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Sunday, November 30, 2003

Sunday now, and Thanksgiving is well and truly over, the carolling has started in all the stores to encourage buying, and the trees have been put on sale on all the street corners, smelling of the Adirondacks and the forests between Ottawa and Turrunno, that I loved sooooo much on the bus trip that goes the northern route via Peterborough.

When I was first settled in America and was hating New York, and missing my old European friends desperately, without any emotional lifenet yet in place, I wanted nothing better than a trip to Canada, where I did have old friends. For reasons of caution connected with my legal visa status, I could not risk such a trip, it just wasn't worth the worry of maybe being delayed at the border and being a no-show at work on a Monday morning. So when it came time to take my first summer vacation, I bought the Mobil guide and read it very carefully, and went to Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks, to hike and canoe and look for bears and wildflowers and get some air. But I shall tell that particular story at some other time.

This time around, I shall tell my Canadian Thanksgiving story, let's see, it must have been in 1971 or 1972. Probably 1972.

Canadian Thanksgiving is earlier than American Thanksgiving by almost a month. I was staying with my longtime friend Gil, and we had been invited by her co-worker and friend, Anne Quinn, to spend Thanksgiving at her family cottage on Lake Simcoe, north of Turrunno.

We arrived up there fairly early on Thanksgiving morning after the first winter storm of the season had pulled down the electric grid. A huge hard-as-rock turkey was thawing imperceptibly on the porch; inside the cottage, we met Quinn's sister, Julie, and her fiance Bill, bustling about with logs in their arms, full of inexplicable enthusiasm and an optimism that totally failed to communicate itself to the three of us.

"We're hungry!" We shouted rudely. "We're going into the village to see if we can't get some breakfast!"

"You might offer to help..." Julie said acidly.

"What's to help with? The turkey isn't even thawed, the stove is electric... Do you have an idea?"

Of course Julie and Bill had an idea. They are the kind of people who go on outward bound style canoe trips, where you portage your canoe, dammit, and wear waterproof ponchos for days on end, as you shoot the white water rapids, tipping in and out of the swollen torrents, and when evening comes, you set up a sogging tent, fighting the wind and the driving rain, and build an unlikely fire, and cook a real dinner from scratch that takes forever and ever to cook properly, before snuggling down into a sopping wet nest of damp camping gear that has been dunked again and again throughout the day.

"You might at least decorate the table..." Julie yelled after us as we galloped off down the abandoned railway tracks.

We had a slap-up breakfast at the village coffee shop, that cooked with gas, bless 'em, taking our sweet time. We made sure we ate plenty, who knew when we would get another meal? And the we set back for the cottage. We had the perfect alibi for a leisurely walk: we were collecting things to decorate the Thanksgiving spread. We quite frankly didn't care whether there would be a turkey dinner or not (the village coffee shop had promised it was staying open all day).

I had a camera with me, a very small rangefinder, and it was in this post-storm wind that I chose to experiment with close-up photography of emperor butterflies poised on milkweed pods, with all that parallax correction stuff, heroic. We really had a wonderful silly time, and arrived back at the Baudouin cottage with our arms full of miscellaneous leaves, and branches, and wildflowers, and seeds and grasses and fircones, flushed and totally high from running around in the wind and breathing in deep so much oxygen.

July and Bill were in the kitchen, not too judgmental, give them credit. It actually smelt of a real meal getting ready. Mrs. Baudouin had arrived, and a brother, and Quinn's 8 or 9-year old son Shawn had reappeared from wherever he had gone while we went to the village. We built a hearty fire in the living room fireplace. And we set the table and decorated it with our found fixings.

Gil and I started our bottle of vodka around the fire, and every now and then I would spring up, and run down the stairs onto the beach to see how the sunset was coming along on Lake Simcoe. I wasn't going to miss that cliched stormy sunset.

Eventually, night fell and we sat down to eat. Julie and Bill had achieved a bang-up meal. They had somehow managed to hack up the frozen turkey and had baked it in a dutch oven over the antique woodburning stove, which they had managed to reactivate and on which they had also cooked all the usual Thanksgiving vegetables.

During the meal, I pulled out my little rangefinder, my tripod and flash, and we took a few pictures, mugging it up appropriately for posterity, when Shawn came over to me, as I was cocking the shutter for just one more, and said in his little boy voice: "Aren't you supposed to remove that?" pointing to the lens cap.

Well --- What can I say: Vodka before dinner, and wine with dinner, I was two sheets to the wind, it's fair to say.

So, we had another go, and the pictures are still good today.

As we were reaching dessert, Julie spoke up: "Well, I would jolly well hope that the guests, who didn't get off their arses to help with the meal, would at least take care of the washing up!"

We thought it was a fair deal.

Things were very mellow later on. Gil played her accordion. Gil and Shawn did their special number with empty wine bottles. In the middle of dinner, the brothers went down to the beach to dismantle the docking pontoon. We were all very silly and had fun. Gil and I did the washing up. We talked late into the night, it was a grand evening. I have a picture of Mrs. Baudouin, lying asleep on a sofa by the fireside, wrapped up in a plaid, looking most dignified, except for the fact we had set up all the empty wine bottles around her. I laugh whenever I see those empty bottles, because for sure neither Mrs. B, nor Quinn, nor Shawn, had helped with any of the drinking, so it just had to be the rest of us.... What a crying shame! Hehehe!

As I have been reading about the nostalgia and the traditions of others, these days, specifically surrounding Thanksgiving and Ramadan, I am forced to realize that the reason I am so little involved in any of these rituals, emotionally or otherwise, is that, as I say, I "was half a war orphan", and therefore have been left disaffected by my mother's culture, and my father came from such a poverty-stricken family that there was very little of anything extra in his background to create any sort of a tradition, basic necessities actually were in the miracle category.

I am almost completely detribalized. It makes it difficult for me to stomach these bleak shortening days with all their feverish preparations for rituals where I only feel thoroughly estranged and which only serve to make me feel even more of an outsider than usual.

It almost makes me yearn for a glass of my father's "Christmas glug"...

Saturday, November 29, 2003

From the New York Times, Saturday, November 29

"Vision vs. Symbols and Politics at Ground Zero" by Herbert Muschamp.

The Statue of Liberty's iconic arm is echoed in Daniel Libeskind's tower

"Although it failed to produce a work of genius, the competition to design a memorial to the victims of 9/11 was well worth undertaking.

. . .

Much mirth was made in August, when it was announced that the design [of the Freedom Tower] would be a collaboration between David Childs, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and Daniel Libeskind, master planner of Ground Zero. How could two such conspicuously different architects possibly see eye to eye on the shape of a bedpost, much less the look of the tallest earthly construction yet raised by humankind?"

Mr. Muschamp suggests David Libeskind may just be a "victim of the dream he must have wished for."

". . . I'm thinking about a wish practically universal among architects: the desire for a dream client who writes the checks and forever after holds his tongue.

But dreams often turn rapidly into nightmares. The ideal patron can turn out to be the client from hell.

At Ground Zero, the ideal patron arrived earlier this year in the form of Governor Pataki. He has been paving the road with good intentions ever since."

According to Mr. Muschamp this is entirely because of politics. The events of 9/11 were crucial in the decision to set the Republican convention in New York next year, New York being perceived as the ideal backdrop for this event. He continues to say:

"In Mr. Libeskind's vision, Freedom Tower is represented as the Statue of Liberty's landlocked twin, a stylized figure with arm held aloft to hold a broadcasting antenna. (emphasis added)
. . .

But in this context, the Statue of Liberty is not a politically neutral symbol, any more than the word patriot is a politically neutral term when used to name an act of Congress. It is a logo: the visual icon of a national brand that does not entice all shoppers.

With its symbolic height of 1,776 feet and its upraised arm, the Freedom Tower is a piece of bombast. It responds in a particular way to a particular event. It is being forced upon us, by public officials whose political agendas are hardly obscure. And it does not speak for those of us who believe it is wrong to nationalize ground zero symbolically.

. . . Recall the terms set in February, when Mr. Libeskind was chosen to help the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation design a master plan. There was no "winning plan". Rather, the design study was in the nature of a job audition to hire an architect or a team to help prepare one.

The job description did not include the design of individual buildings. Mr. Libeskind stated then: 'It has to be done by different architects. That's the way New York was built.' (emphasis added)

The study project stood for something valuable: the hope that ideas could find their way in the modern world. The inclusion of Mr. Libeskind was also a sign of hope. He represented a potential that his designs for ground zero have yet to fulfill. But now there is nobody there to say no. Bad choice. Try it another way. This is not OK. That's better. Almost. Start over. Again. Thus has Mr. Libeskind denied himself the creative freedom to think things through in the light of history.

I doubt Mr. Libeskind wants to be locked into this position. But there he is, alone with his symbols and his interpretations of them. What I am hearing very clearly right now is the sound of someone who doesn't know how to ask for help." (emphasis added)


For my part, I am also suspecting the reluctance of Mr. Libeskind, "an architect with few completed buildings to his credit", to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Am I being cynical?

Friday, November 28, 2003

From the New York Times, Friday, Nov. 28, p. A21:

"Iraqi General Dies In American Custody"

Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 27 (AP)

"An Iraqi general has died while under American interrogation, the American military said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, an air defense general captured on Oct. 5 in a raid near the Syrian border, was being questioned Wednesday while in American custody in Qaim near the Syrian border when he lost consicousness after complaining he didn't feel well, the military said in a statement.

He was pronounced dead by a United States military physician. The cause of death and interrogation techniques are under investigation. His head was not hooded during the questioning, a statement from the 82nd Airborne Division said.

General Mowhoush, who served in the Republican Guard, was captured in a raid in Qaim. An American military spokeswoman said General Mowhoush was believed to have been financing attacks on allied forces." (emphasis added)

Like, was he screaming? Or did he just say, "I think we need to take a break, I am not really feeling very well right now, it makes it hard for me to remember exactly what I was up to in the days leading up to my arrest"?

I keep thinking of the kids who have written home to say vague things like: "I've done some things in Iraq that I'm not proud of..."

* * * * *

Back to blogging. Well, it's ironic that my unsociable life manages to develop conflicts.

The fact that Irene cancelled the Thanksgiving trip to Chicago because she preferred to go to Canada with Tatiana worked out perfectly for me, because it meant that I could take care of Carol and Larry's cats without a problem. But now, I hear that Monique is coming from Paris for eight days at Christmas, which is just at the time Irene now wants to go to Chicago.

Bernard and Monique are probably my best and oldest friends from France. I have not seen them since 1990, Monique says, but I myself think it was Christmas 1986, when I took my Chinese friend Wan Hong over to show her Paris before she went back to Beijing.

I remember my last evening with them, a superlative homecooked meal. I had brought them two huge bunches of enormous "perroquet" tulips, those flamboyant yellow/red/orange/green whoppers with frilly-edged petals, and they had opened up completely during dinner and started their tulip dance in an extravagant display on the sideboard. I have a photo of both Bernard and Monique sitting in front of it, looking very jolly, Bernard pulling at the sock of one of his feet.

Anyhoo, Bernard is not coming this time. He is cat-sitting their three cats, nobody can do it for them, apparently.

Bernard is retired now. He is a year older than me. I met him through mutual friends, let's see, some forty years ago. We were never romantically involved, even slightly, but we went out together, as I remember it, at least once a week for quite a time. Even after he met Monique, because she used to go up to Lille two days a week, where she taught romance literature, if I remember correctly.

Bernard and I would drift through Paris, exploring all the sleazier neighborhoods, we ate strange foods in ethnic dumps, we saw strange movies in little art theaters where you pay half price if you buy your ticket before noon and sit in the first five rows. We would buy merguez sausages, and take them in, or French fries, or deep-fried zepole kinds of beignets, and praline almonds from street vendors, and sometimes we smuggled beer in; and Bernard would keep up a witty running commentary on the B movies we would watch religiously, as if they were art, and he would keep me in hoots, and sometimes the rest of the audience would join in, or sometimes they would shush us, but we carried on anyway. We would zig-zag our way along the unfashionable boulevards this way, laughing at our poor stomachs filled to excess with the most unbalanced, delicious junk foods bought on the street. We always went dutch, in those days.

It went on for some fifteen years before I found out what Bernard did for a living. He was giving me gratuitous advice on insurance, I hadn't even asked him, and I said: "And what do you know about insurance?" And he said, matter-of-factly, "I'm an actuary".

Oh.

It was probably a few more years before I found out he was possibly one of the top insurance men in France.

Oh.

That, I believe is the greratest difference between American culture and European culture. Europeans relate because they find each other interesting, no matter what their backgrounds. When you meet an American for the first time, within five minutes he is interviewing you to make sure you are worth knowing, and if you don't belong to his socio-economic group, he won't waste any more time getting to know you. He just, normally quite politely, says: "Nice knowin' you", and moves on.

In America, if you went to Yale, for instance, you will only keep in touch with those yalees who have kept to the politically correct career path. In Europe, you would even keep up with the dropouts who have gone on the bummel, as long as you still liked them, as long as you still had what the French call "atomes crochus", compatible atoms that manage to hook the two of you up, enabling the electric current of friendship and communication to continue flowing.

Different strokes for different folks.

I am in a terrible quandary about this visit of Monique's. I so want to spend time with her. In the state of my finances I am most unlikely to go to Paris any time soon, and if I did have the money to go anywhere intercontinental, it would be more important for my life to go on pilgrimage to my head temple in Japan, anyway. So I am not sure yet how I will handle this. I have three days to decide, before Irene returns from Canada.

Waa has allowed me to pet him briefly, today. Success! The little runners in the corridors were all bolloxed up, I think they must have had a terrific cat rodeo last night.

Today is wet and foggy. I have updated my firewall. I am going to do a little laundry, make a hearty Tuscan lentil soup, and control some paper tigers. I'm going to cull, that is. Things is getting outta hand in here: I can't even see the carpet any more. I only hope I can start some of my projects without getting the itch to start the furniture waltzing around the room one more time. Or, who knows, I might start a quilt without even noticing.

On the way home, I stopped off at Bloomingdales for a quick look at the 5th floor designer rooms, but all have been dismantled to make space for the shopping goods. I had a good look at the Calvin Klein bedding instead. Nobody comes close to being as good, absolutely nobody. But it's a little rich for my blood, almost $50 for a standard pillow case....

Next to Carol and Larry's building, I noticed a very elegant little town house. It is painted the palest of greens, what the French call "tilleul", linden blossom green, with white window frames. On the parlor floor, three tall, curtainless windows, with small window panes, and window boxes, identically filled with bright pink cyclamen on each side, with lots of dark, white-veined leaves, and three tiny little pretend yews in the center of each box, all formal and dark.

Oh! What a joyful, elegant show they made in the flat white light of this winter day.


Thursday, November 27, 2003

Well, after the hoopla about security in London during the Bush visit, I have to take my hat off to the President for spending some two and a half hours at Baghdad Airport to have Thanksgiving dinner with the troops. Probably for the first time ever he has my admiration.

* * * * *

Attention to detail is what makes the difference, they say. Well, the detail I missed was the Thanksgiving Parade which flows past a very short city block from where I live, so that it was, indeed, difficult to cross over to the East side this morning. Willy-nilly, I got to see a part of this year's parade, in a police "shute" (their choice of words, not mine) that eventually allowed me to cross over Broadway.

As usual in a New York crowd, you could see all the living races of man, and hear all their languages: English, American, of course, from all the states of the Union, French, German, Italian, lots of Spanish, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Urdu, Arabic, Russian, Polish, Czech, I don't know what else. The whole of humanity is represented here.

I managed to cross underneath one of Maurice Sendak's baby monsters, a perfect choice for me. Among the sights:

A dimininutive girl, set on top of a small wall by her mother wearing a hijab, the tiny girl wearing a coat that will probably be just the right size for her three years from now, the coat worn open onto a frilly little shocking pink dress. She had a huge grin on her face about something. I caught her eye and grinned back, and her bright eyes followed me as I passed by, my head straining to keep her in my sight, and her grin got bigger and bigger.

A homeless man, sitting cross-legged, leaning back against a wall, in a bright hand-knit sweater. In front of him were his two cats, sitting like the lions of the 42nd Street Library on top of individual cushions, each one wearing a different colored, bright turtle neck sweater, blinking their eyes in the sunshine. Each cat had his own bowl of water, and his own bowl of cat food set carefully down beside an open, empty can of cat food, and in between, a glass jar with a simple plea "Please help".

New York was Oh! so noisy, with the overhead choppers and the crowds. Up in Carol and Larry's apartment, the sun was streaming in, it was bright and quiet, it is amazing what double glazing can do.

I did the cat chores. They followed me around, anticipated my every move and wanted to use just exactly what it was that I wanted to pick up to clean and refill. Eventually, things quieted down and I sat down with a cuppa tea and the papers. Somehow, I was not in the mood to write in this particular environment. Towards the end of my stay, just as I expected it would come to pass, Smitty, the girl cat, came to ask to be petted, which I did, abundantly. Ra, or Rha, or Raa ( I stupidly forgot to ask how it's spelled) came over. I said: "Hello, Waa," but he would not let me touch him. He's a very new cat, he has not got used to people yet, he only wanted to sniff my hands, in a very delicate and fastidious manner.

Anyway, I felt I had done my duty in the petting department, and left around 2:30 p.m.

Thanksgiving, after all, is all about eating late. I have just had perfect al dente spaghetti with a tomato "a la vodka" sauce. That may sound tame, but when I boil spaghetti, it is a miracle if I don't forget all about it, to the point of either eating glue, or having to soak the burnt pot for days to save its bottom. It's one of the hazards of cooking for oneself, one tends to start something else and get absorbed. It is much harder for this to happen when you are cooking for company, because any extra thing you might also be doing at the same time is somehow related, like setting the table, or opening the wine, or washing the salad.

Before I do my rant on what I saw in the papers, let me fulfill my promise to tell about Aunt Marie and prescription drugs.

I believe I already told you Aunt Marie lived alone in a mobile home in Chula Vista, near San Diego. I went out there to meet her for the first time when she was 88 or 89. We were sitting in her kitchenette one day, drinking something, when she suddenly startled me and said: "Oh, I must take my pills!" and she pulled out one of those weekly pill organizers, and a whole 'nother bunch of pill bottles.

"Heavens!" I was appalled. "What's all this for?"

Aunt Marie laughed. She had a wonderful, young girl's laugh, very musical and catching.

"What are you taking so many pills for?" I insisted. "You appear to be in perfect shape."

"Well----" Aunt Marie hesitated. "My doctor gives them to me." (She meant "prescribes them for me").

Now Aunt Marie at her advanced age lived alone, had no assistance from anyone except the odd transportation problem, here and there, now and then, because she didn't drive and, therefore, had no car. But she did her own gardening entirely by herself, including all the double-ditching, which is a man's work at the best of times. I couldn't imagine what might justify so many prescriptions.

"What's wrong with you?" I kept insisting.

"Well ------" More hesitation. "My doctor gives them to me whenever I go in for my check up."

"Does he tell you why?"

"No."

"So, why do you think he gives them to you?"

"I dunno. Maybe because I'm nervous. Maybe for my heart."

"What's wrong with your heart?"

"Nothing. My heart is fine."

"Then, what's wrong with your nerves? What's making you nervous, as you say?"

There was another moment of silence. Somehow, she could not "verbalize" whatever it was. She just couldn't say.

"You live in very comfortable circumstances." I was trying to help her out. "Your children are married. Your grandchildren are almost all married. Your great-grandchild is doing well. You are independent and free, your have no financial problems, you can afford to do whatever you want to do, you have no pressure on you from outside."

"No, no, no!" She agreed, smiling. "Everything is fine!"

"So what makes you so nervous that they give you all these pills?"

Silence.

"Are you nervous because you are afraid of dying?" I finally asked. "If that's what's the matter, let me put your heart at rest..."

Aunt Marie burst out laughing, slapping her hands down on her knees.

"Oh, NO! I'm not afraid of dying... I've lived a wonderful, full life. I've done every single thing I ever wanted to do. I can go any time, any time at all is fine with me, I've had a great life."

"So, Marie", I continued, "What makes you feel nervous, if it's not the thought of death?"

She looked deep into my eyes and said, very quietly:

"I'm afraid of what happens next. I'm afraid that my sons are going to come and get me, and take me back to Texas to be closer to them. I hate Texas!"

I went to Japan for four months on a business trip, end 1987, beginning 1988. When I came back, Marie was no longer in Chula Vista and one of her neighbors told me one of her sons had come to fetch her, and had taken her back to Texas "to be closer to him".

I called my cousin. He explained to me that one of his mother's neighbors had called him one day, to tell him that his mother was beginning to forget what she had had for breakfast. He flew in, packed her up, got rid of all her things, including her mobile home, and brought her back to Texas. He took her to his GP, who found absolutely nothing wrong with her, and who couldn't figure out what the heck she was taking all those pills for. He took her off the pills, all of them cold turkey, and within less than a week, Marie could remember what she had had for breakfast.

I was so sorry to hear that Marie was exactly where she didn't want to be, Texas. I could very well understand that my cousin wanted to look good, that he wanted the world to recognize him as a good, dutiful son, who took care of his mother and didn't leave her to "struggle all on her own in the Californian hell of Chula Vista". Harrumph! Had he even asked her what she wanted?

Since I have only met my cousin a very few times, I thought I was hardly in a position to give him a piece of my mind. So I just wound down the conversation and asked him for her address, so that I could write to her.

"Oh, she's right here," he said.

"You mean she's with you, in your house?"

"Yes."

"Oh great, then I can talk to her now," I said brightly.

"No."

"No?" I was startled, I must admit. "Are you saying she can't come to the phone?"

"No!" he repeated.

"Are you saying you refuse to allow me to speak to your mother?"

"No!" he repeated. Small silence. "It just wouldn't do any good, she wouldn't even know who you are."

At this point, I have to say, the mustard went up my nose, and I firmly articulated, syllable by syllable"

"Well, I absolutely insist on talking to my aunt, and I absolutely refuse to take no for an answer."

He was furious, but he went to get her.

She picked up the handset. "Hullo?" a small frail voice.

"Hullooo! Marie?"

"OOOOOOOOOH! Pat! It's you! Are you back from Japan already?"

It didn't do my cousin any good, that's a fact. We spoke in French. Her son, my cousin, doesn't speak a word.

It turns out all the pills the "nice doctor" at the VA "gave her" had some sort of complex interaction after a while. She was miserable in Texas, because she was locked into her room to prevent her from wandering out into the local parks, where she would be discovered talking to people on park benches. She was no longer independent, no longer free, she was allowed no friends, she was lonely, she missed her garden, she was miserable.

Every time I called Marie at my cousin's house, it was like pulling teeth to get her to the phone, whether my cousin or his wife answered. Eventually, she was shipped off to an old people's home in Corpus Christi, which she really, truly hated, because it was where she had been with her husband during the last fifteen years of his life. They took good care of her, there, but the nuns did not allow any phone calls at all. So, I never go to talk to Marie again, and eventually my cousin notified me a few months after the fact that she had died one evening, after dinner, very quietly, in the minutes between being tucked into her bed and the aid turning out the lights.

It is my belief old people are given prescription drugs whether they really need them or not for two reasons. The first is that they expect to get a prescription, when they go in for a check up, and the second is that in this culture, old age is considered to be a disease, instead of a natural process, in the same way that pregnancy and menopause are treated as diseases, and mourning widows and widowers are treated for the "disease of depression".

'Nuff said.

* * * * *

Wot's going on in the WOT (War on Terror)

The New York Post, p 4, headline:

"GIs seize family as bait for top goon."

"American troops hunting for a top Saddam Hussein deputy who's master-minding anti-U.S. attacks arrested his wife and daughter in an apparent attempt to pressure his surrender."

. . .

". . . American forces have frequently arrested relatives of fugitives to interrogate them on their family member's whereabouts and as a way of putting pressure on the wanted men to surrender." (emphasis added)

Nice thinking, someone. I'm sure everyone feels much, much safer now.


The New York Times, p. A3 headline:

"Turkish Town's Despair Breeds Terrorists, Residents Fear"

"Did Suicide Bombers turn to extremism to replace hopelessness?"

"At least two of the suicide bombers who struck Istanbul last week were reared and spent much of their lives in and around Bingol, Turkish law enforcement officials said."

. . .

"Isolated by the mountains that surround it, Bingol has about 70,000 people, [omission] although its crude concrete buildings look like they can accommodate only half the number. Unemployment here fluctuates between 70 and 80 percent, local officials and residents said." (emphasis added)

. . .

"Children who lose their fathers early, in our society, feel oppressed, discriminated against" Mr. Kara said. "He was a walking bomb." [describing one of the suicide bombers, Mr. Erkinci.] (emphasis added)

. . .

"Look at this," said an uncle, Vahit Besgul, as he drove on Monday afternoon through the outskirts of Bingol, on the way to his nephew's grave. He was pointing to shanties and refuse on the side of the road.

'If people had education, if they had money, then they would not become the tools of others', he said." (emphasis added)

Interesting? I think so. Particularly for us in America, where there is no national draft and the voluntary army is drawn mostly from the ranks of the poor and underprivileged, who are looking for education, or employment, or a better chance at the full American dream, and who end up in Third World countries, or developing countries, and come to see how much poorer, more underprivileged, less likely to succeed or even satisfy humble needs such as hunger, millions of those people are, who despite the way they look and dress, and the foods they eat, and the religions they practice, and the languages they speak, still carry in their hearts the one common human aspiration of wanting their families and their little children to be safe.

Of course, my heart bleeds for those Congressmen and Senators from those states whose full employment figures depend on the war industries, who for sure would not be reelected if those industries were to be closed and the monies redeployed to peaceful endeavors, such as education for all, affordable housing for all, healthcare for all, rightful employment for a fair salary for all, drinking water for all, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

And another thing, in such a world nobody would get to swab the deck with testosterone.

* * * * *

New York Times, p. A24

NATIONAL REPORT

"Group Wants Investigation of Police Tactics at Miami Trade Talks"

A picture is worth a thousand words: there is a photo by Al Diaz of the Miami Herald, via Associated Press, of the Miami police in their riot gear.

So now you know where that $8.7 windfall went. Kinda interesting, for anyone who still remembers the story of our men and women in Iraq, who were sent there without enough of those special little armor plates to put inside their Kevlar vests. The same thing happened to the Brits, whose families often bought the proper gear for their sons and daughters out of their own pockets, to make sure they were adequately armed for the war they were going to fight for us.

"Critics have accused the city [Miami] of using whatever means necessary to ensure that its downtown remained calm and attractive for the trade ministers." (emphasis added)

"Calm and attractive", eh? Oh, it's gonna be a beautiful convention next year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

I am writing this sitting at -- Starbucks! Where I haven't set foot for weeks now, and the young counter girl didn't answer "Good morning!" to my "Good morning!", but just gave me her bright smile and said: "Vente coffee?"

Yeah... I didn't even pull out the pad until I had my first delicious sip.

All the way here, my heart was singing, and I was wondering what I would rant about today. Thanksgiving in Tokyo? My first American Thanksgiving? Aunt Marie and prescription drugs? In honor of the Medicare reform bill, which has passed, dammit.

Then the pad I picked up happened to be filled with scribblings I made before the start of the present Iraq war, and of course I could pick up right there, but that would not necessarily lead to blogging, just another bit of shaky framework for the great opus, my book on the war on Iraq.

I think I'll just flirt a little with anything that comes up.

One: thankfully they are not playing Christmas carols at Starbucks. They have already started in other places. I received a glossy magazine junkmail-advertising-jumbo-number, "Grand Opening" for a store that is launching itself with the uniquely ambitious, quite brilliantly inane idea of selling the world -- giftwrap and boxes for the season of giftgiving. I would just love to see what kind of a financial plan they flashed under their banker's nose, to be able to bankroll this particular boondoggle.

When I first came to America, before most of the people alive today were born, the Christmas season only started as soon as we had put Thanksgiving behind us. Naturally it then lasted as long as anyone wanted, and I have known in my time people who only took their Christmas tree down in July, when it had become a real fire hazard, and others who waited for the dog days of August to clear the decks, while I have also known some enthusiastic celebrants who never took their Christmas lights down, ever at all: they just refreshed them every new Christmas, maybe removed them for a day or two to clean the windows and wash the curtains, and then they replaced whatever little bits were no longer working and put them right back up, maybe in a slightly different configuration.

After the death of my mother, as a child, we only had Christmas with our father when we stayed in our flat in London. It was a very small, West end mews flat, with no central heating. I don't suppose many people had central heating in England in those days. It had a small, very cold bedroom for our father, and a frigid bathroom next to that, which guaranteed noone every overstayed their allotted time there, with a gas water-heater which activated when you turned on the "hot" water tap (faucet to you Americans), and a small eat-in kitchen next to that, that had the "hot" water tap hooked up to the same gas water-heater, and next to that the living room, where my brother Alain and I each had a bed, one on each side of the room, lined up against the freezing wall so that the first thing you did before climbing into it at night was to pull it a little bit away from the wall. This living room had a very small grate fire, and every evening, we built a tiny coal fire in it. The coal bin was downstairs outside, and we kids were supposed to get the coal up in a coal bucket, which meant going downstairs into the outside weather, and shovelling up enough coal to fill the bucket, and bringing it back upstairs. I just loved that chore, don't ask me why, I was that kind of kid, so I took my turn more often than Alain, who probably doesn't even remember ever doing it by now -- but then, he hardly ever did.

My father had been a scout, and a rover, so you know he could start a fire. The French always say great lovers and madmen are the only ones who always can, even with wet wood. I don't know which my father was, but he could start a fire with the most miserable wet coal, full of sulphur and heavens knows what other kind of crap, and that without any kind of kindling wood. He would first sift through the ashes from last night's fire, retrieving all the clinker that might remain, and then start with a semi-circle of the best, largest pieces of coal, a sort of little retaining wall of coal. Then he would tear up an old phone book, or yesterday's newspaper, and fold it up into very tight small knots of paper, which he placed inside this containing wall, on top of a single, wadded-up-loosely piece of newspaper, and the old clinker went on top of that, and he would start the fire by scratching a match, usually from two separate spots on the newspaper sheet, right in the center underneath, as far as the match would reach. When the paper knots "took", and the flames and smoke came up through the clinker, he would add small pieces of fresh coal, here and there, and we would just wait for a while, until the whole thing was securely lit, when it didn't really matter any more what you might put on the fire, or where, the fire was well and truly lit and would burn as long as you kept feeding it.

There were periods in the London of those days when the available coal was of a pathetic quality, and this little family scene, multiplied X-times in every English living room, accounts for the infamous smog that London was famous for, the well-remembered "pea soups" that killed off old pensioners and turned everyone's white underwear a permanent dirty brown that would never, ever wash out.

Anyway, that little coal fire eventually would mature into a mellow block of glowing embers. And we would cook dinner in the little kitchen and eat it, the three of us sitting on the floor around that warm hearth, with our faces flushed and our backsides frozen, maybe listening to something on the BBC radio. There was always a peaceful moment when that fire developed gaping canyons, licked now and then by sudden purple flames contrasting pleasantly against the reds, yellows and oranges of the incandescent coals, surrounded by the pitch black crust of glistening slag waiting for its moment of glory. And I thought how beautiful these canyons were, and how, if I were small enough, if I were a tiny Asbestos Man, I could walk in there and explore the beauty of this marvelous, mysterious landscape.

It was when I came to New York and experienced the lights of the Wall Street skyscrapers, fully lit on a winter evening, that I understood I had in a way fulfilled my childhood dream and managed to become an Asbestos Man. To be frank, I admit it has sometimes tasted mostly of ashes.

Bathurst Mews Christmas had certain rituals, of course. There was always the evening Aunt Doll next door made her famous "steak and kidney pud'", a great fireside favorite. There was always the last minute purchase of a Christmas tree, barely decorated because we just didn't have that many decorations, but it would always touch the ceiling of our little living room and bring in that lovely piney smell of the forest. And there would be the making of some infamous Christmas pudding, without recipe, naturally (my father appeared to have an inborn aversion to them), no, our Christmas pud' was an impromptu, no holds barred, kind of affair, with my father making pronouncements such as: "I seem to remember my mother put carrots in". You never really knew what it was going to turn out like, but it didn't matter, because the one thing we all of us knew really well was how to make a truly spiffy brandy-butter sauce.

Another thing my father always made during these Christmasses was something he called a "Christmas glug", which was a hot, citrus-based toddy, laced generously with gin, or vodka, or whisky. I guess my father wasn't prejudiced about alcohol for kids, it certainly only happened once a year.

I don't know whether this still happens in the London of today, but in post world War II London, people went carolling, great globs of them. They would hit your knocker a few rattling shots, and start singing, and you would remove yourself from the cozy fire and come barreling down the stairs into the cold, not forgetting to bring a few shillings, and you would join them. Sometimes, you would also offer them some of the "glug".

Presents? To be honest, there were not many presents, by modern standards. Certainly nothing that had ever seen the inside of a "Grand Opening" giftwrap emporium. Our father would take us to Foley's, or W.H. Smith's, or some bookstore on the Edgeware Road, or anywhere else, and set us loose with a budget to select whatever books we fancied, and that was our Christmas presents. For Alain, who as far as I know may have read at most two or three books in his life, except for cookbooks and books on how to train your dog to become a champion, I have no idea how this sat. Maybe, actually, he had a separate understanding with our father, and his budget was diverted into model plane kits, certainly our home smelt of glue at all times. But for me, books was bliss. And it still is.

As for the presents we kids gave, well, Alain never had factored this into his pocket-money budget. So, I would usually buy our father something smoking-related, tobacco jar, cigarette box, that kind of thing, and our Aunt Doll something boozy, like a bottle of gin (always welcome), and I would say to Alain: "What are your getting Puss? What are your getting Aunt Doll?" and he would always say: "I don't have any money left". And I would always say: "Do you want to come in with me?" And so, the presents always came with a handmade card: "With love from Patalain". The funniest thing about it is that if you were to ask Alain to tell you the story today, he would tell it like: "Do you remember the tobacco jar we gave Puss, one Christmas?" Excuse me, you were not even with me on the Tottenham Court Road, when I chose it and bought it, all on my own. I don't actually remember a single occasion where he chipped in on one of the "Patalain" presents.

My friend Irene would never buy or read any book without reading all the reviews (that's also how she picks the movies she sees). On the other hand, Janna and I became friends initially because she herself is such a voracious reader. In fact, she is probably the best-read person I have ever met in my life, period.

Actually, it's an amazing thing about Janna, being born in Siberia, being raised entirely in the heart of the first, original Evil Empire, how broad and universal her education was. She has very few gaps. Voltaire, Stendhal, Balzac, Nietsche, Kant, on and on, she can discuss the most boring classics, actually, the ones people wish they had read, but didn't, and the ones which most people have only heard of enough to pretend familiarity with them when they never actually held them in their hot little hands, but Janna can recite chapter and verse, I say, as if she had read them only yesterday.

But then Janna is one of 35 kids who attended kindergarten in the Soviet Union, 28 of whom are still friends, and these women, who are now in their sixties, still meet whenever they can, even though they all live very far apart, and even though all of them have married and had children, and some of them, though not all, now have grandchildren, whenever they do meet they talk about -- kindergarten! As if nothing that had happened to any of them in between really mattered all that much, or was as interesting.

Not that they don't remember. Be mindful of that. Not that they don't know all the details of each other's lives.

I asked Janna once how come she only had one child. She answered simply, very quietly: "You know, I just could not bring another child into the world to be a slave for that state..."

What a chilling motive for birth control.

Talking of birth control: an interesting thing is that the birth rate, in England today, which has no official regulation about how many children any couple may have, is actually lower than the birth rate in mainland China, which limits the child allowance to one per couple.

That sort of brings me up short. I shall talk about Aunt Marie and prescription drugs tomorrow.

Happy Turkey Day! Everyone. I shall have lentil stew.

Monday, November 24, 2003

I entered this post earlier tonight, before leaving to see Garrison Keillor and Calvin Trillin, and just as I posted it, blogger came down. So here I am retyping this, hoping it doesn't happen again.

While the world focused on the Michael Jackson affair all weekend, three events took place without so much as a whisper, which events are much more likely to have serious consequences for everybody's life here in the U.S. of A.

One : In Miami, peaceful demonstrators against the FTA were greeted by what a journalist, who was shot with a rubber bullet, qualified as "the most violent response by police he had ever seen."

Those peaceful demonstrators were attacked by police in full riot gear, who used tear gas, concussion grenades, taser guns, rubber bullets, rubber bullets filled with some white powder that dispersed and burnt their skin on contact, rubber truncheons and night sticks. Several had their teeth broken. Others were kicked in the face, or kicked in the head. Some 125 were hurt.

The violence took place towards the end of the demonstration, when all the regular media cameras and reporters were packing it in for the day and the crowds were beginning to thin out. At that point, the police commanded that the remaining demonstrators disperse, which they immediately started to do, moving from the street to the sidewalk in orderly fashion so as to avoid unnecessary confrontation, chanting "Put your weapons down! We are dispersing! Put your weapons down! We are dispersing!" As they reached the sidewalk, they were barred from proceeding by lines of police in full body armor blocking the way, who proceeded to drive them into containing fences, where they started knocking them down, macing them and beating them up.

Some 250 people were arrested, among them non-embedded reporters, legal observers, lawyers, and a bunch of Harvard students, who had come down with one of their Harvard professors. The "non-embedded" reporters are mentioned specifically because there were also a number of "embedded" reporters present, in police uniform and riot gear, with press badges. There were also some undercover police provocateurs, wearing T-shirts with such slogans as "FTA sucks", who were promptly taken to safety behind police lines at the start of the violence.

One young female reporter noticed she was being treated more gently than the other demonstrators, and she thought this preferential treatment might be attributable to the fact that she was wearing her press badge, until she heard some voices calling out: "She's not with us! She's not with us!" at which point everything changed and she was knocked down, knocked about, maced and finally arrested.

While under arrest, since her clothes were covered with the tear gas, etc., chemicals she had been sprayed with, she was forced to take a shower with all her clothes on. After which she was obliged to strip off all her clothes, in a room filled with male policemen who were watching, despite her protestations. They then took away all her clothes, and put them into a plastic bag which they took away, and they gave her prison garb to wear, which is what she wore when she eventually went home.

It seems that Florida has received an extra stipend, a windfall (you might call it that), of $8.7 million from Washington, siphoned off from the $87 billions recently voted for Iraq.

The Miami police is apparently gloating over what they consider a successful operation. You can bet it is a model for the future.

We can all look forward, I am sure, to the Republican Convention next year in Madison Square Gardens.

And I always associated American political conventions with balloons and cheerleaders.... Well, parents, I don't know. You might consider keeping your children home this time around.

How much money is trickling down for New York City, I wonder? It cost some $13 million for the President to sleep over in Buckingham Palace, for heavens' sakes.

Second: In Fort Benning, Georgia, a demonstration was held by thousands of people protesting the continuation of operations of the School of the Americas, more commonly known as the "School of Assassins", which was renamed WHISC in 2001, the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation".

This is the school which trains foreigners from "friendly" countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon, for instance, and others (I am sorry, I don't have a complete list), in methods of assisted interrogation, a euphemism for torture. It trains people in the use of various equipment and methods to obtain information from reluctant informants, I think I will just say "by any means necessary".

Officially, America does not condone torture. Unofficially, unfortunately, we train others in the "best" way to do it, and we deliver the appropriate "subjects", whenever we deem it necessary, into the hands of authoritarian governments who have no such squeamish scruples and who have bought the necessary equipment and learnt the know-how from us, and who are quite happy to do it for us -- unofficially, of course.

I suppose that with the reversals of alliances which sometimes occur in the field of foreign policy, it is a matter of time before one or our boys, or girls, will find themselves experiencing the benefits of our superior expertise and know-how, if it hasn't already happened somewhere, which would not surprise me too much.

Think about it for a moment and ask yourself whether this sort of thing meets the standards of the religion you profess to practice.

Three: Late during the night, that is very early Saturday morning, Congress passed a Medicare reform bill. The voting period, usually some 15 minute or so, was extended for a period of three hours, giving the President the opportunity and the time to telephone those unsure members, those undecided wusses incapable of thinking things out for themselves who had not yet voted, at 2 a.m. in the morning, to encourage them presidentially to vote this bill in.

A really naive person, looking at this bill, will only see that it is proposing prescription drug coverage for seniors, something that would look real good, on the face of it, for Bush's reelection campaign. Hidden within the text of the bill, however, is the real stick behind that sweet carrot, the future privatization of Medicare.

Privatization of Medicare is a perfect nightmare, if you scrutinize what it means, which simplistically is loss of control and loss of choice.

Under Medicare, you can choose any doctor you want. If he takes "assignment", you pay practically nothing out of pocket.

In an HMO, however, you are obliged to take "their" doctors, and if you prefer to stay with the practitioner who has your trust, who has been treating you for years, but he is not on their lists, you might as well not have coverage, you will be out of pocket a huge amount.

Under an HMO, unlike under the present Medicare system, you will also not be able to go to a specialist unless they approve it. That means, you will not be able to see the heart specialist of your choice, just because you have a cardiac problem, or see the urologist of your choice, just because you have a kidney ailment. The bureaucrats will determine your medical needs, and their motivation will be -- what else -- PROFIT.

At least, under present Medicare, the only problem you have is getting past the office nurse, who tells you: "I don't think you have a urological infection...I think you should go and see your gastroenterologist..." And won't put you through. Serious!

Shame on you, AARP, for having supported this bill, without giving your huge membership a chance to weigh in with their opinions.

Shame on you, Congress, for slipping this in, in the small hours of the morning, just as you slipped in the bill reducing benefits for veterans, just at the time we were seeing our young men and women off to the war on Iraq.

If the Senate passes this bill, mark my words, the next thing is Social Security. And if you think privatization of Social Security is a good idea, I jolly well hope you are also happy with the performance of your portfolio, if you have one.

* * * * *

In Algeria, some butchers of imagination are passing off donkey meat as beef.

Is this an idea for the Democrats? Maybe. After bisonburgers, what would we call these? How about "Asspatties" or "Asswhoppers"?

The Garrison Keillor and Calvin Trillin gig was just great.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

I'm not being lazy, I'm just overwhelmed.

I am in one of my periodic change-overs, trying something different in an effort to improve the quality and balance in my life.

One: nutrition. For the first time in, let's see, eight years, I am cooking every meal I eat. This involves time, which I was able to use in a different way before, like walking around my neighborhood, going to Starbucks first thing in the morning and doing my blog over that luvly cuppa coffee. Now, I am caffeine-free, for the enth time, I am definitely addicted both to the taste and the moment, the whole environment of coffee. How do you think it took the world over, more than two hundred years ago? If you ever go to Paris, you should eat at Procope's, which started out as a coffee shop, way back then, everybody went there, including Voltaire. It gives you a strange feeling.

Anyway, I was at the health food store the other day, asking for some literature on flower essences, and I asked a young woman who looked like she was just standing there to help me. "Well," she said with a big smile, "I don't actually work here, but let me find someone to help you." And she did. It turned out she was a nutritionist, who had been a professional ballet dancer for ten years. She looked much too young to be on a second career, with a masters degree, no less, and I thought she looked very fit, and if she was applying what she was teaching, it might be a good idea to check my knowledge.

So, I went to her free introductory lecture. I don't think I have ever in my life met a more generous spirit. We were a motley crew, a good number of us wandered in very late, and walked out very early. Questions were from the back of the beyond, a good deal of political jargon about the "other drug cartel", total red herrings, of little interest to anybody except for the value they held for those who spoke, who quite clearly liked to hear the sound of their own voices. She mustered on valiantly, with grace and wit.

So, I am now busy applying principles of nutrition, which I knew about but did not bother to apply, and believe me, it's quite a different feeling, and believe me, I have less discretionary time, and believe me, I am eating much more interesting things.
I have pretty much decided to see her, after New Year, on a pay-by-visit basis, once a month. There is something very attractive about her holistic attitude, and let's face it, she is good company.

Friday night, I went to my friends Larry and Carol's for "Friday night movies". Carol was not there, she had gone with Pete, their son, who is on the debating team of his school and they were on an out-of-town debating meet. Carol is involved, because unless parents are involved, the debating just doesn't happen. Her kid is in, but if she were not, some other kid might not get his/her chance. She also enjoys it very much, and so does Pete.

So my evening was with Larry and their daughter Lydia. I hadn't seen Lydia in a few weeks, she is in that period of very fast transformation. There had been a moment when I thought she was getting a little chubby for her age, she has lengthened into an endless-leg siren. She is thirteen now, and it is just wonderful to spend time with her. Her father was not going to be home until eight, so she suggested we do a double-feature. She had already started the first movie, since she did not know exactly when I would turn up, and we rewound and started over again something called, I think, something like "National Lampoon Vacation". Absolutely terrible. After a few minutes, we spontaneously turned to each other and in a chorus said: "Let's see something else! I don't think this is going to get any better."

The choice was mostly between things we had both already seen several times, it was a matter of coming to an agreement on one we both felt like seeing again. But there was one item, which I was not sure whether I had seen or not, because I had seen the trailer so many times, "Meet the Parents". So that is what we watched. Larry came home before the end, and found me laughing, and said to Lydia: "I think Pat's the best Friday night movie person, don't you?"

Actually, years ago when this started, some four or five years ago when the kids were that much younger, and candid, they had pronounced that they wanted nobody at the Friday night movies, except me. So I feel flattered.

Anyway, for the second feature, Larry and I were on our own, because Lydia had -- what else? -- a few phone calls from her girl friends to return, plus she probably had something to do on the computer, and Larry got to choose his favorite, one he has watched "alotta times" over the years, "Airplane".

I must say I didn't think it was very funny, except for the guy who keeps saying: "Bad week to stop smoking..." as he lights up. Then, "Bad week to stop drinking..." as he pours himself a drink. Then, "Bad week to stop amphetamines..." as he shucks back a handful of pills. Finally, when all hell breaks loose, it's, "Bad week to stop sniffing glue..."

That's how dated the film was. Oh, and another recurring joke:

"Surely, we could blablabla...."

"Stop calling me Shirley!"

Dinner is always take-out on these Friday nights (or almost always), and if I am alone when the choosing is done with the children, I let them choose. I can eat pretty well any kind of food without a fuss. If it's Lydia, you can bet it will be Chinese, 100% of the time. And it will be fried pork dumplings and sesame chicken. Which it was, once more, last Friday. Of course, as usual, Lydia ate only the skins of the dumplings and left the pork stuffing on the side of her plate.

They have a new cat, to replace beautiful Apollo who died a few months ago from a very rare cat disease. This one is also black and white, very young and playful. The whole family is going to Washington for Thanksgiving, to visit Carol's parents, and I am to go cat sit. It's working out as I was supposed to go to Chicago with Irene, to visit our temple there and see our friend Nobuko, but Irene has decided to go to Canada with Tatiana instead, so I was left behind, with no trip to look forward to. I shall now be commuting to the East side of Manhattan, to take care of two beautiful, playful cats. Better get my passport and papers in order!

Larry gave me a ticket to go listen to Garrison Keillor and Calvin Trillin on Monday. What about, you ask? I dunno, I don't care, these two guys are among my favorites. I got lucky because Larry bought the ticket for the 24th, and he can't go because it's Pete's birthday. One tends to forget the exact date of Pete's birthday, because he was "born on Thanksgiving Day", but we always forget Thanksgiving is a movable feast.

I walked home, as I usually do when I am well enough to do it, on the principle that I should while I can, because it's a pretty sure thing one day I shan't be able to any more. So I got to look at the swank windows on 57th street, and dream in the Brioni window on a lavish black evening dress, something I would never have the occasion to wear, natch, made of silk jersey, maybe? It brought to mind the poem:

"Wheneas in silks
My Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks
How sweetly flows
The liquefaction of her clothes."

In a gallery window, a most exquisite Granma Moses painting of a winter village, with snow on the ground, bare black trees laced with white snowpuffs etched against a white winter sky, a man in a blue smock leading a horse down the road, and a bunch of luminescent little houses dotted all over the landscape. Oh, how I desired this little painting for my own!

The other day, Janna and I watched the Peter Jennings special on the Kennedy assassination: "Beyond Conspiracy". Dreadful. Just dreadful. Two bloody hours to show us the same reconstruction of the Zapruder film in digital simulation, showing us the one bullet, over and over again, telling us, again and again, through sound bites by famous people, how Oswald was a commie, how he went to Russia, and Cuba, how he married a Russian woman, who left him, how he tried to go back to all three, none of whom wanted him back, how he was just a loser who wanted to be famous.

Excuse me? It was only in the very tail-end of the special that they showed us the path of the second bullet.

Never a mention of the third.

Never a mention of anything untidy, like Ruby's death, and the mysterious, untimely, accidental, "natural" death of some forty people who were connected with what happened that day.

If you started out your program saying something about how many conspiracy theories there were, wouldn't you want to deconstruct the little details, and show how the smoking guns were nothing but specks of imagination? Why not?

Never a word was spoken to speculate, or explain (as they did so well, to explain Oswald's motivations for killing Kennedy) what the heck Jackie Kennedy was trying to do, when she was seen desperately struggling to scramble out the back of the car, which was still in full motion. I had heard once upon a time, that she was trying to catch her husband's brains, as they were flying out the back of the car into the streeet. But my personal hunch feeling is that she was trying to get away, she was scared, she just didn't want to die, and she was going out the back because she thought the shooting was coming from the front. Call me a stupid, commonsense nutcase.

I obviously watched with Janna (I don't have TV), she was really interested in seeing this film. She remembers very clearly where she was at the time, she was with her brother at the airport, who happened to be a very well informed person, because of his job. She was outraged: "I want to write a letter," she kept saying. She got really angry. When I had come in, earlier that evening, she was all tired out from a very busy day, with a lot of driving, and she got so angry she got up and started cleaning her kitchen, giving it the third degree, everything got pulled apart, even the faucets got metal polished. Thankfully, two hours is just two hours, otherwise I think she would have pulled down the curtains and cleaned the windows.

Of course, it is the anniversary, the 40th anniversary, of the dreadful event. But just because of this, it is also the year a lot more books are coming out about it. I read recently that there is one come out in France that tells a fresh new story about how it was done, and why it was done in Dallas, and who was involved, besides Oswald, why Oswald was killed, why Ruby died, why so many others died or "just disappeared" in a very short time, leaving what can now truthfully (finally) be described as "No witnesses".

I read a little bit about this book. There is mention in it of a guy who was a very well known, very clever, mortician. You know, those guys who do the makeup on dead bodies so that they can look more alive when they are viewed at the wakes. Apparently, according to his wife, he got a call very shortly after the shooting, telling him "they were going to need him". He left precipitously, instructing his wife to leave town and go wait for him somewhere until he got in touch with her again. Which he did, after Oswald's death, when he called her and said: "It's OK now, we can come back."

According to this book, this guy's work on the Kennedy head is the reason it does not show that Kennedy's right half of the forehead had been blown off. You think this is a tall one? Well, think again, when you remember the first pictures we were shown of Saddam's boys, all shot up. Then, of course, when everybody said: "Weeeeeeell.... I dunno..... Could be any shot up bodies...." Corrective measures were taken, they got haircuts, shaves, make-up, scars were erased, etc. Then, everybody heaved a sigh of relief: "Yup! That looks like them!"

I open a parenthesis here to say my own feeling about Saddam's boys. Whenever you saw the pictures of the two of them alive, at parties and so on, one was very much taller than the other. On those gurneys, however, both bodies fill the gurneys. Call me a nutcase, I don't mind, but I think gurneys are usually standard. They don't come in two sizes, small gurneys for small people, large gurneys for tall people. I went on every site I could find that showed those gurneys, from various angles, because I am a photographer, I know angle and perspective can fool the eye. But hard as I could squint, those two bodies always filled the gurneys they were on. So, which way did it go, did the tall one shrink or the short one grow? Or is an American-supplied gurney a Procrustean bed?

Close parenthesis.

My final conclusion is that the Peter Jennings special was "purrthetic". In fact, lousy. Now, they are going to show it on BBC in England. So the Brits also can endorse this new, revised, finalized, sanitized, version of the story: a crazed, lonely, ambitious, failure of a commie did it all on his own, just proving how easy it is for a loose canon to change the path of history.

Of course, we don't have commies any more, at most we have pinkos. If you believe every human being should have dignity, and a roof over their head, and they and their children should not go to bed hungry, and every little child should have the education he wants and the health care he needs, then, of course, you are a pinko.

As an aside, I am a pinko of sorts. Just about every year, someone gives me some kind of pink present, gloves, a hat, a scarf, a sweater, etc., in pink, saying: "I know this is your favorite color". It's hard to protest, when someone is actually giving you a present, it sounds so crass and ungrateful, but excuse me, when have you ever seen me wear pink?

Being a photographer, and having had one-person shows at various times in my life, I quite understand that a great majority of people don't even see properly, but still. Then, one day, it came to me that they saw me as a pinko because I do wear a lot of green. I'm actually a greenie. They don't remember me accurately, they remember my afterimage. If you have never experienced this phenomenon, take two or three minutes to stare at a red object, then close your eyes, and you will "see" it in the dark in green.

That is how the eye rests itself. That is why in every country they paint the barns red to stand out in a green field.

Anyway, back to this commie thing. We don't have commies any more, and even though pinkos serve a purpose, you can't quite get as much suspicion up against them, not the kind that justifies a military buildup and a whole industry of weaponry. With the passage of time, we have substituted the Muslims, or the Arabs. It's the same confusion as when the enemy, the ones who poisoned the wells and sacrificed the little children to their idol god, were known as the Jews, or the Israelites.

When people talk about anti-Semitism, they actually mean more specifically being against the Jews, the Israelites, the Zionists, these terms are interchangeable in most cases. However, if you look at the origins of the "Jews", the ones of the Bible, coming from Abraham, Abraham was a worthy burgher from Ur of the Chaldees, an Iraqi before Iraq.

So, he was an Arab before there were Muslims, and he started the Jewish religion, which made his descendants just another Arab tribe which practiced a different religion than the majority.

I am not an expert, but I understand that the Jews did not have circumcision until after the Egyptian deportation. Moses married an Egyptian woman, and as I understand it, it was this Egyptian wife, for reasons of her own, which I personally have never been able to understand properly, who one fine night circumcised her husband Moses, and all the other Egyptian wives did the same to their husbands that same night. I guess it was quite a discovery for all those husbands, you might say it was a revelation, because they took it up as part of their customs thenceforward. I have always wondered how any mother can stand by and let her little baby boy be despoiled thus, without protestation, but I can certainly understand that many of those little boys would find it extremely hard to trust any woman afterwards, especially any one with a knife in her hand. I mean, your own mother let this happen to you?

Anyway, going back to Abraham. He sort of walked into Palestine with his flock of sheep and made it his. He was a pioneer, a settler. I wouldn't mind betting, if it was lush grazing ground, or even if it was not, that it was already inhabited by someone else, even if sparsely. It might have been spectacularly sparsely, if the land was like the Empty Quarters, which I don't believe it was. Anyway, he did make it his own, and his descendants were involved in wars of every kind for generation after generation, right down to historic times.

Then, some two thousand years ago, they were all turned out one final time. Only it was not so final, and they came back in 1948 to found the state of Israel. You might say they came home, if you consider being absent for two thousand years still entitles you to residual ownership. OK, it was given to them. By those who now owned the land? No, not exactly, by others, who didn't think Arabs counted as "inhabitants". Were these people consulted? Well, they agreed, I suppose, to sharing the land. Eventually the newcomers liked their new old home, they wanted more, and they took it. The displaced people, the raggedy poor, probably only saw this terrible thing that was happening to them as more of what had been happening to them for thousand upon thousand of years. Let's face it, the great majority of the world has been swept through with hordes of expansive tribes, looking for their place in the sun, looking for booty.

The difference nowadays is that people pretend to do it as their duty to humanity, which they pronounce: "dooty", to rhyme with old time "booty". This is in the spirit of civilization, which people understand to mean "something better, more evolved", rather than just a descriptive for the fact that it's hard to work the land, and preferable, when you have the option, to work 5-9, with an English weekend off, in an office in the city. Ho, hum.

Whatever you choose to call it, invading someone else's land is just one more spin on that old saying: "Swab the deck with testosterone!" Quite obviously, since this is such a messy thing, it's best to swab someone else's deck, not your own.

But, gentle reader, hormones are constant, throughout humanity. And so, a very peaceful person can suddenly declare he has had enough, he won't take it any more, and he will turn into an angry, vengeful spirit. If you had been watching him, making scratches in the dust with his little walking stick, day in, day out, woolgathering. lollylagging, tillyloshing, daydreaming dreams of a hearty supper, or a beautiful new young wife, too placid, too happy, even to get bored, and so, startled, you might just say: "I don't know what got into him! Suddenly, he turned on me..."

Well, kiddie, the violence in your heart, in your acts, towards the gentle shepherd, was perceived by him, eventually, as he looked at the broken bodies of his little children, the burnt fields of his hardwon harvest, the uprooted trees of his orchards, the starved, thirsty cows and sheep of his herds, the rubble of what used to be his house, the raped body of his teenaged daughter, all of this is perceived by him as the sign of your indifference to his very humanity, and all of sudden he explodes into a great flame of anger, of desire for the cessation of this horror, and it occurs to that same gentle soul that you, who have never bothered to speak to him in a language which he understands, or even to speak to him in any way at all, will not, cannot, understand any other form of communication than violence and terror, and he will step into the ring without a thought for his own life, because when this gentle soul reaches this point, it is because you have deprived him of everything that makes his life precious to him.

So, in fact, it is your indifference that creates violence..

Anyway, going one more time back to Abraham, when I looked at the map and saw how close Ur was to Israel, the crazy notion came to me that maybe Israel wanted to go home to Iraq.

Whadda you mean? It's been too long, you say?

Well, when you look at the map, you can see how desirable Iraq is, actually. It was the cradle of humanity for one very good reason, it was extremely fertile. It still has very good water. Don't listen too much about how poisonous the water is right now, for the Iraqis. There is plenty of water, you just have to clean it up. Water can be cleaned up.

Another parenthesis. When I was about 18, I went to Annecy in France. It is a beautiful mountain lake, in beautiful country, with very enjoyable weather. When I went there, at the time you could not swim in the lake, not just because it was cold, which it was, but because it was so polluted it was not safe. This was caused by untreated runoffs from all the industrial complexes which had established themselves in the region for that very reason, that there was plentiful water for their manufacturing processes. Eventually, some forward thinking people came into the local government and decided to reverse the process. The next time I went to Annecy, many years later (maybe twenty years), you could actually drink the lake water. If they could do it, anybody can.

End of parenthesis.

Anyway, I thought I really had lost some of my marbles. I kept my mouth shut about Ur of the Chaldees. Then, Wolfowitz went there, and I started scratching my head.

Now, the story is being told of the Jews of Iraq, most of whom emigrated some years ago. They were not welcomed any more. Had something to do with Hitler's men coming in, stirring it up, the result is that there are very few Jews left in Iraq these days, mostly old codgers whose children are no longer living in the country. And then, I start reading about how some wealthy Jews are buying up the properties that had belonged to the Jewish community when it existed in fact.

That is exactly how Israel got started, with rich Zionists buying land from absentee landlords in Palestine, held over from the old days of the Ottoman empire. So, you can see that those lands that were now owned by Zionists, worked on by Arab farmers who only rented them, were actually the thin edge of the wedge from which the ultimate land grab extended, like an oil slick, more like a pool of blood.

Do I think Israel has some idea in mind about Iraq? Well, yes, I do. When this war started, the first thing announced that was being reestablished, before potable water for the natives and electricity for their wellbeing, was the pipeline that supplied oil to Israel. Then, suddenly, this no longer was a news item. I think someone said: "Hey, you just soft pedal that one".

That man of peace (dixit Bush) just received delivery from the Americans, via Diego Garcia, of 72 Harpoon cruise missiles tipped with nuclear warheads. There is an American-UK military base stationed on Diego Garcia, which has kept another 28 for their own use. These 72 Harpoons have been assigned to three Israeli Dolphin-class submarines that have subsequently left Diego for the Gulf of Oman. The official purpose is for the Israelis to be able to target the Iranian nuclear facilities, should that become necessary, but since they are all under the decision-making authority of Ariel Sharon, who knows what might not happen in the future.

The end to a beautiful trip

Meanwhile, back in England, Bush got his taste of the simple life when he went to visit Blair's little village of Sedgefield, where he was able to savor a spontaneous pub lunch of fish and chips at the Dun Cow Inn. But of course, because of security measures, he didn't actually get to meet any of the locals, who were kept well away. "After waiting all this time, it would have been nice to actually see him," one of the women said on BBC TV. I mean to say, well, wouldn't you? Let's face it, it wouldn't matter what normal place you would try to get Bush to, everywhere the President goes immediately becomes extremely abnormal. Still, after Bed and Breakfast at Buckingham Palace with the Queen of England, the Dun Cow Inn, with plenty of ketchup for the fish and chips, must have stood out as some sort of a contrast.

I quote my favorite, Euan Ferguson:

"It wasn't, in the end, a great week for learning about George W. Bush. We learnt that he could, despite the fervent wishes of so many opponents, manage to walk and chew gum at the same time; that he could pull off a smart speech without trying too hard; that he is rather tactile, clapping his friend Tony Blair on the back so often he could have been burping him. We learnt that, unsurprisingly, he takes security seriously: the sight of teams of black-garbed Secret Service agents struggling through half the leylandii in the north-east of England will keep locals smiling for a while. And Sedgefield pensioner Mary Pimlott could have been speaking about much, much more than last week's local searches when she said, with near-gnomic wisdom; 'They went everywhere, looking for whatever they were looking for. But, whatever it was, it wasn't there.'"

It is a fact that the bombings in Turkey took place at exactly the time the Bush-Blair press conference was about to happen, as if to distract the Blood Brothers from what was going to be a far more triumphant event, I am sure. Coincidence? Call me crazy, I give you plenty of opportunities, I don't think so.

Three groups are claiming authorship. My own feeling is that at this point, Osama Bin Laden doesn't have to lead them any more, he has inspired so many people, he has trained so many, that by now there must be some thousands of little units, here and there, ready for their own flavor of glory, their final adrenaline rush with the certitude of sowing fear and despair. And, what is it President Bush said, again? Oh, yes: "Bring 'em on".

You can't stop them by going to war against them. It is like one of those childhood fairy tales, where someone is cursed by the playing of a certain tune: the only way you can break the curse is by playing the tune backward. We have to learn what their motivation is, we have to understand, we have to remove the cause. It's just like a sickness, you have to find out what causes the pain and remove it, you don't cure anyone only by administering painkillers.

All these bombings have one thing in common: they kill and mutilate people who are actually trying to make things work. The UN, the Red Cross, the occupation troops (yes, they are, they are doing a very difficult job, where they risk their lives 24/7, and sure, they make mistakes because, as someone said, "they don't have much delicate information"), the Iraqis who are helping to police with the coalition troops, the career diplomat who loved Turkey and was loved in return. In all these bombings, more Turks and Iraqis die. Even in the first bombings, years ago in Africa, literally hundreds of Kenyans were killed and maimed in contrast to the much smaller numbers of Americans. So, in fact these bombings are quite as much warnings to the local people, most certainly they are against the local people, and it is significant of how dehumanizing these terror attacks are to all of us that we count our own losses as more significant than theirs.

In the case of Turkey, you could say that from the hardline point of view of an islamist who wants a unified Islam, Turkey has several strikes against it: first, the population is Muslim, and yet since 1920 they have had a secular state. We call it democracy, but personally I don't call it democracy when there are human rights violations, which is endemic in Turkey. Still, everybody keeps saying Turkey is a democracy, because it has an elected government.

Second, it is still an Arab country, but it has applied for membership in the EU, which makes it a traitor to panarabism.

Third, it was actually negotiating with America for participating in the invasion of Iraq. Sure, they had demands, which were not met, and they afterwards refused access to their land from which to invade the north of Iraq and took back their offer of troops. But, if the Americans had given them what they wanted, they would have been part of it.

Fourth, they were also willing to take part in the occupation of Iraq, until that also fell through. That fact alone lands them in the category of "people willing to help make things work".

* * * * *

Through Talking Points Memo, I got to see a Fox News clip on Wes Clark that I found absolutely riveting: I kept playing it over and over. I don't have this linky thing down pat yet, so here goes:

www.foxnews.com/video2/player.html?4908&FOX_News_Live&Setting%20the%20Record%20Straight&wvx-300

Seven glorious minutes of a man who dares to speak his mind.

Oh, I almost forgot. Tonight, Sunday, Tony Blair is to appear on The Simpsons!


Friday, November 21, 2003

I'm so behind, I'm going to have to stick to one liners to catch up. That will be the day! So, here it is, higgledy-piggledy.

Monday 17th

The second anniversary of the death of Peter S. Everything I have in my life, just about, is thanks to him. I went to temple and offered toba memorial.

Jonestown Massacre 25th Anniversary

Just in case anybody needed to be reminded, or finally to come to understand, that those who are the most vociferous in their claim of faith in God are not necessarily "Good".

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp..."

Indeedy.

Free Speech in the U.K. - "Axis of Giggles"?

Yes, but not for everybody. Children are excluded, they still should be seen and not heard.

A 12-year old boy called Glenn was excluded from school "for the duration of the war" for having allegedly referred to Tony Blair as "a leading twat". This was during a public debate, during which he had passionately denounced the bombing of Afghanistan.

Glenn's father is a writer, with a publishing deadline for the novel he is working on, and he quite naturally hopes that the war will be over before Christmas, because as he puts it, "he can't have Glenn hanging around the house all day".

Glenn has protested his innocence, saying: "I didn't say Tony Blair was a leading twat. I said he was leading TWAT (The War Against Terrorism)."

Hehehe!

The story comes to me through-what else? The UK Guardian.

The Soham Murders

Two little girls were killed in Soham, a little over a year ago.

One of my favorite journalists at the Guardian, Euan Ferguson, tells about a part of the proceedings at the trial of the indicted murderer. It is a remarkably interesting article entitled: "Terrible history haunts the Old Bailey". If you want to read it, it's at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4793307-111746,00.html.

Zen and Jerry

While I was on the Guardian site, I came across another interesting story by Euan Ferguson, on Jerry Hall.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4793209-102280,00.html.

Michael Jackson Brouhaha

Everybody is talking about the Michael Jackson case. Everybody says "innocent until proven guilty"; everybody ignores the fact that under the law Michael Jackson does not have to prove his innocence, the prosecution has to prove his guilt; everybody is happy to say "he should be punished" and his children should be taken away from him.

Wot, without trial?

Everybody points to the previous "cases", which it so happens were never prosecuted, but were settled out of court, one reportedly for as much as $25 million. Are you really that cynical that you believe there would not have been any prosecution, no matter what the facts, just because Michael Jackson has money?

Setting aside the matter of non-prosecution, and settlements out of court, if you are now basing your personal opinion on what should happen to Michael Jackson on the alleged fact that he has, for the past ten years, been a "notorious child abuser", what can possibly explain any responsible parents exposing their children to a sleepover at Neverland?

CBS have reportedly cancelled a Michael Jackson Special because of his arrest. I think that is wrong: it is the equivalent of saying they believe he is guilty, before the trial even starts.

Furthermore, they are punishing him in advance of a judgment by depriving him of a part of his livelihood.

They are also participating in behavior which will make it very hard, if not impossible, for Michael Jackson to have an unbiased jury and a fair trial just about anywhere in the United States, I could add, anywhere in the world, for that matter.

Michael Jackson has always behaved in a flamboyant, provocative manner, he is quite obvious in his strangeness, he doesn't exactly behave like a shrinking violet. I can't imagine how the parents of the "numerous victims" [sic] could possibly justify risking their children's wellbeing by allowing them to get close to him at all, at any time.

Or was it just because he is famous and he has the money?

President Bush's visit to the U.K.

I'll start out with my usual "Cui Bono?", who benefits?

I don't have the stomach to research how much Bush's security costs, both to the U.S. taxpayer and to the U.K. taxpayer.

Nobody, nobody, would want anything to happen to Bush, anywhere, if for no better reason than that the next guy would be Cheney. Let's face it, Cheney may already be the president-in-fact, but Bush looks better, so he deserves to be the front man. I heard he always wanted to be an actor.

Nobody, nobody, would want to have Cheney for president. Did you ever see him smile? He looks like a sleazy landlord who has just evicted a coupla widows and orphans.

The night before Bush's arrival in London, Buckingham Palace was fully secured, with sharpshooters on the roof, and all kinds of security personnel deployed on high alert all over the place, up to the gills. It was left up to a woman reporter, a shy person, "very discreet", to challenge the security ahead of time, to see what would happen. She climbed over the wall, and was well on her way in before they caught her. Perhaps the fact she was wearing a Da-Glo parka had something to do with it.

Anyway, Bush got what he wanted, a splendid, sumptuous visit, with virtually no witnesses.

During Bush's trip from Buckingham Palace to 10 Downing Street, in his special Cadi with 5-inch armored plate, on the other side of town, an alternative procession took place, with a mock "royal carriage, carrying the "Queen" and a very different "President Bush".

As reported in the BBC's reporters' log:

Speaking to reporters before setting off, 'The President' said: "Your little country makes a great runway and I'm delighted it is so easy to get social security out of your Prime Minister Tony Blair".

Standing Together, No Matter What

Blair and Bush stood shoulder to shoulder, again and again. Friends forever.

Everyone knows the violence is escalating in Iraq. In the shadows, a little further to the east, the same thing is happening in Afghanistan.

Further east yet, in western India, which saw the visit of that "man of peace" (dixit Bush), Ariel Sharon, a few weeks ago, bombs are now being set off outside the mosques.

The unspeakable horror of the bombs set off in Istanbul needs no padding. It practically blew away all the topics Bush and Blair had wanted to talk about during this visit, things like the prisoners at Guantanamo, the tariffs on British steel, etc., so that when reporters asked how the talks were doing, all Blair could say was: "We are still talking about that".

"Bring 'em on", Bush had said, earlier this year about attacks on coaliton forces in Iraq. It looks very much like someone is really listening.

Now, which came first, the chicken or the egg?

I refer once more to Andrian Bell's cartoon in the Guardian. Blair went to see the Pope, before the war on Iraq was declared. Blair, like Bush, is a man of faith, in fact Bush was asked whether that might be the reason why they get on so well, and he answered: "Maybe".

The cartoon had the Pope blessing Blair, who was on his knees before him, and saying:

"My Son, waarring against weaypons of maass destraaaction is like shaaaagging for chaaaastity."

* * * *

Janna went to court. One of those silly traffic accidents: two cars crash into each other, and the following ten, twenty cars blip, blip, blip, into each other as they pull up sharp.

Janna was at the end of this line, she miscalculated the distance between her car and the one in front, she bumped her. No witnesses, but a policeman came on the scene, Both women exchanged cards, etc. Janna's car had scratches in the front, the woman nothing. Now the woman is suing for medical costs for major surgery on her neck.

Janna can't see how this could be true. The shock was not very bad: she had just come from an auction, her car was chockerblock full of dainty china, nothing got broken. Anyway, the night before, I had been telling her the importance of "dressing for success", an old Chinese story, and that morning she went to court very well dressed.

Of course, she got lost, took the wrong exit and ended up being late, then she didn't know where to go, when she entered the room, it was filled with people waiting just for her. With so many eyes looking her over, she became a little flustered, and said pretty much what came out of her head.

"Do you remember the policeman?" they asked her.

"Yes, very well."

"What can you say to describe him?"

"Er, he had a mustache, a red mustache, and red hair, he was tall, he was strong, he looked Irish..."

Well, that sort of did it. Afterwards, they would phrase their questions:

"And what did the--Irish-looking policeman say?"

At one point, Janna turned to her lawyer and asked him: "Can I say something else about the policeman?"

"No," very firmly, "Keep your mouth shut..."

But she wanted to say it anyway, she said it to the lawyer, and she noticed everybody was listening.

I'm glad I wasn't there: I don't think I could have kept a straight face. It's a good thing she didn't say he was handsome... Hehehe!

A policeman? Irish looking?

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Today was the anniversary of my arrival in America. The actual day fell on a Sunday, and it does this year too.

I have several basic anniversaries concerning myself: the date of my birth, the date of my conversion to Buddhism, the date of my arrival in America.

Then, I have the anniversaries of the birth and death of my parents, and certain family members.

After Temple in Flushing, I went to lunch with my friend Irene and her son Andrew: a really good meal (we ordered a little bit too much, because we added little things like scallion pancakes, etc.). I had done memorials for both my parents, and so I felt that I had celebrated my "landfall" in the best way possible.

There was no Alias, the slot was preempted by the American Musical Awards. I came to the conclusion that I was not quite of this world, the only person I really enjoyed was, let's see if I can get his name right, Keith Toby? I think I shall have to check it. I am definitely NOT a name dropper.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Today was Nichimoku Shonin's Celebration, and this is also the date of Children's Day in Japan.

I went to Temple in Manhattan and caught the sermon. The official celebration will take place in Flushing Temple tomorrow, Sunday being best for people to bring their children, and I shall go, but I thought to post a part of Rev. Nagasaka's sermon, which is further discussion on the matter of life and death which has been a part of my recent posts. If it were to have a title, it might be:

Enjoy your beautiful ego

"I would like to discuss the ultimate reality of life after death. Almost all people in society today erroneously believe that their lives either become totally extinct at the moment of their death without anything surviving, or that they continue after death in some eternally unchanging form such as a soul or ghost.

[omission]

In Buddhism we learn that ego or self are simply manifestations of the Law of Cause and Effect. They are like the rainbow that appears after a rain shower. In other words, ego or self appears and disappears due to the internal and external workings of the Law of Cause and Effect. We know this truth as Myo (middle path).

It is very difficult for us to comprehend the existence of the Law of Cause and Effect as a common mortal. For example, if your friend steals a car and the police don't find out, while you steal a car and you are arrested, basing our view on the immediate results, many would conclude that your friend was fortunate and you were not. In this assessment of the situation, we fail to realize the depth of the Law of Cause and Effect. We only see the superficial conclusion. The Buddha teaches that, if there is a cause there must be an effect, even if it is not immediately evident to us. Thus birth is a cause for death and death is a cause for rebirth. People erroneously conclude that the ultimate reality of birth and death is based on fatalism, the will of God or coincidence. Similarly, it is a shallow understanding to believe that your birth solely came from your mother's pregnancy. This is merely a partial truth. The Lotus Sutra teaches us that your mother's pregnancy was the external cause for your birth. This is called Nyoze-en. Behind the reality of your birth there must be an internal cause called Nyoze-in. For your birth to occur there must be both an internal cause and an external one.

What is the nature of our existence after we die? When the harmonious unity of the five elements (earth [solid], water [liquid], fire [energy], wind [gas] and ku [neither existence nor non-existence]) which compose all living beings are destroyed and separated from each other, we call this condition death. The only thing that survives this separation is our negative or positive Karma accumulated up until that moment. The ego or self disappears, the same as the ethereal rainbow disappears after the rain shower. Depending on both your internal and external causes, the five elements can again harmoniously unite, causing your reincarnation in a next life. But, the ego or self will be different, just like every other part of you, determined solely by your Karma. Behind this process of the decomposing and composing of the harmonious unity of the five elements, the Buddha found the Law of Myoho-Renge-Kyo and taught us it as the ultimate reality.

Unlike the Law of Gravity, the validity of Myoho-Renge-Kyo applies to both the spiritual and physical worlds as well as before and after our death. If you embrace this Law, you will be enlightened to the ultimate truth and accumulate positive Karma, and if you deny or ignore this Law, you will be deluded to the ultimate reality and accumulate negative Karma. Your fortune is determined by either believing in it or ignoring it. [omission]

Finally, there are six aspects of internal cause (Nyoze-in) and four aspects of external cause (Nyoze-en). The six aspects of internal cause are:

1. Where an internal cause supports and accepts someone's or something's growth.

2. Where more than one internal cause unite to produce a single effect.

3. Where a good internal cause produces a good effect. And vice versa.

4. Where an internal cause produces an effect consistent between a person's mind and body.

5. Where an internal cause contributes to one's 108 delusions.

6. Where an internal cause matures into different categories of reality. For example, when evil causes mature into the manifest effect of the reality of hell and conversely, when good acts produce the reality of heaven.

Four aspects of external cause are:

1. When a manifested effect becomes an external cause.

2. When the manifested effect of our present mind becomes the external cause for our future mind.

3. When the manifested effect of one's environment becomes an external cause for one's life.

4. When an external cause functions to support and accept something's or someone's growth."

This was part of the official text which Rev. Nagasaka read to us. He obviously ad libbed some extra parts, which is where I got the title, because he actually said it: our egos are nothing more than beautiful rainbows! All those of us who have been trying in vain to "rein it in" had to laugh when he said:

"So, enjoy your beautiful egos!"

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