Thursday, October 30, 2008

blessing the White House

this is a wizard who arrives every afternoon at 3:30 on the north side of the white house to conduct a magic ritual. he seems to have a good heart. his discipline is amazing. every day at precisely 3:30 he begins, and times his final segment to land spot-on at 4:00. he draws pentagrams with his umbrella, then walks around the white house to return to the same spot, where he gets out a wooden magic wand to replace the umbrella.

then he draws more pentagrams in the air, walks a smaller circle in lafayette park north of the white house, and then marches off.

he is obviously NOT doing this ritual for the crowds: this is a private affair between him and the spirit of the place.

i am always deeply moved by his focus and dedication.

just behind him you can see the encampment of concepcion and her colleagues. they have had a 24/7 vigil there across from the white house since 1981... really: for twenty-seven years somebody has been at their vigil site twenty-four hours per day! they are trying to make people aware of the dangers of uranium, both as bombs and as a source of energy. their site is full of scary photos of uranium-caused birth defects and wounds.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

MRI test: what i actually did

this looks scarier than it really was. it was crucial that i not move. i got real fidgety after an hour.... some folks get claustrophobic reaction, but i was OK with the tight space. the worst part actually was the hour and more of sentences i had to react to:
the boy is chasing the girl, who is hiding under the desk. the man is listening to the woman tell about her day. the boy whom the girl is chasing is hiding under the desk. the man who is talking to the woman is eating ice cream. and so forth for over an hour....
i had to listen to the sentence and then choose which of the photos i saw portrayed the content of the sentence. the investigators are looking at "embedded" structures and how they are processed.
anyway, when i was done, my brain hurt! and i don't think the magnetism had anything to do with it...

so jed and his cohorts will analyze the pictures of my brain while i was processing this kind of linguistic data, so they can see what is different in the brains of those who suffer speech loss.

and i will get paid a bit for my participation... not much, but it will be more than busfare.


this is my buddy jed standing in front of the MRI machine just before my session. it is LOUD in there! and it is quite a challenge to remain motionless for an hour and more....

Saturday, October 25, 2008

early diwali in DC

to celebrate the inauguration of a new exhibit "garden and cosmos" the Sackler museum (part of the smithsonian museum group) sponsored a series of concerts featuring a fabulous bunch of musicians from rajasthan. i went to four of their concerts in a 24-hour period. what high energy!

the photo in the dark is from a diwali celebration which the musicians performed in the courtyard of the freer museum next door. they played a paripatetic set as if they were strolling from house to house in a village.

the photo on the steps is a mini-puja invoking ganesha's blessings on the artshow and all participants.

Monday, October 20, 2008

an article for a dutch magazine about PEACE

Promoting peace in Washington DC

I have been engaged in a campaign for the last four weeks to convince the voters of the USA to elect Barack Obama as our next president, because he supports dialogue and full diplomatic relations with Iran, while John McCain has threatened military attacks in response to the fear that Iran might be developing nuclear weapons as an extension of their nuclear power project. Obama also favors a quick pull-out from Iraq, and the eventual elimination of ALL the world's nuclear weapons. There is a stark contrast between the promises of the two main candidates for president of the USA with regards to nurturing peace versus threatening war.

My campaign consists largely of my dressing in an Uncle Sam costume and standing in front of the White House, where tourists visit in great numbers with their cameras in hand, ready to take each other's photo. Seeing this festive colourful outfit, many of the visitors take a photo or two posing next to me, so my sign gets recorded into their camera. I urge the tourists to send copies of the photos to all their friends, so many people see the image of Uncle Sam holding a sign supporting Obama, and prominently displaying the "peace sign".

Let me say a few words about the so-called "peace sign". It began its life in 1958 as the symbol of "nuclear dis-armament". In fact it is based in semaphore portrayals of N.D. Holding the two semaphore flags down at 45 degree angle represents the letter "N". holding them straight up and down represents "D". turning the peace sign upside-down invokes the semaphore letter "U" instead of "N" so it calls for UNIVERSAL disarmament, which I think is even better than calling for merely dismantling the nuclear weapons. The man who invented this symbol based it in an image of despair: a Goya engraving of a man about to be executed. Some time after the introduction of the symbol he realized that it ought to be used upside-down to evoke a figure of hands raised up in a gesture encouragement rather than dejection, resignation and despair.

The appearance of the "upside-down peace sign" often invites a brief conversation about the relationship between peace and dis-armament. Many people are pleased to learn about the history of the "peace sign", and of course many are pleased to get the message that Uncle Sam supports peace. I also make a different version of the "peace sign" in every photo I pose for, with two fingers upraised in a V shape. This is a variation of the old "V for Victory" but in this post-modern context, it always means "may PEACE be victorious!".

When people ask me why I support Obama, I reply that my support is based on plans for peace and justice. My first approach to the issue of justice involves a return to the taxation system which was used during the 1950s, when rich people paid more income tax than they do today, and the federal budget was balanced as a result of a just system of taxation. If people are willing to engage in longer conversations, the sub-topics of justice appear: reducing the emphasis on prosecuting recreational use of soft drugs, solving the Palestinian/Israeli problem, environmental justice through green energy programs etc. But first and foremost my support of Barack Obama is based in the peace movement, because if there is a nuclear war, all other issues become moot; and as long as the USA spends more than a third of its economy on military projects, this nation can do little for useful projects.

There are many others in Lafayette Park next to the White House who also campaign for peace and justice using other methods and focusing on other aspects of these issues.

There is one group which has conducted a vigil 24/7 since 1981. Somebody has been in their little encampment every day and every night for twenty-seven years, drawing attention to the dangers of nuclear weapons, "depleted uranium" bullets, and nuclear energy. They, too, are often photographed and their message generates many conversations based on reports of returning tourists.

There are several groups and many individuals who come to the White House simply to pray for the president and the nation. Many hold signs which invite passers-by to pray with them, often requesting prayers for peace.

Quite a few people just wander around Lafayette Park and nearby with signs saying "impeach Bush" or "arrest Bush" or "impeach Cheney first" or the like. One lady plays her shofar in the direction of the White House, and lectures passers-by about how the economic collapse was caused by the USA urging Israel to return part of their land to the Palestinians, and how it is the sacred duty of the USA to protect Israel during the coming Final War. Fortunately rather few people pay attention to her message.

During the past two weeks, the financial crisis has sapped away almost all media attention from the other issues: people are more concerned with money than with foreign policies. During the televised debates, the candidates are asked important questions about foreign policy, but they merely supply stock answers and return to the next round of blame and empty promises relative to the economy.

Fortunately the economic collapse seems to be having a positive effect on the projected outcome of the presidential election, and even many of the Congressional seats. Since the economic policies which produced this financial catastrophe have come mostly from the Republican party strategies, the Democrat party is gaining converts, especially from the wealthy people who have seen much of their fortune evaporate in the collapse of the stock market and related institutions. Current forecasts are for a large gain for the Democrat party, so president Obama will have full co-operation from the legislative branch.

I am personally encouraged by the results of my theatrical vigil: most people smile and say approving words. Many have specifically thanked me for dedicating so much of my time and energy to this project. It is clear that most Americans are ready for a change; most Americans are ready to give peace a chance and turn away from foreign policies based on violence and the threat of violence. It is also clear that the economic crisis is forcing Americans to re-consider the cost of our military interventionism from a purely financial viewpoint, which will also invite more reflection on the immorality of war and the blessings of peace.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

some of my colleagues here in DC

this guy named sam sees it as his duty to come down to the white house every weekend and call for congress to do their constitutional duty: to call a trial of the chief executive for various high crimes and misdemeanors.

these "veterans for peace" staged an occupation of part of the federal archives building. the media reported on their action. no arrests were made. no change in policy. the people practice their freedom of speech; the government practices their freedom to ignore the people. the sign reads "defend our constitution; arrest bush / cheney: war criminals". these guys are serious. they are VETERANS who have experienced the wars first-hand and are calling for justice through criminal prosecution.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

national institute for health wants my brain

starting today I will be participating in an exploration of brain function at the National Institute of Health, where an Esperanto buddy works. actually this is Jed's project: a study of brain function of people who have suffered brain injuries through strokes or concussion. I will be part of a "control" group with normal brain function. this will include a general physical exam and a thorough MRI scan of my brain. then they will investigate all manner of details about my brain function with regard to language processing.

uncle$am in the native american museum

a few days ago i had been working the corridor between the Congressional office buildings ad the Capitol, because the Congress reps have to pass there often. traffic had stopped: the reps had all voted their last vote for the day and had all gone home early. so i wandered down to the Mall, which is where all the Smithsonian museums are. the first one on the path from Capitol hill is the Native American museum. i went in and ascended to the top floor, where there are several exhibits of various tribes and their way of life, especially revealing their spiritual values and cosmology. the recurring theme was "we are still here; our people and our culture have survived". at first i was filled with admiration and wonder at this accomplishment: that so many cultures managed to dodge the bullet of western genocide and suppression; but in the Lakota exhibit, i saw my reflection in a glass, and saw uncle sam here surrounded by artifacts and statements related to this noble people. i suddenly felt a wave of grief and shame. i started crying as a representative of the US which did so much to kill these people and snuff out their culture. i thought about wounded knee and all the battles and massacres which preceded the killing field there. i mumbled "i'm sorry. i'm sorry" although there was nobody there to absolve me of our sins. i wept, and continued to cry as i drifted out of the museum past the display of swords which had been used to hack up native americans in south america, and past the exhibit of all the types of guns which settlers used to hunt and kill the original inhabitants of the New World. my heart is still aching. i don't know what to do about it.