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September 03, 2004
Silver City Express
I'm going to be riding on a bus around New Mexico and Colorado for a few days next week with John Sayles, Steve Earle, Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson, David Barsamian and others. The occasion is the release of Sayles' new film, Silver City. A shorter version of my dog-and-pony slide show will be part of the pre-screening entertainment. The schedule is as follows:
Wed., Sept. 8: Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe. Show starts at 7pm; John Sayles and I will be signing our respective books in the lobby from 6-6:30 pm. More details here.
Thurs., Sept. 9: Kimball's Twin Peaks, Colorado Springs.
Fri., Sept. 10: Paramount Theatre, Denver.
I don't have links for the last two. Here's an article with a little more information.
...and more here.
After critizing the Democrats for holding a hatefest convention which only looked backward (i.e., to Vietnam), failed to provide a clear vision for the future, and primarily pushed their candidate as Not the Other Guy...
...the Republicans give us a hatefest convention which only looked backward (i.e., to 9/11/01), failed to provide a clear vision for the future, and primarily pushed their candidate as Not the Other Guy.
And now we all take a long weekend, and then the final stretch begins.
September 02, 2004
Notes from a country which borders on Iraq
(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)
Yet another note from Turkey, this time including the letter "i", and again interrupting the ongoing daily GOP maelstrom. Which, I must add, I find I do not miss one bit.
In the last week, I've been traveling by bus up the Aegean coast, a part of the world I didn't realize I dearly needed to see until I was here. It's physically beautiful, of course, but that's not the why. The people have been spectacular, as I've mentioned, but that's not it, either. Searching for words...
In school they taught little more than a brief blur about this part of the world, and the thousands of years of history connected to it. Sumeria this and Persia that and the dance king of Assyria was MC Hammurabi.
It's a whole other deal to stand in a museum here in Istanbul and look at the first known peace treaty in human history, signed in Akkadian (the lingua franca of the time) by representatives of the Hittite dynasty and Ramses II of Egypt. Like, right in front of you. There it is. Bam. The actual piece of clay they pressed their styli into.
Promising, I add, brotherhood between their peoples forever.
And as we all know, there has been peace in the Mideast ever since...
Kinda hard not to take the long view, looking at that.
The other day I was in Troy. (Yup. That Troy, although it actually has remarkably little to do with a well-oiled Brad Pitt pirouetting in a leather skirt. Thank God.) You get past the cheesy giant wooden horse for people to pose with, and put aside your amusement that the site now has corporate sponsorship (this driveway brought to you by Siemens!), and forget that there's no firm evidence Homer was even describing a specific site, writing as he was 500 years after events supposedly occured.
And finally, you just open your eyes and look at the amazing mound of human residue before you, whatever the hell it was: this "Troy" wasn't just one city, but 9 different major settlements (and dozens of smaller yet discernible redevelopments) constructed, destroyed or abandoned, and then rebuilt over thousands of years.
Think about that. Thousands of years.
People built entire civilizations on the spot. They flourished. They rose. They were pretty sure they knew what the hell they were doing. And then they were gone.
And a few hundred years went by. And somebody else got things together, and rebuilt right on top of what came before. And they flourished. They were sure they were the real deal. And then... poof.
Over and over and over again.
You stand there and look at the overlapping maze of half-standing walls and walkways and try to let the passage of lives and cultures and time itself sink in.
For me, it was a bit like looking at stars at night and trying to grasp the vastness of space. You really can't; all you can do is understand a general sense of really big, and the limitations of your own imagination. And you can start to grasp how little of the past we even know, much less attempt to learn from.
It's not like there aren't a few themes that sorta jump out. Wars over resources. Violence and propaganda to achieve and maintain power. Brief spasms of relative enlightenment punctuating a remarkably brutal history. (And really, wasn't your history education largely a long series of who-fought-who? Mine sure was.) And every war ever fought was for a cause seen as noble and righteous by the people on both sides.
It's deeply disturbing to realize just how many millions of people have died in wars whose entire purposes are now barely remembered by a few scholars.
Yesterday I had a nice stroll in through a lovely park where a chariot-race Hippodrome once stood. Today I learned that 30,000 people were once massacred on the site.
And here's the thing: if I gave you the details, trust me -- you probably wouldn't recognize a single thing.
Not too far from here, near Konya, archeologists are studying the early human civilization of Catal Hoyuk, which appears to be (and this is a kick) roughly twice as old as the Egyptian pyramids. Nine thousand years ago, between five and ten thousand people lived in a fairly organized community in what is now central Turkey, with their own tools, art, and religion. And then... they disappeared.
About 4000 years passed before the Egyptians got around to building the pyramids.
You sort of have to give up the idea that human history is linear, or that progress is inevitable. It ain't. I pick up a newspaper, and now in our tenth millennium, humankind is still killing itself in the name of imagined gods.
Istanbul is also a fabulous reminder of how poorly we imagine the future. A short walk from here is the Hagia Sophia -- St. Sophie's, if you will -- a 1500-year old architectural miracle about 18 stories high with a nave the size of a football field. (This is one big building.) It was built as a Christian church, became (after a military conquest) a Muslim mosque, and now (after a secular government took power) stands as a multifaith museum. But could the Christians in 532 realize they were in fact building what would one day become the greatest temple to a religion that didn't yet exist? Of course not. Did the Muslims who rehabbed the building for centuries realize that someday it would become a proud museum in a (supposedly) secular state? Aw, hell no.
Someday there will be people speaking languages vaguely resembling our own but indecipherable if we could eavesdrop. Their maps will not be our maps. And they will look at our wars over half-forgotten gods the same way you and I look at the struggles between the tribes of Ur, very possibly while killing each other in the name of gods which do not yet exist.
They will dig and puzzle and speak of the Oil Age and how its brevity stunned humankind toward the end.
If we make good choices, perhaps they will remember us fondly for they way we handled the first truly global period in human history, and they will carry our wisdom forward to our children's far descendants.
If we don't, they will more likely make small figurines of oxen and bury them in mud brick dwellings with their infant dead. With luck, maybe someday they'll develop bronze.
I wonder how we'll ever learn.
Not to get too dramatic or anything. And I have no idea how this applies to my daily life, much less yours. But the perspective... that's the why of this trip.
Speaking of Egypt, I'll be there soon... more from there.
I knew that Republicans want to phase out Social Security in favor of personal investment accounts. And I knew that they think the answer to the health care crisis is to give tax breaks for individual medical accounts--in other words, to encourage each of us to save up our pennies in case we ever need to pay for major surgery. (So much more efficient than the old fashioned notion that we should collectively share the risk through some form of "insurance"--and it helps to cull the weak and the sick out of the herd at the same time!)
But even I was surprised by this bit from Elaine Chao's speech (my transcript):
For workers experiencing unemployment, the President has proposed Personal Re-employment Accounts which workers can use to get the training and support they need.
So in addition to saving for your retirement and saving for the possibility of catastrophic medical care, Republicans would also like you to set aside some money for your own retraining in the event that their lousy economic policies lead to the loss of your job.
Pretty much sums up compassionate conservativism, doesn't it?
September 01, 2004
Anybody got the clip?
Letter from a reader:
As you probably already heard, 10 AIDS activist protesters snuck onto the floor of the RNC to protest and shortly there after were restrained by those nearby (security and young republicans).
...here's a link, but it's not Mac-friendly.
Apparently the festivities at MSG have convinced Michael Berube to abandon his leftish ways and join the winning team.
How do you know you're a Republican, Arnold asked? If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, instead of the people being accountable to the government, you're a Republican. Well, no kidding! Again, you won't hear this from the liberal media, but independent studies have proven that the Bush presidency has been the most accountable presidency ever– and more than twice as accountable as Clinton's. In fact, you could say that the "W" in "George W. Bush" stands for "We Have Been Extremely Accountable."
Paging Amy Carter
Let's play six degrees of separation here. Will the person in this audience who knows someone who knows someone who knows Amy Carter tell her that I lost her address and ask her to shoot me an email?
Revisionists, part two
The spin on Kerry's Winter Soldier testimony seems to be two-fold. First, as Matt Yglesias notes over at TAPPED: it was an unfair and untrue slam on specific vets, such as Karl Rove's poor maligned uncle. Second: it was true, but it was an admission of specific acts that Kerry himself committed. Here's something Hannity said last night, in an interview with Tommy Franks (transcription mine):
You served in Vietnam, and you led a lot of boys into battle. If one of these boys ever admitted that they, in their own words, committed atrocities, if they ever admitted that they violated the Geneva Convention, if they ever admitted they burned down villages, do the American people need an explanation for what John Kerry admitted?
I happened to be listening to his radio show earlier in the day, and he was using this same riff in an interview with someone else, maybe Newt Gingrich. Now, just for the record, here's part of what Hannity seems to be referencing:
We found also that, all too often, American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how monies from American taxes were used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by the flag, and blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs and search-and-destroy missions as well as by Viet Cong terrorism, - and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong.
Now clearly, Kerry is not saying that he, personally destroyed a village in order to save it, as Hannity--apparently unfamiliar with the reference--seems to believe. Or at least, is pretending to believe. Just as he is either pretending not to know, or truly unaware, that atrocities did occur in Vietnam.
As the "search and destroy" mission unfolded it soon degenerated into the massacre of over 300 apparently unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly. Calley ordered his men to enter the village firing, though there had been no report of opposing fire. According to eyewitness reports offered after the event, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped, and then killed. For his part, Calley was said to have rounded up a group of the villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and mowed them down in a fury of machine gun fire.
(Just in case you, too, were under the impression that John Kerry simply made it all up.)
Finally, one more excerpt from the 1971 testimony of the man the Swifties accuse of disrespecting his fellow vets:
We are here to ask, and we are here to ask vehemently, where are the leaders of our country? Where is the leadership? We're here to ask where are McNamara, Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatrick, and so many others? Where are they now that we, the men they sent off to war, have returned? These are the commanders who have deserted their troops. And there is no more serious crime in the laws of war. The Army says they never leave their wounded. The Marines say they never even leave their dead. These men have left all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude. They've left the real stuff of their reputations bleaching behind them in the sun in this country....
Why these words are cause for shame, I truly do not understand.
Sullivan spends most of the runup to war decrying as Fifth Columnists those who--rightly, as it turns out--questioned the wisdom of the whole venture ... and now wonders how politics got so divisive.
Perhaps there are no mirrors in his home.
Arnold, last night:
You know, when the Germans brought down the Berlin Wall, America's determination helped wield the sledgehammers. When that lone, young Chinese man stood in front of those tanks in Tiananmen Square, America's hopes stood with him. And when Nelson Mandela smiled in election victory after all those years in prison, America celebrated, too.
When Rep. Dick Cheney voted against a 1986 resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela and recognition of the African National Congress, Americans did know this man had been waiting decades for his freedom. In a larger sense, so had all black South Africans. The tenets of American democracy -- one man, one vote -- were denied to the majority of citizens, along with the most basic economic and educational needs.
August 31, 2004
I've been seeing some sensible liberals whining about the uselessness of protest lately. Here's an alternate perspective:
Do not ever again tell me that protests are merely exercises in 'preaching to the converted.'
From the Truthout blog, which lacks permalinks.
In case you missed it the first time
Here's the cartoon I wrote last summer, when the GOP's choice of host city was first announced.
Those wacky Republicans
I had the same reaction as Sam Rosenfeld over at TAPPED:
Wow, Wolf Blitzer kept telling us we were in for a treat and he was right! Did you all catch that Saturday Night Live spoof they just showed to introduce the convention? Have you ever seen anything so hilarious in your life, ever? Ever? Wolf kept on hammering away to us for about ten minutes beforehand that we were going to be watching a funny SNL spoof that the RNC had put together, and I think it's now obvious that "funny" was just about the understatement of the year.
It's also pretty painful to watch Wolf and the gang pretend to be amused by Mo Rocca's routines. Maybe the stuff would work if Mo were still back on the Daily Show, playing off of Jon Stewart, et al., but the hollow, forced chuckles of Wolf and the gang are comedy death.
August 30, 2004
After attending the last three party conventions in person, it's an odd thing to watch one on tv--by which I mean C-Span; I'm watching the convention right now, not the talking heads babbling over it. And the thing that strikes me is how amateurish the whole thing seems. It's as if a high school drama department with access to a lot of money and high tech equipment put the show together. The interstitial stuff is really cringeworthy.
When did these little wire-thin microphones sticking out alongside a person's jaw become ubiquitous? Is this just some sort of SWAT/military-chic affectation, or are these things actually superior to conventional lapel mics for some reason?
...all right, apparently they work better. I still think they look silly.
(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)
As we careen once more between GOP hell and personal notes from odd chunks of the world... many thanks for your patronage thus far.
(By the way, you may detect a small reluctance to use one common vowel here and below -- "eye," actually. Let's enjoy the challenge, caused by my current locale: Canakkale, Turkey, just up the road from the legendary Troy. The computers here reflect the local language, of course, and thus offer several types of the above-named vowel. None seem to work. Thus the word adventure you see.)
Today began at Selcuk, a small but extremely pleasant town near Efes, better known to readers of the New Testament as Ephesus. A once-great temple stands there -- more accurately, one lone column looms over a swamp -- and so we have yet another head-prod about the dangers of ego. And check off another of the Seven . Four down, three to go.
My book notes now read across the top: Almost Seven . Necessary to compose a proper proposal soon. So much to tell.
But the real wonder of the journey so far has been the people along the way. Every town and stop has been much the same: the Turks have been spectacularly warm. Expect more on same when cafe keyboards allow.
Granted, there are Kurds on the wrong end of the deal here, and the currency plummets as a matter of course, and problem problem problem, sure. But the actual regular folks on the street are the subject here. And a common phrase of goodbye says a great deal about what almost everyone here seems to be about.
The translated call and response goes: "Allah watch over you" and then, as the last phrase (untypeable vowel as * here): "sm*l*ng, sm*l*ng."
And very much how the treatment has been. Much to adore. Sm*l*ng, sm*l*ng *s the ma*n th*ng *'m do*ng of late.
Except about the keyboards here...
They pulled him back in
Hesiod was one of the first bloggers on the Swift Boat story, and he's come out of retirement to put it all in perspective.
As I've mentioned, the Republicans picked a piss-poor week to hold their convention, at least for me personally. If they'd held it mid-summer like a normal political party, rather than pushing it to the first week of September in yet another pathetic attempt to exploit 9/11, I'd have been able to attend, but there's too much going on with my family this week for me to be able to duck out. So I'm watching a distance, like most of you. Yesterday's march looked extraordinary on C-Span. It gets harder and harder to marginalize that vast percentage of the population which distrusts the President. Not that the effort won't be made, of course.
Next week, things quiet down at home, just in time for me to head to Colorado, where I'll be travelling on a bus with John Sayles for a few days. He's promoting a new film, raising some money for local environmental groups, and generally hosting a sort of rolling salon. I'll be a part of the pre-screening festivities at each of the venues; I'll post more details as I have them.
For now...if you're in New York, and you have stories to tell, you should send them to me for posting.
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