Redheaded Ramblings: Sheila A-stray  

"This race and this country and this life produced me, he said. I shall express myself as I am." -- James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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This is getting ridiculous. You know you're in big trouble when your main supporters are Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan. I discussed this whole thing with David the other night, and my point was: It doesn't MATTER what Trent Lott's views are. It's a free country. You can sit around and bemoan desegregation all you want. You can fear for the future of the glorious white race. You can hold any number of repugnant views. But free speech does not come without consequences, first of all. Second of all, if you are the leader of one of the political parties in this country, then the rules definitely are different for you. He's not just your average-Joe citizen, sitting on his porch, spewing his stupid opinions into the air.

Trent Lott needs some acting training. An acting coach to say, "Okay, so...are you working on sincerity in that moment? True remorse? Because if you are, I'm not getting it...Let's do an animal exercise to try to get you more relaxed." Ah, the thought amuses me.

Andrew Sullivan responds to the latest apology from the Lott corner.

His "apology" was formulaic, cheery, rote and unpersuasive. I still don't think he acknowledges the gravity of what he said over a week ago. I don't think he understands the central place of the civil rights movement in the construction of this country's modern existence. I don't think he even faintly fits into a Party of Lincoln. His pugnacious tone, his craven invocation of his working class past as somehow something that innoculates him from criticism, his lack of solemness, his grinning and laughing in the question and answer session indicates to me that he still doesn't get it - and he never will.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/14/2002 10:00:00 AM

Saturday, December 14, 2002  


At about quarter of seven, the baby in bed, I went out to walk in the garden when Banks met me: "Mr. Harcourt ... publishing house." I rushed in, breathless. "Mrs. Lindbergh" (from out in Greenwich somewhere), "Mr. Sloan has brought in your manuscript this morning and I've just finished it. I couldn't put it down. It's splendid. I would take it if it were written by Jane Smith. It's a good story, it's moving, it's well constructed, and parts of it border on poetry." By this time I was quite ga-ga and showed it --how pleased I was. Then he told me about various things to change. Wants to close deal and see Charles and me tomorrow. "You've written a book, my dear." And closing, "I have quite a little glow I don't often get." I said I'd call back.

Then I went and stood looking out the window, completely happy. They like it -- and my happiness was pure and tangible and right there. It's true -- I have it, then. It's here. Tasting one of those long-waited-for, on-a-pedestal moments, I almost shouted for C. I wanted so to tell him and he didn't come and didn't come.

I went out and walked in the garden, counting up the other moments like it -- moments of personal triumph. Not happiness exactly, something fiercer, and probably not a very praiseworthy emotion, and yet it wasn't pure ambition, for other things entered into it -- other moments of joy. The Jordan Prize announcement in chpel, but also my first proposal, and my first kiss, and then C. asking me to marry him, and my first child and my second. And soloing a plane, and that moment off Africa when I got WSL. And H.N. (Harold Nicolson), after reading the Geographic aritcle, telling me I should write. They are moments of power and fitness. They are personal, but they are more than that: "I fit into this world. There is a place for me. There is some reason for my living. I can hold my head up." It is that feeling.

-- Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Locked Rooms and Open Doors: Diaries and Letters 1933-1935

  contact Sheila Link: 12/14/2002 09:47:00 AM

Here are two great pieces about the finale of this season of The Sopranos.

SHOCK TREATMENT, by Nancy Franklin in The New Yorker.

A couple quotes:
Tony's inability, or unwillingness, to reform is one of the things that have kept the show fresh; like most of us, he has more self-awareness than he is able to use ("All this fucking self-knowledge. What the fuck has it gotten me?"), and his behavior reflects his preference for eliminating conflict rather than resolving it. Talking things out may have its place, but sometimes only a good whack job will do.

His brainstorm this season was that from now on he would trust only blood relations, like the smack-addled Christopher. He says to him, "You got your whole life in front of you, Christopher. You throw it away on drugs?" Good point—except that he says it as they're walking to the edge of a ravine to dump a dead body.

Then there's Carina Chocano's Divorce Italian style from Chocano is a terrific reviewer (again, like I mentioned in a post a while back, she reviews the acting in a very sensitive way, pointing out the subtleties of the performances, the gifts of the actors).

For example:
If the "Sopranos" season overall was somewhat of a disappointment, the fight scenes between Tony and Carmela were worth the price of admission alone: They were more brutal than any whacking and astonishingly gimlet-eyed.

Absolutely. The long extended fight scene which made up the majority of the finale was superbly done. Superbly written, directed, and acted. Stunning.

More on that fight:
Watching the end come in waves and stages -- of hysteria ("Don't ever touch me again!"), cynical sang-froid ("That's what you came out here to tell me?"), blame ("I'm going to hell, remember? Nice thing to tell a guy going into an MRI"), guilt ("I always regretted saying that"), woeful nostalgia ("You were my guy -- you were so sweet sometimes and no one could make me laugh like you"), bitter sarcasm ("What you really crave is a little Hyundai and a simple gold heart on a chain") and petty revenge ("I have been dreaming and fantasizing and in love with Furio") -- it's hard not to wonder how creator David Chase and his writers manage to remember it all so perfectly, precisely, painfully well.

It was a lesson in acting, for me. Watching Edie Falco and James Gandolfini work together in that way. Unbelievable.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/13/2002 11:36:00 AM

Friday, December 13, 2002  

I forgot to link to this a couple of days ago. I read it, and just laughed. Rebecca Eckler, a Canadian journalist, writes of New York women's propensity to have "sometimes-boyfriends". Or, in some cases, three "sometimes-boyfriends". It's absurd. Eckler is gently mocking us New York chicks, but she also treats the phenomenon with a certain gentle awe. Very funny.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/13/2002 11:19:00 AM


I call for Ed Asner to resign!!!

  contact Sheila Link: 12/13/2002 09:47:00 AM

So the headline of the story is: 5 Unarmed Palestinians Killed by Israelis in Gaza. Buried in the article, is the story of the SIXTH Palestinian killed that same day (who doesn't make it into the headline): In other action in Gaza, Israeli soldiers killed an armed Palestinian trying attack a Jewish settlement today... Two Palestinians approached the Gush Katif settlement bloc before dawn, armed with automatic rifles, an Israeli Army commander, Lt. Col. Avi Oved, told The Associated Press.

Okay, so two Palestinians are sneaking at dawn up to a Jewish settlement, carrying automatic weapons. Clearly ready to shoot the place up. But the headline is "5 Unarmed Palestinians Shot Today."

The truth of the matter is that 6 Palestinians were killed, 5 of whom were unarmed, and one who was about to attack a Jewish settlement. But if you just flatly say "6 Palestinians Shot Today", then you miss out on the bias-filled opportunity to point out the fact that five of them were unarmed.

Ed Asner called the American people "sheep" the other day. Dude, watch your mouth! I read the same newspapers you read, I keep myself current with the news, I just happen to come to different conclusions than you. Such arrogance. But anyway, my point is: I think that the misleading headline treats us all like sheep. "We want all you sheep to know that Israelis killed 5 unarmed Palestinians today. They also killed one other one, who was attempting to attack a settlement, but you don't need to know as much about that..."

  contact Sheila Link: 12/13/2002 09:34:00 AM


Wow. That's all I have to say.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/13/2002 09:30:00 AM

Peggy Noonan weighs in on the Trent Lott debacle. She must have written this before learning of Law's resignation, which, I believe, would have booted Lott to the Noonan back-burner.

Notable quotes:
Mr. Bush hit Mr. Lott hard, saying "any suggestion that a segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive." And then, after pausing to allow sustained applause, he went onto say, "Recent comments by Sen. Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country." Why did Mr. Bush do that? Because he wants to separate himself and his party from Mr. Lott and his mouth. Normally Republicans rally around when they think one of their own is being unfairly smeared. Mr. Bush was saying Mr. Lott isn't being unfairly smeared. This is big -- presidents don't publicly knock their party's congressional leaders--and suggests the White House is pondering the GOP's deep Senate bench, and how Mitch McConnell, Bill Frist or anyone but John McCain might be an improvement.

This next one actually made me laugh. (And one observation: I am noticing that journalists, conservative and otherwise, are reduced to using words like "creepy" when talking about Trent Lott. CREEPY. Like they are 11 years old and he is the weird kid who puts worms in your desk, or whatever.) Here, Noonan, uses the word "weird".

Because when Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 he ran explicitly as a segregationist who would attempt to stop the civil rights revolution. He never, ever should have been elected president of the United States. It is truly weird for a person who lives in our world, in the modern world, to say otherwise.

She goes on to discuss the civil rights movement, and ends very powerfully. Socking it to us, and to Lott. It's a great piece.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/13/2002 07:44:00 AM

I just realized, in looking back over my entries for the last two days, that all I seem to do is call for people's resignations.

"Hey! YOU! BOZO! Step down!!"
"Are you speaking to me, Miss?"
"I call for you to RESIGN, sir."
"Uh ... why? I haven't done anything wrong..."

  contact Sheila Link: 12/13/2002 07:30:00 AM

My jaw dropped when I read that Cardinal Law had resigned. I mean, it's about TIME ... but I guess I never thought he would go.

The Times article about it quotes an editorial from The Pilot, the Boston Archdiocese's newspaper. To me, this quote says it all:

"The humiliation the Church in Boston is experiencing is a purification," the editorial in The Pilot continued. It concluded, "Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us."

As awful and yukky and HORRIFIC this whole thing has been, I have hoped all along that some sort of "purification" was occurring. And it's a painful process, a wrenching process. It's a revolution. The Church, as it is today, is going to die. It should die. But what will rise from the ashes?

Cardinal Law resigning has always been seen as the first step in that purification process. Which was why it has been so infuriating that he would not step down. Dude, don't you realize you are killing the Church? Step down!!

  contact Sheila Link: 12/13/2002 07:17:00 AM

This one goes out to David: Actually there are two. Both passages come from Sold Into Egypt, Madeleine L'Engle's book about the Joseph story in the Bible.

Passage #1:
Since the universe is God's, I don't see why love can't alter any law which Love demands. Jesus made it very clear that love comes before law. So I have no trouble with miracles. The problem is: Why is this miracle granted, and this miracle withheld? Why does this child live and this child die? Why is one person cured and not another? Why is this prayer answered with a wonderful Yes, and other prayers with silence, or a No?

We don't understand the "no" answers, and probably we are not going to understand many of them in this life. But we will understand ultimately that the "no" always has a reason. When we say No to our children, we say No because there is a reason for saying No, a reason for their greater good. When my kids were little I'd say, "Do what I tell you to do when I tell you to do it. Then I'll explain to you that there's a truck coming down the road." Quite often we simply do not see the truck on the road that God is warning us against. We may never in this life know that it was about to run us down.

Surely when Joseph was sold into Egypt he knew only the ugliness of what his brothers had done, and had no inkling of how God was going to use it for good.

Passage #2:
Joseph's life, with its sudden reversals of fortune, was more dramatic than most of our lives. But I have learned much from him on my journey towards becoming human. Surely after his brothers sold him into Egypt he learned how to observe and contemplate, looking out on all that was around him, rather than in towards his own pride and arrogance. In Egypt he learned to see everything as belonging to God: his dreams; the stars at night; the prisoners under his care; Asenath, his wife; and their two sons; the starving people who, like the prisoners, were entrusted to his care, and for the appeasing of whose hunger he was responsible. He had learned to live in the moment, rather than in the projections of his grandiose dreams. It was only when he let his pride go that there was any possibility of the dreams being fulfilled.

We, too, are to live in the moment, the very now. Our roots are deep in the past, but our branches reach up into the future. In the present we observe and contemplate all that God has made, and all that we, with our stiff-necked pride and greed and judgmentalism, have made of what God has made. Are we not created to love and care for our planet, and to love each other enough to live in peace? ...

We are amazing, we human beings. We do wonderful things, and we do terrible things -- but, above all, we make marvelous stories.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/13/2002 07:02:00 AM

Anyone defending Trent Lott (by pointing out the racial baiting of the Democratic party) is completely missing the point. You are out of step with the magnitude of what has happened here. It doesn't matter which party flubs up. It doesn't matter! Jesse Jackson completely lost any credibility for me years ago when he referred to New York City as "Hymietown". I don't listen to a word the man says anymore. LOSER. Trent Lott is a loser too.

Also: I have HEARD the clip from Strom Thurmond's party when Trent Lott said what he said. And hearing his voice say those words is quite a different thing from reading it in cold black-and-white. It comes alive, in a chilling way. He sounds angry, proud, defensive. It's a big ol' "F*** you", and there is no mistaking what the hell he is referring to. He is now saying that he was referring to Thurmond's advocacy for economic development and national defense. This is ridiculous. No way. Listen to the clip for yourself. It's at the very beginning of Sean Hannity's interview with him. I don't like Sean Hannity, but the interview is actually pretty good. He keeps repeating Lott's words back to him, saying: "So what problems were you referring to exactly?" and "What did you mean by 'My state voted for him and we're proud of it.'" But the thing which struck me is Trent Lott's tone when he said the thing which has caused all this trouble.

I'm an actress, okay? Acting, essentially, is all about human behavior. Trying to be truthful, trying to represent human behavior truthfully. Now, yes, everybody keeps saying that you can't know what is in a man's heart, but I don't pretend to know what is in Lott's heart. All I know was what I heard in his voice.

When he said: "All I know is, that the people in MY state voted for Thurmond..." [audience laughter] And then he says, over the laughter, and he sounds angry and defensive: "And we're PROUD of it."

Michele at A Small Victory analyzes what SHE heard in the interview. Kind of interesting. She said "I felt Hannity asked Lott tough questions, but it seemed that the questions were designed to enable Lott to defend himself, not explain himself." An interesting distinction. Read on, Macduff.

Here are a list of quotes calling for Lott to step down. I consciously chose conservative journalists.

Charles Krauthammer: A Clear Choice of Words
It was not "a poor choice of words," as he later pleaded. It was a perfectly clear choice of words articulating a perfectly clear idea. Had Lott stopped with Thurmond-for-president, 1948, this might have been written off as idle and presumably insincere birthday flattery for a very, very old man. But Lott did not stop there. He added, fatally, that America would have been better off had it embraced Dixiecrat segregation. With that, Lott cut off any retreat ...

The editorial goes on with an eloquent acknowledgement of the civil rights movement, and how tone deaf Lott is, in regards to the whole thing. But I'm glad Krauthammer called Lott on the most obvious thing at all: No. It was not a poor choice of words. He said exactly what he meant to say.

Robert A. George: Vacant Lott
Perhaps Sen. Lott should ask Alabama-born Condoleezza Rice — whose childhood friends were killed in a church bombing — if she believes her life would have been better if Strom Thurmond had become president...Most people don't expect a 100-year old Thurmond or an 85-year-old Robert Byrd (D., W.V.) to completely escape their racist pasts. But Trent Lott is an adult baby boomer, of the same generation as the current and previous presidents. The leaders of this generation supposedly went through the '60s and supposedly learned a few things about race. That seems true of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. But Trent Lott is waxing nostalgic about the Confederacy and Dixiecrats.

Andrew Sullivan: Trent Lott Must Go
After his disgusting remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, it seems to me that the Republican Party has a simple choice. Either they get rid of Lott as majority leader; or they should come out formally as a party that regrets desegregation and civil rights for African-Americans.

David Horowitz: Trent Lott Should Resign
Desegregation was the most important domestic event in Lott's lifetime, especially because of his role as a leading politician in what was once the most segregated racist state in the union. If he was oblivious to the implications of his outrageous remarks at Thurmond's party, that is reason enough for him to step down as Republican leader in the Senate.

I would be more tempted to defend Lott – who I doubt actually believes what he said – if Lott didn’t have habit of saying things that make me cringe. Look: It may be a function of the political circles I travel in, but I simply don’t know anybody who really loves Trent Lott. Some people may think he’s harmless or an able technician or better than some alternatives, but I’ve never heard anyone give an impassioned defense of Lott as a thinker or political strategist. He was useless during impeachment, he loves pork (not the tastey kind), and -- obviously -- he's ineffective in communicating a coherent and principled message. So tell me, What is he good for?

Armstrong Williams: Again, GOP drops the ball on the race issue
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott recently said that the Unites States would have been better off if Thurmond had actually been elected president in 1948. Lott made the comments during a birthday party celebration for Thurmond, who turned 100 last week. Lott went on to express pride in the fact that his home state of Mississippi supported Thurmond's 1948 presidential bid. "We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." You mean those pesky problems associated with letting Negroes into our schools and churches? That is what Thurmond campaigned against in 1948.

And also: Our Republican leaders cannot keep squinting their eyes to Lott's racial insensitivity. As congressmen, they bear a dual responsibility to represent the nation's conscience and to act as respectable faceplates for the party. By giving Lott a pass on his racist-seeming remarks, they've suggested the worst kind of stereotype: that lurking beneath the Republican party is a private identity that harkens back to a time when blacks were valued only as a cheap source of labor.

Virginia Postrel: LOTTS AND LOTTS
In regards to the "Hey, it was a joke" defense: Jokes have a certain structure and humorous quality. There's no attempt to be funny in saying, "Life in the United States would be better if such-and-such real-life candidate had won the presidency." That's just a flat statement about politics. Where's the punch line?

  contact Sheila Link: 12/12/2002 11:44:00 AM

Thursday, December 12, 2002  

There will be no more "country of the week" entries for this week. (To all three of you out there who regularly read them!)

Last night, I spent out in Brooklyn, babysitting my nephew Cashel. I woke up with him this morning and took him to school. Which cracked my heart. Seeing him in his social environment, walking up the steps into this massive school, sitting down at the cafeteria table with other kids to color ... What courage it takes to be a child. You have so little control of your destiny. Even if you are cripplingly shy, you have to deal. Even if you don't want to do something, there are grownups around who will make sure you do it, if it needs to be done. They are such little beings, such sweethearts. It killed me to leave him there, but he was in very good hands.

We walked through the early morning of Park Slope, holding hands. Feeling his teeny fingers in mine. He talked nonstop. The entire walk there. It was all about Treasure Planet.

And last night, after reading him Casey at the Bat, we lay down in bed for a second, and he said sleepily, "Tell me stories from your life." This was a first! Usually, it's: "Tell me a story about a spaceship." So I told him three stories from my childhood, and he was asleep in a matter of two seconds.

So this is a round-about way of saying, I slept over in Brooklyn, and my "country of the week" index cards are at home.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/12/2002 10:47:00 AM


Of Teddy Emily never heard, save from occasional items in newspapers which represented him as advancing steadily in his career. He was beginning to have an international reputation as a portrait painter. The old days of magazine illustrations were gone and Emily was never now confronted with her own face -- or her own smile -- or her own eyes -- looking out at her from some casual page.

One winter Mrs. Kent died. Before her death she sent Emily a brief note -- the only word Emily had ever had from her.

"I am dying. When I am dead, Emily, tell Teddy about the letter. I've tried to tell him, but I couldn't. I couldn't tell my son I had done that. Tell him for me."

Emily smiled sadly as she put the letter away. It was too late to tell Teddy. He had long ceased to care for her. And she -- she would love him forever. And even though he knew it not, surely such love would hover around him all his life like an invisible benediction, not understood but dimly felt, guarding him from ill and keeping from him all things of harm and evil.

-- L. M. Montgomery, Emily's Quest

  contact Sheila Link: 12/12/2002 10:36:00 AM


The guy always creeped me out anyway. Anyone who smiles that consistently is hiding a deep ugliness of soul, in my opinion. He's nasty, he's vile, he's stupid. My brother wrote me an email, brief, blunt, and all it said was: "What is up with Trent Lott? Is he a retard?" Yes. He is. A man with so little political savvy has no business being the leader of a party. I don't buy his apology either. I don't buy it at all. The man is a racist. He is a segregationist. I'm glad this controversy isn't going away. I am glad that all of this heat is on him, and he is on the defensive. I am glad that both sides are calling for him to resign. Actually, one blogger I read today, a conservative blogger (can't remember which one), said (I copied it down), "Trent Lott doesn’t need to resign because of his bordering-on-idiotic remarks at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. He needs to be kicked out."

Agreed. Get rid of the bastard.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/11/2002 04:34:00 PM

Wednesday, December 11, 2002  

The wording of the following review of Maid in Manhattan made me laugh.

Choice quotes:

Fiennes has brought substantial intensity to the screen in the past, but here he speaks all of his lines abnormally slowly, as if that would lessen the pain.


This movie belongs to J. Lo, a star who has already reached the career point where her presence informs and overwhelms anything she does. When Lopez gets dressed in the employee locker room, instead of thinking things like "Oh, there's a maid getting ready for work," the conversation in your head is something like, "Oh, J. Lo looks pretty good in a maid outfit, especially when she has her hair down like that."

Melody is right. J. Lo is overwhelming the world with her image.


Her image of late, at least in film, has been aggressively prim, a long way from the Fly Girl dancer she once was on In Living Color. Forget about Ben Affleck, it's as if she broke up with P. Diddy and got hitched to her white turtleneck.

I think that might have been my favorite caustic comment except that one paragraph later you reach this gem:

At this point in the movie, the concern is not will Ralph and Jennifer make it after all, but rather, why did she sleep with that uncomfortable-looking Harry Winston necklace on all night?

  contact Sheila Link: 12/11/2002 03:59:00 PM

I forgot to mention two other funny comments from Dempsey's the other night.

A rather impassioned discussion broke out, I cannot recall the topic. I do know that we all were expressing our varied degrees of concern and outrage about said topic. Melody suddenly busted in, as though she were staying completely on point, "MY main concern is that my ENTIRE life is being taken over by J. Lo." She was dead serious. We just started laughing, and bitching about the prevalence of J. Lo. I, quite frankly, have had ENOUGH.

The topic of J. Lo prompted Rachel to interject, "What I don't understand is why every single one of J. Lo's songs is about saying 'I'm real ... I'm real ...' "

Too true. She's just "Jenny from the block"? Yeah, right...

  contact Sheila Link: 12/11/2002 03:47:00 PM


Umero Nuno, my brother's alter-ego of Umberto Eco of all people, has just emailed me again, giving me a brief introduction to his latest work (which Umero had read to us at the Thanksgiving table, and which I eventually will post here, and which has the supremely stupid title: Il Knight, El Squiro, Da Wizard, y Del Map-O to ???). This introduction is so stupid and so funny to me that I am posting it here.

The Phantasm of the Counterintuitive

When I embarked on the journey towards the tower of words that ultimately became Il Knight, El Squiro, Da Wizard, y Del Map-O to ??? , I could hardly have foreseen the forest for the trees, an exquisite contradiction as much of the narrative concerns both forest and trees. A lonely night in Belize during the coldest night of the summer of 1973 was the birthplace for the exodus of this literary conundrum. Batting away the spiders and butter-churns that constantly inhabit my dream life, I seized upon the kernel of a rickety garden of decomposing flowers, alive and yet past the point of death. Without delving into simplicity for simplicity's sake, there was a knight in my dream.

From my earliest days as a photo-journalist covering the uprising of immigrant stockbrokers in Pre-Delavian Panama, the subject of servitude and cosmopolitan insubordination has haunted me, a specter with the staying power of a middle reliever on those famous 1970's Cuban barnstorming baseball teams. The representations of this fascination, negatives showing suited human males quietly shouting mutely while phones ring invisibly all around them, slowly merged with an almost preternatural subjugation into devilry and mischief and became a Marquez-ian White Whale, Ahab in a laundry room. I had to write.

Poring extensively through my long-deceased father's notes, I quickly deciphered a pattern linking prolonged exposure to tin clothing of any kind and gout. Drawing a parallel between the bloated excesses of the parlor games of ether-drunk Finnish housewives and the reproductive traits of the African stoat was an obvious result, and with help from my long-time editor Gloria Tanaka, I avoided these pitfalls and steered directly down the Nile of the Bogart/Hepburn dramaturgical Queen.

Da Wizard was a complete surprise to me. Not having envisioned magic of any kind encroaching on the denouement, I resisted the birth of this character, going so far as to scribble out paragraph after paragraph that his fictional self insisted upon. His power, in the end, was greater than the futile "no" I uttered, and ultimately became the story's only truly human character, in spite of his inherent connection to the world of the unreal. By the time 1980 rolled around and the three pages were painstakingly rounding into shape, I poured Kool-Aid containers worth of tears out of my benign eyes at the thought of losing a force of nature such as he to the whim of completion...

  contact Sheila Link: 12/11/2002 12:57:00 PM



The people

I must admit that I have run out of things I can talk about in any knowledgeable way about the Ukraine. I will close with a couple of quotes from Colin Thubron's book Among the Russians. This book was published in 1983, and it was based on Thubron's travels through Russia (western Russia), Georgia, Armenia, Latvia, Estonia, and the Ukraine. The Soviet Union was still a behemoth at the time, albeit a rotting one. But all of these countries were still under the thumb of Moscow. Thubron drove around these countries in his car, camping in camp sites, and talking with people. It's kind of a depressing book, actually. There is next to no intimation of the cataclysmic changes which would rock the world a mere six years later. The entire Soviet system is just maintaining. Like that joke about all of Russia on a broken train, and the Soviet leaders pull the shades down and demand that everybody on the train pretend that they are still moving.

The first quote is from Thubron's vodka-soaked experience at one camp ground in Zaporozhye, in the Ukraine. He ends up hanging out with a group of 20 year old students. Music is playing, and he dances with one girl:

From Among the Russians, by Colin Thubron:
She was a 19 year old student from the local polytechnic ... She looked embarrassed and lost. "You're English?" She jigged in my arms with her head turned away, blushing. "You're not really English?" She answered my questions in rushed, flat monosyllables. The polytechnic was quite nice. Dancing was all right. Zaporozhye was quite nice. But I wasn't really English?

I settled with the students round our table, talking about poetry; one was eloquent on Blok, another passionate about Yesenin. Albert got fed up. He tried to join in, but he was irreversibly of the Jack London generation. In a moment, I thought, he would quote Burns. "They're just students," he said. "They don't know anything. They've no experience of life." And they seemed indeed to be of a different race. Alternately my gaze focused on them and on Albert through the deepening pool of my inebriation. I was not sure if I were looking at a generation gap or at some other, deeper human division. "You're my guest," Albert mumbled, "not theirs ..."

They were gentle with him, as with a child. They refused to take offense. His petty vanities and ritualized hospitality seemed to be as foreign to them as to me. When his talk turned crassly to politics, they deflected him. "No, no, no," they said. Politics threatened differences; they were less important than the flesh and blood of my presence. When Albert tried to force drinks on me, they tactfully dissuaded him.

I was dimly aware that I was witnessing two Russias. I hoped that one was the future and the other the past, although even in my drunkenness I realized that nothing was as simple as that. Yet Albert was typical of his deprived generation. He was practical, tough, and narrow. To him these others were too pampered and easy. They were, I sensed, apolitical. He resented them; and they, in turn, looked on him not only with the old Russian respect for seniority but with a feeling that he was somehow irrelevant, and belonged to a world of absolutes which was forever past.

"They're too young," he said.

End quote...

I'll take a couple of more quotes from his book, on the major cities of the Ukraine (it's very interesting), and then I will call it a day.

On Odessa:
I imagined the gossipy pre-Revolutionary port which I had read about somewhere: the Grrek, Jewish, and Italianite cosmopolis with its polyglot interchange of wares and ideas, its tang of French architecture. But morning disclosed a city quieter, tamer, more uniform. Its trade, once the highest in the Soviet Union, has been deflected to the satellite port of Ilyichovsk ... leaving Odessa becalmed among its 19th century streets and plane trees. It rises above the sea in terraced avenues fringed with old business houses ... The Odessans show an old humor and entrepreneurial cunning. One in every three families is employed by the sea, and a desultory life still revolves around the cafes.

On Yalta:
Once these shores were the evening playground of the tsarist aristocracy. Their lush slopes gleam and bristle with the architectural fancies of western Europe and the Orient. But now the palaces have been turned into sanatoria for the people (as inscriptions on the base of every Lenin statue remind you). Confections in the Moorish or Ottoman taste, overblown Swiss chalets and Renaissance palazzi, sprout and ramble among parklands or botanical gardens fat with oak and arbutus ... Yalta itself has doubled its size in twenty years; but its alleys still twine through a 19th century heart of parks and verandahed mansions, and its quay tinkles with a children's funfair; while higher inland, in a stone house and a garden jungly with lilies, Chekhov wrote The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard.

The Crimea
The Crimea, like the Caucasus, is darkened by a displaced people. On a thin suspicion of collaboration with Germany, its two hundred thousand Tartars were deported en masse to Central Asia by Stalin in 1944, and their role in the partisan fight against Nazism was systematically distorted or suppressed. In 1967 the charges against them were withdrawn; but thousands had already died in the hardship of exile, and their efforts to filter back into the Crimea have been harassed ever since.

On Kiev:
Kiev, "the mother of Russian cities," still keeps the unrest, the size and a trace of the refinement of a great capital. From the 9th to the 12th centuries it was the heart of a Russia which flowered in the sunlight of Byzantium, standing where the Dnieper headwaters gathered the Viking traffic before flooding south united to the Black Sea. Now, on one bank, the apartments sprawl in a colder-than-usual rhetoric -- within 15 years the population has doubled to two and a half million -- while opposite, where the Church of St. Andrew rises like a trumpet-blast from the old city, the boulevards are plump with spaced gardens and parklands ...

Kiev is still the capital of the Ukraine, and was a strategic lodestar for the Germans in 1941. War memorials reach a deafening crescendo: mounds of immortality, obelisks of glory, parks of eternity. I noticed more than ten which had been built as late as the 1960s and 70s. Russians and Germans between them destroyed much of the central city, and in the rambling complex called the Monastery of the Cross, once Russia's holiest shrine, the 11th century cathedral was reduced to a shattered body upholding a single dome. Far down the monastery's gardened slopes, a covered way plunges to a little square and a church. The place has been disused for two decades. Nothing gives you to expect what is coming. But within the church the plaster-smooth walls suddenly close around the monks' catacombs. For hundreds of yards, past dimly gleaming chapels and down water-dripping steps, the corridor beetles and bifurcates through a ghastly mausoleum. Robed in white silk, their faces covered by purple velet or black embroidery and their feet slippered in silk, the abbots lie in their glass-topped coffins, with a single claw-like hand exposed on the breast. The cell-shrines are stacked with bones. Blackened skulls gape in their powder or leer from glass jars. Eight centuries of skeletons and mummified cadavers lie in their niches, hung with anti-religious plaques -- the intolerance of Marxism hounding them even in their dust -- until the defiled labyrinth washes you up again before the church's tarnished icon-screen...

You would not know, from its exterior, that Kiev's cathedral of Haghia Sophia contained a pure 11th century core, built at the zenith of Russia's early power...Inside, the Byzantine glory breaks like an ocean in wave upon wave of fresco and mosaic, embracing for ever the divine and earthly order of things, engulfing arches, pillars and galleries in its petrified and self-existent splendour. In the dome hovers the soft mosaic presence of Christ the Ruler... He looks unfit to rule...

The tourist groups were attending doggedly to their guides, and were being dealt a Marxist interpretation of theocratic art ... Once this Byzantine world had exercised so profound an appeal to the Russian spirit that despite all persecution its decline would be inexplicable had not its power so clearly been deflected into a new redemption on earth. Sometimes in the past months I had almost envied this entirety of vision. Now, wandering in the forest of pillars, I felt old and alienated ... And as I walked through these aisles of faded certainty, it seemed that after even the most tragic failings had been counted, despite the public tyranny and private dissimulation, the travestied history and the sallow men on the edge of crowds, there yet remained a bruised grandeur about this race who could still dream, however faintly, of a perfectible community on earth.

But all around me the frescoed ancestors of this foolishness were thinning away. The blemished saints and Church fathers no longer held the heart and gaze. They were draining back into the paster, into their unimaginable centuries.

"It was just superstition," a guide said. "Primitive daydreams..."

Thubron was tailed by the KGB his entire time in Kiev. He was afraid to visit the friends he had there, because it would have gotten them into trouble. His room was searched, his diaries gone through.
It seems foolish, in retrospect, that Kiev should be so contaminated for me. I thought it a handsome city, but it remains discolored in my mind. I remember staring into foodshops whose stock was wretchedly little and expensive: in one only a heap of decapitated chickens, in another some crates of aubergines. And this was the capital of the Ukraine, of the Black Earth!

Thubron meets up with Julian in the Crimea. Julian lives in the Ukraine. He is Russian. They travel together for a couple of days. This final anecdote brings tears to my eyes.
It was our last evening. He had bought a bottle of Caucasion dessert wine -- we never normally drank much together -- and we celebrated a somber farewell. From time to time his gaze wandered uneasily to the restaurant television. "You've heard the news?"

It came non-committally from the television announcer: the outbreak of war between Iran and Iraq.

We stared at one another, wondering where the Soviet and Western governments would stand, what we would be told to feel. "It looks like Moscow and Washington are hanging back," Julian said. "It's not time for us to report for duty." He tried to laugh. But we touched glasses unhappily, as if already clothed in invisible battledress. The news had momentarily reduced us.

"Sometimes I think of my father," Julian said, "and of that whole war generation, and I think: 'Let the dead bury their dead.' " He grimaced. "Is that in the Bible or Longfellow?" Then out of his schoolboy memory, he began to quote Burns. I suppressed a moan as My Heart's in the Highlands came up. But the words rolled out of him with a kind of ponderous wonder, restoring the poem to itself ...

Dusk had turned to night, and the wine glasses empty. Above us, as we wandered back to our huts, the one crag stood out in moon-streaked solitude from the consensus of the rest. "In the Kruschev years, the golden years," Julian said, "I managed to buy a copy of Richard Aldington's Death of a Hero -- the book of a pacifist. Have you read it? It had a deep influence on me." We stopped in front of our hut doors. The noise of a radio sounded in the trees: Iraqi advance, Iranian casualties, American silence. We listened. "I don't know how to talk about our meeting like this" -- he was suddenly fumbling for phrases. "It's important, you and I ... like two people meeting in outer space ... " He ran his fingers over his face, as if to order its expression, his thoughts. Outer space. His country immaterial.

As we said goodbye, he clasped my hand and said, "If in some future time I see you in the sights of my rifle -- I'll miss."

"And I won't fire at all."

We laughed, but with deep emotion. I've never felt so brief a friendship more.

Next country: CROATIA

  contact Sheila Link: 12/11/2002 07:50:00 AM

"I'm very conscious of my decline in popularity, but I don't permit it to stop me because I have the example of so many playwrights before me. I know the dreadful notices Ibsen got. And O'Neill -- he had to die to make 'Moon' successful. And to me it has been providential to be an artist, a great act of providence that I was able to turn my borderline psychosis into creativity -- my sister Rose did not manage this. So I keep writing. I am sometimes pleased with what I do -- for me, that's enough."

-- Tennessee Williams, interviewed in 1981

  contact Sheila Link: 12/11/2002 07:43:00 AM

I had such a busy work-filled weekend (desk-erecting, and then a writing powwow with a good friend, helping her with a proposal) that I desperately needed some R&R last night, so I headed down to Dempsey's. My brother was bartending, and I knew Hunter and Rachel would also be there. Rachel had gone to the prom at Yale over the weekend, so there were many stories I needed to hear. Basically, I needed to have a beer and chill the hell out.

Melody, my brother's girlfriend, was also there.

I had missed the key moment of the evening, when Melody, Hunter, and Rachel all promised one another that they would do something with their lives, something creative, something fabulous, that they would live the life they had dreamt, and make a difference. Or something like that. I wasn't there.

Melody was saying, "Because who's to say that years from now, this night won't be referenced in articles about us? Like: they toasted to living out their dreams at the bar at Dempsey's. Luminaries such as Hunter Hanger, who did the fabulous mural on 5th Avenue was there, as was Sheila O'Malley, who was the primary force behind bringing out indigenous playwriting..." Melody was completely making stuff up off the top of her head, which was supremely amusing. "Who's to say that we can't be like the Algonquin Round Table?"

Hunter's response to all of this was the question: "Does anybody have a megaphone?" This, obviously, struck us all dumb. What does that have to do with anything? Also: why the hell would any of us have a megaphone?

Hunter is so desperate for a job that he wants to dress up in a suit, print out his resumes, and walk up and down the New York sidewalks, calling into the megaphone that he is looking for a job.

I said to Rachel, "We should chip in and get Hunter a megaphone for Christmas."

Hunter exclaimed, "How much can a bullhorn be???" Which was one of the classic quotes of the night.

In the middle of the bullhorn conversation, Melody said, "Hunter, do you know how to silk-screen?" Pause. "I know that has nothing to do with what we were just talking about. But I need to learn how to silk-screen. I have a T-shirt project I want to do."

Everyone sparkling with new plans, suddenly.

Other amusing quotes of the night:

Rachel regaled us with many tales which are now emblazoned in my mind:

--She has matching poisonous-spider-bite scars on the backs of her legs, from two separate occasions. She was bitten by a white-tailed spider (the most poisonous spider in the world -- DO NOT CLICK ON THIS LINK IF SPIDERS FREAK YOU OUT) in Sydney, and then had to get herself to the hospital through the last day of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

--She lived in a neighborhood in Sydney which was so bad and so dangerous that there were skulls on the sidewalk. SKULLS. Hunter and I kept asking her to go back to that. "Wait a minute, wait a minute ... SKULLS???" Rachel said, "It was the worst neighborhood in the Pacific Rim, basically."

--She described someone as "the belle of the ball in Santa Barbara".

--She told us about her friends who were getting married. The woman is from Pakistan, and the man is an Irish-Catholic from Quincy, Massachusetts. So clearly there are some conflicts of interest here. But the two love each other. He decided to convert to Islam, basically for her family, so that she will be able to maintain contact with her family in Pakistan, and visit her homeland, and not be shunned (or arrested and killed). Hunter was interrogating Rachel: "Is he basically doing this because he loves her or is he actually converting his religious beliefs..." Rachel said, "I am sure if he falls down the stairs he will not say 'Praise Allah', he will say 'Please, Jesus, help me.'"

Oh my Lord, we howled at that one. Just howled.

Hunter and I were a rapt audience. But we also kept saying, "Okay, hold on a second...I need to get back to the whole skulls-on-the-sidewalk thing ... WHAT??"

  contact Sheila Link: 12/10/2002 10:18:00 AM

Tuesday, December 10, 2002  




As I spoke about yesterday, the Ukraine proclaimed independence in 1918. This independence was extremely short-lived, but it has remained fresh in the country's consciousness.

For example:
In January, 1990, thousands joined hands to celebrate that first independence in 1918. This would have been unheard-of, even two or three years before. But the tone of the world at that time was one of upheaval, change, hope. Countries breaking free of their chains. Pope John Paul ratified the structure of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

Once we hit 1990, history starts speeding up again. After decades of silence.

In March of 1990, elections are held throughout the republic. The democratic opposition comes to power.

On June 16, 1990, there is a Declaration of Parliament stating that the Ukraine will be neutral and nonatomic.

In autumn of 1990, there were student strikes, and miners' strikes. The students were demanding the resignations of all the Soviet leaders (many who had been incorporated in this new government.) The country was sliding into chaos.

In August, 1991, there was the infamous coup d'etat attempt in Moscow. Which is interesting on 5,000 different levels, but basically what the coup d'etat did was reveal (once and for all) the indecisive incompetence of the leaders in Moscow. The Ukraine decided immediately to choose its own destiny, and the Supreme Council proclaims the Ukraine's independence on August 24, 1991.

Since then, the Ukraine's executive branch has basically been taken over by gangsters. It is so amazing how many of the former countries of the USSR have nearly identical experiences following the collapse.

The governement is like a mafia. It embezzles cash. It manipulates elections, appropriates businesses, destroys the media, blackmails people it doesn't like. It's a netherworld of vaguely criminal activity.

More and more Ukrainians are emigrating.

I have to admit I don't know the steps in between 1990 and now, which would lead to this development (except for the fact that it's the same old story in all the former republics -- they have no experience with representative democracy, the Soviets crushed the infrastructure of the government, there is a power vacuum and so these gangster mafia types have a very easy time filling up the gap).

There is also the little matter of ethnicity and ethnic cleansing, which is such a common theme in these former republics. In the 1980s and the 1990s a virtual war was fought in the Ukraine over language. 350 years of Russification had obliterated Ukrainian. There was a ban on printing books in Ukrainian. Etc. Well, the Ukrainians started rebelling. There was a desire to get rid of all Russian. To go back to their roots.

A lovely theory, no? The only problem is is that there are millions and millions of Russians who live in the Ukraine, and who have lived there for generations, and who consider themselves Ukrainian. They speak Russian, but they think of themselves as belonging to the Ukraine, as well. The Ukrainians beg to differ. This is the same old "we belong here, you don't" bulls*** which causes so much trouble all over the world.

It is like the colonists who ended up fleeing Angola when the revolution occurred. These were Portugese people, yes. They were the "colonizers". Whatever. These people had lived in Angola for generations. Angola was their home. But the natives disagreed and rode them out of the country on a rail. Of course, too, the Portugese were the only people in the country who knew how to do the things which would keep a country running. But the natives weren't thinking logically. They were thinking ethnically.

So now, the Ukraine has been described as two countries: Eastern and Western. These two sides have almost completely different characters. None of this has been resolved yet, by the way. The nation has not cohered, or worked it all out. The current president, Kuchma, was re-elected in 1999 by intimidation and fraud. The Ukraine is losing it, quite frankly.

The Western side of the Ukraine belonged to Poland before the war. It is definitely more Ukrainian than the eastern side of the country. They speak Ukrainian here. The soul of the country and the people survived here, through the Soviet tyranny.

The Eastern side of the Ukraine is a different story, resting, as it does, right up against the Soviet Union. 13 million native Russians live here. The "Russification" campaign was brutal on the eastern side of the Ukraine. The entire Ukrainian intelligentsia was murdered by Stalin, in the 1930s, and, of course, the country has not yet recovered from that loss. It will take generations more.

Next: The Ukrainian people

  contact Sheila Link: 12/10/2002 07:50:00 AM

This quote is a poem, by Mary Oliver, and I'm sending it out to my parents. Apparently, the gannet has appeared in Rhode Island, and my parents were going out on Sunday to try to see if they could spot them at the beach anywhere. Mary Oliver wrote a poem about gannets, and here it is:

I am watching the white gannets
blaze down into the water
with the power of blunt spears
and a stunning accuracy --
even though the sea is riled and boiling
and gray with fog
and the fish are nowhere to be seen,
they fall, they explode into the water
like white gloves,
then they vanish,
then they climb out again,
from the cliff of the wave,
like white flowers --
and still I think
that nothing in this world moves
but as a positive power --
even the fish, finning down into the current
or collapsing
in the red purse of the beak,
are only interrupted from their own pursuit
of whatever it is
that fills their bellies --
and I say:
life is real,
and pain is real,
but death is an imposter,
and if I could be what once I was,
like the wolf or the bear
standing on the cold shore,
I would still see it --
how the fish simply escape, this time,
or how they slide down into a black fire
for a moment,
then rise from the water inseparable
from the gannets' wings.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/10/2002 07:45:00 AM



My friend Beth has mentioned to me that she would like to hear about the Ukraine, since her husband's family is from there originally. I do have a little stack of index cards about the Ukraine, of course I do, but it may not be enough to get me through the entire week. We'll see.


God, I kind of can't even begin to write about the Ukraine without at first acknowledging the famine in the 1930s. It hovers over everything in this country. It is the first thing that comes into my brain. Ukraine = famine.

The Ukraine was called "the bread basket" of the Soviet Union. It is a large nation with fertile soil and hospitable people. Basically, it is one large farm. The Ukrainians are very attached to the land. They have a "peasant patriotism", their feelings for their own nation rooted in the rich soil. Ukrainians that emigrate to other areas of the world invariably become very influential and very successful. They are ambitious and resilient.

Until 1917, the Ukraine was one of the world's tapestries of culture, religion, and language. Peoples overlapped here. Then the Bolsheviks conquered the nation. The Ukraine was one of the countries most severely damaged by Communism, the people were some of the most trapped and terrorized: mainly because the Ukraine was the most valuable commodity the Soviets had. The Ukraine fed the entire empire. There was no way on earth that the Ukraine would ever break free of the Soviet Imperium. They had no independence, no freedom of movement, no slack was ever given (like was given to some of the other more remote republics). The Ukraine was crushed like a bug under the thumb of the Imperium.

They declared independence in 1918, directly following being conquered. This was very short-lived, of course. And then the relentless crushing began.

The Great Famine was caused by the collectivization of the farms, a "program" (or a pogrom) implemented across the Soviet Union. Tens and tens of millions (this is not an exaggeration) died as a result of collectivization. And the world did nothing. Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Charles Lindbergh traveled to Russia in the middle of this great hidden famine. I have her journals from that time, and she writes in glorious positive terms about the "busy" Russians. She loved seeing everybody so "busy", so productive. She had never been in a country which had such industry, such commitment to public works. It's disgusting to read her journals now (at least her journals during World War II), because of 20/20 hindsight. They were willfully lied to. The happy productive Russians were trotted out for their benefit. And 200 miles away, the fields of the Ukraine were piled high with corpses.


In brief: collectivization began in 1929. Lenin was long gone. Trotsky was long gone. Stalin was now king. All of the USSR (and this is, like China, an entire country of peasants ... all they did was farm, and their entire lives was their LAND) had to be moved off of their own little farms into kholkozes (collectivized farms). People were moved into barracks, there were armed guards around the peripheries, there were gates outside the collective farms with lovely slogans like: Work is Beautiful. Or whatever. Communist bulls***. The peasants resisted this move. They did not want to go. They hunkered down.

Stalin sent hundreds of thousands of people into the gulag, the massive prison camp structure he erected throughout Siberia, and none of these people were ever heard of again.

The rest of them he decided to starve out. This was a conscious decision. Public policy.

The famine began in 1930 and lasted seven years.

Moscow determined the quotas that each village had to deliver to the state. These quotas were purposefully greater than whatever the land could yield. Authorities confiscated everything that was edible. Schools were closed. Three year olds had to work in the fields, to try to squeeze the quotas out of the land. No one was allowed to leave the villages. People who tried were shot.

The main repository of Ukrainian spirit is the peasantry. The main element of Ukrainian identity is the peasantry. Stalin had to destroy that peasantry.

In 1932, a terrifying edict came down called The Law of the Blade of Grain. It's so HEARTLESS, it just makes my blood boil. One could be shot or sent to prison for life if one stole one blade of grain.

Meanwhile, this famine is reaching massive proportions. It is a disaster. There were villages which resorted to cannibalism. There were not enough graves to contain all the dead. People lay in the streets, in the fields, in their own beds. Entire families dead from starvation in their own homes. Howling filling the streets, people crazed from hunger.

The Law of the Blade of Grain was Stalin's final screw. Outside each village were enormous grain fields. Every single blade of grain, due to the unrealistic quotas, was "earmarked" for Moscow. Within the village, people were starving. They had to work these fields, they had to harvest this grain which could conceivably save their lives and the lives of their families, but the punishment was not just severe, it was basically the end of your life. Nobody came out of the gulag. Soldiers and secret police were posted on watchtowers around the fields, to make sure nobody stole even ONE BLADE of grain.

Desperate mothers would send their toddlers into the field, to see if they could steal a couple of blades, in the hopes that their size would keep them better-hidden than an adult. Of course, many toddlers were shot dead because of this.

I have heard estimates that 30 million people starved as a result of collectivization and the Law of the Blade of Grain. This estimate may even be low.

Today, in the Ukraine, the collectivized farms still exist, but they are now abandoned. Derelict barracks, gates swinging on the hinges, peeling murals of sickles and clasped hands ... The ghost of the famine of course still exists in the Ukrainian psychology, but it also exists because of these falling-down buildings haunting the countryside.

Next: The events of 1991

  contact Sheila Link: 12/09/2002 07:49:00 AM

Monday, December 09, 2002  

Shelley was a volatile creature of air and fire; he seems never to have noticed what he ate or drank, except sometimes as a matter of vegetarian priinciple. Keats was earthy, with a sweet tooth and a relish for spices, cream and snuff, and in a letter mentions peppering his own tongue to bring out the delicious coolness of claret. When Shelley in Prometheus Unbound mentions: "The yellow bees in the ivy-bloom" he does not conjure up, as Keats would have done, the taste of the last hot days of the dying English year, with over-ripe blackberries, ditches full of water, and the hedges grey with old man's beard. He is not aware of the veteran bees whirring their frayed wings or sucking rank honey from the dusty yellow blossoms of the ivy.

--Robert Graves

  contact Sheila Link: 12/09/2002 07:39:00 AM


Is Islam inherently violent? Is it a bloody religion? Have they all completely lost their minds? I've been reading a lot on the topic lately, and just tripped across this discussion on the issue on Isn't a Pundit.

It all began because of Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs. Charles Johnson was a relatively liberal guy, posting music reviews, and cultural comments, until September 11. Since then, he has been a man with a mission. He has had it with fearful Western governments kissing Wahhabi ass. He puts up post after post after post after post, showing the horrific violent and insane turn Islam is taking. Johnson has made many enemies. He is now listed as a "hate site". WHATEVER. So it's only okay for the hate to be coming from one side, is that it? Fuggedaboutit. Little Green Footballs has an index-style, which is not all that appealing to me. So I do check in there every day, but it does have a rather monotonous tone.

Occasionally (about once a week), he posts the sermons from the major mosques in Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and other places. These sermons are posted on MEMRI, and Johnson doggedly copies and pastes them all into his site. And they are incredibly boring, it's all more of the same, but again: that is Johnson's point. Virulent anti-Semitism and violent calls to war are an everyday part of life for these people. I skim Little Green Footballs, my eyes bouncing over the words from the sermons: "O God, kill all the Jews..." "O God, help us in our war with the infidels..." Blah blah blah. The "blah blah blah" aspect is the most chilling part of it all.

Anyway, Little Green Footballs has been a flashpoint of controversy ever since September 11.

Isn't a Pundit takes up the debate, posting a long essay from a Muslim, directly attacking Little Green Footballs for only focusing on the wacko suicide-bomber hateful aspect of Islam. This Muslim is not a fanatical "You said something I didn't like, you infidel, now I must kill you and blow myself up as well" type of Muslim. He is a Muslim who lives in the West, loves the West, but tries to reconcile being a Muslim with living in the modern world, and doesn't always find it easy. He also is a Muslim who abhors the everyday violence being practiced right now in the rest of the Muslim world, in the name of Allah. Anyway, it's a very interesting discussion.

Check it out.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/08/2002 09:00:00 AM

Sunday, December 08, 2002  

This is from one of my favorite essays of all time: Goodbye to All That, by Joan Didion. If you like what you read, definitely go out and read the whole thing (it's in her compilation of essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem). The whole essay is maybe 7 pages long, but it captures an entire world, an era, a feeling. I love it. Here it is (of course, it's a bit long):

...I was in love with New York. I do not mean "love" in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again. I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peace and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out of the West and reached the mirage. I could taste the peace and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later -- because I did not belong there, did not come from there -- but when you are twenty-two or twenty-three, you figure that later you will have a high emotional balance and be able to pay whatever it costs. I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month...

Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach. Just around every corner lay something curious and interesting, something I had never seen before or done or known about. I could go to a party and meet someone who called himself Mr. Emotional Appeal and ran The Emotional Appeal Institute or Tina Onassis Blandford or a Florida cracker who was then a regular on what he called "the Big C," the Southampton-El Morocco circuit ("I'm well-connected on the Big C, honey," he would tell me over collard greens on his vast borrowed terrace), or the widow of the celery king of the Harlem market or a piano salesman from Bonne Terre, Missouri, or someone who had already made and lost two fortunes in Midland, Texas. I could make promises to myself and to other people and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of it would count.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/08/2002 08:32:00 AM


I put together my desk yesterday. I am literally so impressed with myself that it may take me some time to recover. I had absolutely no confidence that I would be able to get through it. I cleared my afternoon of appointments and obligations, and sat myself down with the directions, feeling the stress-level rise. I kept breathing on through it.

And I DID IT. I actually have two more minor steps to complete the whole thing, but I actually did it. I put together my desk.

I am thrilled about it. I cannot wait to set up my work space. And it's so much more satisfying because I put the whole damn thing together.

I felt so butch and so cool. Surrounded by tools and piles of screws and nails.

  contact Sheila Link: 12/08/2002 08:23:00 AM

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