Friday, November 25

Zakopane Speed

This photograph, taken while I was an exchange student in Poland, will have to suffice for the present post. Anyone who has checked my blog occasionally over the months surely has noted a slackening of blog-pace on my part. This is due largely to the fact that, in my present location, I am faced with the necessity of learning well a language that, till recently, I had known only by bits. Until I can achieve a certain level of linguistic comfort in my daily life, I do not expect to blog regularly. It would be helpful if I had a camera to take new pictures; and that, too, will take some time to obtain.

Let me close with a short snapshot in words of what my life is like. This evening I attended a faculty party whose main purpose was to welcome me. For this, I had to give a short speech of gratitude in Japanese. I had prepared my comments over the last couple of days with the help of some accomplished Japanese speakers, but did not feel I had mastered them before the festivities began. Early into the festivities, the president of the union that was sponsoring the party introduced me, and everyone drank to her introduction. Upon witnessing this, I sat drifting between Scylla and Charybdis, not knowing whether her introduction had cancelled the need for my little speech. I decided to drink myself a little courage and wait the thing out. A colleague, to whom I confided my efforts at memorization, quickly spread the word that a speech would ensue, and thus my dilemma was "resolved" by fiat. I would no longer have to dread the thought of wasting my efforts at memorization, but I would have to give the speech.

I don't think I made any errors, and those in attendance seemed to put sense to the sounds I had learned to repeat. Whew! was the word that came to me. Still, if I had to make such a speech every week, I do not think I would ever learn the language well.

Friday, November 11

Wake up, old horse! C'mon, now!

Just when it seemed like a lost cause, the American public seems to be getting a clue when it comes to its assessment of the Bush administration.

Vilnius, Lithuania (photo: terrette)

"WASHINGTON - Most Americans say they aren't impressed by the ethics and honesty of the Bush administration, already under scrutiny for its justifications for an unpopular war in Iraq and its role in the leak of a covert CIA officer's identity.

Almost six in 10 — 57 percent — said they do not think the Bush administration has high ethical standards and the same portion says President Bush is not honest, an AP-Ipsos poll found. Just over four in 10 say the administration has high ethical standards and that Bush is honest. Whites, Southerners and evangelicals were most likely to believe Bush is honest." [By WILL LESTER, Associated Press Writer]

If it's not too early to draw a moral from this scenario, I would venture to say that, sometimes, if you beat a dead horse long enough, it shows a glimmer of zombie-like wakefulness. So, pound away, undaunted citizens who have always known the score -- let's get the old horse up on its feet once again!

Wednesday, November 9

Useless and disputed numbers (or "terrorists")

"When the Pentagon claims that it has just killed 50 or 70 or 100 rebel fighters, we have no means of knowing who those people really were. Everyone it blows to pieces becomes a terrorist."

George Monbiot has broken the great taboo of U.S. media, albeit in a London newspaper, by daring not only to speak of civilian deaths in Iraq -- that much alone is improper and indecent of him and somehow, obscurely, probably aids the terrorists (please savor the sarcasm)-- but also to point out that, despite a number of tough-guy, public statements from top Pentagon officials (Franks, Rumsfeld) claiming that the Pentagon doesn't count the useless corpses of useless Iraqi civilians, documents have emerged that suggest that, in fact, such counts are done and do exist (although the numbers are surely well hidden from public inspection).

All Souls' Day, Wroclaw, Poland Photo by terrette

Monbiot's article throws light on the purposeful obscurity cooked up by powerful media engines in the U.K. and U.S. around the issue of civilian deaths and the fair estimates of these deaths. It can be read here. The Guardian has appended a number of useful documents and links to Monbiot's piece.

Sunday, November 6

Rain Flowers

When I travel through international airports, I often have experiences that crystallize whole movements of thought or cast light upon whole periods of my life. So it was as I waited in the cabin of a plane in Buffalo, NY, as technicians worked for over an hour on repairing one of the plane's computers. I sat in a seat of a single-seat aisle, exposed to the relentless chatter and cocky remarks of those who sat around me. A few men made sarcastic comments about the presumed incompetence of the flight crew, and the young woman sitting behind me pestered the one hostess for something to eat. The worst, however, came from a man with massive forearms who was sitting one row back of me across the aisle. His commentary, offered unsollicited to the woman behind me, and delivered relentlessly, encapsulated all that I find revolting about the popular political climate in the United States. Some of the man's insights and recommendations included the following: "Do you listen to Limbaugh? How about Matt Drudge? That's the whole truth, people who don't cave in to the liberal media. 'Cause the media is liberal, you know." And then came this whopper: "Bush isn't like the other politicians. What you see is what you get. No influence." (When I heard that one, it was hard not to choke on the potato chips I was eating.) And then there was this little anecdote, rounded off by a charming non-sequitur: "Did you see the work the Minute Men are doing to protect our borders? If the government won't do its job, then the Minute Men step in. Where did your ancestors come from? Europe? Well, they all had to go through Ellis Island and sign up properly. Heck, my son works for law enforcement in Raleigh, NC. They've got Chinese down there with submachine guns."

I bore the commentary of my self-righteous and xenophobic fellow passenger as best I could, sensing that it was likely to be an ugly climax to my departure from the U.S. and thus something that I could look back on with a sense of relief, knowing I would not have to be exposed to such single-minded cluelessness day in and day out, on television, on radio, and, yes, in airports and airplanes.

Incidentally, here is some artwork inspired by the righteous crusade of the current U.S. government to defeat evil in all its guises.