Jesse KornBluth - Swami Uptown
Beginning October 26, Swami Uptown's blog will appear here:
Please correct all links or bookmarks, and use the new comments feature to post responses to individual blog items.
Thought for the Week
During my time in the camps, I had got to know the enemies of the human race quite well: they respect the big fist and nothing else; the harder you slug them, the safer you will be.
Liar of the Week
Gosh, there were so many to choose from. But in the end, it has to be someone on the White House team. In this case, Condi Rice:
The fact of the matter is that when we were attacked on September 11, we had a choice to make. We could decide that the proximate cause was al Qaeda and the people who flew those planes into buildings and, therefore, we would go after al Qaeda ... or we could take a bolder approach.
How do I know she's lying? First, because whenever anyone says 'the fact of the matter' (or even: 'to be perfectly honest') he/she is about to lie. Second, because this explanation for the invasion of Iraq gives the Bush team a character trait it is not known for: subtlety.
One little problem: These are not chess players. They are 350-pound nose tackles.
Still, in this case, it's a lot better to lie, I guess, than to tell the truth. That would just encourage the terrorists.
This Week in Iraq
have now reached 2,175. The Administration predicts a long war, even if Iraq chooses a 'democratic' government. So we may yet--it'll take years and years, but it is possible--top the 58,000 lives we squandered in Vietnam.
Knowing what's ahead, I feel so bad for every parent who has to bite his or her tongue as a beloved child enlists.
Tales of the Reconstruction
Longtime Swami reader Patti Racz went to Louisiana to help out. She met amazing people. From her dispatch:
The most memorable was an inmate of the Louisiana State prison system. Prior to the arrival of any real help, this shelter was operated by a group of prison trustees and the deputy sheriffs who guarded them. These men, apparently, worked countless hours and performed the Herculean task of keeping the few hundred evacuees safe and as comfortable as possible. They carried water from the endless puddles and newly formed streams to allow toilets to flush, kept the area as clean and manageable as possible, cooked and served the meager food supplies and provided personal care to the bedridden. There were multiple opportunities for them to run, to blend in with the thousands of wanderers. Yet they stayed the course, continued to care for those with overwhelming needs and refusing the option of freedom.
This particular inmate, whose name I never did learn, sat outside and smoked a cigarette with me after he finished buffing and waxing a hallway floor. He told me the story of his incarceration; he had served less than a third of his sentence with more than a decade to go. Tears formed and spilled down his cheeks as he spoke. "I thought I was tough. I lost my heart in that prison, I had to, it was the only way I could survive that hell. I was so sure it died inside of me. And, then, being here, ma'am, I found out that I surely ain't dead. Nobody dead could hurt this bad. These folks here, they suffered so much makes my life seem not so bad. This storm, ma'am, it was God's way of giving me back my heart."
There was talk that the deputies would speak for these men, hoping to negotiate early releases. I knew of a program at home that would sponsor him. His eyes lit up for a moment. But, then, he would not share his personal information with me, "they be watching us, Ma'am, I won't be doing nothin' to get us both into trouble. Just keep me in your prayers and I be prayin' for you." I never saw this man again.
The Greenhouses in Gaza: Who's Telling The Truth?
A dear friend who passionately loves Israel sent a disturbing piece by
, a columnist for the Jewish Observer of Los Angeles.
Some background: As the Jews were pulling out of Gaza, a handful of extremely rich and well-connected American Jews reached into their pockets and produced $14 million for the Israeli settlers who were leaving some 3,000 greenhouses behind.
Let Mr. Frumkin tell the story--one side of it, anyway--from here:
During the months of preparation for the Israeli withdrawal there were many questions on what should be done with the greenhouses. They were state-of-art agricultural marvels with their own sophisticated temperature and humidity control systems, they turned out millions of dollars worth of produce yearly and they were a source of employment for thousands of people in an area where close to 40% were unemployed.
Should these marvelous structures be destroyed? Moved? Abandoned? And then a wonderful and heartwarming solution was found. A small group of wealthy American Jews decided to buy the greenhouses from Israel and donate them to the Palestinian Authority. One of the donors was former World Bank president James Wolfensohn who put up $500,000 of his own money. All in all, $14 million was collected, the deal was done and appreciative Palestinian spokesmen announced that the greenhouses would become the cornerstone of the future Palestinian economy.
Happy ending for all, right? Palestinians get the greenhouses, Israelis get $14 million and the small group of admirable Jews in America get the warm feeling of having made the world a more tolerant and loving place where Arabs appreciate Jewish kindness and are less eager to murder Jews, right?
Well, no, not really.... Just an hour or so after the Jews left Gaza thousands of Palestinians swarmed into the empty settlements. The Palestinian police watched the mob demolish the abandoned synagogues and set them on fire. They also watched with interest as part of the crowd turned on the greenhouses - breaking windows, taking plates of glass, wiring, computer and electronic parts and irrigation pipes and timers. It didn't take long - after a few hours or so the greenhouses that it had taken years to build were just so much junk.
The greenhouses will not be rebuilt. The Palestinian economy, such as it is, will continue to be mired in corruption, hatred and violence. They will suffer -- but they'll never admit that it was their own fault.
[As for]... the naïve rich Jews who thought that the Arab reaction to their gift would be based on logic and not on inbred hatred. You lost $14 million and, you know, I am glad you did.
Awful, right? Makes the blood boil. Then you remember: In this part of the world, you're lucky if there are only two sides of a story.
, from a newspaper owned by Mortimer Zuckerman, one of the American donors:
"It was our work for a long time and it was supposed to help even more people now," said heartbroken Zaki Karim, 51, a Palestinian who worked at greenhouses in what was the Gadid settlement. "But it's a mess."
Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Qusa insisted the damage was limited to 30% of the 4,000 or so greenhouses --- and blamed most of the vandalism on spiteful Jewish settlers. "The Palestinians damaged so little you can't even count it," he said.
The World Bank reported 90% of the greenhouses were intact when the Israelis left. Facts on the ground reveal that much of that bounty is now gone....
In the nearby Neveh Dekalim settlement, there were no soldiers to stop 29-year-old Samir Al-Najar and his eight-man crew from demolishing a half-acre greenhouse. Al-Najar insisted the land was his family's before Israel occupied it in 1967 and that he was reclaiming it.
"I want to reorganize the land so we're clearing it out for now," Al-Najar said as two workers carried off a stack of tall metal support beams. Asked whether he intended to sell the materials, Al-Najar shook his head. "We'll probably rebuild with them, but I want the greenhouses to be our own, not Jewish ones," he said.
And how about this, from
, an Israeli journalist who has long lived in occupied territory and is generally considered to be 'sympathetic; to the Palestinians:
1,719 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip from the end of September 2000 until today; and according to various estimates, some two-thirds of them were unarmed and were not killed in battles or during the course of attempts to attack a military position or a settlement.
Based on figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, of those killed, 379 were children under the age of 18; 236 were younger than 16; 96 were women; and 102 were the objectives of targeted liquidations during the course of which the Israel Defense Forces also killed another 95 individuals who, according to the military too, were "innocent bystanders."
Some 9,000 Gaza residents were injured; 2,704 homes to some 20,000 people were razed by the IDF's bulldozers and assault helicopters; 2,187 were partially destroyed. Some 31,650 dunams of agricultural land were left scorched.
What talent it takes to live for 35 years in a flourishing park and splendid villas just 20 meters from overcrowded, suffocated refugee camps. What talent it takes to turn on the sprinklers on the lawns, while just across the way, 20,000 other people are dependent on the distribution of drinking water in tankers; to know that you deserve it, that your government will pave magnificent roads for you and neglect (prior to Oslo, before 1994) to the point of destruction the Palestinian infrastructure. What skill it takes to step out of your well-cared-for greenhouse and walk unmoved past 60-year-old fruit-bearing date trees that are uprooted for you, roads that are blocked for you, homes that are demolished for you, the children who are shelled from helicopters and tanks and buried alongside you, for the sake of the safety of your children and the preservation of your super-rights.
Were the American donors 'rewarding' the settlers for developing land that wasn't theirs? Was the Palestinian response so predictable as to be a propaganda victory for Israel, well worth a few million American dollars? Were the American donors suckered as to the value of the greenhouses?
It's often said, "Two Jews, four opinions." Add the Palestinian views, and it's suddenly Rashomon. I don't know what to think about this. Do you?
The Beauty Part
Listening to 'Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1'--Jackson Browne's new 'live' CD--I time-travel back to 1966. I was 20, and, in my prodigious way, writing a piece about a young singer for a national magazine. We spent the afternoon together, we had dinner, and then Billy James, her manager, said he had a little surprise.
Billy James is a man to be taken extremely seriously. He had been at Columbia Records when Dylan came along, and he had recorded the first known interview with him. He knew everyone in LA. He had a magnificent wife and a radiant son. He wasn't the Pied Piper, but he surely had the Piper's private number.
We repaired to Billy's hotel room. An herbal remedy was produced. Candles were lit. Billy switched on a tiny reel-to-reel tape recorder. And a man and woman sang:
I say goodbye to Joseph and Maria
They think I see another sky
And from my fallen window I still see them
I'll never free them from the sky
The song was 'Colors of the Sun.' The singers were Jackson Browne, then unknown, and Nico, the Andy Warhol protege who sang with the Velvet Underground. The effect was magic.
There were a few more songs on the tape. When it ended, Billy told me about the singer-songwriter who grew up in the Republican stronghold of Orange County--no kidding; its airport is named after John Wayne--and who surely had some kind of future.
Well, yes: Jackson Browne turned out to be the West Coast Bruce Springsteen. More melodic than The Boss. More lyrical. More personal (I can't imagine Springsteen writing a song like 'Here Come Those Tears Again'.) More political. And, on the flip side, less of a showman. Less of a generational statesman.
'Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1'
is a lovely CD because it strips the songs to their bones.
Thought for the Week
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
-- Buckminster Fuller
Weekend Thoughts: Harriet Miers
Was that the longest holiday weekend of your life? When it started, the sun was shining and the Yankees were on a roll; by the time it ended, rain had flooded the streets and the Yankees were finished for the year.
I read, thought, gnawed my nails over my thoughts--the usual weekend activities. The only diversion was dribbles of information about Harriet Miers, the President's choice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.
Re Miers: It's weird. All the people who believe, as Miers does, that George Bush is a genius seem to oppose this nomination. Why? Do they suddenly want government officials to have actual qualifications for important jobs? Or do they fear that she's a secret swinger--her friend, the Texas judge, seems to be an actual boyfriend, rendering all those '60 year-old virgin' jokes obsolete--who just might not agree with this President's 'culture of life' philosophy two decades from now?
I know it sounds petty to say that if all these wingnuts hate Miers, I'm for her. But that's sort of how I feel. Yeah, she knows as much about constitutional law as Caligula's horse--but do you think Bush's next candidate will know more? Some of the women he passed over are borderline insane; they love the fetus and hate real people, and as for sex, they only like it straight, no chaser. And there's always the chance--Bush is never not vindictive--that his next choice won't even be a lawyer. I mean: If Ann Coulter (an actual lawyer) turns Bush down, there's nothing to stop him from appointing Loose Canon to the court. (And don't think it hasn't occurred to her.)
No. Miers is a disaster. But there are worse candidates. Let's--for a change--keep them caged. Let's cheer for the mouseburger whose office is down the hall. And let's urge Congress to confirm Miers fast, before we learn too much about her.
Name doesn't ring a bell? Well, he's the government official standing between you and death from the flu.
You may want to know, therefore, if he's up to the job. Check out
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Public Health Emergency Preparedness Stewart Simonson lacks a medical or public health management background. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1986 and a law degree in 1994 from the University of Wisconsin, and worked as legal counsel to Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson from 1995 to 1999 before following his boss to Washington when Thompson was tapped to be Health and Human Services secretary. According to his HHS bio, Simonson previously served as corporate secretary and counsel for Amtrak.
Feel better? Knew you would.
A 'D' in Lamb's Blood on the Door
The government is off to its usual late start on the possible bird flu crisis. Note the 'possible'--it's totally unclear if this disease can make the jump from bird to human, and then from human to human. But if it does happen, the Bush team can rack up numbers that will make everyone forget Iraq and Katrina. In 1918, 50 million died from the flu. There have been huge advances in medicine since then--still, with jet travel, that outsized number is entirely possible.
Is there is a way to escape this disease? Well, vaccine. Nope. Not if this Administration can help it. Tell drug companies to stop making Viagra and do a full-tilt conversion to flu vaccine? Ha! Much better to have Congress give the President the power to use the Army--all 15 soldiers not otherwise engaged--to quarantine neighborhoods where the disease is raging. Which makes sense. To them, anyway: Millions die and we get martial law.
Well, not everyone will die. There might be enough vaccine for two per cent of the American people. Think they'll be the poor? The minorities? The Democrats? I don't. I think we'll see a few everyday American get their shots on the 'Today' Show, and the rest of the vaccine will be quietly diverted to the rich, the powerful--the big donors to the Republican party.
And the rest of us? The way out is through the Old Testament view of a disease this powerful--the flu as the plague. And how did the Jews deal with the plague once before? They smeared lamb's blood on the lintels of their doorway. And the angel of death spared their First Born.
This time, the afflicted people are not the Jews (though they're included). They're the people who voted for Al Gore and John Kerry--the Democrats. So if bird flu becomes a pandemic, let those who voted against Bush paint the letter 'D' in lamb's blood on their doors. And may the angel of death pass over their houses.
Is this cruel to the people who voted for Bush? I think not. He warned everyone--before each election--that we were making significant, life-or-death choices. And despite his fairly obvious intellectual, moral and career liabilities, tens of millions of people voted for him. And now they want to buy it all back? Sorry. As I always say, actions have consequences. He told you, people: life or death. And so many bought into his idea of a God who smites. And they chose death, thinking it was life.
Well, maybe it is.
Do You Have These Symptoms?
My pal the shrink writes:
My sensitive patients are all suffering, unable to set boundaries to keep out the chaos lately, of the world. Mindfulness and detachment, witnessing, falls short. They cannot keep the devils at bay from their psychological doors. Souls suffering. I spend the days finding ways to help shore the psyche filters and strengthen the psychic anchors that keep them from floating in the great empty and darkened abyss of global misery.
Is this you? If yes, congratulations--you can still look at the world as it is and not lie about it. If not, the bad news that seems to be looming like the iceberg that took the Titanic down is going to be a huge surprise for you.
But seriously: I need to deal with this. And I'd like your help in thinking my way out of this 'too-sensitive-to-live' crisis. As Noel Coward said, 'Champagne for my sham friends, real pain for my real friends.' So...real friends....to the mail or message boards, please. Let's get these feelings out in the open....
Cindy Sheehan Met Thich Nhat Hanh: Her Life Changed
Two veterans of foreign wars met the other day. Here is part of
Cindy Sheehan's report
"I have arrived. I am home."
This was the first sign we passed as we started on our walk. Thay told us we should say those phrases with every other step. I have arrived. Every second we live is a new arriving in the present. I see so much conflict and struggle in our world because we don't live in this second. We are worried about the next second and mourning the past second. Camp Casey taught me to live each moment in the arrival moment. One of the reasons I have been able to remain so calm in the face of an onslaught of troubles and evil is because I realized in Camp Casey that I could not struggle against the current of my life and change my destiny any more than I could bring my son back from the land of the dead. Each second of each day is our precious arrival and we should honor each moment. Another holy man, Jesus Christ said: Why worry about tomorrow? Today has enough worries of its own.
"I am home."
I met a new friend today named Jewel whose son was a medic on the front lines in Iraq and has tried to commit suicide three times since he returned from the desert of pain. The distraught mother, who is beside herself with worry, said if something isn't done about it and if her boy doesn't get help ... he is dying. His superiors will not allow him to be diagnosed for PTSD so he can't get the treatment he so desperately needs. Jewel is Buddhist and I told her: "You realize your son died in Iraq." She replied to me: "We have all died because of this war." She is right. On April 04, 2004, Cindy Sheehan died, but Cindy Sheehan was born...
The Beauty Part
Edward R. Murrow's son was my classmate at a New England boarding school. He had an extra typewriter, and I had none, so I borrowed his little Olivetti portable--which just happened to have been his father's. Was it the machine Ed Murrow used when he was traveling? I like to think so.
For a young writer-in-waiting to have a connection to Edward R. Murrow--no matter how oblique--is not a small thing. Murrow was the symbol of journalistic integrity when the word still meant "a firm adherence to a code of moral or artistic values." In his wartime dispatches for CBS radio, he had only to say "This...is London" and American listeners knew that whatever followed was as close to the truth as they were likely to hear. And he was as brave as he was talented--he flew in twenty bombing missions over Berlin, and was one of the first correspondents to report from the Nazi concentration camps.
George Clooney has just written and directed about Murrow, using his signature sign-off as the title: Good Night, And Good Luck . It's the kind of movie that makes you want to know more about its subject--but instead of sending you to a biography, I suggest you go directly to Murrow's work:
The Edward R. Murrow Collection
Thought for the Day
Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death. But every one of us --- every single one of us --- knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies.
Senator John McCain
, calling for passage of a bill that would clearly define the rights of prisoners. For some reason, the White House opposes such clarification.
Naked to Our Enemies (Thanks, Mr. President!)
I resumed daily blogging a month ago. The feeling at Beliefnet and at Uptown Central was that the hurricane was a significant event. It changed things, or had the power to change things --- pretty much everyone saw that something was awry. And so we thought it would be good to chronicle that for a month.
I cease daily blogging today (and return to once-a-week essays). And as for a report card....boy, were we all wrong. Things changed, all right, but not for the better. Things got worse --- they devolved. As this rate, we'll be climbing trees and using leaves to clean ourselves and fighting over bananas before the New Year.
I'll do you a favor: I'll spare you the list. If you watch 'The Daily Show' --- or Letterman, Leno or Conan --- the jokes are better than any blogger's list. Laugh, clown, laugh: It beats really dealing with the ugliness of what's happening in...well, you-name-it.
But let's not look back. Let's go current, and consider the President's speech about terrorism today. From
The New York Times
President Bush used some of his toughest language today to assert that the war in Iraq was vital to a crucial struggle against terrorists who he said intended to build a "totalitarian empire" of global reach.
You see this stuff, and by now, you know it for what it is: the opposite of truth. The war in Iraq is vital to nothing. The country eager to build a 'totalitarian empire' is the United States.
The president also said:
We were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001, and Al Qaeda attacked us anyway.
Could you explain this? I mean, even the White House has --- grudgingly --- admitted there was zero connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda. (Fox never admits this, which is why tens of millions think Saddam bombed the World Trade Center.) So what does that sentence mean? In English. What....does....it....mean?
It means, five years into this presidency, that the man can't think. He surrounded himself with smarter people who used to do his thinking for him, but they are in danger of being dragged off to jail, each and every one of them, and now he is alone.
Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I had served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies
I'll translate. He's a Christian who doesn't go to church. A king who has served only himself and his own kind. His enemies? I don't mean the Democrats --- a bigger pack of cowards was never assembled under one banner. No, his enemies are Korea and the oil states and the many tentacles of Al Qaeda. Jackals, all of them. Sadly, as they bare their fangs and contemplate crunching his bones in their jaws, they are including all of us among their targets.
You're gonna miss working through this intellectual/emotional disaster with me five days a week? Doubtful.
Do You Really Want to Go to Florida?
Florida. First in election fraud. First in overpayments to hurricane 'victims' in the weeks before an election. And now, first to encourage its citizens to carry guns --- and use them, even without clear provocation.
That's right. On October 1, the Shoot First Law went into effect in Florida. It allows Floridians to use deadly force when they feel threatened --- even in a public place.
A guy gives you a look (or doesn't). You can cap him. No problem.
Yes, it's your NRA....always looking to make life more interesting (and violent). Feel like writing someone?
John McCain: Not Really the President's Man
Here are McCain's complete remarks in support of a bill defining torture.
Mr. President, war is an awful business. I know that. I don't think I'm naïve about how severe are the wages of war, and how terrible are the things that must be done to wage it successfully. It is a grim, dark business, and no matter how noble the cause for which it is fought, no matter how valiant the service, many veterans spend much of their subsequent lives trying to forget not only what was done to them and their comrades, but some of what had to be done by their hand to prevail.
I don't mourn the loss of any terrorist's life nor do I care if in the course of serving their ignoble cause they suffer great harm. They have pledged their lives to the intentional destruction of innocent lives, and they have earned their terrible punishment in this life and the next.
What I do regret, what I do mourn, and what I do care very much about is what we lose, what we -- the American serviceman and woman and the great nation they defend at the risk of their lives - what we lose when by official policy or by official negligence - we allow, confuse or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, our greatest strength - that we are different and better than our enemies; that we fight for an idea - not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion - but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.
I have been asked before where did the brave men I was privileged to serve with in Vietnam draw the strength to resist to the best of their ability the cruelties inflicted on them by our enemies. Well, we drew strength from our faith in each other, from our faith in God, and from our faith in our country. Our enemies didn't adhere to the Geneva Convention. Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death. But everyone of us knew, every single one of us knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or countenancing such mistreatment of them. That faith was indispensable not only to our survival, but to our attempts to return home with honor. Many of the men I served with would have preferred death to such dishonor.
The enemies we fight today hold such liberal notions in contempt, as they hold the international conventions that enshrine them such as the Geneva Conventions and the treaty on torture in contempt. I know that. But we're better than them, and we are the stronger for our faith. And we will prevail. I submit to my colleagues that it is indispensable to our success in this war that our servicemen and women know that in the discharge of their dangerous responsibilities to their country they are never expected to forget that they are Americans, the valiant defenders of a sacred idea of how nations should govern their own affairs and their relations with others - even our enemies.
Those who return to us and those who give their lives for us are entitled to that honor. And those of us who have given them this onerous duty are obliged by our history, and by the sacrifices - the many terrible sacrifices -- that have been made in our defense - we are obliged to make clear to them that they need not risk their or their country's honor to prevail; that they are always, always - through the violence, chaos and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss - they are always, always Americans, and different, better, and stronger than those who would destroy us.
God bless them as he has blessed us with their service.
The Beauty Part
Walking to work, my wife and I used to see them on their morning stroll through Central Park.
The man gave off just the faintest suggestion of 'burly' and --- at the same time --- 'frail.'
The woman was a stick figure. Really. From a distance, you could not imagine that her legs could hold a body up, even one as slight as hers. And, if you did not know her, you might think, 'Will someone please buy that bulimic a milkshake and make sure she keeps it down?'
Then we'd get closer and say, 'Oh,' and we'd keep our distance, although, in fact, we knew them slightly --- Joan Didion and John Dunne.
I knew John's brother Dominick and Dominick's son Griffin much better, and my wife and I were extremely close with his nephew Tony and his niece-by-marriage Rosemary. But, instinctively, I gave the Dunnes space. It always seemed they were having a serious conversation and that the future of Western literature depended on its satisfactory conclusion.
Still, it was lovely to see them together. They both wrote at home, they looked over each other's work, they had dinner together --- after decades of marriage, they were inseparable and glad of it. Yes, Joan had MS and John had a bum ticker, but year after year, there they were, getting away with it.
And then their only daughter Quintana took ill. Seriously ill, in-a-coma and near-death ill. And they came home from seeing her in the hospital and John sat down to read and have a Scotch. And then 'he stopped talking' and 'slumped motionless.' Joan had a card in the kitchen with the phone number of a hospital on it --- 'in case someone in the building needed an ambulance.' She called. People came. They worked on John and then they took him to the hospital. A man was waiting. He was not wearing scrubs. 'I'm your social worker,' he told Joan, and, as she writes, 'I guess that is when I must have known.'
Joan Didion's book is
The Year of Magical Thinking