Koko the gorilla

This evening, I was helping a junior-high student with her English homework, as I do most weeks. She had been assigned an article about Jackson Pollock, which we read over and discussed together. The article mentioned that Pollock stopped giving his paintings names, opting for numbers instead, because he wanted people to focus on the painting itself, not the name. As we discussed this idea, I mentioned, as an example of a name outshining the painting it is attached to, “Pink Pink Stink Nice Drink” by Koko the gorilla. She’d never heard of Koko, so I explained a bit. No idea why that particular painting came to mind; the connection with Pollock was tenuous at best.

After we finished the Pollock article, I said, “So what’s the article you have to read next week?” She didn’t know, and the syllabus only had page numbers, so she checked in the book to see what it was. And it was an article called “Koko Communicates,” about, you guessed it, Koko the gorilla. (I had never seen the book before and had no idea of its contents. We always read photocopies of the assigned articles together, since she usually leaves her reading book at school. This time she just happened to have brought it home.)


A premonition

On Wednesday, November 23, at 8:00 pm, I had a ten-minute break between classes and checked my phone. I saw that my wife had tried to call me about an hour before, during my class. Immediately I had a very strong impression that the reason that she had called was that one of our 11 pets (I thought of a specific one) had suddenly died. I tried to call her back several times, but she didn’t pick up.

I thought to myself, “Remember to write this down, whether it comes true or not. It probably won’t, and you don’t want to forget that some very strong impressions are total misses.”

But when I came home, I found that I was right. The pet in question — a male sugar glider called Coffee — who was not particularly old and who had been totally normal when I left for work, had suddenly died for unknown reasons, and my wife had called to tell me.


I ran into the unusual word kakistocracy twice in one day: first in the post “Vicious Circles & Angry Squares: Pedophilia, Scapegoating, Taboo, & Social Control (Part One)” at the blog Auticulture, and then in a Daily Beast article by Marlow Stern called “Kanye West Used to Speak Truth to Power. Now He Only Speaks for Himself.

The Auticulture post uses the word in reference to the mysterious class that really runs everything.

Regardless of which minority or which kind of “prejudice” is being addressed, it is all scapegoating. It is the same social principal being applied to achieve the ends of an actual privileged minority class. What can be said about this group is very little. But they may not even be racist, homophobic, or misogynist at all; they may be something far beyond such limited and limiting terms (terms they would have created deliberately to befog the rest of us). It’s likely they view themselves as superior to all humankind, as we think of the term, regardless of type or orientation. And the worst of it is that, even by trying to identify and categorize them (the Kakistocracy), we are potentially playing into their hands.

The above paragraph is followed by a picture of a satanic-looking Hillary Clinton, implying that she is part of said kakistocracy.

Stern, in an article slamming Kanye for supporting Trump, concludes thus:

West is a supremely gifted artist—one of the most important artists of his generation. And with much of the nation discouraged by the budding kakistocracy, West’s army of devoted fans needs their leader to be the courageous, powerful, righteous voice they know he can be.

The words “the budding kakistocracy” are a link to a New York Times article about Trump’s possible cabinet picks.


Early on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 23, I was in the study with my wife. She was preparing for an English class, and, as she often does, she asked me a few questions about how to translate certain Chinese terms into English. As it happens, all the questions were about cancer-related vocabulary — how to say 原位癌 (carcinoma in situ), 轉移性癌 (metastasized cancer), etc.

After I’d answered all her questions about talking about cancer in English, she continued her preparations, and I opened my electronic copy of Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot. The very first paragraphs I read were as follows:

It is this contradiction which the term “the Fall” alludes to. In the first place, it designates a state of affairs in the world which gives the impression that the world is composed of two independent, if not opposed, worlds, as if in the organism of the great world of the “harmony of the spheres” there is interpolated another world with its own laws and evolution — as if a cancerous outgrowth has taken place in the otherwise healthy organism of the great world.

Science takes the two worlds together and considers them as inseparably united, and names this totality “Nature”— Nature with two faces: Nature, benign and cruel, at one and the same time; Nature both stubborn and astonishingly cooperative; wise and blind Nature; Nature, the loving mother and the cruel stepmother, full of malice. With all due respect to science, it is necessary to draw attention to a quite simple error of thought that it commits. Notably, it commits the same error that a doctor would commit if he were to consider a state of sickness (e.g. cancer) as normal or “natural”, and if he were to declare that the cancerous process as well as the circulation of the blood were two aspects of the nature of the organism of the sick person. This would be something monstrous, if the doctor refused to distinguish between nature and counter-nature (sickness) in the organism of the patient —yet this is precisely what science does with regard to the world-organism. It refuses to distinguish between Nature and counter-Nature, health and sickness, natural evolution and evolution contrary to Nature.

Granted, cancer is mentioned quite often in a variety of contexts, but this still caught my attention because it was so immediate. I read Tomberg’s cancer analogies literally seconds after discussing cancer with my wife.

Seeing one’s own reflection in the Bible

My previous post, posted very late last night (Saturday, November 19), began thus:

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading and rereading, masticating and remasticating, the Gospel of Mark — with quite rewarding results, as new and unexpected meanings keep bubbling up from the depths of the text (unless, of course, it is only my own reflection shimmering on the surface; one never really knows).

I used the metaphor of staring into deep water to express my uncertainty as to whether I was really plumbing the depths of the Bible or just reading my own ideas into it. The same question has troubled me as I’ve been reading Tomberg’s astonishingly deep Meditations on the Tarot. Is the wisdom really there in the cards, or are they just a convenient surface (one of many that would have served equally well) in which his remarkable mind can contemplate its own reflections?

In writing this, I thought also of Nietzsche‘s all-too-well-known line, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” Whitley Strieber (whose books I have reread more than any others, excepting certain books of the New Testament) puts a more positive spin on the same idea: “Instead of shunning the darkness, we can face straight into it with an open mind. When we do that, the unknown changes. Fearful things become understandable and a truth is suggested: the enigmatic presence of the human mind winks back from the dark.”


Now, when I’m out of the house and have some spare time, I do read and reread the King James Version of Mark in the tiny pocket-sized New Testament I keep in my bag. But my Bible reading when at home is from my wife’s much less portable Good News Bible, which I have been making my way through from the beginning, having never read this particular version before. Today I started at about halfway through Proverbs and read through the first few chapters of Isaiah. At about 6:30 p.m., I read Proverbs 27:19.

It is your own face that you see reflected in the water and it is your own self that you see in your heart.

Some 20 minutes later, I read the following in the GNB’s brief “Introduction” at the beginning of the book of Ecclesiastes.

Many have taken comfort in seeing themselves in the mirror of Ecclesiastes, and have discovered that the same Bible which reflects these thoughts also offers the hope in God that gives life its greater meaning.


As I mentioned, I have also been reading Tomberg’s Meditiations on the Tarot, and have just started the chapter on the Wheel of Fortune.  Tomberg writes on page 241: “Three historical personalities have vividly portrayed the idea of the cosmic wheel, although each of them did so in a different way. These are: Gautama Buddha, Solomon and Friedrich Nietzsche.” When he mentions Solomon, the intended reference is to the book of Ecclesiastes, which he quotes several times in the ensuing discussion.

Holy story only

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading and rereading, masticating and remasticating, the Gospel of Mark — with quite rewarding results, as new and unexpected meanings keep bubbling up from the depths of the text (unless, of course, it is only my own reflection shimmering on the surface; one never really knows). On my motorcycle, en route to a class, I was chewing over a particularly refractory parable when I suddenly thought to myself, “You know, this is pretty strange behavior for a professed agnostic. If, as my actions seem to indicate, I think the text is divinely inspired, why not just admit it to myself? And if I don’t, why not just drop the whole thing and focus on books I actually trust?”

Seconds later, at a stop light, another motorcyclist went past, wearing, as is not uncommon in Taiwan, a T-shirt emblazoned with seemingly random English phrases. The front read “HOLY STORY ONLY”; the back, “SICK AND TIRED.” It certainly felt like a commentary on my thoughts, though an ambiguous one! Either “Come on, it’s just a story. Drop it already and move on!” or “How long are you going to keep kidding yourself with this ‘just a story’ crap? I’m starting to lose patience with your obtuseness!”

(How stuff like this ever ends up being printed on T-shirts, I’ll never understand! Japan is the same way.)

K. Bryant, 24, outstanding bas…ball player

On the afternoon of Friday, November 18, I taught a one-on-one English class in which we  read and discussed an article gushing about Kobe Bryant‘s last basketball game before his retirement. (I have zero interest in spectator sports, so this is a very unusual sort of topic for me to cover. The article came from a magazine the student had selected.)

Late that same night, I checked the Junior Ganymede blog and found a new post, “MVP Civic Repeat,” quoted below in its entirety.

Kris Bryant, the 2016 National League MVP, is a native son of Las Vegas, born in 1992. As is the 2015 NL MVP, Bryce Harper. I am not aware of a third 24-year-old Las Vegan playing in major league baseball.

(24, as it happens, is the number on Kobe Bryant’s jersey.)