Saturday, January 19, 2008

Life's Day, Death's Day

This weird vision appeared inside my flat. Is it a Dinosaur's shadow?

OMG, is the Dinosaur taking a piss?

My father, in his retired years, acquired a lathe and made candlesticks out of rare woods.

Sometimes, I like to set them out in front of me and try to reinterpret them in my language. My friend Ken would have understood. He loved my parents and they loved him.

When your young child has a sleepover, she inevitably suffers a sleep deprivation. We all know why. Too many giggles, too many whispers, too much excitement.

Then again, the morning sun can entice you to sleep off the previuos night's excitement.

When I think about my buddy Ken's final years, I think of fences and alleys, the back roads in this city where most of us fear to venture. I do not think Ken ever feared to go there, however.

He instinctively knew that nothing ever happens in the back alleys that isn't a reflection of life on the public stage.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Goodbye to my friend, Ken Kelley

Early this morning, the sad news came that Ken Kelley died last Saturday. When I got off the phone, and got dressed, I went outside to take a long walk. While walking, I composed this tribute:

Ken arrived at the University of Michigan as one of those under-aged child prodigies. He must have been 16 or so. He was the living epitome of the Sixties spirit -- a radical hippie before we even used words like that.

To me, he was a kid with such infectious enthusiasm for everything around him that it almost wore me out to be near Ken for too long at a time. Ken never did anything in half-measures.

He would eat ravenously and balloon to a huge shape; then diet in macrobiotic mode, and become thin as a rail. His wild curly yellow hair was a white man's Afro. He started an underground newspaper and got in all sorts of trouble by portraying a local political figure in what was deemed, by the standards of the time, "obscene."

Ken seemed to know everybody. He was Minister of Information for John Sinclair's White Panther Party. Sinclair also was manager of the band, MC5, and when he was imprisoned for possessing a tiny amount of marijuana, Ken helped draw international attention to his case. Sinclair was released from prison days after John Lennon went to Michigan and held a huge concert in his behalf.

Ken was always this close to getting into serious trouble. He'd shoplift food, try to get away with not paying for gas at gas stations (this was long before credit cards), and exercise other types of petty crimes that were common among hippies of that time.

When unknown radicals bombed the CIA office in Ann Arbor, Ken said he knew who had done it. Whenever any demonstration or concert or wild event developed, Ken seemed to be at the center of it.

He was relentlessly enthusiastic, a natural promoter of other people's careers, but never really of his own. A typical experience was when excitedly told us that a wandering theatre troupe called the Living Theater was on campus, and dragged me along for a look.

Sure enough, led by a free-spirited middle-aged couple, this "theater" amounted to a roomful of students (including Ken, of course), getting naked and jumping into the crowd below, who obligingly caught them. I watched for a while, and couldn't help thinking that the outright glee on Ken's face as he jumped somehow exhibited his identity in a way that I could never achieve for myself. It all seemed rather, you know, unsanitary, to me, but I knew that really I was way too inhibited and simply not cool enough to join in.

The same with drugs, alcohol, sex, and every other outrage of the era. Ken did everything to excess, with an unbounded appetite to live as if there was never going to be any sort of tomorrow.

At that point, I could not really imagine him ever growing old.


After our hiatus in the Peace Corps, my wife and I returned to Ann Arbor to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives. Ken was still in town, larger than life, a constant blur of excitement, danger, and the art of the outrageous. He always had the Next Great Idea, and this time, it was to be a magazine called SunDance, to be published in San Francisco.

He urged us to come and be the journalists who could anchor the publication in place. Of course, we said yes, and that's how I arrived in this town, in the fall of 1971, driving our old van across the country, crammed with magazine production gear Ken had produced at the last moment for us to deliver to what was to be our new office, at 1913 Fillmore Street.

As we drove into town, it was apparent that Ken had relocated to the ground zero of the Sixties' Revolution. Here was a much bigger stage, with many more players, but Ken plunged into it all with the same gusto as always.

By now, it was clear he was gay, and maybe sometimes bisexual, and as ever, Ken couldn't be that way quietly, either. His younger sidekicks seemed to be naked more often than clothed, but, what the hell, when it came to lifestyle, Ken was a true original.

I've written about SunDance before; one memorable day a well-dressed man appeared at the door inquiring about obtaining a copy. Ken raced to the front, and held up a copy of our first issue about three inches from the guy's face, and while jumping up and down like a maniac, yelled at the top of his lungs: "Isn't it the greatest magazine ever, huh? huh? the greatest ever? yeah!" The man fell back, mouth agape, but he handed over the few coins necessary to get his copy and rapidly disappeared.

(Later, when I obtained the SunDance FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, it became obvious that this man was an undercover informant or agent, since his report of the incident, with his name blacked out, reported the facts much as I've recounted here.)

We never had any money in those days, and eventually SunDance died an inevitable death, punctuated by the unfortunate spectacle of all of us fighting among ourselves over pennies in Small Claim's Court.

Ken and I were on opposite sides in this fight, which ruptured our relationship for a while.

But somehow we got back together, forgot past sins, and resumed our friendship. Ken was the major driver in the effort that exposed Timothy Leary as a government witness in grand jury "witch hunts" of the time conducted by the Nixon administration. As always, Ken introduced me to excitement and opportunity and danger I never would have generated on my own.

Like when he was driving me in a Porsche to the mountains at high speed, so we could convince Leary's friend Allen Ginsberg to join in the anti-Leary cause. Allen whispered the terms to Ken and the two of them went off in the bushes for a while; Ginsberg returned smiling with satisfaction; Ken winking to me as if to say, "Whatever, mission accomplished!"

During these fast-moving years, Ken started and abandoned more creative projects than most of us will see our entire lifetime...books, movies, concerts, publications, conspiracies...In no particular order, he emerged as a brilliant interviewer of the famous, who were starting to be known as "celebrities" in the magazine business, i.e., a tool for selling issues.

One of Ken's most memorable interviews was with the anti-gay movie star Anita Bryant, a nice, married, Southern Christian girl who didn't even know the meaning of "69" until Ken drew a picture for her. Not yet "out" publicly, Ken traveled with Bryant all over the country as she crusaded against the evils of homosexuality.

One might have expected him to write a cruel expose of Anita, but, typical of Ken, his heart got the best of him. "I love her, " he explained to me. "I don't want to hurt her." The climax to this story came in the Midwest when a gay protester threw a pie in Bryant's face.

There, in the news photos, was Ken, shielding her with his jacket, in order to ensure that the embarrassing photos of her would not reach the front pages.

Of course, Ken himself was given to outrageous acts of public theater, many of which strained the patience of us, his friends and employers. I was an organizer of a group called the Bergman-Ramirez Defense Fund in the '80s, which sought to draw support for two reporters who were being sued for libel by the San Francisco Police Department.

Ken had somehow wrangled a job as a columnist at the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner at the time, and was "covering" the trial at the point it began to resemble a Kangaroo Court, with the judge and the plaintiff cops clearly (to our eyes) in cahoots.

During a short break, as a prank, Ken darted up to the judge's seat and placed one of those sanitary toilet seat covers on it; just as he started running back, the judge and the coops re-emerged from their break, their faces red with blistering fury at this unacceptable insult. "I didn't do it! I didn't do it!" Ken was screaming as he raced from the scene, but it was obvious to all that he was indeed the guilty party.

He was arrested, thrown in jail, and fired by the Examiner.

There were many other such episodes, too many for me to recount here and now, for I am weary. But the one last anecdote I must recount occurred after Howard Kohn and I had published our Patty Hearst stories in Rolling Stone, which caused a national media uproar of the sort that recurred years later in the O.J. Simpson case, et. al.

We, the reporters in this case, were the subject of hysterical media scrutiny because the aforementioned Hearst newspaper empire, fearing our article would damage heiress Patty Hearst's legal case, chose to print unsubstantiated allegations that we had unethically gotten our story by posing as "legal investigators." One of our sources, Jack Scott, joined in with a similar line of attack, conveniently omitting the fact that we'd been working on a book with him about the case.

Two famous left-wing lawyers called us at Rolling Stone and vowed we would "never publish again." The local head of the FBI told Howard he would "cut us off at the knees" if we dared to publish any more stories embarrassing the Bureau.

Left-wing "friends" all over the Bay Area denounced us in harsh terms. One of the girls I knew from SunDance days, had since gotten romantically involved with the domestic terror group that had kidnapped and converted Patty Hearst; she got through to me on the phone and told me that I would be shot and killed.

It was the moment that others considered my professional breakthrough, but I felt very lonely and scared. It seemed like virtually everyone I knew was abandoning me to the wolves.

Not everyone, however. Ken Kelley suddenly popped back up. "We've got work to do," he explained. "Let's get going."

And he proceeded to devise a brilliant counter attack against our enemies in the battle for public opinion. Damaging information about Jack Scott, the Hearst empire, and the FBI started appearing in Herb Caen's daily column. Pieces sounding at least faint praise for our reporting methods started finding outlets. A few supporters on the left (very few) spoke out somewhat on our behalf.

Over the subsequent months, I started developing thicker skin, and a more critical eye at the concept that I needed anyone else's approval to do what I thought was right. It was my dear and most loyal of friends, Ken Kelley, who helped me get myself back from that terrible feeling of being society's outcast. The irony in this, of course, is that Ken was himself always the consummate outcast; yet, as my loyal friend, he knew that this was not the right place for me.

When somebody passes away, I know that you are supposed to say, "May his soul rest in peace." But somehow that doesn't feel right in Ken's case. So I'll just close with this: "I loved you, my friend. May your soul be dancing happily out there, wherever you've gone to, laughing your loudest laugh, flying skyward at the speed of light."

Good-bye, Ken.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Nights Move*

Sunset over the Mission.

Sun setting over the Bay Bridge.

I have been sick this week, with a nasty sinus infection, here in the city where temperatures in the 40's feel much worse due to no central heating in our old, drafty buildings erected more than a century ago.

Last night, feeling very ill, I fell asleep at 9 pm, then woke up at 11;30 pm, and decided to finish reading that Murakami novel. I did, within an hour, but by then I was so distraught that the author had chosen to kill off two of my favorites six characters, I was doomed to a night of agitation.

I started worrying about everything and everyone dear to me. In my case, that is a very long list and takes a lot of tick-tocks before I've imagined each and every horror that just might befall those I care so deeply about. This quasi-conscious state is so painful, I started wondering if death might not be a relief?

On and on the night went. I got up, ate some blueberries with milk (dreaming of Michigan, 41 years ago), but that didn't settle me, either.

Tossing and turning, hour after hour, worrying every worry my feverish brain could conjure, I finally settled into a restless sleep somewhere around 6:30 am.

Less than a half hour later, my youngest daughter was calling. She needed a shirt that was at my house in order to complete the outfit she intended to wear today, which would be matching with a friend of hers.

With an effort that felt like lifting a dead whale from my bed, I located this shirt and drove it over to her, in my pajamas and slippers.

Back home, sleep still didn't come. And 14 hours later, after another busy day, it still evades me. Maybe some force is keeping me awake for some challenge or another. If so, I have no idea what it is. After all, I can worry with the best of them.

What else is a parent to do?


*With respect to the great Bob Seger:

I awoke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain't it funny how the night moves
When you just don't seem to have as much to lose
Strange how the night moves
With autumn closing in


A Persian Jew is Mayor of Beverly Hills?

One of my favorite edgy Jewish magazines, Jewcy, today has an interview with the new mayor of Beverly Hills, who is, as unlikely as it may sound, a Persian Jew!

You can read this piece by following the link, which is embedded as a link in the title of this post. Just click the headline and read!


The reason I started with this story tonight is that I've long felt that the greatest thing about America, the nation, is our emerging diversity. There really are not all that many societies in the world as freely diverse as ours is becoming.

The outcome of the critical Presidential primaries in California (Feb. 5) may hinge on the huge bloc of Independent voters here (3 million), at least on the Democratic side. Nationally, among the young especially, party affiliation seems to be dying, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

If you go back and study the demographics of the 2004 election, George Bush won with the support of only one group -- white people. Kerry won with African-, Asian-, and Latino-Americans, and with virtually all the other significant minority groups. As our country grows its rainbow-like spectrum of racial, linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity, we can expect many more leaders to emerge that, on paper at least, challenge many of our out-dated assumptions.

A Mayor who is both Iranian and Jewish? Yep, that's right.

A President whose father was Kenyan and whose mother was a white Midwesterner, who grew up in Hawaii (the center of mixed-race families) and Indonesia, and who is a Christian, a professor, and an intellectual in touch with the hopes of poor, working, and middle class people?

Yep, that's a real possibility, too.

A man who, most importantly, seems to be a natural conciliator with the ability to inspire us all?

Check him out; he's the real deal.

The national polls indicate Obama has pulled into a virtual tie with Clinton, but after the New Hampshire polling debacle, caution is indicated. The polls may over-estimate Obama's support.

For Republicans, McCain is polling ahead of the pack. He should do very well in California, except for the fact that, unlike the Democratic primary, Independents cannot vote in the GOP primary.

Stay tuned...

p.s. According to Blogger, this is my 800th post to this blog. A milestone of sorts. Thank you to all of my visitors. I'll keep going as long as you keep coming!


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Winter Sky

Apple tree with dried apples.

A water painting called "Lines."

"Kafka" framed.

Yours truly, with long hair, in a dirty mirror, four months after my last haircut.

The return of sour grass.

Yesterday's tiny acorn.

1960s camera person waiting for the show to begin this morning.

Lights, action!


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This Just In!

How to lose by looks like Senator Clinton has to be worried about her weak showing tonight in Michigan.

Michigan's Ominous Message for Hillary Clinton
By John Nichols

The Nation -- DETROIT -- The question in Tuesday's Michigan Democratic primary was not whether Hillary Clinton could beat anybody.

The question was whether Clinton could beat nobody.

As the only leading Democratic contender to keep her name on the ballot after Michigan officials moved their primary ahead of the opening date scheduled by the Democratic National Committee, Clinton was perfectly positioned. She had no serious opposition. She also had the strong support of top Michigan Democrats such as Governor Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Usually, a prominent presidential contender running a primary campaign without serious opposition and with strong in-state support from party leaders can count on winning 90 percent or more of the vote. That's how it went for George Bush when he was running without serious opposition in Republican primaries in 2004, and for Bill Clinton when he was essentially unopposed in the Democratic primaries in 1996.

But Hillary Clinton got nowhere near 90 percent of the vote in Tuesday's Michigan primary.

With most of the ballots counted, the New York senator was winning uninspiring 55 percent of the Democratic primary vote.

A remarkable 40 percent of Michiganders who participated in the primary voted for nobody, marking the "Uncommitted" option on their ballots. Another 4 percent backed Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who brought his anti-war, anti-corporate campaign to Michigan and made some inroads among Muslim voters in the Detroit area and liberals in Washtenaw County -- where he was taking almost 10 percent.

But "Uncommitted" was Clinton's most serious challenger in Michigan.

"Uncommitted" was actually beating Clinton in some counties and holding her below 50 percent in others, including Detroit's Wayne County.

Ominously for the Clinton camp, the former First Lady was losing the African-American vote -- in Wayne County and statewide -- to "Uncommitted." African-American leaders such as Detroit Congressman John Conyers, who backs Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, had urged an "Uncommitted" vote. And the message seemed to connect. Exits polls showed "Uncommitted" winning by a 70-26 margin among African-Americans. (Had Michigan voters been allowed to choose between all the serious contenders for the Democratic nod, CNN's exit poll found, Obama would have won the African-American vote by a 73-22 margin over Clinton.)

"Uncommitted" also beat Clinton among independent voters who participated in the Democratic primary, and among young voters.

The message from Michigan, suggests veteran Detroit Free Press columnist Stephen Henderson, is that if Clinton is the Democratic nominee she'll "have a real challenge building an electoral coalition that can win in November."

"(A) Democrat won't win without carrying a significant slice of the African-American vote or reaching out to independents," explained Henderson.

It is hard to argue with that assessment.

It is harder still to believe that Clinton will get very far claiming Michigan handed her a meaningful victory Tuesday night. When two out of every five voters choose nobody rather than a prominent candidate who is running with little or no opposition, that candidate's got no reason to celebrate.

Copyright © 2008 The Nation

Small Objects, Big Challenges

I found one tiny acorn today. It was perfect. Small birds swarmed into my naked apple tree. Despite the fierce, hurricane winds that blew in through here earlier this month, somehow a quantity of dried apples still cling to their branches. They must not have much internal moisture left, but birds still pick at them gingerly. The bird who sips too much fermented apple juice will fly away wobbly.

Eying these birds today was our frequent visitor, Oliver the cat. I greeted him, but unlike one of the main characters in Murakami's brilliant Kafka on the Shore, I cannot understand cat language.

The book continues to pull me apart from the "real world," and toward the land of mysterious spirits. I've come to the conclusion that there is no greater novelist writing today anywhere in the world. Few are the contemporary novels that can transform a reader's day from the blur of mindlessness to the acuity of mindfulness, but this book is one.

I can only handle a few chapters each day; then I must set it down and immerse myself in the New York Times or CNN, or some other, less challenging purveyor of information.

The small things, the details.

Too often, we overlook them. Yes, the devil is in the details, but so is the answer you've been seeking. The objects at the top of this post are what I used in working with my nine-year-old tonight on her math homework. She's the kind of kid who loves the parts of math that come easily to her (adding), hates the parts she finds hard (subtraction), and fears the parts that (despite her parents' urging) require practice, over and over, if she is ever to commit them to her memory, i.e., multiplication.

(Let's not even consider what teaching her division will entail.)

So tonight, as she hung her head in despair, I got out my boxes of stones and seaglass and coins and slowly, piece by piece, explained how to understand the business of multiplying numbers. I am not and never will be a great math teacher, but this palpable, real-world collection of objects often seems exactly what a third-grader needs as she encounters these strange new permutations of arithmetic conventions like multiplying and dividing.

Math is a great tease, enticing you in with the pleasure of early conquests, only to torture you whenever you hit one of its many invisible walls. Much like the opera.

In any event, there are other numerical reports to give passing mention to tonight. Romney finally won a primary, in my native Michigan, so the Republican race remains muddled. National polls indicate Obama and Clinton are in a tight race, but the next set of critical primaries should reveal just how tight it actually is.

We're reaching the point in the primary races where money may dictate who survives and who withdraws. Super Tuesday, including the incredibly delegate-rich Democratic states of California and New York, looms three weeks from now. Our California Voter's Guides arrived today.

Stay tuned. I'll analyze the polls and the primaries up until the point both major parties have a presumptive nominee...


Monday, January 14, 2008

Life in Water Color

Chaos Theory

Free Bird


No Comment...

...and by that I do not mean to imply that I wish to discredit this news report. After all, one in seven Americans believe they have seen a UFO, and, under the influence of Murakami, as I am, who am I to dispute them?

Dozens in Texas town report seeing UFO

By ANGELA K. BROWN, Associated Press WriterMon Jan 14, 6:37 PM ET

In this farming community where nightfall usually brings clear, starry skies, residents are abuzz over reported sightings of what many believe is a UFO.

Several dozen people — including a pilot, county constable and business owners — insist they have seen a large silent object with bright lights flying low and fast. Some reported seeing fighter jets chasing it.

"People wonder what in the world it is because this is the Bible Belt, and everyone is afraid it's the end of times," said Steve Allen, a freight company owner and pilot who said the object he saw last week was a mile long and half a mile wide. "It was positively, absolutely nothing from these parts."

While federal officials insist there's a logical explanation, locals swear that it was larger, quieter, faster and lower to the ground than an airplane. They also said the object's lights changed configuration, unlike those of a plane. People in several towns who reported seeing it over several weeks have offered similar descriptions of the object.

Machinist Ricky Sorrells said friends made fun of him when he told them he saw a flat, metallic object hovering about 300 feet over a pasture behind his Dublin home. But he decided to come forward after reading similar accounts in the Stephenville Empire-Tribune.

"You hear about big bass or big buck in the area, but this is a different deal," Sorrells said. "It feels good to hear that other people saw something, because that means I'm not crazy."

Sorrells said he has seen the object several times. He said he watched it through his rifle's telescopic lens and described it as very large and without seams, nuts or bolts.

Maj. Karl Lewis, a spokesman for the 301st Fighter Wing at the Joint Reserve Base Naval Air Station in Fort Worth, said no F-16s or other aircraft from his base were in the area the night of Jan. 8, when most people reported the sighting.

Lewis said the object may have been an illusion caused by two commercial airplanes. Lights from the aircraft would seem unusually bright and may appear orange from the setting sun.

"I'm 90 percent sure this was an airliner," Lewis said. "With the sun's angle, it can play tricks on you."

Officials at the region's two Air Force bases — Dyess in Abilene and Sheppard in Wichita Falls — also said none of their aircraft were in the area last week. The Air Force no longer investigates UFOs.

One man has offered a reward for a photograph or videotape of the mysterious object.

About 200 UFO sightings are reported each month, mostly in California, Colorado and Texas, according to the Mutual UFO Network, which plans to go to the 17,000-resident town of Stephenville to investigate.

Fourteen percent of Americans polled last year by The Associated Press and Ipsos say they have seen a UFO.

Erath County Constable Lee Roy Gaitan said that he first saw red glowing lights and then white flashing lights moving fast, but that even with binoculars could not see the object to which the lights were attached.

"I didn't see a flying saucer and I don't know what it was, but it wasn't an airplane, and I've never seen anything like it," Gaitan said. "I think it must be some kind of military craft — at least I hope it was."

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press.

The Blur of Time

A sea of yellow engulfed St. Mary's gym tonight as the Synergy Middle School Varsity won its first basketball game of the season, 27-25. It was a team effort -- seven different players scored. Aidan got six. As the kids continue to learn the game, they become ever more impressive.

Sour grass has returned to my backyard, but that too was a blur today due to a sudden swirl of wind as I snapped the picture.

It was a strange day here in the Mission. Birds swirled around our trees -- little birds, big birds, middle-sized ones. Doves, a Robin, Sparrows, a small Bluebird, and others I could not identify.

They seemed extremely worked up, as if a storm was coming, but no storm ever came.

Under the pervasive influence of Murakami, as I am these days, I'm especially alert to signs of ghosts, fairies, jinns, and leprechauns. Spirits that are all around. Sounds that have no discoverable source, shadows that yield no body. It's a creepy feeling, but somehow it is more real to me, right now, than the ordinary events of my uneventful day.

A UPS delivery.
A phone call from my accountant's office.
A visit from the Cable Guy, who promised that my connectivity woes are over now.
A few random emails.
Home made coffee. I haven't had a latte, cafe au lait, or cappuccino since losing my job four months ago.

Restless -- that is my dominant mood. Numbers remain my main source of comfort.

Here's a sequence: 19.2/34.3%/50%/36.4%/2.6/1.5/2.5/0.3/4.83. Basketball numbers. Good ones. Aidan's.

Keep an eye on Apple's stock. One of only three tech companies to rise impressively in 2007, it soared over six points again today, to over $178/share. My friend Tamara, who's the best Apple analyst I know, suggests that rumors of a new product breakthrough this week at MacWorld will fuel a new rise. Apple hit 200 briefly, before losing 14% of its value in the recent market collapse.

Here's hoping it will rise once again.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kafka and me

Haruki Murakami's latest dreamscape, Kafka on the Shore, has drawn me in this weekend. You know how a good book is; you can't set it down. So far I've read 240 of the paperback's 467 pages., or roughly 51.4%. Most people would say "a little over half," but I prefer greater mathematical precision.

Think about that number: 51.4%. It could well end up to be the next President's percentage of the popular vote come November, assuming a two-person race. In 2004, Bush won reelection with a tad over 51% of the vote, but that translated into 3,012,497 more votes than Kerry.

Once you've read one Murakami book, in a strange way, you know what is going to "happen" in the next book of his that falls into your hands. I'm approaching the halfway point through a list of six of Murakami's most celebrated works (41.9%, actually), so as I turn each page, a strange sort of dread and excitement hangs over the reading experience.

His most jarring scenes are sexual, violent, or claustrophobic. A character we learn to care deeply about has lovely, erotic sex, only to discover it may have been a dream. Another character, harmless in every way, suddenly murders someone in a disturbingly graphic way, only to awake in another place, with no blood at all on his hands, let alone his clothes. His characters sit at the bottoms of wells, or alone in remote cabins, deep in the woods, or imagine they are far under the sea.

Most of all, Murakami explores something essentially Japanese: a belief in spirits and ghosts. Thanks to my travels in Japan and my close relationships with a number of Japanese people, and my careful reading of many, many works of Japanese literature, it has become an expectation of mine that any true Japanese story will explore these supernatural aspects of life.

Murakami is deeply reflective, though not in a religious sense. Japan's is not a religious culture; it is secular and pragmatic. But at the same time it is superstitious and deeply spiritual. Many peoples around the world honor their dead ancestors, but many Japanese seem to believe theirs are still among them, long after the death of their physical manifestations.

In his latest book, Murakami explores whether humans may be able to become spirits even when they are still alive on this earth. Think about that, and it becomes an intoxicating concept. If it is so, one's thoughts and fantasies can be projected over great distances to cause real things to happen.

As one with no true experience to either validate or reject his theory, I can only wonder whether it just might be right. After all, Japanese society is one of the oldest on earth. Everything that can be imagines has already happened in Japan, including many things (think atomic bombs) that no other people have yet experienced, Thank God.

(If believeing in God will prevent any more nuclear attacks, I'll convert tomorrow, or at least the day after.)

But then again, on my mother's side, my Scottish ancestors believed in all sorts of spirits and superstitions. And, my own Grandmother seemed to be clairvoyant.

Setting down the book for a bit, and before writing these words, I painted a picture tonight. And that is what sits atop my post. I call it "Kafka."