Friday, June 13, 2014

political people of the people

I just read an article about Hillary Clinton and her money that frustrated me because neither of the quoted team opinions got the issue right. The various facts are that the Clintons didn't start off super-rich, and that they now are, and that they entered the White House after a long period of government service and law practice, and that they didn't have much in savings or investments, and that from November of 92 on it was certain that they'd eventually make millions from book deals and speaking engagements, and that they had tons of legal fees and didn't actually own a house, and on and on — a goulash of extremes that typifies many people's experiences in today's public life. Those extremes in no way typify my life or, probably, yours, but then we're ordinary.

I hate these attempts to seem "ordinary" by emphasizing money problems — just as I hate the modern attempts to smear candidates for not being "ordinary."

There was a time when we wanted our politicians to be people at the top of their game. Rich lawyers are in fact what we need in government. Law is the language of all three branches of government, and expert lawyers make lots of money, in government or out of it.

We should be proud of the country that produced the Bush family, a generations-long dynasty of super-rich people who have a family ethic of public service; and that produced the Clintons, born into middle-class and lower-class obscurity but with hard work and drive made it to the the top. People on Team Red and Team Blue have a great time deriding one or the other — and often switching opinions to fit team jersey as candidates (humble-origin Nixon and Reagan, landed gentry Carter, poor-smart-kid Obama, patrician Bushes, married-into-money McCain and Kerry) come in and out — but that derision only hurts us, I think.

It would be great to get rid of the corruption and collusion that so damages our commonwealth, and it would be great to get rid of opportunistic politicians who go through phony put-on antics every election season. But it would also be great for us, the voters, to be big enough to get past team jersey and be thrilled that America has produced such a variety of success stories.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

instinct and wind instruments

Clara is trying to play my melodica. First, I blow into the mouthpiece and encourage her to play the notes. They toot in little random toots. Then, inevitably, she goes for the intriguing mouthpiece and tries to blow into it herself.

Once or twice, she succeeds — at first. Then, very soon after that, she stops blowing and starts vocalizing, "uh... uh... uh... uuuuuh...," into it, with the mouthpiece just sitting in her open mouth.

I was puzzled at how this development went backward, and has done so a few times, until now all she does is the vocal sounds. Then I remembered the pigs.

A while back, when places had window displays, a bank thought it would be cool to have one with live pigs depositing money into piggy banks. They trained the piggies the way you train piggies: by rewarding them with food. Every time they deposited coins, some food was released. (At a rate of tuppence a bag, I'm guessing?)

This worked for a while, but then eventually the piggies started just nuzzling the coins. A puzzlement, until figured out that the piggies were rooting at the coins. They were digging at them, the way they dig for food. So, the training that gets them to associate food with depositing those coins properly eventually goes so deep that they associate the coins themselves with food and promptly start rooting uselessly at them.

Thus the question of instinct versus culture is answered. (Partially.)

So, I figure this is what's happening with Clara. She knows how to blow, and she blows and gets sound, and then, associating the making of sounds with one's mouth so strongly with vocal sounds — the sounds she's best at producing — she just starts singing.

(Not really Clara. No Brake kid would ever have hair that long.)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

an american original: chester nez

Just days before D-Day, one of the most fascinating stories of the war comes to an end.

In 1942, Chester Nez was a 10th grader in boarding school. 6 weeks later, he was serving. His first message: "Japanese machine gun on your right flank. Destroy."

When Nez was a kid, the US government took Native American children off reservations and put them into boarding schools, where they were forbidden to speak their native languages, and were abused severely if caught. But, being five percenters, they still whispered Navajo to each other, keeping the language alive — which later benefited that same government, and all of us, by forming the basis of the only unbroken oral code in modern warfare.

The Navajo Code Talkers took part in every Marine assault in the Pacific war, flawlessly.

His mission was secret. Even his family and fellow Navajo didn't know what he did, because the mission wasn't declassified for over two decades. Only in 1968 did the truth come out.

At age 90, he wrote a bestseller. At 91, he completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Just today, he died, the last of the original Navajo Code Talkers. Thank you, Mr. Nez, for a remarkable life and example.