Friday, September 30, 2011

Up and Over

Jane shot this video last spring of a fairly normal-sized crowd exiting our local high-speed train and making their way to the exit of North Train Station in Chengdu.  For everyone in China - Happy National Day weekend, and wishing you safe travels (with at least a place to sit for most of the time) should you be going anywhere!

Thursday, September 29, 2011


The Done Manifesto:
  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you're doing even if you don't and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you're done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.
(From Bre Pettis.  Posted more as a reminder to myself than anything else...)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The photo that (almost) got away...

Hauling meat from the train, Chengdu

A surreal moment from last winter, from the archives...

I was going into Chengdu with the kids on the first fast train one Saturday morning.  We lingered around for a bit to watch the other trains coming and going on other platforms - still one of Zekey's favorite things to do.  As we were about to exit the station, the crowd leaving another arriving train caught up with us in the corridor leading out of the station.

Leading the charge were fifteen or twenty people carrying large baskets of vegetables and huge burlap bags.  They were running so fast, I was almost worried that their combined momentum might knock the kids over, especially since many of their bags and baskets were blocking their view.  I moved the kids over to the side, partly out of safety, but mostly because it was so interesting.  It soon became obvious that most of the people leading the charge were vendors, and were hustling out of the station as quickly as possible to grab the best places to set up shop in the plaza outside of the station.

The next wave, however?  Much more puzzling. Again about fifteen or twenty people carrying baskets suspended on shoulder poles, but this time the baskets were full to overflowing cuts of uncooked meat - some still steaming in the cold December air.  It all went by very quickly, and by the time I thought to dig my camera out of my pocket, the last of them was fast approaching.  I snapped one shot, and then they all were gone.  We got out of the station in time to see the last of the meat carriers disappear into the crowds of people waiting for their trains in the plaza outside...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Explaining things, continued (the kid's turn)

From the Slow Boat family video archives, the Xander and Zekey Electricity Show!  (First aired sometime last spring; global syndication rights now negotiable...)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stuff we all should know by now - Doing the numbers

So then, class, let's get back to my posts about consensus, numbers, and Cookie Monster proclaiming the end of the world, shall we...?

To review a bit:
A:  We humans in general, and we Americans in particular, have a few problems that we need to figure out.
B:  An important step in solving these problems is coming to a consensus on what, exactly, these problems are.
To which I now will add... 
C:  It would be very helpful if everyone started with the same facts, then, wouldn't it?
Or, put in to question format:  What can be proven?  What do the facts suggest, versus what is merely commonly held opinion?  Put scientifically, then, what is actually observable in the world around us?

Let's take, as an example, the huge income disparity that now exists in America between its wealthiest citizens and everyone else.  This can be represented in any number of ways, but let's simply take one statistic: today, the top 1% of Americans earn almost 25% of the income every year.  Okay, big deal, big deal - what we need is more context, so let's compare it historically.  Twenty five years ago, the figure was about half as much, at 12%. Turns out the last time this particular number was this high was in 1929.

Now, this is America, right?  (Or, more globally speaking the internet.  Readers from other countries, please bear with me for a bit...)  You're free to think this is a good thing, or a bad thing.  You can argue about the causes of the inequality, or its possible results.  You can rephrase it, as in "Hey, the richest top ten percent pay 60% of the taxes."  (Well, yeah, that's still saying the same thing, but less directly.)  And, if all else fails, you can start to yell "Class Warfare" whenever someone who may vote you out of office brings it up.

What you can't do, however, is pretend otherwise, which is what it seems that many of us are doing.  Here is a video of people taking a look at another statistic - the distribution of wealth in America.

For those of you with slow internet connections (or those with aversions to Warren Buffet for whatever reason), skip ahead to around 1:15.  To sum up: here is the chart that most Americans surveyed selected when asked to chose one that  shows what wealth distribution in America looks like (yellow representing the share of wealth held by the top 20%):

Nope!  Sorry, that's Sweden.  Here's a chart that shows the actual distribution of wealth in the US:

Good thing?  Bad thing?  I've got my opinions on the subject, and I hope that you've got yours.  What we can't do, however, is pretend like it's otherwise, or tell ourselves that it really doesn't matter.  Unless you live in Sweden*.

*in which case, you may want to feel smug for a moment or two, and then start looking at statistics for wealth distribution globally...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A chart worth enlarging

This chart from the New York Times does a pretty good job of consolidating what's been on my mind lately.  Yes, there may be a bit of editorializing about the captions chosen and the choice of time periods that have been contrasted, but the basic numbers are fairly plain to see.  Are we paying attention?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cookie Monster tells it like it is

"Who are the ones that we left in charge?
Killers, thieves, and lawyers.."

Maybe it's just me, but Cookie Monster seems to be not only channeling Tom Waits on this video, but a couple of Old Testament prophets as well.  (Wonder if Jeremiah & co. had as much fun...?)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Overcast, with patches of umbrellas and isolated lettuce


A photo from the archives showing a not-too-uncommon sight in China - people finding a patch of land just about anywhere to grow a batch of veggies for themselves.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Octacular! (Octopolis? Octopular? Octopimization..?)


Last Sunday, I went with Zekey and Ysa to meet some of our friends to People's Park, one of my favorite places in Chengdu.  This time around, instead of focusing on the tea-drinking and relaxing part of the park, we did the cheap-but-cool looks-like-some-of-them-are-about-to-fall-apart kiddie rides section of the park.  The kids got to ride on dang near every ride that they wanted to, and I had fun, mingled with a slight longing for our camera, which is still in the States with Jane.

While doing some photo-weeding on the computer, I did find this previously unpublished picture from a visit last spring, so you all can imagine at least some of the clanking tentacley goodness of the place.  Kinda fits in with the day's squiggly theme, don't you think?

More Beautiful

More Ve, more beautiful

Because, really, can't we all use a bit more Ve in our lives?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Squiggly Snacks


You know how in America, you get all kinds of packaged snacks that are sweet and stale and utterly disgusting, yet also totally compelling and delicious at the same time?  One cool thing about China is that you can get that same exact snacking sensation, but without all that extra packaging.  Yum!  Now, if you'll excuse me, I've gotta go get me some of those...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Saving the World, one bicker at a time

Untitled #77

Sometime last spring, I was having a Facebook "conversation" about some political thing or other, and, as sometimes happens when friends of friends start putting their two cents in there into an online forum, it turned into a Facebook argument shortly thereafter. Well, not an argument, exactly, but a heated discussion, carried on fairly intelligently, considering it was limited to bursts of 140 characters or less. Such is the life of an American political junkie in China...

I don't even remember the topic that we were discussing, but one comment that I do remember was something along the lines of "What's the use sitting around and discussing what's wrong with the world, anyway?"

...and I started to think, "Wellll... if we all could agree with what's wrong, we could all start to fix it, couldn't we?"  You know, how a flock of birds hangs out in a clump of trees for days and days, some flying off, and then all flying back, and you can hear them chirping and bickering for miles around.  And then one day - pow! - their collective mind is made up, and off they fly.  Together.

So, if we go with the idea that all of this chatter about what is wrong with this or that or the other thing in the world at large is really just the noise of the global flock making up its mind, then the individual conversations start to take on a greater meaning, don't they?  What may seem like an isolated argument on someone's Facebook page may actually be an artifact of the human community struggling to come to terms with its most pressing problems, in the same way that the chirps and hops of individual birds at some point add up to an action taken by the flock as a whole.

Don't know if this Tipping Point argument (see Malcolm Gladwell, et. al.) is true or not, but it does become an interesting way of looking at global change, politics, and the world at large.  From this point of view, discussions of issues among friends on Facebook are not just so many tempests in so many teapots, but our species' way of building global consensus, hashing out our issues on a molecular level.

A bit grandiose, perhaps?  Maybe.  I have certainly become increasingly suspicious of any kind of "Save the Word" argument in the last couple of years.  After all, the world has gotten along just fine without us for the last 4 billion years or so, and it will do just fine for the next 4 billion, regardless of whether us humans are on it or not.  But as a species, I'd like to think that in spite of everything, we're still worth keeping around.  Or worth improving, to put it more accurately.

Maybe our mantra should be, not "Save the World!", but rather:
"Hey everyone, let's all keep bickering back and forth good-naturedly for a while until we all can agree on a couple of simple ideas that are slightly less idiotic that our previous ones!"  
Yeah, yeah, it doesn't scan quite as well, does it?  But it does become more catchy after you repeat it a couple of times.  Give it a try, and let me know what you think.  I'll be posting the best results onto Facebook.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I've got to stop watching documentaries right before going to bed...

crafted for your craving / we ship to prisons

I woke up this morning in the middle of a lucid dream where I was part of a documentary crew assigned to follow Jesus on a peacemaking tour among the gangs of South Central L.A.  (Apparently, He's still a very good negotiator in such matters.)  I was puled from the camera crew at the last minute because the main gang that we were following had just registered their name as a registered trademark, and the producers of the documentary were worried that the gang might sue us for copyright infringement if we accidentally caught Jesus mentioning the name of the gang on camera.

(No, I don't usually post my dreams to Anywhere, but this one seemed very apropos of, well, something, anyway.   Not to be sacrilegious or anything, but isn't there a rule that states that when Jesus appears to you in a lucid dream, you have to share it on some form of social media?  Think it's in the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew somewhere - I'll have to look it up to be sure...)

Look, Honey, it's our friends the Mangosteens!

...and the Rambutans, and the Dragonfruits....why all sorts of our friends from China and Southeast Asia are here!  What are you all doing in Canada?


Seems like I took these photos in Toronto's Chinatown back during a visit there in the summer of 2008 - right about the time when we were considering a volunteer position open in Egypt.  That would have been interesting, would it not? 

(Spoiler alert:  The Egypt thing didn't work out.)


Now that I look at the photos, I do remember thinking "What the heck are these strange mutant things?", and we talked to a Chinese guy who was really excited to find what I now know are longans (the little brown ones in the photo above), which didn't make it to Toronto that often, apparently. 


Wow, a sign that our whole Asian adventure was predestined after all! 

Or, more likely, a sign that I've always been attracted to strange-looking tropical fruit...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

15,790. And shrinking.

What is 15,790?  Why, the number of digital photos on our laptop's hard drive, of course.  That's 28.8 gigabytes of pixelly goodness, or over one third of this old Macbook's available storage space.  It's hard to believe that 80 GB was more memory than we could use when we bought this thing five years ago- now I feel like we've got the computer equivalent of the house with twelve cats and rooms full of stacks of old newspapers. It doesn't help matters much that the hard drive is now making a sound that sounds like a mix between an 1956 Vespa scooter in dire need of a tuneup, a foot-powered dentist drill, and, well, a MacBook hard drive that may fail at any minute.


Or maybe that will get better once I install the latest two direly needed software updates.  I've heard that can sometimes be the case.  (Please be the case, please be the case...)  Oh, but I need more space on my hard drive to install said updates, so back to the 15,970 photos that I'm in the process of weeding out.  I mean, Lordy, 15,970 photos?? I don't know why anyone in their right mind would have more than 13, 476...


This all just to say that several forces in the universe, chiefly being my need to delete a couple of thousand photos or so (don't worry, they're backed up onto the external drive), but also including the fact that my camera is in the United States right now, have conspired to send me back in time to re-examine the far distant past of 2010.  And wow, nothing like a year or so gone by to give you a fresh eye on your photos.  And Jane's photos, I might add.  The picture at the top of the post is hers, as is the one below, and several more on the way.


So yeah, I've been cropping like a Banshee, and sending all the results to Flickr.  Which is why you may see a few more things that are out of sequence coming up, but, you're not expecting chronology from me anyway, right?

Oh, and yes, you heard correctly:  Banshees crop their photographs.  All the time.  It's what they do when they're not screaming.

Henri Cartier-Bresson?  Not a Banshee.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Extreme Schooling?

Extreme Schooling, China Style

An interesting artice from the New York Times this weekend made me realize, "Oh yeah, we are doing something out of the ordinary, aren't we?"  Titled Our Family's Experiment in Extreme Schooling, it's the story of a Clifford Levy, a Times reporter who's worked in Moscow for the last four years, and how his kids handled the culture shock of being dropped into a school where they (gasp!) only spoke Russian!  From the article's introduction:
My three children once were among the coddled offspring of Park Slope, Brooklyn. But when I became a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, my wife and I decided that we wanted to immerse them in life abroad. No international schools where the instruction is in English. Ours would go to a local one, with real Russians. 
I've got to admit that one of my first reactions when reading this article (and watching the accompanying video, which you should make sure and see) was a half-suppressed disgusted snort and a sarcastic "Whoop-De-Doo!"  Russian is a hard language?  They've got an alphabet, for crying out loud!  How hard can it be??  And a slight tinge of jealousy - man, I wish I could send my kids to a $10,000 a year private alternative school in Mandarin.  And his kids get mistaken for Russians all the time!  No way no how will our kids ever fit into China that seamlessly, that's for sure...

But some of the details from the article were also gut-wrenchingly familiar - the sinking feeling in your gut as a parent during that first year of immersion, knowing that you are sending your child into an environment where he understands next to nothing and is totally miserable.  And the elation and beauty of hearing another language flow effortlessly out of your child's mouth at a school performance a year and a half later.  And the familiar push and pull, now that we've been to the States and back, of "Where, exactly, does my child belong now?"

When all is said and done, entering another culture is an incredible leap to make, no matter how you do it.  My congratulations to Clifford Levy and his wife, for deciding to guide their kids along the road less traveled instead of taking the easy way out.  And more importantly, congratulations to Danya, Arden, and Emmet, his three kids, who are now citizens of the world, and seem to be much richer for it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

On Diversity, Labeling, Hospitality and Gratitude (Being a Short Treatise and Encapsulated Rant upon the nature of Difference among Peoples)

For your leisurely perusal:  A list of the people and organizations who hosted Xander and I in America this summer, in chronological order.  (In parentheses; religious affiliation, where applicable)
  • A graphic designer and a writer, with one child; currently talking care of their mother with Alzheimer's. (agnostic / whatever?, culturally Jewish)
  • A geography professor and a freelance blogger, with two kids (Jewish)
  • A guest house for families of hospitalized children, run by a charity arm of a multinational corporation (Capitalist)
  • A children's hospital run by the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (The Shriners), a Masonic fraternal organization.
  • A German / American couple - an archivist and an IT specialist, I think..? - currently living away from their home in Berlin and volunteering for the Mennonites, two kids.  (Mennonite / Protestant)
  • A (Catholic) doctor and an (Episcopal) priest, two kids.
  • A healthcare management professional, currently laid off, and an administrator at a nonprofit agency, three kids (Catholic) 
I would draw your attention to the labels involved.  All fairly ordinary, right?  And fairly boring, come to think of it.  They're all also fairly arbitrary.  Consider the following list of people, who we likewise encountered:
  • A Polish-American soccer coach and beer distributor.
  • A Vegan activist who recently adopted a poodle/terrier mix.
  • Two lesbian Republicans with Libertarian Ayn Rand-inspired leanings,  heading a bi-racial adoptive family.
  • Predominantly white males in their late fifties and early sixties, who are mostly known for wearing red fezzes and driving miniature cars in parades.
  • An expert in the history of milk in turn-of-the-century Chicago
  • Two gay men in a committed long-term relationship. One from the Canary Islands with a passion for gardening, and one a former architecture student who was, at one point, making a pipe organ in his basement.
  • A salesman of orthopedic hardware, recently relocated from Florida.  Single, mid-fifties.
  • A former East German draft dodger, who was once arrested while trying to escape on a train to Sweden.
Much more interesting, no?  But here's the thing: most of these descriptors actually apply to the same people in list one.  And most of these labels, while factually true, are utterly useless when it comes to describing the people I want to describe.  (Unless I want to pat myself on the back for knowing such a diverse group of people - but that's condescending, to both them and me.)  No, the labels are useless because they ignore the most important commonalities, namely that:
  • All of these people went out of their way to help us in some way
  • All of them have a belief in something much bigger than themselves
  • And most importantly, all of them have taken that belief as inspiration to do something to make their small part of the world a little bit better.
And that's the thing about labels - they mean everything and nothing.  Everything, because, wow, if I try to imagine any of the people above without those characteristics, they wouldn't be themselves, would they?  Each phrase represents some essential part of a person's identity.  And, pardon me while I go all patriotic here, one of the best things about being in America was savoring that richness of all of those different lives.

And of course, the labels also mean absolutely nothing.  I'm sure that my friends who recognize themselves on the list are inwardly cringing right now.  "What do you mean, I'm a traditional English folk dancer who can repair accordions and is now working in the IT department of a law firm?  Is that all that I am to him??"  Well of course not.  A label, by its very nature, is a gross oversimplification of something far more complex.  Labels are simply tools that we use to make sense of a world that is far more complicated than we can wrap our little minds around.

Diversity and labeling have been on my brain lately, as I'm back to being on campus in (fairly provincial) China.  There's a new crop of freshman wandering around, which may explain why I'm hearing exclamations of “外国人, 外国人!" (Waiguoren, waigouren! = Foreigner! Foreigner!) all the time lately.  And no, there is no revival of a certain seventies pop band over here - that's me they're talking about.  Just this morning in fact, while crossing the little bridge on the way to Ysa's kindergarten, a clump of several girls walking by exclaimed "Waiguoren!" three times.  In unison.  

And you know, my reaction wasn't angry, or defensive, or hurt, like it sometimes is.  But neither was I interested in being very sympathetic to them.  It was more like feeling sadly embarrassed for somebody's total ignorance.  Like when your dad would walk around in plaid shorts and sandals with socks.  Black gold-toe socks.  And sunburned knees to boot.  But this was the opposite, generationally speaking, and I tried to throw in a little sip of optimism, because, hey, you never know, those kids may learn something about the rest of the world at some point in their lives, right...?

Not that it's my intention to start feeling smug about my culture's fine and noble sense of Diversity and Tolerance for Others.  I mean, after all, I did grow up in labeling central, rural Illinois.  And then there are articles like this one (seems like the FBI is schooling their agents to pigeonhole an entire religion. Good work, guys) that keep popping up all the time.  And don't get me started on the current political climate (this is where we've chosen to focus our national discourse?  Seriously??) in the Land That I Love.

But here I've spun off track a bit.  It was originally about gratitude, and about how here, there, and everywhere, I've been incredibly blessed to find amazing people.  Of all sorts and kinds, and I'm all the richer for it.  This may sound like a canned soapbox speech from the Obama campaign (hey, everyone, remember when he was actually inspiring?), or a Coke commercial from the seventies, but no, it's been my life, for real.  And any time I forget that fact, I find that I regret it sooner or later.

As for all that labeling that I was ranting about?  Take a close look.  Regardless of your political, social, religious or ethical affiliation(s).  Are you doing it to anyone?  No?  Good.  It's just embarrassing.  Really.  Stop it, already. 

I mean it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Midsummer, from Ronald McDonald House

A note:  This is a letter that I wrote to friends and family about a week after Xander's operation in Philadelphia at the end of July this summer, which I thought might be good to post here as well.  Xander is now doing quite well in Chicago, by the way, and it's looking like he and Jane should be back in China by early October...

Quick quiz - what do Xander and I have in common with clowns, a dozen Shriners with jeweled fezzes, Santa Claus, Megan Shiel (New Jersey Super Miss, 2010), an Amish buggy maker, and about 450 guys on Harley Davidson motorcycles?  Answer:  We were all at the same party last Sunday!

The occasion was a Christmas in July party at Shriners Hospital, and most everyone mentioned above was there to deliver toys to kids who were there.  (The Amish buggy maker was the uncle of one of Xander's hospital roommates, which is a whole story in and of itself..)  Xander and I took the city bus there from our nearby digs at the Ronald McDonald house, just three days after his surgery and two days after he was discharged.

It was a fun party.  Highlights for Xander were lots of big gleaming motorcycles to look at, and a clown that caught a soap bubble and transformed it into a small glass bead that he could keep.  Highlights for me were people watching, being gladdened and amazed that Xander was getting around so well after surgery on both forearms, and being impressed by the generosity of so many different kinds of people.

We've now been in Philadelphia for just a day over a week, and I continue to be amazed and humbled by the generosity we've encountered.  We're staying at Ronald McDonald House, about a fifteen minute bus ride from Shriners, and every evening, a different group of volunteers comes in to give us a home cooked meal.  For breakfast and lunch, we're free to help ourselves to food from a restaurant sized refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.  Most of the staff are likewise volunteer, including a weekend manager who comes in for a weekly 24 hour shift.

And then there's Shriners, which is a hospital that is funded entirely by donations, and doesn't charge its patients for anything.  Ever. There's a very interesting positive vibe to the place.  This particular Shriners specializes in pediatric orthopedic and spinal cord injury care, which means that in the spectrum of things, Xander's surgery, even though it requires a couple of months, seems fairly routine.  In contrast, the two other boys in Xander's shared hospital room, both with scoliosis, were on their eighth and twelfth surgeries.

On the van on the way back to RMcD House, Xander and a teenage girl from the Bahamas that also had arm surgery had four of the five functioning legs of all of the passengers under eighteen.  All of the other passengers were staying at another RMcD House in New Jersey, and you could tell that they had all become extended family during their kids' extended physical therapy.  The talk was all in (Dominican?  Puerto Rican?) Spanish, but you could tell that the jokes were flying. One teenaged boy in particular, a double amputee, seemed to be the master of ceremonies, and was cracking up everyone else in the bus.  (Well, everyone else who spoke Spanish, that is...)

This isn't to say that everyone who is at Shriners is a carefree superkid gleefully overcoming adversity.  My impression is that most of the kids and parents that we saw there have numerous challenges to deal with, and are happy to have landed in a safe place where they can get some help along the way.  Still, it does put many of life's so-called "problems" into perspective.

So, as a final conclusion, yes, Xander and I are doing quite well, all things considered.  The surgery and the night afterwards wasn't particularly fun, for sure - let's just say that there are much more enjoyable things to do than wake up every two hours the whole night long to help your kid maneuver two heavy arm casts and an IV attached to his ankle so that he can pee..
Now, though, Xander is feeling almost up to his normal self, except that he's got the aforementioned casts to lug around for another couple of days.  He complains of a bit of soreness in his arms every now and then, but we haven't had to use the Tylenol 3 with codeine since the weekend.  His next appointment at Shriners will be to get his arms x-rayed, and if all looks good, the casts come off and we start the one millimeter a day process of bone lengthening.

We're settling into a routine at the House of Ronald, and have already had a good visit from Cathy, a good friend of mine from college.  We're also looking forward to more visits from my brother and family and my mom in the next week and a half.  Gifts and cards for Xander have also made their way here from various points around the country and worldwide, which have cheered him up a great deal.  I could (and probably should) go on and on about all the help and support we've received, but then this email would move away from the territory of an update and start sounding like an Oscar acceptance speech...

So, to wrap up, thank you all so much for your prayers, support, and just plain concern and caring.  The whole process has been much less difficult that I had worried it was going to be, and much of that is due to help we have gotten along the way - thanks so much!

-Dave and Xander

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How we ended up with Reality TV...

One Fine Morning

An interesting quote from my airline reading...
"Thousands of years ago, the work that people did had been broken down into jobs that were the same every day, in organizations where people were interchangeable parts.  All of the story had been bled out of their lives.  That was how it had to be; it was how you got a productive economy.  But it would be easy to see a will at work behind this: not exactly an evil will, but a selfish will.  The people who made the system thus were jealous, not of money and not of power but of story.  If their employees came home at day's end with interesting stories to tell, it meant that something had gone wrong: a blackout, a strike, a spree killing.  The Powers That Be would not suffer others to be in stories of their own unless they were fake stories that had been made up to motivate them."
The book is Anathem, by Neal Stephenson.  It's a big long chunky piece of science fiction sprinkled with a little too much long-winded philosophy, but it does a good job of creating a totally believable universe that your head can live in for a while, and that makes you see the planet that we happen to be on in a new light.  It's had me thinking of monasteries within monasteries, thousand year clocks, divergent realities, the power of a shared narrative, and what really happens when cultures interact. 

Once we start seeing each other, we just can't stop

Higher Ground | Playing For Change from Playing For Change on Vimeo.

One encouraging thing about the world as it stands is that it seems that many people around the world are making connections with each other that are more horizontal and global, if that makes any sense.  Is shared interest taking precedence over narrow self interest after all?  Are we starting to use the internet to create a global culture?  I'd like to think so (he says with fingers crossed...) 

And at least we're getting some really cool music out of the deal in the meantime.  (Is it just me, or is this the Best Stevie Wonder Song Ever...?)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Greetings from In Between!

So for all of you out there that haven't been following me on their personal GPS trackers, I'm now sortof back in China.  I say "sortof" because I've been here for only two days and the beginning of a third, and the afternoons of both of those days have been spent in a jet lag haze with me trying desperately not to fall asleep and generally failing. 

Which means that Zekey and Ysa and I have been awake for long stretches in the middle of the night at varying times, with the general rule that if a kid's awake, I'm awake.  At least there are no diapers or 102° fevers involved...

Which further means that the kids and I have been spending some quality time in the third country we inhabit, the Free and Autonomous Republic of the Internet.  Or better said, the land of the imagination...?

An example: an early film of the pianist Glenn Gould going completely hyperballistic (in a good way) on a Bach - two part invention? (help me out here, piano folks)  Zekey and Ysa were bored with this one until right in the middle, when Gould's hands simply explode on the keyboard, eliciting whoops of joy and serious giggles for the next fifteen minutes of playing and replaying the clip.  And is it my imagination, or does Glenn do some serious channeling of Harpo Marx during the piece?

The video comes courtesy of The Kid Should See This, a web site that I highly recommend, even for grownups.  As the author puts it:

"There's just so much science, nature, music, arts, technology, storytelling and assorted good stuff out there that my kids (and maybe your kids) haven't seen. It's most likely not stuff that was made for them...
But we don't underestimate kids around here."
Even if they're not jet lagged.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Put me in the middle for the time being...

Jet Lag (among countless other situations) in a nutshell..

Image: Null Set, by James Barron