April 24, 2010

Now that's something to think about

An out-of-state fire hydrant. Come to think of it, this one does look better than some I've seen around here.

El Cabrero has made it a practice to scan the vent lines of the local newspaper for words of wisdom and enlightenment. I'm not sure how common these are around the country, but the Charleston papers have a phone number you can call and say a few words about just about anything.

And people do.

Here's the winner for this week:

Why does West Virginia have such ugly fire hydrants? Isn't this something that would be relatively easy to fix?

Another burning issue for our times...

April 22, 2010

The short end of the historical stick

These pictures were taken at the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park at the southern end of the island. This was the site of some of the heaviest fighting during the Battle of Okinawa in WWII.

Some places have been dealt unlucky hands by history. That's one thing El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia has in common with Okinawa. In different ways, both places got the short end of the stick.

Okinawa's bad luck jag began in 1609, when the Satsuma clan of Japan invaded and established hegemony, imposing a tributary relationship. Okinawa was already paying tribute to China. The Japanese didn't eliminate the Sho monarchy but they limited its autonomy. The Japanese also banned weapons and attempted to suppress martial arts, which pushed karate further underground.

In 1872, shortly after the Meiji Restoration of imperial power in Japan, Okinawa was annexed to that country and the monarchy was abolished. Efforts were made to suppress indigenous culture and "Japanize" the residents.

The next decades would be a time of increasing Japanese militarism and imperialism, and Okinawans were conscripted into these projects, up to and including the Second World War. Residents suffered horribly during the Battle of Okinawa--known locally as "the typhoon of steel"-- near the end of the war.

Civilian casualties were probably well over 100,000. I saw estimates of 200,000 while there. The Japanese army committed atrocities against Okinawans, using them as human shields, forcing them to commit suicide, engaging in massacres, etc. Many also were "collateral damage" to the US bombardment and invasion.

Even though the war wasn't exactly their idea, Okinawans bore the heaviest post-war burden of any Japanese territory. The US directly administered it from 1945 to 1972 and built massive military bases, displacing local landowners. Crimes such as rapes committed against Okinawan civilians by some military personnel continue to be a sore spot.

Given all that it's a wonder to me 1. that Okinawans are so nice; and 2. that they are probably the longest lived people on earth, with quite a few alive and well and active up to 100 years of age and sometimes beyond. This is particularly surprising given all that people from that age group there had to live through.

I've been interweaving Okinawan history with that of karate this week, and here's another thread. One Okinawan who was not thrilled with being conscripted into the Japanese army was the young Kabun Uechi, 1877-1948, who went to China in 1897 where he studied a kung fu style called Pangai Noon. He excelled as a student and even taught in China before returning to Okinawa around 13 years later. His style came to be known as Uechi Ryu karate. One reason I wanted to go to Okinawa was to see this style first hand and learn its most basic katas, Sanchin and Kanshiwa.

This is an extremely effective and fierce style (though fortunately practiced by nice people as far as I could tell). The level of physical conditioning--including the ability to absorb punishment--was amazing. Sanchin kata practice routinely includes "testing" in which a partner punches and kicks all over the body student to see if they maintained proper tension. These aren't love taps either. They also practice kote kitae or forearm condition, in which practioners basically pound on each others forearms to toughen them.

The hands and forearms of advanced practitioners look exactly like the weapons they are. It is also characterized by strikes that use the knuckle of the thumb, the extended knuckle of the forefinger, and the fingers as well as kicks that use the toes as points of impact. Uechi ryu stylists in action remind me of big tigers pouncing on their prey.

FROM COAL TATTOO, Ken Ward's uber-blog, three items caught my eye yesterday. First, there's coverage of the latest from Massey Energy and the board's defense of CEO Don Blankenship. Second, whatever you think about carbon capture and storage (and whether it will work), a report suggests it could create a lot of jobs in the next 20 years.

TALE OF TWO MINES. Here's one from the NY Times comparing the culture of Massey Energy to another mine with similar gas issues when it comes to mine safety and rule violations.

AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT, here's another one on the "culture of fear" and intimidation.


A walk through the garden

Fukushuen Garden in Naha celebrates the ties between Okinawa and southern China. I'll drink to that.

Today I'm passing on some Okinawa pictures and background this week, along with the usual links and comments below. As I mentioned yesterday, Okinawa, now a prefecture of Japan, was once an independent monarchy. It's political center was the palace at Shuri, also featured yesterday. Nearby was the port city of Naha, which has since absorbed Shuri.

Port cities have the reputation of being wild and woolly and Naha was no exception. Okinawa enjoyed wide trade and diplomatic contacts and all kinds of interesting people and rough characters passed through.

Ties were especially close to southern China, which had an Okinawan community as well as extensive travel back and forth. Those ties are celebrated at the Fukushuen Garden in central Naha.

Those ties also influenced the karate traditions that developed in Naha as distinct from the Shuri te or Shorin ryu styles associated with the palace culture discussed yesterday. A leading example of Naha te is the Goju ryu or hard/soft style. Higashionna Kanryo, circa 1853-1916, is regarded as one of its forerunners. Higashionna traveled to Fuzhou in the Fukien Province of China and studied several styles of Chinese martial arts. He is pictured below.

One of his most prominent students was Miyagi Chojun, 1888-1953, who also went to Fukien Province in 1915 to study Chinese styles. Miyagi gave Goju its name and established the system. If the Shuri/Shorin karate tradition is rapid and whiplike, Naha/Goju karate training emphasizes strength development, dynamic tension, breathing and develops the ability to absorb as well as dish out powerful techniques. In practice, the style lives up to its name with its combination of "soft" and hard techniques.

The real Miyagi, pictured above, probably inspired the naming of the teacher in the Karate Kid movies. Some Goju techniques actually look like tasks Mr. Miyagi assigned Daniel-San in the film (wax on/wax off, paint the fence, etc.)

TWO FROM THE TIMES. These items caught my eye this morning. First, Japan is starting to admit that it has a poverty problem. Second, here's a look at how local food is starting to replace tobacco in a North Carolina town.

GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT MINE SAFETY. Here's an op-ed on the subject by a friend of mine.

EARTH DAY. Here's one person's list of things to do about it.

GET UP, STAND UP. There's a connection between body motion and memory. Upward movement seems to be related to happy memories.


April 21, 2010

Shuri Castle (and lots of other stuff)

Karate training at Shuri Castle, Okinawa, circa 1930s.

Reconstructed castle today.

A friend has requested more Okinawa pictures, so here goes. As I've mentioned before, my main goal in making the trip was to train in traditional karate but I did have some time to make some side trips.

One site played a major role both in Okinawan history and in the history of karate. For several centuries, Okinawa was an independent kingdom with the seat of government in Shuri, close to the port city of Naha which kind of absorbed it.

According to tradition, many masters of Shorin ryu karate (Shorin is Japanese for Shaolin) were associated with the court and some may have been bodyguards for the royal family. Bodyguarding was a bit complex in Okinawa since most people were forbidden to carry arms, which is where the karate came in. Things got even tougher in the 1600s when the Satsuma clan from Japan invaded. The monarchy wasn't eliminated, but its power was curtailed and Okinawa was forced to pay tribute. It was probably around that time that karate became a clandestine activity, one often practiced at night in secret locations.

The original castle, alas, was destroyed in WWII but has since been rebuilt. It's full of gardens, walls, ponds, statues, monuments and walkways.

A word about the style itself. Shorin-ryu is a name for several related karate styles that are associated with Shuri. It is characterized by fast, whiplike movements that generate power from the body's center of gravity, known as hara in Japanese and tandein in Chinese. I was lucky enough to spend some time with several prominent Shorin-ryu masters and to learn the correct traditional forms of several karate forms or katas, which are pre-arranged series of movements that contain the essence of a style.

In particular, I was able to learn the traditional form of three Naihanchi katas, which were the favorite of Motobu Choki (1870-1944), pictured above. These are symmetrical katas performed moving back and forth in the horse stance without turning the body, as if one is literally up against a wall or the edge of a cliff. Motobu, by the way, was something of a brawler in the day, and he believed Naihanchi had everything a karateka needed to know.

Any how, here's to Shuri and Shorin.


AND MORE OF THE SAME from the other side of the country here.


A LOUSY LINK. Literally.

MIGHT AS WELL THROW IN something about space aliens.


April 20, 2010

A children's paradox

Image by William Blake.

I attended an event yesterday at which Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children's Zone spoke, along with WV Senator Jay Rockefeller and WV First Lady Gayle Manchin. Canada is a dynamic and entertaining speaker and he said something I wish I'd have written down exactly. Since I misplaced my pen, a not altogether infrequent event, I'll have to paraphrase.

The topic of the gathering was investing in children and it was noted that rhetoric about children (most speakers seem to be in favor of them) seldom matches action. He noted that when advocating that resources be put into early childhood education and development, people are often told that while this or that measure may be a good idea, there isn't any money available to do it.

He said, much better than I'm about to, that while we're often not willing to put more resources into quality education for children, as a society we seem to be more than willing to pay any price to cover the cost of not educating them. He noted that one seldom hears of a judge saying to a young person in trouble that while he'd like to lock him up for a really long time, there are no resources to do it.

More Okinawa pictures to come tomorrow.

THE POLITICS OF EDUCATION are starting to get interesting in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.

YOU MUST SEE this New Yorker cartoon.

IS MARRIAGE GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH? The conventional wisdom is yes, but it kind of looks like the quality of the marriage is the main thing. In the interests of marital harmony, I will forgo the opportunity to make a snide remark.

MINER'S MEMORIAL. WV Governor Joe Manchin announced a memorial service for the 29 miners killed in the Massey disaster to be held in Beckley this Sunday. At last word, President Obama and Vice President Biden plan to attend.

NOT EXACTLY NEWSWORTHY. Rush Limbaugh tried to blame Massey's Upper Big Branch mine disaster on the United Mine Workers union. The fact that it was a non-union mine may limit the utility of this assertion, although true believers will no doubt keep the faith.


April 19, 2010

Unsolicited shoutout

I had a request for more Okinawa pictures, which I aim to provide. But first I feel obliged to give props to a book that helped me survive the physical misery of two long overseas flights in economy class.

That book is....Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, a well-known author of fiction and nonfiction who has Appalachian roots. She made a big splash a couple of years ago with her book about local food, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Some of her fiction tends to be preachy at times but Lacuna seemed to have been written just for getting me through the flights.

In 2008, El Cabrero, the Spousal Unit and two friends went to Mexico, where among other things we visited the house of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Rivera's murals at the Ministry of Education in Mexico City, and the museum at Leon Trotsky's home in exile where he was killed by Stalin's agents.

I've been fascinated by Trotsky since I was a pup and while I'm no follower, early exposure to his life and ideas has given me zero tolerance for Stalinist BS and anything that reeks of it, however, wherever and whenever it shows up. Later on, I also became a Frida and Diego fan (two turkeys on the farm are named after them).

Anyhow, Kingsolver ties their lives together with that of a fictional protagonist who eventually gets caught up in post WW II Cold War hysteria. She even weaves in ancient Mexican civilizations, including a visit to the pyramids at Teotihuacan, which is truly a magical place.

What can I say? The book scratched my itch. And I'm grateful for the diversion.

MINE SAFETY. Can you say "union?"

MINING AND MORE are the subjects of the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.

NO COMMENT. NPR reports that Massey CEO Don Blankenship's pay increased recently despite continuing concerns about mine safety.