Sunday, August 22, 2004

Access Denied

A country, I keep telling everyone, which finds it practically impossible to keep its public restrooms clean has no business pursuing nuclear power. Doesn’t have much oomph, I know. And you have no way (of even wanting) to evaluate my claim. But bear with me and I’ll try to show why public restrooms are important.

How to start? I guess I should first admit that living here can be infuriating at times which sort of makes you settle on that universal invective of choice, if you know what I mean. So, today I started my day early muttering repeatedly that nasty word again.


Here I am checking the Olympic results and perusing some pictures and I get this ridiculously omnipresent message again. Our guardians of moral purity didn’t want us to see this picture. Terribly threatening, isn’t it?

How to react? We could always start with the obvious: why is it that one IS provider censors the image while another does not! Or what would be the basis for censoring the wrestlers, while the swimmers, the divers, the weightlifters, the track and field athletes are not touched, even though they bare more flesh? Or why censor the female wrestlers without censoring the males? Or why censor at all?

But really, we would want to avoid most of these questions because when in doubt, all governments tend to err on the side of “caution.”

Bullies don’t do nuances, remember.

So chances are they will only react by doing what they are sort of good at, i.e. trying to suffocate all signs of independent life. There is nothing better to get those in charge riled up than questioning their competence with the intention of getting them to dot the i’s.

Most criticism will only give them the needed impetus to tighten the screws even further. Not exactly the same, but basically on the par with asking the Islamic Regime to monitor the borders and the movement of immigrants more effectively in order to stop Usama operatives.

In doing so, we end up actually encouraging the authorities to be better at running a police state. Not a very wise move, is it, from where I am sitting? It is precisely their incompetence and inertia we are counting on in order to lead semi-normal lives. And we thank our lucky stars everyday that not all aspects of our social life have been subsumed by our incompetent public maste… I mean servants!

But in doing so, we come across another brick wall. There are those who are doing all they can to persuade everyone that all life here has been subsumed already. The government is in charge of everything. It controls everything. There are those outside who are vested in pushing the sort of polices that would effectively deprive us of our ability to maneuver.

That is the essence of international relations, isn’t it? Since not all countries have identical interests or the resources to fight over all their petty differences, they tend to use whatever means at their disposal to modify the behavior of their adversaries in the short run so as to enhance their own perceived strategic advantages, however shortsightedly.

Affecting public opinion is one of them. And trying to squeeze the adversary’s population is another. That way, other folk can get fed up and deal with the problem on the cheap. And the best way to do that is to caricature the adversary every chance possible. Hence all the rhetoric about the axis of evil, the evil pursuing the bomb, the mortal dangers of evil having the bomb and ultimately the prospect of evil lashing out because you guessed it, the evil hates us “for who we are.”

But, who are we really? And here is where the public restroom comes in.

Here in this heartland of evil, they are nasty. So, in an ideal universe, we would want to state the problem and find a way to fix it. But in the world we live in today, stating this simple problem is the mother of all the pains in glutues maximus. Don’t believe me? Let’s try.

Suppose I was to claim, we need cleaner restrooms. Our tools are inadequate to the task. The brooms aren’t that great and the mop and bucket combination is rare. Additionally, we need to develop the human resources necessary, and enhance our organizational capabilities and quite possibly import some of the needed material from abroad to get the job done.

But the moment some official of an outside power hell-bent on wreaking havoc hears about this, a campaign is quickly organized.

“Here you are, a mountainous country, sitting atop vast water resources.” “What business do you have wanting brooms, mops and buckets? Especially since the broom sticks and those mops can be used to hit someone over the head with and the bucket is a potential WMD given all the detergents available.

In tandem, the less than noble attack dogs always on the prowl to find something to bite you about will use their towering intellects and considerable erudition and their infinite cultural and historical knowledge to give “their” government a hand.

“Look at yourselves. A society hundreds of years old, and you don’t even have clean toilets. No mop and bucket and heck, you even have to import your toilet papers.
Your religion is backward. It has destroyed your soul. You lack the requisite toilet etiquettes to be civilized and you’re too dumb. Besides, don’t you have anything better to do than to worry about toilets?”

You really don’t want to take any of this personally, especially since you know they owe you nothing. And you are not religious and you could care less what some bozopundit half a galaxy away might thinks of your IQ.

Your real problem is to find a way to have cleaner restrooms. But human nature being what it is, you don’t like being insulted, least of all by those whose fanaticism runs the risk of laying the groundwork for an assault that would deprive you of the little shithouse you actually do have, leading you to have to settle for the bushes.

And since they have no genuine interest in you or your way of life, you know they will ultimately end up mocking you anyways for not even having had restrooms (after it has been destroyed.) No one wants to accept responsibility for anything these days. That much everyone has figured so far.

You would want to be polite and point out that yes we have plenty of water, but who wants to throw water down the drain all the time. There is such thing as comparative advantage and division of labor. We might want to think about the future.

And you want to also tell them, don’t babble so much about your superior toilet paper production. Don’t be a fetishist; and don’t mystify things any more than they actually are. If you can produce it, everyone else can as well. That is what all production is about, really. If a process has been defined, it can be replicated everywhere else and effectively maintained over time. But it might take some time and finagling.

But regardless of what you wanted to say, you actually end of getting too peeved and will end up saying: hey buddy, you’ve got some gall saying I shouldn’t worry about my restrooms. I know just how long you spend in yours. I know how much money you spend on all the prune juice, assorted laxatives and preparation H yearly. Don’t push me please. Don’t tell me faster please. Go change your diet or something ….or go save some cow or chicken. They are the ones killing over 500,000 of mostly kind, decent folk a year due to heart attacks.

Give it a rest and let me do what needs to be done. I’ll call you if I need help. After all, you don’t owe me anything, so why should you risk life, limp and treasure anyway?

But now, we have ended up with a lot of needless banter, literally over a pile of manure.

Some would then call the whole thing a further proof of the ongoing clash of toilet techniques. The whole thing could have been avoided without meanness and prettiness of spirit. But hey, even those qualities have been preemptively assaulted by those who have successfully relabeled civility “political correctness.”

So now, we all have actually ended up deeper in that pile we set out to clean.

In the meanwhile, the authorities in the home country have taken an active interest in the issue and the people involved. And by the time you try to actually focus on the problem which started it all, they have declared it a national security matter. Additionally, since they think themselves the rightful appointees of the Almighty, any discussion will be taken way too personally and a sign and proof of your inherent evil.

Then it hits you: both those loudest on the outside and those most brutal on the inside relentlessly threatening you tend to speak in almost identical language. And they both attempt to hide behind god and country instead of facing you. Are they too cowardly to state the merits of their case and reasonably defend their choices and conduct? Why is it that when things get tough, the though hide behind various “anti-isms” scams?

All you want to tell those on the outside now become, I don’t give a rat’s ass who you are, especially since I am not terribly convinced that even you know the answer to that riddle. Just so long as you don’t get on the way of the much needed cleaning of the public restrooms here.

Back inside, you know what you have to do. There is a problem though. Some have the power, the money and the guns. And all you have is your hope for cleaner restrooms. You know a lot of other people might want the same thing you do but there are all kinds of different people in the world.

Some might be less adventurous, some more prudent, more calculating; others have families they worry about, and some need time to build self confidence before getting involved. In short, there are different degrees of risk aversion to think about.

But by now, the atmosphere has gotten so bad that people expect the whole thing to collapse on their head the moment they utter a single word about dirty toilets. The fear of ending in a river of the stuff without a paddle leaves everyone thinking they should just go on with life as it is. Who needs public restrooms anyway? .

So now, seeing not too many people involved yet, but sensing clear danger, the authorities, in a move familiar to all who have watched various governments in action a thousand times before, set up various committees to study the problem.

They will want to begin a campaign of mass re-education. They will pass laws threatening to heavily penalize anyone not using public restrooms properly. Outside advisors will be brought in to study productivity and improve toilet cleaning techniques. And the ministry of education will be tasked to look into ways of modifying the university core curriculum to reflect the latest global trend in putty training. And there will be even some who will think all this an assault on national heritage and something to be fought tooth and nail.

And the problem of inaccessible clean public restrooms remains as intractable as ever.

In the meantime, anyone caught discussing public restroom continues to be treated as the enemy of the god, country, religion and the state.

And you are now left telling everyone who listens: look, we have some of the cleanest toilets you find anywhere on the planet in our houses. Everyone is practically anal about cleanliness. The religion has strict guidelines about clean restrooms. Cleanliness, after all is next to godliness.

It doesn’t take grand planning. It doesn’t take massive social engineering. All the ingredients needed are already present in the society we live in. All that is needed is time to tap in to the practices already in use and the space to draw out the possibilities of alternate ways and stabilizing them. IF only those in charge could back off.

Some violence at the end might be necessary to either force them to back off or get them off everyone’s back entirely since some people might have a vested interest in the existing social relation whose inherent aftereffect is filthy public restrooms. However, it might not require the massive kind of a shock that will inevitably get a lot of people in the bushes.

Maintaining public restrooms isn’t all that hard really, but definitely hard enough. Some hope of a better future perhaps and a greater degree of freedom to chart the course of one’s life might be all that is needed to begin with. A certain degree of autonomy which might result in greater attentiveness to existing problems, and even perhaps greater openness towards experimenting. Certainly a better incentive scheme might be essential since no one stuck cleaning public restrooms is wont to be all that happy because chances are, he was never counting on this dream job when growing up.

And since society needs all types, people must be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel or at least be able to eke out a decent living doing whatever it is they might actually hate to do in life.

Perhaps in time, even an inner voice might develop that keeps telling people, it doesn’t matter really what you are doing now, just so long as you try being the best at it, even if it is just cleaning restrooms. In due time, there might always be a way out of the ordeal. Most importantly, a society at the micro level must have the autonomy to clean its own restrooms without government interference.

All we actually might need is hope and freedom so people could cooperate better, pulling resources together more effectively and recognizing that it is important to care about themselves and others when they venture outside of their homes. The realization, additionally, that everyone feels better when doing well in whatever they have chosen (or are forced into) as a vocation in life. Ultimately, it is imperative to provide support and re-education for anyone who needs it.

At the end of the day, though, who cares really what it is that animates different people? Religion, personal piety, money, civic responsibility, pride in one’s work, or whatever else that might set their shorts on fire. Just so long as they understand that they have a vested interest in maintaining a society that has clean public restrooms.

Who knows, we might even then succeed in bilking billions out of tourists one day. It is a beautifully enchanting land we live in, after all, even if we have made a mess of things for now. One day very soon perhaps!

But as things stand, there are no clean public restrooms found anywhere around these parts.

This means, even if this society manages to build its nuclear power plants without endangering the lives of millions here due to some bonehead in power elsewhere deciding to preemptively attack what is built here, there is no brighter future possible.

With the sort of homegrown idiots in charge, so inattentive to public good, so heedless of the needs of citizens, so oblivious to safety; so careless about consistent, documented processes, and citizens so ultimately selfish, so self absorbed, and dishonest; so habituated into prevaricating and helping tyrants for petty rewards, (i.e. the overzealous IS providers) and the whole society so plagued by incompetence and inconsistency, one of those plants will surely explode shortly after it becomes operational killing a whole bunch of people, leaving countless others suffering from radiation poisoning.

That is why I keep telling everyone who might listen: a county with no clean public restrooms has no business pursuing nuclear power.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The abstract humanists!

There was a time I was obsessed with all the voices coming out of the now defunct Soviet Empire.

The samizdat was great…and all the jokes too. Remember the old jokes?

“Why is there shortage of meat in the Soviet Union?”

“Because the heroic people of the Soviet Union marched so rapidly towards socialism that the cows fell behind.”

Remember all the critiques of “abstract humanism” coming out of a region whose old unimaginative leaders, assorted sycophants, fellow travelers and numerous apparatchiks in various commissariats deafened us with their claims to future, to humanity, and to the putative, inevitable future of humanity?

“Why would people so violent in speaking on behalf of others find it hard to help a blind woman cross a busy intersection,” I recall some one asking in a moving piece.

The pro Soviet communist elites and some of the various Trotskyite activists, their rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, were notorious for refusing a penny to the poor and the homeless. I was reminded of the puzzling conduct recently on a trip with someone I had encountered by accident.

Real human beings and their unbearable torment was only a vehicle to teach us the broader imagined lessons that History offered us; History, as the ultimate unstoppable locomotive on its way to some predetermined destination.

And we were mostly always viewed as the actors expected to play imagined roles. We needed only to learn the right lessons and to show up and queue at the right station with a willingness to be guided and lead.

Couldn’t go anywhere without leaders, could we?

Always mindful, of course, of not disrupting the inevitable progress of history. The army of the working class only learned solidarity and activism as a consequence of the many harsh lessons of life under capitalism coupled with the right dose of ideas formulated by our leaders who were perpetually busy trying to raise consciousness.

So what of this individual who was hungry and homeless? What of men and women living in stench, filth and sewage? What of this blind woman getting run over by a car? Life would go on, you see. There were important meetings to attend; important people to see, the vanguards of the working class to organize, political solutions to formulate. Capitalist propaganda to counter, a class conflict to lead and of course, those inevitable wars to wage.

The prize was to be the promised liberation that the few would manage to bestow upon the many—always the multitude so hapless without guidance.

Unless some resisted of course. Resistance would naturally beget Hungary, Afghanistan and the Gulags.
No time to pause. No annoying questions to ask. The stakes were too high, and the risks—the risks were many, but chief among them was the danger of being left behind by that fast moving History—the ultimate choo choo train.

And the marvels of our quintessential choo choo men. The marvels of their comfortable, comforting abstract realm.

The real life?

As always, annoying, messy, with ridiculous number of details to explain and deal with. That’s why there were so many other categories: false consciousness, lumpenproletaria, omnipresent imperialist agents and conspiracies, the kulak sympathizing dogs, the opiates of the masses and so on and so forth.

So now we have a new breed of abstract humanists, and History on the march yet again with self- appointed leaders as the custodians of her supposed “inevitable” progress.

Yet another comforting realm in which the defenseless victims look so adoringly at our altruistic heroes in anticipation of liberation. The sorts of victims who are always imagined to be happy, grateful and cheering when lead at the point of a gun.

And those categories again so some can effectively deal with all the minor details; although in some ways infinitely more unimaginative: thugs, fanatic, stealthy agents of foreign powers spreading discord and falsehoods, and the personifications of Evil in brown flesh.

And of course, religion not so much as “opiates this time, but crack cocaine.”

So here we go again.

We are invited to play our parts in a universe comprised of an unholy trinity: the thugs, the clueless, and the grateful victims –victims with an adoring gaze perpetually ready to cheer for handouts-- biscuits here, a piece of chocolate there or bags of dried food the same color as cluster bombs.

And our heroes?

Luckily, a handful that happen to embody all the collective wisdom of the ages. The sort of leaders who have miraculously managed to congregated in one continent at a peculiar age that allows access to all the hidden knowledge hitherto unavailable to any one else anywhere at any other time.

Some exceptionalism, indeed!

All that is needed now for the imagined universal redemption is exceptional resolve; exceptional techniques of humiliation, exceptional bombs, and exceptionally fiery iron fists.

What we are beginning to have is an exceptionally grand yearning for breathing space.

And the more things change.....

Monday, August 16, 2004

In the mail

The joys of insomnia. A kind gentleman I have yet to thank was good enough to send in a link to the new website, goodnewsiran. The Bible in Farsi. Many thanks to David.

I might be naïve to think some people might actually be interested in seeing how the opening lines of the Gospel of John (Yohana) sounds like in Farsi. Simple curiosity, you ask? Nah! Why bother? It can’t be invaded, bombed, tortured…nor intimidated by the threats of nuclear decimation, right?

Who knows though… here it goes:

Dar azal,[…] kalameh vojoud dāsht.

va nazd khodā boud.

Ou hamvāreh zendeh boudeh, va khodeh ou khodāst.

Pretty don’t you think?

Can’t be thinking about Jesus without also thinking of Romans. So I thought you might actually enjoy reading a short piece about the shenanigans, in Persia , of a certain Roman general, Marcus Licinius Crassus as well as those of our other beloved warrior, Antony. You will also get to learn (if you haven’t already) the origin of the phrase “Parthian shot.”

A couple of short pieces from Poland, thanks again to our learned guide Natalia. A short story by the playwrite Mrozak. And this one by S. W. Witkiewicz. Last, but not least, another poem by Zbignew Herbert who is fast becoming one of my all time favorite Poets:

Elegy of Fortinbras

Now that we're alone we can talk prince man to man
though you lie on the stairs and sec more than a dead ant
nothing but black sun with broken rays
I could never think of your hands without smiling
and now that they lie on the stone like fallen nests
they are as defenceless as before The end is exactly this
The hands lie apart The sword lies apart The head apart
and the knight's feet in soft slippers

You will have a soldier's funeral without having been a soldier
they only ritual I am acquainted with a little
There will be no candles no singing only cannon-fuses and bursts
crepe dragged on the pavement helmets boots artillery horses drums
drums I know nothing exquisite

those will be my manoeuvres before I start to rule
one has to take the city by the neck and shake it a bit

Anyhow you had to perish Hamlet you were not for life
you believed in crystal notions not in human clay
always twitching as if asleep you hunted chimeras
wolfishly you crunched the air only to vomit
you knew no human thing you did not know even how to breathe

Now you have peace Hamlet you accomplished what you had to
and you have peace The rest is not silence but belongs to me
you chose the easier part an elegant thrust
but what is heroic death compared with eternal watching
with a cold apple in one's hand on a narrow chair
with a view of the ant-hill and clock' dial

Adieu prince I have tasks a sewer project
and a decree on prostitutes and beggars
I must also elaborate a better system of prisons
since as you justly said Denmark is a prison
I go to my affairs This night is born
a star named Hamlet We shall never meet
what I shall leave will not be worth a tragedy

It is not for us to greet each other or bid farewell we live on archipelagos
and that water these words what can they do what can they do prince

Translated by Czeslaw Milosz

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Neither fear nor respect!

Since apparently the born again, reformed binging, latte hating frat boys don’t do nuances, I am going to drop the guarded observation routine and let it out straight. It wasn’t working to begin with.

I am plenty mad about the butchery in Iraq. Killing and tormenting people, in an ancient cemetery no less. This Middle Eastern initiative plan thing is going no where fast. I am telling you this as some one without an ounce of sympathy for the Shi’ia International and its Iranian branch—this murderous Occupation Authority which has been stifling life here for the past 25 years.

The reasons are both simple and complex. Let’s settle on a medium we can all connect on without much effort, Hollywood movies.

Remember your Star Trek: remember how the cloaked Klingon Ship zaps the Enterprise repeatedly with impunity until Spock improvises with one of the photon torpedoes and as the first one lands on the Klingons, the crowed goes wild, hooting and hollering in all theaters across the globe?

Remember your Lethal Weapon series? When the nasty diplomat keeps rubbing it in by saying “you can’t do that, I have diplomatic immunity?” And as he gets shot, the crowd goes wild in all theatres globally?

Well, no one likes bullies. No one likes to see relatives, friends and fellow country men and women killed, tortured and abused with impunity. No one likes to hear silly excuses as people they know are butchered and the places they roam are trashed; least of all by foreigners who have no love for what they value in life, however problematic, and don’t even bother to hide their disdain.

Deep down, though, there is a sense of fair play and justice at work here.. It is about dislike for tormenting the weak. It is, dare I say, ultimately about empathy

You can see the factor at work in any nursery you drop your kid in. One child laughs early in the morning and the whole atmosphere is light. Some days, everyone cries and you simply know it all started with only one child.

It normally takes 12 years of schooling, plus college and apparently some high powered Liberal Arts education to kill the recognition of some basic human traits in some, I am guessing. But the fact remains that no one is going to be happy watching the lopsided murder of Iraqis in this nasty summer heat.

Luckily, most interventionists have dropped all pretenses lately, which is a good thing. You can’t miss the venom, the hate and the bloodlust even if you tried. This campaign is no longer about democracy, human rights, oil or some such nonsense, even nominally.

Here is their argument as I understand it and the root of all the Usama connection musical chairs and the hype.

American power and hegemony is under threat and it is best to quash opposition once and for all. You win and win big and the herd will follow you. Humans love success stories. You crush your enemies and humiliate them and they’ll begin to see the light. Simple as that.

The justifications come in layers. Some more thoughtful ones even have the theological dimensions worked out. Weren’t the Japanese too quite the suicidal fighters? And the Germans? They were defeated first and then the whole puzzle fell in place. At some point if you humiliate the enemy long enough and you mercilessly kill enough of them, then the enemy will suddenly see the light.

Once they understand that God has abandoned them; with country and the global community caring nothing for their plight, well then… the rogues, however many of them happen to be alive by then, will have to come in from the cold and we’ll live happily ever after.


This from the geniuses who grew up in a culture which has given us one (potential) tragedy only: Death of a Salesman. Assuming, of course, that they do read at all.

Hasn’t anyone read the Esther lately? How does the Old Testament view defeats? Isn’t each defeat in war understood only as the consequence/result of having abandoned the Almighty and the tradition during the period of peace preceding the war? Islam too is rooted in the Old Testament. Each defeat is only going to strengthen the traditionalists. This is no argument against winning wars, only a cautionary note about the unintended consequences.

Yes I know, we all love and adore winners, they tell us. But most cultures agree: there is no straight forward connection between winning and goodness. That which is noble doesn’t always prevail and that which prevails is not always noble. Or else we wouldn’t have tragedies.

The Greeks of the ancient times are most clear on this. Persians too knew this well. That’s why we (the Persians and Greeks) are more alike than different. A pity some of the nicest and loudest American Classicists, when it comes to politics, miss the Greek Spirit entirely.

Death portion of men in battle is determined ultimately by Zeus’s golden scale in the Iliad. Victory passes back and forth among warriors. Even the Athenians, as Thucydides makes clear, get their due in Syracuse, but remember: who really wins the Peloponnesian wars anyways? And who executes Socrates?

This beautiful, nasty region is/has always been a killing field. The invaders, killers, the slaves and the masters come and go. We fight, we live as peaceful neighbors and we continue fighting again. And there is even a curse having to do with long-term memory.

Life is one never ending perpetual battle/humiliation here. Nothing anyone can will alter the humiliation factor qualitatively. And everyone here knows how to deal with humiliations. You put up with it the best way you can, until one day when you finally decide you have had enough and don’t want to anymore.

In the meanwhile, no one is passive really. No one is ever defeated really. Something about indomitable spirits permeating all around. Docility is a rare trait around these parts.

That’s why it is hard to get anyone to work collectively. No one wants to give in. No one wants to bend in the slightest. This is the land of belligerence, pigheadedness and abuse. Even the stereotypically sensitive and gentle Jews with pretty high standards about “purity of arms” become home demolishers and collective punishers after a couple of generations living here.

And so, here we have another round of revolt one day which is to be marked by a series of new killing fields. Then we go back to our daily routine of more humiliation and lay in waiting for the next opportunity to exact revenge. Nothing ever ends. Nothing ever changes.

Unless, of course, some fundamentals are altered. And I don’t see Americans capable of doing that with the sort of policies and this manner of execution we have witnessed in the past 16 months.

I don’t have all the answers, frankly. Look yourselves in the eyes and tell yourselves your crystal ball works any better than mine. But I am becoming more convinced about one thing.

No one can humiliate anyone into accepting defeat in this region.

You can destroy entire communities, if that’s what sets your shorts on fire, but you can’t defeat anyone. And if you destroy communities, you’re no different than the biggest thug around. And you will only hasten your turn to come. You can bet your life on that.

Look carefully at Iran. Here we experience brutality, heavy handed repression and humiliation everyday. But there is neither fear, nor respect. Only intimidation in large doses and slight hesitations. Even that doesn’t last long.

We are just waiting—all of us—in the shadows-- waiting and hoping for our next opportunity to torment our present abusers. In the meanwhile, life goes on.

So, here we have another tribe with its unique bloodlust and bigotry thrown in the mix.

In an ideal universe, those innocent/not so innocent American soldiers should be in college and/or drinking or fucking on some beach along with the rest of those frat boys and sorority girls whose parents have sent these young kids to kill and die for them in some alien land. Or, simply blowing off some steam by talking tough about how “WE are number one,” and “WE are kicking ass.”

“We” are doing no such thing, of course, but only managing to hide our fears and avoiding the much needed confrontation with the weasel within.

And those unfortunate Iraqi’s should be snoozing in some air conditioned room in that punishing 130’ heat.

But as it is, they are just going to kill and be killed in that ancient cemetery. And for what?

The rest of us, as always, are holding our breath, watching from some safe distance, hoping and praying that this madness ends without too many casualties; without too much lamentations, and with minimal tears!

Only death cults thrive in times of war and ruin. No religion is ever going to lose its grip in a milieu of murder and mayhem.

The answer is life—in all its multifaceted glorious delights. Only affirmations of life will offer us opportunities to really isolate and ultimately banish these myriad hateful, murderous gods along with their peons who only specialize in death, torture and torment.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Sliding empathy blocker!

That’s what I dreamt about. While touring the respiratory ward of a filthy hospital with many miserable looking patients ready to die, I would try to speak only to be prevented by a piercing lung pain or excessive phlegm, and dark fluid gushing out of my mouth; or the perceptible feel of a sudden collapse of portions of my lung coupled with the sort of panic that would effectively prevent me from uttering a single word.

Then the fellow walking with me calmly directed me to a room and sat me on a chair. The room was clean and well lit, and had a purple sliding door. He began to play with the door and each time the door separated me from the ward, I felt I had my voice back. Sliding the door open again would simply make me lose my voice.

He grinned mischievously and said, “What do you think of our new sliding empathy blocker? The latest model!

And I woke up murmuring, “now, that’s what I really need…a portable empathy blocker!”

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Preemptive repost!

I thought it appropriate to offer an edited (slightly) version of an old post tonight. I’ll get back on a more productive schedule in a few days.

Suffering a Modifier

A Harlot’s soliloquies on the virtues of celibacy and a harlequin’s on the merits of sobriety are enough to make one wonder whether time might not be fundamentally out of joint. That is the sense I get living on our messy planet nowadays. An enchanting repertoire of phrases is being exploited by an unlikely cast of characters to create the sort of rhapsodies that make my hair bristle.

Take the beautifully evocative adjectival phrase “long suffering,” as an example. It sounds like something you might encounter in an epic poem. I must admit, I simply adore a good epic. I grew up on the nightly episodes narrated by my Dad—a manly kind of a man, and a soldier, who habituated me into appreciating the spirit of the epic heroes.

We have, as you might expect, quite an interesting epic tradition in Iran. Shahnameh, the masterpiece of our bard extraordinaire Ferdowsi, is what we all love and adore here in this heartland of evil (well, almost all of us!)

So do our eastern neighbors in India. Theirs is a lot more fantastic than ours, as well as more complex and voluminous. It comes alive with so many engrossing concepts such as Brahman, Avatars, Maya, Dharma, and Karma, along with myriad seekers and a host of the duty-bound with exotic names such as Brahamacharya, Grihastham, and Vanaprastham. Don’t just wonder about these if you don’t already suspect what they are. Do yourselves a favor and read the Mahabharata.

And our western neighbors have a fascinating, enduring tradition of their own which, as some argue, is so influential as to make Greek a variety of the Near Eastern literature. But I digress. You should know I have a special weakness for those wacky Greeks. A pity they caused my ancestors to rebel and to expel them. I would have been a lot happier knowing more of their beautiful ancient languages.

But that is the thing about all invaders, you see. They almost always pack up and leave--sooner or later. Why they just refuse to come in peace in the first place, or to leave when asked-- before the ensuing devastation and aguish, and the needless murder and mayhem-- these questions are always a puzzle.

All epic traditions rely on the vital technique of repetition. It makes the job of a poet easier and, of course, singing becomes a lot more fun--especially after a few drinks. Not only long lines, but phrases get repeated…phrases like the strong armed, the long haired, the swift footed, and so on. These are called epithets. And so, every time I notice repetition of a certain formula-- especially in an age when the readers of the epics are scant, with bile permeating the spirit of many of the remaining few who actually do read—then I get seriously worried.

I become anxious and agitated these days noticing the omnipresence of the epithet “long suffering” in print. I suspect it must come from the Greeks. Homer of course calls folks “wretched,” and “longsuffering.” And naturally with Homer, we hear the agonizing sounds of “men killing and men being killed.” It is also an epithet which brings to mind the wanderings of that Polypemon and Polymetis fellow—the cunning, and resourceful Odysseus. His name, incidentally, is related to the Greek verb odussomai-“to cause pain.” And he sure causes a lot of pain for the lovely Penelope and many, many others. She too can be a long suffering protagonist, as well as longsuffering.

And who amongst us can forget the tribulations of the great “weeping prophet,” Jeremiah. He so poignantly speaks of his own sufferings, and of course, also of long suffering. What follow, curiously enough, are national captivity, assassinations, chaos, and exile. In Odyssey too we witness chaos, murder and carnage, though the outcome is ultimately an order sanctioned by the gods. A coincident or not, there is a certain unsettling something about this simple formula! I occasionally just shudder when I encounter it.

Why, you ask? First there were the long suffering Afghans. Then came the long suffering Iraqis. And now, the resulting number exhibited by the Google Search Engine keeps on surging when I enter the phrase “long suffering Iranians!” The joys and the wonders of paranoia.