Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy New Year - "Whoopie!"

I have mixed feeling about New Years celebrations. I like the idea of taking stock of the year past, our accomplishments, challenges and friends, the good times and the bad, sharing with others. I like the idea of taking time to especially remember friends past, living and dead, with a special fondness. And I think its great to just have a special time in the year to enjoy the company of other folks you enjoy being with.

Calvin and Hobbs

For some folks, it is a time that they become especially aware of the passing of time, or a time of anxiety about what the future will bring. It is traditionally a time when a lot of people just plain drink too much- and pretend to have a really good time. That’s the tradition. I suppose it blots out anxiety and uncertainty... But that seems out of whack to me. What I enjoy most is getting together with a few friends and having a nice evening – perhaps a good meal and a glass or two of good wine… A time to enjoy being together...

I never before understood the words in Old Lang Syne. Here is a translation into modern English – It carries a very nice sentiment;

OLD LANG SYNE ( Translation: “old long since” or “for the sake of old times”)

"Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind ? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne ? -

CHORUS: For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne. And surely you’ll buy your pint cup ! and surely I’ll buy mine ! And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Old Lang Syne - 19th century


We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine ; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine ; But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend ! And give us a hand o’ thine ! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne."

For the full lyrics go here:

Some cultures believe that what you do on the first day of the New Year will set your agenda for the year ahead… “So be happy - do what you enjoy most - be with the people that you love…”

I have a friend, who for many years hosted a New Years morning hike from his home to the top of a high ridge overlooking the Livermore Valley – The guests – perhaps 20 - carried back packs with delicious foods to share – there were crisp fresh bread – cheeses – pate – cakes - fruit and nuts, cookies – and a few bottles of icy cold Champaign… This was my favorite way to start the new year – not is some dank banquet hall with a “too loud” band and “rubber chicken” as the entre - but out in the open sunlight of a New Year. Actually this traditional hike took place, rain or shine, with sometimes freezing conditions, and sometimes foggy mist...but we hoped for sun. So after our fine morning picnic we would all troupe back to my friend’s house where there was a large pot of Mulligatawny soup and an oak fire in the fireplace to warm our bones… It was a jolly group.

Mountains in the rain

My wife’s parents lived for several years high in the coastal mountains – One New Years day – after a fine big meal, and a good time together I decided that since it was a lazy afternoon, I would go for a walk down the mountain track – even though it was blowing such a gale that the trees were thrashing wildly and the rain was blowing up the mountain slope.

The muddy track was negotiable – and I made it to the stream in the valley – but it was no stream – it was a fierce roaring torrent from the rain. It was all wonderfully wild –I loved it! And then I slipped and slid my way back up the hill.... back to a slow crackling fire and people that I love.

Corn Husk Panorama

This time of year in Mexico, New Years celebrations take a back seat to “El Dia de Los Reyes” – the day of the Three Kings… According to the Mexican tradition it is on January 6 that they remember the arrival of the three Magi arriving with gifts for the Christ child.

Street Market - Oaxaca

And what is more important for every Mexican child it is also the day for Christmas Season gift giving to children… gifts are not generally exchanged between adults at Christmas – but lavish street fairs proceed the Day of the Kings, so that toys can be seen and purchased.

Carved radish figures

The week between Christmas and New Year is also the week when elaborate panoramas are constructed completely out of over-grown radishes and corn husks– they create whole kingdoms, villages, churches, and market place scenes only of radishes…

Radish guitar player

My Japanese friends, and some other Asian people in our community celebrate New Years day as the most important day of the season. There is generally a gathering of family with special foods and gift giving.

Hear the rhythm? - Pounding mocha rice!

One of the special foods that I dearly love is Mochi rice – traditionally made by boiling a special high gluten rice until soft then hammering into a wooden pestle by two men with large wooden hammers– the trick is that they set us a rhythm and a third man has to reach in between the hammer blows to center the mochi … it takes real coordination….

Finished Mochi cakes - these filled with red bean paste

This is continued until the mocha is very smooth and can be formed into dumplings. These days they use an electric mocha maker that makes wonderful mocha – but it lacks the ceremony of before…

Thai Temple - Fremont CA

Judy and I have visited the local Thai Buddhist temple on New Years Day– where it is possible to see traditional dancing and to eat delicious foods. It is interesting that many Asian people celebrate both the Western New Year and the Asian New Year is February 3 – the date varies from year because it is determined by the cycle of the moon.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best Holiday wishes

I wish you a time of Peace and Joy, as you celebrate Christmas, Hannakah, Winter Solstice, or Winter Break!!

I wish for you quiet times for reflection and remembering, time with good friends and family, good food and good cheer, time for good adventures (that which nourishes you!)...


My Christmas presents for you are two video clips, while not exactly on a Christmas theme are appropriate to the season:

Lux Aurumque - always inspires me...!
The choir members did not meet, but were able to hear the same music and saw the conductor on screen... their vocal parts were combined electronically to create the choir... You get to see their faces...

My second video if a bit of a Déjà vu experience

Here is a clip from the 1940 Charlie Chaplin movie - "The Great Dictator"
In this season where we often hear the wish of "good will toward man" the message seems especially relevant and poignant

Friday, December 16, 2011

Notes: 12/15/11

Photos this week are from a Christmas trip to Oaxaca Mexico...

Oaxaca Central Plaza ( Zocolo) at night

1. My first awareness of music was limited by what was available on Radio WIBW in Topeka Kansas. The popular music of the time was choppy fast swing rhythms, mostly on the themes of love and loss. My Mother didn't particularly like this music and when a music station opened at Kansas University at Lawrence Kansas – this became her daily companion as she worked at home. By indirect exposure I learned to appreciate a range of European music – Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky… I learned to recognize different music forms and time periods of music. Some classical music I still enjoy, although over the years my taste has become both wider and my choices more definite.

Providing music to help the making of Atole - My ex student Bruce Doctor

My favorite classical music is mostly in the form of such composers as Dvorak, Smetana, Mahler, Stravinsky, and Copland. In my college years I encountered other forms of music that I have come to love. Music of the people – southern roots blues, old time country singers, Cajun music, Pacific Island Slack Key, Appalachian blue grass music… This music is alive, it is the music of people having a good time together, people sharing their traditions, enjoying each others company.

A modern Aztec playing Christmas music

Travelling has opened me to world music – the slightly atonal music of the Balkan countries, Greek Rubetica, Turkish, Syrian, North African music from Arabic music traditions, Asian music lacking the themes and melodies of western music is based on the natural sounds of nature, the rich and varied styles of African music, Music of Central Asia designed for playing in small enclosed yurts, Mexican Ranchera music, Horocho, Banda, and Tuna… One way to undertand a people is to listen to their music.... making music seems to be something all of us humans do... early musical instruments have been found even with Cro Magnan human remains. There are some forms of music I just dont relate to...I don’t particularily enjoy Opera (with a few exceptions), nor do I like most electric guitar music, nor most of the ever changing forms of trendy popular music, also I just dont relate to jazz.

At a Manos de Vida gift giving for poor children in one of the barrios of Oaxaca

These days, as I am commuting on Bay Area freeways, I have my favorite music sources... One day it may be a 14th century brass and organ composition, and the next I may listen to Muddy Waters followed by Russian Orthodox polyphonic singing or I may find simple gospel tunes,. It may be The Rite of Spring or Johnnie Cash… We have a variety of listener supported stations in our area that supprise me each day with their varied offerings.

The season of light in the darkness

2. In case you are wondering why the Occupy movement continues to grow…read there 3 clips from news sources this week

The New York Times reported last week that among the middle class, median household incomes fell last year to levels last seen in 1996. Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.

And in new signs of distress among the middle class, median household incomes fell last year to levels last seen in 1996.

Economists pointed to a telling statistic: It was the first time since the Great Depression that median household income, adjusted for inflation, had not risen over such a long period."

We had dinner one evening at her home with our Manos friends

And what has happened to our friends in the top 1%? ( from the Christian Science Monitor ) "Average after-tax income for the top 1 percent of U.S. households almost quadrupled, up 275 percent, from 1979 to 2007, the Congressional Budget Office found. For people in the middle of the economic scale, after-tax income grew by just 40 percent in the same time period. Those at the bottom experienced an 18 percent increase.

Lawmakers and presidential candidates are mulling overhauling the tax code — some propose a flat tax that critics say could magnify the income gap."
Read there full article here:

A colony of displaced mountain village people squatting on the outskirts of Oaxaca

Both sides are talking about taxes as one of the solutions: ( Williamette Weekly) "Despite skyrocketing incomes, the federal tax burden on the richest 400 has been slashed, thanks to a variety of loopholes, allowable deductions and other tools. The actual share of their income paid in taxes, according to the IRS, is 16.6 percent. Adding payroll taxes barely nudges that number.

"Compare that to the vast majority of Americans, whose share of their income going to federal taxes increased from 13.1 percent in 1961 to 22.5 percent in 2007.

Lots of other people live tax-free, too. Donald Trump’s tax records for four years early in his career show that he paid no taxes for two of those years. Big real-estate investors enjoy tax-free living under a 1993 law President Clinton signed. It lets “professional” real-estate investors use paper losses like depreciation on their buildings against any cash income, even if they end up with negative incomes like Trump. "

And to top it off we have a vast system of lobbyists spending huge amounts of money to buy influence with those who should be addressing the problem... The top 1% will be happy as long as nothing happens to upset their good deal!

Disturbing! - it came out this week that some of the big players in financial circles are funding a program to discredit the Occupy movement - watch for signs of a PR program in the months ahead...

You have heard about supply side economics - but do you understand how well it works ; Please read this to learn:

3. La Nina ("the little girl”) is playing a joke on us this year… "La Nina" is a weather pattern brought about because the surface ocean temperature along the central south American coast is made lower than normal by 3–5 °C, due to fluctuating wind patterns that cause cold water to rise to the surface. This brings about changes in world wide weather patterns… Most La Nina years bring Southern California dry winters, the Pacific NW usually gets more rain, and the central northern California region can go either way.

Dry skies!

Last year was also La Nina and we had record rainfall. For us it depends on the chance occurrence of a “pineapple express” pattern… in January and February we sometimes get a whole series of intense warm rainstorms from Tropical waters from our southwest ocean. That can give us the bulk of our rainfall for the year in a few days time. But for now, after one moderate rainfall in October, we have had virtually none since. I still have to water my garden.

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