Caveat: Not Just America

In fact, the incarceration of children whose parents are in violation of rules about migration is a global problem. I was recently impressed by some discussion of the growing problem in my erstwhile home, South Korea, where it is normally an untouchable subject.

You can read about it here. The below video is included on that site.

irreversible effects of immigration detention on children (full version) from APIL Korea on Vimeo.

My important point is that the recent outrage among some parts of the US population about this issue is in fact quite narrow and parochial. This is a global problem and the US is at best a minor violator. That doesn’t excuse it. Rather, I think this core problem of child punishment for parental behavior is key to understanding why migration restriction regimes are on par with chattel slavery in ethical terms.

Caveat: ikr

Excerpts from the chat app on Abraham’s smartphone:

God: kill your son
Abraham: srsly?
God: damn right
Abraham: um…ok
God: holy f* nm
God: jk
Abraham: jeez…
God: hah on that topic i’ll prolly kill mine tho lol
Abraham: wtf?
God: ikr

  • Credit where credit is due: I found a joke, online, similar to this, but much shorter and not “all in” with respect to the chatspeak. Inspired by that, I expanded the concept to the above.

Caveat: on literacy

One of my hobbies has been to assist managing a website, related to my geofiction hobby. I’m not very good at it – I find managing a classroom of unruly 7th graders easier than managing what is, presumably, one of the better-disposed regions of the internet. I just don’t seem to have the right sort of charity in my character for coping with faceless trolls and idiots.

I had a kind of insight today, as I was reacting to a complaint that the documentation on the site is “too inconvenient to read” and that we should make videos explaining how to use the site and its toolset.

Here’s my thought, condensed semi-aphoristically:

There are two types of literacy: there is the ability to read, and there is the willingness to read. Arguably, failure in education is more about failure in the latter than in the former.

Caveat: There, in the calm of some Platonic dream

This poem, below, was not written by a human being, as best I understand. It was written by one of those new “learning algorithm” AIs (Artificial Intelligences), where you give the AI a large pile of “training data” (i.e. in this case, a vast corpus of human-written poetry) and then say, more or less, “OK, give me a new one like that.” It works similarly to the way google-translate manages to make sense out of changing one language to another, without actually understanding a damn thing. It’s statistics, writ large.

Methinks I see her in her blissful dreams:
Or, fancy-like, in some mirage she lies,
Majestic yet majestic, and of seems
The image of the unconquerable skies.

Methinks I see her in her blissful dreams:
—Or, fancy-like, in some majestic cell,
Where lordly seraphs strew their balmy dreams
On the still night, or in their golden shell.

There, in the calm of some Platonic dream,
Sits she, and views the unclouded moon arise
Like a fair lady full of realms divine;

And, all at once, a stony face and bright
Glittering in moonlight, like the noon-tints of a night.

I found it, and other AI-generated poetry, on the slatestarcodex blog.

All very interesting.


Caveat: not all creativity needs to be bonded by wage

AOC was talking at the SXSW conference. An excerpt:

We should not be haunted by the specter of being automated out of work. We should not feel nervous about the toll booth collector not having to collect tolls anymore. We should be excited by that. But the reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.

We should be excited about automation, because what it could potentially mean is more time educating ourselves, more time creating art, more time investing in and investigating the sciences, more time focused on invention, more time going to space, more time enjoying the world that we live in. Because not all creativity needs to be bonded by wage.

Capitalism is based on scarcity. What happens when there is enough for everyone to eat? What happens when there is enough for everyone to be clothed? Then you have to make scarcity artificial. And that is what has happened.- AOC

Then the moderator said: that’s “Full Star Trek Socialism.” AOC just smiled.

The concept of the “post-scarcity society” has been around for a long time. And now we find that AOC is fluent in this thinking – that was not a prepared speech, but rather a response to an audience question. I’m interested.

Caveat: intoxicated by slogans

A mass movement readily exploits the discontent and frustration of large segments of the population which for some reason or other cannot face the responsibility of being persons and standing on their own feet. But give these persons a movement to join, a cause to defend, and they will go to any extreme, stop at no crime, intoxicated as they are by the slogans that give them a pseudo-religious sense of transcending their own limitations. The member of a mass movement, afraid of his own isolation, and his own weakness as an individual, cannot face the task of discovering within himself the spiritual power and integrity which can be called forth only by love. Instead of this, he seeks a movement that will protect his weakness with a wall of anonymity and justify his acts by the sanction of collective glory and power. All the better if this is done out of hatred, for hatred is always easier and less subtle than love. It does not have to respect reality as love does. It does not have to take account of individual cases. Its solutions are simple and easy. It makes its decisions by a simple glance at a face, a colored skin, a uniform. It identifies an enemy by an accent, an unfamiliar turn of speech, an appeal to concepts that are difficult to understand. He is something unfamiliar. This is not “ours.” This must be brought into line – or destroyed.

Here is the great temptation of the modern age, this universal infection of fanaticism, this plague of intolerance, prejudice and hate which flows from the crippled nature of man who is afraid of love and does not dare to be a person. It is against this temptation most of all that the Christian must labor with inexhaustible patience and love, in silence, perhaps in repeated failure, seeking tirelessly to restore, wherever he can, and first of all in himself, the capacity of love and which makes man the living image of God. – Thomas Merton (American monk, 1915-1958)

[daily log: walking, 4km; tromping, 250m]


Caveat: on the emergent paradigm

Here is a random philosophical thought, not fully developed, which occurred to me the other day.

Most people don’t care about the surveillance state and/or the lack-of-privacy which is being induced by modern technology. There is actually a simple reason for this lack of concern. It is because, in fact, that lack of privacy is the human cultural baseline. Through most of history, humans lived in small, extended family or tribal-sized groups where everyone knew what everyone else was doing. What is happening now is a return to that baseline, but within the context of a much larger social structure: city, nation, planet. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing: a global village of 8 billion. What’s to worry about? It’s like it always was. The anomaly was the period between the invention of cities and states (approx. 2000 BC) and the development of instantaneous universally distributed communication. In the grand scale of things, it’s a pretty short period of anomaly.

[daily log: walking, 4km]

Caveat: We all came out to Montreux

I recently learned that the famous classic rock song, "Smoke On The Water," by British rockers Deep Purple, was written about events at Montreux, Switzerland, which took place there in 1971 at the same time that the famous Russian-American author Vladimir Nabokov was resident there. It's interesting to imagine Nabokov and the members of Deep Purple interacting in a small French-Swiss town. Nabokov was of a different generation, but he might have been interested in rock music, given his fascination with other aspects of emergent pop culture.

What I'm listening to right now.

Deep Purple, "Smoke On The Water."

We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didn't have much time
Frank Zappa and the Mothers
Were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky
Smoke on the water

They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground
When it all was over
We had to find another place
But Swiss time was running out
It seemed that we would lose the race

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky
Smoke on the water

We ended up at the Grand Hotel
It was empty cold and bare
But with the Rolling truck Stones thing just outside
Making our music there
With a few red lights and a few old beds
We make a place to sweat
No matter what we get out of this
I know, I know we'll never forget

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky
Smoke on the water

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Party just for you

Childish Gambino (AKA Donald Glover) has a new song / video out. It's quite remarkable, and has received high critical praise from important media™. There is a detailed parsing of the video and song at Huffington Post, for example.

It's a rap song. It's also a dance composition. It's cinematography and poetry. It's also hefty, deep and dark social criticism. Make of it what you will. I'm impressed.

What I'm listening to right now.

Childish Gambino, "This is America." Is this America?

[Intro: Choir]
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away

[Bridge: Childish Gambino & Young Thug]
We just wanna party
Party just for you
We just want the money
Money just for you
I know you wanna party
Party just for me
Girl, you got me dancin' (yeah, girl, you got me dancin')
Dance and shake the frame
We just wanna party (yeah)
Party just for you (yeah)
We just want the money (yeah)
Money just for you (you)
I know you wanna party (yeah)
Party just for me (yeah)
Girl, you got me dancin' (yeah, girl, you got me dancin')
Dance and shake the frame (you)

[Chorus: Childish Gambino]
This is America
Don't catch you slippin' up
Don't catch you slippin' up
Look what I'm whippin' up
This is America (woo)
Don't catch you slippin' up
Don't catch you slippin' up
Look what I'm whippin' up

[Verse 1: Childish Gambino, Blocboy JB, Slim Jxmmi, Young Thug, & 21 Savage]
This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo)
Don't catch you slippin' up (ayy)
Look at how I'm livin' now
Police be trippin' now (woo)
Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy)
Guns in my area (word, my area)
I got the strap (ayy, ayy)
I gotta carry 'em
Yeah, yeah, I'ma go into this (ugh)
Yeah, yeah, this is guerilla (woo)
Yeah, yeah, I'ma go get the bag
Yeah, yeah, or I'ma get the pad
Yeah, yeah, I'm so cold like yeah (yeah)
I'm so dope like yeah (woo)
We gon' blow like yeah (straight up, uh)

[Refrain: Choir & Childish Gambino]
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody
You go tell somebody
Grandma told me
Get your money, Black man (get your money)
Get your money, Black man (get your money)
Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man)
Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man)
Black man

[Chorus: Childish Gambino, Slim Jxmmi, & Young Thug]
This is America (woo, ayy)
Don't catch you slippin' up (woo, woo, don't catch you slippin', now)
Don't catch you slippin' up (ayy, woah)
Look what I'm whippin' up (Slime!)
This is America (yeah, yeah)
Don't catch you slippin' up (woah, ayy)
Don't catch you slippin' up (ayy, woo)
Look what I'm whippin' up (ayy)

[Verse 2: Childish Gambino, Quavo, Young Thug, & 21 Savage]
Look how I'm geekin' out (hey)
I'm so fitted (I'm so fitted, woo)
I'm on Gucci (I'm on Gucci)
I'm so pretty (yeah, yeah)
I'm gon' get it (ayy, I'm gon' get it)
Watch me move (blaow)
This a celly (ha)
That's a tool (yeah)
On my Kodak (woo, Black)
Ooh, know that (yeah, know that, hold on)
Get it (get it, get it)
Ooh, work it (21)
Hunnid bands, hunnid bands, hunnid bands (hunnid bands)
Contraband, contraband, contraband (contraband)
I got the plug in Oaxaca (woah)
They gonna find you like blocka (blaow)

[Refrain: Choir, Childish Gambino, & Young Thug]
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody
America, I just checked my following list and
You go tell somebody
You mothafuckas owe me
Grandma told me
Get your money, Black man (black man)
Get your money, Black man (black man)
Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man)
Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man)
Black man
(One, two, three, get down)
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody
You go tell somebody
Grandma told me, "Get your money"
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Black man

[Outro: Young Thug]
You just a Black man in this world
You just a barcode, ayy
You just a Black man in this world
Drivin' expensive foreigns, ayy
You just a big dawg, yeah
I kenneled him in the backyard
No probably ain't life to a dog
For a big dog

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Premises and implications among 7th graders

This exchange actually happened in a 7th grade advanced class.

Julie: I don't like smart people
James: I'm smart!
Julie: So I don't like YOU.

Tobias: That doesn't make sense.

James (glaring at Tobias): Hey!

I found this incredibly funny, not to mention indicative a lot of cleverness on the parts of James and Tobias. Yet when I tried to explain it to my coworkers, we got bogged down in trying to parse the premises and implications of the statements. It felt like a kind of logic class for standup comedians, where the students were not all native to the same language.

So, here's my question for logic students: Why is Tobias's statement a potential insult toward James?

I gave up, in the end, in explaining it to my coworkers. But I had laughed hard during the class, and the boys were clearly intentional enough in their humor that they were pleased with the appreciation I showed them.

[daily log: walking, 6.5]

Caveat: not not choose

"I am my choices. I cannot not choose. If I do not choose, that is still a choice. If faced with inevitable circumstances, we still choose how we are in those circumstances." – While this quote is widely attributed (as an English translation) to Jean-Paul Sartre, I can't seem to validate it in any kind of original French-language text. Certainly he said something similar, though.

[daily log: walking, 2km]

Caveat: the sound of money

Ōoka Tadasuke (1677–1752) was a Japanese samurai and bureaucrat during the shogunate of Tokugawa Yoshimune. He served as a magistrate of Edo (Tokyo), and his roles included chief of police, judge and jury. He has evolved into a kind of folk hero, as an archetypically fair and honest judge. There is a famous story called "The Case of the Stolen Smell." Ōoka heard the case of a paranoid innkeeper who accused a poor student of literally stealing the fumes of his cooking by eating when the innkeeper was cooking to flavor his dull food. Although his colleagues advised Ōoka to throw the case out as ridiculous, he decided to hear the case. The judge resolved the matter by ordering the student to pass the money he had in one hand to his other and ruling that the price of the smell of food is the sound of money. (Above adapted from the wikipedia).

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: On Canned Beans and Related Technology

I've been trying to eat more beans or other legumes and vegetable protein.

After my cancer, my weight dropped below 70 kg, but four years later I have completely bounced back to my pre-cancer weight equilibrium, which, frankly, I think is just a bit heavier than my ideal, which I'd put at around 75 kg, maybe. I'm currently about 84 kg.

Back in 2006-2007, when I successfully dropped from around 120 kg down to 80 kg, I did so through three main lifestyle changes: 1) walking everywhere as my primary mode of transport, 2) reducing stress by quitting that horrible job in Long Beach, and 3) eating an almost entirely vegan diet.

So, being vegan is not easy, and especially in Korea. In fact, I have no ideological interest in being vegan – therefore, for example, I have no issues with eating meat when out with coworkers or friends or whatever. Nevertheless, I recognize that less meat is probably healthier, and so I try to balance my daily diet toward vegetable proteins. The hardest thing, always, has been reducing or eliminating cheese intake – despite my lack of taste buds, there are still aspects of cheese that I enjoy, including the satiety it grants, the strong, nostalgic smell of things like mac and cheese or pizza, and whatever 'mouthfeel' is, I still experience that, too.

Anyway, all of that is background to mention I was going eat some beans, today, with my rice. And although I sometimes cook my beans from scratch, I also sometimes get lazy and use canned beans. The Korean market for canned beans doesn't run further than simple "pork and beans" type things, or I guess I've seen the native red beans pre-cooked in cans, but of course that product is painfully sweetened – like the red bean paste that is so popular here – I find such sugary prepared legumes almost unbearable (if you're not familiar with it, imagine some Mexican-style refried beans, with a cup of sugar added for good measure). So mostly if I buy canned beans I prefer to get Anglosphere brands (i.e. US or Australian products in Korean supermarkets). They're hardly expensive and easy to find, and so I buy them frequently.

Now, to talk about what I really wanted to talk about: I wanted to open my can of beans, imported from Australia.

Most canned foods, these days, have those "pop tops" – you pull the tab, the can opens. I don't, therefore, own a can opener.

But this can of beans I'd bought didn't – it had the old style top: just your plain surface tin can.

The convenience store downstairs in my building sells can openers – I've seen them there, in a little display with some other common simple housewares. But I have a different approach: a very "low tech" approach, that might be familiar to my grandfather's generation.

My pocket knife (a "Swiss Army Knife" as they're called) has as a can opener tab. It's quite useful, though entirely old-fashioned. You have to develop the right rhythm of push, tilt, advance, retreat, but you can walk it around an old-style can in about the same amount of time as with a normal manual can-opener.


It occurred to me that despite being fully embedded in the 21st Century, with my computer stuff and my smartphone and my highly urban existence on the edges of the Seoul megalopolis, I still use this antiquated method of opening my canned food. And it's worth observing that that pocket knife is now 30 years old – I received it as a gift in 1988.

I snapped a picture (right). The can that I wanted to open, on the left, and a more typical 21st century can on the right, with my low-tech solution below.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: The View From Over Here 🔫

Currently I am a long-term expat. I observe my home country, the US, from a distance both psychological and physical. The whole "gun thing" seems both tragic and absurd, from my perspective. I currently live in a country with one of the lowest incidences of gun violence in the world – a cursory examination of a list of countries by incidence of gun deaths shows South Korea as being the 3rd lowest, only after Hong Kong and Japan. 

Anyway, it's pretty safe here, from gun violence. I have sometimes wondered if there exists any kind of "gun culture" in South Korea. Actually, I speculate that there does, in fact, exist such a culture – but it would be inextricably linked up with the military. Since military service for males is obligatory, that means that, in theory, at least, every Korean adult male in the entire country has fired a gun at some point in his life, and the vast majority have probably qualified with a rifle. That's interesting, vis-a-vis the non-military culture, right? It makes it a far different situation than either Hong Kong or Japan, where military service is, in the former instance non-existent, and in the latter instance, extremely rare and utterly voluntary (given Japan's relatively small military, in per capita terms, compared to South Korea). What it means is that any Korean man who wants to "play" with guns in a safe and responsible manner has an easy way to do so: he can continue to serve as a "reservist" – which many Korean men do. Then he can go out on the range and shoot as much as he wants, several times a year, I can imagine. 

My own experience with guns is broader than you might expect, given my liberal white privilege. I qualified with a rifle during my Army service – as an expert, even – though I sometimes felt I had simply had some very lucky days on my qualifying days. I had even gone on to take the first steps on qualifying with a pistol, as well, before I mustered out.

Further, despite having avoided seeing any actual action in the first Iraq war (1991) – which took place during my military service, and which I watched on the barracks televisions while stationed here in South Korea at that time – I have nevertheless had the experience of having been shot at, directly. I was lucky, in that the man shooting at me was too drunk to aim well. I was not hurt. There is no doubt I might have died – I consider it one of the several times in my life when I have had to look death right in the eye.

Additionally, I once witnessed a man being shot dead. This was during my time traveling in El Salvador, in 1986 – which was during the civil war. It was not clear to me if I witnessing a crime or an act of "enforcement" – there were plenty of uniforms present but it wasn't clear to me if the uniforms were military or rebel forces, and how it all worked. I suspect that during the Salvadorean civil war of that era, the line between crime and military enforcement was pretty blurry. My main reaction was to get away from the situation as quickly and as unobstrusively as I could manage. I boarded a bus and let it take me away. 

In the end, my view of guns and gun violence is complicated. I think I have no issue with the type of allegedly draconian gun laws as exist in Japan or South Korea. I think it hardly makes these societies "less free" – there may in fact be ways that these societies are "less free" than in the US, but I don't think the relaxing of gun controls would impact that in any positive way. My libertarian tendencies are undeniable, however. In principle, I have strong sympathies with the "2nd ammendment types" who will brook no infringement of individual rights. My biggest concern with those people is that they are, almost without exception, utter hypocrites – they are libertarians on gun control, but if you ask them to opine on issues like women's rights or immigration, they are all about control and restrictions. This is "libertarianism for me but not for thee." It makes me much less sympathetic to their position – when I find mostly hypocrites holding a given political position, my gut-level response is to assume this is strong evidence of some kind of flaw in that political position.

I will conclude with a humorous video I ran across – a tongue-in-cheek "European perspective" on the American gun problem, which could probably just as easily represent the typical (informed) Korean position.

"A small country on the coast of North America."

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: So it is written on the thin paper


There is an immense epic poetic tradition in Tibet and Central Asia about a mythical King Gesar. There are thousands of variants in dozens of diverse languages and cultures, and the King seems to not really have been a specific historical person, although the name, at least, has been linked to the adoption among some Turkic peoples of the steppes of the title "Keser" or "Gesar" from the Byzantines, who continued using the title "Caesar" until their downfall, and who had many contacts with Mongols, Turks, and other Central Asian peoples through their long history. This has parallel in the Slavs' adoption of the same title from the same source, which became the modern word 'czar.' 

I found an interesting translation-in-progress on this website, of the Gesar epic, by a scholar of Buryat shamanism. Buryat is an ethnic group from northern Mongolia and the Baikal region of Siberia. As far as I can figure out, the scholar, Sarangerel Odigon, is working directly from some oral source – that is, the English translation is just a running translation of the oral tradition. That seems pretty cool, in itself. 

In case you haven't noticed, I've been quite 'into' Central Asian cultures, lately, especially their literary production. So here is a tiny sample of this fascinating epic poem, one of the few which still has an active performative tradition in multiple cultures. For reference, I found a Russian translation of some version of it, here. I'm sure there are interesting original-language versions out there on the web, somewhere, but my google-fu is not strong enough to find it.

From the beginning of the section entitled "Abai Geser: The First Branch":

In the earliest of early times,
In the most ancient of periods,
In the first of first times,
In the time of the beginning;
When the highest bright heaven
Was swirling with fog,
When the earth below
Was covered with dirt and dust;
When the grass had not yet begun to grow,
When the broad long rivers had not begun to flow,
When the great Milk Sea was but a small puddle,
When the world mountain Humber Ula was a hillock,
When the sandalwood tree at the forest's edge
Had not yet put out branches,
When the greyish deer was but a fawn;
When the giant yellow snake was but a little worm,
When the giant fish were only little minnows;
When the earth did not have any continents,
When the center of the universe was not yet finished;
When the great giant bird was small as a crow,
When the first horse was the size of a foal;
When the khan's many roads were not built,
When the people's many roads were not laid out;
This was a good age,
This was a beautiful time
It has been said!..

When the many gods of the heaven did not compete with each other,
When the many tenger of the skies did not quarrel with each other;
When the many tenger of the west were not arrogant,
When black and white were not different from each other;
When the many tenger of the east did not argue,
When appearance and color were not differentiated;
When Esege Malaan Tenger was not an old man,
When Ekhe Yuuren Ibii was not an old woman;
When Han Hormasta Tengeri did not brag of his strength,
When black and white were not estranged;
When Atai Ulaan Tengeri did not boast of his greatness,
When hatred and jealousy did not sow discord;
When those of Oyodol Sagaan Tengeri had not yet gathered,
When those of Oyor Sagaan Tengeri had not yet flowed over;
It was a time of beautiful things!
So it is written on the thin paper!

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Бу айыллыбыт / Арылы халлаан алын өттүгэр

Бу айыллыбыт
Арылы халлаан алын өттүгэр
Куордаах эттээх,
Куодаһыннаах уҥуохтаах,
Оһол-охсуһуу доҕордоох,
Иирээн-илбис энээрдээх,
Ириҥэ мэйиилээх,
Иһэгэй куттаах,
Икки атахтаах үөскээн тэнийдин диэн,
Анысханнаах арҕаа халлааннаах,
Иэйиэхситтээх илин халлааннаах,
Соллоҥноох соҕуруу халлааннаах,
Холоруктаах хоту халлааннаах,
Үллэр муора үрүттээх,
Түллэр муора түгэхтээх,
Аллар муора арыннаах,
Эргичийэр муора иэрчэхтээх,
Дэбилийэр муора сиксиктээх,
Ахтар айыы араҥаччылаах,
Күн айыы күрүөһүлээх,
Араҥас илгэ быйаҥнаах,
Үрүҥ илгэ үктэллээх,
Элбэх сулус эркиннээх,
Үгүс сулус үрбэлээх,
Дьэллэҥэ сулус бэлиэлээх,
Туолбут ый доҕуһуоллаах,
Аламай күн аргыстаах,
Дорҕоон этиҥ арчылаах,
Тоһуттар чаҕылҕан кымньыылаах,
Ахсым ардах ыһыахтаах,
Сугул куйаас тыыннаах,
Уолан угуттуур уулаах,
Охтон үүнэр мастаах,
Уһун уйгу кэһиилээх,
Сытар хайа сындыыстаах,
Буор хайа модьоҕолоох,
Итии сайын эркиннээх,
Эргичийэр эрэһэ кииннээх,
Төгүрүйэр түөрт тулумнаах,
Үктүөлээтэр өҕүллүбэт
Үрдүк мындаалаах,
Кэбиэлээтэр кэйбэлдьийбэт
Кэтит киэлилээх,
Баттыалаатар маталдьыйбат
Баараҕай таһаалаах,
Аҕыс иилээх-саҕалаах
Алта киспэлээх,
Аан-ийэ дойду диэн
Муостаах-нуоҕайдаах бэртэһэ
Туоһахтатын курдук,

The above is a fragment of a poem in the Sakha (Yakut) language, and is part of the Yakuts national traditional epic poetic oeuvre, Olonkho.

Obviously, I don’t know the Sakha (Yakut) language. On a really good day I command a few hundred words of rusty college Russian, at best.

But I like unusual languages. And I like poetry. And, if you accept the controversial Altaic hypothesis, perhaps Sakha is a very distant relative of Ancient Korean. Anyway, they’re sort of in the same cultural neighborhood, albeit a bit farther north, in east-central Siberia: today it is -41 C in Yakutsk, while here in sunny 고양시 we have a balmy -8 C.

I came across a translation of the poem on the blog of the philosopher and polymathic philologist Justin Erik Halldór Smith. Smith is currently a professor at the University of Paris 7 but he is a native of Northern California – like myself and, furthermore, he is of my generation, more or less – and thus he is someone whose occasional reflections on his youth in the green-hilled, hippie-infested comarcas of The City [San Francisco] have always had exceptional resonances for me. Anyway, his translation is strikingly good poetry, in itself, and, I presume, faithful to the original, given his scholarly abilities.

Under that primordial
shining and lucid sky,
where the two-legged, having
a mortal body and hollow bones,
knowing war and battle,
acquainted with strife and discord,
having a vulnerable brain
and a trembling soul,
must be fruitful —
with the cool windy western sky,
with the good generous eastern sky,
with the insatiable thirsty southern sky,
with the impetuous whirling northern sky,
with the shivering breadth of the sea,
with the heaving depth of the sea,
with the swelling abyss of the sea,
with the twirling axis of the sea,
with the unbounded reach of the sea,
with the revered aiy [nature spirits] who lie beyond,
with the radiant aiy [nature spirits] who guard,
with abundant yellow nectar,
with generous white nectar,
encircling us in the manifold of stars,
in the herds of countless stars,
in the traces of rare stars,
with the full moon accompanying it,
with the bright sun leading it,
with purifying roars of thunder,
with the smite of bolts of lightning,
with moistening cloud-bursts of rain,
with sultry hot breath,
with the drying out and again the replenishing of waters,
with the falling down and again the growing up of woods,
with inexhaustible generous gifts,
with origins from gently sloping mountains,
with gardens from earthen mountains,
with a hot and giving summer,
with the turning axis of the center,
with four converging sides,
with such high firmament,
what you tread on, will not give way,

what you rattle, will not lurch,
with such an unfathomable breadth,
what you press, will not bend,
eight-chambered, eight-sided,
with six circles,
with disquiet and worry,
in luxurious attire and ornament,
serenely peaceful,
always-existing Mother Earth,
shining like a silver buckle
on a horned hat with a feather.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Take the chain off your brain

What I'm listening to right now.

Pointer Sisters, "You Gotta Believe." The remarkable video is by Nina Paley, who has been blogged here before.


Doodle wop a-rat-a-tat boom
I'll make the sound of a jet plane zoom
Doodle wop a-rat-a-tat boom
I'll make the sound of a fire

You got to believe in somethin'
Why not believe in me?
You got to believe in somethin'
Why not believe in me?

[Verse One]
What have I, I done to you
To make you mean
And treat me the way you do?
Go on and wave your flag, brother
Start your revolution
I'm willin' to let you do your thing
Tell me why are you plannin' a compromise?


Take the chain off your brain
Take the chain off your brain
Stop, take a look at yourself
Stop ridiculin' everybody else

[Hook x2]

[daily log: walking, 7.5km]