Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ramayana Lite

I recently stumbled across one of the most amazing films I have ever seen. I am fascinated by it and keep going back to watch sections of it on YouTube.

Sita Sings the Blues is a personalized retelling of the Ramayana, one of the great sanskrit epics, the twin tale of the Mahabarata. The movie is subtitled The Greatest Breakup Story Every Told. Nina Paley took inspiration from this ancient tale, the breakup of her own marriage and the songs of Annette Hanshaw. She created this stunning interweaving of animation styles, ad lib interview, storytelling and music. The animation alone is inventive and beautiful work, fascinating to watch and sheer delight. The integration of Annette Hanshaw's music is exceptionally clever, but manages never to feel strained. And for westerner's like me, this Ramayana lite is an easy way to be introduced to this ancient and profound tale.

It's about 1:20 long, but worth every bit of it. If you want to take it in chunks, it is also available on YouTube broken into 10 sections. I warn you...they are like potato chips. You may not be able to stop once you start.

As you might imagine, there are many detractors of this film. Because of it was made by a white american woman who is not Hindu, and because it takes a light tone regarding some things that many Hindus feel are very sacred, it treads some difficult ground. As a westerner, I can see where Ms. Paley actually was working out of a real reverence for the material, but her way of honoring it is to personalize it. She makes it very clear also that she is really focusing on the role of Sita, and developing her concept of Sita's side of the tale. In the actual sanskrit story, Sita's role is very small -- almost a side note -- compared to that of Raman.

The idea of honoring a story by personalizing it is a very western concept. I get it, but I can see why some of her critics might not. Regardless, I would encourage everyone to see this.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Oh Martha, The Cows

If you aren't churchy, then this story probably will leave you scratching your head. But...if you are churchy, or have been churchy in the past, you might think this is kind of funny. Hat tip to Jacob over at The Mockingbird Blog

An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. “Well,” said the farmer, “it was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.”

“Praise choruses?” said his wife. “What are those?”

“Oh, they’re OK. They are sort of like hymns, only different,” said the farmer.

“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his wife.

The farmer said, “Well, it’s like this – If I were to say to you “Martha, the cows are in the corn”’ – well, that would be a hymn. If on the other hand, I were to say to you:

Martha, Martha, Martha, Oh Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, the white cows, the black and white cows, the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, the CORN, CORN, CORN.
Then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well, that would be a praise chorus.”

The next weekend, his nephew, a young, new Christian from the city came to visit and attended the local church of the small town. He went home and his wife asked him how it was. “Well,” said the young man, “it was good. They did something different however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.”

“Hymns?” asked his wife. “What are those?”

“Oh, they’re OK. They are sort of like regular songs, only different,” said the young man.

“Well, what’s the difference?”

The young man said, “Well, it’s like this – If I were to say to you ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn’ – well, that would be a regular song. If on the other hand, I were to say to you:
‘Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.
‘For the way of the animals who can explain
There in their heads is no shadow of sense
Hearkenest they in God’s sun or
His rain Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced.

‘Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight
Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night
They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed.
‘So look to the bright shining day by and by
Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn
Where no vicious animals make my soul cry
And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.’
Then if I were to do only verses one, three and four and do a key change on the last verse, well that would be a hymn.

Sense and Nonsense in Policy Making

The right rages and rants on the healthcare hobbiehorse, but it's not helping me much. They are busy blowing buzzwords out their betooshkas. I haven't dug in deep to the data. I am working too hard just to keep my head above water. But here is what I hear, out of the corner of my ear, and I don't like it much.

Socialized medicine
This is apparently the horror of all horrors. Unfortunately it is rather bloblike, with a clearly undefined shape. No one seems to want to explain what they mean by it, or why it is bad. It is socialist, though. That seems to be enough. But...are the proposals on the table REALLY socialized medicine? No one seems to be able to tell me.

Health Care will be Rationed
OK, it is rationed now. My insurance company has some strong opinions about what they will use my premiums for and what they won't. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. That is how insurance works. But why shout as if everyone has indiscriminate access to medicine now? It ain't so. Should it be so? Maybe. Maybe not. That's a different question.

Bureaucrats will make your healthcare choices for you
Again, they already do. It's just that they are paid by the insurance companies, not by the government. And again, I'm not saying that's bad, but you can't talk like there aren't hundreds of thousands of pasty faced cubicle dwellers checking off forms to determine what procedure they will or won't pay for right now.

Government ruins everything it touches
Could the gummint be more efficient? Sure. Could the gummint be more effective? Sure. Is there a tremendous amount of waste, boondoggle, porkbarrel and earmarking? Absolutely. But seriously, if we had anarchy -- no government at all -- do you really think that life would be better? Like the Israelites shouting for a king, all human societies must organize somehow. Tribes or Kingdoms or Nations -- every society forms some kind of government. Ours is actually pretty sophisticated and just compared to what history has served up. Without the government we have - flawed as it is - we would not be enjoying the freedom and prosperity we enjoy today. Sure, keep governmnet in check. That's wise. But don't go around blathering about how government is by nature the greatest evil, and must never be trusted with the public welfare in any form. That's just ignorant manure coming right out of your mouth.

Healthcare Reform will Balloon the Budget
I think it already is. So we can't just sit still. This is not to say that would should adopt something that would be financially disastrous in the long run just because it is politically expedient now. Nevertheless wouldn't it be better to do SOMETHING about it, even if it is less than perfect? Obstructionism is not going to get the budget under control.

So I don't want to know what horrible apocalyptic fate will befall us if we actually do the tiniest smidgen of what Mr. Obama has in mind. Don't rail prophetically about the awful desolation that will be post-healthcare reform America. Tell me how YOU would fix it. Present private sector solutions that will work. Give us counter proposals. The antithesis to the thesis of a proposed bill is not to scream hysterically at the congressman. The antithesis is to present your own bill, with different solutions. Then lets pick something that looks like it might actually solve some of the problems, get it passed, and move on.

Stop bloviating. Start renovating. Give me fewer bumperstickers and better ideas. Stop throwing those sticks and stone. Let's use them to build us something useful.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Advice for Hikers

I'm a big fan of ultralight hiking. UH used to be kind of fringe, but apparently it is going more mainstream. I know this because now columnists for the NY Times are writing about it. Not just writing about it, but giving advice because they practice it themselves. Nicholas Kristof has a nice little editorial piece on how to get up and get out into the woods. He gives some good advice, but I would temper it some by simply adding one suggestion. If it's your first time, plan a short trip (perhaps 1 overnight) with a route that has options to bail out. You don't want to use the option, but just knowing you have planned it in gives you confidence.

My favorite piece of advice:

10. In grizzly or polar bear territory, carry bear spray (which is a bit like mace). Frankly, the spray is unlikely to stop a 1,000-pound bear hurtling toward you, so experienced hikers respond to a menacing bear by using the spray in one of two ways. The first option is to spray yourself in the face, so you no longer care what the bear does to you. The second option is to spray your best friend beside you, and then run.
New application of an old joke.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Saga of Bavychlorskjevya boskjorB - Canto the Second

For those of you that have been waiting anxiously for the next installment in the Icelandic Saga of Bachelor boB (that's Bavychlorskjevya in Icelandic) here is the most recent post. Apparently he lives, but only by the skin of his teeth, and perhaps a few knuckles.
I should be dead.

Note that there is no humor in that statement.

I endured cold, rain, sleet, heat, non-existent trails, deep sand, sharp lava, impossible footing, quicksand (for real), bog, drought, sand storms, fog, impossible wind (tent was literally flattened, then dragged across the sands with me+gear inside = 250 lbs. *several* times in a night+day), etc. But all of that really means nothing.

My 20-day hike ended yesterday (Thursday), for on Wednesday afternoon (day 10 or 11; not sure) I was swept away during a river ford. Two rivers off of a glaciar have re-routed themselves into one. After hours of trying to travel upstream, through crumbling moraine, ice, and hidden mud pits, to get across or above the source, I went back downstream to the original jeep ford and headed across.

The current swept the very loose bottom from below my feet, a Leki hiking pole snapped, and I went under. Mind you, this river is ragging and barely above freezing, with a large floating ice content. I was tumbled, above and below the surface, for several minutes. A shoe was pulled off by the force of the current, but the gaitor kept it to me. Knowing that I would never make it out without both shoes, I gave up on stopping myself or standing up in order to secure the shoe and lost the broken Leki in the process. Somehow I managed to get my right wrist through the shoe´s laces.

At that point I was in fast and deep enough water to follow the advice I´ve read of getting yourself feet-first+head up going downstream. From that position, I dragged my hands to try to stop myself. They and my feet found bottom very abruptly soon after, but dragged for some time. Though stopped, I could not stand for the soaked pack, so I rolled over to face upstream. Trying to stand, I suddenly realized that my legs were so numb that they were failing, so I forced myself onto my knees using the Leki and both arms. Once up, I headed for the far shore only to be swept away again.

From there, I dog-paddled for the shore like my life was ending. (It was..) Thankfully, the current threw me to the bank and I dragged myself up it.. I could no longer feel legs or hands, which was good, as I dragged myself up the bank to behind a large boulder. (The wind was still gusting 40-60 kph.)

I have never even heard of someone shaking the way I did as I put on my rain jacket and pants. I was screaming to keep going and the blood was pouring from my hands and knees. The rain gear did what nothing else would of as I lay trembling behind the rock. Once I could stand, I headed for better cover, and noted that I had been swept downstream at least a mile.

My right hand was unusable, the shoe laces having constricted it in the current. I somehow managed to get my tent up with my left hand and right armpit. For the time, I thought my right wrist was broken. Though the howling wind quickly dried the pack, it had about 10 new lbs. of volcanic sand in it. My clothes were worthless (soaked + sand), but the waterproof sack and synthetic sleeping bag did their roll. That night was sleepless as the wind turned into a sandstorm. I sat up to support the tent "roof" for the worst part.

When morning came, I was coherent enough to know that no one was coming for me, no one would be coming by, and I was far enough away from the route to likely never be found. I did what it took to get walking again, having lost nothing except the one Leki.

My best way out was back across the same river. I cried at its edge.

Then I used my brain a little better than in the preceeding 24 hours. I followed the river for several kilometers downstream to the lake it entered. The area is currently in its seasonal drought and the lake is very low. Before reaching the lake, the river split into dozens of channels. I zigzagged my way across them, feet renumbed with ice water, until I was fully on the opposite shore.

This was still a very risky route, as the river *out* of the lake is impassable, which is why the trail takes the route it does. When I saw jeep tracks around the shore, I knew that it had recently been crossed and the tears now flowed from relief.

Around the very large lake´s shore, insane wind and deep sand still battered me, my hands and knees missing lots of skin and covered in cuts and blood blisters. My right hand was still about 50% too large and the fingers barely worked.

That´s when I saw 2 hikers, standing on the south shore, watching me approach. When I got to them, all I could say was, "I hope you guys are doing better than I am."

They had driven to the new dam (which removed the impassable drainage river) and hiked out to see if the river I was swept away in was fordable. They needed to know in preparation for doing a hike that covered some of my same route. I briefly told them my story, how to successfully cross it, and we 3 returned to their car. They were openly surprised by my route, being solo, and having survived. Icelanders don´t mince words.

An unimaginably different 24 hours later, I am back in Rekjavik (capital), showered, in twice laundered clothes, have about half my gear cleaned and dried, have the tent functioning again (it´s now died 3 times; I showered with it last night), have eaten a great pizza, cheese, fresh bread, and skyr (yogurt), it´s calm, bright sun, and quite warm, and I´m planning to fly to the north in order to do the end of my original hike. (That will skip the center section that virtually no one goes to/through, for very good reason.) I am covered in large, deep bruises, I´m almost certain that I have a damaged (not broken) right-front rib, my back hurts very badly in one spot, and I look like I fell off a mountain bike at full speed. But I´m not going to waste the next 12 days.

My fingers are very painful, so this has not been easy to write physically or emotionally. I´m not going back to check or correct. I just want everyone to know a few things:

I did something stupid. I should have known better. It almost cost me my life. Hikers die in that same river every 2-3 years and I knew that. I really should be dead. I´m not going to play the "What if...?" game and/or the "If only I had..." game. I´m just going to accept that what happened is what happened and continue to live accordingly, appreciating that I´m (mostly) okay and knowing that things can go from fine, to nightmarish, back to almost normal at dizzying speed. Life is perilous, tenuous, and precious.

Think about that and be happy.