Archive for the ‘events’ Category

The Nile Anniversary


Two years ago today Thelma and I were rafting in Uganda when we tipped in a torrent and were plunged into the Nile’s chaos. I surfaced quickly, calm and collected thanks to my extensive experience kayaking on streams and man-made lakes in South Carolina’s golden corner. Thelma, on the other hand, had grown up in Chicago and like most mid-westerners had no idea how to acquit herself in water. While her life jacket had returned her to air, it was too big for her slender frame and was threatening to abandon her. Knowing me as I knew me (and sometimes know me still), I should have met her plight with gentle indifference; instead I swam over and granted her a portion of my buoyancy. It was then I realized I loved her.

Later while pondering this on a calm stretch of the river, Thelma sensed my conflicted thoughts and tried to engage me with some playful foot tickling. I told her I wasn’t in the mood and to stop touching me.


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In addition to being a frequent talking head on Ken Burns’ films such as The Age of the Roosevelts (coming in 2014!), you may know George Will from his columns in the Washington Post. I don’t often read him, but several blogs have approvingly linked to his column today, which offers a word of caution to those certain of Egypt’s future:

[T]here is a cottage industry of Barack Obama critics who, not content with monitoring his myriad mistakes in domestic policies, insist that there must be a seamless connection of those with his foreign policy. Strangely, these critics, who correctly doubt the propriety and capacity of the U.S. government controlling our complex society, simultaneously fault the government for not having vast competence to shape the destinies of other societies. Such critics persist because, as Upton Sinclair wrote in 1935, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Here’s an aphorism (otherwise known as a pre-Twitter blog post) I crafted just over two years ago:

Those who display the most vehement distrust in the ability of their government to act well in domestic affairs will often be the most fervent believers in the ability of their government to act well in foreign affairs.

The similarity is striking, is it not? One wonders whether Will happened upon my pithy wisdom and immediately pilfered it for his own use, or whether it has merely taken him two years fully to absorb the complex richness of my devastatingly original observation. Speculation could indeed run wild, but forbearance would be seemly.

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As another US election draws nigh, politics becomes the sporting talk of a certain American cross section. I’m much more inclined to be an observer rather than participant, but inevitably I am drawn in to an idle political chat or two. If nothing else, these conversations force me to confront the fact that my voting views are not as anodyne as I’d like to think, and that I’d better be ready to explain myself satisfactorily.

Here’s a short and–I hope–entertaining movie I made based on how these conversations run, with the main differences being that I’m not this articulate in person and that I usually fail to convince the person I’m not some “communist whack-a-doo.” If you’re having a hard time understanding the robo-speak, you can turn on closed captions:

The main points I try to get across in the movie:

  1. There are many reasons to vote.
  2. What many, if not most, voters use as their stated reason for voting (i.e. its instrumentality, or ability to decide who wins) is irrational in a dry, technical, uncontroversial way.
  3. This is OK, because voters’ behavior reveals their voting to be for other valid reasons, such as for personal expression, group affiliation, the fulfilling of a civic duty, etc. In other words, they’re behaving like me, even if they don’t acknowledge it.

One  thing I don’t mention in the movie is that I, along with plenty of others in the electorate, rarely bother to vote in small and/or local elections when the instrumental value of a vote is orders of magnitude higher. You can try to explain this by pointing out the smaller stakes, but in my my view it’s another bit of evidence that people vote expressively.

(The paper referenced in the movie on voting probability in the 2008 can be found here (.pdf), and the statistic about death from a non-poisonous arthropod is from the always fun to use Book of Odds.)

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This past weekend’s imu roast was a gratifying success. Not only had 20 hours in the imu steamed the pig to perfection, but just as the first cuts were being tossed on the grill for a finishing sear, storm clouds also darkened the sky and the first shower of the rainy season began. I and others were beside ourselves that our imu had pleased Lono, who had clearly sent the Pineapple Express our way.

Problem is, while Lono does exist in Hawaiian mythology, and the Pineapple Express is indeed the layman term for a genuine meteorological event, nearly everything else I included in that e-mail/post was harvested from my well-irrigated imagination; any resemblance to real persons or events was entirely coincidental.  Nonetheless some at the party did and as far as I know do still believe the tale to be true, and their innocent credulity fills me with mirth.

I’m reminded of a perhaps apocryphal story about Niels Bohr:

One of his students once noticed a horseshoe nailed above his cabin door and asked him: “Surely, Professor Bohr, you don’t believe in all that silliness about the horseshoe bringing good luck?” With a gentle smile Bohr replied “No, no, of course not, but I understand it works whether you believe in it or not.”

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Ladies, Gentlemen,

The Power Brokers are at it again:

  • What: The Pineapple Express Imu Pig Roast
  • Who: Pious People Pining for Pig – Bring Drinks and an Appetite
  • Where:  Jon and Josh’s House in Nyamirambo
  • When: Saturday @ 3:30
  • How: On the Winds of Fate

In Hawaiian mythology, Lono is a god who existed before the world was created. One day he descended on a rainbow to the earth and made the goddess Laka his bride. Since that day long ago, he has been worshiped as a god of fertility, music, and most importantly, agriculture.  Farmers would through the ages pray to Lono for the rains necessary to sustain their harvest. But Lono was not always pleased with their piety, and the rains would not come, and the parched earth would crack apart and reveal the wounds of his wroth.

It was in one of these wounds that the first imu was formed.  In the gathering darkness of evening, food was bundled in banana leaves, lowered into the divide, and covered with earth in an attempt to appease Lono.  During the night, if Lono was satisfied by their supplications, he would heat the very earth with a long exhalation of his hot breath. The next day, the people would unearth their offerings and discover the mighty feast Lono had steamed under the surface. At the conclusion of this feast, Lono would again breathe deeply, this time inhaling all the moisture-rich air from across the ocean, and blowing it across the Hawaiian Islands where it would condense into drenching rains. So great would his breath sometimes be that the wind and rain would reach even faraway lands. We know this phenomenon today as the Pineapple Express.

Please join us as we in Kigali do our part to usher in the cleansing rains of the new season. On Friday evening we shall bundle in banana leaves a newly-slaughtered portly pig and bury him in a freshly-dug imu. During the night we shall slumber, and during the day we shall engage in ritualistic motopolo battle to honor the warrior god Kū. At the end of the day, if we have done well in our endeavors, we shall unearth a feast fit for the gods, which is roughly equivalent to a feast fit for 75 people. Lono will then inhale, and purifying water shall strip from the air the dust of the ground from which we were all formed.

Yours Porcinely,

The Power Brokers of Kigali

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