Jan 30, 2007

Rose away

And then out of nowhere Rose died. B's mother, at 86 — "86d" as we all joked later. After a long illness, after 10 children, after serving as a WAVE in WWII, after a long, clear life in a small Ohio town. And now all her children are feeling orphaned. Which suggests the broad experience of this generation. Time's run out. No more safety nets, not more tension on the other end to play yourself out again. The Summer of Love really is over and now what will happen to this generation, to all these people when they don't have parents to blame, to live off, to find solace with, to depend on. How will this generation finally come of age? Who will it be, in the on-deck circle. "You're up," you want to say now. "You're up to bat". And these are your last at bats by the way. You're up, what do you see out there?

Jan 28, 2007

From Marina in West Pokot...

On Friday, a boy died in our vehicle. Twelve, thirteen, who knows, he had been a dark mass at the other end of the field when we arrived in Serewo, a town not far from the bottom of the escarpment. Please, his father had begged, our child is sick, can you take us to the hospital. Of course, of course, but where is he? He pointed to the body covered in a black sheet. A lump.

Epilepsy, they said as they lifted him into the vehicle. The boy’s eyes were half-closed. The whites were showing. The circular mark of a serious blow to his forehead distorted his face, dripping with the crusty remnants of a local herb tincture. He reeked of stale urine.

Moments later, the nurse of the local dispensary asked if we might have room for a 3-year old girl, one he had diagnosed with malaria, but was not responding to the infusions he provided. She is restless, he said. When I saw her thin, anemic face, and the bloody IV line taped to a piece of carton around her wrist, I could hardly blame her.

With only the escarpment to climb before reaching Makutano, we began our journey – but the road reparations made it difficult. Even in 4 wheel drive, the landcruiser spun in place, its wheels caught in the sand. At one point, near the top, the road had been remade into a severely sloped maram track. A truck came the other way, and Eunice steered left, into the sandy slope. So tilted, I was sure the landcruiser would simply fall onto its left side. We got out and Eunice spun the vehicle around and through the sand back into the hard track of the road.

All the while, since I’d been gone a scant 24 hours, and I was just returning to network area, I listened anxiously to the local mechanic tell me that our other vehicle had almost had a serious accident the day before, how even he was shocked to see that the left front wheel had all but come off the vehicle, how could this happen…

He’s dead, Evelyn said. I hung up on the mechanic, mid-sentence, and turned to find the epileptic boy lying as he had been lying since he had been lifted into the vehicle. Only this time, he wasn’t breathing.

The father requested that we drive them to their house instead of the hospital. Of course, of course, but where is it? He guided Eunice down some dirt tracks, not far from where we were – and because the final stretch was over a cornfield, we stopped on the road, and he and the other father lifted the boy from the vehicle, each carrying two limbs. He was heavy. The boy’s head hung backwards, slack. They lifted him into the field and under some shade. The boy’s father turned to answer some queries from a pregnant neighbor; and as she looked at the boy, he walked off to his compound to find other family members who might assist in carrying the boy the rest of the way. Again, the boy was a lump in the field.

Eunice reversed and we returned to the hospital. The 3-year old girl and her family descended and went to check-in (no easy feat on a Friday afternoon). I returned the mechanic’s phone call.

Huis Clos

During the anti war march in the capital yesterday speakers repeated their pleas like lines from an old play. Oh the santimony, the I-am-right-and-have-been-all-along' was deafening, everyone insisting the war was must stop, and on a dime at that. Feminists, artists, activists, people with a political grudge on issues having nothing to do with the war all sang out. Voices quivered. A 12-year-old sixth grader from Boston made a most eloquent appeal, and you could hear people within mic range say, 'she really is just 12.' Yet no matter how relaxed and confident her delivery the girl was reciting an adult view. It was all an 'adult' view. Kucinich kept repeating the word 'peace' as though this was a neurolinguistic training exercise.

To hear it the notion seemed to be that if you just bring the troops home, the problem will dissolve, as though if you subtract America, the moral algebra will be zero. Equation solved, we can all feel good about ourselves again. Or like Pontius Pilot we can safely return to our isolation ward.

But what do you make of the Shiite commander who pointed out that the war will be over when the minority is vanquished and the sooner that can happen the better. That's the way it's always been, he said. That's the math for him, crush the minority, then democracy....

Has it not become ever clearer that whether there are more troops or fewer troops, this fire must burn itself out. The hatred is too carnivorous. An Iraqi, with his 7-year-old son on his lap, was quoted as saying in a New York Times article this morning that after several of his family had been killed and property taken, now he was so angry he wanted to 'rip them up with my teeth'.

For sure the diplomatic offensives should be launched, in all directions, without conditions. But now there's no escape — think of huis clos. It's too late. We're there, as bystanders or participants, call us what you like. We're in, worse than the French in Algeria, we're in and there's no way out, good or bad. It is the hell realms.

Did you read the account of the bomb in the bird cage that went off in the old animal market? By Marc Santoro, New York Times. Here's an excerpt....

The animal dealers would arrive early in the day and set up stalls along Jamhuriya Street.

The Bedouin would come in from the desert with scorpions and snakes and spiders, selling the venom for medicines. Merchants would bring in exotic animals, monkeys, foxes and even wolves, simply to attract a crowd so they could sell their more mundane animals, like chicken, sheep, dogs and goldfish.

The sellers would do just about anything to get attention.

Small birds were often painted bright colors to attract children, and fish were put in ornate glass jars to show off their brilliant colors. Men gathered in alleys to watch dog and cock fights. Tea and snacks were sold by wandering merchants.

Birds were a big draw, with rare pigeons being particularly popular.

One vendor, an Egyptian, according to witnesses, once put a chicken on a metal box and began rhythmically clapping. The chicken hopped from one foot to another, and the Egyptian claimed it was the world’s only dancing chicken.

But the crowd discovered a hot stone under the metal. Iraq has long been a rough place and the customers, who did not appreciate the trick, beat the man badly.

On Fridays, the day of rest, large crowds went to look at the animals before going to the mosque.

Jan 16, 2007

Downward Mobility

With the fire crackling, red wine at the bottom of glasses, yawns and the desire for one more story, there was this. A man who founded one of the most prominent acting companies in the state fell into ruin. He was fired, the reasons are not clear. He moved to Los Angeles and became a maitre D; the name of the restaurant didn't come to mind, but you could imagine a cafe for the well to do, the kind they have on 3rd Street in Santa Monica. No doubt some of the waiters were actors. He probably got along very well. Meanwhile, he explained the menu, no doubt with a flair, on a good night. On another night he probably looked at people a little strangely. Perhaps, he had seen them before at one of his productions. Perhaps, he looked familiar to the them. But in the end he did just as any of us would do, if we had to, if there was no choice, he took the order with a smile and returned to the kitchen. But then one night the new Maitre D' bought a pint of Hagendaz ice cream, went home, ate it, and then killed himself. How he did it was not known.

Twenty years ago or so I met a woman in Hollywood. She was Viennese, had married well and had two children. She was quite beautiful and well educated. But then her marriage fell away. You suspect she had dalliances, or she was not up to the drive and standards of her husband. He was an architect. She lost her children to her husband. She moved to Paris and for a time received alimony. Then it stopped and all her begging could not start it again. She moved to America and then to Beverly Hills and got a job at I. Magnin. She worked in the glove department and wore the gloves to her elbows as if she owned them. She lived in a one bedroom apartment north of Hollywood blvd. She had well to do friends and from time to time confided to them about her life. Once, she told me that her father had been a fascist and turned in several Jews to the Nazis.

Jan 9, 2007

Moroccan trial ends

By Richard Hamilton
BBC News, Casablanca

A Moroccan magazine editor accused of defaming Islam and damaging morality by printing articles about religious jokes has defended his position in court.
Nichane magazine's Driss Ksikes, who is on trial in Casablanca with magazine journalist Sanaa al-Aji, denied the articles were intended be offensive. The prosecutor urged sentences of three to five years, saying journalists must balance liberties and responsibilities. The judges have retired and a verdict is expected later this month.
Following the publication of the articles, Moroccan authorities closed the magazine down and withdrew copies of it from newspaper stands. The article that has caused such an outcry looked at popular jokes on religion, sex and politics.
Mr Ksikes told the court he believed Morocco was a funny society. To ask the magazine why it told the jokes would be like asking the French playwright Moliere why he made people laugh, Mr Ksikes said. Ms Aji added that the jokes shed light on society and were in common usage, but they did not reflect her own beliefs.
The journalists, who have received death threats, said they were not making fun of religion.
They have, however, issued a public apology.
They are supported by international organisations such as Reporters Without Frontiers, which says this is a serious blow for press freedom. But the government does not see it that way, and says that attacking religion is one of the most serious offences a journalist can commit. Since the death of the previous king, Morocco has been undergoing a period of modernisation and media reform has been part of that process. However, this case may turn back the clock to the days when Moroccans had to be very careful about what they said.

* * * * *

Always the impression among people I speak to is that Morocco escapes the tumult, that Morocco hidden on the fringes, far from the formal madness, is safe from the Islamic fascists, not to mention the old regime of Hassan II. But now a trial begins today in which editors of a new weekly magazine, Nichane, are accused of runnning jokes critical of Islam. The managing editor, Driss Ksikes, is a friend and a highly likable and fearless fellow. He's also a playwright. And in recent years has drawn the ire of the government for a number of articles in TelQuel, the Time Magazine of Morocco. But if the situation has been tender it now seems to have broken out into a real wound. Clearly, the government, which is looking at an Islamic majority this year, cannot withstand the pressure of conservatives.

Meanwhile, the American press stifles a yawn and runs the emory board over its nails.

Jan 7, 2007

Following Saddam's Execution

Following Saddam's execution there was this story from Turkey...

"A 12-year-old died by hanging himself from the ceiling of his home, a hospital said Wednesday, and family members said the boy was copying Saddam Hussein's execution. It was the second death of a youngster blamed on televised images of the deposed Iraqi dictator's Dec. 30 execution. 30. A 10-year-old boy in Houston died Sunday by hanging himself from a bunk bed after watching news reports of the execution.

A hospital official in the southeastern province of Mus said Alisen Akti was dead on arrival at a hospital. The boy died of asphyxiation after apparently hanging himself, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to journalists. RadiKal newspaper quoted the boy's father as saying that the youngster had been affected by television images of Saddam's execution. "What kind of a problem could a 12-year-old have to want to kill himself?" Radikal quoted Esat Akti as saying.

"After watching Saddam's execution he was constantly asking 'How was Saddam killed?' and 'Did he suffer?'" Akti said. "These television images are responsible for my son's death."

In Yemen, a man apparently committed suicide when he heard the news. And in Morocco, a husband and wife got in a quarrel over whether the hanging was justified. The woman defended the execution saying that Saddam deserved to die. Her husband was so enraged he took a butcher knife and stabbed her to death. Meanwhile, crowds flow through the streets of large cities from the Euphrates to the Atlantic, caught up in the notion that here was a martyr.