Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, November 26, 2011

How Things Are in China

Finally got to see The Nephew over Thanksgiving. He’s a graduate student in mechanical engineering at a major school. He tells that there no American kids in the program at his particular school. They’re all Asian of one sort or another, a good many of whom are Chinese.

The word among the Chinese students is that their middle class is prospering, although the bad news is that their Chinese Yuan is badly inflated against the U.S. dollar. The conversion rate is 15 cents to the Yuan. China is anxious about its engineering and science students coming to America and not coming back again. It seems they’ve got our jobs and we’ve got their students. The student conversion rate is almost exactly inverse to the currency rate: 15 Chinese graduate students (in engineering) for every American student.

If you think Americans are terrible about coming out to the polls, Chinese turnout is virtually non-existent. The Chinese students tell my nephew that they don’t even bother. There’s no point. He says they have trouble understanding America’s two-party system. They can’t tell the difference between the Democrats and Republicans (and it’s not a language problem, either. They speak perfect English. They’re taught English from the time they’re tiny tots). That’s okay, though. We can’t tell the difference, either.

Everyone thinks that all Chinese are alike, but they’re not. Just like in the U.S., you have Northerners and Southerners. Here the difference in accent. In China, it’s in appearance. There are all types of Chinese, and the Communist Chinese don’t like the northerners very much. In fact, they persecute and sometimes kill them, and northerners have to change their names to survive.

Marriages to southerners evidently appease some of this hostility. When I get back to work on Monday, I’m going to have to check with my China expert at work. But everyone in China keeps their heads down and basically do as they’re told. Working conditions there are harsh and fiercely competitive. If you’re thinking of backing your bags for that slow boat to China because you think that’s where are all the jobs are, just remember that that’s also where all the people are, too. Shanghai is a city of 50 million people. An interview subject from who work who visited China as part of college business trip said that every spot in every city in China was like Times Square on New Year’s Eve, every day. Happy New Year.

American engineering students are clearly worried about their jobs. Well they should be. When engineers must worry about their future, the economy is in distress, indeed. Engineers are the innovators responsible for the technological advances and innovations that spur an economy on to greatness. They’re the “gears” of the economy. If the gears of the economy grind to a halt, America’s greatness will be finished.

Sadly, not enough American students excel in mathematics and physics to build the next bridge to the future. My Nephew and his classmates study long hours. They eat, sleep, and dream mathematics and engineering. Their conversations are filled with talk of differential equation one versus differential equation two. Our society is too socially distracted to have the discipline to study that hard or for that long. They’re too busy playing with the gadgets the last generation of engineers invented to learn how to create the next generation.

Where is the next Gen. Washington, asks Glenn Beck. Where is the next John Roebling? Where is the next Steve Jobs? His or her name may be Chong Den Han or something like that. But because it’s China, you’ll never know their name. That may be why it’ll be a Chinese name rather than an American name. When people become the cogs in the very machines they've invented, that’s when technological progress will end.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday, 2011

What’s with Fox News and the editorializing? This is their report on today’s Occupy Black Friday movement:

“The Occupy Wall Street movement announced last week their plan to ‘Occupy Black Friday’ at stores across the country but as of mid-morning shopping was not hindered by the anti-greed movement.

“There were no major reports of Occupiers taking over malls and stores across the U.S. except for a group in front of Macy’s in New York City’s Herald Square where a larger rally is expected later Friday afternoon.

“Many outlets have banned tents from the front of the stores fearing that protestors might be pretending to be shoppers while they wait for the doors to open to begin their campaign. Some groups were expected to show up at malls and stress dressed as ‘corporate zombies’ in a clever form of protest.

“The Occupy movement called for a series of protests, marches, and flash mobs at national retail chains and urging shoppers to purchase items and gifts from smaller local businesses.”

If retailers are anxious to go from red to black (as in the ink in accounting books), it looks as though Fox News is anxious to go from red to blue. This article sounds suspiciously like cheerleading. Since when do credible journalists used adjectives, especially adjectives like “clever”? And since when did Fox determine that Occupy Wall Street is an “anti-greed” movement? We know that’s how OWS describes itself, and we would expect the Lame Stream Media to use such a word, but not the heretofore Conservative Fox News. Seems that when Glenn Beck left the station, the last strains of Conservativism (well, he considers himself a Libertarian), went with him.

As for Occupy Wall Street, they’ve suddenly taken a new tack in their course towards communism. Suddenly, they’re the champions of small business. Are they really? If Big Government and Big Business are in cahoots together, then it follows that Small Government and Small Business are allies. OWSers helped put Obama into office, ensuring that Big Government and Big Business nailed the coffin shut on our economy. If Occupy Wall Street is no friend of Small Government, then it’s no friend of Small Business. That’s Tea Party territory.

Meanwhile, on this Black Friday, there was no need for Corporate Zombies to invade retail outlets; crazed shoppers were pepper spraying each other, throwing punches, and generally mauling each other in a frenzy to get to the free goodies. Some stores, including Macy’s, were offering free $50 gift certificates to the first hundred shoppers through the door. Midnight shoppers set themselves up to be robbed on line (that is, standing in line, not online) while they waited for the doors to open. Even here in sedate suburbia, the Riverdale, N.J., police had to patrol the Best Buy parking lot to keep the shoppers safe from robbers and from one another.

In short, Black Friday was too dangerous even for Occupy Wall Street.

Thanksgiving Day, 2011

That was not Mozart laughing, Father... that was God. That was God laughing at me. Through that obscene giggle...” Anton Salieri, Amadeus

The Macy’s Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade was certainly a spectacle. There was the traditional spectacle of the balloons, the Rockettes, and Channel 4’s weatherman reporting that there was no wind as the leaves whirled in mini-cyclones behind him.

Then there were the celebrity spectacle interviews, which the host channel broadcasts before the parade reaches Herald Square (Bway & 34th Street). Macy’s also invites Broadway shows to bring their casts downtown to do a showstopper. We were treated to a wonderful spectacle of Dan Radcliffe proving not only that he’s grown up, but that when it comes to dancing, he’s Dan the Man. Good to see that more people got to see that this guy has talent. He can act, sing, and dance like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. He and the cast of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying performed “The Brotherhood of Man.” As Dan did his solo, the cameraman seemed to do a double-take from his face to his feet – they literally weren’t touching the ground. Fancy bit of levitating for the former boy wizard. Hope we get to see more of that fancy footwork of his once his run with How to Succeed is completed.

The cast of Spiderman came out for their number. These dancers were also airborne, as were the Power Rangers, but their routines were more athletic than graceful, bounding here and there, where Radcliffe just seemed to be suspended in mid-air. The numbers were geared towards the boys evidently, with lots of biffs, bams, and booms, which seemed rather strange for a Thanksgiving Day parade. But we’re talking about New York City.

Then, of course, there were the marching bands. The band from Hawaii featured even the boys in grass skirts. The boys didn’t look too happy about the uniform. There were some great high school bands out there with a great sound. Glad to see that pom-pom girls have made a comeback, even if their costumes seemed to have been inspired by the Power Rangers or one of the action-thriller movies.

Next in order of importance were the floats, some of them traditional, a new Thanksgiving float apparently created with new technology and just amazing to look at. A recently-added favorite has been the Central Park bridge float with its own ice skating pond.

But the crème de la crème was the gay ice skating star who arrived on his own special, white pony, with a darling white, fur-trimmed blanket daintily draped over him. The announcer dutifully gave his name and, as the camera crew dutifully followed them, he winked and blew them a kiss (as they no doubt stood slack-jawed at this performance). Someone must have said something off-camera because the anchorwoman replied to some unheard question, with a sniff, “He’s part of the trans-cultural exhibit” promoting inclusivity this Thanksgiving.

This particular spectacle just pushed the tolerance barometer a little far. If someone is avowedly gay, like Ellen Degeneres, but doesn’t flaunt it, as it were, or is an atheist like Dan Radcliffe claims to be (my father was an agnostic) – well, who cares really? What the heck – Irving Berlin, the composer of White Christmas, was Jewish. Dan wasn’t out there to mock religion on a religious holiday; he was there to do his job and perform for the people, and he was like a burst of a sunshine underneath Macy’s “Believe” sign. Ellen Degeneres is genuinely funny; I enjoy tuning into her show in the afternoons. George Takei is another openly gay actor. It doesn’t diminish his acting on the old Star Trek series. It doesn’t really matter. That stuff is between them and God, and that’s generally where they keep it. They understand the meaning of “Too Much Information.”

This skater’s performance was simply a thumb in the eye, a mockery of normal values. Had this gay ice skater been on the Central Park ice skating float, that would have been one thing. His homosexuality would have mattered no more to his performance than Dan Radcliffe’s religious preference mattered to his. This creature was out there not to display his talent and achievements, but his alternate lifestyle and to defy any public censure of it. He certainly wasn’t out there to please the public, and certainly not to give thanks to God. He seemed rather to be mocking God, and those who believe in Him.

What a relief it was when Santa Claus finally arrived with Mrs. Claus at his side. Or will the parade organizers decide next year, in the interests of trans-cultural inclusivity, to have Mr. and Mr. Santa?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mark of the Bustard

Before the turkey became the favorite bird of Thanksgiving, another bird (one of many, include the goose and the partridge) was the king of the feast table at Christmas time – the bustard.

People have a lot of fun with that name. The bustard was hunted into extinction in Great Britain by 1832, and only recently reintroduced to the British Isles via some Russian immigrant bustard chicks (it’s a common name in Turkish, ironically – “Usman”). The tradition of eating turkey only at Christmas (and Thanksgiving) is a distant memory of the days when the principal dish on that day was something special. Before turkey took over, the popular Christmas delicacies were bustard, goose and cockerel, and in the houses of the rich, peacock and swan. The turkey was introduced into Europe by one of Sebastian Cabot's officers on a return journey from the New World, which is where the birds came from. Strangely, they were called turkeys because of their similarity with another bird which was already established in England for human consumption. This was known as the turkey. Merchants from the Levant, or Turkey, first brought them to England, having originally imported them from West Africa. This soon created a lot of confusion. So, the first turkey was renamed the Guinea Fowl, as a reminder of its place of origin.

The bustard is also said to have been a pagan symbol. The largest of the bustards, the Great Bustard, can weigh up to 40 pounds, and while it can fly, it seldom does so due to its weight, making it easy prey for hunters and their greyhounds. Bustards are omnivorous, feeding principally on seeds and invertebrates. They make their nests on the ground, making their eggs and offspring often very vulnerable to predation. They walk steadily on strong legs and big toes, pecking for food as they go. Most prefer to run or walk over flying. They have long broad wings with “fingered” wingtips, and striking patterns in flight.

In pagan runology, the symbol for the bird is a sort of Y symbol. The same symbol is also called Algiz in the runic alphabet. This symbol is thought to represent *Elhaz, the reconstructed Proto-Germanic (meaning the linguists aren’t certain) name for the terminal (suffix) -z (from PIE word-final *-s). The reconstructed word *algiz (meaning “elk”) is based on the name of the Anglo-Saxon eolh (“elk”). The word may also the German word “elf”, an imaginary supernatural being, commonly a little sprite, much like a fairy; a mythological diminutive spirit, supposed to haunt hills and wild places, and generally represented as delighting in mischievous tricks.

The Elder Futhark (or Elder Fuþark, Older Futhark, Old Futhark) is the oldest form of the runic alphabet, used by Germanic tribes in Northwest Germany during the 2nd to 8th centuries for inscriptions on artifacts such as jewellery, amulets, tools, weapons and runestones. The Algiz is part of the ancient Nordic and Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet, often equated to the modern day z, however it was traditionally pronounced yr. The letter has come to symbolize many neo-pagan religions and is often worn as a pendant. When casting rune stones it is most commonly determined to represent refusal to move on.

Other authorities on paganism say that it is the Mark of the Bustard, the bird that can’t get away from its hunters. The rune for this bird is identical to the algiz, with its wings turned upward. The mark could also be the bird’s footprints, but in runology the reference is specifically to its wings. A friend and I were having a testy argument, he translating the rune from the perspective of a logical hunter, and I, from the viewpoint of Christian transformation parables.

According to The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols: The Ultimate A-Z Guide from Alchemy to the Zodiac, by Adele Nozedar (who holds to the discounted “elk” theory), the symbol “is a three-branched symbol that appears on the cloaks of shaman. It represents communication between the world of death and the world of resurrection. The same symbol, if seen in the dust around the bed of a recently deceased person, says that the soul of the person has left the body and taken wing. The bustard itself, although it seldom flies, symbolizes the union between Earth and Heaven.”

My argument was that you wouldn’t ordinarly depict a basically flightless bird (at least in the case of the 44 pound Great Bustard) as flying. The symbol would be the other way around. The early Christians, trying to convert the pagans using symbols they understood so as not to alienate them, taught them that this symbol was also an allegory for the risen Christ, who defeated death and united Man and God in Eternal Life.

The symbol also represents the visual mystic character for “Aum” (the split “Y”). This is the sacred word to the Hindu. Chanting “Aum” is supposed to help awaken 'the serpent power of Brahma' at the base of the human spine. Occultist Albert Pike also identifies this symbol as mystical in his book on Freemasonry Morals and Dogma.

Some pagans, even as they do today, resented Christianity’s imposition. They turned the symbol upside down becoming what is known as the “todersrune” or death rune. The Germanic tribes who used it attributed strange and mystical properties to the sign. Such a 'rune' is said to have been used by 'black magicians' in pagan incantations and condemnations. In modern time, Hitler's National Socialists ordered that it must appear on German death notices, and was part of the official inscription prescribed for the gravestones of Nazi officers of the dread SS. The symbol suited Nazi emphasis on pagan mysticism.

With the arms of the cross raised in an upright position, it is “a Pythagorean emblem of the course of life, in the form of a rising path with fork roads to Good and Evil.” It also signifies fertility, but with the arms pointing downward, it denotes evil and death.

Other authorities say that in pagan rituals during the Dark Ages, it was used in Druid Witchcraft and by Satanists of all sorts during the initiation of a new member to their order. They would draw the magic circle and give the initiate a cross. The initiate would then lift the cross and turn it upside down. He would then renounce Christianity in all three dimensions of time (past, present and future) and break the horizontal pieces downward forming the design of the “Raven's Foot.” For one to wear or display this symbol is to announce either knowingly or unknowingly that you have rejected Christ.

The modern peace symbol is said to be the logo for the British-based Committee for Nuclear Disarmament. They propagate some blather about the peace being based on signal flags for the letters C, N, and D. Such a convoluted explanation is quite a contortion to avoid the truth. 1950's peace advocate Gerald Holtom may have been commissioned by communist sympathizer Bertrand Russell to design a symbol to unite leftist peace marchers in 1958. It is clear that either Holtom or Russell deemed the Teutonic (Neronic) cross as the appropriate symbol for their cause.

When I was in the 7th grade, our art teacher instructed us to draw our version of the “Peace” sign. Only I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. I didn’t draw the vertical line all the way down and wound up with something that looked like the Mercedes Benz logo instead. One of my classmates was very upset that I wasn’t getting it right, but I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to draw it and finally gave up. I sometimes wonder if an Invisible Hand was guiding my pen.

This past weekend, looking through the sales circulars, I was horrified to find the stores pedaling various versions of peace sign clothing for children. Peace signs with hearts, and flowers, and pretty colors of pink and lavender and yellow. You might as well draw the Nazi swastika (which was also once a pagan symbol for the sun) in attractive colors. The Nazis probably did.

One another group uses a symbol which could have been perverted: the sign for the earth, used by astronomers and astrologers. The broken equator would symbolize the end of the world. In Arabic, “peace” and “submission”.

Whichever of the theories is the case, the peace sign is not a good sign. Neither is its increasingly broad use, even on children’s clothing, a good sign. The peace-niks (as they were called in the Sixties) laugh at Christian “hysteria.” They never claim that it’s not true; just that using the sign is nothing to worry about.  Don’t worry about, indeed. Not tomorrow anyway. Don’t ruin everyone’s holiday. But keep it in mind when you’re shopping for clothes and jewelry for Christmas on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Remembering 1963

We’d only been living in northern New Jersey a little over two years on November 22, 1963. We were still getting accustomed to winter New Jersey style. I have no recollection of winters in Westchester County, New York, where I’d been born. I was no sooner born than my parents whisked us away to the sunny climes of southern California.

Mom hated L.A.  She hated all that sunshine, every single, gosh-darned day. She missed the Northeast springtime, the wildflowers growing all the woodland trails she hiked as a girl when the Bronx was still reasonably habitable, the lakes she swam in during the summers, and the blaze of autumn trees in the fall. She even missed the snowfalls. We have a picture of her and my father building a snowman outside the house apartment they rented on the Hudson.

We came back to the Northeast, not to the scenic Hudson River bungalow in which my parents and my older brother lived, but our very own house which my parents were able to buy with cash in Passaic County. I remember the climb s-curved Jeffrey drive and then up a dirt-road past houses still in frame mode. Palm trees still swayed in my head, but still, I came to love the huge oak trees (we named them after famous generals because, from their size, we estimated that they were acorns around General Washington’s time).

I came to love the gray rocks – a gray like no other color we’ve seen in no other part of the country. West Point gray. Our rocks and boulders run along the same vein. The skyscrapers that were built in Manhattan were built from stones in our local rock quarries. That day in November, 1963, the sun was in and out. When it was out, it was hidden behind clouds as gray as our rocks. 

Across the street from our house there’s a rent in the earth; one of those clefts that are part of the local fault system. Earthquakes are rare here, but when they occur on Knolls Road, it’s like being in a rock tumbler.

I was four on that November day. I was gazing out my bedroom, which faced the street, at those gray rocks, now unbarred by the fallen leaves (the leaves fell much earlier in those days. The cold weather came much earlier. You had to put on thermal undies in order to go out trick or treating in those days).

My mother was talking to her mother when the news about Kennedy’s assassination broke. My grandmother heard about it first, no doubt from my grandfather who had connections in the Navy. One of my mother’s cousins on Grandpa’s side was a doctor at Bethesda Naval Hospital at the time. At the moment, in fact.

My mother was just turning on the television and we both heard a cry out in the street. The housewives from the neighboring homes had burst out of their doors and into the middle of the streets, crying. They fell into one another’s arms. My mother came to the door, her eyes popping open at the sight. She glanced up at me and signaled for me to come away from the window, then went inside.

My mother was older than they were and frankly, no fan of Kennedy’s. Still, it was a shock. My parents didn’t celebrate, either. They thought it was shocking that someone would kill the President of the United States, no matter what you thought of his politics (or his wife’s snobbery, which was a thing well-known before the assassination and her widowhood).

We didn’t realize what a very tall man Kennedy was until some friends of ours, also in the neighborhood and also tall people, showed us a picture of them with Kennedy. He towered over them and they were huge Hollanders. The only “good” thing about Kennedy’s death, to my four year-old mind, was that my mother said the schools would be letting out and that my older brother would be coming home. I’d have someone to play with. Hurray!

Five years later, my mother’s cousin sent his copies of the Bethesda autopsy to my grandfather for safe-keeping. We figured something was up and that he sent them to Grandpa so they wouldn’t be destroyed. My younger brother wasn’t interested. But at nine, I understood. I remembered that day in 1963.

They were gruesome photos. Kennedy stared up at me, stark, unblinking, lifeless. There were his bloodied business shirt and tie. Notes Mom’s cousin made. There, too, were the dreadful shots of the back of the head, nauseating “before” and “after” photos. Unless there was a mysterious gunmen hidden away in the trunk of the limo, or Jackie herself blew him away, it looked like the man was shot from the front.

The autopsy report was put away and never seen again. No one knows what happened to it. One of our relatives got hold of them and sold them probably. In any case, they’re available now for the whole world to see.

For my part, as exploitative as they were (they say Kennedy was responsible for all those photo-op shots of his kids, not Jackie, and that makes sense), I’d much rather look at the Kennedy photo-op shots than the Kenney autopsy shots. It seems like people are forgetting. Most people would rather forget, particularly his family, because they loved him, his foes, because they hated him, and his fans, because they voted for him.

But we really shouldn’t forget that it was a heinous crime, whether we liked him or not. It’s just not the way we do things here in America.

Housekeeping Chores

Apologies to all my fans for not posting yesterday and over the weekend. The world may be coming to an end, Hell may be freezing over, Obama might win in 2012. But Mom is coming – and worse than that, my two brothers – and if I had to listen to them kvetch about a dirty carpet, dusty furniture, or the sad state of my kitchen cabinets again, the pots and pans would start flying.

Over the weekend, after getting my regular household chores done (laundry, dishes, coupon clipping), I gave the floor a good vacuuming. Then I had to get the rest of the winter clothes out and the spring and summer stuff put away. Then I washed the windows, inside and out. I took this week off just for the occasion of washing my windows and cleaning out the fridge. That was yesterday.

Today was carpet shampooing. I had my own steam cleaner with which my family promptly absconded. By now, it’s been rusting in some junkyard for these past ten years. Pity; it was very light and made it possible to steam clean whenever my cat, Chopin, decided to get even with me for some slight, such as not letting him eat his sisters food.

The result was a very dirty which they once again had the excuse to complain about. Coupon clipping came first because one of the coupons was for the Rug Doctor machine. They only had the regular sized machine which was exactly what I needed. The extra wide version would have cleaned my apartment and my neighbor’s all in one swoop.

The machine is a little heavy to get in and out of the car, but manageable once you get it inside. Running it is something running a jackhammer.   But if you put it in janitorial-strength rug shampoo in it, by gosh, it will suck ten years’ worth of dirt and grime out of your carpet.

I’m thinking that we could use this Rug Doctor machine on the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and the Supreme Court. We have about 20 years worth of grime and corruption to suck out of the corridors and offices before America will be right again. We could use it on all the places that have been occupied as well. But we’ll need to pour in some industrial-strength disinfectant for those places. They should be declared Hazmat Sites: uninhabitable for the next 30 years.