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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BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Heads up, Madonna, Ms. Kabbalah-Children'sBook Phony: here are some more children's books, which are "about things". For your records.

These were sent in by Beth, with comments:

-- Any of Eric Carle's books (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Busy Spider, Papa Please Get the Moon For Me)

-- Welcome, Little Baby by Aliki (this was read to Ceileidh and Conor every night when they were little), as well as Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss. Tom and I can still recite most of the both of these.

-- Anything by Shel Silverstein



  contact Sheila Link: 4/25/2003 04:12:00 PM


Friday, April 25, 2003  

 
LETTER TO MADONNA

by Andrea Harris. 'Nuff said.

Well, I actually do have a couple things to say: Madonna: YOU'RE FROM DETROIT. Why are you talking with a fake weird British accent? "And the tabloids were making cheeky comments..." "Give us a kiss, love..." Why does this annoy me so much? I suppose it's my kinship to Holden Caulfield, and my scorn for "PHONIES".

And then Madonna blithering in that weird British accent about the Kabbalah, and how she feels that she has "become enlightened", and that it is now her duty to share her enlightenment with others. Oh, please. Keep your enlightenment to yourself. I like it down here in the unenlightened UN-PHONY gutter.

Then the kicker: how children's books these days aren't "about anything" and so she MUST write children's books based on the messages in the Kabbalah. I mean, you could not make this shit up!! Madonna, the last time you published a book, it was a career-debacle from which you have never fully recovered. (Warning: that link leads to pornographic images ... Blame Madonna, not me.)

And speaking of children's books which are not about anything: Gimme a break. Here's some good books to start with: (books which are "about" a lot of things):

One Morning in Maine: - by Robert McCloskey (beautiful book about Sal's first day as a big girl ... losing her first tooth ... fantastic drawings ... and the last page alone is worth the entire book. "CLAM CHOWDER FOR LUNCH!" My family and I still scream that out, to this day. "What should we do when we get home from the beach?" Inevitably, one of us will holler: "CLAM CHOWDER FOR LUNCH!") So, Madonna: maybe your kids would like that book.

Or is it not enlightened enough for you?

The Giving Tree - by Shel Silverstein My father read this book to me and my brother when we were very little. I read it now, and I hear the words in my head as coming from my father's voice. This book is about love. And sorrow. And loss. My mom thought it was too sad for little kids, and maybe she had a point ... but this book was my all-time favorite. It made me question everything. "But why? Why did the little boy do that to the tree? Why?" Important lessons to be learned, as a 5 year old. But besides any "moral of the story": It's just a good tale about an intimate relationship. Wonderful.

Burt Dow, Deep-Waterman - by Robert McCloskey (I guess you can't go wrong with Robert McCloskey). I LOVED this book when I was little. Burt Dow is a "deep water man", with a gull for a companion, and he goes out to sea one day, and has a very interesting encounter with a whale. Very interesting. The pictures are GREAT. I still have this book on my shelf.

Harold and the Purple Crayon - by Crockett Johnson I have such a soft spot in my heart for this book. And now that I have a nephew, I love this book even more. My nephew, as a tiny tot, was a little white-haired beanster, in feetie pajamas. So cute you wanted to weep. He was like Harold. Harold, with his powerful purple crayon, creates his own world, by drawing it. Some of it is benign, happy, and then suddenly, his purple crayon draws a tremendous dragon. Harold is alone, trying to find (draw) his way back to his own bed. Great book.

The Snowy Day - by Ezra Jack Keats The artwork in this book has to be seen to be believed. Amazon describes it as:

"the simple tale of a boy waking up to discover that snow has fallen during the night. Keats's illustrations, using cut-outs, watercolors, and collage, are strikingly beautiful in their understated color and composition. The tranquil story mirrors the calm presence of the paintings, and both exude the silence of a freshly snow-covered landscape. The little boy celebrates the snow-draped city with a day of humble adventures--experimenting with footprints, knocking snow from a tree, creating snow angels, and trying to save a snowball for the next day. Awakening to a winter wonderland is an ageless, ever-magical experience, and one made nearly visceral by Keats's gentle tribute.

The book is notable not only for its lovely artwork and tone, but also for its importance as a trailblazer. According to Horn Book magazine, The Snowy Day was "the very first full-color picture book to feature a small black hero"--yet another reason to add this classic to your shelves. It's as unique and special as a snowflake."

I love all of Ezra Jack Keats' work. My favorite was A Letter to Amy, but it seems to be out of print. That book is great, another recommendation for Madonna's children's book shelves. Peter's best friend is actually a little girl named Amy. He's a little bit embarrassed by this, having a girl for a best friend. She invites him to her birthday party, and he goes through all kinds of torment ... should he go to the party? What will his friends say? The watercolors in this book are dark, dreary, a rainy sky ... It totally captures how important things feel when you are a little kid. Ezra Jack Keats, in general, ROCKS.

Corduroy - by Don Freeman Corduroy is a little battered bear in a department store. A little girl wants him, but his mother says, "He has a missing button. We'll find you something better." After the store closes, Corduroy hops off his shelf and goes off in search of the button. Inspiring. Great pictures. Kids love it. My nephew Cashel loves this story.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel - by Virginia Lee Burton This book is SO GREAT. My brother Brendan loved this book tremendously as a little one. Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel Mary Anne are a great team. They end up being hired to build the cellar for the new town hall. They dig and dig and dig before they realize: How will we get out of here? Wonderful book.

Tikki Tikki Tembo - by Arlene Mosel Ah, what to say about this fabulous book. The pictures are beyond great. Very intricate, very detailed, so little obsessive kids (like I was) can spend hours staring at the pictures, seeing all the different characters doing their thing. Also: it is a very exciting tale. It tells the myth of why people in China have short names like "Chang" or "Chin". Because once upon a time there was a little Chinese boy named "Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo", and he fell down the well and his poor little brother Chang had to run for help and repeat that name over and over and over again, trying to get someone to come to his brother's aid. "Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo fell down the well!" You can imagine the problems that would ensue with such a name. A classic. READ IT, Madonna. Don't glut the children's book market with Kaballah-driven SHITE.

Or, fine, write your Kaballah book, but don't make stupid statements like: "Children's book today aren't about anything." Well, why do you have to read books just published TODAY? Why do YOU, o' miss enlightened one, feel that you need to reinvent the wheel, when so many before you have been masters at their craft?

Don't babble to me about your enlightenment. Keep it to yourself, Missy Detroit. And read Harold and the Purple Crayon! Stop talking like such a pompous phony. I liked it better when you wore your bustiers and chomped gum and didn't take yourself so damn seriously.

If any of you out there have favorite children's books (I have so many more!!), send them on. This has been a lovely walk down memory lane.

Oh, and I came across Andrea Harris' original Letter to Madonna via the blog roundup over at Little Tiny Lies.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/25/2003 02:56:00 PM



 
REPEAT AFTER ME...

(and also after Steven Den Beste): Turks are not Arabs. Turks are not Arabs. Turks are not Arabs.

And while we're at it, also repeat: Iranians are not Arabs. Iranians are not Arabs. Iranians are not Arabs.

Before you start making blanket historical comments, please try to know your basic facts. It is very obnoxious otherwise. Den Beste's piece on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire (and the Arab revolt against such empire) is worth the read.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/25/2003 02:32:00 PM



 

DIARY FRIDAY



Very long entry here. I didn't feel like cutting it. To me, it completely resurrects a very specific time in my life. The tone, the details ... It's from the winter months of 1995. I was living in Chicago. I had been dating for about 3 weeks a guy whose nickname was "Beaver" (no, really. I would get messages on my answering machine, like this: "Hey, Sheila, it's Beaver..." Ridiculous). I had to break up with Beaver, because ... well, I wasn't feeling it, basically. But I kept putting it off because he was such a nice guy, so sweet, all that. (He's married now, by the way.) Meanwhile, I was continuously hanging out with a guy who I will call "Max", a man I am still very good friends with. (He's also married now.) So basically this entry describes two days in my life, when I was trying to break up with "Beaver", while fielding calls from "Max". Insane. I was snorting with laughter reading over this entry this morning.

Also, a funny thing: at one point "Max" says he has an audition for a show which is "like that show Friends...You know that show?" I felt like I was in a time-warp. "Friends" was probably in its first or 2nd season. And now it will never end. But at the time, he still had to check in with me, if I had heard of it.

February, 1995

So last week was big: I had to break up with Beaver. And I was seeing Max almost every other day. I was a stress-ball.

Max and I got together, kind of impromptu, I had to work the next day but he convinced me to blow it off. (See how dangerous he is for me? It was so easy for him to talk me out of going to work. It took no effort on his part at all).

I was sans lens stuff. However, Max wears lenses now, Neil [roommate of Max] wears lenses, there were many extra cases. (All identical to mine; however Neil and Max could tell them apart: "No, this one is mine." "Whose is this?" "That's my old case --" I had to say, "Guys, how the hell do you tell those apart?) Lots of solution, so for a Keystone Cop 5 minutes, the three of us were squashed in their tiny bathroom, hunched over the little sink, popping out our lenses, reaching out for the saline, rinsing --all in companionable silence. Why does this warm my heart?

I finished first, and placed my case (which was, as far as I was concerned, EXACTLY like all the others), on the second shelf, and announced loudly, "All right, everyone -- this is me on the second shelf!" It would be a disaster if we all screwed up our lenses.

Then, at the same moment, we were all rendered blind. Neil and I are much more blind than Max, Max knows it and had a gloating moment, looking from Neil to me and then back. "You guys are blind."

Eventually this turned into a discussion of who was more blind, Neil or I. I had a strong feeling that I would win. I've never met anyone as blind as me. The discussion of course had to turn into a competition, which ended up with Neil standing at one end of the hallway, and me standing in the bathroom at the other end, Max standing in Neil's bedroom doorway which was halfway between us, and Neil slowly walking towards me. We each had to call out "CLEAR", when the person approaching came into focus. In this way, we could discover who was more blind. Max was so cute, just standing back and watching.

Neil and I checked in with each other, as he approached.

"Okay, am I clear now?"

"Can you see me?"

I never answered his question "Am I clear now" with a simple Yes or No. I had to respond with stuff like:

"Your head is an amorphous blob" or

"Your eyes are blackened pits."

And of course I was clear to him before he was clear to me. "Okay!" he called out, when he was damn close to me. "I can see you now!" (So he really is pretty blind.)

I said, "You still are totally blurry to me. Keep coming."

And only when he was basically on top of me could I say, "Okay, stop! Clear!"

The image of this scenario makes me smile. We all were completely unself-conscious about it. The next day, was a freezing cold white-sky day. I knew I needed to end it with Beaver. We had plans to go out that night. MJF and George were gonna meet us at Coffee Chicago after rehearsal, so that would give me a good two hours for the wind-down talk. Jackie has been very helpful in this whole process.

So I meet Beaver at Coffee Chicago, after having spent nearly 24 hours with Max. And Beaver threw me off my "let's wind this thing down" track, by bringing me a book, and a MIX TAPE he made for me. The second he started pulling this stuff out of his bag for me, I knew I'd put it off another day. Which I did.

Two days later was when we had our first talk, initiated by me. It really did not go well. I told Ann some of his responses and she said, "Oh, my God. He has never talked about anything in a relationship before." I think she is right. He was flabbergasted, his jaw dropped, he couldn't imagine why I would ever want to discuss any problems I may be having ... He could NOT believe it.

I really, for the first time, felt like what it must have felt like a lot of the time for T. Trying to talk to someone who was so resistant to TALKING - - even the idea of talking -

Also, even though it was an unpleasant evening (unpleasant because it wasn't really ended), I did have a couple of moments where I could rise above what was going on and give myself a little pat on the back. Listen to how differently you talk, Sheila! Listen to how far you have come! I really had to allow myself that because the growth is so huge, and suddenly apparent to me. I'm saying stuff like: "We can't not talk about stuff." That was T all the way. And I was so afraid to talk about ANYTHING then. I had to have felt, at some level, how fragile our base was. If we challenged it, it would shatter.

And literally, here I am, full circle. And it wasn't easy, it didn't feel good, it wasn't a piece of cake, and it didn't go how I wanted it to go -- but I couldn't not do it. I couldn't live with the situation as it was. A lot of what I felt, and feel, when I reflect on the night where I tried to talk to Beaver, is sympathy with T. It must have been hard for him, to bring stuff up with me. I clammed up, down-periscope, I DID NOT WANT TO TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. God. Total nightmare.

And I do not live my life that way anymore. Thank God. I have changed my landscape. It will be a constant struggle, but now I am aware that there needs to be a struggle. I understand the nature of the beast now, and it is good.

But the thing with Beaver was still left ambiguous because I wasn't brave enough to say, "No more". I let it sit in the "Let's Slow Down" area. Bad. MJF said to me, when I was berating myself, "Sheila, could you give yourself a break on this, please? You've never had to do anything like this before." And he's right.

So that was that. I managed to put off the inevitable confrontation for another WEEK. We went to a movie on a snow-bitter cold Sunday, had fun, went out for coffee after, we have very interesting conversations, but I feel nothing romantic. Nothing.

...Jim Simon came to visit during this next week. I think he arrived on -- Tuesday? We had such a ball with him. He's moving here June 1. !!! We are all so excited. It seems like the right decision for him.

We had a riotous visit. I've been living my life at a pretty frenzied rate lately, manic, high-pitched, so Jim was thrust into the middle of all of it. Beaver and Max and Beaver and Max -- I said to Jim, "It seems like every time you come here, my life is going nuts!" The last time he came was a Max time, too. But once I said that, I had to stop myself and say, "No. I think my life is always nuts, actually."

Wednesday Beaver and I had "plans". He wanted to go see a band, and I knew I had to veto this. Too much like a date. So when he called me to set up the plan, I said, "Actually, I'd like to get together and talk." I was so stressed, I felt almost sick about it, I just wanted it DONE. Also, he really was -- so weird about the talking thing. Very strange behavior. But we decided to meet at Coffee Chicago "to talk". He acted as though he were humoring the impulses of a neurotic. But I had to come to grips with (and Jackie helped me a lot on this) the fact that he wasn't going to like what I had to say, he wasn't going to be happy, he wasn't going to think kindly of me.

We met, I told him I had to stop seeing him, we had maybe a 15 minute discussion about the whys and wherefores involved, and then he said, joking, "It's your loss!" And then we moved onto other things, and we sat there, talking, having fun actually, for an hour and a half. The weirdest breakup I've ever experienced. When I broke the news to him, I saw a flicker of sadness and anxiety pass thru his eyes, and that was it. He walked me home, we had a big hug on my steps, and said goodbye.

I walked into my apartment, Jim was there, and the first thing he said to me was, "You just missed Max's call."

I flipped out and immediately demanded every detail. Poor Jim. Max had called and left a message at 6 or so. It was on the machine, he was calling to see what I was up to later that night, could we get together? He called again at 10 and spoke to Jim. Is Sheila there? No. And he basically drilled poor Jim about where I was. Well, where is she? Do you know when she'll be back?

I couldn't believe how funny my life suddenly was. I literally went from one man to the other.

Then I had a moment of: Poor Beaver. He walks home in the cold, probably more bummed out than he showed me, probably sits at home, and talks it over with his roommate for a while, working it out for himself. Meanwhile, I am racing around, re-applying lipstick, and dashing down the street to meet another guy.

I mean, it's amusing. But still: Poor Beaver. Such is life. I can't help it.

So Max had called twice. Hm. What's up, Max? It's not like him to stalk me. I called him and said, "Hi, Max -- It's Sheila. I'm sorry I wasn't home when you called, but I was out breaking up with that guy I told you about--" (Jim burst into laughter) "But that's done now, I'm home, I'd love to see you, so call me."

He called me half an hour later or something. He said, "I've been trying to track you down!"

"I know you have. What's up?"

"I have an audition tomorrow. The casting director submitted me for something. They never submit me for stuff. I just went and picked up the sides today --"

"Max, that's great! Good luck!"

He was all kind of casual and cavalier about it, BUT, the fact that that was how he responded to my How are you question -- my heart cracked into a million pieces on the floor. He's so excited. I feel free to read into stuff with Max. I feel like I have some kind of insight into him. He can be so obviously vulnerable that it hurts me, like him casually telling me about this audition, him casually telling me he moved out of his parents house. Max is so uncommunicative about what's going on, that when he decides to tell something, it feels big. It is indicative of how major something is. He's not cool or cavalier about anything. Maybe that's why he drinks so much.

His casualness was what hurt me, because here he is, calling me up to tell me about it, me - as though he always calls me to give me news. It made me smile. He's such a sad soul.

"Yeah, I've got this audition ... "

As thought it were not a big deal to him. And yet here he is calling me. (Subtext: Big Deal.) OKAY, SHEILA. POINT TAKEN. STOP TALKING ABOUT IT.

So I was very affirming, very excited for him, asked questions. What's it for? (a TV pilot), etc. Then I said, "Well, let's get together at a local drinking establishment and talk about all of this. You want to?" (Max would never go out for coffee.)

"Yeah. A 'local drinking establishment'?"

I grabbed the reins. I knew where I wanted to go. "Why don't we go to that - bowling alley - it's right by your place - "

He was totally confused. "Bowling alley?"

"Yeah. We've actually been there before. Southport Lanes. There are bowling alleys, pool tables, a bar - "

He remembered. "Oh! Yeah! Okay!"

"All right, well, I just walked in the door, so I want to take a shower."

"I want to stop by Justin's and say to some friends of mine."

"Okay - so how about ... 45 minutes?"

"45 minutes?"

"Is that all right?"

(I swear to God I remember conversations to this level of detail. Word for word. I remember him repeating "45 minutes" to me, and just how he said it. Weird. Or is it? I don't know.)

So we were set. I'm such a shrieking banshee. I was so happy he called, happy he had an audition - Danger Danger Danger. MJF came home and said, "Sweetheart, be careful."

"I know, MJF, I know." And I do know.

"I'm excited that you're excited - but, well. You know. He's crazy. He's a drunk."

"I know. I know."

It was a good reminder. Most of the time, I don't need it with Max. I can do my own reminding. But MJF was being a good friend.

I was all casually dressed, slick ponytail, and my new lipstick: Coffee Bean. I walked down to Southport Lanes, a place where I have many memories.

I remember me and Max, hanging out there a couple years ago, and he picked me up in his arms, and lifted me up over his head, holding onto my waist, and the bar cheered. People cheered. Did I dream that, or did it really happen? No, it happened.

I remember Ted falling into the bar, coming to meet me, very early on in my time in Chicago. We ate with Sylvia, and then went to see the double feature of "Play it Again, Sam" and "Harold and Maude" at the Music Box with John. Ted and I laughed ourselves SICK at "Harold and Maude", as a silently jealous John walked beside us. That night was the beginning, the true beginning, of my friendship with Ted.

And then there was the time with Max and me, my first summer in Chicago, we sat in a corner, talking like crazy, totally into each other, we ate free chicken wings, it was summer, we had so much fun. All of these memories are tied up with Southport Lanes. And now I live just around the corner from this potent place.

When I got there, it wasn't crowded at all. It has a nice atmosphere. I didn't see him at once. I strolled along the bar. I thought I saw him at the end of it, but believe it or not, I wasn't sure. So I went in to get a closer look. Circled him from the opposite side, and tried to peer subversively at his face, a weird angle. He turned to me and caught me doing this.

"Hello," I said.

"Hi."

It's easy for me to be with him. I don't think many people would find him easy to be with, but I do. It's arduous, it's disturbing, at times we crackle with disagreement, but it's comfortable. It's easy. I ask him questions, he answers awkwardly and warily, and somehow it's satisfying to both of us. I love his face. Rubbery. Pale. Expressive. Afraid.

We said the normal greeting comments. I asked if he went to see his friends at Justin's, the bar across the street from Max's building, and he told me that the owner loves Max and Neil. And I guess Max had been walking by that day and the man was on the sidewalk, and he asked why the two of them didn't come in anymore, that he missed them.

"It was ... it was kind of sad, y'know?" Max said. "So I had to go by there. I mean, Neil and I are ... really busy, y'know?" Then: "And he just bought me a shot and a beer. I should hang out there every night."

He said it jokingly, self-effacingly, but, of course, it comes from a place of truth. I can see that. After the preliminaries, I hadn't even taken my coat off yet, I was still standing next to him, there was a brief pause, and then he said, "Do you have to work tomorrow?"

"Yes."

"Shit."

"Why?"

"I wanted you to help me for my audition tomorrow. I picked up the scripts today, and I wanted you to read them with me."

I didn't say yes right away, because I was conflicted, but once he pressed me, I caved. I pulled up a stool. "So ... tell me about the script. What is it? Do you like it?"

"Yeah! It's good!" (When he gets excited about something, enthusiastic, it pierces me. Danger Danger!) "It's like that show 'Friends'. You know that show?" I nodded. "And usually with these things, you know, you get the scripts and they're like -- " His face filled in the blank. Boring. Stupid. "But Neil and I were reading it over today and we both were like: This is good!" (In a tone of surprise.)

"Really? What's good about it?"

"The conversations sound real. There seems to be real characters. At least stuff to start with, y' know?"

"Uh-huh."

"So it's cool."

He was also doing a Murder Mystery the next day. His character's name was "Eddie Testosterone". He hadn't even looked at the script. So he had a couple of things he wanted me to help him with.

I remember we talked of his money worries. He's a month behind on his rent, but he knows he'll be making $400 a week, at least once the new bar opens. So Neil covered him. I had mentioned to him earlier how broke I was. When I finished my first beer, he noticed and said, "Do you want another beer?" I hesitated a second and he said, very gentle, "I'll buy it for you. You want another one?" It's pathetic how sweet I found this. I said, "I know you have no money--"

"No, I have $80 from my shift last night. Look." He pulled out four 20s to show me. We are like CHILDREN when it comes to our money. Crumpled wads that we shove at people and at each other. "Here. Look what I have."

Max said to me, and I knew just what he was referring to, "So ... how'd it go?" (in the voice of a Jewish grandmother). Referring to what I had basically forgotten completely already: my talk with Beaver.

I said, "Well. It's done. That's all I care about."

"But I mean ... well, you said to me that you thought he felt-- more, or whatever."

I said, "Yes. I was definitely the one doing the breaking up, and I feel totally relieved. It was kind of a weird thing. I told him that I had to stop seeing him and for about a second, he looked stricken, and then five minutes later, he was like, 'It's your loss!' Like he had already forgotten.

Max nodded, smiling. And then stated loudly, "Denial!"

"But all in all, he took it well, and I feel much better."

So mean, but he and I did laugh about me dashing out the door to meet him, directly after this break-up scene with another man.

Max was very affirming of my choice. "Well, that's good. Now you only have a couple more times where you'll talk to him and it'll be awkward, or you'll run into him and then it'll be done."

"Correct."

He talks a lot about Kathy, the ex. He was wearing a necklace, a cool thing with bizarre little beads. It caught my eye. I touched it. "That's nice."

He looked at me, a little bit vulnerable. "Kathy made it."

"Did she? It's really cool."

"Yeah ... I like it. She made me a couple other things too. She's ... a very artistic girl, and she was always -- bummed with me because I have no taste. She wanted me to get better taste. I went out to California to visit her, and she sent me out, on my own, to buy a necklace. I had no idea what I was doing, I basically did it to please her, and I bought the first thing I saw. It was awful. I'd never wear it. So she made me some stuff to wear."

The whole monologue screamed "issues" at me, but I refrained from commenting. I just said, "It's a very nice necklace." He nodded, his eyes full of stuff he wasn't saying. I let him not say anything.

I asked him to tell me about the murder mystery. He said the company called his boss, and she basically recommended her "most desperate" people. I told him about the callback I had on Sunday that, in looking back on it, I think was a front for a call-girl service, or something very very shady. I thought I was auditioning for a sci-fi film. But ... something was way off. I got the hell out of there as quickly as I could. So I told him all about it, and he basically was horrified, and it manifested itself in him blaming me. Like the time I was trapped on the L platform, scared of the men at the bottom of the stairs, and how when he heard about it, he YELLED at me. "Don't you EVER put yourself in that position again. And if you EVER are in such a position again, you CALL ME. Right away. I don't EVER want to hear that you're trapped or scared, and you didn't call me. Do you hear me?" And then he wouldn't talk to me for half an hour. So me telling him about the weird callback was like that.

He said, demanding, "Where'd you hear about this?"

"It was in The Reader."

He yelled at me. "Well, what did you expect? Jesus CHRIST."

"Don't blame me! I figure every actress is allowed one naive story, and this one will be mine."

He winced at me in his eyes, a couple of times during the story, that typical Max thing. That wince deep down in his eyes, a reaction, a response. He's such a pacifist, even though he's also this big jock-y guy. Like he would have to be pushed to fight. But the story of me at the shady callback made him want to punch someone. He was holding back his anger.

So he convinced me to blow off work and help him work on his audition. No problem.

Back in his messy chaotic room. Keyboards, old dusty computer his father gave him ("It can't do anything. I can save stuff. It's a word processor. It's really old.") The Grapes of Wrath hands picture on the wall. ("I just really like that for some reason," he says to me.) Marilyn Monroe. A little leather hat. ("I bought that in one of my moods like, 'I'm gonna wear this hat all the time!' and of course I never wear it".) His bedside table littered with medicine, vitamins, homeopathic stuff. ("It helps my synapses fire more quickly," he said.) (I think if you laid off the Rumpelmanz, you'd find those synapses would perk right up...). His ratty white and grey striped flannel sheets, a wooden shelf unit (that was in their bathroom in the old place), with books on it. Jonathan Swift. He loves Jonathan Swift. Hemingway. Salinger. Eugene O'Neill. Plato's Republic.

Working on his audition: Max made me coffee. We sat in the living room with our coffee and danish, and only one fork. ("We only have one fork. We lost all our silverware in the move somehow. We don't know how it happened. We had all this stuff, and now we have nothing. We only have one fork and we can never find it. We never know where it's going to turn up.")

So I ate some danish with this one fork. I dropped some on the rug, this ratty faded Oriental rug. Max made this noise of annoyance, and I went to pick up the crumb, and he stopped me, laughing. "No, I'm just kidding. I just like to look indignant. Watch." Then he made a series of indignant faces. And I watched.

What is my life.

There were a couple of times that morning when he was coughing and I got worried. I thought he was dying. I held onto him. "Max, what can I do? Can I get you anything?" He had an audition in a few hours, and he was pale, and tired-looking, and coughing non-stop. Things did not look good.

He took out the sides. There were 3 or 4 scenes. We read through them, 4 times, 5 times. His character's ex-girlfriend was named Sheila. When I tried to bond with him about the weirdness of that, the coincidence, he was his usual cynical self. "Yeah, when I read that, I thought: God -- that. Is. So. WEIRD!" (Gushing, totally making fun of me.)

"Oh, shut up." I said, mouth full of danish, clutching the solitary fork.

A fond exchange.

The writing of the script was not bad. I agreed with him on that. I would stop him to correct him if he got stuff wrong, he'd stop himself, lean over to me: "Wait, what's the line..." All of this very familiar actor behavior. Frighteningly close to boyfriend/girlfriend behavior. I got more coffee. I sat next to him, sitting with one leg curled under me, holding the script up. After the second time through, I practically had my lines memorized. We looked thru his murder mystery script too.

"God, I haven't even looked at this once." he said. So he flipped through it, counting his lines. "Okay, there's that ... then I say ... Okay. As long as I get the general idea, I'll be okay. I can improv the rest."

It's like he's sliding off a cliff, with a huge drop beneath him. He's sliding fast. But he gets handholds of dirt, or he stops his fall for a millisecond when he digs his fingernail into a rock. These things slow his descent. But he's falling. He's falling fast. The man has a very low bottom.

"I'm gonna take a shower."

"Okay. I'll hang out. More coffee."

He went off, I read Entertainment magazine. He called to me from the bathroom: "I like to take showers that are too hot. Burning hot. So hot that I break out in a sweat from it. That's my only exercise these days."

I snorted with laughter.

Later: he stood in the bathroom shaving. I was pouring more weak coffee in the kitchen. We were talking. He mentioned to me two other things that bothered him re: Kathy the ex:

1. She didn't get or like The Simpsons
2. She liked Sinbad

I just LAUGHED as he explained to me, ultra-seriously, why he couldn't be with someone like that. And then here was the breaking point:

He explained: "When I was a kid I saw Zero Mostel do Fiddler on the Roof. My dad took us. He was really into musicals. And it was amazing -- and Zero Mostel! I mean: Zero Mostel! I've seen the show other times -- and I'm sorry -- no matter how good the guy was -- he just wasn't Zero Mostel. Zero Mostel was -- he was so BIG -- and his FACE -- Jesus. He is the best. And then Kathy and I were watching TV and Zero Mostel came on, he was in something, and Kathy said, 'Who's that?' -- and I was like --" He stopped talking, everything suspended, razor paused in its action ... as he tried to express what he felt in that moment ... He had no words. He had no words for someone who had never heard of Zero Mostel. "I cannot even begin to describe who Zero Mostel is. I don't know how." The abyss opened up between himself and her, a gap that was in essence uncrossable. If you don't know who Zero Mostel is ...

I mean, the two of them may have had many problems in their relationship, emotional problems, etc., but those Max could live with, work with, but ... but ... but ... you don't know who Zero Mostel is! I can't work with that!

After the shaving, we went into the bedroom to pick out an outfit for the audition. I said to him, "What are you going to wear?"

"I have these black pants--"

"Not jeans?"

"No. My butt looks fat in jeans."

"It does NOT. I love you in jeans. You're nuts." (However: I would love him if we wore a sari. So ... take that into consideration.)

I sat on the bed, and I put on his little leather hat. Max was running around like a teenaged girl late for a date. He pulled the black pants out of his closet and put them on. "They're pretty wrinkled. Do you think they're wrinkled?"

I surveyed him. "yes."

"Well. Too late."

"It's black. It doesn't really show."

He put on a nice shirt, sat on the edge of the bed, and put on these really nice very un-Max-ish dress shoes. Almost like spats, only chunkier.

"I like those."

"A girlfriend of Kathy's gave them to me. This girl was going out with this guy who beat her, and she finally threw him out--"

"He beat her?"

"Yeah, and he left all these really cool clothes behind. I got these shoes from it. Also, the suit I'll wear for the Murder Mystery I got from him."

Earlier, when he was shaving, I was out in the living room, I walked by the bathroom to go into Max's bedroom, and as I walked by the open door, I heard him doing a little sing-song, using my name as the sole lyrics. A meandering tune, no real melody, merely singing my name in a lazy way to pass the time as he was shaving. He was doing it completely privately, not for my benefit. It killed me. "Sheila, oh Sheila, Sheila, Sheeeeeeila, Sheila Sheila...sheilasheila..."

When he finally was dressed, we had to deal with the picture and resume thing. He picked up a resume. "Oh, this is old. Oh, well..."

He couldn't find a stapler. So I surged off into the wilderness of that apartment, which had only one fork in it, to try to find a stapler. Max (who I think was getting nervous for the audition) was dancing from room to room, singing silly little songs. He finally found the stapler in Neil's room. Then we took all his stuff out into the living room. His audition was half an hour away, in the Loop. He sat on the couch lazily and lit a cigarette. I was amazed at his attitude. "If I were you, right now I would have been sitting in a coffee shop across the street from my audition for two hours already."

Finally, (he was driving me NUTS) he was ready to go. He had so much stuff that we split it up between us, both of us talking at the same time. "Okay, could you take this?" "Do you have your--" "Make sure you have--" "Where is my--?" Then he stood outside his doorway, fumbling through his 200 keys. I couldn't help but start to laugh. "Your keys! Okay, give me the rest of your stuff." I took his suit from him, his scripts, he finally locked his door, and then the two of us, chit-chatting, went down the stairs. And outside. Chilly. Sun already low in the sky. Sky aglow. His car was parked right there. I handed him his stuff.

"Okay. Break a leg." I said.

"Thanks," he said.

"Now, go! Don't be late!" I said.

Then we had this totally over-it preoccupied good-bye kiss. Like a husband and a wife have all the time. Hi-Bye-I know you-Kiss-Bye -- We've never been a kissie-huggie pair. So this was a first. He started off for his car. I was headed to the corner, turned and called to him, "Call me, and tell me how it went!"

"Okay!"

Then we were done. It was quite a chore, actually, getting him ready to walk out that door. And, technically, he wasn't ready. His pants were wrinkled, his resume outdated, his hair a mess. I feel very protective of him. I hover.

But I strolled home, feeling so happy that I had broken it off with Beaver, and still laughing about some of the moments between Max and me. "She liked Sinbad. I just couldn't deal with that." Ha ha. I arrived home, and MJF and Jim were there, told me the theatre in Ohio had called and wanted me to fly out for a call back. Exciting. I sat on the couch, and just reveled in the company of my friends. Good good good to be home.


  contact Sheila Link: 4/25/2003 10:49:00 AM



 
A DUBIOUS HONOR

If you Google "Shiites covered in blood", I am the third link you are led to. Someone just got to my site by running a search on those particular words. I do not know whether to be proud or embarrassed.


  contact Sheila Link: 4/24/2003 02:12:00 PM


Thursday, April 24, 2003  

 
THE NAZI ANALOGY

I saw Dennis Miller on Bill Maher's show a couple of nights ago. Dennis Miller rocks. He said something about Bloomberg and the smoking laws ... "Bloomberg comes out and makes a statement like: 'We should not over-react to SARS.' And yet we're all supposed to freak out 'cause some guy is smoking a butt in public 4 blocks away." Ha ha. A person in the audience stood up and said, "You used to be more liberal. You're sounding very conservative now. What happened?" Dennis Miller described how a couple of years back (before Sept. 11) all of his friends in New York City were comparing Guiliani to Hitler. "Hitler Hitler Hitler". It sounded so off to him, so extreme. "To me, there was something wrong about that ... always comparing someone whose policies you don't like to Hitler. A genocidal dictator. To me, there is only one Hitler, okay?"

Rachel Lucas writes a ranting letter to Janeane Garofolo, who just came out saying that driving tractors over Dixie Chick CDs is "Nazi stuff". Rachel goes to town. Very good.

More from Rachel: A Free Speech Primer

  contact Sheila Link: 4/24/2003 12:42:00 PM



 
TV TURNOFF WEEK

Oh, by the way, it's "TV Turnoff Week", and I refuse to stop watching television. No. I continue to watch TV. I will not be told what to do. I dislike the moral-tone of the whole "TV Turnoff Week" thing. I still read books. I read like a maniac. I read every day, I write every day, and I also watch TV every day.

I watch Six Feet Under. (The last line of the last episode: "There's one thing I forgot to tell you about Petrarch. He started the Renaissance" was ... so damn good.)
I watch Animal Planet. I love Animal Planet. (Last night, I saw a thing on a tiger family. Gorgeous animals, love them.)
I watch my cousin Mike's show "Yes Dear" on CBS, every Monday night.
I watched "The Bachelor" last night. (That poor girl who didn't get a rose and was weeping to the camera: "I have nothing left. I gave everything I had to this experience and I have nothing left." Woah, girl. Get a grip.)
I watched the HBO documentary on Crank (and had nightmares the following night - woke up with all of my sheets kicked off the bed. I must have been thrashing about like a lunatic).
I watch the news every night, switching back and forth between channels.
Occasionally I check MTV or VH1 to see if there is anything having to do with Eminem being shown.
I watched a little bit of "Affliction" on IFC. Nick Nolte is staggering ... Jesus. But the movie is almost unwatchable, it's so painful.
I will be watching ER tonight.

All is right with the world.

Oh, and here's the TV Turnoff page. It annoys me. Here's a quote from the page: "MTV saw our simple, quarter-minute clip and gave us a flat out "No." How's that for free speech from a station with attitude?"

MTV said No to the ad. That is MTV practicing IT'S first amendment rights. When will these boneheads get that free speech goes both ways?



  contact Sheila Link: 4/24/2003 11:23:00 AM



 
KISS = 74 LASHES

I've been following the story, as best I can, of Iranian actress Gohar Kheirandish (a star in her country). She kissed a male film director, a colleague, at an awards ceremony. (The harlot! The jezebel!) The mullahs had a freak-out, holed up in their dream palaces of unreality, based on the mores of the 7th century, and she has been given a suspended sentence of 74 lashes.

Imagine what would have been done to Adrien Brody and Halle Berry in Iran, for their passionate kiss at the Academy Awards. They would have been killed!! Kheirandish just kissed her colleague on the forehead, for God's sake.

I mean, really: try to imagine it. Adrien Brody passionately kisses Halle Berry when he wins his award. They are not married. They are not even dating! Halle Berry is married to someone else! Yes, there were pictures of it all over the news the next day, but ... it's already been forgotten. Who cares? Adrien Brody couldn't believe he had won, he was thrilled, and also Halle Berry is hot. He took his moment. We ASSUME that this is all right, in general. Or, if people disagree, then they just sit around and mutter in their homes, staring at the television, grumbling about the licentiousness in Hollywood. Whatever. No harm done. In Iran, in many other countries, the two of them would be whipped. Imprisoned. Pilloried. Not just CRITICIZED, but given 74 lashes.

Come on. Picture that.

Every time a story like this comes out, I think of the celebs in Hollywood right now, whining about how persecuted they feel, about how tyrannical the government is, how "dissidence" is punished with "invective". Oh, just SHUT UP. You have no idea how good you have it.

Iranian Girl weighs in. I feel her pain.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/24/2003 11:09:00 AM



 
PRAISING VACLAV HAVEL

Fantastic article by Matt Welch about Vaclav Havel. There's a whole side to Havel's journey which I did not know: the psychedelic punk-rock vibe over-taking Europe in the 1970s, directly following 1968, when Russia crushed the "Prague Spring". Havel, along with the likes of punk rock musicians, refused to play by the rules, refused to keep his mouth shut, refused to listen when people told him to calm down, and accept things, and just conform a little bit. The 1989 revolution in Czechoslovakia was called "the velvet revolution" because the exchange of power occurred without a shot being fired, and with very little looting or rampaging, or parading through the streets with the bloody corpses of their former leaders. It was also because of the impact the Velvet Underground had had, on Czech culture in the 1970s. Fantastic.

The story of Havel writing a letter to Gustav Husak, the dictator of Czechoslovakia, directly following the violent crackdown in 1968 made the hair on my arms rise up. The courage of this one man. Unbelievable:

The new rulers ushered in the "normalization" period, during which tens of thousands emigrated and most "nonconformist" writers (including Havel) were inconvenienced, banned, or sometimes just locked away. In April 1975, facing an utterly demoralized country and an understandable case of writer's block, Havel committed an act of such sheer ballsiness that the shock waves are still being felt in repressive countries 30 years later. He simply sat down and, knowing that he'd likely be imprisoned for his efforts, wrote an open letter to his dictator, Gustav Husak, explaining in painstaking detail just why and how totalitarianism was ruining Czechoslovakia.

"So far," Havel scolded Husak, "you and your government have chosen the easy way out for yourselves, and the most dangerous road for society: the path of inner decay for the sake of outward appearances; of deadening life for the sake of increasing uniformity; of deepening the spiritual and moral crisis of our society, and ceaselessly degrading human dignity, for the puny sake of protecting your own power."

It was the Big Bang that set off the dissident movement in Central Europe. For those lucky enough to read an illegally retyped copy or hear it broadcast over Radio Free Europe, the effect was not unlike what happened to the 5,000 people who bought the Velvet Underground's first record: After the shock and initial pleasure wore off, many said, "Wait a minute, I can do this too!" By standing up to a system that had forced every citizen to make a thousand daily compromises, Havel was suggesting a novel new tactic: Have the self-respect to tell the truth, never mind the consequences, and maybe you'll put the bastards on the defensive.

"I felt the need to stir things up," he told his interviewer Lederer at the time, "to confront others for a change and force them to deal with a situation that I myself had created."

This act of literary punk rock was followed, logically enough, by a defense of rock music that sparked the Charter 77 movement. Or, as Havel told a startled Lou Reed when he met the Velvet Underground's former frontman in 1990, "Did you know that I am president because of you?"


Anecdotes like that make me proud of the human race, proud to be a part of it. Read the whole thing. It's a great story.

Also, if you're interested: read my "Focus on Czechoslovakia". Included in the series in Vaclav Havel's inauguration speech, in January 1990, after the "velvet revolution" had succeeded. It has been rightly called one of the greatest speeches in the 20th century.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/24/2003 10:49:00 AM



 
THE COLLAPSE OF THE DREAM PALACES

Phenomenal article by David Brooks in the current issue of The Weekly Standard, called "The Collapse of the Dream Palaces". He uses the phrase "dream palaces", echoing the title of Fouad Ajami's wonderful book The Dream Palace of the Arabs. Ajami, a Lebanese journalist, writes about the Arab nationalist movement of the 20th century ... the hopes of the Arab intellectuals and poets, the true thinkers of these societies, fighting for Islam to grow up, to expand, to let in social change. Arab nationalism, of course, was hijacked by Islamism. I found Ajami's book to be very sad. The intellectuals are still out there. They are still trying to initiate change. Most of them are in jail, or persecuted. Or, they write from the safety of Western countries.

The thesis of Brooks' piece in The Weekly Standard is:

Now that the war in Iraq is over, we'll find out how many people around the world are capable of facing unpleasant facts. For the events of recent months confirm that millions of human beings are living in dream palaces, to use Fouad Ajami's phrase. They are living with versions of reality that simply do not comport with the way things are. They circulate and recirculate conspiracy theories, myths, and allegations with little regard for whether or not these fantasies are true. And the events of the past month have exposed them as the falsehoods they are.


He identifies a couple of different "dream palaces": The dream palace of the Arabs, the dream palace of the Europeans, the dream palace of the "American Bush haters".

People refuse to deal with reality. They see the world through a filter. Different filters, all. I mean, this is a very human thing. I look at the world through my own Sheila-Irish American-Catholic-artist filter. This is how I process information. When the filter turns into a dream palace, a rigid construct of an ideology which brooks no self-criticism, no growth ... you are done for. You are unable to even contemplate that the "other side" may have anything to say, that "the other side" may ALSO be coming from a place of integrity, of true belief. Eventually, what happens is: you have put your hands over your ears, to block out these unsettling voices, voices which you cannot recognize, you cannot even allow yourself to hear ... because if you DO, then the house of cards will come crashing down.

Most people have beliefs, opinions, standards they try to live by. This is good. I myself, while definitely a hot-head, and definitely opinionated, try to take a live and let live approach. I do not want to live in a dream palace. I read a ton of books, on all different topics, I have vehement opinions which I will express, I believe in things. I believe in things firmly. But I never ever want to be closed to growth, to development, to being able to LISTEN. Being able to actually hear the validity of what someone else might be saying to me. I also have no desire to live in a fantasy world. A world of pure ideology, of untouched conviction. No. That is spiritual death.

Brooks describes the "dream palace of the Arabs":

In this dream palace, it is always the twelfth century, and every Western incursion into the Middle East is a Crusade. The Americans are always invaders and occupiers. In this dream palace, any Arab who hates America is a defender of Arab honor, so Osama bin Laden becomes an Arab Joe Louis, and Saddam Hussein, who probably killed more Muslims than any other person in the history of the world, becomes the champion of the Muslim cause.

In this dream palace, the problems of the Arab world are never the Arabs' fault. It is always the Jews, the Zionists, the Americans, and the imperialists who are to blame. This palace reeks of conspiracies--of Israelis who blew up the World Trade Center, of Jews who put the blood of Muslim children in their pastries, of Americans who fake images of Iraqis celebrating in Baghdad in order to fool the world. In this palace, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the Iraqi information minister, was taken seriously because he told the Arabists what they wanted to hear.

In this palace, old men really do shoot down Apache helicopters with AK-47s. Saddam's torture chambers are invisible, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis he murdered go unmentioned, the fedayeen who shot their own refugees are ignored, but every civilian casualty caused by an American bomb is displayed in all its bloody agony. In this dream palace, rage is always the proper emotion, victimhood the pleasure most indulged. Other people--Iraqis, Palestinians, suicide bombers--are always called upon to fight the infidels to the death so that the satellite TV-watching Arabists, safe in their living rooms, can have something to cheer about.


Brooks also talks about the many many many people who do not live in dream palaces, who do not have fiery beliefs or convictions, who do not read 10 newspapers a day, trying to understand what is going on, but who want to participate, who want to know what our leaders are up to, what is really going on:

BUT THERE IS ANOTHER, larger group of people whose worldviews will be permanently altered by the war in Iraq. Members of this group were not firm opponents of the war. Indeed, they were mild supporters, or they were ambivalent. They were members of the vast, nervous American majority that swung behind the president as the fighting commenced.

These people do not have foreign policy categories deeply entrenched in their brains. They don't see themselves as hawks or doves, realists or Wilsonians. They don't see each looming conflict either through the prism of Vietnam, as many peaceniks do, or through the prism of the 1930s and the Cold War, as many conservatives do. They don't attract any press coverage or much attention, because they seldom take a bold stand either way. Their foreign policy instincts are unformed. But they are the quiet people who swing elections.
(emphasis mine)

Brooks talks about the pathological hatred of Bush. He sees it as pathology. The conservatives who hated Clinton also seemed pathological to me, at the time. As more comes out about Clinton's behavior in the White House, the more I am horrified by him, and horrified that I voted for the guy. But the vehemence, the gut-level HATRED people had for him ... seemed very unbalanced to me at the time. It was like they did not care how much their persecution of their own President made him look bad and weak in the eyes of the world. If our President looks bad and weak, then we look bad and weak. We always must hold our public officials to account, it is our duty as citizens to keep our top guys in line. Our system is set up that way. But the hatred for Clinton, and now the hatred for Bush, felt (and feels) PERSONAL. It's nasty. Brooks makes some very good points:

the Bush haters will grow more vociferous as their numbers shrink. Even progress in Iraq will not dampen their anger, because as many people have noted, hatred of Bush and his corporate cronies is all that is left of their leftism. And this hatred is tribal, not ideological. And so they will still have their rallies, their alternative weeklies, and their Gore Vidal polemics. They will still have a huge influence over the Democratic party, perhaps even determining its next presidential nominee. But they will seem increasingly unattractive to most moderate and even many normally Democratic voters who never really adopted outrage as their dominant public emotion.

In other words, there will be no magic "Aha!" moment that brings the dream palaces down. Even if Saddam's remains are found, even if weapons of mass destruction are displayed, even if Iraq starts to move along a winding, muddled path toward normalcy, no day will come when the enemies of this endeavor turn around and say, "We were wrong. Bush was right." They will just extend their forebodings into a more distant future. Nevertheless, the frame of the debate will shift. The war's opponents will lose self-confidence and vitality. And they will backtrack. They will claim that they always accepted certain realities, which, in fact, they rejected only months ago.


That last sentence about claiming they "always accepted certain realities" we have just seen come to pass. Vocifeous Bush-hating op-ed columnists, who had been be-moaning the upcoming quagmire, and the rising up of the Arab street, and the destruction of Israel, blah blah blah, now are blatantly saying, "We always knew we would win this war. But the problem now is _______" (insert some random complaint).

I am very very concerned about all of this. I am very concerned about ideology trumping critical thinking and rationality. I see it already beginning in the newly-liberated Iraq. Democracy, federalism, representative government: none of this stuff has anything to do with creating a dream palace. None of this has to do with purity, or perfectability. The founding fathers knew that man was "irredeemable". Nobody is perfect. The rules of impeachment were already in place when George Washington was inaugurated. If you really think about that, it is highly cynical. But also highly realistic.

There is a truism about human nature, and I heard it once described somewhere in the analogy of building a new town: You go out into the wilderness and you start to plan out the town that you will build. It's going to be a great town, filled with happy people, happy people who have jobs, and who enjoy living there. But you also allocate space for a cemetary and space for a prison. No questions asked. No conversation of: "Well, in THIS town, we won't NEED a prison."

That's not a dream palace. That's reality.

I highly recommend Fouad Ajami's book, for those of you inclined. It describes a tragedy. The tragedy of Arab intellectuals.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/24/2003 10:15:00 AM



 
A GROUP EFFORT

Last night, had a reunion get-together with a group of friends. Risa, back in town for Passover, wanted to see everyone in one go. We all met at a great place in Chelsea called "The Trailer Park" bar. The decor fit the name: velvet Elvises, Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can, lava lamps. It was a good evening. Good talk, deep, connected...all of us re-connecting, catching up with one another (surface events: "So what have you been up to?" and then the subcurrents: "And how are you really doing?")

At a later point, Marpa started a game: You pass around a piece of paper. Each person writes one sentence, or one phrase, on it, and as you go along, you fold the paper over, so that the next person only sees the sentence directly before, not the whole thing, and has to add to it, not knowing what the rest of it says. Sort of like how Woody Allen passes out his scripts. He never passes out the whole thing. The actors only know their parts, the scenes they are in. They have no idea how it will fit into the whole.

Once the paper had gone around the table, Marpa took it, and read out what we had written, as a group. Here it is:

Friends gather as if no time has passed ... giving connection to the rise and fall of nations, hoping love and joy can supercede greed in a world so confused and bring forth a new foundation from which greatness, joy, and love will emerge like a breath that fills you all the way down You hear your own voice say, "I love you. Yes. I do."-- Shit! Did I just say that? It is really quiet now. What is love anyway? My mother-in-laaw says that eventually it is the big blue ocean, love saturationn. Tell me, how can it go wrong!? So as you might expect a new institutionn is born for the good of all mankind.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/23/2003 07:43:00 AM


Wednesday, April 23, 2003  

 
JAMES LILEKS

Lileks has a column entitled "A Manic-Depressive Approach to War", which cracks me up. God, I love his way with words.

Here are some gems:

Alive or dead, we've lost the war. It was lost Sunday, when the news suddenly turned dark. Confounding all expectations, the Iraqis were actually shooting back, and many experts muttered that the total defeat of a nation the size of -- well, the size of Iraq -- might take days, not hours. It was entirely possible that "American Idol" would finish faster than the American war. A reporter stood up at a CentCom briefing and spoke the dreaded V-word -- was it possible that once again the glass-jawed, clay-footed giant of the American military had stumbled into another Vietnam?

It brings to mind the Quagmire of Afghanistan, that slough of despond in which our forces were mired for an afternoon or two.


Also:
Even Fox News, which has been reporting developments through a trumpet tuned to play only major-keys, seemed swamped with dread. You'd think that Tommy Franks had taken to his bunk in tears. You'd think that all the military planners at CentCom had given up their bootlaces, lest they be tempted to hang themselves in the night. Casualties, POWS, missing planes -- who thought war would be like this?


And:
The insatiable maw of the news cycle demands a tenor, a tempo, a sweet-or-sour flavor that determines the mood of the moment. We have Stunning Successes; then we have Troubling Setbacks.

It's as if the media think war is a single solid thing, a giant red arrow that can be seen from space. Have any military commanders promised a walk in the park? No. Did the president's speeches assure us easy, quick, cheap victory? No.

But this is the face of modern war: Success is measured not in miles, not in territory won, not in forces demolished. Success is measured in the number of newsweekly covers devoted to the conflict. Three consecutive covers is an ideal number. The Quag-nam talk kicks in somewhere behind cover No. 4.


Every now and again, it is essential to take a humorous look at the absurdity of some of all of this. Too often, I see no humor. I can't see how ridiculous it can be, how potentially comic. Lileks always manages to shine some light in on that darkness, point out a couple of key hypocrisies or absurdities ... and suddenly I'm laughing.






  contact Sheila Link: 4/22/2003 05:34:00 PM


Tuesday, April 22, 2003  

 
FROM "THE RECKONING" BY SANDRA MACKEY

Post World War I Mesopotamia:

British colonial policy demanded retention of the oil-rich Mosul province, which was deemed vital to the economic viability of the rest of the Iraqi mandate. Thus, at Britain's urging, the League of Nations convened the Lausanne Conference, which concluded by invalidating the Treaty of Sevres. The future state of Kurdistan, envisioned and confirmed at the end of World War I, ceased to exist...

With independence taken off the table as an option, the Kurds split between those favoring rule by Turkey and those favoring rule by Britain. Yet in the eyes of London, the Kurds remained essential to the stability of the mandate. it was not simply that the economy required the oil pooled beneath Kurd-populated land. The Sunni Arab minority in whom Britain had entrusted the power needed the Sunni Kurds to help balance the numbers against the Shia majority.
...

When the British arrived in Mesopotamia, the Sunnis, the favored class of the Ottomans, were so burrowed into Iraq's administrative structure that to remove them meant precipitation profound economic, political, and social change. That smelled of instability, the last thing British colonial policy would permit. As a result, the Sunnis were left in place, maintaining political dominance, enjoying most of society's benefits, gaining greater social mobility, and acquiring a vested interest in the new, emerging Iraqi state. Fearing what would happen once the British were gone, Shia leaders from the shrine cities attempted from time to time to counter Sunni dominance by proposing some kind of permanent British presence in Iraq, which they saw as preferable to full Sunni hegemony. At one point, the urban Shia floated the idea of creating an independent Shia state or to create an autonomous Shia territory in southern Iraq administered and protected by Britain. These adherents to Islam's dissenting sect even went so far as to invite British officials to take up residence in the holy cities, the very heart of their communal and religious life. This preference of infidels over orthodox Muslims demonstrated more than anything else just how much apprehension the Shia felt about the Sunnis who held the levers of the state. But the British, secure in the existing power balance, rejected all the entreaties of the Shia in favor of perpetuating their existing relationship with the Sunnis.

As for the tribes, the bulk of the population, the British allowed tribal organizations, mores, and customs to continue among all tribal groups -- Sunni, Shia, and Kurd. Ottoman tribal policy that had so fragmented the great tribal confederations and tamed the once feared paramount sheikhs was reversed. When the British took possession of Iraq, they chose to impose order and improve tax collections by reconstituting the power of tribal leaders through economic fat dispensed by Baghdad and arms supplied by the government. By bestowing upon the tribal population special privileges not enjoyed by those in the cities and by preserving tribal customs and practices that were incompatible with nation building, the British turned back the clock. The net result was that at the very dawn of the Iraqi state, Shia and Kurdish populations became stalled in their intensively tribal societes, tied ever more closely to their sheikhs created by tradition and economics, and resentful of any authority outside the kinship group. Therefore in the countryside, the individual, more than at any time over the last century, constructed his allegiance to his tribe, his village, his sheikh, his religion, his sect...

As a result, fixed, singular communal identities of most Iraqis formed the base of the political system, precluding all serious efforts to meld Sunni and Shia, Christian and Jew, Arab and Kurd, into a viable nation. Thus, the tragedy that Iraq is still living began in the mandate in which British administration centered on one goal: maintaining enough internal control to secure British territorial interests as they related to the issues of India and oil.

Ironically, after securing these vital interests, Britain over the decade of the 1920s great increasingly weary of administrating Iraq. The energy and expense of its self-imposed entanglement in a territory and society that possessed little cohesion seemed to offset the gains encased in the mandate...The British lion was ready to retreat to London if British interests could be protected in what was still scarcely more than a geographic expression.

King Faisal, who had always told the British with complete frankness that he would fight the mandate to the death, sensed Iraq's long-awaited independence...

As the occupying force departed, Baghdad was a far different place than the broken, poverty-ridden city that the Ottomans occupied in 1534. It was also a far different city than the destitute backwater that the British had entered in 1917. here and there irrigation works had been slowly rebuilt for the first time since the Mongol invasion. Administration was better than under the Ottomans. Educations had improved in the urban areas. Revenues from the fledgling oil industry had begun to dull some of the sharp edges of rural poverty. An uneasy peace prevailed between city and countryside, between Arab and Kurd, Shia and Sunni, and Muslim, Christian, and Jew. But all the deep fissures were still there. Aggravating them all was Sunni dominance of the political system. Begun by the Ottomans to undergird their legitimacy and to maintain a bulwark against Shia Iran, this privileged position of one element of Iraqi society was propagated by the British to shore up a monarchy with little authentic legitimacy. The difference between the rule of the Ottomans and the rule of the British was that the Ottomans tied the territory of Mesopotamia to Istanbul through Islam. The British gave Mesopotamia its own nation-state but bound it to a Western country toward which most Iraqs felt no cultural or political affinity. it was the monarchy so carefully constructed by the British that would pay the price. Token independence did nothing to close the chasm of sectarianism, tribalism, conflicting economic interests, and differing definitions of identity that divided the urban Sunnis and the rural Shia. Nor did it even begin to resolve the animosity that existed between Sunni and Shia, who as "peasant and townsmen alike reciprocated the hatred of the 700,000 Kurds, half-Moslem, half-animist, who glowered down on them from the mountain fastness of the northeast." (Howard M. Sachar, The Emergency of the Middle East 1914-24, 1970). After 1932, the central issue of the monarchy would become whether Iraq was part of the mythological Arab nation dominated by Sunni Arabs or a state in which Arab and Kurd, Sunni, Shia, Jew, and Christian could build a common identity within a unique territorial unit.

SHEILA'S NOTE: Obviously, nothing was resolved in 1932. This is what everybody is still talking about now.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/22/2003 04:31:00 PM



 
FROM "THE RECKONING" BY SANDRA MACKEY

And here's an excerpt on where the Sunni vs. Shia thing comes in. I mean, it is a factor in every Islamic society, because they cannot agree to disagree. They have been at an impasse for over a thousand years. Again, beware of "quagmire" warnings, mouthed by Western reporters, or even Middle Eastern reporters. People who have been saying, "You are wrong, and you must die" to one another for 1,500 years are not going to bury the hatchet and get along just because we say they should, and that it is better to be nice to each other and have a dialogue than go around murdering each other.

So, in 1515 and 1516, Mesopotamia was taken into the Ottoman Empire. They were part of the empire for 400 years. The Ottomans, of course, are Sunnis. The sultan of the Ottoman Empire was also a Sunni. But remember: he was not an Arab. He was Turkish. A very complex balancing game had to be achieved, or attempted for. All of this was messed up by the Persian empire, directly to the east of Mesopotamia. The Persians were Shiites, of course, but also Sufis, all of this with an undercurrent of Zoroastrianism. Shiism in Persia has a mystical aspect, completely heretical to this day to Sunnis. Sunnis are LITERAL. LITERAL LITERAL LITERAL. (Yawn.) Anyway, the Safavid dynasty began in 1501, and the Shah immediately began to conquer surrounding territory. One of their goals was to liberate Sunni-controlled cities in Mesopotamia, places where they knew many Shiites resided. Anyway: the antagonism between Sunnis and Shiites goes back that far.

Here's Mackey's writing on the Safavid triumphs in the early 16th century:

Following the magnetic Ismail, the Turkomans and the Sufis, now turned into Shia zealots, plunged south to take parts of Persia. Assuming the title of shah, or king, in 1501, Ismail declared Shiism the official faith of his new Safavid kingdom. From his throne, he sent forth an edict denouncing Islam's first three caliphs with the following instructions: "Men should loosen their tongues in the street and square for the profanation and cursing of Abu Bakr, Omar, and Uthman," and that they should chop off the heads of any that stood in the way of this. Continuing to gobble up territory, Ismail freed the city of Khorasan from Sunni control by personally killing the Uzbek king, the ruler of what is now Uzbekistan. Severing the head from the neck, he ordered the skull set in gold to create a drinking cup, which he sent to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire as a hideous statement of rising Safavid power. When Ismail's army finally completed its sweep of Persia less than a decade later, the Safavids stood within the rough borders of Sassanian Persia won under the banner of Shia Islam.

In Istanbul, the Ottomans shuddered. Here was Shia Islam challenging not only Ottoman control over much of Asia Minor but also the very foundation of their legitimacy -- Sunni Islam. So began a long struggle for power between the Ottomans and Persia, first under the Safavids and then their successors, the Qajars. Wedged between the two was Mesopotamia. For three hundred years, it periodically served as a battlefield of culture and sect -- Turks versus Persians, Sunnis versus Shias.

...

In the 17th century, the more tangible threat to the Ottomans were the Arab tribes. No effective administration had ever been established over the tribal lands in southern Mesopotamia, and the situation only worsened during the increased migrations from the Arabian Peninsula...In the 19th century, a larger wave of tribes came out of Arabia, pushed by the fanatical Wahhabis.

The Wahhabis came out of the religious reform movement of Muhammad ibn Abdul al-Wahhab. In crude sandals and a tattered robe ... al-Wahhab traveled the camps and oases of the central Arabian Peninsula, preaching the need for Muslims to return to the teachings of Muhammad unsullied by elements of mysticism injected by the Sufis and the Shia. Striking his camel whip against any shrine or tomb declared holy by superstition, he railed against those he charge dwith deviating from the path of truth. "Mud cannot save you. Pray to God and God alone." Religion made alliance with politics around 1744 when al-Wahhab joined the court of Muhammad ibn Saud, the ruler of the small market town of Diriyah outside of Riyadh, the present capital of Saudi Arabia. Together they created a rustic state founded upon their pristine interpretation of Islam. Lighting the desert with the flame of jihad, or holy war, Wahhabism's warriors butchered resisting tribes en route to conquest of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In 1801, the Wahhabis charged into Mesopotamia to sack Karbala and twice lay siege to Najaf. The terrified clerical establishment of the shrine cities sent out emissaries to the Arab tribes who were fleeing the zealous Wahhabis. Converting them to Shiism, the clerics succeeded in defending not only Shiism's holy sites but also the Shia Persian ulama within Arab Sunni Mesopotamia. They also created a source of perpetual resistance to Ottoman rule. Embracing Shia theology in which protest against government injustice forms a central tenet, these Arab Shia tribes rejected Sunni authority. Thus, the fear of Persia on their eastern border and the dread of the Shia tribesmen in their own countryside, led Istanbul to structure its rule in Mesopotamia on the one element in society it trusted -- the Sunnis of the city.

The Sunni Ottomans came to rely on the cities, particularly Baghdad, to hold the desert Arabs in check. These urban populations were largely a mix of Sunni Arabs, Jews, and Christians ... Although Christians and Jews were recognized as distinct millets [small communities, recognized by the Ottomans as such] entitled to their own courts, the Ottomans denied the Shia clerics the right to render judgments under their own schools of Islamic law. Shia laymen were largely excluded from administrative positions, from the military, and even from what little secular education existed. Working their own side of what was a two-way street, the Shia themselves fed this process of exclusion. Since only Sunni judges were appointed in the courts, the Shia declined to take their cases before them. And since none but Sunnis were recognized as teachers in Ottoman schools, the Shia refused to attend. Similarly, they declined to study the Turkish language, thereby closing any chance of entree into the bureaucracy. Living away from urban areas and therefore cut off from the few currents of progress and reform that flowed in Sunni Arab cities, the rural Shia as a whole drifted into ignorance and isolation. This made it easy for the Sunni political elite concerned with protecting their own vested interests to brush the Shia off as unprepared for inclusion in the official life of Ottoman Mesopotamia. Consequently, generation by generation, the cycle was repeated. Excluded from government, the Shia refused to participate, prompting even more alienation, resentment and defiance. Acknowleding the Ottomans' control of the urban areas, the Shia held sway in the rural south.

As the 19th century ticked away, the Ottomans gathered their resources to enforce their will on the Shia of Mesopotamia. They began with the Persians of the shrine cities. Istanbul had grudgingly accorded the Persian community in Mesopotamia privileged status in the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala for one reason -- to avoid renewed conflict with the Qajars who continued to claim the right to protect Persian nationals in iraq. But what had been a gain for Ottoman administration was also a loss. In granting special status with its accompanying economic benefits, the Ottomans had essentially relinquished Istanbul's authority over two of the three cities south of Baghdad. Only Basra was left to unimpeded Ottoman control...Trade with Persia became restricted, barriers at the border of Mesopotamia stopped Shia pilgrims on the way to Karbala, and taxes descended on every salted and dried corpse arriving from beyond the borders of Mesopotamia for burial around the shrine cities. Even with smuggling of everything including bodies, the incomes of Najaf and Karbala sank lower and lower. Finally, the Ottomans succeeded in clamping their hand firmly on the cities of Ali and Hussein.

Next, Istanbul moved on the Shia Arab tribes. The strategy centered on a land policy intended to supplant the traditional practice under which tribes held land in common. The Ottoman Land Law of 1858 bestowed on individual farmers the rights of tenure through a deed ... The theory behind this distribution of land to those who worked it reasoned that a peasant owner would no longer need to look to the surrounding tribes for rights of cultivation and the tribesmen, as individual landowners, would be lured into settling down into the Ottoman order. The grand scheme failed...The tribesmen saw land ownership as nothing but a prelude to taxation. With those in the lower echelons of the social order refusing the offer, urban speculators, many of them Sunnis, bought up the land of the peasants while certain sheikhs registered the lands of their tribes in their own names...

Although land distribution ceased in 1881 due to a lack of effective machinery to enforce the tax laws, the program did succeed in pacifying the countryside by corralling the forces of tribal power that had characterized Mesopotamia for centuries. According to Muhammad Salam Hasan, an Arab scholar, "Nomads who were no longer in a position to rely on camels or plunder for their livelihood -- were still subject to the discipline of tribal organizations regarding the relations between followers and leaders. [They] had no alternative but to follow their sheikhs into settlement on the land." There was a second result, disastrous for Mesopotamia's long-term political interests. As major landowners, a segment of the Shia sheikhs joined the economically powerful Sunni urban elite. Together the urban Sunni landlords and the Arab Shia sheikhs would ensure that the economic and social status quo continued, blocking the evolution of a more inclusive political system even after Ottoman rule over Mesopotamia ended.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/22/2003 03:43:00 PM



 
FROM "THE RECKONING" BY SANDRA MACKEY

Heads up: this can get completely overwhelmingly confusing. Persians, Arabs, Sunnis, Shiites, the tribal Shiites, different from the shrine-city Shiites, tribal law versus sharia law ... Try to wade through it, though. All of the problems being discussed at this very moment in Baghdad have been present in the "land between the two rivers" since the 7th century. Rome was not built in a frigging day. So beware of people crying out "quagmire" after one week. The fissures in Mesopotamian society have been in place for over a thousand years. Having a bunch of meetings, setting up dialogues between Sunnis and Shiites, isn't going to change this. At least not immediately. Especially if the Shiites refuse to even show up at the meeting, if Sunnis are present. These people are stubborn. They hate each other tremendously. They love to hate each other. They live for that hatred.

Oh, one thing: "Hussein" is the Prophet's grandson. Ali is the martyr of Shiism, from the 7th century. Again: if you don't know all of this, you'll have to do your own bit of research to get the story. I've read it so many times that I am sick of it quite frankly. Yeah, yeah, Ali was the 4th caliph ... related to the Prophet ... blah blah ... schism schism ... I just want to be clear that "Hussein" here is not "Saddam Hussein". He is "Hussein", another Shiite martyr. Ali and Hussein are who the Shiites follow. Ali and Hussein are why you see Shiites covered in blood during their parades, cutting their flesh open with knives. (Warning: Do not open that link if you faint at the sight of blood! It's a disgusting photograph.)

On the beginning of Shiism, and Shiites in Mesopotamia

Over several centuries, the historic conditions and geographic locations in which the Shia sect of Islam developed bred a culture distinctly different from that of the Sunnis. Shia Islam, in everything from theology to architecture to authority, is as complex as Sunnism is simple. In Iraq, these differences have mattered and continue to matter to the most fundamental issue facing the country -- who governs Iraq under what kind of government? The answer to that question ultimately rests with numbers translated into political power. Although now outnumbering the Sunnis at least three to one, the Shia have not always been the majority.

During the early centuries following Islam's great schism, the Shia remained what they originally were -- a small, dissenting sect bobbling on the ocean of orthodox Islam. Until Iran adopted Shiism as the state religion in the 16thc entury, most Shia resided in the Arab world, principally grouping in and around the great Shia shrines at Najaf and Karbala in what is now Iraq. Persecuted by the orthodox Sunni leadership of the Islamic Empire, Shia theologians secreted themselves away in these centers of learning to develop their own particular view of Islamic law and to cultivate the sect's own forms of piety. In this unfolding Shia theology, the Sunni doctrine that the community of believers as a whole is charged with upholding the collection of teachings and interpretations that make up Islamic law was not enough. Rather, the faith, as in the time of Muhammad, required the presence of an authoritative figure possessing the wisdom and knowledge to interpret divine will to the faithful.

In Shiism, the whole question of religious leadership has always been significantly more important than it is in Sunnism. The scholar, the master of Islamic law, is charged with interpreting all moral questions -- social, political, and religious -- until the return of the Mahdi, the Shia savior figure ...

These clerics, the moral guides of the Shia, are instantly identifiable by a cloak draped over an ankle-length robe, a turban ...and an unmistakable air of authority. This is the artistocracy of Shiism, the elite to whom commoners pay obedience. Yet this is the great paradox of Shiism. As part of Islam in which the equality of all believers is so firmly rooted, the Shia follow authoritarian lines that divide those who interpret religious law from those who are qualified only to obey the law ...

The early clerics of Shiism, acting as theologians of an ever evolving doctrine rather than functioning as lawyers interpreting a static Sharia, kept the sect's basic tenets fresh for an expanding number of converts. When Shia Islam became the state religion of Iran in the 16th century, the Shia schools in Najaf and Karbala fed highly trained teachers and students into the Persian clerical establishment to the east. In return, Iran provided the holy cities with pilgrims, many of whom stayed on to profit in the lucrative commercial trade that flowed back and forth across the Iranian border. They, along with a large percentage of the clerical establishment, would form the Persian component of Iraq's population. Once significant, this component has now been largely cleansed from the country by successive Sunni governments. But the Persian influence planted through commerce and more so through religion remains ingrained in Iraq.

The shrine cities, now the domain of Arab religious custodians rather than Persian clerics, have never lost their sacred aura. Whatever the fortunes of the institutions of the sect, they remain the sites on which Shiism's most revered figures -- Ali, 4th caliph, and his grandson Hussein -- died. Within the walls of the magnificent shrine in which each is buried, centuries of pilgrims have sought shelter from the heat and cold and rain and wind of the desert...

The Shia never even approached a majority of the population of what is now Iraq before the 19th or perhaps the early 20th century. In the 18th century, Shiism that was concentrated almost exclusively within the Persianized region around the shrine cities of the south received a heavy infusion of Arabism. It was at that point that Shiism in Iraq formed two informal yet distinct branches, one preserving the Persian model and one reflecting the tribalism of the Arabian Peninsula.

Ever since the Islamic invasion of the 7th century, knots of black-veiled Bedouin women urging on heavily laden donkeys had followed their men and livestock across the upper reaches of the Arabian Peninsula toward the fertile lands of the Tigris-Euphrates valley. In the last decades of the 19th century, this trickle of Arabs into Mesopotamia turned into a flood unleashed by religious and political warfare on the deserts of Arabia. Their black, goat-hair tents scattered across the grazing grounds west of the Euphrates and hung along the edges of the marshes of southern Iraq. Like the Bedouin who had arrived with the Islamic invasion, these men and women hardened by the ceaseless tribal wars of the desert gave obedience to nothing but tribal law dispensed from the tents of their own sheikhs. Wielding primitive yet potent military power, the tribes quickly cowed the disorganized Iraqi peasantry already present on the land, who, much as they had in the 7th century, subjugated themselves to whatever tribe dominated the area. At the same time, the Shia of the shrine cities sought to enlist the immigrant tribes to serve their own interests.

Early in this latest phase of Arab immigration and domination, the Shia clerics of the shrine cities recognized in the newly arrived tribes a source of protection against marauders and a font of revenue for the shrines. In hot pursuit of converts, the Persian religious authorities dispatched sayyids, descendants of the Prophet, to the tribal tents and villages of southern Iraq. Dressed in black and wearing small, tightly wound turbans, they delivered the rituals of Shiism to audiences who found in them components of their own culture. Obsessed with lineage, tribal Arabs emotionally bonded with Ali, the blood kin of the Prophet. No less important, the recently arrived tribal Arabs also found psychological and practical benefits in Shiism. The transition from nomadism to settled agriculture cut beneath the tribal order that descended from the sheikh. Organized around the need for defense, the tribes and the sheikhs who led them watched as much of their relevance drained away in surroundings where there no more wells to protect or herds to guard. In what amounted to escalating social chaos, tribesmen and sheikhs searched for any elements in their new environment that promised some kind of stability and order. They found them in the motifs of resistance to oppression and the intolerance of organized government embedded in Shia Islam.


Acting as a faith, a tool of social stability, and a doorway into the economic system entrenched in the shrine cities, Shia Islam pulled the Arab tribesmen of southern Iraq into a new society. Yet while Shiism gave the tribesmen a sense of acceptance and a measure of power, the tribesmen gave Shiism little of themselves. Shia by confession, they remained Bedouin by birth. Refusing to surrender the traditions of the tribe to the dictates of the religion, Arab families and clans continued to resolve their conflicts through blood money, not the courts of Shia judges. And declining to explore the real meaning within the tenets of Shiism, the tribesmen remained little more than the followers of the religious sect dictated by their sheikh. Accepting these realities, Shia missionaries who were more interested in conversions than theological purity adjusted their religious teachings to the Arab value system. Ignoring the theme of suffering by the weak that has such resonance for Persians, the sayyids exalted the ideal of Arab manhood. Thus, Ali in his courage, honesty, and concern for justice, became a heroic example of the Arab tribal values of masculinity -- honor, pride, and chivalry. Similarly Hussein, who to the Persians died a martyr to injustice at Karbala, was transformed into a glorious victor in defense of Muhammad's lineage. Writing in commemoration of his death, poets portrayed the Prophet's grandson as the the avatar of virtue, the sheikh who gives to his followers strength against their enemies, bounty of their crops, and fertility for their women.

...Even the hausa, the most timeless and dramatic of Bedouin rituals, moved into Shiism in Iraq. Still seen on the occasion of weddings, circumcisions, holidays, deaths, and celebrations, the hausa is performed around a pile of wood engulfed in lapping flames. In Sunni tribes, men wearing the simple traditional robe of the desert move in a circle, left to right, stamping out a slow measured rhythm in which they chant the past glories of their kin. Among Shia Arabs, the only difference is that the repetitious sound often comes in praise of Ali. In celebrating Ali with the most Bedouin of rituals, the tribesmen confirm that they are both Arab and Shia.

In spite of all the factors feeding the rapid conversion of Iraq's tribes, Shiism never encompassed the whole. Outside the newly settled tribes of the south, Shiism generally failed to establish itself across the region. As a consequence, the Arab tribes in the deserts north and west of Bagdad remained almost exclusively Sunni. And many of the confederations and tribes that did convert still retained segments that remained orthodox Sunni. Even so, by the early 20th century, Shia Islam, layered on top of a strong Arab tribal system, claimed the majority of the Arab tribal population.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/22/2003 02:44:00 PM



 
LET'S TALK ABOUT SHIITES, BABY

I can't remember where I heard this, but I think it was on Fox News ... I could be wrong, but it's the kind of snarky smart-ass comment they specialize in: "And now, let's watch the Shi'as hit the fan." Oh, lordy. Funny funny.

Time to break out The Reckoning again, for those of you out there baffled by what the hell is going on in southern Iraq right now. It all can be very confusing. However: If you don't know about the split between Shias and Sunnis in the 7th century, then there really is no hope for you, and I can't try to catch you up to speed.

However, the cultural and social fabric of Iraq/Mesopotamia/Babylon is really what we're talking about here, and a lot of it is not being mentioned in the news. The news can only bring you so far. It's not a classroom, it's not "Shiite vs. Sunni 101". You have to fill in the rest of the stuff yourself.

So get ready for some big ol' excerpts. I am gathering them together now. I have found this book enormously helpful over the last year. Enormously. Not comforting, not at all comforting ... but I'm not all that interested in comfort anymore. I just want knowledge. I want to know what is happening. And why. I want the truth. Not the spin.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/22/2003 02:37:00 PM


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