Thursday, July 31, 2008

On empty apologizing and vacuous legislative rhetoric

Naked bids by politicians to hold onto power compel them to do bizarre things. Sometimes the actions seem so much out of turn and extraordinary that it makes one reflect on our opportunistic tendencies. A latest example of this was the successful effort by Representative Steve Cohen, a Tennessee based house member in the United States Congress, (a white individual who represents a majority-black district in Memphis) spurring and passing a bill in the Congress that apologized to black Americans for "fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow" segregation.

Oh, by the way, he faces re-election seven days from today.

The apology seems to have come about 140 years after slavery was abolished.

A fashion trend that seems to be overtaking the legislatures around the world is apologizing for atrocities so egregious that detailing some of the incidents might induce the throwing up of ones last meal. It seems to me that telling the descendants of peoples long after they were subjugated, appropriated, abused and taken advantage of economically, socially and culturally serves only to reopen sore and healing wounds and nothing else. If however, the politicians had told us that along with the apology came a grant that served to open up a number of hospitals, public schools and recreation centers in economically blighted areas with appropriate rehabilitation programs, it might have come with some meaning. Of course, then, the government would be labeled communists and pandering to socialist ideals. Either way, an empty apology is not going to wake anyone up and would do little to help the downward slide perpetuated by racial policies from long ago.

In related news, Canada delivered an apology to indigenous people who as children were ripped from their families and sent to boarding schools, where many were abused as part of official government policy to "kill the Indian in the child."

Also, the Australians apologized to the "Stolen Generations" i.e. aboriginal children taken from their parents to be raised by white families in order to enforce the following policy: "Generally by the fifth and invariably by the sixth generation, all native characteristics of the Australian aborigine are eradicated. The problem of our half-castes will quickly be eliminated by the complete disappearance of the race and the swift submergence of their progeny in the white..."

On June 15, 1920, Duluth, MN police arrested several young black men accused of raping a white woman. That evening, three of them – Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie – are taken from jail by a mob and lynched. As was common, a postcard was made to commemorate the event. (Picture ripped from here)


Lyrics from a recent song ‘Beer for my Horses’ by superstar country singer Toby Keith

Grandpappy told my pappy back in my day, son
A man had to answer for the wicked that he'd done
Take all the rope in Texas
Find a tall oak tree, round up all of them bad boys
Hang them high in the street
For all the people to see


STRANGE FRUIT – a poem by Lewis Allan
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black body swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

On the back of a truck this morning



On the back of a truck this morning, I read the following:

'WELCOME TO AMERICA. NOW LEARN ENGLISH'

Left me feeling a little queasy on resurgent jingoism in small towns that has potential to spill over into the national front. Made me also think that we need a proper national immigration policy (especially after reading this)...
America’s 500,000 police officers are sworn to enforce the law. But we are increasingly unable to do so. Those who want to restrict immigration criticize us for not arresting immigrants for entering the country illegally. Yet others rightly wonder how we can do our job if some residents are afraid to report crimes or otherwise cooperate with the police for fear of deportation. Without a national immigration policy, a new culture of lawlessness will increasingly permeate our society. In cities, politicians will pressure police departments to reduce immigration by using racial profiling and harassment. At the same time, immigrants who fear that the police will help deport them will rely less on their local officers and instead give thugs control of their neighborhoods.

Love link

By any standards this has to be applauded... (courtesy: Reddit)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Painting Post

Sunil, 'Coolie No. 2', Oil on unstretched canvas, 88" X 72"



I know the truth! by Marina Tsvetaeva

I know the truth! All other truths - out of my sight!
There is no cause for us to hold these fights and battles!
Just take a look: there’s evening, look: there’s night.
Why do we fight - o poets, lovers, and commanders?

The grass is dewy and the wind has settled down,
And soon, the vortex of the stars will stop,
And we shall all sleep with our foes below the ground,
Though on this earth, we kept each other up.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

To Cochita

When they die suddenly,
the face remains.

Over time,
as one tries to move on,
every once in a while
they return anon.

Trace thoughts of
raspy laughter,
folds of linen,
graying hair,
coconut oil,
the little home
where fireflies meet
the heraldry of morn.




Novel Sexual Slavery

Men over the ages have been fairly creative in finding out multiple avenues to address their sexual needs. Gentle coercion, trickery, prostitution, rape, blackmail, war booty and casual encounters with the opposite sex are but a few of the avenues readily available to the physically stronger of the human sexes. The method used may vary depending upon circumstances, the environment and local mores but the primal need to sexually subjugate and control members of the opposite sex remains. The New Yorker magazine profiles yet another form of this subjugation highlighting an ancient Hindu practice in southern India where pre-pubertal girls were initiated into becoming a sex worker (devadasis) by making the girl believe that she is a demi-goddess and the services she performs are actually a service to the lord. An elaborate medieval legend involving gods, goddesses, sages and wontons also provide for sufficient moral ammunition for purveyors of the trade to explain to themselves that all they are doing is just another form of worship which in the end will lead to salvation. It is indeed interesting to see the absurd lengths to which we men go to satisfy the primal urge. Indeed repulsive, pathetic and nauseating.

The writer goes with the two devadasis to see the goddess Yellamma at her temple in the southern state of Karnataka. Tells the legend of Yellamma, who was the wife of a powerful rishi, Jamadagni, who punished his body and performed feats of great austerity. After fathering four children, these included a vow of chastity. One day, Yellamma saw a heavenly being making love to his consort. The rush of desire she felt destroyed the yogic powers she used in her husband’s service. Jamadagni guessed what had happened and cursed his wife. According to one version of the story, Yellamma became sickly and ugly, covered with boils and festering sores, cursed to wander the roads of the Deccan begging for alms. Devadasis believe that the tale of Yellamma shows how the goddess is uniquely sympathetic to their fate.

The ‘sex through religion’ system which has been extant for the last thousand years (in some format or other) is starkly illustrated in Telugu poetry from the fifteenth century from the collection ‘When God Is a Customer

I’m not like the others.
You may enter my house,
but only if you have the money.

If you don’t have as much as I ask,
a little less would do.
But I’ll not accept very little,
Lord Konkanesvara.

To step across the threshold
of my main door,
it’ll cost you a hundred in gold.
For two hundred you can see my
bedroom,
my bed of silk,
and climb into it.

Only if you have the money

To sit by my side
and to put your hand
boldly into my sari:
that will cost you ten thousand.

And seventy thousand
will get you a touch
of my full round breasts.

Only if you have the money

Three crores to bring
your mouth close to mine,
touch my lips and kiss.

To hug me tight,
to touch my place of love,
and get to total union,
listen well,
you must bathe me
in a shower of gold.

But only if you have the money


Abstracted from a study here are results of a survey conducted by Joint Women’s Program, Bangalore for National Commission for Women listing the top reasons for the dedication of pre-pubertal girls into a life of sexual slavery:

1. Being a blind, a deaf or a dumb or a crippled girl
2. Well being of the family
3. No male issues in the family
4. Mother was a devadasi
5. Only female child in the family
6. Followed from generations
7. Poverty
8. Father had undergone an operation and vowed to fulfill religious promise
9. It was a religious ritual
10. To appease Gods for the well-being
11. Father’s brother made her a devadasi
12. Due to skin ailments


Suggested References:
- Altekar, A.S., The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization, Benaras: Motilal Banarasi Das, 1956..
- Dubois Abbe J.A and Beachampes H.K., Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928
- Dumont Louis, Homo Hierarchius: The Caste System and Its Implications, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972.
- Gough Kathleen, “Female Initiation Rites on the Malabar Coast”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, No. 85, 1952.
- Kadetotad, N.K., Religion and Society among the Harijans of Yellammana Jogatiyaru Hagu Devadasi Paddati (Jogati of Yellamma and Devadasi Custom), Dharwad, Karnatak University Press (Kannada), 1983.
- Srinivasan, K., Devadasi (a novel), Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1976
.

Lucian Freud, “Naked Man on Bed’, Oil on canvas, 32” X 28”, 1989

The real reason behind the great Freddie Fannie bailout...

Today, the revamped housing bill will be signed into law and included in the sops are huge giveaways to Fannie and Freddie Mac. Martin Mayer in his column 'Mortgaged to the World' in today's Times gets it exactly right on why we had/need to bail out Fannie and Freddie Mac. Yep, it is to finance the budget deficit and our wars fought in faraway lands (the deficit by the way is set to top off at half a trillion dollars next year).


Historically, foreign central banks that found themselves with excess dollars as the result of the American trade deficit invested that money exclusively in Treasury notes and bills. As a service, the New York Fed made those investments for them, guaranteeing them the best current price and retaining legal custody of the paper as their agent.However, by the mid-1990s the countries that had large trade surpluses with the United States — primarily in East Asia and the Persian Gulf — began to demand a better return on investment than that offered by Treasury paper.

In response, the New York Fed began to buy them “federal agency” paper — including large amounts of obligations from Fannie and Freddie. This paid somewhat better interest, and while it was not officially guaranteed by the government in the way Treasury bills were — well, you know, if push came to shove, Washington could be counted on to do the right thing.
But the truth is that nobody knows. Fannie and Freddie have financed several hundred billion dollars of doubtful mortgage paper that may or may not pay off enough to meet their debts, and they cannot predict whether they will have gains or losses from their gigantic exposures in the derivatives markets.

If the government had not guaranteed the full payments of principal and interest on their paper, the foreign governments that own so much of it might have had to show losses on their dollar-denominated accounts. To say the least, this would make them reluctant to continue to finance our trade deficit, our wars and the strength (such as it is) of our dollar.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The latest shamefaced lie behind oil prices

The newest rhetoric regarding escalating fuel prices is here. For the little bit of background, the initial reason bandied about before was the specter of rising demand and consumption by the BRIC economies (Brazil, Indian Russia and China). When nobody paid heed to that piece of drivel, it was the turn for the economists to pin the blame on speculators and the fact that hedging ones bets in the marketplace is detrimental to the stabilizing the price of oil. When this argument did not seem to stick, people opted for the convenience that came out of explanations like rising political tensions between the United States and Iran and the resultant skittish market psychology playing a role in the see-sawing fuel prices. Of course, a recalcitrant OPEC who refuses to change the output and the constant vitriol spewing from Venezuela's Chavez have always been ready reasons handy when all other explanations fail to stick to the wall.

The latest explanation doing the rounds (and this time being given wide coverage shamefully by the New York Times on its front page) is the fact that fuel subsidies overseas is taking its toll on oil prices in the United States. The current president of the United States made a telling comment last week in trying to bolster this explanation by telling us the following in sage terms: “I am discouraged by the fact that some nations subsidize the purchases of product, like gasoline, which, therefore, means that demand may not be causing the market to adjust as rapidly as we’d like”. It was the same person who made the equally sage comment on rising food prices around the world by telling us that “when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food, and so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up", until it was found out that that biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75%..

While most of the developed countries have had a bull run for the last two hundred years with established growth rates and a voluminous GDP built on the back of colonial booty and slave labor, it is indeed disheartening to note that these very same countries who have had two to three centuries to bootstrap themselves are wagging their really engorged fingers at the new kids struggling to get a little bit of the leftovers. Add to that the recent shocking statistic that the entire state of California with its 37 million people uses more gas than the whole Chinese nation with its 1.3 billion people.

California alone uses more gasoline than any country in the world (except the US as a whole, of course). That means California's 20 billion gallon gasoline and diesel habit is greater than China's! (Or Russia's. Or India's. Or Brazil's. Or Germany's.) One more choice statistic: gasoline usage in California has increased 50 percent, that's 6.7 billion gallons, since 1988. Has there been anything close to a commensurate increase in quality of life here to accompany that rise in energy use?

When nations who are bootstrapping themselves to climb aboard the great economic growth train (whether that is a good or a bad thing is a whole different debate) subsidize the costs of fuel to its citizens, all they are doing is trying to level a highly loaded playing field (that was tipped in favor of the industrialized west for many centuries) by lifting the basic standards of living for its impoverished millions to a little more of a decent level. They are trying what the industrialized west achieved for its citizens a hundred to two hundred years back. It is also worth noting that as these nations try and level the playing field in a short 20-30 year span, they are doing so without the booty plundered as a result of colonialism and the cheap labor juiced out of imported black slaves worked to the bone.

Apologies if that last bit sounded a little too bitter, but this time the spin really got to me..



Check the fuel price in this photo of a dilapilated gas station on Route 66. Picture ripped from here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Miscellany

'Pensive'

Linkage

Ran into this yesterday. The text is telling. The photographs bolster.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Whimsical actions

The following is a little experiment and a work in progress prompted by a recent online run into the Clay Sanskrit Library. This library is a joint collaboration between New York University and other leading Sanskrit scholars with an aim to convert ancient classical Indian literature texts (written in the lingua franca of the day : Sanskrit) to a commonly understood English format. Some of the ancient stories struck me as being filled with wisdom, wit and profundity. In some others I also experienced inherent patriarchal attitudes that must have been common in those days filled with subjugation, sacrifices and stentorian men. On a whim, I decided to mashup some of the stories to a rhyming verse format and here is Part I of the mashup of a story by Dandin. The name of the book is Daśakumāracarita (What Ten Young Men Did) . Of course, the converted format will bear little resemblance to the original. Needless to say, the core idea was borrowed from the original and then regurgitated with personal flights of fancy over late nights last week. Again, this is a work in progress and the excerpt below is only a small part of what might (I envisage) turn out to be a 500+ line story/poem.


<Untitled – Part I>
The flanks were steep, as if by an axe had felled
Through the valley of green where the waters meld
The blue lotus and its nectars like flesh to bones
I came upon trees and shrubs living their loans.
Amid the expanse of green, particularly attractive,
Spied I, a circle of flowers of many colors reactive.
Young I was and least ready for what would lay
Before me, as would sages of old might say.
A gentle repast of nature in her reflection
Shimmering, dusky and swaying with flexion.
Surveying the distance from my earthen pride
There, amidst the green, a pool, I spied.
Unfettered thus, I presently alighted
Down rock steps as pale swans flighted.
I bathed and tasted the buds dripping nectar,
When, sans a ripple, a demon rose to hector
Hollering and shaking his rippling shoulders
His gaze was livid and arms thick as boulders.
He shook me asking ‘Who are you? Where are you from?’
Interrogated with menace, I answered the ugly scum:
‘Fearful giant, I was once sold for fees
From enemy to enemy I drifted over the deep seas.
I escaped on a ship and thence to these mountains,
Of fabulous colored crags and clustered fountains.
Upon spying your pool of gentle waters cresting,
After my escape, I dreamt of bathe and resting.
These explanations in him caused little cheer to flower
‘Answer my questions, and be free’, he said aglower.
I replied: ‘Go ahead, ask! your will and let me go,
Back to my ancient lands from long, long ago.
‘What is sad?’ ‘The hurt of a woman.’ – I said
‘What is dear?’ ‘Her virtues.’ To the demon I fed.
‘What is desire?’ ‘Your imagination.’ I said, bolder,
As I spied his anger now less colder.
‘What is the means to achieve the difficult?’
‘Wisdom’. I instituted with no apparent occult.
‘Tell me, what sorts of women are these?’
My answers impressed him, He begged; on his knees.
Thus I related: ‘There was a land called Trigarter.
Whose larders were wealthy and filled with barter.
In that land, lived three brothers who loved one another,
Richard, Ritchie, Rick; dusky like their mother.

to be continued...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Re-reading some Randy Pausch (1960 - today) quotes reminded me of one of my favorite anthems – Sunscreen.

- When you are doing something badly and no one’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be.
- How do you get people to help you? You can’t get there alone. People have to help you and I do believe in karma. I believe in paybacks. You get people to help you by telling the truth. Being earnest. I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person any day, because hip is short term. Earnest is long term.
- Be willing to apologize. Proper apologies have three parts: 1) What I did was wrong. 2) I’m sorry that I hurt you. 3) How do I make it better? It’s the third part that people tend to forget…. Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself.
- I’ve never understood pity and self-pity as an emotion. We have a finite amount of time. Whether short or long, it doesn’t matter. Life is to be lived.
- To be cliché, death is a part of life and it’s going to happen to all of us. I have the blessing of getting a little bit of advance notice and I am able to optimize my use of time down the home stretch.

On headscarves

Interview with two Swedish women Anne Sofie Roald and Pernilla Ouis who decided to convert to Islam in the 80's in an effort to step forward and explain the religion to the people. In the process they adopted the headscarf. A recent trend towards secularization of religious practices has led a lot of Muslim women to shed their headscarves. The interview chronicles life under the scarf, their reasons for remaining veiled and ultimately their reasons for giving up the practice thirty years later.

What made you initially decide to adopt the headscarf?

Anne Sofie Roald: I became a Muslim in 1982 and the pressure came not just from one man, but from a number of men around me. When I became a Muslim, I had no idea you were supposed to wear the headscarf. I've always been a seeker in life, and I'm a Muslim even without a headscarf. When I came into contact with Muslims, they said women had to wear the headscarf, but nobody did that in Norway then. Some Pakistani and Moroccan women went round with simple cotton scarves tossed casually over their hair. But the Muslim group had greater expectations of me as a convert, and I was one of the first in Norway to wear the headscarf.

The headscarf wasn't all that practical. The worst thing was that it made your head so hot, plus we used safety pins to keep it in place under our chins, because it was important to keep it in place. I lived in a detached house, and every time I wanted to go out into the garden I was supposed to wear it, but it was such a bother to put on and take off so in the end I didn't go out at all. In that way the headscarf became a barrier between inside and outside
.

What made you decide to take off your headscarves?

Pernilla Ouis: What came first? My altered view of religion, or my divorce? One explanation is that the pressure from my husband had gone. Another interpretation is that I got divorced because I started thinking along different lines. And after the divorce I found myself in new social settings; people outside the Muslim community became important to me. I was "the one with the headscarf", but I felt it was a false description of who I was. My religiousness had changed, and the headscarf was a symbol of something I could no longer defend. I started wondering why I should have to pay such a high price. Everyone thought I was stupid, thought I had problems with the West. I became so one-dimensional; in every context I was just a Muslim. You could see it as a defeat and say we should have carried on fighting and insisting there was much more to us than that.

A painting I did a couple years back titled 'Veil - A Mea Culpa'... More on the painting here.

Linkage

'Why do women need men' is a thought provoking post about sexuality, marriage and Indian mores.

"why does she need another man?" - the implication was that she was after sex. It is sad that it is still not considered ok for a woman to want sex. It has always been accepted that men needed sex and so even if their wife died, they were encouraged to marry as soon as the grieving period was over. One of the arguments handed out for legalising prostitution is that a lot of men do not have the opportunity to marry or stay with their wives and they need outlet for their sexual desires. A woman's sexual needs are still frowned upon and they are quickly dubbed as nymphomaniac if they are open about their desires or needs.It is even considered something to be ashamed of. The number of children that a couple has had is hardly an indicator of a sexually fulfilling life.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Surge - John's dirge?

Andrew Sullivan has an interesting take on the Iraq war troop surge and implied extrapolations thereof. For the more politically inclined, the video is worth a watch.

Comment on Umbrellas

On especially rainy days, it is clear that navigating the narrow streets of Manhattan will endow in the individual nimble footedness, a lithe body and a gymnasts outlook to mundane tasks like walking to work. OK, what am I talking about here? Well, there is a growing band of individuals using umbrellas that are as large as city blocks and insist on walking down the street as if they were the only ones using the narrow canyons of this city. Add to that a million vendors, newspaper hawkers, pooch walkers, baby strollers, placard carrying vagrants and the dazed office worker trying to thread their way to work and you have a recipe for gouged eyes, scratched foreheads and blistered elbows as one tries and steer clear of these coliseum sized appendages that people insist on holding above their pea sized heads. In a classic scene I saw the other day, a short balding man gets out of a taxicab and starts to unfurl what looked like some kind of a gondola attached to a metal rod that seemed to envelope the whole taxi cab in a black protective sheath. The driver looks up to collect his fare and does not seem to initially notice the geodesic tenting blossoming above the cab. He mutters to the passenger that the sky has turned really dark all of a sudden only to realize that it is an umbrella unfurled by his bald rider in the back seat. Even worse are the egregious old ladies that seem to have these large than life hemispherical monstrosities floating above their heads that they seem to balance on one hand while walking their designer poodles down the busy sidewalks in the morning and glaring at confused individuals trying to decide on the best course of action on being confronted by a strange combination of a miniscule snapping dog on the ground and an ambulating black dome in the air. All told, it indeed is interesting to walk the wet streets of Manhattan during a quick shower noticing specimens of our kind try and wend their way through the streets using symbols above their heads that seem to drive home the ‘I am an island and no one can disturb me – I do what I want and you can @#$% off’ attitude all over their deadpan faces.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On the lighter side

Excerpts from a paper that talks about the 'Cingular Theory of Unification' extolling the virtues of the Cingulate Cortex - a part of our brains implicated in the execution of cognitive and emotional tasks.

The cingulate cortex is responsible for everything. We call this the “Cingular Theory of Unification” which unifies all of the existing discoveries into one simple framework. One implication of this hypothesis is that since more and more researchers will find this brain region attractive, the amount of publications should grow unabated.

We predict that between 2050 and 2100, there will be more cingulate publications than there are cells in the cingulate cortex itself. At this point, we fear that the “Cingularity” will be reached, and the cingulate cortex will become self-aware. This trend does not have to continue! As intelligent, sentient beings we have the power to stop our very own cingulate cortices from taking over America, and indeed, the entire world. If the cingulate decides to use its powers for for evil, future human success may be neither assumed nor assured.3 We hereby pronounce that we should use the best of our energies and skills to determine not what the cingulate does, but how the cingulate does all it does, and indeed, what its true intentions really are.

Painting post

Sunil, 'Boomer', Oil on canvas, 84" X 72"
Inspiration for this painting came from many sources, but the following incident came to mind as I was starting to undertake this one. I had recently ran into a colleague of mine at work who was remarking that he had about three years before he retires and starts to confront a world where he does not have to wake up and fight the morning commute at 6am every morning, five days a week. On asking him what he was planning to do, he said that he was not relishing the prospect but was still piecing together a post-retirement life in social services and volunteerism. Our talk veered into social security, healthcare and a host of other issues that one starts to think a little more seriously as they start to approach the sunset of their careers. He also talked about growing up as a teenager in the 60's, the free wheeling, artsy culture that pervaded then, the liberalism in the college campuses and the general feeling that ‘it was much better back in my times’. We live in interesting times. Baby boomers like him will be retiring in droves over the next two to three years putting untold stresses on the social net that many take for granted. Medicare and Medicaid will be overtaxed in trying to expand its support for the sudden influx of new participants - willing or unwilling. Faces like this remind me of the coming storm.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Interesting headline

I ran into this headline 'Ford Is Betting the Future On Small, Efficient Cars' in the business section of the Times this morning and I thought to myself that we are about 20 years late in this game...

In a CNN survey released recently, the top six fuel efficient cars belonged either to Toyota, Honda or Nissan...

It is never too late to start, I guess...


From news here: General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., the two biggest U.S. automakers, have about a 46 percent chance of default within five years, according to Edward Altman, a finance professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.

To color or not


Autistic talk shows strut their stuff

Yet another comment from the talk show nexus that revolves around Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage. The comment below again proves that most of the right wing conservative talk show hosts do not care (or really know much) about science, parenting or dealing with children. This latest comment involves autism in children on Michael Savage’s talk show (aptly named Savage Nation) from last week.

Nearly every child with autism is a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out, and 99 percent of the cases of autism are a result of lax parenting. They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life.’ Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot. He dished out this piece of medical advice:
Autism is an over diagnosed medical condition. In my readings, there is no definitive medical diagnosis for autism
.

And a little bit of numbers on who listens to this stuff: Pew researchers found that 17% of the public regularly listens to talk radio. This audience is mostly male, middle-aged and conservative. Among those who regularly listen to talk radio, 41% are Republican and 28% are Democrats.

Full story here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Meanwhile in our garden...

A red breasted robin and its partner had built their nest in one of our weeping pines about three months back. The blue eggs were beautiful and every once in a while we would take a peek to check on their progress. The chick was extremely ugly at birth, I remember. Over the last month, it seemed to grow in size, confidence and plumage with generous parental helpings of little worms, crickets and other hapless critter that were unlucky to be caught up in the endless cycle. This morning, it took its first faltering steps outside of its nest. As the little one hopped about our garden, I did notice some gentle coaxing from its parents to begin its onward flight.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Jumping to conclusions... this morning

Most mornings, I stop off at a makeshift diner in lower Manhattan and douse the fires of a twelve hour fast from the night before with a sandwich and a tall coffee. Today was no exception. After ordering, I look around and notice a lanky youth with afro hairdo and a backpack to boot intently staring at the menu choices written down on a blackboard strategically placed on the sidewalk such that the diner could waylay people like us with its choices. Mornings tend to be busy and as is typical, I noticed the sandwich vendor try and get the afro youth’s attention as to what might be his choice for breakfast. Those of us standing around waiting for the morning cuppa soon come to the conclusion that the vendor’s actions seem like an exercise in futility. The afro youth was in a world of his own, intently staring with singular focus at the two feet high blackboard menu, eyes unmoved. Just from facial expressions and body language conveyed by the motley group waiting for their orders, it was clear that most of us thought that we have a crank in our midst. Hey, it New York City – cranks ooze out of stone walls. A little later, the youth takes out a piece of paper clipped on a hard pad and starts to copy parts of the menu using a half chewed out pencil. Looking at the paper and little clip pad in his hands, I remember thinking to myself that this guy must have come prepared and planned – for what I was not too clear and did not care too much – just as long as I got my breakfast on time. At this point of time, I hear a couple behind me whisper that either the afro is copying out the menu to start a rival diner on his own or that he must be comparing prices for menu items between makeshift diners like this. By now, the diner owner is at his wits end and starts to slowly raise his tone and tells the afro that one simply cannot copy the menu off his establishment and the youth better make an order for breakfast or clear the premises. I also heard a ‘cop’ invocation somewhere in between the veiled threat. What was fascinating was that the youth still seemed to be stuck in a world of his own, writing laboriously on his little piece of paper. After what seems like an eternity, I am handed my sandwich and coffee and as I am about to pick up my bag, I notice the youth look up slowly and catch the eyes of the diner owner. The youth then proceeds to pass him the piece of paper. Maybe it is a stick up note – I thought to myself hurrying to clear the area. I heard him say something to the diner owner – nothing intelligible – it seemed like a guttural cry from deep within the back of his mouth. Just as I was turning to go, it slowly dawns on us that the afro youth with the weather-beaten backpack was a deaf-mute and he simply was copying out a part of the menu that he planned for breakfast today.

Photograph of a painting by Zhao Nengzhi at the ChinaSquare gallery in Chelsea (displayed in June 08).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Neo-con history lesson

The July issue of Harpers has a superb take on the relatively recent rise of modified neo-conservative sensibilities and its history chronicled from the 1970's to present. It also includes an interesting (and surprising) account of the link between the conservatism, Abramoff brand lobbyists, the erstwhile apartheid government of South Africa and Angolan guerilla leader Jonas Savimbi. Kept me awake during my ride home.

Meanwhile...

The Saudis may be our best friends when it comes to oil, but it is indeed interesting what they teach in their grade schools and how little children are conditioned to hate.

A selection:

11th Grade textbook: The Prophet said, 'Do not greet Jews and Christians with the words 'Peace be upon you.' If you come upon one of them on the road, force him to the narrower part.

10th Grade textbook: The punishment for homosexuality is death. Both the active and passive participants are to be killed whether or not they have previously had sexual intercourse in the context of a legal marriage.... Some of the companions of the Prophet stated that [the perpetrator] is to be burned with fire. It has also been said that he should be stoned, or thrown from a high place.

9th Grade textbook: The prophet said, 'The hour [of judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, until the Jew hides behind rocks and trees, until the rocks or the trees say, 'O Muslim! O servant of God! There is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him'

More grade school translations here. I first read about this story on Gawker.

Death by illogically exuberant consensus in the markets

Many of us over the last few days have seen prices for a barrel of oil see-sawing between 140 and 130 dollars a barrel and Fannie and Freddie Mac stocks taking wild rides in the stock market rollercoaster. Not to mention the frequent up and downswings of the DOW above and below the 11,000 mark. It often leads one to think that we may be overreacting to the information glut which may be completely useless half the time. In fact, I heard a joke on NPR yesterday telling us that the price of oil fell by nine dollars because there were NO bellicose pronouncements by the leader of Venezuela who shakes his sabers every couple of days rattling the world oil markets. Of course, not to be outdone, another take on the oil prices per barrel dropping was attributed to the clarion call of the current President of the United States exhorting the congress to pass legislation to drill for little known deposits of oil in the continental United States. Maybe the reason for such wild rides in prices could be that we have too much information on our hands and little know on how best to use and process the same. What if we suddenly stopped the flow of information to the markets and instead fed the markets global news at the end of every day - in a capsule format. Or, lock up the traders in the pit of the stock exchange, let them mull over the analysts reports, mull over company quarterlies and then figure out the best positions on take on any stock or fixed income instrument after a proper analysis. Would this be a good idea or just another crazy socialist pitch to controlling the markets? Apparently it does not seem like a crazy idea if one extrapolates from a study done by a Harvard psychologist.

In a Harvard study by psychologist Paul Andreassen, two groups of investors were given information necessary to value a stock and then asked to trade it. The only difference was that one group received frequent news about every development at the company, whereas the other received only quarterly earnings releases. The result? The latter group traded far less and ended up with twice the profits of those fed frequent news. (from here)

If one takes the sad decline of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, I think a comparatively small number of people might have responded to bad news in the mortgage market by selling their holdings thus causing the prices to initially fall. This fall in prices might have led others to follow the initial herd and additional selling ensued. Add to the mix the news media huffing and puffing to report on a minute by minute basis reinforcing and goading peripheral observers to sell their small holdings leading to a 'death by illogical consensus' for the stock that thus gets clobbered.

Then there are stocks that tend to act as 'stunners' grabbing so much of one's attention that focus on anything else is seems impossible. Kind of like billboards on Times Square.

A study by professors Brad Barber (UC Davis) and Terrance Odean (UC Berkeley) found that individual investors disproportionately buy “attention-grabbing” stocks, which they defined as those heavily in the news, those experiencing high, abnormal trading volume or those having just had extreme one-day returns. The authors argued that investors behave this way because of the difficulty in winnowing out good investment ideas – focusing on companies making the news helps limit the choices
.(from here)

This does not go to say that one pays no attention to the news and one starts to sit down and parse financial statements and analyst fine print before making a decision to go wild with their holdings (and I think it will be stupid to do so)... On the contrary, what this points to is a sad fact of our lives - having access to more information than ever before and not knowing what to do with - worse - being actually harmed by the very information that surges to us from all sides. Corrective steps will include a more pragmatic approach to the market events that include letting the people who want to ride their ill advised Pamplonas complete their bloody course and then betting ones options calmly over the resulting carcasses of ill thought decisions. As always, the calm after the initial storm helps.

Carl Rungius (1969 - 1959), 'Alaskan Brown Bear - Out of the Shadows', oil on canvas, 60" X 75"

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Comment on a recent New Yorker magazine cover

I recently wrote about the efforts to 'swift boat' the Obama campaign but here is an episode that might inadvertently help these very efforts…

The recent ruckus over the New Yorker magazine featuring Barack and his wife Michelle on the front cover as a Muslim husband fist thumping his terrorist garbed wife is a fine piece of satire that pokes holes at the efforts by his detractors to smear his campaign who use these very props to reinforce imaginary stereotypes.

Nothing wrong with this. Fine piece of political art and enjoyable.

The only problem is that the number of people who read the New Yorker and understand the subtlety in its satirical art is exceedingly small compared to the multitudes who hear snatches, bits and pieces through water cooler conversations and other gossip exchange mediums. The New Yorker fracas will help these multitudes subconsciously connect the words Obama, terrorist and Muslim and solidly any false ideas that they might have had about these stereotypes. In my view, this will ultimately give the doubters and naysayer a reason to doubt and say ‘I told you so’ more. While the New Yorker cover may have been designed with the good intention to poke fun at the rumor mongering crowd that feeds off people’s insecurities, the exercise may have opened up unintended consequences in its wake whose effects only time will tell.

Believe nothing against another but upon good Authority: Nor report what may hurt another, unless it be a greater hurt to others who conceal it.” - William Penn (1644 – 1718) Some Fruits of Solitude, 145, 1693

'Darkey in a watermelon', Newspaper advertisment for childrens toy from the 1940's (from here)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Trail Mix

I often hear the clichéd phrase ‘Oh, I need a vacation after last weekend to get back to normal’ on dragging myself into work on Mondays (especially during summer). I do the appropriate roll of my eyes as befits the occasion and carry on. This weekend was our turn to employ this cliché. We trekked portions of the Appalachian Trail (the longest continuous footpath in the world). The trail covers a total length of 2175 miles from Georgia to Maine and we did a tiny section (must have done about 0.002% of the trail) of the trail that runs through New Jersey. It was worth the effort. The absence of wireless signals and the internets added to a comfortable sense of isolation. Of course, I am not sure how long one could go without these leech like staples of our existence, but the disruption in the ‘I am always available’ mode was a welcome respite from the diurnal din.
We did catch a bit of ‘trail lingo’ along the way - NOBOs stands for north-bounders, trekking their way to yonder Maine, SOBOs for south-bounders who make the journey from Maine to Georgia (very few actually finish the trail end to end every year). I remember my wife punning that we felt like HOBOs (homebounders – not a trail lingo) at the end of the trek. We also managed to squeeze in a little boating near our rented log cabin. Also worth mentioning were black bear sightings (they seem to have so many in NJ that there is an official hunting season designed for Hummer like masculine egos to gun the poor things down) and white tailed deer’s. The vistas of the Delaware Water Gap at the summit of one of the little mountains we climbed did have a ‘sharp intake of breath’ effect on all of us. Upcoming projects include convincing the family to attempt larger sections of the trail in the future.

The following is an excerpt from On the Beaten Path: An Appalachian Pilgrimage by Robert Rubin - a book that I dicovered in the main office of the little commuity that we called home for two days.

We've walked this crooked trail to mend the crazing of our lives; we reek of sweat and smoke, wear Gore-Tex shells to turn the storm away, take on new names, our talk all aches, and boots, and food; and yet we yearn to strip the armor from our hearts, to wash ourselves in mountain rain and air until, like the wild columbine and black cohosh, we can be merely what we are, until out of the stone-strewn ground we bloom again, until the weathered sign on Baxter Peak points along the path to where we've been.

As is the custom, the pictures follow.













Friday, July 11, 2008

Skyline this morning...


Note: An offsite family outing looms over this weekend. No posts for a couple of days.
On a lighter note: This little piece of analysis here is noteworthy over the recent brouhaha over chopping the testicles off the Democratic nominee for the U.S. president...
In a Father's Day speech, Obama told black churchgoers that a father's responsibility "doesn't just end at conception. What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child - any fool can have a child," Obama said. "It's the courage to raise a child that makes you a father."

Maybe this struck a little too close to home for the Rev. Jackson, who just a few years ago finally owned up to fathering a child outside of his marriage even as he was busy counseling President Bill Clinton on his dalliances with a White House intern
.

Bedtime stories

Most nights, I help our elder son settle into bed.
Oftentimes, it is a story, a made up riddle or just
silly histrionics employed to get him to sleep.
Old wine in new (I guess)… On most days, it is fun
mixed with a sense of duty; on others, those rare
days, this little ritual transforms into a chore.

A chore when other pressing exigencies filter
and clog the event horizon of my mind and
fill it with myriad competing thoughts. Sometimes
it’s ideas for a new painting, other times
work schedules that need to met on morrow,
sometimes, as plain as a domestic project.

On such days, I tell him gently (but firmly),
'be back in five minutes', and he needs to use
the time to fall asleep. On some nights
(that I try this ruse), it works; while on
others, I tiptoe back to see our wide eyed
little one awaiting my return eagerly.

Yesterday was one such night – a ‘chore’ night.
This time, I happened to remember that I
had to turn off the garden hose. This was
triggered just as soon as the fox managed
to reach over the gibbous moon and grab the
unsuspecting dinosaur by its callused tail.

Before my son enquired on the dinosaurs plight,
I told him I need to attend to something –
(for some reason it sounded phony). As soon as
he hears this, our son slowly turns to me and opens
his mouth (for what I am expecting to be an abject
remonstrance against my imminent disappearance).

Expecting the worst, I quickly admonish him to go
to sleep (soon enough) as I have work to do and he
cannot carry on with this forever. In clear, measured
words he tells me “Be careful, Acha’. Quizzically,
I looked at him and asked him why? Why should I
be careful walking out the home to turn off the hose.

He tells me that there are mosquitoes outside in
the night and he did not want them to bite me.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pompous posing of obtuse potpourri

Every once in a while I take some time off to read and review the art offerings that the city of New York has to offer to plebes like me and she never fails – of course, every once in a while, this exercise also raises in me a couple of chuckles. Usually, a useful primer and a gut check to understanding the art displayed would be to turn to reading some of the prose that comes along with the art show describing the artists, her/his work and relevant motivations. Of late, I have started to see that this is a futile exercise. Reason?

In my view, most of the gallery statements seem to vapid pronouncements that border on delusions of impossible situations, references to imaginary details and fairy tale like concoctions that string together impenetrable prose in an impressive sounding manner designed to hide the gallery and the artist behind a veneer of respectability...

Here is a recent example of prose accompanying an ongoing photography show. The gallery and the artist shall remain unnamed as it does not make sense in pointing fingers. This little post was really written against a phenomenon that seems to be taking over a large majority of the galleries today. A movement that left unchecked (in my humble opinion) will diminish the allure of art to the ordinary individual on the street (who is already fighting trepidation before encountering the unknown at the gallery doorsteps). In addition, this phenomenon will tend to further ensconce art to a small batch of snobby so-called cultural elites swarming the same galleries. OK, enough of that and read the statement that provoked the post…

The somberness that is evoked from the futile endeavor of understanding the universe is elegantly juxtaposed by the hope of his young subjects and the humor of his oblivious non-human subjects. He captures youth and all of its questioning and vulnerable qualities through a mature and thoughtful eye without the compulsive sexualization and forced seediness that seems to saturate photography.

I read and re-read the statement a couple of times before I slipped into a drowsy torpor of intellectual amnesia spurred on by imaginary connections and perceived references that one needs to make in order to understand the context behind the work. It is almost as if we will need to extend or additionally exert intellectual capital simply to begin to understand what is being exhibited. Have we reached that complex a level of existence where one will have to go through an exercise in mind bending linguistic gymnastics in order to commune with the art?
This should not be the case - right? Art and the works shown at galleries should have a natural sense of giving, like a natural function – like a faucet gives us life supporting water - rather than forcibly demand from the viewer convoluted mental contortions to even approach them.

The statement below from the Feuilletons captures the situation rather well but for the fact that the author is writing from a different viewpoint, albeit, the same subject - the use of impenetrable phrases by the self appointed doyens of art – the art critics...

Artworks are undoubtedly social objects. They are produced and absorbed by people, they have an effect on the life of the individual as well as on culture as a whole, and at the same time they take on their meaning from the socio-historical environment in which they exist. But works of art are more than this, they possess their own qualities which raise them above the status of social things. They might be human products, artifacts, but unlike others which exhaust themselves in their utility value, they are marked out by a surplus, a quantum of non-utility. Art works 'are an end in themselves', art theory tells us. The refusal of the art work to be a means to an end stands it apart from us. Proud and exclusive it stands and faces us. whereas all other media offer themselves to us wholeheartedly so to speak: the newspaper to impart information; an essay, instruction; a football match, excitement; a cabaret, relaxation; and good wine, a lifting of the spirits. The art work claims the right not to have to fulfill needs, not to want to join the ranks of useful things. Instead of giving, it demands the exertion of the (perceiving) senses and the (understanding) intellect.

Yes, it is about time we went into a business of easing the rigor mortis inherent in artist statements lest art appreciation die as a result.

Karen Finley, 'I shot myself because I love you. If I had loved myself, I'd be shooting you'

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pictures




I did not want to write about the depressing too late, too little mortgage reform unfolding in Washington. Some pictures that we recently took helps somewhat... I guess.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

$400 crabs, biofuels and food riots

Rising food prices around the world has pushed about a hundred million people below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank. Some governments have likened the current shortage of food to needy countries to spark the "the first real economic crisis of globalization". There have been recent reports that some countries have been hoarding food. Food riots have broken out in Egypt, Indonesia, Cameroon, Peru and, most recently, Haiti.

Around the beginning of May, the explanations doing the rounds towards understanding the world food shortage was that the spike in food prices worldwide is primarily a consequence of rising demand from China and India: In the words of the President of the United States: “when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food, and so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up.”

How about the effect contributed to this phenomenon due to the growing of food to make fuels - the whole biofuels thing? Well, it was widely propagated at about the same time that the contribution to the increase in world food prices due to the effects of siphoning off food to make biofuels was no more than 2-3%.

While agreeing that sustainability and innovation are needed, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer insisted that biofuels contribute only 2 or 3 percent to a predicted 43 percent rise in prices this year. "The use of sustainable biofuels can increase energy security, foster economic development especially in rural areas, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions without weighing heavily on food prices," Schafer said. Last month, the U.S. Congress enacted a farm bill which reduced a tax credit for refiners by about 10 percent per gallon. The credit supports the blending of fuel with the corn-based additive.

Not so fast...

The Guardian has published a new report that conclusively states that biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75%... Yes, 75%...

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian. "Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate," says the report. The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertilizer prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

Meanwhile the lives of excess goes off well... Here is an example of 400 dollar crabs.

Blackstone's deal maker Stephen Schwarzman eats three-course meals within 15 minutes, the chef says. Mr. Zeugin says he often spends $3,000 for a weekend of food for Mr. Schwarzman and his wife, including stone crabs that cost $400, or $40 per claw. (Mr. Schwarzman says he had no idea how much the crabs cost.)

In other interesting news, the G8 leaders of the free world are meeting in Tokyo as we write this to talk about global food shortages and ways to increase (double) world food production. Not to be outdone, they dined on 19 separate dishes including diced fatty flesh of tuna fish and milk-fed lamb with aromatic herbs. Today, as they continue 'talking', the leaders will enjoy a $400 dinner of giant crab, $100-a-kilogram langoustine and sweet clover ice cream, prepared by Michel Bras, a Michelin three-star French chef.



Sunday, July 06, 2008

Lament


Time flies but the lament remains... I do not get enough time to paint, but manage to squeeze in some for the accidental photograph...

Power Lines


Saturday, July 05, 2008

Story

A lot of our stories are passed on from the ancients, borne of their legends, their aspirations and their dreams for the generations to come in their hope that their progeny be better humans than their immediate image. Sometimes the stories seem to catch on, sometimes they do not. Here is one that did catch on...

A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days. If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

Friday, July 04, 2008


Yesterday evening we found a flag outside our home with a marketing message attached to it. Using the flag for marketing especially on the eve of the fourth of July seemed especially egregious. I tore out the message and decided to drape the colored plastic film over window slats that seemed to let just enough light through to obtain a nice diffraction in the patterns that shone through. The flag draped over the window slats also seemed like a good idea to photograph this morning. Strangely, the flag was made in the US of A as opposed to standard expectations that it was fabricated in the Mecca of manufacturing - China.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Before killing that intruder, consider this…

For all those who are waxing eloquent about individual freedoms and the recent supreme court decision on the supposedly gloried upholding of individual rights to owning a firearm, I would say, hold on - read the fine print in state laws. An informative op-ed piece in today’s Times lays bare the legal ramifications as soon as one decides to flex that trigger happy finger.

Consider the situation, an intruder breaks into your home while you were sleeping, you confront the person and protected by the fundamental right, take out that gun and shoot the person down. In a court, there is a good chance you might be tried for murder in light of the following lines that are part of most states gun laws (based on the American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code of 1962). Of course, this excludes Texas.

* A person may use only as much force as is “immediately necessary".
* If a "less lethal means of defense" is available, the use of deadly force is illegal.

With respect to the first bullet above (pardon the unintended pun), the legal limitations on self-defense typically do not allow the use of force at a distance. Defensive force is considered “immediately necessary” only when the defender can wait no longer, when the threat is “imminent.” Last available resort!! One cannot stand in one's balcony and take pot shots at the intruder downstairs. It was neither imminent nor immediately necessary.

The second item as regards the 'less lethal means of defense' is slowly coming open to more scrutiny especially in light of the technological changes and options available to an individual that allow one to inflict non lethal pain on another individual. Is the word TASERS flashing in your mind at this point?

One might counter this with the following: Anyone who uses a gun in self-defense may argue that he would have used a less lethal weapon if he had had one at hand, but there was only the firearm.

Lawyers are going to tear this to pieces due to the following fact: When a person shops for a weapon of self-defense, anticipating some day a confrontation with an attacker, their choice of a gun over something less lethal is a conscious predetermined decision that the individual took in a marketplace that is currently filled with non lethal choices like the TASER as well as other choices emerging that include light lasers (designed to blind temporarily) and microwave beams (temporary intense burning sensation on skin). It will be a true measure of culpability when the person in question has willfully ignored these other ‘non-lethal choices’ and went ahead and bought a weapon that propagates deadly force... Is that not like saying that one had an ‘intent to kill’?

Considering all of the options, TASERS seems like the best choice for both law enforcement and private citizens...

Tasers, handgun-shaped devices that fire a dart that delivers a painful electrical shock. A hit from a Taser causes an instant muscular spasm that can disable any attacker, no matter how determined. And the Taser works no matter where on the attacker’s body the dart hits. A bullet, in contrast, instantly disables only if it hits a couple of vulnerable spots, like the space between the eyes. A shot to the arm, the leg or even the torso may not stop an attacker.

The following paragraph says it all...

If you are a surgeon and you leave your glasses behind on the way to the operating room, then botch a delicate procedure, you can’t convince a judge that the resulting death wasn’t your fault because you couldn’t see well. If, on your way to confront an intruder, you choose your gun rather than your more effective but less lethal weapon, you can hardly complain later about your limited options.

Hey, now there are designer TASERs for the fashion conscious... (we talked about them in this blog here).

Aboriginal weapons from South East Australia. (Image from an August 2000 Sotheby's catalogue showing the collection of Lord McAlpine)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Parallels

The Machine Stops, a novel written by E. M. Forster and Wall-E a movie directed by Andrew Stanton.

Poem

Andrew Seabrooks passed away on 6/21/08

She walked out into the moist morning air
last week, looking for candles.
(It had rained the night before, but
she did seem to notice the petering drizzle).
She did not find them at the corner bodega,
found some old candles at the supermarket
among the mops and liquid cleaners.
As she paid, she asked for a
few pieces of tape. The cashier obliged,
noting her puffy eyes and unmade hair.
She then went to the cab stand where
Andrew Seabrooks, the man she loved,
had worked for most of his life.

The dispatcher at the cab stand helped her,
together, they laid it outside the storefront,
the candles on the ground, the taped piece
of paper at the gate. She wrote slowly,
in unsteady hand, in blue ink, her phone
number, in case, anyone had questions
about the sudden news of
the death of Andrew Seabrooks.

The piece of paper showed an image,
It was almost a silhouette, a burly man,
a khaki military uniform, a camouflage hat,
the sun strong behind him,
Andrew Seabrooks standing tall.
After lighting the candles and securing the tape
one more time, she stopped by his barber to tell
about the prayer service that afternoon.
She also informed the postman about the same.

They all came to the prayer service for Andrew Seabrooks,
who once drove a cab, sometimes installed car stereos,
but who could not find enough to pay the mortgage...
It was the thought of losing their home,
home to his wife, and their
four year old son Xavier Seabrooks,
that made him go to Kandahar.
Just before he left, (she seemed to remember)
the first foreclosure notice was delivered
by the same postman in the pew.
And for some reason, it helped cement his
shaky decision to save their home.

7,000 miles away, the week before,
Andrew Seabrooks passed away on 6/21/08.
A resident of South Ozone Park NY,
collector of action DVDs,
inveterate homebody,
a tinkerer of things mechanical,
an occasional joke player
and last, but not least,
a National Guardsman,
killed by an improvised explosive device
outside Kandahar, Afghanistan.

It is amazing what strange bedfellows
like the subprime mortage crisis
and an army trolling
for bodies (willing to die) can accomplish.

I wrote this poem using lines adapted from a story printed in yesterday’s New York Times.