Going Bamboo

Going bamboo in lower Manhattan
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Have you ever watched belly dancing? Professionals, that is? Well, even if you have here are some tips.

But first, some caveats. I’m not talking about the people who do it for fun or exercise, or both. This is a great idea and good luck and best wishes to them. In a way, this is a bit about them, since they are the ones who will end up appreciated.

When you happen to be in a place where some sort of commercial belly dancing performance is taking place, it doesn’t take long to notice a number of things. Maybe I’m jaded, having seen a lot of these, but even so. This latest one was in a club up on 21st street. First off, the dancers are weighed down by a series of remarkably similar musical selections that show exceptional ineptitude and a complete lapse of judgment. I am assuming that they think they are being innovative by picking some sort of modern rock’n'roll but the fact that all of them did this should have given them a clue. On top of the bizarre music choices we were then treated to the usual pretentious display of body gyrations that are neither sexual nor interesting, yet show a remarkable degree of self-absorption and conceit. Belly dancing shouldn’t be taken literally, first of all, it’s about a dancer moving her belly not about the belly continuing to vibrate all by itself. Secondly, belly dancing doesn’t automatically make you cool, attractive, better, smarter, or guarantee you a win in the lottery. Get over yourself, already. So, is there an upside? Yes, there is!

So, how does one enjoy this spectacle? Watch the crowd. Somewhere in the back, you will find a group of women who, thinking themselves relatively unobserved, will give themselves over to the music and proceed to put on a display of their own. This is what you want to watch. They are usually better than the pros. They are spontaneous, engaged, and enthusiastic. Completely worth the trip. Cheers to the anonymous dancers in the back. :) Good show.

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Observed in Trenton

I was sitting on the train the other day. This is a common occurrence since I live in both DC and NY and travel back and forth every week. Riding through Trenton I saw something that I have seen many times before and now, armed with a pointless blog, I can share. It is a bridge that has some kind of official Trenton slogan written on it. When I say written, I am referring to huge (many times larger than a person) welded steel letters, running along one side of the bridge. Now add lots of obnoxious neon. They are pretty serious about this slogan, apparently. It says, “Trenton makes — the world takes.” Now, is it just me, or does Trenton sound really bitter?

Check it out: Shout your resentment out to the world.

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Is it too early for a rant?

Since this is only my second real post here, is it too early for a rant? It probably is, but this is something that has caused me to growl at people, advertisements, various cuddly animals, and my reflection in the mirror when no bystander was available. This actually started a while ago, so let me yell it out into the web void, once and for all. Warning, the rant will run off-topic, as usual, and end up nowhere near our starting point.

First, some qualifications. A large portion of my work involves computational linguistics, information retrieval, parsing, and grammar. I also enjoy grammar as a hobby. Yeah, yeah, I know, what a complete nerd (not geek, at least, not until I start biting the heads off of live chickens at side shows or consider myself a fool). These job skills make me rather sensitive to bad grammar and improper usage of the English language, punctuation, etc. Not that I am always perfect, but I try, at least. Unlike many linguists, I appreciate prescriptive grammar, like predicate nominatives, for example, but I deal mostly with descriptive grammar because I eventually have to apply my results to real language. See, I almost placed the word ‘eventually’ before ‘apply’ in the previous sentence (that is known as ’splitting an infinitive,’ like in the beginning of Star Trek where it says ‘to boldly go’), which is frowned upon, although not so much anymore but I am a traditionalist. Can you tell? So my current rant is with the specific and unnecessary mangling of a specific couple of English words in relation to a new fad (a good and, hopefully, permanent fad).

I am speaking of the word ‘organic.’ I will also touch on the word ‘green.’ Let’s start with organic. Here is a paraphrased but actual conversation from a few days ago when I was in a growly mood.

“These tomatoes are organic,” I heard J (no real names, of course) say.

“Of course they are organic, ” I retort. “unless someone constructed that tomato from salt crystals and metal filings, it would pretty much, by its nature, have to be organic.”

“Well, it means that it has been grown without the use of…,” comes the defensive reply, tinged with the determination to explain something to me that poor J seems to think that I have misunderstood.

“I know what the term is intended to convey in current context,” I cut her off, unkindly. Yes, I really talk that way most of the time. Not unkindly, but using unusual words. I am also given to spontaneous alliterations, because they are fun. Yes, I apologized later for being thoughtless and harsh when she certainly didn’t deserve to be the target of my pent up frustrations on this topic. See, I am hoping that a blog like this, even if no one ever reads it, will keep me calmer because I can vent here before I vent to poor J or other innocent co-workers.

“Well, what would you call it, then? ” she reasonably asks.

“Well, I would probably call it ecological. Which isn’t very good either, I realize, but maybe eco-friendly would be the better term. I am not crazy about the word green either. Frankly, if my tomato or, say, my carrots, were classified as green, I wouldn’t recommend consumption. In Denmark (where I am originally from) the term is økologisk which simply means ecological. Either term, however, would be far better than organic, which is a gross misuse of language and is reminiscent of word usage intended to send an emotional message.”

A quick science note here. Gasoline, for example, is composed of several pure hydrocarbons, octane being the main ingredient. It is based on carbon atoms and is therefore an organic molecule. Using the proper and correct definition of the word organic, any car that drives on gasoline is using organic fuel. This is, of course, entirely contrary to the entire idea of ‘organic’ or ‘green’ living. It is a profound example of how profoundly obtuse the use of the term ‘organic’ really is in this context, i.e. it specifically covers compounds and processes that are entirely contradictory to the philosophical ideology of the earth friendly movement and its goal of a more sensible style of living. Anyways, the talk continues…

“I may not have cared about the usage of the term, even though it is grossly inaccurate, since this is for a good cause, if it weren’t for the fact that this type of verbiage happens to be a tool of evil. A tool of evil, you ask? [She didn't ask.] Certainly, but allow me to provide an example. Have you ever heard about a ‘partial birth abortion?’ You probably have. Well, it is a fraudulent term, a euphemism (another term for lie, as far as I am concerned) meant to provoke a negative emotional response. It was coined by the so-called pro-lifers (which is another euphemism for a group that is not pro-life but anti-choice, the proper and more accurate term for that particular group of simpletons). The actual term for the procedure is ‘dilate and extract’ but that reasonable and explanatory phrase just doesn’t outrage the uninformed voters on the fence. People who couldn’t be bothered to obtain factual information so they would end up with an informed opinion, because it is just so much easier when one doesn’t have to think and learn.”

Follow up rant: Language is frequently used as a means of mass control, a control that is only possible because the voting population is no longer informed or well educated (by this latter I mean wise and thoughtful). As such they are easily bamboozled and taken advantage of by the government, lobbyists, and sundry other power mongers. People seem to think that as long as they have the ‘right to bear arms’ then the government will behave. Even Jesse Ventura, whom I otherwise respect, seemed to think this was true on a recent Colbert Show appearance. In the meantime, the government is having their way with the people, the people being bent over the kitchen table, blissfully clutching their guns, being abused by Uncle Sam holding an empty jar of vaseline. Uncle Sam, who has long since figured out the formula for population control. Where did he learn this? Well, part of it came from here:

“Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

Who said the above? That would be Hermann Göring in the Nuremberg Diaries back in 1946 during Nuremberg (Nürnberg) trials. It looks like our government has been learning from the Nazis. Too bad they didn’t bother learning a bit from Machiavelli, a wise and insightful fellow from the renaissance. He has tons of relevant and useful didactic commentary in The Prince. Here are a couple of examples out of many:

Besides this, one cannot by fair dealing, and without injury to others, satisfy the nobles, but you can satisfy the people, for their object is more righteous than that of the nobles, the latter wishing to oppress, while the former only desire not to be oppressed. It is to be added also that a prince can never secure himself against a hostile people, because of their being too many, whilst from the nobles he can secure himself, as they are few in number. The worst that a prince may expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned by them; but from hostile nobles he has not only to fear abandonment, but also that they will rise against him; for they, being in these affairs more far-seeing and astute, always come forward in time to save themselves, and to obtain favours from him whom they expect to prevail. Further, the prince is compelled to live always with the same people, but he can do well without the same nobles, being able to make and unmake them daily, and to give or take away authority when it pleases him.

And there is this section:

Whenever those states which have been acquired as stated have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you. Because such a government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot stand without his friendship and interest, and does it utmost to support him; and therefore he who would keep a city accustomed to freedom will hold it more easily by the means of its own citizens than in any other way.

But when cities or countries are accustomed to live under a prince, and his family is exterminated, they, being on the one hand accustomed to obey and on the other hand not having the old prince, cannot agree in making one from amongst themselves, and they do not know how to govern themselves. For this reason they are very slow to take up arms, and a prince can gain them to himself and secure them much more easily. But in republics there is more vitality, greater hatred, and more desire for vengeance, which will never permit them to allow the memory of their former liberty to rest; so that the safest way is to destroy them or to reside there.

But concerning his subjects, when affairs outside are disturbed he has only to fear that they will conspire secretly, from which a prince can easily secure himself by avoiding being hated and despised, and by keeping the people satisfied with him, which it is most necessary for him to accomplish, as I said above at length. And one of the most efficacious remedies that a prince can have against conspiracies is not to be hated and despised by the people, for he who conspires against a prince always expects to please them by his removal; but when the conspirator can only look forward to offending them, he will not have the courage to take such a course, for the difficulties that confront a conspirator are infinite. And as experience shows, many have been the conspiracies, but few have been successful; because he who conspires cannot act alone, nor can he take a companion except from those whom he believes to be malcontents, and as soon as you have opened your mind to a malcontent you have given him the material with which to content himself, for by denouncing you he can look for every advantage; so that, seeing the gain from this course to be assured, and seeing the other to be doubtful and full of dangers, he must be a very rare friend, or a thoroughly obstinate enemy of the prince, to keep faith with you.

Even after all these years, Machiavelli still has much to teach us, and I highly recommend reading all of it (it is very short) and ponder everything he has to say. His bad rep is entirely undeserved. When you are done, you will know more than the US government seems to. Every problem we are having in Iraq has been outlined and described with examples in The Prince and it comes with solutions, for crying out loud.

Well, that’s enough for this rant. It was a bit early for one of my meandering raves, but they are very infrequent, I hope, and not much fun, I realize. I rest assured that no one has read it or, at least, not read this far.

Julian (feeling much better now)

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Why not start with some food…?

I was wandering around Chinatown, trying to spend my money in a manner that wouldn’t make me feel like an idiot later. I also wanted to buy lunch in such a way that I wouldn’t end up feeling sick later. I decided to go a different route from my usual meandering near Columbus Park and ended up on the south side of Chatham Square, on Henry Street, to be precise. At that exact moment it turned out I needed to be on a conference call, resulting in me standing on Henry Street for about an hour being bored to tears by endless, meaningless chatter, not to mention sticking out like a tall white lighthouse being slowly filled to the brim with uncomfortable, self-conscious awareness. This latter being due to the topic of my first observation, as described below.

Standing there I discovered something weird and something interesting, those being two disparate observations. First, I seemed to have found a section of Chinatown that was devoid of tourists. I realized this when I saw that the usual merchant look of greed covered by a thin veneer of ’smile’ had been replaced by hostile scowls and sidelong glances, measuring the full threat of the white barbarian invasion, namely me. The second observation was a sign that simply said ‘Dumplings’ on it. I eventually, thankfully, ended the phone call and proceeded to enter that modest shop with its slender marketing budget blown on a single word marquee and bought five large steamed dumpling for a dollar! Yeah, yeah, I know, New Yorkers (which now includes me, of course) are unimpressed by this. I think it’s borderline fantastic, so there.

Either way, if you can shake the nagging thoughts popping into your head about a secret kung-fu army (I saw ‘Big Trouble in Little China,’ so I know how it all works) lying in wait to repel the invading horde (you) then you may want to try the dumplings. I had pork and chive dumplings although I suspect that the chive was a leek.


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First post

This is the first post. I am still setting up. I am sure this will be very entertaining, or not, to people not me. Very soon, now…

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