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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Never forget

The Black Day Memorial


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On my bedside table

I will bear witness, 1942 - 1945 The Diaries of Victor Klemperer


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Where is Raed? ... May 7: He's back!...


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nota bene
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Barefoot kitchen witch


I was out last night until 3 in the morning. Aedin and I were invited, by a friend of hers, to go to The Pyramid Club, a dance-bar in the East Village that has 80s music every Friday night. This is the sort of thing which I always say, "Oh, wow, that sounds fun", and then I never do. I'm such a home-body, at heart. Which is all well and good, but there comes a point (at least there comes a point for me) where staying at home has come to mean that I am hiding from life.

I have had a very tough time, in the past couple of years.

So anyway: Aedin and I were determined that we were going to go out dancing. And it took some effort. We had to commit to it. (To people who love to go out, who "say yes" to every invite they get, who do not feel the pull of going home to their apartment every night ... this post may be incomprehensible.) Aedin called me early in the day to confirm. I needed time to prepare. I am not spontaneous. If I am going to be out until 3 in the morning, I need to know ahead of time.

After the play, she and I sat in the dressing room, putting on makeup, getting dolled up for our adventure. We talked later on in the evening, and we realized that we both have similar challenges. We stay at home, by ourselves. We go to the movies by ourselves. We do not explore the city, take advantage of it. Aedin called it "saying Yes". "Sheila, we have to start saying Yes to things. I'm going to start saying Yes, and so are you.":

So that was what our night at the Pyramid Club was about for us. It wasn't just a night out dancing. It was the dawning of a new philosophy. Say Yes.

The Pyramd Club, a dank weird-looking, green-neon-lit bar on Avenue A, looked vaguely familiar to me...Realized I had performed in a fund raiser there, a couple of years back. There's a bar in front, dark, green neon, black walls. A long bar, with a hip-chick bartender. Aedin and I felt like little kids, excited to dance. The 80s dance party didn't start til 11, so we hung out in the downstairs lounge, met up with Aedin's very nice friends, and chilled. There was a tape running on the big TV of a Cyndi Lauper concert.

We watched Cyndi bounding around on the stage, wearing a tutu, a bustier, and high-top sneakers. She was my fashion idol in high school. Aedin said, "She created the 80s. Madonna stole everything from her."

Then we danced. Like banshees. Surrounded by about 150 gay men. Everybody singing along to Sheena Easton and INXS. So funny, how ... the lyrics come back! After so many years.

The place blew a fuse, and descended us into pitch blackness. The music continued...but I literally could not see one foot in front of me. We kept dancing ... in absolute darkness. It was hilarious. We tried to stick together. Calling out: "Aediin?? Where are you?" Her voice right in my ear, "I'm right next to you."

She and I faded out at the exact same moment. "I'm leaving after this next song. I'm winding down." "Me too."

It took us 10 minutes to exit, the place was so obnoxoiusly full. There was a line out the door. It was one in the morning. Aedin and I, so proud of ourselves for "saying Yes" were ravenous. So we went to a Ukrainian diner on 2nd Avenue. And had an absolutely scrumptious dinner, surrounded by gorgeous Ukrainian waiters. The place was packed. Almost nobody was speaking English.

We saw a couple at a table in the corner ... a roly-poly man with bad hair, and a glammed-up woman who was obviously a prostitute. Her FACE. She was absolutely stunning, her skin a porcelain mask. Her hair was probably a wig. Overdone style, and the color was a shimmery silver-grey. She was probably 25 years old. Despite her beauty, her face was hard. HARD as iron, I am telling you.

Only in New York City. Could you go out at 1:30 a.m., and get a delicious Ukrainian dinner, and find the diner be packed. With all kinds of people. A table of Vietnamese kids, a Kurt Cobain look alike sitting next to us, a boisterous table of Ukrainians, laughing, eating boorscht, and then me and Aedin. We felt lucky. We felt happy.

We talked about our lives. Our writing. Important love affairs from the past. We talked about depression. We talked about feeling like it was "too late" for certain things to happen in our lives. Also about how easy it is in New York to isolate one's self. You can retreat from life here, and ... it's easy. Nobody would even notice. We talked about things we want to do. Things we want to experience in New York. We will be partners in crime.

We will say YES.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/29/2003 10:38:00 AM

Saturday, March 29, 2003  

Off to do my play. Take care, everyone. The Command Post, as always, is chugging away.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/28/2003 04:51:00 PM

Friday, March 28, 2003  


Grey clouds moving in over Manhattan. The sun is now hidden. I feel better.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/28/2003 04:35:00 PM


From this, his review of Laurel Canyon, he tries to describe the magnificence of Frances Macdormand's acting:

How McDormand creates her characters I do not understand. This one is the opposite of the mother who worries about her rock-writer son in "Almost Famous." She begins with a given--her physical presence--but even that seems to transmute through some actor's sorcery. In this movie, she's a babe; a seductive, experienced woman who trained in the 1970s and is still a hippie at heart. Now go to the Internet Movie Database and look at the photo that goes with her entry. Who does she look like? A high school teacher chaperoning at the prom. How she does it is a mystery, but she does, reinventing herself, role after role. "Laurel Canyon" is not a success, but McDormand is ascendant.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/28/2003 04:29:00 PM


Anything that makes me laugh is a welcome diversion these days. Roger Ebert just provided me with the only laugh of my day, thus far, in his review of the movie The Core.

It is too funny to excerpt, so here it is in full. Enjoy.

March 28, 2003

Josh Keyes: Aaron Eckhart
Maj. Rebecca Childs: Hilary Swank
Dr. Edward Brazzelton: Delroy Lindo
Dr. Conrad Zimsky: Stanley Tucci
Rat: DJ Qualls
Sergei Leveque: Tcheky Karyo
Col. Robert Iverson: Bruce Greenwood
Stick: Alfre Woodard

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Jon Amiel. Written by Cooper Layne and John Rogers. Running time: 135 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sci-fi life/death situations and brief strong language).


Hot on the heels of "Far from Heaven," which looked exactly like a 1957 melodrama, here is "The Core," which wants to be a 1957 science fiction movie. Its special effects are a little too good for that (not a lot), but the plot is out of something by Roger Corman, and you can't improve on dialogue like this:

"The Earth's core has stopped spinning!"

"How could that happen?"

Yes, the Earth's core has stopped spinning, and in less than a year the Earth will lose its electromagnetic shield and we'll all be toast--fried by solar microwaves. To make that concept clear to a panel of U.S. military men, Professor Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) of the University of Chicago borrows a can of room freshener, sets the propellant alight with his Bic, and incinerates a peach.

To watch Keyes and the generals contemplate that burnt peach is to witness a scene that cries out from its very vitals to be cut from the movie and made into ukulele picks. Such goofiness amuses me.

I have such an unreasonable affection for this movie, indeed, that it is only by slapping myself alongside the head and drinking black coffee that I can restrain myself from recommending it. It is only a notch down from "Congo," "Anaconda," "Lara Croft, Tomb Raider" and other films which those with too little taste think they have too much taste to enjoy.

To be sure, "The Core" starts out in an unsettling manner, with the crash-landing of the space shuttle. Considering that "Phone Booth," scheduled for release in October 2002, was shelved for six months because it echoed the Beltway Sniper, to put a shuttle crash in a March 2003 movie is pushing the limits of decorum, wouldn't you say?

And yet the scene is a hum-dinger. The Earth's disturbed magnetic field has confused the shuttle's guidance system, causing it to aim for downtown Los Angeles. Pilot Richard Jenkins insists "it's Mission Control's call," but co-pilot Hilary Swank has an idea, which she explains after the shuttle passes over Dodger Stadium at an altitude of about 800 feet.

If the shuttle glided over Wrigley Field at that altitude, I'm thinking it would have crashed into the 23rd Precinct Police Station by now, or at the very least a Vienna Red Hots stand. But no, there's time for a conversation with Mission Control, and then for the shuttle to change course and make one of those emergency landings where wings get sheared off and everybody holds on real tight.

Other portents show something is wrong with Gaia. Birds go crazy in Trafalgar Square, people with pacemakers drop dead, and then Josh Keyes and fellow scientist Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) decide that the Earth's core has stopped spinning. To bring such an unimaginable mass shuddering to a halt would result, one assumes, in more than confused pigeons, but science is not this film's strong point. Besides, do pigeons need their innate magnetic direction-sensing navigational instincts for such everyday jobs as flying from the top of Nelson's column to the bottom?

Dr. Zimsky leads the emergency team to the Utah Salt Flats, where eccentric scientist Edward Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo) has devised a laser device that can cut through solid rock. He has also invented a new metal named, I am not making this up, Unobtainium. (So rare is this substance that a Google search reveals only 8,060 sites selling Unobtainium ski gear, jackets, etc.) Combining the metal and the laser device into a snaky craft that looks like a BMW Roto-Rooter, the United States launches a $50 billion probe to the Earth's core, in scenes that will have colonoscopy survivors shifting uneasily in their seats.

Their mission: Set off a couple of nuclear explosions that (they hope) will set the core a-spinnin' again. The Earth's innards are depicted in special effects resembling a 1960s underground movie seen on acid, and it is marvelous that the crew has a windshield so they can see out as they drill through dense matter in total darkness. Eventually they reach a depth where the pressure is 800,000 pounds per square inch--and then they put on suits to walk around outside. Their suits are obviously made of something stronger and more flexible than Unobtainium. Probably corduroy.

The music is perfect for this enterprise: ominous horns and soaring strings. The cast includes some beloved oddballs, most notably DJ Qualls ("The New Guy"), who plays Rat, a computer hacker who can talk to the animals, or at least sing to the dolphins. The only wasted cast member is Alfre Woodard, relegated to one of those Mission Control roles where she has to look worried and then relieved.

"The Core" is not exactly good, but it knows what a movie is. It has energy and daring and isn't afraid to make fun of itself, and it thinks big, as when the Golden Gate Bridge collapses and a scientist tersely reports, "The West Coast is out." If you are at the video store late on Saturday night and they don't have "Anaconda," this will do.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/28/2003 04:20:00 PM


I'm sad today. Sad things are happening right now. In the world, and in my family.

Added onto this is the beginning of spring:

My mood changes when it becomes spring, and it is the opposite mood-shift of everybody else on the damn planet. I get cranky. Annoyed. Weepy. I desperately miss the low grey skies, the bitter wind. I feel harassed by the sun. I feel much more comfortable in my own skin during the grey winter months. It reminds me of that Plath poem "Couriers":

The word of a snail on the plate of a leaf?
It is not mine. Do not accept it.

Acetic acid in a sealed tin?
Do not accept it. It is not genuine.

A ring of gold with the sun in it?
Lies. Lies and a grief.

Frost on a leaf, the immaculate
Cauldron, talking and crackling

All to itself on the top of each
Of nine black Alps.

A disturbance in mirrors,
The sea shattering its grey one ----

Love, love, my season.

There is something in that imagery at the end (the grey sea, frost on the leaves, the black mountains), which has always reminded me of how I feel during the winter. That winter is "my season". "My season" is grey, cold, with wind, and snow, and rain. "My season" means waking up in the middle of the night, hearing the wind howling against my window, and snuggling down warm and snug in the flannel sheets. "My season" means bending my body against the wind, and feeling my glasses fog up when I walk inside. The constantly grey skies help me breathe easier. I am content in that weather. I feel like I recognize myself. I can say, "Yes. Yes. This is who I am."

Spring to me is the onset of anxiety. I suppose I could change that pattern but it has been this way for me as long as I can remember.

I know I sound a bit crazy right now, but I don't care. The world is crazy too. It's contagious.

So I'm sad today. And tense. Tense because of the men with rifles everywhere on the streets of Manhattan, tense because the sun shines too bright and spring is not my thing, tense because of whatever is going on on the Williamsburg Bridge right now ...

I went outside to get some juice, and on the corner of 38th and 7th is a small dark man, who has set up a little table of CDs to sell ... CDs of a group he is part of, called "Native Spirit". If you ever visit Manhattan, you eventually will see these people. They play in subway stations, on street corners, at Union Square, everywhere. Crowds of people gather around. "Native Spirit" is a group of musicians, made up of Indian people from the Andes ... I don't know the politically correct term for such people, so gimme a break and cut me some slack. I mean no disrespect. These musicians have only my deepest regard, for their gifts. They play pipes which look like Pan's flute, they have little round guitars, and squat brown drums ... and the sound ... the sound that this group makes!! You have to dance when you hear it. It has a vaguely Celtic feel in that regard ... the thrumming percussion underneath the jaunty pipe-playing, very much like The Chieftains. And they all have long thick straight black hair, and serious high-cheek-boned faces. And they make a KILLING. The hat is always overflowing with money.

Anyway, a representative from "Native Spirit" was on the corner near where I work. He had CDs out for sale. The rest of his group was not with him.

As I walked by to go to the juice bar, he picked up the pipes, the Pan-pipes, and slowly, began to play "Amazing Grace". It is a busy busy sidewalk. Tourists, jewelers, fabric merchants, Orthodox Jews, dot-commers, fashion models, coat racks rolling by on wheels, beeping trucks, sirens, floods of pedestrians, lines out the door of the juice bar ...

But in a little pod of beauty and tranquility, a man from the Andes, playing "Amazing Grace". The melody floating up above 7th Avenue.

Clear-toned, otherwordly.

I wept.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/28/2003 12:25:00 PM


1930 - The cities of Constantinople and Angora changes names to Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey.

1933 - The German Reichstag confers dictatorial powers to Adolph Hitler.

1941 - British novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf committed suicide at age 59.

1959 - 11 days after an uprising began in Tibet, China dissolved the country's government and installed an autonomous authority under the Panchen Lama.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/28/2003 12:06:00 PM


Excellent new piece by Victor Davis Hanson.

In the campaign against Belgrade, the ebullience was gone by day 10 when Milosevic remained defiant. By the fifth week, criticism was fierce and calls for an end to the bombing widespread. On day 77, Milosevic capitulated -- and no critics stepped forward to confess that their gloom and doom had been misplaced. Does anyone recall the term "quagmire", used of Afghanistan after the third week -- and how prophets of doom promised enervating stasis, only days later to see a chain of Afghan cities fall? Yet no armchair doom-and-gloom generals were to be found when the Taliban ran and utterly confounded their pessimism. Our talking heads remind me of the volatility of the Athenian assembly, ready to laud or execute at a moment's notice.

The commentators need to listen to history. By any fair standard of even the most dazzling charges in military history -- the German blast through the Ardennes in spring 1940, or Patton's romp in July -- the present race to Baghdad is unprecedented in its speed and daring, and in the lightness of its causalities. We can nit-pick about the need for another armored division, pockets of irregulars, a need to mop up here and there, plenty of hard fighting ahead, this and that. But the fact remains that, so far, the campaign has been historically unprecedented in getting so many tens of thousands of soldiers so quickly to Baghdad without losses -- and its logistics will be studied for decades.

Indeed, the only wrinkle is that our present military faces cultural obstacles never envisioned by an Epaminondas, Caesar, Marlborough, Sherman -- or any of the other great marchers. A globally televised and therapeutic culture puts an onus on American soldiers that could never have been envisioned by any of the early captains. We treat prisoners justly; our enemy executes them. We protect Iraqi bridges, oil, and dams -- from Iraqi saboteurs. We must treat Iraqi civilians better than do their own men, who are trying to kill them. Our generals and leaders take questions; theirs give taped propaganda speeches. Shock and awe -- designed not to kill but to stun, and therefore to save civilians -- are slurred as Hamburg and Dresden. The force needed to crush Saddam's killers is deemed too much for the fragile surrounding human landscape. Marines who raise the Stars and Stripes are reprimanded for being too chauvinistic. And on, and on, and on.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/28/2003 11:47:00 AM


Sometimes, living in Manhattan, I feel like a sitting duck. I got a big target on my back. What the hell am I still doing here? Subway last night: 2 am ... coming home after my play ... National Guardsmen filling up the subway train. Slinging enormous machine guns over their shoulders. Guns bigger than I have ever seen in actual real life. National Guardsmen with little baby-faces. Faces so young it tore at my heart. I wanted to walk right up to them and thank them ... but they were concentrating on other things. They were on alert. Everyone on the train sat silently, still, with large eyes, glancing surreptitiously at the massive guns in our presence.

Sirens outside.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/28/2003 11:28:00 AM


We can use any good news at this point. I have nothing to do with the process, of course, I can only look on ... but, if there is anything to the power of energy, then I am sending all of my energies towards this process ... the process of healing the relationship between our two countries.

All of my Iranian friends have said, when I have asked them, "Will our countries ever have a relationship again?", they all say, "It is inevitable. The Iranian people love America. The Iranian people want to be friends. There is no more anger there towards the US. It will happen. I promise."

They have been more optimistic than I.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/28/2003 11:07:00 AM


A beautiful little note from the Iranian Girl.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/28/2003 11:03:00 AM


1625 - Charles I, king of England, Scotland and Ireland, ascends to throne.

1794 - Congress authorizes the U.S. president to provide a navy. (Sheila's note: This was one of the things John Adams was most proud of: how staunchly he advocated a navy, and how he oversaw the creation of one)

1944 - 1,000 Jews leave France for Auschwitz concentration camp.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/27/2003 02:53:00 PM

Thursday, March 27, 2003  


A very funny piece I found on Arts & Letters Daily: Bad books, how they got published, and who the hell buys them?

My favorite part is when the author, Sienna Powers, discusses the book A Field Guide to Stains. It made me laugh out loud.

A couple of amusing quotes:

If you suddenly find yourself with a house guest from outer space, rush out and get a copy of Field Guide to Stains ...

Ha ha ... And then there's this:

It's a book clearly intended to take with you into the field. Except, of course, that most of us don't actually do much cleaning there. In the field, that is. Most of us do our spot removal at home, where books can be as big and bulky as they please. So, right away, there's the conundrum: what's the point? In the first place, does anyone on the planet -- this planet -- care enough about stain removal to have a whole book about it? And, in the second place, if someone does care that much, why -- except for cuteness' sake -- make it a field guide since, as far as I know, Maytag makes very few models meant to function (ahem) in the field.

The absurdity of the chosen title of the book grows with the reading. I would never have picked up on it without reading this essay: A FIELD GUIDE to stains???

And finally:

If, however, as stated earlier, you come across an alien struggling with human concepts and ideas, Field Guide to Stains will rock their world.

Ah, humor. Thank you, God, for it.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/27/2003 02:33:00 PM


Read Hitchens' latest piece in The Atlantic. It is a review of Stephen Schwartz's book The Two Faces of Islam. Hitchens is, of course, rabidly anti-anything religious ... but his outlook on Islam is well worth noting.

He opens with:

For a great many people, myself included, the engagement between open society and violent Islamic theo-cratism began not on September 11, 2001, but on February 14, 1989. On that day the Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa -- or, to phrase the matter in secular terms, offered a bounty in his own name as a reward for murder. The announced murder victim was to be Salman Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses had attempted with high success to employ holy writ for literary purposes. The Ayatollah had not -- indeed, could not have -- read the book, but he believed the report that it contained a profane and obscene reference to the prophet Muhammad. (In one passage a man clearly depicted as a deluded loser fantasizes luridly about the prophet's many wives.) As a consequence of the fatwa, inflamed mobs burned the book and called for Rushdie's death, and teams of assassins (promised the reward of paradise if they pulled off the job or died in the attempt) managed to slay or injure Rushdie's translators and publishers in Italy, Japan, and Norway.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/27/2003 01:37:00 PM


Here's something I never even thought of. Our soldiers are fighting in a desert. A brown desert, a monochromatic brown/yellow landscape. Yet they are wearing dark-green "camouflage" fatigues. In this context, "camouflage" is meaningless. Dark-green vs. brown means no camouflage at all! A dark-green soldier stands out like a big "Hey there, Iraqi wacko: SHOOT ME" sign, in the middle of that brown.

According to published reports, the Pentagon simply goofed by not anticipating the demand for sand-colored desert fatigues, formally known as battle-dress uniforms.

Dark-green works in the jungles of Vietnam, but is useless in the wastelands of Mesopotamia. If you were fighting a war on top of Mount Everest, you would have to go with white uniforms. Or in Manhattan, cement-grey.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/27/2003 12:49:00 PM


There's a ton of stuff I hate about this op-ed piece, about women in the military. Specifically, women in combat positions, due to the changing of the rules during the Clinton administration. This piece came out on March 24. The day after we saw the pictures of frightened and wary Shoshana Johnson. Now I know what I thought when I saw there was a woman among those captured: (and this in no way de-values the lives of male POWs): Oh, shit. They have a woman.

Women face different risks, unequal risks, in cultures such as Arab culture. This is a violently misogynistic culture, this is a culture which hates Western women to begin with ... Shoshana Johnson is going through hell of a very different sort.

But anyway: regardless of how clueless I think this piece is (with its tone of: Yay, women are at risk, just like men!), what I really hate is the title: The Pinking of the Armed Forces

The choosing of this title is indicative of a wide cultural shift I have noticed since this war began, specifically in the ranks of feminists. I am not a 1970s era feminist. In the 1970s I was in grade school, playing tag, making forts, writing haikus, and stealing boys' pencils as a flirtatious device. Wearing high-top sneakers, and listening to the musical "Oliver" until my parents begged for mercy. I was not indoctrinated during that era. I came to it late.

The Handmaid's Tale radicalized me, which I read in college. I am sure I am not the only woman who has had that experience!

But anyway: what I cannot stand about the whole feminist/Lysistrata Project/girlies for peace movement right now is its emphasis on PINK. Girlie girlie colors. Baby bunny colors, sweet little kisses colors, sweet and fluffy and nice ... sugar and spice and everything nice ...

Isn't that everything the feminists from the 1970s had been fighting against? To get rid of the delineations between gender, to not assume things about people, just because of their sex??

This has been turned on its head.

The anti-war rhetoric of the feminists has taken this turn:

"We are women, we are naturally more nurturing, more understanding ... warmer. We are maternal. We can mother the world."

Mushy, mushy, gooey, gooey. Morally superior.

Now listen here: I am a woman. I am definitely able to nurture people, I definitely have a maternal instinct ... with or without a child ... but no more so than many of the men in my life. Also: I HATE PINK. "The PINKING of the Armed Forces"??? Girls in pink, boys in blue?? What the hell is going on? I am a woman, and I hate pink. I like colors like red, dark blue, dark purple. Okay?

This may seem like a stupid thing to focus on, but I am telling you: there is something else afoot here. Something a bit more sinister. Feminists trying to "spin" this war, in any way possible ... abandoning their earlier positions of: "WHY WON'T YOU DO ANYTHING ABOUT THE TALIBAN??", and switching over to: "We, as women, do not believe in war."

As though being a woman = being anti-war.

Well, war liberated those shrouded Afghan women, girls. So sorry to tell you that, but it did.

I know that Asparagirl wrote on this as well, to much acclaim, in her now-famous post, and I agreed with every word. It's just that one damn Op-Ed title today which got my goat.

Also: I know many many men who are nurturing. Understanding. Who care about things. Women do not corner the market in these human emotions.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/27/2003 11:38:00 AM


I went last night to see "The Pianist". It was a pouring rainy night, I went to go see it at the huge Loews in Times Square. Always a nightmare, a crush of people, but the movie theatres themselves are so huge, and comfy, and the sound is great, and I can completely get lost in the film.

First of all: It is a great story. Some films have riveting characters, and shitty stories. Or boring stories, or trite stories, or manipulative stories. Some movies have a great story, and they screw it all up by not creating interesting characters. Anyway, this movie had both.

And Adrien Brody is not just as good as everybody has been saying. He is better. I have tears in my eyes.

You just have to see it.

And to see it NOW ... it pulsed with double-meanings. Which perhaps is unfortunate, because ... WWII is not just a reference point for now. It is an event, all on its own. Worthy of discussion, etc. But ... I couldn't help it. Every audience member brings their own life to the table. It happens whether you plan it or not.

One thing which moved me deeply: at the beginning of the film, when the family is all still together, they sit in their dining room, huddled around the radio. And they hear that England has declared war on Germany. And they all start laughing and jumping up and down and hugging. The radio announcer intones, "Poland is no longer alone."

I don't even need to elaborate on what I felt, watching that.

There were so many scenes where ... the inhumanity and brutality of Germans sort of slapped me in the face, and, once agan, I had a hard time frigging DEALING with it. What IS it that makes some people able to look at their fellow human beings as things? As objects? What makes some people able to LAUGH at other people's pain? It really troubled me. (It's not the first time, obviously, I have thought about this! Studying tyranny and cruel regimes is, after all, my thing.)

I was trying to imagine what would have to happen to me to make me able to LAUGH in the face of somebody else in pain, somebody else begging for life. (See? This is the part of me that is an actress.) If somebody brutally murdered my whole family, and made me watch ... and then ... I had an opportunity to get my revenge, and kill this man ... Then, perhaps, I could snap, and laugh hysterically as he begged me to spare him. That was what I came up with. It had to be something personal, though. That somebody had killed my sister (knock knock on wood) ... or another family member. Something unimaginable to me.

But the Germans showed indiscriminate brutality. The Jews they tortured, the Jews they humiliated, the Jews they laughed at, the Jews they killed ... had not raped or killed their parents, had not done anything to them personally.

Even now, after reading a ton of books on the topic, I cannot get my mind around what the hell happened. What WAS it iin German society that made them succumb to that fantasy? I read Hitler's Willing Executioners, and that came close to explaining it to me ... but still. I suppose we will never fully know.

I had a moment, watching the cruel brutal primitive Germans in this movie (and I know, I know, it's "just" a movie ... but everybody knows how the Germans behaved, movie or no) and I became shocked and outraged, sitting there in the darkness, that Germany would dare lecture us on our behavior, in these present days. You have no leg to stand on.


And the scene near the end between Szpilman and the German officer, in the abandoned house in Warsaw, is a masterpiece. On every level. It worked for me on every level. I was on the edge of my seat. I had NO idea what was going to happen. And the filming of Szpilman playing ... it went on and on and on and on ... It was not theatricalized, not in any obvious way .... It doesn't have to be. All you have to do is hear what he sounded like playing the piano, and you get the entire scene. Whoever the actor was playing that German officer, too, was absolutely BEAUTIFUL. I want to write him a letter of thanks.

Go see it, if you haven't already.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/27/2003 08:11:00 AM


Now The Commnd Post has been mentioned in a Guardian article.

One quick thing to note: I did not apply to be a part of The Command Post because I had any inkling that there would be so much media attention. I applied because the two people who set the whole thing up, Michele and Alan, are people I respect. People with integrity. And they sensed a need out there, and within one day, created the whole thing. This was on March 20. We already have more traffic than we know what to do with. But again ... I had no idea that that would happen. I just wanted to be a part of it.

I get emails from people who say they check The Command Post throughout the day, while at work. It is where they find out what is happening.

There is so little that I, personally, can do in this fight ... I cannot be over there, as an "embedded" journalist, I cannot fly a fighter jet, but I can do this. It, at least, is something.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/27/2003 07:39:00 AM


Tears of laughter are running down my face. I can't stop. I just ran my own blog through something called "The Snoop Dogg shizzolator", which translates everything in its path into hip-hop Snoop-Dogg language. It took forever for my blog to load up, but once it did, I have been reading my own words, and laughing my ass off.

Here is an excerpt from my heartfelt little essay on Puff the Magic Dragon (warning: profanity to follow)

When I wuz a kid, da song "Puff, da Magic Dragon" had an enormous impact on me n' shit. I don't want sound like a total cheese-ball, but hearing that song provided me wit one of my first experiences wit actual heart ache." (Little did I know, how much wuz follow!) When yo' ass're that sad, 'n that hurt, da pain yo' ass has really does feel like that shiznit is coming out of yo' heart n' shit. The actual ORGAN n' shit. I wuz not ready grow up yet, of course, when I heard da song first n' shit. I wuz 8 years old or whatever n' shit. .. but my little 8 year old self WEPT fo' poor little Puff, creeping back into tha dude's cave, know what I'm sayin'?

I also like how over on the left nav, where I list out my "Focus On" series ... all the different countries I focus on ... underneath "Azerbaijan", one of the entries is called "War with Armenia". The Shizzolator turns that into "War wit Armenia".

Here's another translation:

And yet , know what I'm sayin'? .. we gots stay strong." Stay da course." I read izzall da reports coming in, da downed helicopter pilots, da trenches filled wit flaming oil, da captured POWs, they terrified faces, 10 Marines died yesterday , know what I'm sayin'? .. It izzall sounds so chaotic, so frigging awful, 'n I feel myself clench up inside, 'n send out my brain waves izzle troops over there: "Hang in there ." .. hang in there n' shit. .. we are wit yo' ass , know what I'm sayin'? .. we are thinking of yo' ass ." .."

Shaking with laughter. Clearly, I am bored. And clearly, I need to laugh.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 06:46:00 PM

Wednesday, March 26, 2003  


In this post, I refer to Marines as "big and dumb". I was being sarcastic. I was pretending to think like The New York Times.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 06:03:00 PM


It's all so exciting. More press on The Command Post:

"The Command Post" notes that it's "just a group of bloggers from around the world trying to post the latest professional news that we have seen, heard, or read." As far as I can tell they're not letting any of their own biases into the mix, and they're as good a round-up as I've seen on the Net.

Yeah, baby!

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 06:01:00 PM


It's catching.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 05:00:00 PM


Ah, humor humor humor. Too damn funny.

(via Pejman)

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 04:40:00 PM


Get your updates here.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 04:11:00 PM


The New York Times has a bunch of slide shows up right now ... Very good photographs, not so very good captions. There is a picture of a little girl on a donkey. She is probably 4 years old. Somebody, probably her mother, is holding her up onto the donkey. Her hair blows. They are in the desert. In the background, you can see a couple of humvees passing by.

But the caption reads: "These Iraqis were not in the line of fire, but the marines said they were having trouble distinguishing between civilians and combatants in the city center."

I find that incredibly hostile. Unbelievable. I know from reports that what the marines ACTUALLY were talking about were "civilians" who were shooting from the windows of hospitals, mosques, and day care centers ... places which the coalition forces know are off-limits. Since WE follow the rules of warfare, the rules state that you cannot shoot into a hospital, you cannot shoot into a place of worship ... Iraqi men hide out in hospitals, or mosques, shooting at the coalition forces, and our morality stops us from razing the damn structure to the ground. Iraqis are using women, children, and sick people as human shields.

And THAT is what the marines were talking about. "The hospital is a civilian structure, but they are hiding tanks and grenade launchers in the emergency room ... Do we classify that building as off-limits, or do we blow them away?"

The way the caption and the photo are set up makes it seem like the big dumb Marines would look at this little teeny girl and wonder: "Hmmm. Is she a civilian? I can't tell! Better shoot her!"

It's so damn dishonest!!

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 03:55:00 PM


A long and good piece at Curveball about the media, the human shields, the anti-war protests.

Some quotes:

-- ...there are protesters who know Saddam's record but hate the United States and the West so much they are willing to ignore it. They are the same types who were perfectly aware of Stalin's, Mao's and Ho Chi Minh's atrocities, but believed in socialism so completely that they convinced themselves the problem was the individual leader, not the system. But these can't be a majority of the protesters. There has to be an explanation for the well-meaning schmucks who love baseball and puppies, but on Saturdays don peace buttons and join ranks with the Che Guevara Fan Club and believe they're really marching for peace instead of dictatorship. I think the explanation is that they are completely unaware of what has gone on in Iraq under Saddam's regime.

Read the whole thing.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 03:32:00 PM


An observation by the "barefoot kitchen witch", regarding the war. Great point.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 02:59:00 PM


When I was a kid, the song "Puff, the Magic Dragon" had an enormous impact on me. I don't want to sound like a total cheese-ball, but hearing that song provided me with one of my first experiences with actual heart ache. (Little did I know, how much was to follow!) When you're that sad, and that hurt, the pain you have really does feel like it is coming out of your heart. The actual ORGAN. I was not ready to grow up yet, of course, when I heard the song first. I was 8 years old or whatever ... but my little 8 year old self WEPT for poor little Puff, creeping back into his cave. I would literally press my hand over where my heart was, pressing in, trying to soothe the pain. I made the promise to myself (how many such promises are made! and how many are kept!!) that I would never ever ever EVER turn my back on Puff the Magic Dragon ... I would NEVER do what Jackie Paper did! It's interesting ... haven't thought of that in years. My feelings, whenever I heard the song, were so melancholy, and so deep, and so cutting that they qualify as "soul-growth".

Along those lines: I saw the movie "Bless the Beasts and the Children" when I was 10 years old. I was probably too young, but hell, it was running as an after-school special, so I had no idea what I was getting into. And it made me so sad, it devastated me so deeply, that I would say I probably have never fully recovered. I haven't seen that movie since. I have no idea if it was good, bad, cheesy, stupid. All I know is, it opened something up in me. An enormous abyss. I was a child, a young girl, but the abyss opened up, and I was able to see the sadness of so many people, the grief waiting for me out in the world, how sad things can be, how things sometimes do not work out.

My soul grew up after seeing that movie. I understood something essential.

An early encounter with the sadness of the world, of the human condition, can expand the soul.

However: too many encounters with the sadness of the world before you are "ready", shrivels the soul up, embitters life, hardens the edges.

Some damage to the soul is irrevocable.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 02:56:00 PM


1953 - Dr. Jonas Salk announced a new vaccine. It was a vaccine to prevent poliomyelitis.

1970 - Peter Yarrow of the folk group, Peter, Paul and Mary, pleaded guilty to charges of "taking immoral liberties" with a fourteen-year-old girl in Washington, D.C. The group had just won a Grammy for Best Children's Record with their entertaining Peter, Paul & Mommy. Yarrow was later pardoned by President Gerald Ford. (Woah ... never knew this! Puff the Magic Dragon, indeed!!)

1971 - Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared East Pakistan the independent republic of Bangladesh.

1979 - In a ceremony at the White House, President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Begin of Israel signed a peace treaty ending 30 years of war between the two countries.

1997 - The bodies of 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult were found after killing themselves in a mass suicide; they said they hoped they would join aliens following the Hale Bopp comet.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 02:50:00 PM


A must-read on the Rossi Rant. She expresses perfectly her ambivalent response to the war. Many of my friends have expressed the same ambivalence. Some of my friends are ambivalent about whether or not we should be going into Iraq at all. I am not ambivalent on that count, not at all, but the horrors of war cannot be avoided. And - although seeing the pictures of the slain US soldiers, and the pictures of the terrified little Iraqi kids' eyes (terrified, yet hopeful) does not sway my opinion about the right-ness of this war - it does not affect me any less. We are talking about human beings here. It is awful that people are dying. Yes. But Rossi says it perfectly:

i saw the clip of the soldiers trying to comfort the
burnt Iraqie little girl who had been severely injured in the attacks
they reached out to her
to pet her
she looked lost and ruined

i know we are taking out a dictator who might one day
see to the rape, murder, torture, or oppression of that little girl
or someone in her family

but still
it was hard to look at her

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 02:38:00 PM


To everybody who is visiting me from Blogs of War: welcome!! Great to have you here with me. And Dr. Frank: thank you again!

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 02:21:00 PM


Look at this little boy's eyes. I am in tears.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 01:40:00 PM


First of all: a great piece by Ebert, about his "most memorable moments" from 75 years of Oscar ceremonies. Some of the stories are classic. Fabulous. I especially like the one about Olivier's speech. Read all of them. Some terrific gems in there.

Additionally: here's a quote from Ebert, who is, of course, a huge liberal. But kudos to him:

Ebert was in the backstage press room at the Oscars. He writes:

Moore's remarks were greeted by both cheers and boos, some stood and others remained seated, and Oscarcast director Gil Cates signaled the orchestra to play after Moore's allotted 45 seconds.

Martin followed with a comment about the scene backstage: "The Teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo."

But Moore arrived intact in the backstage press room. "Don't report there was a split decision in the house just because five loud people booed," Moore lectured the press, saying the house was completely behind him. It sounded more divided than that to me, however, and as a reporter I must say what I heard and not what Moore tells me. To be sure, he had a better view.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 01:06:00 PM


Look at this picture (the one way over to the right). Compare this to the images we have of how OUR POWs are being treated.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 12:50:00 PM


A "Vodka Pundit" reader writes in with a joke. A joke to make you think.

(via Instapundit)

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 12:38:00 PM


"The Security Council has not failed. The Security Council has made available the instruments to disarm Iraq peacefully. The Security Council is not responsible for what is happening outside the U.N." -- German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer

WHAT? The Security Council is not responsible for what happens outside the U.N.? What the hell is the point of the United Nations, then?

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 11:51:00 AM


Today is the first dispatch from Northern Iraq, written by Wendell Steavenson. He will be keeping an online diary about what is going on up there, with the Kurds, as they wait for the Americans to arrive. This is one of the key stories of Iraq, and it hasn't been getting enough attention lately. Everyone else is caught up with the day-to-day moment-to-moment triumphs and defeats on the road to Baghdad, which is all well and good, but we should never lose sight of what exactly we are doing over there. Otherwise, all is lost.

Quotes from the first dispatch:

-- The villagers said they had heard loud engines again and that the planes landed in darkness. "I only heard two planes, last night," said one man. "But we need more than that. Eight hundred would be better."

-- So, we're waiting for a battle against Ansar. Nothing is moving on the Iraqi front, and it doesn't look very likely to. The Iraqis can't afford to attack the Kurds and create another front; the Kurds have promised the Americans they won't attack and antagonize the Turks who are extremely sensitive about any kind of Kurdish ambition.

"If the U.S. has a plan, they haven't told us," said Simko. "But how can they attack Kirkuk? They have no forces here. When Baghdad is controlled, then the forces above Chamchamal will leave. When Saddam is destroyed, everything will be destroyed."

The following piece by Michael Ledeen sent a prickle of fear and foreboding through me. We can't drop the ball with the Kurds, and the no-fly zones. We have to work on a couple of different fronts at all times. It is so important.

Quotes from Ledeen's piece:

-- While we used psychological operations to urge Iraqis to surrender without a fight, we nonetheless made the liberation of Iraq a primarily military operation, failing to adopt an aggressive political campaign that would have clearly demonstrated our determination to liberate the country and assist the creation of a free country.

-- We would have been wiser to demonstrate our real plans for a new, democratic Iraq, by creating one long before the onset of hostilities. The northern and southern “no fly” zones were under our effective control for years. We should have declared Saddam Hussein an illegitimate ruler, recognized a legitimate government in the two regions, and invited Iraqis to flee Saddam’s despotism to live freely under a normal and democratic government. The existence of a “free Iraq” would have shown the citizens of the country, whether military or civilian, the true nature of this war in a way no propaganda offensive could possibly achieve. Had we done so, and had we defended free Iraq from Saddam’s depredations, we would be far less likely to be facing the fierce battles in the southern “no fly” zone today.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 11:40:00 AM


but I have to admit: it makes me laugh. Still laughing!!! Look who's got a blog!

(via Blogs of War...who actually just linked, in a beautiful way, to one of my posts yesterday. Thanks so much!!)

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 11:10:00 AM


I've had it. I'm worn out. I'm going to go to the movies tonight. Escape. I have the night off, the second in 2 months (the first was last night ... which I spent in sweet oblivion, crashed out in my bed). I love going to the movies by myself, and I haven't seen a ton of stuff. I may go see "The Pianist", which ... perhaps is an odd movie to choose to see at this time, especially if I feel like escaping ... but I feel an urgency to see Adrien Brody's performance. The escape I am talking about is what I feel when the lights dim in the cavernous movie theatre, and the previews start. I settle back in the chair, and lose myself completely. Whether I'm seeing "Blue Crush" or "Schindler's List". It is the experience of going to the movies, of being an audience member, that I am talking about. It is one of my favorite things to do. I also love going to the movies by myself. I prefer it, actually.

So that is my plan for this evening.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 10:41:00 AM


Today, on the front page of The New York Times:

-- Some of Hussein's Arab foes admire his fight
-- Opinions begin to shift as public weighs war costs
-- Top general concedes air attacks did not deliver knockout blow

Today, on the front page of The Washington Post:

-- British vow to enter Basra
-- Food aid arrives in Iraq
-- Resistance endures amid the rubble

Today, on the front page of The Boston Globe:

-- Iraq's Republic Guard heads toward US troops
-- Warplanes pound front positions in northern Iraq
-- First relief convoy rolls into Kuwait

Today, on the front page of The Irish Times:

-- Assault on Basra begins amid conflicting reports of revolt
-- There is also a photo on the front page of the The Irish Times of smiling Iraqi children, holding up food handed out to them by US marines

Today, on the front page of The LA Times:

-- U.S., British Troops Battle Sandstorms and Iraqis
-- Relief for Basra hindered
-- In North, Iraq moves unimpeded
-- Iraqis said to be disguising themselves

Today, on the front page of The Guardian:

-- Baghdad raid: "many civilians killed"
-- British forces support "uprising"
-- Sandstorm halts US advance
-- Bush fiddles while Baghdad burns
-- Anti-war protests continue

I'm not going to comment on this, except to say: I don't read The New York Times anymore. I read The Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Irish Times ... They at least TRY to tell us what the hell is happening. It is impossible to have NO bias, because, after all, these reports are being written by human beings, but ... the headlines tell the whole story.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 10:35:00 AM


My horoscope this morning says, "You may have lit the candle at both ends, dear Sagittarius." I went to bed last night at 8:30 pm, and woke up this morning at 5:30. Had a glorious long sleep, with nary a bad dream. I woke up, stared sleepily out my window at the sunrise over Mahattan, and promptly sneezed 9 times in a row. This is unheard-of behavior.

Candle burning on both ends, and has been burning this way since February.


  contact Sheila Link: 3/26/2003 07:56:00 AM


While sitting on the bus, trapped on the causeway, see post below, I finished, with great regret, the John Adams biography, by David McCullough. I have been plugging away at that book for a couple of months now. And this morning I finished it.

How astonishing is it that people who lived and died centuries ago could mean so much to me? I was in tears at the end. I was in tears when Abigail died. I was so MOVED by Adams and Jefferson reviving their old friendship, via letters, after years of disagreements and coldness. These people LIVE. McCullough makes sure that they LIVE. And he doesn't do it by making assumptions -- he lets their words and their actions speak for themselves.

Oh my GOD. What a story. What a book. I cherish the experience, already, of reading it.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/25/2003 05:09:00 PM

Tuesday, March 25, 2003  


I sat on the 126 bus into Manhattan. It was 8:30 in the morning, and we hit some major traffic on the causeway into the Lincoln Tunnel. Traffic stopped. To my right, out the window, was the skyline of Manhattan, which I look at every morning, without fail. It has a changeability about it which is hard to describe. It looks different every day, although the buildings remain the same, of course. The city is a moody bastard. On rainy days, the structures glower darkly, and sometimes The Empire State Building vanishes into the mist, as though it is not there at all. Other times, because of the light of the sky behind it, the spire of the Empire State Building stands out like a black paper cut-out. Stark and beautiful. Spare. Sometimes the entire landscape is washed in a glow ... light pouring against the buildings, making everything look warm and soft. Like you could mush up the bricks into mud. I love it on days like that. My favorite is when there is turbulence in the weather. As in: To the left you see clear gleaming sky, and directly overhead are purple-black thunderclouds, bearing down on the blue. In weather like that, the city of Manhattan has a beauty which, quite frankly, takes my breath away.

The causeway I was trapped on this morning is the same causeway where I witnessed the second explosion in the World Trade Center. By the time we reached the causeway on that day, the first building had already been burning for about 20 minutes ... the buildings could not be seen, because of an obstructing parking garage, but you could see black smoke filling the air. When I saw that pillar of smoke, I knew. I knew that we were not talking about a pilot accident, a JFK Jr. moment. I knew it was big. Nobody's phones worked. One girl got through to her boyfriend at home, who was watching it all on TV. She became our eyes and ears, reporting to the rest of the bus what was happening.

It was such a beautiful day. Remember what a beautiful day it was? Blue sky, no clouds, beaming sun ... the city across the river looked benign, peaceful, ordinary.

And then suddenly, everyone started screaming. Before the screaming began, there was definitely a tense air on the bus, people clenching fists, conversations breaking out among strangers, nobody knew what was going on, only that a plane had flown into one of the towers ... but suddenly someone started screaming ... everyone looked back at that black pillar ... and we all saw the second explosion ... streaming up into the sky ... Everybody stood up ... everybody started panicking ... I was screaming ... everybody was ... nobody's phones worked ... The girl who had miraculously gotten through to her boyfriend started shouting above the chaos: "That was a second plane that just hit ... a second plane..."

Then. For the first time. Terror.

I started praying outloud ... I was not alone ... many people were praying ... as we all feverishly kept trying to use our cell phones. My prayer became all one word:


Dial, hang up, dial, hang up, dial, hang up .... hailmaryfullofgrace....

Meanwhile, traffic still was not moving. I know now that within 5 minutes after the second plane hit (or an extraordinarily short amount of time, let's put it that way) all access in and out of the city was shut down. All tunnels closed.

And then, slowly, our bus drove itself over the median strip, turned itself around, and drove us all back into Hoboken.

People were screaming, crying, jumping up and down, completely freaking out.

Every time I go over that causeway, to this day, I remember September 11. I stare out, again, at the city skyline, in all its different moods, and remember that blindingly blue awful morning.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/25/2003 04:30:00 PM


Elizabeth Taylor.
Angelina Jolie
Will Smith
Jim Carrey
Paul Newman
Joanne Woodward
Liza Minnelli
Marlon Brando
Robert De Niro
Sally Field
Jane Fonda
Gene Hackman
Jodie Foster
Glenda Jackson
Jessica Lange
Maggie Smith
Kevin Spacey
Robin Williams
Katharine Hepburn (who has never attended an Oscars ceremony anyway, despite being the woman with the most statues)
Gregory Peck
Charlton Heston
Sidney Poitier
Russell Crowe
Helen Hunt
Gwyneth Paltrow
Whoopi Goldberg

Some did not show because they opposed having the ceremony during a war (Will Smith, Jim Carrey, and others), and others because they were in rehab (Liza Minelli).

  contact Sheila Link: 3/25/2003 03:19:00 PM


I'm in a play right now, after all ... the whole thing is very surreal. I have two different currents, streaming around my feet, pulling me this way, then that way. The work I am doing in this play (which has been extremely challenging) ... and watching the war.

But anyway. There's the information, for all you New Yorkers out there.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/25/2003 02:04:00 PM


There's a long email exchange on Slate right now, analyzing the Oscars. There are a couple of ragingly annoying sentences (but I just take a deep breath, and back off ... it's not worth it)...but then in the middle of all of it, here is this, from David Edelstein, Slate's film critic:

My anti-war friends thought that [Michael] Moore was great while those in my own -- feverishly ambivalent -- camp weren't so convinced. It would have been different, I think, if a non-blowhard had gotten up there and bellowed, "Shame on you!" -- had put his or her career on the line to say that Bush was a liar. But that kind of boorish grandstanding comes too naturally to Moore, a man who didn't have the intellectual honesty to add that Saddam Hussein is a "fictitious president," too -- and one who has killed a lot more people than George W. Bush and his father combined. Nothing has ever shaken my faith in my own politics like having Michael Moore in the same camp. When he invoked the Dixie Chicks, I'll bet they wanted to stick their heads in an oven.

The Frida contingent said that Frida Kahlo herself would have opposed the war. Folks, Frida was a Stalinist, whose famous line about painting her reality and not her dreams was partly a sop to reassure the Communists that she wasn't a gulag-worthy Surrealist.

Speaking of the gulag, what was the bug up Salma Hayek's ass? Were she and Eddie Norton having a spat?

Ha ha

A couple of other hilarious comments:

Presenters appeared before what looked like the giant warp-core drive from Star Trek, many of them wearing little silver peace pins that looked like Starfleet insignias. None, alas, tapped it and beamed out. Julia Roberts did tap her heart. She was about to read the name Conrad L. Hall for Best Cinematography, and she wanted us all to know that she was sad he has passed away.

Lisa Kudrow entered, looking lovely. Unfortunately, she was Mira Sorvino -- proving once again that Ndugu has better nutrition than most of the young actresses in Hollywood. Mira used to be a tall, leggy gal with an alluring touch of baby fat in her cheeks. Those cheeks have now been cratered by twin meteors of starvation. Hilary Swank has also been dieting. Unfortunately, she couldn't lose weight in her teeth, which now appear heavier than her face. Thank God for eight-and-a-half-months-pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones and her capacious bosom, which a cameraman was kind enough to show us in close-up during a shot of some Chicago winners making their way down the aisle -- also known as "the Chicago receiving line."

I am still laughing about his observation that Hillary Swank's teeth look heavier than her face.

I also thought that Salma Hayek was pissed off about something. Her smile was phony and tight. She looked bored, over-it, and annoyed. Hmmmm.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/25/2003 01:21:00 PM


David Warren has a piece which everyone is now linking to ... I read it early this morning, but I figure I should post it here for my readers, who haven't checked it out.

The first sentence of the essay:

You wouldn't know it from reading most of the papers, but the war in Iraq is going fabulously well.

He tells us why.

In all, the allies have taken only a few dozen killed, and a couple hundred lesser casualties -- many of these from small accidents within the most amazing and vast logistical exercise since our troops landed in Normandy (when we lost men at the rate of up to 500 a minute, liberating France).

500 a minute!!! Jesus. How did they bear it.


...while the media dwell dotingly upon every individual allied casualty, in furtherance of the defeatist instincts they inherited from the 'sixties generation in Vietnam, the real issue lies in the heart of Baghdad.

There, about 20 obvious and significant targets remain untouched because of "human shields". The most effective of these shields is the Western news reporters, well over 100 of whom are exploited by what remains of Saddam's regime, often with their complicity in buying safety for themselves.


What the regime's defenders have in common, no matter where they are, is a certain fatalism. Should they throw down their weapons, they believe their fellow Iraqis (especially the Shia majority) will make haste to string them from the lamp-posts; in their own view they might as well die with guns in their hands. There is thus, from this view, no way to influence Saddam's true loyalists within Baghdad. It would be like trying to talk Al Qaeda into surrender at Tora Bora; we are dealing with people resolved to "martyrdom", and who, sooner or later, must simply be exterminated.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/25/2003 12:45:00 PM


The Command Post is going stronger than ever. The blog has exploded. People are coming to the Post first to find the news.

Thanks go out to Michele and Alan Alan for their dedicated leadership.

Our blog was mentioned in a New York Times article today. A long feature, entitled "Reporting Reflects Anxiety". The section on "Weblogs" begins on page 3. All of the other weblogs mentioned in the piece had their URLs printed within the article, but the New York Times neglected to put in The Command Post's URL. An oversight? A mistake? Or evidence of the conspiracy of the liberal media? How could that be a mistake? I'm sort of kidding, but sort of not.

Are they afraid of blogs? I think on some level mainstream media keeps hoping that serious news-blogging will just go away. Well, it will not!

Michele Catalano, who started The Command Post, spoke with the reporter from the Times:

Michele Catalano, 40, started the Command Post, a blog that describes itself as a "Warblog Collective," last week when she had to stay home with her son, who was sick. Almost immediately about 50 people around the world began contributing items based on what they heard from whatever news source they were listening to at the time.

In a medium where a high value is placed on the quantity and immediacy of information, the Command Post quickly moved to the top of many favorites lists.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/25/2003 12:09:00 PM


Not sure how I feel about some of the opinions expressed in this piece, but there is definitely a lot to think about. War is hell. Everybody knows that.

Glad to see CNN take a bit of a beating here, too. I can't watch them anymore. I haven't been able to for a while.

Here, from the article, is an example of why:

But even in imparting information, CNN has been seriously outclassed. At around the same time that the Umm Qasr firefight was winding down, CNN's bottom-screen crawl mentioned that there had been a grenade or rifle attack on a 101st Airborne Division tent in Kuwait, with an American soldier suspected. This of course was the attack that killed Capt. Christopher Seifert and wounded 15 others. While CNN was still in the early stages of the announcement, Al-Arabia, a Dubai-based Jazeera clone, was already running interviews with some witnesses in the 101st (along with the now-familiar night footage of Sgt. Asan Akbar being taken into custody). Back at CNN, anchorman Brown set his rhetorical fist to his brow and coyly worried over whether he should dare to reveal some information about the suspect to his viewers. Akbar, we now understand, is a Muslim, and I don't think there is any case to be made that this information is not relevant to the matter at hand. Why should anybody be listening to a news network that sees its first role as being that of a wartime censor?


  contact Sheila Link: 3/25/2003 11:55:00 AM


Great piece in The National Post, about the media trying to report this war.

The author, Scott Feschuk, takes a couple pot-shots at Dan Rather:

I'm as cynical as the next person* (* does not apply if next person is Santa Claus) but there is no denying the visceral, obscenely thrilling lure of live television pictures of stuff being blown up. If the goal of yesterday's air attack on Baghdad was to "shock and awe" the world's television and print commentators, well, mission accomplished. I was watching CBS when it happened, and Dan Rather remarked that these startling pictures and these astonishing sounds could darn well speak for themselves, a comment that would have qualified as wise and welcome had Dan actually taken it as a cue to shut up for five seconds. (I highly recommend CBS to anyone who wants to watch both a war and a man going slowly insane on national television.

During Thursday's relatively modest bombing stint, Rather said: "Night in Baghdad. Rockets' red glare, bombs bursting in air."

He later added, "Oooh, that was a big noise..." before opining that the attack was an attempt to give Saddam Hussein "the willies." (There's talk that the United States is seeking to expand the size of its coalition by contacting military officials on Rather's home planet.)

  contact Sheila Link: 3/25/2003 11:51:00 AM


Once again, military jets are flying over Manhattan.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/25/2003 11:48:00 AM


My friend Jayne got herself a blog. Check it out here. I think it may have my favorite URL of all time. She's a good writer. Also, an excellent cook. She posts recipes on her blog ... So you can definitely have fun with that!!

She and I became friends because of our shared obsession with the Trixie Belden mystery series.

Jayne, Meredith, Dolores, and I made a movie, as well, in high school. I watch it in the present day, and still cry tears of laughter. It HURTS to watch. It is an extravaganza. A long serial, soap-opera style, about a bunch of WACK-JOBS. We played men, women, nutso cases, there was a scene with strait jackets ... I played an insane murderess who danced around with a meat cleaver, Meredith strolled around in a pink frilly gown, we lip synched to songs which we incorporated into the plot, Boy George made a guest appearance ... I am telling you. The movie is a laugh-riot.

So anyway. Go visit Jayne. She's a good woman, a good writer, and a very good friend of mine.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/24/2003 05:56:00 PM

Monday, March 24, 2003  


Here is a new blog, worth checking out. His writing is good, his insights clear and interesting ... He is definitely somebody I will check in with on occasion.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/24/2003 05:50:00 PM


For obvious reasons, I thought about a piece "The Onion" did about celebrities, in its "Holy F***ing Sh**" issue, right after September 11, 2001.

This issue was the same one where God gave a press conference, and The Onion reported it. That particular piece made it into the New York Times. It still brings tears to my eyes when I read it today.

But there was another piece in that issue, which came into my mind today ... In light of the Oscars last night, and all that jazz, (God, not that song again...), read. And laugh.

And while we are at it, here are the other pieces which were in that issue. They are well worth visiting, every single one of them. Not just because humor is important to hold onto, but also because it still gives me a jolt, to remember the fear and sadness and terror of those first couple of months.

So, without further adieu:
Here are the other pieces in The Onion's famous September 26, 2001 issue:

U.S. Vows to Defeat Whoever It Is We're At War With

American Life Turns Into a Bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie

Hijackers Surprised to Find Selves in Hell

Tips for Talking to Your Child

Security Beefed Up at Cedar Rapids Public Library

A couple of quick comments about all of this:

I mainly remember reading all of these pieces, on September 26, here in NYC, with smoke still rising from lower Manhattan, and still with a nervous twitch in my neck every time a plane flew by, with a loud noise. And the laughter which these pieces provided me were the first honest laughs I had had since September 11. That was why The New York Times chose to profile The Onion. Mainly because people were aching to have some laughter in their lives again, but also because: they handled it all so sensitively. Somehow. It's like that great Peter O'Toole quote: "Dying is easy. It's comedy that's hard."

  contact Sheila Link: 3/24/2003 05:34:00 PM

Things are happening too quickly for me to digest. It's been a very rough couple of days. For all of us.

My thoughts are with those who are fighting over there ... those who have been captured ... everyone who is involved in this battle. How in the world did people stand it, with WWI and WWII going on for YEARS? It's agonizing.

And yet ... we must stay strong. Stay the course. I read all the reports coming in, the downed helicopter pilots, the trenches filled with flaming oil, the captured POWs, their terrified faces, 10 Marines died yesterday ... It all sounds so chaotic, so frigging awful, and I feel myself clench up inside, and send out my brain waves to our troops over there: "Hang in there ... hang in there ... we are with you ... we are thinking of you ..."

We must not lose heart. We must not flee, like we did in Mogadishu. That would be a disaster.

I know someone over there. A member of my family. I cannot imagine what it must be like for his mother, his brothers and sisters. Watching and waiting.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/24/2003 04:57:00 PM


A good piece in The Washington Post ... which refers to the "Schlock and Awe" of the Oscar ceremony. It definitely begs to be made fun of. Some funny lines from the article:

-- If dignity was the goal, then it was apparent that the Oscars should have been postponed the minute that Chris Cooper, winner of best supporting actor, tearfully said, "From the academy to the womb that bore me, thank you."

A side note: SO glad he won. He strolled away with that entire movie.


-- Steve Martin, the host, tried to keep the evening low key with some collective self-deprecation in his opening monologue. "I am really glad they cut back on the glitz," he said with rolling sarcasm. Over embarrassed titters, he mocked the reduced red carpet: "That'll send them a message."

Ha ha ha....

-- Until Adrien Brody won for best actor in "The Pianist" and mentioned a friend from Queens who was fighting in the region, not a single movie star had directly mentioned American and British troops.

Shame on all of them.

-- The most blatant sign of patriotism was from Matthew McConaughey, who was a presenter and wore red, white and blue flowers in a boutonniere.

-- In good times movie stars are an agreeable reflection of our own yearning for youth, wealth and beauty. In a crisis they can become projections of everything we like least about ourselves - privileged, pampered, self-absorbed. It didn't matter what the politics were; it was the presumption.

Oh, absoLUTEly.

-- It was entertaining, however, to see what Hollywood considers subdued understatement - Jennifer Lopez wore a sari-style green dress with bling-bling Indian jewelry.

Ha ha ha

"bling bling"

  contact Sheila Link: 3/24/2003 10:45:00 AM


Hmmm. I seem to recall Saddam saying, "I don't know nothin' 'bout SCUD missiles, Miss Scarlett!!" If that's the case, then where the hell are all the Iraqi SCUD missiles coming from? Once again: we cannot trust a word this man says. End of story.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/24/2003 09:59:00 AM


1664 - Roger Williams was granted a charter to colonize Rhode Island. (I'm from Rhode Island. Hoo-yah.)

  contact Sheila Link: 3/24/2003 09:50:00 AM


So I endured the Oscars last night. A couple of times I had to change the channel, for my own sanity. Those people are so damn sanctimonious. It is hard to take. When someone comes out and acts like a normal rational human being, it is like: Woah, where the hell did you come from?

And Michael Moore ... who I absolutely despise anyway ... made a fool out of himself during his acceptance speech, ranting about our "fictitious president", the "fictitious war" ... Especially on such a difficult day as yesterday. He screams, "Shame on you, Mr. President". Well, shame on YOU, Mr. Moore. Other award-winners, whatever their views, toned it down. Even Susan Sarandon, who strolled on in her damn Versace gown, with this sanctimonious peace-ful look on her face, kept her mouth shut. Except for her little "peace" sign, she didn't say anything. Our troops had a really rough day yesterday. There are POWs being broadcast on television. There are dead Americans, being taunted over, also on Arab television. It was a long and frightening day. And for him to get up there and rant about the war, screaming, "Shame on you..." He's a boob. I can only hope that his actions yesterday will haunt him in the same way that Jane Fonda's actions during the Vietnam War continue to haunt her today.

And a couple of things:

Read the first sentence of this report about Michael Moore's speech, which I found on

A standing ovation and a handful of jeers from Hollywood's elite greeted filmmaker Michael Moore when he criticized President Bush and the U.S.-led war in Iraq during his acceptance speech Sunday after winning the documentary feature Oscar for "Bowling for Columbine."

Um ... NO. That is not how it went. He got a standing ovation for winning the award ... and once he started ranting and raving, people began to jeer and boo. Which I thought was quite a triumph. The way the report is written makes it sound like people leapt to their feet, as one, while he made his anti-Bush speech ... and "a handful" of people jeered him.

Don't tell me there isn't a liberal bias in the media.

And here's one other observation, and then I will let it rest:

This is, word for word, how his speech actually went.

"We live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man who's sending us to war for fictitious reasons, whether it's the fictition of duct tape or the fiction of orange alerts."

FICTITION. Okay? He was so caught up in his own cleverness, with the repetition of "fictitious", especially because ... ho ho, how clever ... he was nominated for best documentary ... so ... wow, I get it!!! ... he is into NON-fiction. Well, whatever. He used the word "fictition", which, to my knowledge, is not a word at all. I know he didn't mean it, but he sets himself up for such stupid criticism by being such an asshole. I got gleeful pleasure out of Michael Moore, the man who routinely calls Bush an idiot, a moron, an illiterate, using the word "fictition". Good.

But here's something disgusting: corrected his speech in the report, the same report I just quoted from. They ironed it out, assuming: "Oh, he meant to say 'fiction'"....Well. NO. He said "fictition". Maybe I'm insane. I certainly sound insane.

Onto other Oscar moments:

Primarily: YEAH, EMINEM!!! Of course he won, of course ... not only is it a great song, but ... I believe, in years to come, people will look back on that song and see that it changed hip-hop, in the same way that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" changed rock. It is a galvanizing song. It throws down the gauntlet, raises the bar ... however you want to call it. So I was very happy he won. Bummed he wasn't there ... I would have loved to see him in that snooty liberal (RICH) crowd ...

Adrien Brody ... the man just kills me!! He could not believe he won. He was stunned. He's adorable. Also: when he demanded that they not cut him off ... Good for him. I fell a little bit in love with him. Also, when he spoke to his friend from Brooklyn, who is over in Kuwait now: "I hope you and your boys come home real soon." I had tears in my eyes. How many people in that glitzy audience actually KNOW someone who is over there?

Renee Zellweger wanted the Oscar too much last night. Her pinched-up face made me uncomfortable. She couldn't smile when her name was listed, among the nominees. I smelled the hunger on her. Very glad she didn't win. I honestly do not see what the big deal was about her performance in "Chicago". No biggie. Nothing special. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah were phenomenal ... but Renee seemed stiff, self-conscoius, and very very pleased with herself to be in the project. You need to get over that shit once you start filming. Otherwise, it shows. It showed in Richard Gere's performance, too. This self-satisfed smug "Look at what a cool project I am in" vibe. I am telling you: you can smell stuff like that!

I loved Nicole's speech. I agreed with her. Yes. Art is important. Especially in times of strife.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/24/2003 07:00:00 AM


Click here, to read minute-by-minute updates of what is going on in the war.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/23/2003 05:04:00 PM

Sunday, March 23, 2003  


Hold them accountable. They hold everybody else accountable for contradictory views, for opinions, for bullshit ... They deserve to have the flashlight shown in THEIR faces every once in a while. Especially now.

It is not the media's job to judge what is happening. It is their job to tell us what is happening. That is it. Tell us what is happening.

A great piece on this very topic.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/23/2003 12:51:00 PM


Lewis concludes:

At the present day two answers to this question command widespread support in the region, each with its own diagnosis of what is wrong, and the corresponding prescription for its cure. The one, attributing all evil to the abandonment of the divine heritage of Islam, advocates a return to a real or imagined past. That is the way of the Iranian Revolution and of the so-called fundamentalist movements and regimes in other Muslim countries. The other way is that of secular democracy, best embodied in the Turkish Republic founded by Kemal Ataturk.

Meanwhile, the blame game -- the Turks, the Mongols, the imperialists, the Jews, the Americans -- continues, and shows little signs of abating. For the governments, at once oppressive and ineffectual, that rule much of the Middle East, this game serves a useful, indeed an essential purpose -- to explain the poverty that they have failed to alleviate and to justify the tyranny that they have intensified. In this way they seek to deflect the mounting anger of their unhappy subjects against other, outer targets.

But for growing numbers of Middle Easterners it is giving way to a more self-critical approach. The question "Who did this to us?" has led only to neurotic fantasies and conspiracy theories. The other question -- "What did we do wrong?" -- has led naturally to a second question: "How do we put it right?" In that question, and in the various answers that are being found, lie the best hopes for the future.

The worldwide exposure given to the views and actions of Usama bin Laden and his hosts the Taliban has provided a new and vivid insight into the eclipse of what was once the greatest, most advanced, and most open civilization in human history.

To a Western observer, schooled in the theory and practice of Western freedom, it is precisely the lack of freedom -- freedom of the mind from constraint and indoctrination, to question and inquire and speak; freedom of the economy from corrupt and pervasive mismanagement; freedom of women from male oppression; freedom of citizens from tyranny -- that underlies so many of the troubles of the Muslim world. But the road to democracy, as the Western experience amply demonstrates, is long and hard, full of pitfalls and obstacles.

If the peoples of the Middle East continue on their present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region, and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, culminating sooner or later in yet another alien domination; perhaps from a new Europe reverting to old ways,perhaps from a resurgent Russia, perhaps from some new, expanding superpower in the East. If they can abandon grievance and victimhood, settle their differences, and join their talents, energies, and resources in a common creative endeavor, then they can once again make the Middle East, in modern times as it was in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, a major center of civilization. For the time being, the choice is their own.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/23/2003 12:20:00 PM


Lewis focuses on the question in the title of his book: What Went Wrong?

Here we go:

--The point has often been made -- if Islam is an obstacle to freedom, to science, to economic development, how is it that Muslim society in the past was a pioneer in all three, and this when Muslims were much closer in time to the sources and inspiration of their faith than they are now? Some have indeed posed the question in a different form -- not "What has Islam done to the Muslims?" but "What have the Muslims done to Islam?", and have answered by laying the blame on specific teachers and doctrines and groups.

-- In the course of the 20th century it became abundantly clear in the Middle East and indeed all over the lands of Islam that things had indeed gone badly wrong. Compared with its millennial rival, Christendom, the world of Islam had become poor, weak, and ignorant ...

Modernizers -- by reform or revolution -- concentrated their efforts in three main areas: military, economic, and political. The results achieved were, to say the least, disappointing. The quest for victory by updated armies brought a series of humiliating defeats. The quest for prosperity through development brought, in some countries, impoverished and corrupt economies in recurring need of external aid, in others an unhealthy dependence on a single resource -- fossil fuels. And even these were discovered, extracted, and put to use by Western ingenuity and industry, and doomed, sooner or later, to be exhausted or superseded -- probably superseded, as the international community grows weary of a fuel that pollutes the land, the sea, and the air wherever it is used or transported, and puts the world economy at the mercy of a clique of capricious autocrats. Worst of all is the political result: the long quest for freedom has left a string of shabby tyrannies, ranging from traditional autocracies to new-style dictatorships, modern only in their apparatus of repression and indoctrination.

How do the Muslims assign blame for their problems? Who do they point the finger at?

-- "Who did this to us?" is of course a common human response when things are going badly, and there have been indeed many in the Middle East, past and present, who have asked this question. They found several different answers. It is usually easier and always more satisfying to blame others for one's misfortunes. For a long time, the Mongols were the favorite villains, and the Mongol invasions of the 13th century were blamed for the destruction of both Muslim power and Islamic civilization, and for what was seen as the ensuing weakness and stagnation ...

The rise of nationalism -- itself an import from Europe -- produced new perceptions. Arabs could lay the blame for their troubles on the Turks who had ruled them for many centuries. Turks could blame the stagnation of their civilization on the dead weight of the Arab past in which the creative energies of the Turkish people were caught and immobilized. Persians could blame the loss of their ancient glories on Arabs, Turks, andn Monogols impartially.

The period of French and British paramountcy in much of the Arab world in the 19th and 20th centuries produced a new and more plausible scapegoat -- Western imperialism...But the Anglo-French interlude was comparably brief and ended half a century ago; the change for the worse began long before their arrival and continued unabated after their departure. Inevitably, their role as villains w as taken over by the United States ... The attempt to transfer the guilt to America has won considerable support, but for similar reasons remains unconvincing ...

Another European contribution to this debate is anti-Semitism, and blaming "the Jews" for all that goes wrong. Jews in traditional Islamic societies experienced the normal constraints and occasional hazards of minority status. In most significant respects, they were better off under Muslim than under Christian rule, until the rise and spread of Western tolerance in the 17th and 18th centuries.

With rare exceptions, where hostile stereotypes of the Jew existed in the Islamic tradition, they tended to be contemptuous and dismissive rather than suspicious and obsessive. This made the events of 1948 -- the failure of five Arab states to prevent half a million Jews from establishing a state in the debris of the British Mandate for Palestine -- all the more of a shock. As some writers at the time observed, it was bad enough to be defeated by the great imperial powers of the West; to suffer the same fate at the hands of a contemptible gang of Jews was an intolerable humiliation. Anti-Semitism and its demonized picture of the Jew as a scheming, evil monster provided a soothing answer ...

An argument sometimes adducedis that the cause of the changed relationship between East and West is not a Middle-Eastern decline but a Western upsurge -- the Discoveries, the scientific movement, the technological, industrial, and political revolutions that transformed the West and vastly increased its wealth and power. But these comparisons do not answer the questions; they merely restate it -- Why did the discoverers of America sail from Spain and not a Muslim Atlantic port, where such voyages were indeed attempted in earlier times? Why did the great scientific breakthrough occur in Europe and not, as one might reasonably have expected, in the richer, more advanced, and in most respects more enlightened realm of Islam?

A more sophisticated form of the blame game finds its targets inside, rather than outside the society.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/23/2003 11:38:00 AM


-- Anyone who has been to Istanbul must at one time or another have visited the Great Bazaar. In the courtyard of the entrance to the Bazaar, there is a mosque -- the Nurusomaniye Mosque, completed in 1755. It is an Ottoman impreial mosque in the grand tradition -- a single dome over a wide lateral extension of space, at first sight much resembling its predecessors, the great mosques of Sultans Mehmed, Suleyman, Selim, and the rest. But there is one rather interesting difference, and that is the Italian Baroque exterior decoration.

When a foreign influence appears in something as central to a culture as an imperial foundation and a cathedral-mosque, there is clearly some faltering of cultural self-confidence. Something is happening, something important.

-- It is interesting and instructive to compare the modern translation movement of European books, which we may date from its small beginnings in the 16th century, with its medieval precursor, the great movement of translation from Greek, and to a lesser extent from Persian, into classical Arabic in the Middle Ages. In the medieval movement, the criterion of choice was usefulness; they translated what was useful, that is to say primarily medicine, astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and also philosophy, which at that time was considered useful.

And that's all. They did not translate literature of any kind. In the vast bibliography of works translated in the Middle Ages from Greek into Arabic, we find no poets, no dramatists, not even historians. These were not useful and they were of no interest; they did not figure in the translation programs. This was clearly a cultural rejection: you take what is useful from the infidel; but you don't need to look at his absurd ideas or to try and understand his inferior literature, or to study his meaningless history.

-- Many regions have undergone the impact of the West, and suffered a similar loss of economic self-sufficiency, or cultural authenticity, and in some parts also of political independence. But some time has passed since Western domination ended in all these regions, including the Middle East. In some of them, notably in the East and South Asia, the resurgent peoples of the region have begun to meet and beat the West on its own terms -- in commerce and industry, in the projection of political and even military power, and, in many ways mosot remarkable of all, in the acceptance and internalization of Western achievement, notably in science. The Middle East still lags behind.

-- ...Cultural innovation is not and never has been the monopoly of any one region or people; the same is true of resistance to it. There has been much borrowing both ways, and disciples have not always been faithful to their models. Medieval Europe took its religion from the Middle East, as the modern Middle East took its politics from Europe. And just as some Europeans managed to create a Christianity without compassion, so did some Middle Easterners create a democracy without freedom.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/23/2003 11:23:00 AM


Muslim apologists make a huge deal about how "tolerant" and how "egalitarian" the religion of Islam actually is. This is propaganda. Besides, "tolerance" is an obnoxious and condescending term to those of us under the category of "people to be tolerated". Don't TOLERATE me. I don't want you to TOLERATE me. I want the same rights as eveybody else, under the law. That's all. One of my friends, who is gay, has the same response to the concept of "tolerance". It makes him NUTS. "I don't WANT you to 'tolerate' me. And I don't want to congratulate you on your 'tolerance' of me. Screw that!!"

Anyway, we've been fed a line of propaganda about how tolerant Islam is, anyway. It's quite a different thing ... what the religion SAYS about itself, and how it BEHAVES. I mean, think about the actual teachings of Christ: Love your neighbor as yourself. Turn the other cheek. Christ's temper tantrum in the temple, throwing the money-changers out. This is what the doctrine SAYS. But how often do Christians ACTUALLY behave like that?

Especially with that last one ... the money-changers being expelled by Jesus out of the temple. The only time Jesus flipped out. I go into St. Patrick's downtown, occasionally ... because it's a massive historical structure, they still conduct some of their masses in Latin, and there is a huge Irish congregation. I enjoy all of that. However, I walk into that echoey stone cathedral, and it is like I can HEAR the cash registers clinking. You are physically unable to light a candle without paying for it. They have rigged up the candles somehow so that you MUST pay for it.

I find that disgusting. So if you're poor, and you want to light a candle for your grandmother, you are up shit's creek. I mean, it's not like you have to pay 5 dollars to light a damn candle, but the price doesn't matter.

I feel that Jesus would walk into St. Patrick's and have a raging temper tantrum. It's unfortunate, because it is obviously a holy space. I walk into that huge stone cathedral and immediately feel like praying, or contemplating, or meditation. It is that kind of church.

Anyway. Tangent over. Back to the doctrine of Islam and the practice of Islam. They deserve all the scrutiny they are getting right now.

In most tests of tolerance, Islam, both in theory and in practice, compares unfavorably with the Western democracies as they have developed during the last two or three centuries, but very favoriably with most other Christian and post-Christian societies and regimes. There is nothing in Islamic history to compare with the emancipation, acceptance, and integration of other-believers and non-believers in the West; but equally, there is nothing in Islamic history to compare with the Spanish expulsion of Jews and Muslims, the Inquisition, the Auto da fe's, the wars of religion, not to speak of more recent crimes of commission and acquiescence. There were occasional persecutions, but they were rare ...

Within certain limits and subject to certain restrictions, Islamic governments were willing to tolerate the practice, though not the dissemination, of other revealed, monootheistic religions. They were able to pass an even severer test, by tolerating divergent forms of their own. Even polytheists, though condemned by the strict letter of the law to a choice between conversion and enslavement, were in fact tolerated, as Islamic rule spread to most of India. Only the total unbeliever -- the agnostic or atheist -- was beyond the pale of tolerance ...

NOW: Listen up. Here is where Lewis is really onto something, I think:

In modernt times, Islamic tolerance has been somewhat diminished. After the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, Islam was a retreating, not an advancing force in the world, and Muslims began to feel threatened by the rise and expansion of the great Christian empires of Eastern and Western Europe. The old easy-going tolerance, resting on an assumption not only of superior religion but also of superior power, was becoming difficult to maintain. The threat that Christendom now seemed to be offering to Islam was no longer merely military and political; it was beginning to shake the very structure of Muslim society. Western rulers, and, to a far greater extent, their enthusiastic Muslim disciples and imitators, brought in a whole series of reforms, almost all of them of Western origin or inspiratioin, which increasingly affected the way Muslims lived in their countries, their cities and villages, and finally in their own homes.

These changes were rightly seen as being of Western origin or inspiration; the non-Muslim minorities, mostly Christian but also Jewish, were often seen, sometimes also rightly -- as agents or instruments of these changes. The old pluralistic order, multidenominational and polyethnic, was breaking down, and the tacit social contract on which it was based was violated on both sides. The Christian minorities, inspired by Western ideas of self-determination, were no longer prepared to accept the tolerated but inferior status accorded to them by the old order, and made new demands -- sometimes for equal rights within the nation, sometimes for separate nationhood, sometimes for both at the same time. Muslim majorities, feeling mortally threatened, became unwilling to accord even the traditional measure of tolerance. By a sad paradox, in some of the semi-secularized nation-states of modern times, the non-Muslim minorities, while enjoying complete equality on paper, in fact have fewer opportunities and face greater dangers than under the old Islamic yet pluralistic order. The present regime in Iran, with its ruling clerics, its executioins for blasphemy, its consecrated assassins, represents a new departure in Islamic history. In the present mood, a triumph of militant Iislam would be unlikely to bring a return to traditional Islamic tolerance -- and even that would no longer be acceptable to minority elements schooled on modern ideas of human, civil, and political rights.

Emphasis mine ...

It's a no-win situation. There must be a transformation.

  contact Sheila Link: 3/23/2003 11:00:00 AM

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