters but rather the dreamlike movements of its characters being brought into focus. It's a high wire act of writing where one must inerrantly stay the course or fall flat. We're wrapped up in the world of the rich - a world made frightful to dreams - while wishing for a better way. Everyone's looking to "get out", but to get out of one thing means to get into another. And how often do we delude ourselves of that which we're getting into?

Fitzgerald died a forgotten man, his true reputation only being secured decades later. With this book of such stunning lyrical beauty and truth he has woven into the fabric of society an invaluable mirror. But that does not make for a popular book among ugly people. The initial printings did not even sell out. Like Vincent before him, we dared not admit Fitzgerald's worthiness until the safety of time gave us cover. ("It was that generation who was corrupt!")

There is the life we wish to lead, the life we meant to lead and the life we do lead. Like a leaky faucet that cannot be fixed, we eventually succumb to the sound of the incessant dripping, declaring a faux peace until finally - inexorably - the madness of repression overtakes us. With each new currency of our demise we utter in all contempt, "That is nothing new" as if that were some great insight into the human condition which somehow resolves it.

For the entirety of its existence Mankind has lived just around the bend from bliss, wondering of its whispered dreams, tantalized by its promise but never breaching its shores. We resist. We resist furiously and maddeningly, with honor glory and nobility we resist, saying on one hand bliss does not exist - the "habitat of mad children" - and on the other that it must lest the day become too long. When we dream the dream together, it will be a wondered dream no more. The time is always now but we always say now is not the time.

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Marriage Mountain High

Magic Trees4

He said:

The day has come
I most feared;
Her bloom of youth

I saw my wife's face
first time again today.
For so many years I looked away.
Had it all been lusty ambition?
Must I face my soul's rendition?

No longer with the tight knit curve,
Entry room eyes fail to swerve;
Elastic cheeks lose their luster,
Will chemistry still pass muster?

But winding years cannot disguise
The kind wisdom in her eyes.
Excited, pounding heart is fine,
I shout aloud, "Thank God she's mine!"

Magic Trees

She said:

I walked inside a mountain mist
Fearing the next unknown twist.
Do I make this climb for nought?
The night is cold, the days are hot.

How true the path my heart has chosen?
To face a fate alone and frozen?
I swooned high his infectious song!
Did I just marry to get along?

Mountain path ends, I face sharp cliff.
Penalties here are deadly stiff.
But I step forward into space,
Suspended by a loving grace.

Yes I live my
childhood dream!
True love makes the
World unseen.

Magic Trees2

Monday, March 04, 2013

"You're So Mean!" (In The Lifeboat Of God)

Everyone was on my case - as usual...

"You're so mean!"

"Just let it go. Stop living in the past, dude."

"After all the hell we've been through it's time to pull together and grow up. Get with the program!"

Damn, people are hard! What does one do when trapped with the mentally incontinent on the same lifeboat? There's just no way out of the mess!

"Look, guys," I pleaded, "he wants to start doing the exact same thing that sunk our ship in the first place. Do you want to fucking live or not?"

Hard to believe but, yes, we drilled holes in our glorious ship until finally it sunk right to the ocean floor. The ship's captain who even though he campaigned against it after drilling's effects became obvious to even the most dimwitted passenger, still believed in it in his heart and secretly allowed - and even expanded - the practice. But as a dedicated politician, repentance was absent his soul. So instead of rebirth he chose the infamous "double down" road to hell, i.e. start drilling again right here on our very fucking own lifeboat!

But he was not alone in his delusion as the onslaught continued.

"So he made a few mistakes. You expect everyone to be perfect?"

"What's so wrong with a little drilling? Can't you compromise at all? After all, we did it for years and years. Are you saying it's all bad?"

"You don't know what he knows. Maybe, just maybe, a little hole drilling might do us some good, Mr. Smarty Pants!"

What was God thinking when He put all his goddam eggs in the one basket of mob rule? Why can't the dummies just be allowed to die without taking the rest of us with them?

"I know what this is. You fucking idiots think you can cover your ass by continuing the same behavior that put us in this shit lifeboat. Doesn't matter how many people vote it a good idea, drilling is the one thing we know we can never do again. The good life is gone and now you want to kill our one last chance at survival? Do not let this lunatic talk you into drilling all over again!"

That's when our snake tongued captain slithered his poison anew, the same old politics of unification.

"There's a reason extremists like you never got elected. One can't see life in absolutist terms. We can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You say it was drilling holes in our hull that caused our wonderful ship to sink. Do you have any proof of that? Are you saying our ways were without worth? Compromise is doing God's work!"

"Might want to look up that commandment about taking someone's name in vain there, bright boy."

But the shameless blameshifters were not done. A wretched woman took me to task for my liberal ways. "How dare you talk to our captain like that! My son was a good boy! He wanted to do something with his life and be useful. He was one of the very first to drown on the front lines in the deepest part of the hull. He didn't get all high and mighty like you elitists who always question why. He drilled those holes just like he was told to! You ask if I believe in drilling? I have to believe in drilling! My son's life was not wasted."

As she sat down crying the morons applauded her and booed me vociferously. Then it struck me: what am I fighting against? No man is a villain in his own eyes. The most precious thing to every soul is its morality - even a false one. Debating that is pointless. As I looked around at the frightened hate-filled faces around me, I knew reason was dead.

I watched in an out-of-body sort of way as a young girl happily practiced her dance moves. She had said it was "not her job" to decide if drilling were right or wrong. An old man whistled as he whittled, declaring "smarter minds" than his should decide fact from fiction. A priest of the non-opinioners blessed them for their faith while denouncing me for my lack of it. Regardless, I was sticking with the truth till the end.

It was in my darkest hour - the day drilling was to begin ("It's just one hole! Be reasonable!") - when a ship appeared on the horizon. One even more wonderful than the one we sunk! Having spotted us it was soon upon our bow, their captain true and strong as he spoke.

"Ahoy! We are the ship of Life! We want to rescue you. But first, you must throw overboard any who are opposed to drilling."

My ass hit the water before these non-absolutist, compromising, reasonable souls stopped to think otherwise. Phony bastards! Completely self-serving. Always thinking they can vote on what's true in their utterly ruthless vanity.

A power boat descended from the ship of Life, whisking me away. Oh, the confused, outraged look on their faces as the lifeboaters realized they were being Left Behind. When they saw me hugged as I came aboard the ship of Life, the lifeboat fell into unrepressed turmoil.

"We want to change our answers!"

"You've already given it," dismissed the captain, annoyed at his time wasted.

As we sailed away we heard angry shouts and the sound of the lifeboat's captain being thrown overboard. But never again did I think of those who said, "Truth has no meaning."