Posted in Miscellany

the world in my eyes

On one fine day, a tiny Bushman in Southern Africa comes upon an empty coke bottle thrown from the cockpit of an airplane to desert sand. Thinking it is a gift from the gods, the man sets out a journey to return it to them. Along the journey, the Bushman encounters a pastiche of humanity in a kaleidoscope of the events he comes upon till he reaches an edge of a high cliff mysteriously enveloped by the rings of clouds and throws the bottle into the deep, exclaiming, “The Gods Must Be Crazy!” As I see now, I am in the chorus with him on the top of the cliff overlooking the world.

Nevermore than now have I witnessed the epic moments of history that appear to be atavistic in terms of nature, motive, and consequence. A convenient way of relating the human tragedies to the scourge of gods and God will only put me on a par with Pangloss, the ever-positive pious philosopher who thinks all is God’s will for the best in the best of all possible worlds. The Taliban chanting the name of Allah in their will, Christians taking pride in being a new chosen people, and other zealots of any religion all have had recourse to their deities and used their belief systems as weapons of dominance over others. From the Coronavirus pandemic that forever changed our ways of life to the collapse of democratic Afghanistan by the Taliban and the devastating effects of Hurricane Ida in Louisiana, I see a phantasmagorical display of people’s faces in sorrow and distress in my mind’s theater.

Following the news about the current situations of Afghanistan and its people links me to the Trojan War, which lasted about ten years with the Greek allied powers destroying Troy in the end. From the burning city of Troy comes Aeneas, a royal warrior who escapes the mayhem with his family, carrying his elderly father on his back, holding his little son’s hand besides. That image is always particularly heartfelt because of the Trojan hero’s humanness, unlike his more glamorous Greek victors. What happened in the past happens now and will always, such as the images of parents passing babies to soldiers across the sharp razor wire two young, Afghans falling from a plane climbing high in the sky, and the lifeless bodies of the young and the old, women and men strewn over the dusty ground outside the airport in the aftermath of suicide bombing.

Back in the States, Hurricane Ida ravaged Louisiana, leaving thousands of people stranded, homeless without power (for about a month from now), and sufficient supplies of sanitation, clothing, and food. They lost everything, and nothing is what they have now. I cannot erase the image of a woman from a news interview who said the hurricane took everything from her family, then breaking into tears. Then there is news about an elderly man viciously attacked by an alligator in a flood presumed dead while his wife took a little boat to get help outside their flooded isolated community. Would the man have been swept away by the rapid stream of the flood? Would the alligator that had attacked the man have returned to him for more? Or would the man knowing or believing that was his end have let himself dissipated into the murky waters?

Is this the same kind of significant feeling of epic moments I am experiencing as what George Orwell should have felt when witnessing the death of a Burmese condemned man on his way to the gallows, the carnage of WWII, and the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War? Orwell posited that one of the reasons he wrote was to record historical moments he was living with his own perspectives and feelings, not necessarily popular or compromising. My intention to write this essay is similar to Orwell’s but more with sheer egotism of getting the heartfelt sorrow off my chest and tears away from my eyes. But I am not so sure if that proves effective with the images still vivid in my mind.

Posted in Miscellany

St Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio

I have recently read an article about how the prosperous presence of wolves reduces the number of deer road-kills because their very predatory sense intimidates their prey, one of which is the deer. Fewer traffic collisions mean fewer government funds to spend on the aftermath of car and traffic accidents from animal crossings. So far, so good. But what about the resolution about protecting livestock from wolves, which has become an economic issue disturbing the farming community? So here are my small suggestions that I deem mutually benefitting people and wildlife by virtue of Charity, Faith, and Hope.

The article continues to support recolonization that the reduction of traffic collisions resulted in economic gains, which outweighed the costs of livestock losses by nearby cattle ranchers whose livelihood feels threatened by their lupine marauders. I remember reading newspaper articles and tweets about ranchers in Washington that the multiplication of wolf population engendered their livelihood and that clamoring for lupine rights outright disregarded human rights to make a living. When I commiserate with the woes of the ranchers at the same time, and also hope best for the great grey wolves, my mind’s eyes see the visceral images of the Maasai in Tanzania and African lions living in co-habitation. The Maasai find the most cost-effective and nature-friendly way of guarding their livestock against the lions by establishing chain-like fencing supported by the thorny African myrrh trees. I am sure the American contemporary can take cues from the Maasai and adapt them to their environment.

I like wolves for their commendable fidelity to spouses and respectful sense of a society that emits from their majestic composure. I also admire the fortitude of cattle ranchers who are vigilant of the livestock their families subsist. Both beasts and men have reasons to live for and kill for. Yet, there should/must be a way of satisfying the needs without losses. Indeed, the medieval Italians knew exactly about the problem, but no more understanding and effectively than St. Francis of Assisi in meeting with the Wolf of Gubbio. Francis admonished him for his terror of fear over the people and made a pact with him publicly at a popular marketplace that if he ceased his predations, people would feed him from their very doors. The Wolf put his paw in Francis’ hand as a gesture of agreement, a sort of beastly hand-shaking. Can I make a wish for the miracle once again in my time? I believe I can, if they or we want to, for sometimes we as part body and part spirit can do beautiful things together.

Posted in Miscellany

Living in the historical moment – the Collapse of Kabul

The Buddhas of Bamiyan Valleys before the destruction by the Taliban

One of the four reasons why George Orwell wrote was to record historical events in his time with a sense of writer’s responsibility to witness the moments for posterity. Imbued with the Orwellian spirit, but more egged on by the concern for the reign of terror, as a citizen of the world, I care to write about the current volatile situation in the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. Now I can see a danger of theocracy in which religion is a leviathan consistency master computer that controls people’s lives and psyches. Religion becomes an authoritarian Big Brother, the Demiurge that plays the absolute moral and ethical being in the mask of profoundly sacred deity leading to hatred of the physical world we live in. In this situation, the beauty of art intrinsic to our human essence is a decadent luxury, expendable to the bargain in the politics of heritage.

The fate of Buddha before the killing

The reinstatement of the Taliban government in present Afghanistan provokes the image of the great Buddha statues located in Bamyan, Afghanistan, until the Taliban obdurately and proudly destroyed in 2003 because the statues were idols opposite the teachings of Allah. The Taliban ignored pleas from the UN, including Islamic countries, that urged them to preserve the world’s treasure of civilization for humanity. The statues of Buddha represented Gandaha art, a wonderous syncretism of Hellenism of ancient Greek culture and Buddhism of Indus Valley civilization. It’s an exquisite synthesis of the West and the East, which tells us that people found a way to cross vast continents and seas and mingled to blossom into a new civilization even a millennium ago. Thanks to the one and only Macedonian Alexander the Great, emblematic of the wise and cultured political and military leader of all seasons, our human civilizations dispersed farther. They prospered further, as evidenced by the now begone great statues of Buddhas built by Bactrians, the descendants of soldiers in Alexander’s army who remained in modern-day Afghanistan by force and perforce and founded Hellenistic Bactria. By the way, there are still the descendants of the ancient Greek forefathers living in the area, even though their cultural expectation in the form of the statues of Buddhas have become mysterious wonders of the ancient world.

The artifact of humanity is gone

I am not condemning the religious whose faith is commensurate with their regard for others because a true believer of any faith is also a good person. The world’s representative religions do not promulgate violence and antagonism, at least not in their sacred texts per se. Still, misinterpretation or over-interpretation of the words have been the seeds of discord in history. I remember Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that you don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person. If you are a Hindu, be a good Hindu, a Muslim, a good Muslim. I wish people of all faiths would take her words to heart. Then we could place the Republic of Heaven on earth.

Posted in Miscellany

ghost whispers

The plain girl who thought she was kept away from all things pleasant and pretty because of a suspected hex cast on her was walking toward the setting sun sinking into the west end of the horizon, smearing the sky with scarlet halos. The sky was burning, burning with a day’s unfulfilled passion, aborted wishes, and ridiculed hopes until a moon and stars appeared from the west and calmed the fiery sky that was still ablaze with shattered dreams. The sky was her heart as though someone with magical power had been watching the poor, plain girl all along, or so she thought.

Nothing miraculous would happen to her by her futile onion alone unless a kindly immortal being made her life merry and worthy of living because the plain girl was heading to her death. So first, through the forest paths out into a field of flowers, then upon the hill overlooking the wavering ocean, she loved so much for its wild, untamable nature that resembled her own.

The moon was full and high now, and the world became alive with spirits and sprites rejoicing the serenity of the night and the silence of the day. The plain girl saw the souls of the dead at sea rise from the tidal waves and walk on the crest of waves toward the mysterious melodies coming from the west of the moon. They all looked enchanted, so she coveted the enchantment and followed the watery paths she believed would lead to meet the Fates and ask them to give her a new fate.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

the world’s oldest musical instrument

A team of scholars has recently reexamined a conch horn discovered around the Marsoulas Cave in southern France, the famous cave art site, and concluded that the conch was more than just an ornamental artifact used for a drinking vessel or any other trivial purpose in Upper Paleolithic Age, aka Old Stone Age, dating from around 17,000 to 12,000 years ago. It was an age when Cro-Magnons, a Homo Sapiens nomadic tribe in western Europe, emerged as formidable hunter-gatherers of reindeers and horses from a new cold and gray prehistoric horizon in the dawn of the ages of man. They were Magdalenian, named after a rock shelter located in the French Pyrenees where the artifacts and human remains were discovered. They left the prehistoric legacy in the form of the Magdalenian conch.

By using a carbon dating system and other state-of-art scientific apparatuses, the scholars posited that the conch horn was a musical instrument to enjoy the prehistoric Magdalenian symphony in the cave. The cause of reason for the hypothesis is a purposefully cut-off apex of the conch horn as if to adjust for blowing and making sounds. In fact, a modern music player tried playing it at its initial discovery and found out that the tunes were ranged close to the notes of C, C Sharp, and D, making it the oldest wind instrument of its kind to this date. Moreover, the conch patterns were similar to those appearing in the pictures of cave walls, which scholars deduced that they were significant in denoting cultural functions in the communes.

However, although the connections between the cave art and the conch horn are intelligent hypotheses, the idea of the conch as a musical instrument doesn’t quite hold water to me. First of all, the image of a conch horn always conjures up the dystopian vision of the boys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. In the story, boys blow the conch whenever they convoke meetings, which usually spring from sinister motives resulting in gloomy consequences. Also, the god of sea Poseidon blows a conch when he heralds his formidable divine presence, shaking the waves of the oceans. The use of the conch was to be more of notification of alarm for political or social events, not of a musical instrument for cultural appreciation. Besides, as aforesaid, a conch is often associated with the sea, unfittingly matched with hunter-gatherers in the mountain or sea-locked regions. Although scholars pointed out that the Magdalenian could travel to the shore and brought a conch as a souvenir, using it as a pastime wind instrument is a bit of stretch, a romantic imagination about the cave people differentiated from ruthless, animalistic, highly advanced kinds of ape.

If the scholars’ educated guess becomes a theory, then the Magdalenian conch horn will be entitled to the first place in the history of musical instruments. But considering the geographical reason and natural tendency related to a conch shell drawn upon historical and literary contexts, the Magdalenian conch shell must have been either a curiously collected souvenir from a trip to the shore or a valuable instrument to call upon meetings in the communes. Also, it could have been a convenient alarm to indicate a sight of animals for a hunt or protection. For melodious variations pleasing even to uncultured ears, the sounds of strings made from the leftovers of hunted animals hung on pieces of wood would be perfect for their hunter-gatherer entertainment.