Saturday, October 30, 2010

Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate's "The Book of English Magic": Review

Magician means “wise man.” The search for knowledge by which we can control the natural realm and learn scientific mysteries has lured people over millennia. All this time, England stirs such pursuits.  Philip Carr-Gomm, a leader in The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, joins Sir Richard Heygate, a documentarian and author who studies “alternative worlds,” to offer this accessible history, guidebook, and how-to compendium. In a friendly, yet cautious, manner, the writers encourage readers to learn more about the traditions of England, as well as forms invented and revamped by hundreds of thousands of pagans, believers, and “Armchair Magicians” today.

(N.B. I am not a magician, but a medievalist, so my interest in this was more scholarly than as a grimoire. I am aware of the infighting that may rage here as among pagans about nomenclature, inclusion, and exclusion. But my review is for a general reader looking inside a realm that most of us on the outside know little about...)

Twelve fast-paced, illustrated and annotated chapters reveal this vast, handsomely produced, storehouse of lore. Ancient roots, starting with prehistoric cave-dwellers, dig down into pre-Celtic and Celtic foundations.  Saxon sorcerers displace and follow Druids. Their descendants become medieval Catholics with their own complicated relationship to their magical peers. The search for the Grail which they inspired may remind audiences of Indiana Jones, but John Matthews’ enthusiasm for what the Nazis might have handed over to their American interrogators does remind us of how much remains unknown to the average citizen about what a few adventurers report back from the borders.

Banished to the fringes as Protestants extirpated any trace of superstition,  witches were persecuted, but far fewer were condemned than some contemporary feminists have claimed. Between 800-2,500 in Scotland were burnt at the stake; 400-500 in England were hanged. Half of the latter death toll can be blamed on Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, a “Puritan fanatic” who held trials in Essex.

Two generations earlier, alchemy intrigued John Dee, Mary Sidney, Robert Fludd and “puffers” close to Elizabethan courtiers. Astrologers, cunning-men (akin to fortune-tellers or psychics today), wizards, Rosicrucians, scryers, Freemasons, Theosophists, Spiritualists, and mediums populate the chronicles of the past five hundred years. Emma Wilby elucidates why our ancestors might have been far more susceptible to charms, spells, potions, and rituals. Undernourishment due to famine, overwork, and fasting weakened the will. Suffering proved the norm when half of children died in infancy. Grief and bereavement altered the consciousness by their intensity. Darkness ruled outdoors and inside people dwelled within timid imaginations. Strong beer instead of tainted water shifted the body into a state where visions, trances, and stupors might haunt the desperate patient or maddened petitioner.

Even if most who feared or welcomed magic lived in isolation, one city grew in its allure. Enduring in its attraction for England’s spiritual and scientific explorers, London, the authors remind us, is better than Cairo or Calcutta, Paris or Prague, for anybody curious about the Craft. Treadwell’s, Atlantis, and Watkins booksellers have long enticed students and practitioners. Occult sites, mapped here in the City and throughout the kingdom, demonstrate how compelling the evidence can be for those who possess the skills and secrets that alert what historian Ronald Hutton estimates may be the one out of every four or five of us who may possess a readiness for magical powers. 

Essays by adepts enrich this volume. Adrian, a modern Druid in the Order Carr-Gomm helps to lead, admits how he sometimes asks himself “why I am standing in a field in the middle of the night, covered in sheep shit, but, for me, the spiritual experience of connecting to a sacred place is truly extraordinary.” Contributors often confess their early yearning for more meaning than organized religion or psychotherapies could provide; throughout this book, a calm sense of being at home within this realm pervades their testimonies. Far from the sensationalism of such as Aleister Crowley (who garners half of a chapter), those sharing their motives in these chapters profess an ethical rather than exploitative motive for their alliances with occult, hidden energies.

Brian Bates, a psychologist and shamanistic researcher, laments the superficiality of how magic is treated. “People nowadays will happily read Harry Potter, but are wary of the real stuff.” Vivianne Crowley (“no relation to the infamous Aleister”) tells how the modern pagan religion was invented by Gerald Gardner in the middle of the last century as Wicca. As with Professor Bates, she has a doctorate in psychology. A priestess, she reminds readers how as children, an openness to magic is often shut off when they enter school. Wiccans try to retrieve an innate connection with the spiritual plane where change can be enacted. She conveys the pleasures of Wicca, but not those that media misunderstand. “Nakedness, which is often dismissed as a license for sexual abandon, is in fact nothing of the kind. Instead it is a symbolic removal of barriers to friendship and intimacy.” The reclamation of what popular culture distorts, while protecting the secrecy of lore and rituals entrusted to true initiates, characterizes many who guard their mystery traditions.

Some still remain anonymous here. One, a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn that once attracted W.B. Yeats as well as a man whom he detested, Aleister Crowley, explains his search “for the mystery of being.” He reasons that magic is both objective and subjective. It is created by the imagination and then takes on its own life; it is real and separate from human beings at the same time. 

Few contributors claim, as earlier witches did a few decades ago, to inherit magical skills. Instead, they seek out the few who control them, who create them, and who teach them. One alchemist in Wales tells what he knows, but he remains nameless. Most identify themselves, but caution remains. Carr-Gomm and Heygate warn of the easy lure of spell-casting; the love charm they include should be used to bring love into one’s life, but not a particular lover. For, he or she once enticed may turn out to be the bane of one’s existence. Charlatans from Chaucer to now delude unwary newcomers. Plenty of others delude themselves, and certain practices, as the authors explain, are not to be taken up by the perfectionist, the obsessive, or those unable to take on the responsibilities that accompany entry into the other side.

Websites, reading lists of novels and manuals, experts, locations, and schools append each chapter. While some oversight may be inevitable (I missed James Blish’s erudite novel on medieval alchemist Roger Bacon, Doctor Mirabilis, and the fiction of J.C. Powys and Iain Sinclair), the authors succeed in navigating between the skeptical and the credulous among those whom they address and whom they include. For those wishing to find out about such lore, such guidance remains necessary. Nigel Pennick, a prolific scholar-practitioner, laments how people “no longer do things because their ancestors did them; it is no longer part of our culture to pass things on to the next generation.”

New generations concoct new practices. Gerald Gardner’s Wicca, Crowley’s “left-handed” manipulations of black magical powers and Dion Fortune’s “right-handed” control of white magic mingle in Tantric traditions. These twentieth-century characters, even if what some of what they claimed to know may have been invented rather than discovered, helped quicken the contemporary revival of paganism. The repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951, Swinging Sixties appeal, and the ecological threats that increased awareness of earth-based religious practices in the 1980s contribute to the shift in perception among many English people that welcomed pagan or alternative forms of ritual and belief. 

Music, touched briefly upon by Carr-Gomm and Heygate, plays a role. “Freemasons prefer classical music and opera, pagans folk rock, Wiccans Gothic music, with Chaos magicians and Thelemites preferring heavy metal and Punk.” Genesis P. Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV) with his own movement The Temple ov Psychic Youth and his involvement in Chaos Magic, epitomizes the gender-bending, utterly non-conformist models that confound even fellow magicians. Chaos combines Sufi, Buddhist, medieval, or scientific influences and then discards them, transcending any one belief system’s limits. It regards demons as mental projections, even as it may spark a raw force that may zap those not able to resist such a current. As with other challenging styles addressed in this book, all the same, Carr-Gomm and Heygate offer the neophyte gently phrased words to progress with care, patience, and commonsense into realms where the unwary may be at deep risk. 

This sense of adventure, for perhaps more wary seekers, accounts for the rise in public perceptions of esoteric, and formerly shunned or banned, practices. The impact of film and television portrayals of magic, oddly, is absent from this survey. Compared to Margot Adler’s magisterial account of American New Age and neo-pagan movements, Drawing Down the Moon, this English counterpart appears more grounded in the living history which connects the English varieties directly to their dolmens and fields, their hideaways and chambers. This, after all, is the strength inherent in the English magical legacy. 

The festivals that fill the English calendar of the ritual year--its two equinoxes, its two solstices, and the four quarter-days adopted from the Celtic reckoning--testify to the enduring power of revived respect for chronological commemorations. While most of the Western world clutches only at Halloween in a degraded form, every six weeks or so, English inheritors of charms and covens look locally for the world that they may not, after all, have lost. If long burned up or buried, it is revived, renewed, and reborn. 

This book closes movingly, acknowledging the eclectic, syncretic nature of the corpus of a resuscitated English magical tradition. Deep down, the authors advise, one knows if one or more of the paths sketched in this book may direct one to fulfillment. This magical quest draws on a depth of awareness that contemplation and study may reveal.

(P.S. Edited and reduced on Amazon US 10-30-10 & Submitted at PopMatters 11-5-10 as above with the exclusion of the parenthetical second paragraph. Book website

P.P.S. Oíche shona Shamhna agaibhsa/Happy All Hallow's Eve's (eve) to you all, depending on your time zone when you read this. Cleas nó cóir/Trick or Treat.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Song of Songs as dance recital

"I rise to open for my love, my hands dripping perfume on the lock-- I open, but he has gone. I run out after him, calling, but he is gone. The men who roam the streets, guarding the walls, beat me and tear away at my robe. O women of the city! Swear to me! If you find my lover, You will say That I am sick with love." 

Translator Marcia Falk prefaces her own reconstruction of this erotic, but often tamed by teachers, book of the Bible. She divides it into 31 Hebrew verses with a summary of the major interpretations. 1a) Jewish: Allegory of love between God and the people of Israel, 1b) Christian: allegory between Christ and the Church (or the individual). 2a) Drama between Solomon and the Shulammite, 2b) Drama with Solomon and "two country lovers." 3) Wedding song cycle. 4) Liturgy, "the residue of an ancient fertility cult." 5) Love poem, "structurally unified." 6) Love poems, as a collection or an anthology.

She appends a scholarly study to the 1990 revision of her edition, favoring the last choice. She discerns six types of lyrics, as monologues and dialogues within. She reminds us how women's words "do not seem filtered through the lens of patriarchal male consciousness." Women being central, their speech sounds truer.

However, she cautions any reading that marginalizes men or posits "female domination." For Falk, the men speak as naturally as the women, because the language shows them speaking to each other with the same sensuous expression. No hierarchies remain; for once in the Bible, a balance of the sexes emerges.

Reciprocity and mutual respect characterize this set of exchanges. The girl with hair like a "flock of goats" and a neck as a "tower of David built for an armoury"-- comparisons that have caused earlier scholars to smirk-- for Falk stem instead from what in Arabic's called "wasf." This is a series of images in formal structure that "describe" the human body. Their challenge to us comes more from their roots in "a foreign but accessible culture" than any inherent strangeness.

Four contexts also arise: the countryside, the wilder landscape, the interiors of dwellings, and city streets. Love dialogues and many monologues happen out in the open but cultivated or habitable stretches of the open. More remote nature suggests awe, even being overwhelmed by love and emotion. Chambers and interiors stimulate dreams and fantasies, and the imagination in this third realm appears most free. Finally, the tense and intense relationships (see the 1925 illustration above by Eric Gill) pull the lovers into the streets. Here, as Gill emphasizes, threat and tension arrive. "The daughters of Zion (or Jerusalem)" as the city women seem to scorn the dark beauty of the Shulammite.

The beloved's beckoned, the beloved's banished. The beloved's searched for, the self searches in a hostile world. And, love's praised. These constitute the five themes Falk finds in over half of the poems. She favors the romance as secret, as necessarily out of the eye of the public, of the night watchman or Jerusalem's daughters. For the lovers may have to hide in the room at dark, or flee to the hinterlands, so as to be together safely.

Motifs of flora and fauna, vines and vineyard, garden as place and as metaphor, "eating and drinking as erotic metaphors," wealth and royal living, and sensuality and the senses comprise six main motifs. Botanical research infuses her verse, and cognates for plants and fruits over thousands of years align not always neatly with what we call them today. It can be awkward to move from romantic effusions that we associate with lovers to those martial metaphors, the imagery of feasting, and explicit imagery from the senses which fill many lines. Falk reminds us that the best way to come prepared for The Song of Solomon is "a readiness to respond to sensuality."

Notes accompany each section. I opened this entry with what's conventionally Song 5: 5-8. The lover opens herself, and the door. Her lover enters but then pulls away, and out from her embrace. Falk thinks this represents a dream state of the female beloved, and the start of her pursuit of her lover into the open, frantic after their rendezvous has been cut short by his sudden, almost prematurely withdrawn, flight from her bed.

Here's a summary of #22 (=Song 7: 1-5).  "Dance for us, Princess, dance, as we watch and chant!" She responds: "what will you see as I move in the dance of love?" A detailed list follows: the thighs like "two spinning jewels," the hips a nectar's bowl brim filled. The belly as daffodils adorning golden wheat, the breasts as two gazelle fawns, the neck an ivory tower, the eyes but "two silent pools." The face as a tower with the hills as its vista, and the head? "Majestic mountain crowned with purple hair, captivating kings within its locks."

What about this dance? Words Undone posted a response, and asked in turn for mine. This critic links to an article full of references to experts, so rather than repeat their ideas, I contribute an overview of one expert not there cited, poet Marcia Falk. I'll append this with another scholar whose book's just out, Michael Coogan. Here's what Falk has to say about that dance recital: it's the Song's "only complete wasf" telling us of a female figure. And what a figure.

Falk's translation omits the geographical referents to Carmel and Damascus, or to Heshbon east of the Dead Sea. Whatever these places are today, they are not how they appeared in biblical times, or to Hebraic eyes. She keeps their visual associations, and not their plots on a map. She adjusts "'appekh" to mean not "nose" but "face," overlooking the hills as does a fine tower. The tricky word "sor-rekh"(I cannot reproduce the diacritical marks for her Hebrew terms) may indicate the vulva, often euphemized as the navel, but Falk opts for "hips," letting the nectar bowl sway us into the necessary suggestion.

While "sulammit" appears at the start, Falk chose not to make this a name, but kept it as "daughter of nobility," or princess, instead of a proper appellation for this enticing dancer. How does she enchant, given the abundantly delineated response of her audience?

Falk pins the "dance" to "m-holat hammah- nayim" which may be "the dance of a particular place." As in "of two camps,"or "before two armies." As so much that appears but once or rarely in scriptural vocabulary, Falk reminds us of this phrase's ambiguity. While not sure of its meaning, perhaps it refers to a dance "before a group of people, and the description that follows leads one to think of belly dancing, probably in the nude." (189)

The article linked in my fellow blogger's commentary refers to St Bernard-- whose eighty-plus florid, fervent-- yet one suspects tied down and trimmed-- mystical and allegorical sermons on this book never got past Chapter Two. One wonders how he explained away the tacit, perhaps confessed, perhaps hidden or sublimated insights that perhaps a few of his monks at Clairvaux may have gleaned in their own restless reveries in the Cistercian dormitories after the "Great Silence" of each night began. I reckon no monk had seen belly dancing, but perhaps among those now cloistered was a repentant pilgrim, a veteran from the Crusades or a penitent back from Jerusalem and her daughters, fair or more likely as dark as the Princess, the Shulammite? Nobody ever stops yearning for love, or so I hope, trying to imagine a medieval, celibate, flagellated body on a cot.

One also wonders if Bernard had stuck to sermons on the Songs, however allegorized, if history might have been different than if he had not denounced Abelard, who had once dared to love fully, and who had then and later dared to challenge the norm. Bernard preached the undertaking of the disastrous Second Crusade, What if he had eased up on the persecution of heretics in the south of France? But, then he'd never be deemed by Pius XII as 'the last of the Church Fathers,' "Doctor Mellifluus." Honeyed doctor, words as sweet as the pomegranates and nectar of his favorite chapters.

Today, theologians still debate the meaning of these few, compacted, yet passionate Hebrew verses. In the recent "Sex and God: What the Bible Really Says" (reviewed by me more fully at PopMatters and this blog), Michael Coogan notes how, while "no feminist tract," here in The Song of Solomon, "as nowhere else in the Bible, we hear a woman's voice." We also don't hear God's name. Instead, we hear two lovers speaking to and yearning for one another.

Professor Coogan thinks that this collection of secular love songs was connected with the scriptural canon since Solomon, he of the hundreds of wives and even more concubines, had his name and prowess attached to it. As with poet Falk, he agrees that the collected verses here represent an anomaly. Coogan observes how he finds little licit in Scripture to recommend to his students at Harvard who seek appropriate inspiration for their wedding day ceremonies. "The Song of Solomon is too erotic-- not to mention that the lovers are not married." Being neither scriptural scholar nor chaste monk, I eschew my own exegesis on the conjunction of these two comments.

(Part of this to be adapted for a review of Falk for Amazon US & 10-28-10. Be sure to get the 1990 edition, as a 2004 reprint excises all hundred pages of commentary on the verses!)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Glen Creason's "Los Angeles in Maps": Book Review

This large format book is no coffee table artifact. A lively text by the Los Angeles Public Library’s map archivist, Glen Creason, along with an introduction by fellow native D. J. Waldie, with contributions by Dydia DeLyser, Joe Linton, William J. Warren, and Morgan P. Yates, attests to the diligence with which this compendium, one in a handsome series by Rizzoli, documents how cartography sold the world a vision of sunny L.A. Artistic maps, lavishly and perhaps misleadingly illustrated, spurred millions to dream about—and often move to—the sprawling City of the Angels.

The earliest charts show a few settlements scattered in blank spaces, a Spanish rancho, or a few hills the total of what can be filled in such terrain. The true natives, soon erased, rarely gain representation; Jo Mora’s exuberant 1940s maps celebrated the Indian-Mexican-Early Californian romance that sold more lots in dusty chaparral than perhaps even tickets to movies and festivals that also mythologized such scenes. Admittedly, Mora’s playful, vivid, and lovingly detailed maps exemplify the boosterism, blending data with dreams, that typifies many of these entries as land grant and sober surveying needs surrendered to Hollywood promotion.

Along with the would-be starlets and charlatans, everyday folks disembarked to spur L.A. into a boomtown along the rail routes that the robber barons laid out. Water lines, transportation, and utilities imprint their own overlays, as the remote ranchos turn into subdivisions named after the natural features and early outposts they obliterated. Pragmatism rather than beauty, Creason comments, impelled the patterns of the city, as highways and then freeways followed the rivers, rails, and pioneer trails to track the 20th century’s explosive growth.

Colorful charts often enliven what might have been in other cities a drearier duty of detail. Somehow, even a reservoir or a housing tract looks cheerier with an exotic street name or meandering lane around canyons and parks. This imaginative imprint upon abundant land characterizes the inventive necessity that drove the planners and speculators who led the rush to bulldoze the vistas they admired. This temptation to get rich quick invited the first settlers, pursuing a commodity not of gold but space. Real estate, the nearer the coast or the higher up the hill the better, continued to increase in value as oil supplanted agriculture. The movies inspired greedy arrivals to sell more lots to more migrants who came to the terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the palm-fringed edge of the continent.

Such depictions speckle the margins of more than one map. “Literary Los Angeles” and another map of the Library’s branches prove that not only Hollywood lured and sustained audiences. “Roads to Romance,” maps to the stars’ homes, Arnold Schoenberg’s modernist impact, Auto Club tourist guides—all appear. This last map features routes to such early 20th century attractions as the Cawston Ostrich Farm. That roadside attraction entertained crowds a few feet from the world’s first freeway. The Ostrich Farm was a few miles from where I type this. Long-abandoned, its site now a dull if functional work-live loft, its fate testifies to the pace of municipal change.

The population expansion, as movies exported L.A. as a global legend, accounts for recent maps of the dully titled L.A. Basin. Until the rise of the GPS navigator, as Creason observes, many Angelenos carried a Thomas Brothers Guide in their automobile. Half-memorizing its numbered pages, this grid became the local version of the A–Z London map. I doubt if anyone in this city, native or transplant, carries “The Knowledge” of its streets such as what London’s black cabbies do in their memories. Maps need revision. In a Southern California labyrinth, unlike a settled city such as the heart of The City, each year pushes more tracts deeper into the Basin.

Reviewing a galley of this work as a PDF file, I am unsure about the resolution of some maps at this degree street level. The Adobe Acrobat Reader that I welcomed as a boon to increase detail in fact lacks precise calibration to avoid pixilation of the details. I presume the large-format book form will afford the naked eye easier ways to investigate the intricate elements of these maps. I spot-checked many maps by testing them on my own neighborhood, just northeast of downtown, but the resolution failed to enlarge them into a more readable clarification.

I have seen some of these maps on display at the Los Angeles Public Library. My eye, close to those sheets, managed to make out better detail than the power of the PDF file’s less exact settings. Magnifying glasses may assist the reader, therefore, of this work in published form. However, the reduction of large charts and foldout sheets to a book that fits on the coffee table, let alone a shelf, may mean that some maps are meant more as impressions to be enjoyed—rather than scoured like my tattered Thomas Brothers Guide on the passenger seat.

At that bird’s-eye level, then, this book succeeds, for many maps panoramically aim at the eye of wonder rather than the commuter of habit. The maps show, over many decades, how the area turned on paper less fanciful and more functional. Their colors fade over the decades.

Many examples demonstrate this evolution of L.A. neighborhoods from fabled theme park to another freeway offramp. For instance, see the entry about “Barnes City.” Al G. Barnes kept his four thousand animals off season on land not far from the Pacific. In the late 1920s, he sought to cash in. His map announces “Barnes City:” “Now Subdividing This Tract—My Former Winter Quarters.” The neighbors, as if actors from the nearby studios in a silent comedy cum real-life plot, feared takeover by a “simian cognomen” of “Monkeytown” voters. Barnes never realized his own boom. The area has been long subsumed into the placid, modest community of Mar Vista, even if the “sea” is hard to “see” from nearly all of its location. Such tales accompany many entries here, if in less grandstanding manner.

No orange groves remain from my childhood on the outskirts of L.A. County. Neither do simian quarters nor ostrich farms. The later maps fill with detail, but of the thirty off-ramps between a seeker of the surf, an implied hint of the traffic in between, and the vision of that beach itself.

Los Angeles, as these maps show, sold itself so well that the maps turn poignant testimony to the loss of what they celebrated. (Published to the New York Journal of Books 10-20-10. Published in shorter form to Amazon US and 10-20-10.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Political Battlefield: Blogging Roundtable

"The Political Battlefield". Tamerlane at True Liberal Nexus gave Cyn at Double Jointed Fingers, Little Isis at Liberal Rapture, John W. Smart, and me questions about the current campaigns and future of US politics. I copy the discussion below. This roundtable follows #1 on "The Future of Blogging.") (Editorial Note: moderator Tamerlane refuses to capitalize our President's surname as an unearned honorific. TL offers a great analogy of the solar system to political orbits! Image: Filip Spagnoli.)

I. The Political Landscape

1: Is the traditional concept of a left – right political “spectrum” still valid?

Cyn: It appears to be so in concept. Liberals and conservatives could not be farther apart in ideology. However, the actual parties seem to beholden to the same corporate interests, making it harder and harder to distinguish between them.

Fionnchú: Desmond Fennell, an Irish malcontent scholar, opined that we’re still stuck quibbling over the seating arrangements of the French Assembly of 1791. I agree.

John W. Smart: Currently, the Left/Right paradigm is useful to gin up voters and not much else. I continue to use Left/Right because there is no other, better, well known shorthand. It still works to a degree with social issues, where the divide remains clear. But the fact is in the U.S. the spectrum is from Right to Far Right . The Left, such as it is, does not really matter, except when it attends rallies in the service of the not quite so far Right, which makes them feel as if they matter. Real Leftists, like Chomsky, are marginalia in this country and have been for quite some time.

littleisis: It’s becoming less and less valid as time goes on. Independents form a majority of the electorate these days, especially since people are catching on to the fact that there isn’t much difference between the two parties.

tamerlane: It’s more like a political solar system. The extreme leftists — Greens, etc., are Mercury — too intense. The Progs are Venus — good idea, but got too hot and failed. True liberals are Earth — just right. Republicans range from moderates (Mars — cold & inhospitable, just barely able to support life), to right wing (the gas giants.) Christian conservatives are Pluto — small and dim. The Tea Party is a big meteor on an erratic orbit, that may or may not crash into Earth and cause great damage. Libertarians are far out, lost somewhere beyond the Oort Cloud.

2: Can viable third parties exist under our system?

CYN: If they ever could, now would seem to be the time. However, without term limits, campaign finance laws, and prohibiting corporate interests from determining the outcome of elections, they don t have a snowballs chance in hell.

F: No, as they lack funds. The bipartisan system is monolithic.

JWS: No. Not at this moment. It is entirely possible that a third force will emerge soon that resists being subsumed by one party or the other. The GOP is rising again. Should they fail again in the eyes of the public SOMETHING will give. I do not know that it will be a “party” though. The strains of America just past its peak will produce something like a third party. But will it attempt to gain power in a traditional way? The last 3 elections give it little reason to try.

LI: I don’t think so. Third parties are usually co-opted by one of the two major parties, and it’s been the same way in the past. We’re seeing that right now with the GOP and the Tea Partiers, and earlier we saw it with PUMA. Joseph Cannon used to talk at length about this, but he’s gone now. *sad face*

TAM: No. In attempting to avoid political parties entirely, our Founding Fathers ensured that we’re stuck with but two — overbearing — ones. Parties come and go, but there can only be two at a time for any extended period.

3: Giving a percentage, how different are the GOP and Dems?

CYN: Actually, they are rather close. I would say within 15 to 20%.

F: 30%

JWS: They are 30% different now. This difference will rise soon, but not by much and not for long. The GOP is going right, and after a brief interlude for show, the Democrats will go Right with it.

LI: Two percent, maybe.

TAM: platforms, 70%; practice, 40%

4: obama has been called a socialist by some. How would you label him?

CYN: He is certainly NOT a socialist. I would label him too inexperienced and afraid to commit to any political party, which is why he is so afraid to stand up for what he believes in, if anything. He tries to please all of the people all of the time, which is impossible. He is a party of one.

F: Capitalist tool. Any state control Obama and his cronies want differs little in substance if more in rhetoric from their GOP enemies: both parties are indentured and intermarried with those who run Wall Street and every financial, media, and capitalist enterprise where true power lies. Obama’s a very willing errand boy for the masters of us all.

JWS: A statist if he cared deeply about policy. But he doesn’t, so he is merely a narcissist. Though, when all is said and done he may be seen as a Chicago Machinist. His Admin and Chicago Alderman have much in common.

LI: An opportunist. I tend to agree with JS that he was sent by grocery clerks.

TAM: Common Street Thug.

II. The Parties
5: How long will the Tea Party last?

CYN: I live in a very economically depressed upstate area with a majority of Republican voters. I think so long as the Tea Party keeps playing the I am just like you and fed up with big gov't theme, they may last until the next time the Republicans gain power and then stick it to them once again.

F: Before the 2012 election, it will fade.

JWS: The thing called the “tea party” won’t last. The impulse that animates much of it will go on and on. The only reason the current incarnation of this strain of Americanism seem so odd to so many is that it has come so quickly on the heels of Obama’s victory. The Tea Party themes have deep roots in this country.

LI: I think it will eventually be absorbed into the GOP but for now it’s a formidable force and no one should make fun of it. As Bill Clinton says, they’re saying something everyone is thinking, which is that a majority of Americans aren’t doing so well right now.

TAM: Two election cycles, tops.

6: Can the Tea Party survive outside the GOP?

CYN: Gawd, I hope not.

F: No, as it has been cozily co-opted.

JWS: Yes. But so far there is no reason for it to try. What is less likely to survive in the short term is the current GOP establishment. The Tea Party will survive by invading the GOP. The economic ideas of the Tea Party have already taken over the GOP. They have won, regardless of which candidates win.

LI: Nope. See above about third parties getting co-opted. It’s possible that it was Astroturfed from the beginning, but I tend to think it wasn’t. The MSM treated it like a joke, despite its size, when it first appeared. It was only when it got backing from some big sugar daddies from the GOP that we started hearing more about the candidates they were running, and a lot of them were socially conservative despite the Tea Party’s populist roots.

TAM: Question is, can the GOP survive with the TP inside?

7: Who will be the biggest winners & biggest losers in the midterms?

CYN: I would guess the Republicans will be the biggest winners in that they will win more seats but not necessarily do anything constructive with them. I cannot see the Democrats gaining in any area.

F: Losers? Dem mainstream if enough districts survive the gerrymandering we’re stuck in. Tea Partiers who thought they could resist the GOP mainstream and get funding to win. Winners? Dem mainstream again if enough districts favor the gerrymandering we’re trapped in. Dems are turning the tide in many regions by scare tactics: negative campaign blitzes.

JWS: Biggest Winners: Mark Rubio (instant star, think Obama in 2004.), GOP House members itching to issue subpoenas, gleefully frothing Fox News anchors, Pat Toomey, Republican Governors nationwide.
Biggest Losers in order: The 2008 Democratic coalition, Pelosi (no matter who takes the House), Obama (regardless of final numbers), Blanche Lincoln. Charlie Crist. Anyone left who seriously thought Obama would be a transformative President.

LI: I think Obama administration will be the biggest loser, and any Dem who voted lock and step with him. The biggest winners will probably be the Tea Party people, but I have no idea.

TAM: Winners: the power lords; Losers: the common people.

8: Major Party most likely to dissolve or splinter in the next decade:

CYN: Democrats. They have no message and even if they did somehow find their voices, they wouldn t be able to get their message across.

F: GOP, not the Dems. There’s nowhere else for liberals to go. Those on the right bicker more on principle.

JWS: Democrats. The divide was papered over once. It won’t be again. Obama simply cannot hold together the traditional Democratic coalition. Clinton on the ticket in ’12 helps. But the tension between the liberals on either coast and the old line Dems in the mid west is too acute. The fissures are real and no body other than the Clintons have the ability to bridge the divide. There are no animating ideas in the liberal or moderate wings of the Democratic Party. Nor do any seem to be emerging.
The GOP is in tune with the Tea Party on most issues. They will be fine under the same roof. This is the GOP getting its groove back — an ejection of the ghosts of George W Bush and a resurrection of Reagan.

LI: I admit to having no idea. Both of them are unpopular with a majority of Americans.

TAM: GOP. They were on the verge of breaking apart before obama gave them a reprieve. The Dems fight in public, the Gops do it behind closed doors. The TP will not be willing to take a back seat.

III. Wild Cards
9: Odds that Sarah Palin will run as a third-party candidate in ’12?

CYN: It's hard to say. She is very savvy when it comes to hitting the right notes with middle class working people who are disgusted with America. However, If she runs, I think it will be on the GOP ticket and that is what will motivate some Democratic voters to go to the polls.

F: Weak. 15%

JWS: 2,000-1 against. 50-50 that she’ll run as a Republican.

LI: Slim to none. She’ll run for the GOP nomination if at all.

TAM: Very low, unless the TP and trad GOP really squabble, in which case, a lock. She’s aiming for ’16.

10: Odds that obama will seek reelection:

CYN: His ego won’ t let him do otherwise. And, his Mirror, Mirror on the Wall (aka Axelrod) will tell him he can’t lose because he is still ”the one”.

F: Almost certain. 90%

JWS: 60-40 in favor.

LI: Looking pretty slim at the moment. His ego can’t handle a big loss.

TAM: t.b.d. BO’s certainly not inclined — all this rejection is a bummer for a narcissist, all this hard work a bummer for a stoner. But can his handlers force him?

11: What would it take for Hillary to run?

CYN: Obama not running and the Democrats begging her on bended knees, acknowledging how they shafted her in 08. Even then, she may not. I have the utmost respect for Senator Clinton and believe she is the only one who can get us out of the mess that two terms of Bush and one of obama handed us. That said, I really don't believe she will run.

F: The eulogy for Obama. The funeral Mass for Biden.

JWS: Obama quitting the race.

LI: What most people think it would take. Obama would have to step aside and not seek reelection. She has believed in working within the system since she was in college and would never primary a sitting President.

TAM: obama not running.

12: Impact of a Chrissie O’Donnell victory:

CYN: She is just another wacko politician and we’ve survived plenty of them already. If she wins, she will be a one term wonder with little impact.

F: More Comedy Central fodder. She would not survive a term and would be recalled; but I doubt if she’ll win in bank-coddled Delaware.

JWS: Nada. Not gonna happen unless Coon is caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy. But, if by some miracle she did win it would add have no impact, except to humiliate Delaware and the Bidens.

LI: We would have our first puritan congresswoman, but other than that, I don't think it would matter much. She wouldn’t be able to legislate her extremism, luckily we have political and constitutional barriers to prevent that kind of thing.

TAM: 1) The GOP Whip would box her in pretty quick and limit embarrassments; 2) other mentally ill persons would be inspired to run for office, too.

IV. Druthers
13: The one (legal) change to our political system you’d make:

CYN: No more electoral college, as it is ripe with corruption. The popular vote would determine the winner. And, how about paper ballots?

F: “None of the above” on ballots.

JWS: Mandatory public financing of all elections.

LI: Campaign finance reform.

TAM: Proportional allotment of senate seats by population.

14: Unconstitutional voting requirement you wish you could impose:

CYN: No caucusing. Primary voting only.

F: Mandated voting for all on penalty of whatever we smug voters decide. Sterilization might be nice, or at least a non-discriminatory literacy poll test. (I assume this is read as satire, you muckrakers.)

JWS: I’d ban all American Idol fans from voting.

LI: None, I have too much respect for the constitution, but I sometimes think it should be illegal for certain people to reproduce.

TAM: Pass a freshman college course in Logic.

15: Foreign political party you wish were in the US:

CYN: Democratic Socialist, maybe?

F: Are there any Icelandic ones advocating secular curricula and rampant paganism? One with symbols on the ballot for the illiterate as in the Third World countries. I’d want a cool logo with a fab cartoon owl.

JWS: Not sure. I’d like to see a real socialist party in the mix here, even if I might not support them. Or a labor party worthy of the name. Also a Green Party that had some real power.

LI: Labor.

TAM: Liberal Democrats, UK. (But Sinn Fein if things get worser faster.)

16: If you could form your own Party, what would you call it, and who would you run for President?

CYN: Women Rock and I would run Hillary, who recognizes that there is more to governing than wishing it were so.

F: The Loyal Opposition. Ralph Nader & Pat Buchanan. (I took a political quiz about 15 years ago: it pegged me as a cross between Ralph Nader & Pat Buchanan.)

JWS: The American Party. Elizabeth Warren.

LI: I like Lynne from Lakeland’s idea for a masturbation party, and I would have to run Tila Tequila as the standard bearer.

TAM: The “People, Stop the Insanity!” Party; Susan Powter.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Droid nua ach níl as Gaeilge fós

Céard ábhair Gaeilge ar an guthán cliste atá úsaid leis an Motorola Droid? Conas i gcomórtas an Droid ag baint leis i-Fón ? Ní bhíonn beag is ionann iad--ar ball beag ar an laghad.

Ní thabharfá Droid samhail ar bith dhó ach an ghréasán cúig déag blianta ó shin. Mar sin, tá beagán air a cabhair foghlaimeoirai fasta ansin fós. Nuair cheannaigh mé Droid nua faoi deireanach, cuairdaigh mé go tapaidh ag lorg le rúdai Gaeilge anseo.

Chuir Dónal mo chara ar an Leabhar hAghaidh fógra suas ar an i-Fón leis Buntus Cainte. Is maith liom a feiceáil na taipeannaí seo ag le cur a cuidiú le duine a tuig an teanga beo. Scríobh sé orm go mbeidh feidhmeannaí Gaeilge a tionscadal leis Google sa idirlinn le Droid.

Idir an dá linn, cé acu feidhmeannaí Gaeilge go bhfaighe tú ina margadh Dhroid go dtí seo? Fuair mé dhá ceistiúchán splanc-cartaí. Chonaic mé dhá clár ag labhairt: UTalk le EuroTalk agus BYKI Irish le Transparent Language.

Tá foclóir poca le Collins freisin anseo. Níl ábalta tú ag fáil rúdaí saor, mar sin féin, ach ceann é. Sin é aistritheoir fhurasta: Get the Iarraim feidhmeannaí as Gaeilge go leor go luath ar Dhroid amárach.

New Droid, but nil in Irish now.

What materials in Irish on a smartphone are there to use with the Motorola Droid? How to compare the Droid with the iPhone in this respect? They aren't to be compared--for now at any rate.

You could compare it to nothing but the Web fifteen years ago. That is, there's little to help adult learners there yet. When I bought a Droid recently, I searched quickly looking for Irish things here.

My friend Daniel put on Facebook a notice up on the iPhone with Buntus Cainte. I was pleased to see these tapes adapted to help people understand the living tongue. He wrote me that there will be Irish applications that will be developed with Google in the meantime for the Droid.

Meanwhile, which Irish materials will you find in the Droid market so far? I found two quizzes with flashcards. I saw two talking programs, UTalk by EuroTalk and BYKI Irish by Transparent Language.

There's a pocket dictionary from Collins there also. You're not able to get free things, all the same, but one. That's a simple translator: Get the I await materials in Irish galore for the Droid in the future.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tariq Ali's "The Obama Syndrome": Book Review

Editor of New Left Review, London-based Ali criticizes Barack Obama’s obedience to the same corporate and military powers that controlled previous American administrations. What Ali sums up about a previous analysis of Obama speaks for Ali’s own agenda: “A useful antidote to the gushing biographies.” Ali’s progressive stance confronts the illusions sold to voters in 2008 by a compliant media and capitalist firms who provided the vast majority of Obama’s $900 million campaign funds. Goldman Sachs contributed nearly a million; who could claim surprise by their bailout?

His leftist presuppositions infuse this short series of what read more like related essays than a seamlessly constructed narrative. Ali admits a rush to print, preferring to provide a “preliminary report on the first 1000 days of the Obama presidency.” However, with mention of the Gaza flotilla attack by Israel, the resignation of General McChrystal, and the BP oil spill, this is as current an overview as can be expected.

It begins energetically. The first “mixed-race” president reinvented himself as both white enough and black enough to win. His sloganeering and bumper stickers and blogging cheerleaders promoted a cleverly marketed idealist rather than a savvy, aloof, slick product of the Chicago political machine. “Little of what Obama actually said in a combination of blandishments, special pleading and specious arguments justified much optimism, but the manner of his speaking, the color of his skin and the constant invocation of the word ‘change’ helped create a new spirit in the country—Obamania—that propelled him to the White House.”

Ali cites African American scholars and activists among Obama’s critics, noting how even among a few of those from his most loyal constituency, Obama’s opportunism soured his appeal. “The emblematic significance of Obama’s victory should not be underestimated, but did it ever move beyond symbols?” Ali doubts it did. After surveying the superficial gloss of Obama’s campaign makeover, he turns to Obama’s imperial aspirations, which extend those of his predecessors.

Surveying Iraqi and Afghani wars, Palestinian resistance, and Iranian and Pakistani dangers supposed by an Anglo-American military and multinational hegemony, Ali amasses more information akin to a current affairs journalist’s approach than that of a political analyst. The facts weigh this section down. From this point, he stacks up information with less panache and more duty in the service of a leftist rejection of Obama’s empire building policies.

Still, data remind us of worthwhile knowledge. For example, Ali cites a CIA document advising promotion in Western Europe media about the plight of oppressed Afghan women, to overcome widespread rejection by liberal women of Allied support for military incursions into Afghanistan. The U.S. military airport at Balad in Iraq is second only to Heathrow in air traffic. The U.S. embassy in Iraq equals the Vatican City in size. These lucrative infrastructures, it may be predicted, will not fade away soon whatever the celebrations of a “drawdown” of troops from that war-weary nation.

The author investigates other motives that reveal American domination overseas. For Ali, an American call for Iran not to have nuclear weapons rings hollow as it is “ringed by atomic states—India, Pakistan, China, Russia, Israel—and American nuclear submarines patrol its southern coast.” Iran fears outside threats, so Ali insists that as long as Israel possesses “200 nuclear bombs” backed by U.S. might, that any moral stance Iran’s enemies may claim defies their pretense for nuclear disarmament and a Non-Proliferation Treaty.

This leftist reaction, in other contexts, typifies Ali’s characteristic limitations. His progressive opposition leaves the reader wondering--in a world where no other superpower appears ready to take over America’s role as carrier of the big stick--what viable alternatives might be. Ali barely mentions China and Russia, both of whom appear weak internally and crippled by poverty even as their wealthy enjoy luxuries rivaling those of Western comrades. Western Europe’s own affluence has not made it eager to step in as a leader worldwide. The economic crisis currently rattling most developed nations needed more long-term perspectives than the recapitulations piled up and shuffled past here. How can it presage a more just global system?

As a weak response to such a crisis, Obama’s “sonorous banality and armor-plated hypocrisy” earn derision. Ali exposes Obama’s habitual lack of will. Rather than true reform for Wall Street, the healthcare system, or the Supreme Court, Obama capitulates to lobbyists and fundraisers who control politicians under a Democratic or Republican administration. He cannot control them anymore than the Bushes, Reagan, or Clinton were willing to do. Obama pretends that an audacity of hope leading to genuine advance will occur under his watch, but the “implication is always that the Washington system prevents any change that he could believe in.”

Ali notes that the New Deal and the Civil Rights Act “were the results of action from below,” as opposed to the top-down, capitalist regulation of democracy that defines today’s Western system. He shows how even if more female or darker-tinged faces enter the ranks of the affluent, that the fundamental inequalities of the capitalist system perpetuate themselves. The wealth will not redistribute itself even if its beneficiaries become more diverse. Nevertheless, the last half of his short book fails to register what has been shouted by many of those recently protesting “from below.” Ali proves hard of hearing when these less radically sanctioned voices clash with his own suppositions about what is right—as expected from the left—for America.

He berates the rise of privatized charter schools often funded by corporations. But Ali fails to explain how grassroots protests within urban communities confronting low literacy, high immigration (an issue Ali never addresses), and the failure of both parents and teachers (backed by intransigent unions whose role is also ignored), have led to such a compromised policy. This desperate turn of frustrated parents to corporations for another kind of bailout crosses class lines; it does not jibe with leftist prescriptions for union-led identity politics pieties rather than newly configured remedies to a broken educational bureaucracy.

The role that community activists, on the other hand, played in pressuring the second Bush administration to ease sub-prime mortgage qualifications to widen access to poor and minority urban applicants, a key cause for the 2008 financial meltdown, receives no mention. The impact of immigration, legal and illegal, on job losses, imploding budgets, and wage deflation is not included. Globalization as financed by a U.S. corporate-government alliance—as this complicates easy summations of what a leftist approves as a populist reaction—earns minimal attention.

Ali’s mocks Michelle Obama’s efforts to urge individual responsibility rather than to attack the fast-food industry. This peddles processed junk to schoolchildren, especially among urban and minority populations. In his earnest critique, Ali resists blaming the victim. Michelle Obama does kowtow to agribusiness, but nobody forces families at home, no matter how impoverished, to consume harmful food. As with many leftists, he offers few ideas for how to overcome the status quo. He suggests that Cuba sell medicine to Americans alongside Canada. He opposes militarism, profiteering, and cronyism. But deeper solutions to endemic injustice elude him. How the U.S., with its internal malaise worsened by crippling debt to China, will prolong its military reach and its global grasp, oddly, receives no in-depth analysis here.

One might argue that the Obama syndrome, no matter who inherits this affliction, may collapse as the parasite consumes the host. How can capitalism sustain itself in this self-devouring, environmentally threatened, and profit-driven world? Closing this collection, rather than appending an article on the failed Oakland health care system or the situation in Yemen, Ali could have addressed this dire scenario instead. One wonders about his solutions, two decades after the collapse of mass capitalist opposition, from his perspective in a London-based far-left.

Ali might have enriched this study. He could have articulated more often the fears and hopes of communities, grassroots organizations, and everyday folks who are entangled within their historical allegiance to Obama’s own maker, the Democratic party machine. It dominates many cities and suburbs. No true radicals will get elected, even there. Few residents bother with whatever New Left Review encourages, when it comes to a disaffected American voter, or a non-voter majority. This lack of electoral choice prevents real change from occurring in a polarized, bipartisan, corporate-funded, unreformed campaigning system. The Democratic party’s “leadership” will not support any more than the GOP a truly alternative candidate—no matter what his or her complexion—when it comes to perpetuating its own empire.

Published October 17. 2010, in The New York Journal of Books. Posted in shorter, edited form to Amazon US 10-19-10.

Monday, October 18, 2010

"The Marquis de Sade: a Study by Simone de Beauvoir with selections from his writings": Review

"Must We Burn Sade?" de Beauvoir's 1951-52 essay, cautiously answers no. She explains how this most notorious libertine sought a sort of liberty from convention. He tried to wrestle and pummel and seduce Nature into submission; he failed to escape his body and his desires once slaked returned to torment him, and the cycle escalated as he tried to overcome the indifference of Nature to man's most outrageous actions, and as he tried to resist the powers of the State who imprisoned him for his dangerous actions, not only his infamous writings.

He created in his surname a byword for perversion, yet as an author, "talking to himself" at great length he prattled on about political philosophy as often as the other activities that earned him censorship. Simone de Beauvoir places the Marquis de Sade's struggle within the difficulty we all have: to stay autonomous but to aspire to a universal condition, an integration into a community. This may turn as it did in real life and on the page for de Sade into a twisted utopia bent on orgies, infamies, and communal property and no claim to one's body, and as de Beauvoir shows, he failed to "turn the real world of hard fact into a theater."

She suggests that he suffered a form of "autism." That is, he could not forget himself in the transports of the violent, the idealistic, or the erotic, and he lacked being "genuinely aware of the other person." He wore himself out inventing new ways to assault the body that seemed a barrier to be overcome in the way to freedom. He grew obese, he prattled, yet his contradictions forced himself to compel others to watch himself, for even in prison, he invented an audience. "In order to amaze or frighten oneself, one must observe oneself from a distance, through foreign eyes."

De Beauvoir reminds us of his opposition to state-sponsored capital punishment, his uneasy switch from pre-Revolution pleasure to post-guillotine depredation, and his many irreconcilable positions on matters of the mind and body, the State and the individual, law and anarchy. "In choosing eroticism, Sade chose the make-believe." There he could live without being disappointed by a world unable to understand his strange rebellion. She concludes that he "drained to the dregs the moment of selfishness, injustice, and misery, and he insisted upon its truth. The supreme value of his testimony is that it disturbs us." He forces us to wonder again how much we truly care for each other, if there is no God and if Nature does rule supreme over our destinies.

De Beauvoir more than once draws our attention to the "Pensee," a side of de Sade that the modern reader may not anticipate. He wrote: "God, then, no more exists than colors do for men born blind; and man is, then, as right to maintain there is no God as the blind man is to hold that there are no colors, for colors are not real things but simply matters of convention and all matters of convention acquire reality in men's minds only in so far as they affect their senses and are capable of being understood by them." He goes on to argue how our senses cannot perceive God, and that God has no reality in terms of whatever people can comprehend.

(As an aside, a new book by Guy Deutscher, "Through the Language Glass," explains the color convention in how different cultures invent or lack vocabulary for the spectrum; see my review in October 2010. See also my review of Pierre Klossowski's "Sade My Neighbor," which de Beauvoir critiques for its reliance on a Freudian reduction of de Sade's reaction to his hated mother.)

This edition works better for giving us the essay by de Beauvoir than the anthologized passages that here follow her article. The prose selections from the Marquis included here after "Faut-il brûler Sade?" have been superseded by fuller, unexpurgated translations. Presumably due to censorship laws or fear of prosecution, this anthology was published 1953-54 with careful renderings of a few political, religious, sexual, and philosophical excerpts chosen by Paul Dinnage. The original French often remains to disguise the lubricity, the homosexuality, and assorted brands of "sodomy," while the atheism, moralizing, and murder is intact in English.

These selections, often less engrossing than dull, give some sense for the curious reader of the range of his thought, and the narrowness of its depths, but as in the case of poor Olympe tossed by her companions (after two hours of outrages) into a volcano simply because she "bores" them seem more puerile than philosophical, compared to the "Pensee" above. He cites Voltaire to sum up his own outlook: "Love is the fabric of nature embroidered by the imagination." De Sade may bore you more than you might suspect, but as in the excerpt above, he does cloak within his verbosity moments that you will remember, if not the ones you might have first expected.

(Posted to & Amazon US 10-13-10. For more on Klossowski, search by that keyword on my blog, and see Benjamin Ivry's "ArtForum" 2001 essay, reproduced today on Words Undone here. In turn, Ivry wrote a wonderful article on Simone Weil in the Forward that I blogged about here: "Simone Weil: Chain-Smoking, Self-Starving, Jewish Mystical Malcontent?". That leads to my review of Grahame Davies' astonishingly poised novel comparing and contrasting Weil's ambition with that of a latter-day Welsh language activist, "Everything Must Change.". Bookers, Pulitzers, and Nobels have been granted for far less. I rarely praise a novel so, but this I do.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stuart Neville's "Collusion": Book Review

This sequel to The Ghosts of Belfast takes its time. Jack Lennon's character's expanded and although not quite likable, his predicament softens you to him. In Irish noir fashion, he's caught between who he should trust in a place where nobody's secrets stay so. He's from a Catholic family who's rejected him after he joined what was, fifteen years ago, an overwhelmingly Protestant Northern police force. Jack sought to do his share to heal a community who trusted the cops less than the thugs and paramilitaries who controlled the streets with their own clumsy and cynical justice, and the injustice that set up Jack's brother, Liam, as the informer he was not.

Jack struggles now, after the bloody events of the first novel continue as witnesses to its considerable slaughter (even by Troubles thrillers standards) are killed off. At 37, he's still trawling the pubs in search of companionship. "He wasn't quite old enough to be anyone's father, but maybe a creepy uncle." His years in the tangled loyalties and betrayals of Northern Irish hatreds, after the uneasy peace, rankle him. "Some say that when you're on your deathbed, it'd be the things you didn't do that you'd regret. Lennon knew that was a lie."

Resented by his colleagues and alone in a gentrifying city: "Belfast was starting to grate on him, with its red-brick houses and cars parked on top of one another. And the people, all smug and smiling now they'd gathered the wit to quit killing each other and start making money instead." Similar to Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor series set in Galway today, Neville's Jack must deal with an Ireland eager to leave his sort behind in a rush for greed.

Detective Inspector Lennon still must do what he feels right, despite official opposition. A shady lawyer reasons: "Look, collusion worked all ways, all directions. Between the Brits and the Loyalists, between the Irish government and the Republicans, between the Republicans and the Brits, between the Loyalists and the Republicans." The connections extend, after the peace process, into this novel set in 2007.

He must protect the lives of his daughter, Ellen, a curiously cognizant little girl, and of her mother, Marie, from whom he's been long estranged. Without divulging too much, they need safety as the aftermath of the events in Ghosts, (published in Britain as The Twelve) escalate and dueling killers converge for a dramatic showdown in an echoing country house.

As with Ghosts (see my review on Amazon US & this blog), Neville starts off his story strongly. In a plot driven by straightforward dialogue and efficient pursuits, he does not lavish the small details, so when they do enter the telling, they linger. The fear of being pulled over on a rural road, the sight of a fox in headlights, the stealth of sneaking into an apartment stick with you. "More village lights ahead, and beyond them, the town of Lurgan with its knotted streets and traffic lights and cops. He took a left down a narrow country road to avoid them. The world darkened."

This novel succeeds for a simpler structure. Given the twists and turns, the direction moves clearly. The Ghosts of Belfast may have garnered acclaim, as did recent noir by fellow Irish writers Tana French (In the Woods, then The Likeness, and recently A Faithful Place) and John Banville as Benjamin Black (Christine Falls, then The Silver Swan, and recently Elegy for April-- I reviewed the last title for PopMatters and all six for Amazon US & this blog), but as with French and Black, I'd argue that the second installments work better even if the first ones gained awards.

Characters are studied, the pace calms, and reflection eases tension. There's a mystery haunting more than one figure we follow, and this increases the interest in their hidden knowledge. The brutality's again here for Neville, but it feels as if there are fewer chases and shootouts, so the sinister atmosphere needs less emphasis. The showdowns may lack a bit of originality and the arrangements may be schematic, but this concentration on a streamlined plot assists comprehension. The natural suspense set up runs its own steady course, so the pace seems more controlled. As with Bruen, French, and Black, I predict from the strength of this second novel that Neville's proven himself capable of a great third novel that takes us deeper into the Northern noir to match his Dublin and Galway-based fictional and factual peers in this Celtic noir genre.

(P.S. I also reviewed Requiems for the Departed for PopMatters, Amazon, and this blog; Neville's "Queen of the Hill" was one of the strongest stories in this crime collection inspired by Celtic myth. This review posted to Amazon US & Britain 9-11-10 and then in slightly edited form, and submitted in another slightly revised version to PopMatters 10-1-2010.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

David McMahan's "The Making of Buddhist Modernism": Book Review

Meditation, compassion, tolerance; spirituality, freedom, rationality: why do these adjectives characterize modern Buddhism? Why not temple worship, ancestral cult, or monastic ritual? How do the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, or Chögyam Trungpa incorporate "strategic occidentalism" into open-minded versions of Buddhism compatible with scientific rationalism, feminism, democracy, ethics, agnosticism, and liberal Christianity? How do Tibetan, Zen, and vipassana "insight" schools of practice adapt for Westernizing markets, whether in Asia, America, or Europe? McMahan mixes theory with examples to explain how both West and East interpret dharma for modern audiences--schooled in abstract thought, raised with consumer capitalism, and participants in globalizing media.

Using Donald S. Lopez' definition of a modern form that "stresses equality over hierarchy, the universal over the local, and often exalts the individual above the community," McMahan begins his study (qtd. 8). He shows how "non-negotiable cultural assumptions" based on the superiority of equal opportunity, non-discrimination, women's rights, and democratic access underlie a sympathizer or adherent's reception. Charles Taylor's three discourses of modernity apply: scientific rationalism, liberal Jewish and Christian monotheism, and romantic expressivism combine to differentiate modern processes of accepting Buddhism from traditional cultures rooted in Asian accretions that, since Victorian times, have been critiqued by reforming progressives as interfering with a purer, primitive, or truer dharma-teaching. By demythologizing, detraditionalizing, and psychologizing, the twentieth century continued the efforts of Romantics and rationalists to prove that not only might Buddhism be compatible with post-Enlightenment thought, it might better Christian or scientific models.

By transmutation, modernizing occurs through psychoanalytic concepts filtering Buddhism through Westernized lenses. Chapter Two, "The Spectrum of Tradition and Modernism," takes the case study of the "Shukden affair" to show how tensions brought in-- via psychological definitions-- to the Tibetan controversy have been heightened as the "self-understanding" of those involved has been transformed by this modern version of dharma. The earlier "science of mind" description of Tibetan Buddhism exported early last century from Thomas W. and Caroline Rhys Davids' Pali textual efforts now expands into a Western-influenced analogy of the Tibetans' own "internalizing" of deities. Monotheistic and/or rational readers came to expect a Buddhism less populated by idols. The magic that served so potently to spread the first coming of the dharma into medieval Tibet, McMahan finds, and which sold that homeland's allure to the West through Alexandra David-Neel, now becomes downplayed.

However, not abandoned, for sorcery sidles into the psyche of its Tibetan practitioners, in this Westernized scenario. For those arguing not if but how Shukden should be propitiated, the existence of a demon deity is not a projection but a reality. While McMahan opines regarding the fatal consequences of the "Shukden affair" for three men that "people are seldom murdered over psychological archetypes," (55) I was reminded of Voltaire's aperçu: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." McMahan in his text never takes on the verification of Shukden, unsurprisingly, but he does alert readers, as in the Nechung Oracle, to encounters often obscured by mass media. Pico Iyer's recent "The Open Road" discusses this awkward P.R. situation for the Dalai Lama at more length.

Unlike Iyer's narrative, or "How the Swans Came to the Lake" by Rick Fields, to whom McMahan dedicates his book (although Fields and many related historians remain unmentioned in the text itself), this study remains largely theoretical. Not intended for a general audience, it cites Rudolph Bultmann, René Descartes, and-- on the same page-- Freidrichs Schelling & Schiller & Schleiermacher. Many topics are treated in sub-sections rapidly but efficiently; endnotes remain relatively few but the bibliography and index assist researchers. A few minor typographical errors mar the presentation, but it would prove a necessary purchase for libraries and scholars.

Scholarship enters most doggedly into the middle chapters. Taylor's discourses of modernity bring Buddhism into a complicated relationship with rationalism, Christianity, and Romanticism. Countering, since the 1870s, the charges that it represents a decayed tradition, Buddhists have rallied to compete against Western liberalism as well as cohabit with its individualism, freedom of choice, and market-driven goals. This can get complicated, for the preference for one to trust inner experience, so stressed by many exponents today, finds little support in early Buddhist texts warning not to be deluded by one's interior illuminations. Romanticism, as McMahan explores at length, and then psychology, strives to create compatible areas of common ground upon which modern Buddhism can appeal to interiorized realms open to the Western or Westernized seeker disenchanted, in turn, by empirical, capitalist, and destructive modernity.

Chapter Four extends the scientific dialogue with modernizing Buddhism. The Victorian crisis of faith entered Asian cultures, demoralized over their loss of prestige against Christian and colonizing forces. Edward Said's "orientalism" and Homi Bhabha's "hybridity," beloved by critics, here shift into concepts less applicable to East-West relations regarding a Buddhism that in Japan and Tibet had separated itself long and largely from European conquest, McMahan notes. "The discourse of scientific Buddhism" drew from Darwin, European philosophy, and rational inquiry, but it also-- as with Sri Lankan nationalist Anagarika Dharmapala's bitter tirades against monotheistic importers and imperialistic exploiters, could be forged into a rhetorical weapon with which to prove the superiority of a purified, reformed dharma-teaching cleansed of idolatry, superstition, and formulae.

Such spirited discourses also went more than the one way export erroneously assumed by facile inquiry. Paul Carus' "gospel" and Henry Steele Olcott's "catechism" trained teachers and students in Asia; Dharmapala suspected Olcott of insufficient fidelity to the dharma while Carus urged a synthesis of Christianity and Buddhism into a Religion of Science. These trajectories intersected and they also clashed.

Chapter Five elaborates Romanticism within theories of art, spontaneity, and the "wellsprings of nature"; the New Age overlaps and neo-pagan sympathies flow in and out of a section that could have benefited from deeper attention to such cross-currents. All the same, McMahan excels on his inclusion of Western Buddhist theorists Anagarika Govinda and Sangharakshita. These two men reveal their own cultural assumptions when they argue for uses of art that edge closer to European Romanticism than, say, the Tibetan demotion of individual spontaneity or innovation by its "thangka" painters. The Beats and D.T. Suzuki helped impress the pattern of a Buddhism flexible, playful, or austere upon the Western counterculture and intelligentsia; how faithful these descriptions are to the original context, on the other hand, appears rather attenuated and distant from their sources. Limitations of Western models wedged back into Asian frameworks support McMahan's corrective perspective.

Yet, by such inter-cultural exposures, Westerners can better comprehend Buddhist concepts; these interpretations after all will be inevitable in any aesthetic or philosophical dialogue that relies on translation and analogy for persuasion and perpetuation of its once-esoteric precepts. Interdependence in the sixth chapter dominates the discussion. This concept appears ubiquitous for modern audiences, even when in earlier texts, McMahan shows, it occupied a less prominent niche. Historians of religion, he posits, must remember that nothing stands still, A wise reminder to scholars tempted to castigate practices as "inauthentic" or non-canonical. And, for a teaching grounded in impermanence, perhaps a sine qua non? "Tradition-in-change," he asserts, "establishes what Buddhism is empirically" (179).

"Meditation and Modernity" enlivens Chapter Seven's presentation with what today may be the most recognizable attribute of the dharma, if one increasingly separated from Buddhism itself. The privatization and detraditionalization (awkward terms, but those McMahan employs) follow the "subjective turn" along Romantic routes. Despite the persistence of the Eastern "Other" as more "spiritual, subjective, and intuitive," vs. the Western "materialistic, rational, and extraverted" contender, there persists in the Western reception of Buddhism a strong Romantic tension. Fierce individualism alongside "cosmic unity" in New Age movements and neo-pagan communities infiltrates Buddhist modernism.

Cited by McMahan, Ernest Troeltsch in the 1930s called such a belief "the secret religion of the educated classes" (qtd. 189). More context to align such Buddhism with "spiritualities of life" might have been welcome here, as these tendencies strongly color how Buddhism is marketed and perceived among many less familiar with the scholarly precision exerted by McMahan and historians of religion. Trungpa's impact, for example, upon the institutional regimen and academic acceptance of Western Buddhism by one who left Tibet to study at Oxford before entering the Aquarian Age appears barely considered as a test of modernization upon one of the West's most prominent figures of its formation. Still, professors and advanced readers may be able to widen the relevance of McMahan's arguments in future forays across this rapidly evolving field that Fields, Lopez, Stephen Batchelor, Martin Baumann, James William Coleman, and Charles Prebish among others have begun to survey.

Emile Durkheim's construction of one's "private, optional religion" earns a glance, alongside Troeltsch's "religious romanticism." These concepts guided how esoteric teachings widened into mass-marketed signifiers of modernity, freedom, and revolt against convention. McMahan nods to a telling insight worthy of much elaboration: Jewish and Christian converts to Buddhism, he suggests, might especially promote the liberating aspects of meditation within Western methods of its transmission. Another such remark deserving of development, here made in passing, comes when McMahan cites Thomas Tweed's acknowledgment of the pre-1960s reliance upon textual inculcation rather than personal instruction for those eager to learn dharma.

The countercultural move from books to gurus, reading to chanting, exotic travelogues to meditation centers has a parallel shift into another venue previously not entered by dharma transmitters. A few within the post-1960s scientific establishment wish to chart the efficacy of a spiritual discipline that might finally be verified by laboratory experiments. This dialogue with science, McMahan hesitates, may raise more questions. "Is the evocative image of robed meditators in lotus position hooked up to their individual biofeedback machines one of seamless confluence between science and meditation, the rehumanization of science, or contrariwise, the mechanization of meditation and the acquiescing of Buddhism to the very scientific materialism it has hoped to transform?" (210)

The eighth chapter moves into literary predecessors of Buddhist modernism that helped popularize among an educated readership the concepts of mindfulness and the "affirmation of ordinary life." Earlier, McMahan glanced at the "epiphany" and alludes to its social-political contexts intriguingly; later, he extends the modernist "pre-understanding for the way Buddhist mindfulness is understood today" (225). In passing, I call attention to Paul Foster's 1989 "Beckett & Zen" as one such compatible study. This may remain an elusive project to pinpoint, but the reception of Joyce, Woolf, or Proust among the types of students with a liberal arts education who then may be most open to Buddhist equivalents for the states attained by such authors does show a novel, no pun intended, application of the concepts previously defined.

In conclusion, McMahan displays the dharma's current phenomena. Postmodern inevitably follows modern Buddhism. Another work worthy of comparison to this final section goes unmentioned by McMahan; "The Monk and the Philosopher" (1996) by Jean-François Revel and Mathieu Ricard, discusses the clash and coupling of many Tibetan and Western political, artistic, and philosophical contexts that might have deserved consideration by McMahan. Future trends he includes: a backlash returning to tradition; "free-form spirituality" divorced from Buddhism, as has been attempted increasingly with Zen; privatization and commodification; social engagement; ethics; ecology; feminism; and New Age appropriation.

Case studies pass rapidly, but "The Mystical Arts of Tibet" tour by monks shows, in its program analyzed, how "global folk Buddhism" can be "translated into the language of Buddhist modernism" precisely and provocatively. (257) Among the cosmopolitan elite, the dharma uses global English as it adapts to the local vernacular. The impact of commodified, popular, and packaged Buddhism within consumer-driven, mass-market culture, conveyed by media and commerce earns passing comment. This fascinating topic may well generate in-depth follow-up.

Again, it may be a sign of the book's success that I wanted to find out far more about these quickly reviewed topics. I sense the compression exerted by a publisher upon the length of this work tilted the work more to satisfy the historian of religion than the general reader who might welcome a longer tour of the popular culture contexts. Yet, this book is more about the making than the merchandising of what has become marketed and manifested as modern Buddhism. Among its passing attractions further research will emerge, into the impermanent, ever-changing parade of the dharma's production, importation, and reception across the world.

Note: (Coleman, Foster, Iyer, and Revel & Ricard have been reviewed by me on this blog last summer.) Book photo: Article from "The Diplomat" of Franklin & Marshall College, where McMahan teaches: "My, How Buddhism Has Changed."

This is a copy of my review in "The Journal of Buddhist Ethics"17 (2010): 41-49. . Cross-posted to my longer review site, "Not the L.A. Times Book Review."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Guy Deutscher's "Through the Language Glass": Book Review

How much does our culture determine, or liberate, our language’s ability to express what we see? In his first book, The Unfolding of Language, Deutscher mentioned how colors evolved in verbal expression from a primitive stage. Words entered language first for a binary black-white, later adding red, then yellow-green, and finally blue. But, he skimmed past this factoid as he rushed on to other theoretical matters. He returns to make this subject the heart of this sequel.

If language mirrors our mind, what is reflected? Is it human nature or cultural conventions? Color served, since the era of Darwin aroused clumsy curiosity whether linguistic responses might be innate, as a test case. Did color come about as the brain developed and became more civilized? Victorians wondered if languages developed by natural selection; anthropologists suggested language was filtered through culture. Scholars began to study diverse indigenous tongues that often differed dramatically from Indo-European languages.

Deutscher devotes the first hundred pages to explaining their discoveries of how colors in newly discovered languages were understood by perceptions and then vocabularies which revealed contrasts with the West. While these nineteenth-century models crudely linking Darwin to linguistics have been discarded, these inquiries opened Western ears to a global diversity of verbal and mental expression. Deutscher explains how our mother tongue “can affect how we think and how we perceive the world.” He does not argue that language determines how we think. This distinction is crucial.

For, he rejects the “linguistic relativity” of the discredited Sapir-Whorf theory which claimed that language locks its speakers into a cognitive prison by which they must perceive, say, time differently. The Hopi may say “on the fifth day” rather than “five days,” but mainstream scholars deny that this proves that the Hopi conceive time’s accumulation of “unvarying repetition” differently than we do with our spatial models. This quickly turns theoretical, as the extended analyses of color vocabulary and then spatial orientation by geographic rather than egocentrical markers make the bulk of this text.

I felt that Deutscher’s in-depth example of the Guugu Yimithirr aboriginal language--which in its isolated heyday indicated directions according to compass points rather than personal coordinates--appeared intriguing but less compelling than he intended. For, the speakers in both cases still orient themselves by their own internal placement. We may say a chair is to our left; they may say it is to the southwest, but we both are setting ourselves in relation to it. Deutscher appears to gloss this over.

He shows how languages may lack green-blue distinctions that in our native tongue appear as if natural to us. He suggests how taste can be an analogy: what if “wild strawberries” might be our only term for the whole range of new fruits a stranger brought us from a faraway land of berry extravagance? All we could do is compare each new varietal to more or less the one berry we had words to describe. By the scholar from Berry-Land we would be pitied as primitives, unable to comprehend the obvious range of fruit flavors.

Similarly, some cultures have not paid much attention to color spectrums. They did not feel the need to, as discernment may not have been necessary. This surmise began when William Gladstone, after studying Homer, surmised that artificial dye in classical Greece might have stimulated the color perceptions of ancient peoples. Before dyes were manufactured for shades of blue, the Greeks may not have been used to discern a range of hues in their depths (which appear instantly blue to us, or green due to our different cultural and linguistic habits) as other than a “wine-looking” or “wine-dark sea.”

Whether Australian or Mediterranean, people tend to use the words they need for their world. If blue existed in sky or sea, it may not have been necessary to differentiate it. If it turned into an imported dye altering fashion or determining status, it then mattered to find a term for blue. (I invent this elaboration; “The cultural significance of blue,” Deutscher admits as an aside, “is very limited.” Such points deserved more analysis, considering that much of this book concerns color’s linguistic applications.)

Yellow and green emerge later for many native cultures because agriculture and vegetation brought a greater awareness (ripe or unripe?) involved in sustenance. Black and white, day and night tend to come first for they are the most obvious contrasts. Red follows, as blood marks our encounters with each other and the natural world in which we compete and struggle.

The second section shifts to the impact of our mother tongue on how we think. It may influence our reactions without determining them: this qualification segues into the Boas-Jakobson alternative to Sapir-Whorf’s model. Before this, Deutscher in one of his most compelling chapters compresses material that I thought more compelling than much of the previous hundred-plus pages on color.

This extends the essence of The Unfolding of Language, even if he barely refers to his earlier book. How languages begin complex and then grow simpler—and then perhaps more complex again-- appears to contradict what we might expect. Small societies rely on markers. Like the aborigines with their compass internalized in their language and their bodies in one place with the same solar and meteorological coordinates for thousands of years, people settled as relatives in one place speak by shorthand. As intimates, “she,” “them,” “here” and “over there” may be all that is needed to express what to a stranger would require precise yet wordier explanations of kinship, locale, or quirk.

When strangers arrive (perhaps traders of blue dye), they may speak a different accent or dialect. This forces locals to simplify words to communicate clearly. Comprehension between unfamiliar speakers of different languages may force a drastically minimal, almost childlike, manner of speech. More terms may be needed, such as “aquamarine” or “indigo,” and these then enrich the local language. Concision, simplicity, and literacy often slow a language down in word forms and on paper. This is one reason why the spelling of English may preserve archaic sounds we no longer say, or why the gender distinctions of Romance languages persist in illogical forms, lovingly detailed in the best chapter, “Sex and Syntax.”

The rest of the narrative lacks this intriguing scenario, however dimly sketched. But, Deutscher dutifully sums up current research in a manner that we non-linguists can appreciate. He shows, as in the gender situation, how German’s feminine article for such a word as a bridge may influence somewhat the response, even in English, of traits attributed by a German speaker to “die Brücke” vs. a Spanish speaker’s masculine “el puente”. “German speakers tended to describe bridges as beautiful, elegant, fragile, peaceful, pretty, and slender; Spanish speakers as big, dangerous, long, strong, sturdy, towering.” While Deutscher remains cautious about interpreting such findings, he does hint that “manly or womanly associations of inanimate objects are strong enough in the minds of Spanish and German speakers to affect their ability to commit information to memory.”

Both of this author’s books share this professor’s lively anecdotes, his engaging personality, and his ability to summarize linguistic debates efficiently. He lets the rest of us, outside the academy, listen in on arcane arguments. Yet, as part of academia, Deutscher may let his love for theoretical excursion weaken the pace of his presentations.

He wraps up his latest work, after more color discussion and more cognitive experiments, with a summary of how culture conventions of our society can be influenced by language. We do not live in what from Nietzsche has been memorably mistranslated as a “prison-house of language.” But, we do tend to find patterns and pursue expressions that fit with our habitual sights, sounds, and markers.

Deutscher closes by begging forgiveness from future scholars, for we are on the verge of brain discoveries about language processing even as thousands of languages die out. These may offer, as Guugu Yimithirr, fantastic alternatives we thinkers used to English might never have conceived. Our scientific progress accelerates, but we also need linguistic alternatives to our monocultural, globalizing mindset. None of us can step aside and find a perfect language to judge all the others by. Maybe we’ve built, in a determination to make everyone speak our native tongue, our own prison-house after all? (Featured on PopMatters 9-30-10; Posted in shorter form 9-27 to Amazon US & 9-29-2010)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Siúlaim timpeall i mBaile Síneach

Bhí mé ag siúl thart ar gceantar Síneach uair ó shin. Chuaigh mé leis Niall agus Lena go 'Bialann ar Bhealach' ansin. Bhí muid ag ithe ár ndinnéir Vítneameach.

Ina dhiaidh sin, iarr mé a siúl ag imeall an áit ar feadh tamaill. Bhí díth mé a dul amach ag spaisteioireacht, mar ní raibh mé ábalta a déanamh na gcos moch ar  maidín. Nuair go raibh ag siopadoireacht Lena agus Niall, d'imigh mé achar beag uait.

D'fhoglaim mé faoi bunús na bóithre beag. Thosaigh siad óna 1938-40 a tógtha sa chomharsanacht. Bhí sí in aice leis an seanbhaile go raibh milleadh a tógáil an stásiúin traenach ar lár i gCathair na hÁingeal.

D'aimnigh stráideannaí chúil a thabhairt do Chiang Kai-shek. Bhí ceannaire náisinúaí an tSín riamh Cumannachas. Bhí achan bóthar anseo go tugtha ainm ómósach de reir na ceannaire sin.

Tá mhórchuid duine Síneach ag imithe a bhain siad faoi soir go Cathair na hÁingeal anois. Go minic, dhún siopa bhrontannas fadó. Mar sin féin, bain sult as duine áitiúl ag cuartaíocht agus duine Síneach ag turasóireacht a feicéail solas neon ina "sean" ceantar Síneach leis botharíní leath-fholamh air fós.

Walking around Chinatown.

I went walking around the Chinatown district an hour ago. I went with Niall and Lena to "Via Cafe" there. We went to eat a Vietnamese dinner.

Afterwards, I wanted to walk around the place for awhile. I needed to go out strolling, since I was not able to get on my feet earlier in the morning. When Lena and Niall went shopping, I went off a short way away.

I learned about the origin of the little roads. They were built from 1938-40 in the neighborhood. It was near the old town that was destroyed to build the railway station in the center of the City of the Angels.

The back streets were named after Chiang Kai-shek. He was the nationalist leader of China before Communism. Every street here was given an honorific name on account of that leader.

The major share of Chinese people went off to settle down to the east now of Los Angeles. Often, gift stores have closed long ago. Nevertheless, local people visiting and Chinese people as tourists still enjoy seeing the neon lights of "old" Chinatown's half-empty lanes.

Ghriangraf: "Old Chinatown"