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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's

Here is a post from 2014:

No I'm not on twitter. But my yahoo mail has a red Valentine's heart on the top corner, and it throbs!

I thought it was cute.

But all cuteness aside, a day of lighthearted celebration of love is a good thing. The problem is when people take it so seriously that it means everything (or nothing). Red hearts all over the place are a nice burst of color, in this dark depths of winter, and after the festivities of Christmas and New Year, it brings a holiday mood into February. Our next holiday is Easter, and that is as late as March or April.

I was recently watching You've Got Mail with Meg Ryan (as Kathleen Kelly) and Tom Hanks (as Joe Fox). Kathleen sends herself a dozen red roses for Valentine's. She says to Joe that she does it for the possibility of love.

That is how we should all live: for the possibility of love, for the possibility of goodness, for the possibility of beauty, for the possibility of summer.

So many possibility, it gives us quite a busy schedule!

Here is a simple menu:
- Plate of sweet potato fries
- Glass of Cabernet Sauvignon Vista Point from California

Wine description from the menu:
Intense blackberry and currant, a smooth easy drinking wine for any occasion.
I don't know why the wine is described as "intense" but it is more flavorful than intense.

Here's one moresite (pdf) with this brief description of the wine: "pleasant, semi-dry, smooth."

My evaluation is that the wine's fruity notes makes it a great match with the sweet potatoes.

Happy (belated) Valentine's to all!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sing a Song of Sixpence

Illustration Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie
By Scott Gustafson
From: from "Sing a Song of Sixpence"
Illustration for Favorite Nursery Rhymes: Mother Goose Collection

Sing a song of sixpence

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing
Wasn't that a dainty dish
To set before the king?

The king was in the counting-house
Counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlor
Eating bread and honey,

The maid was in the garden
Hanging out the clothes.
Along came a blackbird
And snipped off her nose.


Laura Wood at The Thinking Housewife writes:
In his 2011 book, School-Induced Dyslexia and How It Deforms a Child’s Brain, the late author and education reformer Samuel L. Blumenfeld argued that the whole language or “progressive” method of reading instruction had caused a massive increase in illiteracy, especially among blacks, and a skyrocketing number of diagnosed cases of “dyslexia.”
Elementary school children in public schools are taught to read today by memorizing a few dozen “sight,” mostly one-syllable, words. The traditional phonics method involves sounding out the letters and gradually progressing to bigger words.
I don't think it is just a reading problem anymore. All of childhood "education" has been diluted to make children "feel good."

Feisty children are created from feisty stories.

For some reason, I thought of "Sing a Song of Sixpence" when I read Laura's post. Perhaps it is the melody of the nursery rhyme, or it is the lovely little birds that I hear along my way to the bus stop or the store, hiding between the leafless tree branches.

Or it is the blackbirds themselves. Who has sympathy of blackbirds that are baked in a pie? If it were: "Four and twenty sparrows baked in a pie" it might conjure up a more sympathetic feeling. Blackbirds, even ones I see and try to photograph, don't get my sympathy.

So I think the purpose of nursery rhymes is to subtly, and sometimes less subtly, teach young children about the "pecking order" of the world. That there is good and that there is evil. Even in the animal world. That some are strong and others weaker.

It is interesting that the two characters of "power" in Sing a Song of Sixpence, the king and the queen, display this order so very clearly.
The king was in the counting-house
Counting out his money
The queen was in the parlor
Eating bread and honey
How frivolous to eat a sweet snack and alone and separate. How indulgent!

Of course the king could be some megalomaniac only interested in his gold coins, but he is the one charged with the important role. He has his kingdom's wealth to be concerned with.

Such clearly defined roles of men and women and our position in the natural world, with few niceties (we can bake blackbirds in a pie) might cure our disoriented and insipid youth which pledges its time and intellect on "equality/environmentalism/anti-racism" and any number of "global causes" of its strange belief that all is about niceness (not necessarily goodness).

And even those blackbirds surmounted the heat of the oven and came out chirping, alive and well.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Avett Brothers: The Return of American Music

Just know the kingdom of God is within you
Even though the battle is bound to continue
True Sadness

You were a friend to me when my wheels were off the track
I know you say there is no need, but I intend to pay you back
When my mind was turning loose and all my thoughts were turning black
You shined a light on me and I intend to pay you back

When I was a child, I depended on a bottle
Full-grown I've been known to lean on a bottle
But you're the real deal in a world of imposters
And I've seen the program make men out of monsters

'Cause I still wake up shaken by dreams
And I hate to say it but the way it seems
Is that no one is fine
Take the time to peel a few layers and you will find
True sadness

Adam and Eve must have really done a number
On that garden when the apple was finished
Leaving behind them a den made of sadness
A damage that can't or won't be replenished

'Cause I still wake up shaken by dreams
And I hate to say it but the way it seems
Is that no one is fine
Take the time to peel a few layers and you will find
True sadness

Angela became a target
As soon as her beauty was seen
By young men who try to reduce her down
To a scene on an X rated screen

Is she not more than the curve of her hips?
Is she not more than the shine on her lips?
Does she not dream to sing and to live and to dance down her own path
Without being torn apart?
Does she not have a heart?

I cannot go on with this evil inside me
I step out my front door and I feel it surround me
Just know the kingdom of God is within you
Even though the battle is bound to continue

'Cause I still wake up shaken by dreams
And I hate to say it but the way it seems
Is that no one is fine
Take the time to peel a few layers and you will find
True sadness
True sadness
True true sadness

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Desk With a Thousand Views

I'm reposting a blog post from March 2015: A Desk With a Thousand Views


A Desk With a Thousand Views

This is what I see as I sit at my desk. I put up this collage a few weeks ago while I was getting an article ready. The blank, greyish brown wall was too empty and too dark, and I needed some kind of stimulation as I wrote down my ideas.

I came up with this, first by putting the mustard yellow wrapping paper as a background.

This is not the full collage. I have had to crop it to get the images as clear as possible. I have several other design drawings, a large card of a Tiffany window from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the middle window here), my drawing of a mourning dove, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Les Grands Boulevards, which I saw at The National Gallery of Canada's Renoir Landscapes exhibition in Ottawa in 2007, amongst others.

I thought too many images would be a distraction - blank wall/paper and all that. But, it is actually helpful, and it is a comfort zone where I can calm down and think, with all these familiar, and beautiful, things around.

Here are the images:

1. Swan design from Well-Patterned.
2. Iris gift wrap paper from Longwood Gardens gift shop.
3. Cards from a photograph I took of the Cloisters, in New York.
4. Program from the exhibition Guilded New York at the Museum of the City of New York, showing Cornelia Ward Hall and Her Children. I visited the exhibition last year.
5. A print of my photograph of ferns, from my "plants from the Allan Gardens Conservatory" series.
6. Oak leaf from St. Peter and St. Paul Cemetery, near Philadelphia.
7. Balloons for 4th of July near Wall Street in New York. I took this photograph over ten years ago. I did a google image search "wall street balloons for fourth of july" with or without quotes, and mine is the first that comes up.
8. Patience at the New York Public Library, New York. I couldn't find a postcard of her companion Fortitude. I've used the library on a couple of occasions. I have a library card, which I got as a non-resident.
9. The Palm Court in the Plaza Hotel. Again, this is a postcard, although I have taken several photographs of that beautiful interior.
10. Card from the Frick Collection's Precision and Splendor exhibition. I bought the card when I visited the exhibition, which is a detail of the 18th century Gilt-Bronze and Enamel Mantel Regulator Clock.
11. Woman at Table with Parrot and Lamp at the exhibition A Shared Legacy: Folk Art in America in the American Folk Art Museum, in New York.
12. A postcard, framed, of a photograph of hydrangeas I bought at a sidewalk display at the Central Park mall. The photographer, Diane Dua, has a website.
Posted By: Kidist P. Asrat

Friday, February 3, 2017

Welfare Advocate Sarah Jessica Parker: The Hollywood Limousine Liberal
Article Submission and Rejection

Below is an article I submitted to the on-line journal The Imaginative Conservative. It was rejected with the following email from Alyssa Barnes*, managing editor at the journal:
Dear Ms. Asrat:

Thank you for your interest in The Imaginative Conservative; I hope you are well.

Thank you also for your proposal. I regret to inform you that your essay does not meet our current editorial needs.

First: What is this "conservative" trend (for decades now) with formal letters being signed off with a first name? Odd and deceptively familiar. Deceptively familiar because it looks like I am a "friend" of sorts, whereas I am interacting with Ms. Barnes on a purely professional level.

Second: What does "does not meet our current editorial needs" mean? Do they have too many submissions to consider? Do they not like the topic? Do they not like the religious references?

Conservatives have always been accused of being too stuffy and out of touch with reality. Then suddenly Trump pops up and they are shocked.

A professional interaction does not inhibit (or forbid) one to be out with the common man. And being out with the common man doesn't mean one doesn't treat him with some level of formality.

Does she think that I am being blasphemous in associating Mary Magdalene's love of Christ with Sarah Jessica Parker's profane use of perfume?

Still, stuffiness aside, conservatives, and those who call themselves religious conservatives, keep missing the boat with their grandiose elitism and consequently their inability to read the common man.

They're as bad in their intellectual ivory tower as is SJP in her Hollywood ivory tower.

I should have known better, as I wrote a critique of a post at the IC just a few weeks ago: Mo and Mao: How the East Might Revive the West’s Tradition. Of course, my argument is that it is the other way around.

Probably this post would have made Ms. Barnes' cut. Lainey Gossip is the website of a second-rate Canadian media woman Elaine Lui who makes her income on gossip. She has a degree in French (it must be all those naughty "frrrench" who corrupted her). I doubt it. She seems to link her "harsh" take on life to her Chinese background, Tiger Mom style.
“My grandmother ran a Mahjong den in Hong Kong. My mother played, that’s what they do - they play Mahjong and they talk sh-t, all day and all night. They smoke cigarettes and send out for food and talk sh-t some more. That was how they communicated. Gossip is communication. That's how I was indoctrinated.”
My voice is snarky, bitchy but also deeply, deeply gossipy."
She got her husband to quit his job at a media company to join in with her "bitching" as "the business side" of her enterprise.

She gossips, but so what? How bland and boring.

There's no bigger story, no message, no moral. Just mean-spirited humorless empty gossip.

These days Lainey's dishes have has gone "lo-cal." Perhaps it is all those celebrity endorsements that have told her to cool it down a little. She also smiles a lot on her tv show The Social , but then she can't help herself with her periodic "b..." outbursts.


Here is the short bio at The Imaginative Conservative on Ms. Barnes:
Alyssa Barnes is the Managing Editor of The Imaginative Conservative. She is a graduate student in Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy and Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. Miss Barnes holds a B.A. in Philosophy, Political Science, and Classical Languages from the University of St. Thomas' Honors Program in Houston, TX. She has also been an Intercollegiate Studies Institute Honors Fellow.
Barnes' Linkedin page shows that she has worked directly in churches and religious institutions, and has attended Catholic schools and universities.


Article submitted to The Imaginative Conservative:

Welfare Advocate Sarah Jessica Parer: The Hollywood Limousine Liberal

John 12:3-8
Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him,
Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.

Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.
For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.
Luke 6:20-21
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Left: Sarah Jessica Parker promoting her perfume Lovely in 2005
Right: Existential drama at the 2017 Golden Globes, soon after the election of Donald Trump

Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus' feet with expensive perfume to worship him and adore him. Sarah Jessica Parker brands her perfumes as part of her name and uses this fame to promote government dependency by America's poor.

Sarah Jessica Parker used to look pretty, and even lovey at times. Above left is a photo of her in 2005 with her perfume "Lovely," and then in the photo on the right at the 2017 Global Globe awards. By 2017, she is looking up as though searching for some vampire-god's guidance with her blackened nails and elongated claws for eyelashes. Why the spiritual drama?

Well the immediate answer is that she is "shocked" by the election of Donald Trump. Here is her emotional rollercoaster of a reaction over Trump's election:
"I am shocked by what has happened. I’m devastated by…I’m sad..."
That partly explains her appearance: sad/shocked/devastated and trying to put on a happy face.

Parker is wearing a wedding gown for the Global Globe 's, with no hint or irony. Except that this is a mangled and ripped gown touted as the latest design by divorced wedding gown designer Vera Wang.

Vera Wang: Fall 2017 - Dracula's Bride

She is wearing her SJP Shoe Collection heels, having moved up the ranks to a shoe designer. They are a rather tame "spaghetti strap" heels, carefully hidden by the trailing cut-out gown, since they don't fit the vampire theme of the dress. Parker has always been about pretty, which is why she cannot display her black nails and grey eyeshadow with a genuinely happy face.

SJP Shoe Collection: Westminster Metallic Sandals

A rich Hollywoodian, Parker hypocritically "supports" the poor as she lives a lavish, luxurious and indulgent life. Which is part of the "long answer" to her existential malaise. She is rich, wealthy actually, but she wants to (pretend to) be one with the poor. Since she has no religion, or rather since she has abandoned God, even the God of her Jewish ancestors, she has no idea of the meaning of Jesus' words (and even if she did know them, she wouldn't know how to relate to them):
"For you have the poor always with you; but me you have not always. [Matthew 26:11].
Her constant scurrying around, her beaten-down look, her idols, including President Obama, all attest to her deep desire to be this "good person." She has made her charitable missions her religion. But like true hypocrites, such charity, especially when in the presence of the President, come with designer shoes and gourmet-catered dinners, all carefully orchestrated to be hidden away to avoid ostentatious exhibition. After all who questions a little glitter on slippers and a plate of
"Chicken with a mustard sauce, diced tomatoes and a lot of relishes on the side..." dishes Aretha Franklin, one of the honorary guests, to gossip media waiting outside the townhouse "Very tasty," she added.

She has some idea of how goodness from others (strangers and friends) can make life better. She talks about her life in poverty as a young child with her family being on welfare for much of her childhood, and having to get "welfare tickets" for free lunches while in the third grade in a Cincinnati school. More information on her family background shows that her mother divorced Parker's father when she was only a year old and remarried a year later to a Paul Forste. Parker's mother seemed attracted to men with unstable financial prospects. Stephen Parker was an "aspiring writer." Paul Forste was a "theater student" who also worked as a truck driver when he came to live with Parker's mother, bringing with him his five children making the household child count to eight. The family lived off the "theatre student" Forste's truck driver salary and what Barbara brought in on her teacher's wages.

It is never pleasant to criticize someone's poverty. But how much of her mother's bad choices led to Parker's difficult childhood? Still, her enterprising mother managed to find some way out of this poverty by enrolling her children in various entertainment productions. By 1977, at age eleven, Parker had a role in the Broadway musical Annie. By 1979, she had nabbed the lead role. And the rest is history (including briefly dating John F. Kennedy)

Parker is now an advocate for welfare, albeit indirectly, through her vigorous support of Obama and all his failed government policies. She is the epitome of a limousine liberal but one who should know better thus making her a hypocrite. It wasn't the free lunches that catapulted her into the ranks of Hollywood's elite, but her mother's savviness and a little of her own talent.

She now keeps making her films, and concocts more perfumes (she's got about four by now although none as good as the first one). I used to be a fan of hers in her Sex and the City days, which, to its credit, was uncomfortably inhibited with its "sex" part. Kim Cattrall, the sexpot in the series, always performed her scenes as though she were in a rush for them to be over. The prudence was possibly due to Parker (she is a prude).

Her latest media promotion for which she attended the Golden Globes is for a television series called Divorce. Her painful experience with her parents' split when she was a young child seems to have made her wiser, making sure her marriage stays intact. She has been married to Matthew Broderick for twenty-five years now.
“What I do on screen doesn't cross the placenta, do you know what I mean?”
[Parker in an interview with People Magazine in New York at the HBO premier series for Divorce]
But Parker does not really believe in marriage. At least the formal traditional kind.

That is the hypocrisy of the contemporary liberal elite. They make sure their own heterosexual marriages stay intact, and a surprising number are intact albeit many are in long-standing second marriages, or married after several years of "cohabitation." Look at for example Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, Meryl Streep and her non-movie star husband (she's the smartest of them all), Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. But everyone else's marriage is up for grabs of freedom: freedom to leave a husband in pursuit of a career; freedom to choose the gender (or non-gender) of one's "partner;" freedom to have children; freedom to adopt a Chinese orphan. Parker sees herself as the spokeswomyn for the common womyn who reconfigures life to suit her agenda and ideology. Parker hasn't gained an iota of wisdom, or empathy, from the difficult, and sad, life of her own parents' failed marriages.

Parker never adopted a Chinese infant, as is the trend amongst these multimillionaire actresses. She has one son with her husband, whom she bore late in life (at 35). And she couldn't leave it at that. Instead, her youngest two children are through a surrogate. Imagine telling your children they have another "mother" out there somewhere.

The "Lovely" woman has become the epitome of the narcissistic Hollywood actress.

40K/plate fundraiser for Obama and his wife in 2012

Parker held a fundraiser for Obama in 2012 in her multi-million Greenwich Village brownstone home and introduced him and his wife thus:
"It is a great, a rare, a very special and I’m assuming a singular treat to welcome you into our home – our radiant, our extraordinary first lady...[and the] beloved current and future president of the United States.”
She is now mum about her retiring president, whom she helped to re-elect for a second term. And the state of affairs in which he left America after his presidency does not make a good pitch for a sitcom.

Mary Magdalene Anointing Jesus' Feet
Stained glass window
Meyer's Studios, Munich 1899


*Alyssa Barnes

Video screen shot of interview of Alyssa Barnes on her transfer to
the University of Saint Thomas. Notice the tight jean pants,
the tight short-sleeved t-shirt, the string bracelet,
the heavy make up on her eyes.
I wouldn't blame her rather than the authorities who allow such school "uniform."

Barnes wrote an article titled: Top Ten Ways to be a Man, with the preface to the article:
In an age in which tweed jackets have been replaced by sweatshirts, pants have holes and shoes lack laces, and the “un-done” look is considered attractive, maybe we need to reconsider our codes of conduct, especially when it comes to the art of being a man. Thus, the question is begged: What makes a man?

Video: Why I transferred to the University of Saint Thomas

Here is the Linkedin profile photo of Barnes which implies that it is a much more recent one.

Although Barnes looks much prettier in her the profile, she is wearing a glaring red lipstick and has clearly had her hair tinted. She looks like a natural red-head, and yet added these unnatural and unaesthetic highlights to her otherwise pretty hair. And her eye makeup is as heavy as her lipstick.

Timothy 2:9
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array


Saturday, January 28, 2017

...as complete an autobiography as I could find

I kept looking for as complete an autobiography as I could find, and realized that my presentation Reclaiming Beauty: Saving Our Western Civilization (posted below) at the Power of Beauty Conference, is as close as one I will find. I decided to present my "Reclaiming Beauty" presentation with me as a focus. My intention was far from narcissistic.

In a subversive way, I was trying to show that few (if any) non-Westerners would unequivocally champion Western civilization. I personally know of none, and would have found such a person by now (I've been writing about this for close to ten years now).

My point in the lecture was to show my own personal battle in this nefarious, multicultural world where this white western culture is maligned, constantly and viciously. Westerners are always put in the corner and forced to apologize: "Yes we built this...but look what we did in ..." in so many demeaning ways. I was trying to show that there is no need to apologize. I got, and still get, flak from family members and other acquaintances for these positions. It is not so much that I am a traitor but I'm reporting a falsehood. Whites and the West are colonizers, exploiters, destroyers of cultures and countries. They are the cause of the world's malaise.

Think about the way ex-President Obama behaved: subtly superior, carefully maligning, always, and indignantly, against America however much he professes to be an American. In his "letter to the American People" as he left his second term he wrote:
That, after all, is the story of America  - a story of progress. However halting, however incomplete, however harshly challenged at each point on our journey - the story of America is a story of progress.
The "progress" is never complete. The past will never be expunged. The wound will forever be allowed to fester.

I wasn't gong to apologize for these truths, and no-one else should either.


[Presentation at The Power of Beauty Conference, Saturday, October 25, 2014.]

This is one of the first photographs of me after my family and I left Ethiopia.

Champs de Mars, Paris. Six months after we arrived in France.

This picture was taken about a year before the terrible, and still damaging, “Ethiopian Revolution” when Emperor Haile Selassie was unceremoniously removed from his throne, and soon after, a vicious communist regime ran the country for almost two decades.

I am ten in this photograph. My brothers and I were in English-language French schools, since we knew no French having received our primary education in English.

We lived close to the Bastille, in the city-center. Ironically, this is the center where the French Revolution started. But, we were oblivious to these political turmoils. We had turmoils of our own: How to make sense of this new and bewildering country.

We often went to Champs de Mars, the park where the Eiffel Tower is located. We went there to walk in the garden, to ride the various carts and ponies, to eat some ice cream. Pistachio was my favorite.

From this photo, it is clear that I was still in some kind of shock over my new environment. I wonder what it was that had caught my attention? It looks like I was distracted from my quiet observations by yet another photo session, those photos which we would be sending around to show everyone we were dong fine in this new cty. Was it a little girl I was observing, perhaps one who could be a friend? People quarreling in that strange guttural language which I would soon learn to speak? A flower or plant I had never seen before? I don’t remember.

But this expression, and this curiosity, coupled with a deep desire to understand and make sense of my surroundings, has been my way of life ever since.

And Paris became my standard: For language, for food, for art, and for cities.

As I got used to the city, I became a devout museum-goer. Friends and families coming to visit us, would be told “Kidist can take you to the Louvre.”

I got to know Paris so well, and especially the older city-center, that I could get around through its small side-streets and alleyways. I would use the large boulevards for quick maneuvers to specific shops and locations and not for adventurous discoveries.

The juxtaposition of the small and intimate with the large that is so much part of Paris, became my standard for gauging a city. Wherever I went, I would look for the intimate and the grand. “This is how a city should be,” I thought.

It was in Paris that I got to love art, and Western art. Non-Western art was few and far between, and only occasionally would a visiting troupe of dancers or a theater ensemble come from an Asian or an African country. I don’t remember seeing any exhibition of African art. My informal education took took on Western orientation. And in my formal education, through my parents’ belief that it was better we learn English than French, and since my father’s UNESCO post paid for our primary and secondary education, my brothers and I were educated in British boarding schools, in the beautiful county of Kent.

By age eleven, I had acquired a Kodak Instamatic camera. Rather than take endless shots of family, pets (of which we had none anyway in our cramped Paris apartment, although I had two! dogs over my short life in Addis Abeba), or friends, I mostly used my films to take pictures of Paris: The Louvre, The Tuileries Gardens, the Seine, and here the Madeleine.

View from Eglise de la Madeleine [Photo By:KPA]

Here, even then, in my juvenile amateurship, I seemed to know something about perspective. The view is from the steps of the Eglise de la Madeleine, and looks all the way down to Place de la Concorde.

But Paris is a dictator. She tells us exactly what we should be looking at, and what we should be taking. Such a confident city! So sure of her beauty! That was when I began to form my ideas about beauty. I realized, or internalized the idea, that beauty takes time, that it has its standards, and that people love beauty. The same way that they love Paris.

Paris from our balcony [Photo By:KPA]

(I had a Parisian friend in Toronto, who just couldn’t bear to be apart from her beautiful city. She was too polite to say that she couldn't find Toronto beautiful, but she compared everything with Paris).

Fortunately, I was never like her. Firstly, because I had seen other beautiful places, however different they were from this enchanting Paris. My young school years were in England, in the lovely Kent valley, then in the port city of Dover, with the spectacular White Cliffs, and the volatile and at times dramatic English Channel.

Cliffs of Dover and the English Channel [Photo By:KPA]

I saw that there was beauty in other environments. That nature could be beautiful also, and leave us as enchanted as cities like Paris.

By about fifteen, while in Dover, I had graduated to a better camera, where I could focus, adjust the focal point and shutter speed. The cliffs deserved better! And I joined a photography group at school. My first “real” photograph, which I shot, processed and printed myself, is of the doorway of the school’s library. This was probably my first real attempt at making art.

Dover College Library [Photo By:KPA]

While taking this photograph, I deliberated whether the door should be closed or open, and decided on “half open.” The the next pressing issue was from which angle to take the shot: From the side, from the front, from afar, from nearby. I didn’t realize then that this was all about “composition.” Then finally once taken, the photograph had to be developed, and the decision became how I would print the picture. Should I darken the door? Should I crop the top? Is there enough contrast in the bricks?

It became clear to me that image making is a long process, with many points of deliberation. So the image being taken better be worth all that trouble!

While in England, although I never won an art prize, or even streamlined into the arts (I entered the sciences), I still participated in the school drama and music activities, all separate from the academics. I was in school choirs all through my high school years, and I won the music prize and received the complete Mozart’s piano sonatas, the musical notes, that is, not the records! I studied and performed at least one of them. And I received the poetry prize one year, and through the gift card I received, I chose a book on the impressionist painters which had so impressed me while I acquired my informal art education in Paris. I even won third place in a ballet competition, for which I received a tiny, but cherished book on the fundamentals of ballet.

Dover College School Choir

Then, following another of my parents’ idiosyncratic decisions, I went to America to continue my post-high school studies. I went first to a college in the mountains of the Susquehanna valley. There I was surrounded by nature, but different from the wild English waters. This time, it was undulating valleys and mountains, which became my focus on, and no longer the city (for now, at least). I became an expert bike rider, and would travel through the farms in the quiet country roads, surrounded by those mountains.

Bike ride through the Pennsylvania countryside

Susquehanna Valley [Photo By:KPA]

University of Connecticut, with the Nutritional Sciences building in the background

But then I discovered another city, New York City. I had various relatives who lived there, who like us had left Ethiopia during those years of turmoil, and I would stay with them during the holidays, since my parents still lived in France. Its size, and lack of the intimacies that Paris offered struck me at first.

But I loved the grand avenues, those infinite perspectives both horizontal and vertical, the friendly, energetic people, the largeness of everything, including the museums, which I proceeded to visit. This was another confident city, confident in its unique identity. Paris was never on the lips of New Yorkers. Who wants Paris when you’ve got New York?

And I saw the charms of this city. Despite its largeness, it is very much a city of neighborhoods, offering intimacy in its coffee houses, the side streets, uptown or downtown, east or west. There were neighborhoods, where each had its own character. Looking up at skyscrapers, I noticed the care and attention they got from their architects and designers, despite the chances that few people will look up to notice the details.

Details of skyscrapers [Photo By:KPA]

Balloons on Wall Street, 4th of July celebration [Photo By:KPA]

Riverside Drive [Photo By:KPA]

I began to understand that beauty, and beautiful objects, had to exist whether they were noticed or not, since they add to the overall dignity and aesthetics of their surroundings. People can feel beauty.

Northern Spirit: Toronto's Harbourfront [Photo By:KPA]

When I arrived in Toronto, during the vicious period of the Marxist government in Ethiopia, when my parents decided that we would never go back to Ethiopia, I abandoned my “formal” education and training of the sciences, and took on, finally, my formal study of the arts, first by enrolling in the film and photography program in Ryerson University, in Toronto, and then taking several years worth of drawing, painting classes at part-time, night courses, until I finally landed on textile design. But was well prepared for this, since all through my formal education of the sciences, I had been informally studying art: Taking courses in photography, dance, theater, and eventually painting and drawing.

But never graduated from my film/photography (BS) program, leaving when I had one year to go. Once again, I took the informal route for formal art studies. If I had enrolled in drawing or painting courses in a university, I would have left with little skill or capability, given the anti-art anti-technique mood that had started to permeate through colleges and universities for of "post-modern" rhetoric. Instead went to "night school." My night school teachers were adept artists, but the modern world of non-art had rejected them and their talents, leaving them to scrape along a in fiercely negative climate. One may say that this has always been the lot of artists, but I think that our era is especially vicious and destructive.

I thought I had finally landed in my field in textile design, and I thought I had nothing more to worry about, other than to learn this craft, and produce my creations.

But no. One of the biggest challenges I faced, and which I naively and bravely fought off, was people’s insistence, or assumptions, that I would do something “Ethiopian.” It was too long for me to explain that I had no real, physical or even emotional attachment to the country. But, that shouldn’t matter in Toronto, the epicenter of multiculturalism! Indian and Chinese students, who were born in Canada, spoke fluent, accent-less English, who were wearing the latest MTV costumes, were churning out their “Indian/Chinese/Vietnamese/etc.” heritage pieces, and gaining high praise.

Finally, as I had always done, I retreated into myself, left behind teachers' advice to “do something Ethiopian.” I set up a mini-studio in my mini-apartment and developed my grand ideas.

I produced works on the landmarks around me: the Allan Gardens Conservatory; the triangular shapes of the Toronto gables; the reeds alongside Lake Huron; small spring flowers; large lilac bushes. And finally, the national flower of Canada, the trillium.

Toronto Gables [Design By:KPA]

Allan Gardens Conservatory [Design By:KPA]

Lake Huron [Design By:KPA]

Lilac Bush [Design By:KPA]

Trillium and Queen Anne's Lace [Design By:KPA]

But it wasn’t just a matter of creating these pieces. I spent hours bent over design and drawing books to teach me how to reproduce these images through ink, pencil and paint, which the clever but clearly unskilled textile design teacher wasn’t able to do.

And it was while I was doing the Trillium piece that many things came together.

Art needs to be local. We need to “see” what we’re representing. That art needs to have an aesthetic dimension - it has to be beautiful. And that there is a spiritual dimension to art, not always, not aggressively, but still subtly and present.

I realized that modern artists were discarding these elements, and creating works that people couldn’t identify with. That their purpose was not to create works with beauty, rooted in reality and with a transcendent element, but to recreate their own godless transcendence, their own reality, and they were discarding beauty as something frivolous which distracted from their own serious messages, usually of doom and gloom. The less talented of them went on with post-modernism, which was a distorted assemblage of objects to produce their “ironic” commentary on the world around them.

And multicultural artists were throwing away the reality that surrounds us, in Canada, and were bring in their own reality for their far-away lands, imbued with a strange and alien aesthetics.

When I put these two together, multiculturalism and modernism/post-modernism, I realized what was at stake here was the art I know, which I have studied and participated in from a very young age ever since my fateful journey to that most beautiful city. It was Western art that was at stake, made vulnerable by these aggressive demands. “Hey, hey, Ho ho, Western Culture’s Gotta go.”

I didn't clearly articulate this then, but soon after, I started a blog called Camera Lucida working on the words “Chamber of Light” where (rather immodestly!) I thought I could shed some light on the world around me. And a few years later, after many postings, altercations with readers, and a maturity of my thoughts, I started my blog (about a year and a half ago) Reclaiming Beauty.

I started the blog on January 1, 2013 (a new blog for a new year), and on February 5, 2013 I wrote at Camera Lucida:
I have started a new project. It is bigger than a website.

I hope to reclaim beauty from the avant-garde, nihilistic environment that surrounds us. Rather than fight it, I thought I would start a site that would be study of beauty, a critique our our current beautiless, or anti-beauty, environment, as well as a place to give and receive practical guides and accounts on how to acquire and reclaim the beautiful. I hope to have a list of regular contributors to the site, who will eventually become a part of a bigger movement.
And on September 29, 2013, I posted at my Reclaiming Beauty blog my proposal for a book, but with a bigger vision of starting a Beauty Movement:
My book Reclaiming Beauty aims to document the contribution that beauty has made toward our Western civilization, from the earliest records of God’s love of beauty, to a young child who sees beauty almost as soon as he is born. Our civilization thrived, prospered and matured because of beauty. Our great artists, architects, writers, philosophers and scientists have always referred to beauty with awe and wonder. It is in the modern era that beauty began to be undermined and eventually neglected by artists and other intellectual leaders.

Reclaiming Beauty will show that the abandonment of beauty leads to the death of culture, and eventually society. Modern man’s neglect of beauty has initiated the cult of ugliness, leaving us with bleakness and nihilism.

But, people want beauty. And they will surround themselves with some kind of aesthetic quality. Still, beauty is the business of the knowledgeable. The man on the street may be able to recognize beauty, but he would not be able to explain why it is beautiful. That is the task of the experts.

With Reclaiming Beauty, I aim to present my ideas, observations and analyses on beauty, and to provide a guide for recommendations on how to remove oneself from the nefarious influences of our beauty-rejecting world. This way, we can build a parallel world which will eventually form a growing movement of beauty-reclaiming individuals, who can start to shape a world where beauty is not minimized and rejected.

Reclaiming Beauty will be the first book on beauty to make a comprehensive, historical, cultural and societal review of beauty. It will describe the moment (or moments) when beauty was not only undermined, but eventually abandoned, as a paradigm of civilized life. Rather than attributing beauty to a Godly goodness, philosophers, writers and artists began to view beauty as their enemy, and as their nemesis. They saw God as a judge who would not let them do as they wished. In order to pursue the image of beauty they desired, they began to look elsewhere. They began to abandon God, and by abandoning God, they began to change their world, filling it with horror and ugliness.

I maintain that this was not their objective, which was merely to look for a different perspective on aesthetics. This realization may have come too late, and too weakly, from the cultural leaders, but ordinary people, who are most affected by these changes in worldview, are already incurring changes. But they cannot make useful inferences, and hence necessary changes. They still need an elite to help them materialize their desires and observations.

A new elite that is pro-beauty needs to take the cultural reins, to guide and return our world back to its awe and wonder of beauty. To this end, Reclaiming Beauty will add an element which no other book on beauty has attempted: guidelines on how to renounce this world of anti-beauty, and how to progressively bring beauty back into our culture.

The book will be a manifesto for concrete references to these basic ideas. Along with the book, a website will be developed that will be an interactive continuation of the book. On the website, members can post their original articles, shorter commentaries, articles and excerpts from other authors, and encourage feedback and comments from other members. At some point, this group can develop into a more formal society, which can meet in a physical locations a few times a year, building beauty societies, whose purpose would be to develop ideas and strategies for bringing beauty back into our culture.

Part of the book will revised versions of what I've been developing over a number of years in my blog posts at Camera Lucida, Reclaiming Beauty and Our Changing Landscape, and from my full-length articles from Kidist P. Asrat Articles.

All images that head the chapters will be from my own collection of photographs and designs. Some of these images can be found at Kidist P. Asrat Photographs and Well-Patterned. Others I will choose from my collection of photographs, mostly in negatives and prints. Others I will take as the project progresses.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge some people who have helped me define, and refine, my ideas:

Larry Auster
Writer at the blog:
-View from the Right
Author of:
-The Path to National Suicide: An Essay on Immigration and Multiculturalism
-Huddled Cliches: Exposing the Fraudulent Arguments That Have Opened America’s Borders to the World
-Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation

James Kalb
Writer at the blog:
-Turnabout: Thoughts in and out of Season
Author of:
-The Tyranny of Liberalism
-Against Inclusiveness

Laura Wood
Writer at the blog:
-The Thinking Housewife

Judith Hakimian
Writer at the blog:

And for the organizers here at Steubenville, who made my trip possible.

Cloisters, New York [Photo By: KPA]

Friday, January 27, 2017

Mo and Mao: How the East Might Revive the West’s Tradition

Below is an article published at The Imaginative Conservative.

I suppose it does take some amount of imagination to write a 2500 word article appealing to Chinese wisdom to restore Western culture.

Mo and Mao: How the East Might Revive the West’s Tradition
Eva Brann12/27/2016
Our tradition may be in dire need of resuscitation and recollection, and it seems quite possible that the Chinese may help us in our necessity…

Sour Sweet, by Timothy Mo (Sphere Books, 1982; Aventura Paperback, 1985)
Shenfan, William Hinton (Random House, 1983; Vintage Paperback, 1984)

The two books lumped together here have nothing in common but their connec­tion to China. Sour Sweet is a fairly short novel about a Chinese family, “small people,” who come to London to make a living, and also about their incubus, the Anglo-Chinese mafia. It is written in a savory style that bears the marks of the author’s double heritage. Shenfan, on the other hand, is an interminable field report about the peasants of Long Bow village in Shansi province and their struggle to make the land productive under the aegis of the Communist Party. Its diction seems to render faithfully the stale, yet somehow stately, ideologies of the many political meetings the author faithfully attended.

I recommend these books to the St. John’s College community, not only because the novel is a small masterpiece and the report an enormous achievement, but simply because they are, in very different ways, informative about China. I have a personal intimation about the twenty-first century in which the Orient figures largely, though it involves a twist on what is usually said about the salvation of the soul-scattered West by the wisdom of the well-centered East. I too think that our tradition may by then be in dire need of resuscitation and recollection, and it seems to me quite possible that the Chinese may help us in our necessity—not, however, by offering us their tradition, but by returning our own to us, refurbished and revivified. In the deferred but inevitable coming liberalization an enthusiasm for Western literature, music, and philosophy may sweep China, such as will shame our universities, which are now engaged in trashing the goods of our civilization. We may yet buy our Shakespeare (and, who knows, our Adam Smith) in cheap and learned Chinese editions and hear droves of young Chinese with excellent Greek lecture on Homer. It will be a true renaissance: old wine in new bottles, the old substance manifest through a new sensibility. I go by many little signs and portents, such as an unforgettable episode in one of the several films made about Western violinists traveling in China to make music and find musicians (Stern, Menuhin): two little peasanty-looking boys, fiddling away at a two-part invention, bobbing their stubbly little pates at each other and playing together and with the music as if Bach were innate to them. As, of course, he is. The light that will come from the East will, according to my conjecture, be our own, reflected and probably beautifully refracted, and it will be the greatest testimonial yet to the peculiar universality (the oxymoron is intentional) of the Western tradition. That is why it seems to me that we, of all people, should keep a sharp China watch.

Timothy Mo’s Sour Sweet might be regarded as a half-harbinger of the resuscitation, here applied to the English language. English is, strictly speaking, Mo’s mother tongue, since he is English on his mother’s side. But it seems as if having his father’s Chinese in his ear had done something wonderful to his language, something for which “redeeming” is not too strong a word. It appears to have regained a lost mandarin savor, to have become again plain and choice, taut and elegant, wry and dignified. His characterizing phrases are good exam­ples. They have an antique patina and are yet impeccably applicable to contemporary fact. Thus Lily, the elder sister, receives a letter from the younger Mui, who, in Lily’s opinion, is enjoying herself far too flagrantly in the cushy exile where she is awaiting her illegitimate confinement; it is an “insolent missive.” Or Lily’s little son Man Kee gives sporadic signs that he spends his day at the progressive public school living under a non-duress incomprehensible to his traditional mother, who is equally mystified by the fact that so licentious an institution should employ an instrument of torture called a “terror-pin” to which the children are required to bring offerings of lettuce; this school is termed the “academy of misrule.”

I am speaking here of the narrator’s own explanatory English, but there are at least two other kinds of diction in the book. One is the translated Chinese of the immigrants: The denomination of their newly acquired van comes out in English as “Infernal Carapace,” and the version of Lily’s term for contraceptives is “anti-Husband pills.” Against the hilarious precision of their Chinese, Mo plays the anxious absurdities of their slowly gaining English, beneath which can still be heard the ceremonious old dignity of the losing Chinese. It is the same layering that gives the American immigrant idioms their peculiar charm. (Incidentally, Mo demonstrates beautifully how foolish the language levelers are in pitting “dialects” against standard English: It is in comparison with a high literary diction such as Mo employs that one savors the divergences.)

Just as artful as the idiom is the structure of Sour Sweet. The title is, of course, a switch on the most popular Chinese dish, sweet and sour pork. The “sour” is the mafia that is infesting immigrant life, the Triad society, whose arcane ceremonies and criminal affairs are traced in most of the even-numbered chapters of the book. These chapters, evidently carefully researched, are red with very graphic violence and not pleasant to read, though fascinating. For the society too is in a state of transition; it has, for example, just switched its training of street fighters from the slowly acquired traditional routines to a more opportunistic assault style. In the odd-and-then-some chapters, the sour is interleaved with the “sweet,” namely the account of the Chens’ home life: Mr. Chen (“Husband”), Lily, Man Kee, and the extended family. Full of hardship as it is, it has indeed a gathering sort of sweetness that comes from the lovableness of these people. The easiest case is Man Kee, whose over-large head is a source of contention between his parents. His stolid exterior is clearly modeled on those cute Chinese dolls­ within-dolls; his intrepid, intelligent, warm little inner person emerges as slowly and occasionally as does his speech, which turns out, to his mother’s horror, to be English. The hardest and most moving case is Lily’s. She is somehow out of balance —“yang-ish “—and the reason is that her father, a bitter and disap­pointed boxer, had trained her, in place of a son, in a particularly harsh kind of fighting. (One of the sweet wonders of this book is that the miseries and misfortunes of the immigrants are never blamed on their host country, which is treated with amused appreciation.) This training has left her, in contrast to moon-faced and flexible Mui, hard, bossy, and bony (and, to her husband ‘s amazement, attractive to Englishmen). And yet she is touchingly full of the desire to love rightly and dutifully. She is, in fact, a quintessential Kantian. Indeed, she finally does her husband in with her ruat caelum dutifulness; by persisting against his orders in sending remittances to his parents she makes it possible for the Triad enforcer to trace Chen and to “wash” him—erroneously, it turns out.

Lily is a person of comical and complex pathos. This complicated comicality is the third marvelous feature of the book, its governing joke: an elaborate inversion of the topic “oriental inscrutability.” Naturally, all those red-faced, blue-eyed devils are indistinguishable as well as incomprehensible to the Chens. At first, only Mui can tell her “aitchgevees,” the heavy goods vehicle drivers to whom she delivers Chinese food, apart from each other. (Incidentally, what the Chens provide in their take-out shop is called lupsup, the rubbish reserved for non-Chinese, a word worthy of admittance to English.) But the true inscrutability is here, as anywhere, among the members of the family. Lily, especially, lives a tragi-comedy of errors concerning her laconic menfolks. In the most moving chapter, she symbolically initiates the uprooting of her family when she tears up Man Kee’s mango plant, never knowing what she is doing. And when Chen disappears and the anonymous remittances from the society start coming, she is comforted by the conviction that Husband has not left in anger but gone to the continent to provide more amply for them all. There is, besides the sad comedy of misapprehension, also lots of simple comedy of error; its high point is Grandpa Chen’s coffin party, which it is hard even to mention without cracking up.

The book ends with the final splitting of the original family “amoeba.” The bulb in the fat little household god Lily had bought and serviced for three years has burnt out. There is some melancholy in the ending, but more stiff-lipped, yet sweet-tempered acceptance: Mui marries, takes out citizenship, and opens a fish-and-chips restaurant; Lily adjusts to an empty bed and feels oddly free; Man Kee gets salutarily sick on his first cigarette, pedagogically administered by his new uncle. This little lover of “mince, jam tart and custard” will make a lovely Londoner. So will they all, for just as our recent Asian immigrants are recalling us to our slipping American virtues, so this family seems in the end to demonstr­ate more exemplary English traits than do their red-faced customers.

William Hinton gave his first report from Long Bow Village in North China the title Fanshen, “turn over,” “stand up,” connoting revolution and liberation. The second is felicitously entitled Shenfan, meaning “deep plowing,” “deep turning.” As the former had given an account of the village during the most turbulent year of the Chinese civil war, 1948, the second traces the efforts of the peasants to turn the land reforms of the Revolution to good account over the next score or so of years. It ends with the aborting of the Cultural Revolution in 1971. This tome of nearly 800 close-printed pages is, according to Hinton’s modest disclaimer, not a definitive history of Long Bow during this time. Now, by my reckoning, its final population of 1,637 persons represents far less than one five-hundred-thousandths of all of China. It, therefore, boggles the mind to imagine what size a definitive history of the whole country might then be by this standard. Surely, in any future history, Long Bow will be less rather than more amply represented. My point is that this book is as dense a socio-anthropological study of a small place as one may hope to find, and that makes it a specially good entry point for someone who is, like myself, totally ignorant of Chinese history. For it seems to me that in reading to learn history, documents, and field studies are mostly to be preferred over broad-brushed conspectuses, if only for mne­monic reasons. While the details imparted by the one get forgotten and the generalizations delivered by the other soon grow dim anyway, at least the impressions derived from the former have the robustness of conclusions worked out for oneself.

Hinton’s book can engage the reader in a number of ways. There is, first, the sheer interest of entering into the daily life of a far-away spot on earth. Since Hinton knows farming and machinery there is much significant technical infor­mation. The emblematic example is the technique alluded to in the title “Shenfan,” “deep digging,” a laborious and disastrous mode of turning the soil in broad and excessively deep furrows, which the commune leaders impose on the peasants in the vain hope of high grain yields—an object lesson in the evils of politicization (“Judge Kao… headed off any discussion of the value of deep-digging by making support for it a political issue,” and calling opposition to it “lazy, cowardly, bourgeois thinking”). There is a vivid cast of characters, civilians, and “cadres,” of whom the (unintendedly) most memorable are two not always separable types: the unregenerable village bums and the unregiment­able rogue-peasants, who won’t be socialized. For those interested in Christi­anity in China, there are the incidental but persistent traces of those local spooks, the Catholic priest and his flock, and the tales of his apparently inerad­icable counterrevolutionary influence. However, the book weaves together so many strands as to defy summary.

For my own part, I had picked it up to learn something about that strange purist convulsion, that revolt in heaven in which Mao turned against the Com­munist Party in the name of a more pristine communism, the Cultural Revolution. I was not disappointed. Hinton gives an absorbingly concrete account of the carmagnole of increasingly interminable, boring, and brutal mass meetings, culminating in humiliating public self-criticisms and occasional devastating refusals, of more and more bottomlessly casuistic dialectic and opportunistic persecution, until the whole movement collapses into unprincipled factionalism, nearly wrecking Long Bow.

However, the more I read, the more I found myself puzzling over the author himself, who must be an amazing man. To begin with, he throws to the winds all the cautions concerning a researcher’s reticence and involves himself enthusias­tically in the affairs of the community he is observing; he is a “participant observer” (in the terms of the trade) with a vengeance. He returns to a Long Bow already altered by the previous publication of Fanshen, which had attracted the attention of the provincial authorities, and he comes attached to an ideological rectification team (which sets up shop in the old Catholic orphanage). He works in the fields, attends political meetings, takes sides. The unorthodox procedure seems to have worked beautifully (surely an object lesson to the above-the-fray school of research). But how did he get away with it in the turbulent climate of the Cultural Revolution? Perhaps because he is an anthropological genius and an ideological innocent. Is there anyone else in the world who mourns Mao’s second revolution for not being pure enough? He has a genuine, utopian love for collectivity, prefers communes to collectives, and unceasingly scores the peasant’s retrograde tendencies to private enterprise. The only poetry in the book occurs in descriptions of vast human masses rhythmically at work.

These convictions affect the style of the book, a remarkable style. At first, I thought that the authorial interstices amongst the many verbatim reports of political conversations and speeches (translated for Hinton by his China-born and bred daughter) were a kind of dead-pan mimicry of the evidently pervasive Maoist idiom spoken publicly in the commune, whose main features seem to be folksy slogans encapsulating a labyrinthine “line” (“Get on the horse of cooper­ation and ride boldly onward”) and a primly stilted didacticism. Not so: It is the author’s own willing voice, which has the stiff charm of a hieratic tongue.

On finishing, I found myself left with one huge residual question, which the book did not so much frame as intimate. To my mind, philosophy is the sound core of the West, and ideology is its specific pathology. What they share is their intended universality, and indeed Mao, in his “Thoughts,” repeatedly makes a point of the universal aspirations of Marxist ideology. Perhaps, then, the univer­sal West was bound to enfold the East. But why did it capture the world’s oldest and vastest civilization precisely through its most defective mode?

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission from the St. John’s Review (Volume 40, No. 3, 1990-1991).