Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Down with the Kakistocracy

Here’s a multiple-choice quiz for you.

In 1829, the English writer, Thomas Love Peacock, a close friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley, coined the term kakistocracy, to mean “government by the least qualified and most unprincipled citizens.”  What is the origin of the term?

1.     Radio station KAKI in Juneau, Alaska (88.1 FM)
2.     The city of Kaki, in the Iranian province of Bushehr
3.     The village of Kaki, in the French Polynesian Tuamotu Archipelago
4.     The name used by the residents of the town of Kaltenkirchen to refer to the place where they live, when they don’t want to take the time to say all four syllables
5.     Abubaker Kaki, the Sudanese runner
6.     Kaki King, the musician
7.     a misspelling of khaki
8.     the Telegu word for crow
9.     the Maori word for the world’s rarest wading bird, the black stilt
10.  the Hungarian word for shit
11.  the Japanese word for persimmon…()
12.  …or fence or hedge or wall ( or sometimes , a variant writing of )
13.  …or oyster (牡蠣)
14.  …or firearms (火器)
15.  …or summertime (lit. “the flowering season”) (夏季)
16.  …or flower vase (花器)
17.  …or “as follows” (下記) (and there you see one of the main arguments for retaining kanji - to disambiguate the many homonyms)
18.  the ancient Greek word κάκιστος – kakistos – meaning “the worst”

Whatever the origin, I am joining in spirit the 40 democratic members of Congress who have committed themselves to skipping out on the inauguration of a colossal American kakistocracy on Friday.  And I am joining with a number of friends in body and spirit the Women’s March the following day in Oakland, California.  For those of you who can make it, it begins at Madison and 9th (by the Lake Merritt BART Station).  It will go up Oak to Lake Merritt, then along the lake past Snow Park and the Cathedral, left on Grand Avenue to Broadway, then down Broadway to the City Center.  Gathering time is 10 a.m. 

If I weren’t 99% certain that’s about all the walking I can do for one day, I would then hop BART over to San Francisco and join in their candlelight march on the same day, starting with a rally at 3 at the Civic Center and a march at some point down Market St. to the Embarcadero.  For those of you in the South Bay, there is also a march in San Jose starting at 10 a.m. in front of City Hall and ending at Cesar Chavez Plaza.  And if you live elsewhere in the country, word has it there are some 600 others to choose from!

What can we do, at this point, but register our dismay at the takeover of government by people willing to throw up to thirty-two million people off their health care insurance plans by 2026 and 18 million within the coming year, give preference to charter schools over public schools, deny climate change? To a gaggle of folk led by a pathologically narcissistic leader who uses language to rouse crowds and then denies having made his own statements in spite of incontrovertible evidence that he has made them, the presence of millions of eyes and ears.  A leader who promised to “drain the swamp,” leading most Americans to believe that meant rule by the 1% and then pulled a switch and proceeded to increase and tighten the very oligarchic control people thought he was freeing them from.  A man who tells the great civil rights leader John Lewis, who fought for the rights of blacks to vote his entire life, and got a cracked skull for his efforts, that he is “all talk and no action.”  A man who feuds with traditional media outlets and reaches out to the white supremacist organization Breitbart as its propaganda organ.  A man who has thrown his support behind the further proliferation of nuclear weapons.

I hope the marches will highlight the fact that despite the technical legitimacy of Trump’s win (I disagree with Lewis on that), the way the election was managed is highly suspect.   Our intelligence agencies assure us there was Russian interference; there is a strong argument to be made that the FBI chief sabotaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign at a crucial final moment; and he actually came in behind by nearly three million votes, but won anyway, thanks to a bizarre and outdated electoral system kept in place in part by the gerrymandering of voting districts.

I support Oakland’s decision to refer to this march not as a “protest” march, but a march of support for the rights of women and minorities, a movement, in the organizers words, “to unify and empower everyone who stands for human rights, civil liberties, and social justice for all… to find healing and strength through tolerance, civility, and compassion.”

But at the same time, I think most people marching will share my conviction that, whether you call it one or not, it is a protest march.  And not just against the assumption of power by a superrich bunch of self-serving bastards.  But over the seriously messed up American way of doing business and running ourselves as a society. While Lewis's claim that Trump is illegitimate is controversial, what is not arguable is that the election brought out in clear relief how thoroughly corrupted America’s political system has become.  How terribly far we have strayed off the path toward democracy to a rule by oligarchs, with the widest gap between rich and poor since 1928. And a tax plan that would give 99.6% of tax cuts to people in the top 1%. 

So much is seriously wrong.  The pitiful sight of watching Americans run from the frying pan that was Hillary Clinton to the fire that is Donald Trump has only revealed the danger of believing what you want to believe, rather than insisting on facts supported by evidence.

I’m marching mostly because I don't know what else to do and I'm so pissed off that I have to move my arms and legs or go crazy.  And I'm hoping it will serve as an impetus for consciousness raising.  For some sign that we can get off this "Make America great again" bullshit train.  Again?  You mean we were a better place once than we are now? When was that?  When we had slaves and committed genocide against the native population?  Before women could vote?  When children worked in factories?  When a black man could be lynched with impunity?  When gays learned self-loathing with their mother's milk?  Just what the hell are we supposed to be going back to?

I know, I know.  I'm getting carried away with the liberal lefty crap.  I know they're referring to a time when we had more manufacturing jobs, and I appreciate that it has been heartbreaking to watch jobs dry up.  And watch your country develop more wealth than ever before, but not get your fair share of it.  But it's not foreigners who took the jobs; it's technology.  Not Mexicans. Robots. And the robots are not going to give them back to you. 

This scapegoating of foreigners has some people (like me) wondering if this isn't opening the door to fascism.

I heard Michelle Malkin tell an audience at UC Berkeley some time ago that we were right to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II.  The audience consisted in large part of Japanese-Americans, some of whom had vivid memories of those camps. Because they're Japanese, they internalized their rage. Instead of storming the stage and ripping her heart out, they sat in their chairs and cried quietly. I consoled myself by saying she was part of the lunatic fringe.

Until I heard her speak again, and tell us this time we should be using that experience to isolate Muslims.  And I realized her lunacy was now a policy advocated by the soon to be inaugurated president-elect.

I'll tell you what I'd like to go back to.  To a time before Republicans began sneering when they uttered the word "progressive." 

Progress is going from good to better and hoping to eventually get to the best.  

Best.  You know.  That's the opposite of the worst.







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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Flying Trees

I sent this picture here on the left out to friends yesterday.  It's a picture of a tree hanging in the air just outside our house.  Most people were unable to spot the barely perceptible line holding that tree branch in the air to a crane which in the picture managed to get cut out.  And kudos to niece Amy, who did spot it. Nothing escapes those eagle eyes.

My neighbor had a giant pine tree threatening to fall on her house, so she hired the tree people to take it down. A major major undertaking.  The roar of the saws and the crane truck made it pretty much impossible to concentrate on anything, so we figured, my spousal unit and I, we might as well go out and join the fun.

One by one the tree removers cut off giant limbs, like the one you see flying through the air. They then fed them into the chipper, which chopped them into tiny pieces in just seconds. When one truck was full, another truck took over.  It took me back in time.  I was a ten-year old again, transfixed by the power of machines.
same tree branch, a minute later,
about to go into the chipper

A big event.  Also one of those marvelous times when all the neighbors come out of their houses and talk with each other.

So thanks to my neighbor, Barbara.  I call it one of the social events of the winter season.

Friend David in Japan commented on how blue the sky was.  I think that's largely a function of the camera lens. In real life it doesn't feel quite that overwhelmingly blue. 

But it is still very blue.

For days and days this last week and more we have had floods coming out of the sky.  I fully expected to see a pair of hippos, a pair of giraffes, a pair of kangaroos and a pair of wombats come strolling down the street heading for Noah's Ark, which must be loading somewhere nearby.  Rain of biblical proportions.  And it seems to have cleared out every last bit of pollution in the air for a while.  Hence the blue skies and wonderfully fresh country-smelling air.

Sorry to rub it in to all of you out there in snow-bound places, but we're sitting here with the patio doors open so the girls can run in and out and toast themselves in the sunshine after all these days of being imprisoned inside.

I love trees.  Maybe next only to dogs.  Certainly better than a lot of people I know, particularly in this nightmare time when we seem to be in the clutches of some really awful people throwing thirty million people off their health care insurance.  You know people will die because of this. And many more will go bankrupt. 

I hate to see trees cut down.

Just like I hate to see any dog, even an old or a rabid dog, put to sleep.

And I hate to see people with a twenty million dollar income have to have their income reduced to nineteen million dollars, so a million can go toward paying for health care of their fellow citizens earning one five-hundredth of that income.

So glad that wonderful team of tree removal experts were able to take a moment in time and create a world in which trees come flying through the air.  

And don't fall on my house or my car.

How great is that!?




Thursday, January 12, 2017

Daddies to Dollars

Here’s a question for you trivia buffs:  What’s the connection between the Virgin Mary and the American dollar?

יְהוֹיָקִים
Here’s a hint.

But you have to read Hebrew.

יְהוֹיָקִים

Give up?

יְהוֹיָקִים is the man’s name “Yehoyakim.”  And Yehoyakim has evolved into various modern names, chiefly Joaquín in Spanish and Joachim in German.  Unlike James and John and Thomas and Mary, which have equivalents in all of the modern languages of people of Judeo-Christian heritage, Joaquín/Joachim never made it into English.  Except as a city on Highway 84 in Texas with a population of 824 in 2010, down 101 people from ten years before.

In Spain, boys named Joaquín sometimes go by Quino or Ximo (pronounced “keeno” or “seemo” respectively) and in Germany Joachim often gets shortened to Achim.  (And Achim becomes a name in its own right.)  And sometimes to just Jo (pronounced Yo).  Russians, too have both Yakim and Akim.  Swedish has Joakim and Kim.  Finnish has the full range: Jaakkima, Joakim, Aki, Kim and Kimi.  Italian has Gioacchino/Gioachino with either one c or two. Dutch, Serbian and Czech have Jochem, Joakim and Jáchym, respectively.

And speaking of Czech, there is a town in the Czech Republic called Jáchymov. It fell on hard times after the second world war when it was taken from German control and handed back to Czech control.  The communist government used the place as a prison and forced prisoners to work in the uranium mines located there, radically shortening their lives in the process. In its heyday it was the largest town in Bohemia after Prague.  That was when it bustled as a world center of silver mining.  It was then called by its German name, Joachimsthal – Joachim’s Valley.

The Theotokos takes her first steps
So who was Joachim and what does his valley have to do with the Virgin Mary?

Well, first you have to know that Joachim was Mary’s father.  Here on the right you see him, with his wife, Anna, and their daughter, the “theotokos” taking her first steps.

For those of you staying with us as we take this brief pledge break, we take a moment to acknowledge our brothers and sisters of the Greek persuasion.

Synago is a Greek verb meaning “to gather together for religious purposes.”  Synaxis (Σύναξις) is the corresponding noun, “the religious gathering.”  And the place, of course, where a synaxis takes place is a synagogue.

September 8 is a Greek Orthodox holiday set aside to celebrate the Nativity of the Theotokos (Θεοτόκος).  Syrian Christians celebrate the same event on the same day.  Theotokos, in English, is “Mother of God.”  It’s Mary’s birthday, in other words.

And just so Joachim, son of Barpathir, and his wife Anne don’t get forgotten, the church made the very next day the “Synaxis of Joachim and Anne.”  Everybody gets their day.

OK. We’re back.

One of the books that never made it into the bible was the Gospel according to James.  Like the gospels that did, James, most biblical scholars think, wasn't actually written by the guy with his name on the book, James, the brother of Jesus. But that's neither here nor there. Sometimes known as the Infancy Gospel of James, it fills in some of the blanks in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, that did make it into the Bible.  There is widespread belief that those identified as the “brothers” of Jesus were, in fact, his half-brothers, and not related by blood, that they were sons of his father Joseph by his first wife, before he took up with Mary.  Biblical scholars dispute this claim, some insisting that it was only a way of portraying Mary as a virgin her whole life, and not merely up to the time she gave birth to Jesus.  You can check this out by reading Origen of Alexandria, the third century writer.  He’s apparently the first to make that claim.  Origen is known as the greatest critic of the texts being produced by the early church and one of the greatest scholars on the books of the bible.  He is credited with assembling the books which eventually were collected into what is now called the New Testament.  A prolific author and teacher, he is credited with 6000 works (rolls or chapters), the most important of which is a comparative study of the translations of the books of the Old Testament. 

The reason this matters is that it is in the Gospel of James that Mary’s father is identified as Joachim. 
The first Joachimsthaler
יְהוֹיָקִים (Yehoyakim) to be precise.  Who was to be honored in the Middle Ages by having a valley in Bohemia named after him: Joachimsthal.  (Thal = German for valley).  And somebody or something from Joachimsthal is, of course, a Joachimsthaler.  Like the silver from the silver mines, for example.  Out of which a coin was stamped which remained in currency in Europe for about four hundred years, starting in 1518.

the other side of the coin
These coins were called “thalers” in English, tolars in Czech, daalders in Dutch.  The original thalers/daalders had an image of a lion on them.  “Lion thalers” in Dutch is “leeuwendaalders” and that led to the “lev” becoming the name of the currency in Bulgaria, and the “leu” in Romania and Moldova.  And the “dollar,” from the second half of the word, in English.  And sometimes, rather than a lion on the coin, Mary's father, Joachim, was portrayed instead.

In Prussia, the thaler became the standard currency, and from Prussia it was extended until all the German states were using it.  Scandinavian countries all used the name daler for their currency in the 17th century, and the Dutch leeuwendaalder made its way to the Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam, and we’ve been rolling in dollars ever since.

And that’s how Mary is related to the dollar.






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