Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Stones in the Road

Vagabonds enjoy serendipity. When there are a number of turns in the road, thinking which one to take becomes less an existential choice, more an instinct, a random kicking of the stone in the street.
I'm finding myself pleasantly surprised, since choices made so far seem to be have been both productive and comparatively fruitful.
Replacing the things once thought lost have been exciting and rewarding. Luck? I don't think so.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Not the Marriott

I do love the Marriott group of hotels. Worldwide, they are completely predictable, luxurious and you get what you pay for; altogether, a wonderful international product, serving great international food.
It's different here. Complete and undiluted sensory overload about sums it up. Food tastes like food because a few hours previously it either had roots or feathers. Dinner - breast of Gascony duck with spinach and cream cheese, tiny potatoes fried in duck fat, weeping Tunisian figs and cheeses that tasted like cheese instead of corrugated cardboard, cut from the centre of a roundel the size of a car tyre -  amongst other things -  was taken on the terrasse (no misspelling), overlooking the river, surrounded by noisily copulating frogs.
OK. Moving on...
Last week HandyMan and I had a conversation, which is always interesting since, being Dutch Canadian, he's an hombre of few syllables, hence anything escaping into audible frequency is quite often worth hearing. We spoke about watches and he suggested to me that I might think about taking mine off. Having descended temporarily into panic and anxiety mode, this afternoon I decided I wasn't going to die if I removed it, thus found myself liberated by the twin influences of good food and wise men.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Leavin'

Life, as the iconic character said in "Summer of '42 ", one of my favourite movies, is full of small comings and goings. It's a quite beautiful story about love, loss, awakening and rediscovery.
It seems that the season is upon me again for more vagabond miles to be added to the total, and once again I am heading off into the wide blue yonder for a while to see what crumbs may fall from richer men's tables.
This summer is different, for reasons which will be clear to those who know me well. I still, mercifully, find no emotional attachment in possessions and whatever I have can be packed on to a half-lorry in less than an hour. Sometimes, it's the waiting to leave which is stressful. Everything that is needful has been done, and time crawls, crablike. I feel like an orchestral player with one small ting or flub in a symphony lasting an hour - I spend my time counting. Time, however, has a stately inevitability about it. The image is of the summer solstice at Stonehenge, the sun surely rises, all we have to do is wait.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Gathering Storm

I though this worth reposting. From elsewhere...

A Syrian businessman at the weekend insisted that the Middle East peace process is a farce, and that there will never be peace or coexistence between average Arabs and the Jews of Israel.
"Don't let the moderate Arab leaders delude you," Yasser Kashlak, who is of Palestinian descent, said on Hizballah's al-Manar television, "[you] cannot make peace with us."
"Our children will return to Palestine, you have no reason for coexistence," he continued. "Even if our leaders will sign a peace agreement, we will not sign."
Kashlak is financing a flotilla of ships departing from Lebanon with the intent of breaking the Israeli maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. He said the Jews of Israel should seriously consider getting on those ships and returning to Europe, as they will never find peace in the Middle East.
During his tirade, Kashlak referred to the Jews as "Europe's refuse," suggesting that Jews are foreign to the Middle East, a concept those supportive of the "Palestinian cause" have long advocated. It ignores the fact that there has been an unbroken Jewish presence in the region for at least 3,000 years. That presence has been documented by successive ancient empires from the Assyrians to the Babylonians to the Persians to the Greeks and, most thoroughly, by the Romans.
Kashlak's remarks also ignored the general consensus that relations between average Palestinians and Jews on the ground in Israel were far better before the introduction of Yasser Arafat's PLO as the representative of the Palestinians. In the absence of the Arab leaders Kashlak derides, and the extremist fundamentalist figures they opened the door to, most Jews and Arabs tend to get along.

Mr Kashlak is a supporter of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. He heads the Palestinian Businessmen Association as well as the Lebanese Institute of International Research and is considered close to the Syrian government. He has consistently opposed the peace process and from the comparative safety of a Syrian TV studio, I suppose he can say what he likes. This confrontational posturing preceding the flotilla's departure from Beirut is characteristic of a propagandist tactic which screams out for mediation. I rather wonder if a peace envoy would suffer the same fate as Terry Waite …

Important people are really going to have to think on their feet over this one, I think






Saturday, June 19, 2010

Blood and Forgiveness

Mormon principles about blood atonement first promulgated by Joseph Smith in 1856 seems still to have broad consensus in the State of Utah. I've never really thought of myself as a bleeding heart liberal, but the man shot by firing squad in Salt Lake City yesterday had been on Death Row since 1985 and was almost certainly not the same man who committed the crimes twenty-five years ago, which gave me pause for thought. He was the product of dysfunctional, indeed monstrous, parenting, suffered meningitis at four which may or may not have caused permanent brain damage and he was molested by his older brothers. When children are tortured and brutalised, later, all too often others have to pay the price, the child, then the adult, remains indebted to his own desperate loss.  We cannot morally justify barbaric behaviour; instead it has more to do with what we as a society recognise as symptoms and endeavour to do something about them. As long as we remain unprepared to invest time and money in managing such lost, emotionally dislocated, neglected souls then it does seem to me that we can continue to expect dire consequences. Feeling neglected, unloved, and unwanted, people like Ronnie Lee Gardner survived in the only manner they saw possible; it must be hard for someone to value anyone else’s life when you’re convinced that nobody seems to value yours. So, society used the same methodology that turned him into a savage in the first place. I had always rather hoped I believed that incarceration was primarily to be used to protect society from danger, not to visit medieval retribution so that righteous anger can be assuaged.
In the UK, we stopped murdering our prisoners half a century ago. This might be an indication of an advancing civilisation, for the rest of the world, little wonder it trembles at the American people living in a fundamentalist vacuum, demanding retribution like some Biblical tyrant. I wonder how, as sentient and self-aware beings, we can find our way out of these labyrinths of retribution and savagery. Both this man and his victims might have been safer under Islamic law, since the parenting he received would not have been tolerated. It could be argued that societies are safer under oppressive laws - Sharia law for murder allows the death penalty but is kinder than western law in one respect - after judicial judgement has been made, appeals are then allowed to the family of the murdered victims, and they are begged to be merciful. In Islam, it is always regarded as the height of mercy to forgive a murderer, even though one may have the legal right to take their life in reprisal. There are apparently far fewer executions in most Muslim countries than in the USA.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lizards and Shivers

Apart from a very pleasant new cologne I have discovered and one of my favourite clothes shops has a sale on, there is something of a lack of colour at the moment. This is partly because sandstorms are frequent and this pestilential desert I call home turns up the heat from June onwards. According to my car thermometer, yesterday touched 52 degrees Celsius, that's one hundred and twenty five point six degrees Fahrenheit. Added to which, wearing glasses outside isn't possible since they instantly mist over. Normally, I have no idea what effect humidity has, but it topped 59% today, and I slowed to a crawl, mentally, physically and emotionally. Purists might find this interesting.
Ironically (sorry to whine - just bear with me) I have picked up a cold, thus screwing my homeostatic mechanisms and between hot flushes and the shivers I have to wear a fleece indoors in the aircraft hangar I call home at the moment because the AC is chilly. Which brings me to lizards. Lizards are not altogether common here - only thirty-eight species -  it's probably too hot for them. Lizards are poiklothermic or cold blooded so they have to sit in the sun until their enzymes warm up sufficiently to initiate metabolism so a good time to see them is in the early morning in the desert when, laughably, it's relatively cool. The Bedouin hunted the most common species, the dhub as a dietary supplement; apparently it bloats its chest and makes a ferocious hissing sound if disturbed which discourages predators. Those with a Biblical turn of mind might like to look with me at Proverbs 30:18 which is quite an unlikely verse to use when teaching on worship. I've been in meetings where the worship leader has cranked the congregation up from cold too soon and they end up hoarse - "we don't know what else to do so let's sing some more". Had they been invited to wait, like the lizard on the rock, until their spiritual metabolism had warmed sufficiently, the ebb and flow of the meeting would have been more congenial. I shall be glad when my own settles down again.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Divine Patternmaker

We have an engine in our anterior cingulate cortex – a belief engine. We are hardwired to believe. Believing we might just be right, believing in the existence of a beneficent God. Some find the pattern recognition associated with belief systems much easier than others, perhaps they have more L-dopamine, or something, so people who win Nobel prizes or swear that UFO’s exist are responding in different ways to pattern recognition.  Belief is the natural state of things – it’s the default option. We believe all kinds of things, science isn’t natural to us, belief is.  Personally, I’m quite grateful for that, since I’d rather be a believer than not. I wonder why we believe in God?  Perhaps because we look for and associate Grace, the ultimate Divine pattern, obviously – but finding science in grace ain’t as easy as it appears.
As pattern-seeking primates, we join the dots associatively and are programmed to find meaningful  ways where if A connects to B  and B to C then A must connect to C.  It needn’t of course, but we’d like to pretend that it always does, or provide ourselves with meaningful reasons why it doesn’t. Without the red outline, we might not recognise this…

Having seen it once, however, the next time these blobs are shown to us, we say unhesitatingly “Oh! Its’ a cow!” When we feel out of control, our patternicity or the propensity to find patterns increases. Put another way, faith (feeling afraid I trust him) is an inevitable biochemical consequence of our genetics; indeed it conferred genetic advantage in the first place. God as Divine Patternmaker. What a comforting thought.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

All About Me (Again)

According to Sigmund Freud's theory of personality, I am told, defence mechanisms help the ego cope with anxiety. I've always thought of defence mechanisms rather like A A Milne's poem "The Knight Whose Armour Didn't Squeak" - people aren't supposed to know you're wearing them.  I thought it might be quite fun to take a little test to see how much I knew about defence mechanisms – at the very least the case studies might be instructive and I thought I might learn something about anxiety management. There were only two requiring factual recall it seemed, I guessed one and knew the other but I really didn’t think that that part counted for much. With characteristic Promethean hubris, I tried the hardest one and got 80% and a rather niggardly comment ‘Fair”. I didn’t know what ‘reaction formation’ is and I still don’t. So, I knew something about the car, but this is of no value unless I can actually drive it. None of the case studies seemed to me to be anything other than reasonably clear-cut, and life, at least my piece of it, does rather lack the unambiguity the studies presented me with.

All jolly good fun, but it didn't help me with what I really wanted to know. I have been 'accused' - I wonder if that's the right way to put it - of something called "projection" which I had understood to be a defence mechanism, and was thus hoping that the quiz I took would be helpful. It wasn't, so I had to go and look it up, because I hate being ignorant (isn’t this ”intellectualisation”?)

Wiki gave me the following.

“Projection is a primitive form of paranoia.  Not a tempting opener…It also reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the undesirable impulses or desires without becoming consciously aware of them; attributing one's own unacknowledged unacceptable/unwanted thoughts and emotions to another; includes severe prejudice, severe jealousy, hyper vigilance to external danger, and "injustice collecting". It is shifting one's unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses within oneself on to someone else, such that those same thoughts, feelings, beliefs and motivations are perceived as being possessed by the other.”

I sat down, like the prophet Ezra, appalled. I do hope that any friends who notice this about me, plus examples, might be kind enough to gently point them out. Thank you.


Saturday, June 05, 2010

Ship of Fools

There will be no peace. Israel is being squeezed like a ripe grapefruit. Hamas wants to push them into the sea, the rest of the world cannot fathom why two states cannot coexist when one as a matter of policy wants to obliterate the other. Even the Turkish prime minister has been deceived into quoting in public that Hamas are no more than heroic freedom fighters. Does he not bother reading a little history about their activities in his own country? Perhaps if he stopped cosying up to Ahmedinajad and took the plank out of his eye, he might be competent to see what everyone else sees is going on under his nose.
There will be no weapons on board the Rachel Corrie, the latest arrival into the maritime exclusion zone, no jihadists, only middle aged flagwavers. Even the ship's name is provocative. Rachel Corrie, a student activist, described as an 'anarchist' by a colleague was killed accidentally playing a dangerous cat and mouse game with a bulldozer during the Second Intifada trying to prevent demolition of the home of a Palestinian in Rafah, a Hamas stronghold in southern Gaza. The actual circumstances of the tragedy were questionable at the time and conflicting reports concerning the whereabouts of her body and the details of her funeral were widespread. Perhaps this was Hamas flexing its fledgling propaganda muscles seven years ago. It is her ideological successors who comprise the passenger list on the boat named after her.


Israeli SEALs will board her and find only sanitary towels and toothpaste. Israel will ask she put in at Ashdod for safe transportation of cargo. The ship will refuse, screaming 'foul' to the world's press. Every anti-Israel organisation in the world will howl for Jewish blood. This is no crapshoot. The dice are rigged.


An Act of God would be welcome right about now.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Little Boats

She's damned if she does and damned if she don't. A flotilla - the word sounds so inoffensive - of fragile little boats sets sail from Turkish waters to bring much-needed 'aid' to the beleaguered Gazans, as the world gazes down in sympathy. On board are 'dissidents', 'Free Gaza activists' and others, including a Nobel prizewinner and a Holocaust survivor who, it would appear, engorged with moral outrage at the despicable Israeli tactic of preventing weapons smuggling, intended to deliver the contents personally, where, it was alleged, a hero's welcome awaited them. Smoke and mirrors, froth and bubbles. Whoever is running Hamas' propaganda unit, he or she is the one deserving a Palme d'Or.


Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas violently seized control in June 2007. I wonder whether the anniversary of Dunkirk was deliberately chosen.


Some claim that the demonstrators attacked IDF commandos with guns and other weapons, which is policyspeak for 'the bastards fired on us'. There is evidence that the boarding party was set upon first with knives and metal rods which shifts responsibility from the political and military decision-makers to the soldiers, who acted in the heat of provocation and combat and quite properly fought back. One indeed was thrown overboard. No point in sending armed men if all they have to do is be reasonable. It may be convenient to Netanyahu and his partners in government to present the battle as a local incident that escalated – but they cannot, unfortunately, escape responsibility. Exactly what Hamas wanted. The clumsier and more politically inept  Israel can be made to look, the more sympathy is garnered toward  those who seek to bring her to her knees and it should not be forgotten that the rulers in Gaza are classified as a terrorist organisation. If a minority authority elects such people to attempt to govern it, they have only themselves to blame if those whom they have sworn to drive into the sea reciprocate using men with guns.


Operationally, Israel came out on top; of course they did - they have superb tacticians. Moshe Yaalon, and the defense minister, Ehud Barak, are both former chiefs of staff. Between them, they have almost matchless experience of military planning and combat. Netanyahu - a former elite commando - has a formidable intelligence and operational record. Of course the Israelis will win tactically if they bring Hamas to battle, but their very superiority on the battlefield is what brings about the propaganda losses they invariably suffer. The world wants a Palestine and doesn't understand why Israelis can't give it. The problem here is mindset. Both Hamas and Israel see themselves at war and the world has made a choice based on what looks like fairness, but is spectacularly ignorant of the cultural milieu on the ground. Article 13 of the Hamas Charter is particularly instructive.


The UN and almost everyone else think that they deserve some answers. Fine. Let the roasting begin, but all sides and most particularly those allied with organisations with a history of Islamic militancy should be prepared for the odd cockroach to  flee from the flames. Let him that lacks wisdom...