Sunday, September 27, 2009

and they put you on the day shift.

Obama says we should have more.

Hawaii State teachers' union is content with less.

This is the first time I have ever felt that private--probably Catholic--schools may be the best choice.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Sword and the Scalpel
(Morning after Autumnal Equinox)

Now I remember why I gave up on network television. Watching an interesting program with commercial interruptions is like walking through a gallery that assaults you with advertising billboards between the fine art. Distracting and shameless.

While watching the season opener of House, I began to have a wild feeling, like Chu Zhaonan (Vincent Zhao Wen Zhou), caressing the hilt of his sword and trying to restrain himself from unleashing its power:

I'm going to have to figure out where to download House sans advertising, or wait until the DVDs come out.

So House is in and out of the institution, where he confronts the concept of compromise with the system to get his own life in order. And don't we all.

It's the same conflict in Seven Swordsmen: Chu/ZWZ kills all the people he was trying to save from the evil establishment and destroys his own self in the process. It's hubris, stuff of tragedy. House and Chu are both trying to overcome it. I have yet to see who really succeeds. (I think we already know hardly anyone really does, as seen in Greek tragedy,the Bible and Shakespeare.)

Last night I left Chu at the Buddhist Temple where he is trying to come to grips with what he did (while the girl whose love for him was unrequited is arriving with a sword to avenge her father, who was accidentally killed when Dad fell on Chu's blade. But of course in these things -- soap operas, really --no one learns the truth until too late, if ever.) I have a feeling House will be back at Mayfield at some point; it seemed too simple last night (or it was the commercial interruptions). I have yet two more commercial free episodes with the Swordsmen; I'll watch them tonight; unfortunately I know what happens. There is more hope, for House.

And yes, there was blood spurting out of mouths in both shows.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


One of the advantages in watching subtitled videos is learning a little something about a foreign language, so I have been engaging in a wuxia extravaganza, partly to train my ear and pick up a few useful phrases in Mandarin. By relying on subtitles, I can catch lots of ways to say hello, thanks, goodbye, all right, not all right, some counting, an occasional obscenity and so on.

But subtitles themselves can be quite entertaining. A few months ago, I enjoyed an old Chow Yun-Fat movie, where he was being advised as an American CIA operative not used to peasant fare, that he needn't eat the unsavory food being offered; he said, in the subtitle, "I'm not worried. I've eaten a lot of INEVITABLE food." Needless to say, he was puking in the next scene.

Which brings me to my most recent amusement, the 39-episode TV series of Seven Swordsmen, produced by Tsui Hark, and probably what he really had in mind for "Seven Swords (Chat Gim)," his elegant but choppy movie that was cut down from four hours to two-and-a half. Unless you know the book it's based on, the plot and the character development seem a little sketchy.

In the more developed, if less extravagant, TV series, Vincent Zhao Wen Zhou (Man-Cheuk Chiu, his Cantonese name, which means I think, Man Chicks Drool Over), playing Donnie Yen's character from the movie, goes on a search for food for his hobbity band of swordsmen, becoming a little distracted in the inn by an exotic dancer after all those ascetic years in the mountains. He orders take-out: a jug of wine and some GLUTTONOUS rice. His hungry buddies from Mount Heaven are delighted. Sticky rice is certainly far from inedible!

Vincent continues to be charmed by the dancer and later rescues her from a slave sale. In the movie, she was Green Pearl, Donnie Yen's counterpart Korean exile. In the TV series, Green Pearl appears to be a Kashmiri expat. I guess I'll have to read the book to find out what's really going on. I'm expecting inevitable gluttony.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Reviewing the current "line-up" of available "Standard Service" channels in the updated brochure that came with my new cable converter, I see that in addition to the usual networks, shopping channels, news channels, sports channels, weather channels, science channels, soap channels, and history channels (all Hitler, all the time), we have The Pentagon Channel. What could that possibly be? Maybe something IS on.

No CIA, NSA, or NRO channel, though. Now there's a premium package that might be worth it! Think of the potential for reality TV.

You can learn a lot about American values by reviewing a list of available television. No CCTV though. But I sorta wish. They probably have a kung fu/wu xia channel. Now that I think of it, every time I turned on the TV in China the past couple years--all of four or five times in Hong Kong, Beijing or Xian hotels--there was some swordplay drama in progress, with commercials advertising TCM --and I don't mean Turner Classic Movies. Or the bizarre Chinese Idol program called "Dancing With Wolves." And a morning business news program about capitalism with socialist characteristics with reports about environmentally responsible packaging of mooncakes, scandals in the quantity labeling of instant noodles, and new
universal zoning regulations (land reform, again?). The commentator closed with the ambiguous remark to viewers, "Thank you for your company."

As an aside here, I share my view of the big new CCTV headquarters, the strange yin/yang engineering marvel/disaster as it was going up in Beijing in '07 (at right), completed just after the '08 Olympics.

I'm old enough to remember TV when we got only two channels (a yin and a yang), colloquially referred to not by their call letters, the number on the dial, or their network affiliation. One, the CBS outlet, was known by the name of the local bourgeois dynasty that owned it, "Gable's," the family who also owned a radio station and the local department store (and perhaps today, Gable's Cable). Probably just as well: the call letters, WFBG (the initials of the dynasty's patriarch), were interpreted by juvenile delinquents as an obscene acronym which I won't explain here. (Needless to say, WFBG radio was not the one that played rock and roll.) The other channel, an NBC station (WJAC), was identified by its city of origin, Johnstown (of flood infamy), but you needed more than rabbit ears to get that one from my hometown. Deprivation was knowing that the Saturday cartoons you really wanted to watch were on Johnstown, not Gable's, but they came in fuzzy and Dad was still sleeping so couldn't fiddle with the antenna. It was a really revolutionary thing, in so many ways, even more than color, when we finally had access to a third channel, the "educational" station out of State College/Penn State University.

Now you just have to pay a cable bill or install a satellite dish to extend your television viewing options. I see reading the finer print it's not completely clear that I actually get the Pentagon Channel. I'll have to tune in just to find out. And, I really do want to see exactly who the sponsors are!

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Is that a question?

In a quandary corollary to my uninstalled car radio, yesterday I returned a broken converter to our cable TV provider. For some weeks it hasn't been working right, and as a consequence, the TV hasn't been used. But, since we are paying for the service, and I have a burning desire to see the first episode of House, M.D. on the 21st, I collected the box, having untangled it from a mess of cables and wires that are evidence that the shoemaker's family goes shoeless. I usually depend on my in-house IT expert to do these things. The tangled pile of cables and wires included odd wall warts that related to no existing device, attached to an unplugged-in power strip. Clearing the mess didn't make the cable box work. It is broken, possibly fried in the last big power outage we suffered.

Anyway, that's what I told the cable folks when they asked what was wrong. "How should I know? It doesn't work."

While at the headquarters, I was enchanted by a huge HD screen that was playing lovely video postcards of Hawaii flora and beach scenes, interspersed with satellite images of Mexico and Finland. "Is that a promo or a channel," I asked. "I could watch that all day long," forgetting of course, that I can look at images like that with my own eyes off my own lanai any time.

"It's Digital 1000," the customer service rep told me. "You can get it if you have HD." Which I don't. I have a $250 19-inch color set in the bedroom and an even smaller one in the living room. Channel 1000 made it look worthwhile to spend all that money, thousands of dollars, on one of those big displays that assault you on entering Costco. I could get several more MacBook Pros for the price of one of them. The first time I saw one of those screens in action, all I noticed was how clumpy the newscaster's mascara was.

We reconnected the new cable box and it works just fine, does all the things my basic service says it should. I turned on CNN for about 10 minutes this morning and then turned it back off. So much inanity. Stories about murdered school coaches, flu vaccines, health care/insurance debates, a successful teen tennis star turning pro. I suspect the TV will go untouched again until the House movie.

The Wizard of IT NEVER turns on the TV, not that he doesn't spend a lot of time looking at screens. He surfs the web as much as any couch potato with a TV remote control. But I have come to understand that he will do that because he exercises internal control, picking and choosing on the net. Theatre movies (he won't go, too loud) and broadcast TV are too passive for him. It doesn't quite explain how he tolerates the opera. I suppose because it is broken up into acts, allowing him to jump on his Blackberry in the intermissions. The individual acts are just non-virtual sites he chooses to visit for a while.

Anyway, I'm regarding the TV now a little like a recovered Vicodin addict might regard a vial of pills. If I turn it on, I'll get hooked again. It will be a challenge. Gotta watch out for the TV God. Gotta watch House.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Rather than doing anything really important or productive over the Labor Day weekend, I indulged excessively in video entertainment. I had the complete Season 5 of House, M.D, to finish (can you watch just one episode at a time? I like to watch ALL the DVD episodes, the whole season, pretty much back-to-back, once a year, commercial free) and a number of wuxia/kung fu movies, featuring Vincent Zhao Wen Zhou and Tiny Tony Leung.

How they compare and contrast:
  1. They all feature a lot of blood spurting out of mouths, frequently, but as a result in House you're more likely to end up with a lumbar puncture, not quite so severe as impalement on a sword.
  2. In wuxia, medicine is usually some gooey paste, a foul tasting herbal concoction, or swift jerking of limbs back in place. No MRIs and diagnoses of Cushing's, Wegner's, amyloidosis or lupus.
  3. I actually worked for a guy once who looked exactly like House, but he was not so...hyper-rational (or as Season 6 hints, mentally ill; I will try to remember to tune in to the 2-hour Season Premiere of the only TV program I watch anymore, but not usually on TV); and I still work with some guys who look not unlike Tony and Vincent. Still, none of them are diagnosticians or kung fu masters...that I know of.

But now I have a new idea to integrate wu xia and Western medicine. (If CCTV hasn't already thought of it. ) A TV Series, Kung Fu Doc. (Or at least an interesting House storyline.) In Wudang, I had a hard time taking seriously the TCM prescriptions of this guy who looked exactly like Jackie Chan. He can star in the series! Here is his hospital. Enter at your own risk.

And it came to me as I awoke this morning (9/10, after reviewing House's hallucinatory end-of-season episode last night) that there is a fourth compare and contrast. Both genres explore the distinctions and connections between body and spirit, the material and the non-material, to say nothing of plots involving opioids. I would love to see House be cured of his pain and doubt by a Taoist master (preferably played by Vincent Zhao) projecting qi (energy). Or maybe Wilson could take up qigong; he seems most open to these things.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


Early Evening Full Moon at My Door

Not only did I count five kolea this morning on my way out of my complex, rushing to a dentist appointment (I mean to say, I was going to the dentist, birds don't have teeth), but I was most cheered by having received in the mail last night a magazine with the announcement of a wonderful tour to Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Wudang, focusing not only on qigong and Taoism, but Chinese art and culture. In May 2010. Sign me up! Something to plan. And to places I have not been before, except Wudang (to which I will happily return).

Could it be the full moon? My rock fever is diminishing. Sometimes one fever cures another. That sounds like something House, M.D., would suggest.

And the thing that makes this post kind of yin is having spent two hours in a dentist's chair this morning. Well, there should be no toothaches to expect while in China. My dentist is the most wonderful, but like several of his species I have observed, he has a second life, something he would really rather be doing. My dentist is a performing stage magician. Really. I sometimes think he might, with a great flourish, pull a rabbit out of my mouth, or a lot of silk scarves from my throat. He put his way through dental school with magic gigs. I know this because I first heard of him in Pittsburgh (the Pitt dental school produces the great dentists when it comes to chairside manner). I had a reference when I came to Hawaii and he has been taking care of my teeth for decades now. Needless to say, you never see needles or scary things going in your mouth. Sleight of hand goes a long way in dentistry.

On another note, as one of my readers points out, "Nature always wins." There are interesting sprouts on the vandalized shrubs. Since yet another reader is observing this regrowth with me, here is the current state of affairs. Although, the regrowth is kind of weird, really.

Sprout Sprouting

Not Completely Aesthetic