Thursday, November 09, 2006

From Washington D.C. to Ancient China and back

My friend Jonathan Chaves will be presenting a reading from his new translation of the poetry of Zhang Ji, Cloud Gate Song at Chapters Bookstore in D.C. this Saturday.  The translation is an experiment which attempts to convey the original Chinese rhyme schemes to the English reader.  I would post a sample, but I have not yet received my copy from Amazon, which swears that it will ship it any day now.  Besides being a scholar and poet, Jonathan is a great reader and I would highly recommend the event to anyone in the area.


Until then, here is a sample from an earlier volume, Pilgrim of the Clouds; Poems and Essays from Ming China.  It seems particularly appropriate with the changes wrought by the recent election.  As each defeated incumbent slinks home, in his wake go dozens of aides, functionaries and officials all now jobless.  This is a story that would have been more than familiar to the scholar bureaucrats of ancient China.  Some elements of politics transcend time, place and culture.  However, I do not know if our own modern functionaries will have quite the same perspective in defeat:


ON RECEIVING News of My Termination

The time has come to devote myself to my hiker's stick;

I must have been a Buddhist monk in a former life!

Sick, I see returning home a kind of pardon.

A stranger here--being fired is like being promoted.

In my cup, thick wine; I get crazy-drunk,

eat my fill, then stagger up the green mountain.

The southern sect, the northern sect, I've tried them all;

this hermit has his own school of Zen philosophy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rainy Tuesday morning. Where did the mountain go?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

About a week ago I had a visit to the blog from Sue Bell (no relation that I know). She is an aspiring jazz singer from Seattle who, in addition to saying nice things about the blog, provided a link to her own web page where one can listen to samples from her album. I listened, liked what I heard and followed the link to CD Baby and ordered the CD. Is she the next great voice in jazz or pop? No, but I like her. Why? It's hard to explain, but let me try.

Picture this: You are in a little jazz club. The band is great, all old pros who are tearing it up while trying to keep the music accessible to the casual drinker off the street. The club is almost empty. At the table with you is a talented friend who has sat in with the guys before. They invite her up on stage to do a few songs. Not show tunes or jazz standards, but some of those tunes from the seventies that you secretly liked but were too cool to admit to while putting your Clash or Elvis Costello lps on the turn table. She sounds great. Not a perfect voice, but she sings the hell out of those sappy old songs, stripping out the schmaltz and leaving the honest sentiment behind. And the band sounds like they are having the time of their lives. It's over, and as you walk out, you leave smiling.

Monday, November 06, 2006

While down with the flu this weekend I had the rare treat of being awakened out of a feverish sleep by phone call after phone call only to discover that it was not my wife checking in from her business trip, or my in-laws calling with an emergency or any of our neighbors reporting errant livestock. Instead, it was some damnable recorded voice droning on (and on and on) in behalf of one or the other of the rival candidates in the particularly nasty race for the Senate here in Virginia. It does you no good to scream at a robot, but I tried anyhow, croaking from my sickbed as I slammed the receiver down. And don't even get me started on the omnipresent t.v. ads. The professionals who run these campaigns must truly believe the voting populace consists of idiots who can be swayed by nothing more than a breathless voiceover magnifying the real or imagined sins of the rival candidate. I actually began this election cycle with a certain measure of respect for both George Allen and James Webb, which has declined steadily as their staff and supporters have done what they think is necessary to win my vote. Their thinking is, to say the least, flawed. While it may be unjust to judge the man by his minions, if their campaign staffs are a measure of the candidates' character, I no longer trust either of them to be my Senator. In fact, I am not sure I would trust either of them to be the guy who pushes my trash down with a pole at our local dump station before pushing the big red button on the compactor. Nonetheless, at some point tomorrow I will stand up in a polling place and be faced with the choice between one of the two. This leads me to introduce my own idea for election reform; Vote None of the Above.

I propose a law that would require that in any race there be an additional option to vote for "None of the Above" positioned immediately after the candidates' names. If "None of the Above" leads by a plurality of the vote at the conclusion of the election, then a new election would be held within a reasonable time to allow the parties to reconsider their choices. The parties could, if they were so inclined, re-nominate the same candidates and independents would be allowed to run again. If however "None of the Above" wins an absolute majority, none of the previous candidates would be allowed on the new ballot.

It could be argued that this crackpot proposal would potentially delay the filling of public office and throw our system of government in disarray. Well, as they say in the computer world, that's not a bug, it's a feature. Vote None of the Above!