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:


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!

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