Happy Belated Commemorations!

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything to this list. So many commemorations and holidays have slipped by!  But I don’t want to let myself out of my self-imposed quarterly responsibility.

So Happy Belated Halloween! 33 kids stopped by my door to demand candy.  Happy Belated Armistice/Veterans Day! My father and brother-in-law are both celebrated.  Happy Belated Singles Day! (11/11the big shopping day in China). And Happy Belated Journalists Day (in China) to celebrate Chinese journalist friends — Li, Liu, Han, You, and Du!

Health Update

My right leg is twisting counterclockwise towards the position it should have had all along. This is a long term project, involving physical therapy, traditional Chinese medicine and more. Progress is slow, as it involves reshaping some large muscles (through exercise). It’s also painful. Yes, adventures in pain continue!!!  But never as bad as last winter.

Boating on Lake ChabotI circumnavigated Lake Chabot last week (9 miles or 15 kilometers including some hills), and then paid for it with three days of soreness and exhaustion. Next time I’ll have to stretch more, I guess.

It was worth it, though. I can walk downhill more confidently, probably because my leg muscles now pull in the right directions.  A healthy body may still be possible!!  I’m planning on walking more so I’m not so knackered the next time I find myself at Lake Chabot.  Thanks in advance for your prayers.

The Reunion

Earlier this fall my high school class held its fiftieth reunion. Reunions are always surreal. Everybody kind of assumes that you’re the same person as back then. Maybe some are. But with little contact, who’d ever know? I stopped attending after the 25th, as they didn’t seem relevant to my life. But this year was going to be the final time, since the planning committee had finally gotten burned out from organizing them.

I’m glad I went. By the time I’d returned from China, most of my social support system in California had melted away and “doors” kept closing and still are closing.  I seemed isolated in a winter of change. The class reunion functioned like a transplantation, rooting me in my original ground so, as spring arrives, I can branch out in new directions.

Former Nando Court ResidentsThis picture from the reunion shows folks who, as children, shared my same block on Nando Court, including Mark Hedlund, my best friend from primary school.

Our high school class had about 400 members. About 130 showed up to the reunion. About 60 failed to show because they no longer counted themselves among the living.  That was sobering.

More Reunions

Schafer Park old staffI also had a reunion of sorts with many of my old colleagues from Schafer Park school. It was wonderful to see them again and also to see the many kids that they now have.

Playing MousetrapI also had a reunion with my old Tianjin colleague Lonnie, who brought the kids and wife along. My friends Karen and Jim lent us some vintage games to keep the kids entertained — Mousetrap and Operation. I had no idea that those games still existed.

Telephone scams

This topic has been nagging for years, since it keeps bugging me. Are these anything like yours?

This first one claims to be from Medicare, but in fact, they’re fishing to record me saying “yes,” which could in turn be used to impersonate me elsewhere on the phone system.

The second one claims to be from a computer support company. They’re hoping to find someone who doesn’t realize that nobody in their household contracted such support:

But most “robo-calls” that come to our “land line” leave no message. Three years ago, there’d be about six or eight of these a day — sometimes up to ten.  Gradually these have decreased. Now there are only one or two a day – sometimes up to four.  Sometimes none. I might actually start answering the land line phone again.

Power Plays

So a couple weeks ago I filled my freezer with plastic containers full of ice, because my electricity was going to be turned off for a few days, and I didn’t want the food to spoil. Well, it wasn’t turned off here, but starting up the hill and across wide areas of the state, it was.

We have a monopoly power company so bad that Hollywood made a movie about it in 2000. (called Erin Brockovich) with a famous star (Julia Roberts).  The movie did not reform the company. Ten years ago, an explosion caused by its failure to maintain gas lines killed people near San Francisco. Still it deferred  maintenance, even while paying its executives and stockholders billions of dollars. Last year, their equipment sparked and caused the largest fires in our history, so a judge ordered them to stop paying themselves and to perform maintenance.

But it’s too much maintenance to complete in a year. So when dry winds blew last month, the company simply turned off the electricity to prevent sparks, leaving millions without power. It should take ten years to fix the problems, so I expect this to happen again, and I’m honestly not sure what I need to do to prepare.

Immigrant Child Update

Having written about immigrant kids before, I want to update. Good information is hard to find.  I looked at various sets of numbers, though, which indicate that the policy of separating children from their families at the border is still active, despite court orders to stop it. <sigh> It’s hard when one’s own country acts so shamefully by endangering children.

Indeed, the people now running the country are the most mean-spirited, self-dealing,  secretive and uncooperative group of authoritarians that I could imagine here.  They even attack the structure of government itself, hollowing out and disrupting departments, either neutering their effectiveness or changing the rules to give more to private for-profit giant companies.  And they are bruising our long-standing alliances around the world. This crisis is like none other in my lifetime.

The super-rich benefit, of course. In fact, I think income inequality is what fuels it all, coupled with a divide-and-conquer strategy that runs largely along ethnic lines.  Well, the super-rich have taken charge, to an extent I’ve never seen. Sometimes it seems that not a single ideal from the stable Nando Court middle class which I grew up in has not been betrayed.

Andreas Gampert

Andreas and RoommatesBy the way, I am sometimes accused of taking an interest in politics. The first person ever to bring that up was my German friend Andreas. That’s him with the beard and white jacket, standing in his kitchen with some of his college roommates in Bonn, a very long time ago.

He once arranged for me to attend a “Never War Again!” event held in the Dortmund sports stadium. It was a gathering of the youth wings of all the labor unions in the Ruhr area on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the Germans starting war in Europe.

Poster for anti-war event in Dortmund It was really quite interesting to see tens of thousands of German youth gathered together for such an occasion with no government involvement at all. Unfortunately my German language abilities were pretty rudimentary back then.

Andreas was a very principled man. A conscientious objector, he discharged his military obligations by serving in a psychiatric hospital for several years. His own interest in politics led him eventually to Nicaragua, where he worked to end the rule of Anastasio Samoza.  I count myself lucky to have known him, even though his parents told me that he was their “problem child.” But he was wrong about my interest.

Spending Time Thinking about Things

My own interest is in societies and how they function (or not) in the first place. This interest led to my focus on cultures and ethnicities. As for how this applies to our present peril, which I can’t claim to completely understand, I recently read an article in The Atlantic that mirrors a lot of what I would have to say.  It’s here.

Videos that I’ve followed

Lindsay Ellis loves to analyze popular movies and literature and put it all on video. I enjoy her work because of my own “Movie Night” proclivities (I enjoy talking about movies more than actually watching them), and also because she reminds me of somebody whom I really cared about a long time ago, right down to the rapid clip of her speech.

Anyway, one recent sample of Lindsay’s work can be found here, and another (on PBS) can be found here. One commentator stated that just watching her essays made him smarter.

Last month, at another venue, she presented a dangerous real-life off-topic that threatens society world-wide.  It’s worth consideration, and can be seen here.

On a more positive note, and speaking of public broadcasting, I’m still impressed with National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk concerts. Occasionally even music superstars take a turn at the Desk, to show a different side than we’re used to. Such was Taylor Swift‘s performance, seen and heard on the NPR site here.

A superstar for the older set, David Crosby, has developed his music beautifully since his Crosby, Stills and Nash days. His Tiny Desk set from three months ago is also on the NPR site here. Performing with him is Michael League on guitar.

Mike is the leader and bass player for Snarky Puppy, a North Texas jazz band which advances new musical ground in the grand jazz tradition. My favorite Snarky Puppy tune is Kite, seen here. Even more famous is Lingus, seen here. Lingus is famous for the improvised solo taken by keyboardist Cory Henry, which starts at about 4:20.

A long-standing jazz tradition is to study and assimilate master-crafted solos.  Did any younger musician have the stature and accomplishment to inspire such study? Well, Cory Henry has. His Lingus solo is analyzed by  composer David Bruce here. Jacob Martin copied it all out note for note here.  Renan Gerstenberger learned it on keyboard here.  Matt Menefee plays it on banjo here.  Igor Pererodov plays it on alto saxophone here. Joakim Berghäll plays it on a variety of instruments here.

Cory Henry grew up playing the organ in church. He has not forgotten those roots. Here he is improvising an arrangement of Amazing Grace on the piano.  Naturally somebody transcribed that, too.

Reflection

As so often happens, I wrote far more than I’d planned when I sat down.

I began writing to this list while still in China. The platform helped me process the new (to me) Chinese society while staying accountable to its members. That’s why Chinese people are on the list. And as a stranger in a strange land, I also needed “moral support” from readers.

I still need the platform and support here, much more than I ever thought I would, and mostly for the same reasons.  That’s why I’m so grateful to those who write back to me.

Andreas in PortugalWhen I visited Andreas in Germany, I taped talk shows off the radio so I could practice listening later at home.

One show discussed Heaven and Hell. Hell was like guests sitting at a banquet, tables smothered in food. But nobody ate because the forks were all too long to hold in the hand and bring near the mouth simultaneously.

Heaven, it turns out, was exactly the same, but the guests used their long forks to feed each other. I can still hear the words precisely — “sie füttern sich gegenseitig.” I think this view is right. And it’s the only way to finally solve the predicaments that we, as a world-wide community, presently suffer.  But I don’t really know how to bring it about.

Downy WoodpeckerAnyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ll end with a Downy Woodpecker, spotted here in the back yard. I never saw such a bird in this neighborhood when I was young.