Sunday, February 25, 2007

Gender linguistics

I have always been interested in the mechanisms of language, starting out by reading some anthropologists who stated that the language of a people is the language of the men of that people. After the anthropologists came the sociolinguists, with in the ‘50’s their books and dissertations stating that languages vary according to socio-cultural factors. In the 60’s the attention was focused on the different use of language between men and women. Then followed the women studies and the difference between 'sex', the biological concept and 'gender', the culturally defined aspects of one’s sex. In linguistic studies the differences in language use were interpreted as a result of the masculinity and femininity concepts as they exist within a given community. This is gender linguistics. We all know about mainstreaming in different fields and this is just another example of this present trend. The field of research is obviously limitless, yet there is unity to be found in the diversity.
Another interesting field of research deals with the correlation between changes in society and changes in language. The conclusion is that changing one’s language would subvert the dominant culture and would break the dominance in thought and action of that culture. A start in this direction is being made with paying attention to gender charged words, expressions and even structures in language. This way we no longer accept the normal order of things. The least it would do is make us more aware, more sensitive and more attentive to how we formulate and thus beginning to formulate in a less viricentric way.
The Dutch author Agnes Verbiest put together directives for non-sexist language use and even for non-sexist language structures. An example could be avoiding the use of generic terms that require a masculine pronoun. Using a plural will often solve the problem. Direct sexist language that is degrading to women should be avoided according to her just as indirect sexist language. Does it matter in a professional setting? Yes. In introducing a professional woman, they will not only say DR. So and So but they might add they have children. Introducing a man, this never is done. This is stereotyping the self-image of women and men. By the way, this has nothing to do with political correctness which in my mind is often counter productive, and a different subject.
Of course there is the whole issue on how to deal with the names of professions and how to deal with gender neutrality in this context. Some professions are not marked for men or women. Usually the male name for the profession will be used in these cases: doctor, teacher… We are all aware that solutions have been sought for words like chairman, going first to chairwomen then to chair. Some solutions are outright ugly or inelegant; for senator they came up with senatrix … In cases were the female form is awkward I prefer the male form: it is known, has status and in case of need a person might call is there a doctor in the room without differentiating between male and female. That is just fine for me because then it is normal when women respond since the sex of the professional doesn’t matter. The downside, however, is that it makes women invisible. Did you know that female jobs considered to be of lower status are prettified by using ‘lady’: a lady wrestler, a cleaning lady… yet I am not convinced that a sanitation specialist would be a better option. Jobs do seem to have a different connotation according to the male and female versions of the job: our secretary general is not the head of the pool of secretaries. What is the difference between a tailor and a seamstress?
Linguistic studies of dichotomies or opposites like man/woman it have proven that the first element of such a pair enjoy higher status or more appreciation: day/night, life/death, love/hate, sun/moon. It makes one wonder about war/peace…
Whatever we feel about all this, we should never forget that men’s language, and this includes the male way of behaving in a conversation and in meetings, has higher status. White males in Europe use more difficult words, women know more names of colors and use more diminutives. This leads to difficult choices for women who either have to start using the male tactics and would loose out on their perceived femininity. In job interviews, particularly when asked about their aspirations and professional dreams this can create a lot problems, as the existing stereotypes are very powerful and thus the assumptions about the candidate are influenced by those stereotypes. They are necessary in communication, because in order to understand one another well there has to be ‘trust’ that each partner will play according to the established rules. So a woman with power is in a difficult position much of the time. Linguistically women and power haven’t quite come to terms yet.
Next time you read a text watch out for the transpositions of males to humans or vice versa: often when one begins to pay attention to these things women are not included in mankind. Often women are depersonalized or made into an object: albeit an object of desire.
Look also at the visual representation of women in publicity: women will look at you when the image is trying to attract you by the sexuality of the woman, in most other circumstances women usually are portrayed as looking away, eyes cast down…
Does it matter terribly? Maybe not. It might be useful and healthy - if only for one’s own soul - to question all that is presented to us as being normal. Normality only sustains power were it used to be and that is in the patriarchal society. Question and think…

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Peace now

The winds of change, the storm, and after the storm... peace prevails but the country is weakened by it's supreme commander. Let's stop the madness now!

Friday, February 23, 2007



But, America, I think how
your men will always find
a more effective way to kill.

No Indian would have ever invented
an automatic bow and arrow
but I love you still

in the way I have been taught
to love you:
with fear.

Sherman Alexie

From The Summer of Black Widows, Things (for an Indian) to Do in New York (City). Hanging Loose Press

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Be alert

Of course it is a sad thing that the NPT is weak, yet stating this makes me feel hypocritical. It is o.k. if we - the West - have nuclear weapons: the US, France, Britain… and a few others unspoken of like Israel are deemed to be responsible enough to own these horrible weapons. But suddenly India and Pakistan pose a threat; Iran is too dangerous to even use civil nuclear energy and North Korea.... Now lets be clear about where I stand on this too: the risks of nuclear energy are too big, the nuclear waste with a half life of 10.000 years, that are 100 centuries, is still unsolved. Even when we leave detailed information for future generations, they may not be able to read them. Can you still read the text saved on the old diskettes, or even your floppies of your old computer of just a few years ago? Can you still play your home movies? After only 4.000 years some now extinct languages are barely deciphered…

Anyway, is it the general view that nuclear power and nuclear weapons are to be reserved to ‘responsible’ western nations? What about the US thinking about allowing a pre-emptive nuclear strike against a perceived threat? What perception would apply? The same perception that declared Iraq an immediate danger to the US? The West speaks casually about second strike, first strike and pre-emptive strike with nuclear weapons… as if that is an acceptable response to terrorism, to aggression. As if that is a valid expression of our civilization. Now what is this all about? Can only we have nuclear weapons? Are the brown people from India and Pakistan, the yellow from China of a different order, not equal to the ‘white west’?

Never forget, when weapons exist, a reason to use them will be found – as in Hiroshima, like in Nagasaki. There was no reason, no “need” to drop the A-bomb on these cities. It was an experiment camouflaged as the last blow that broke the Japanese and brought about their surrender. Up to now, only the West has reduced, children, men and women to a shadow burnt into the walls of two cities. Only the West has wreaked havoc on future generations: sixty years later the Japanese still bear consequences of too many children born with leukemia, born under the sign of cancer, and we still see the results in the fewer and fewer survivors. Even today, the US is disposing of its Depleted Uranium by using it to make ‘more effective’ weapons in Iraq, thus condemning the Iraqi soil and people to radioactive contamination for generations to come.

Today’s nuclear weapons dwarf the power of the A-bomb. As a consequence resistance to nuclear weapons is an urgent duty because war has become just another option to be taken. Someone decides to declare war and the mass of soldiers and national guards execute the orders by executing those who have been singled out as the enemy. My peace pal is right: Peace does take more guts. It takes courage to believe that non-violent protest will make a difference, and act on that belief. We all have been the brunt of the insults of people thinking differently and treating us with enmity and contempt in the light of the generally acclaimed ‘war on violence’.

It is a very Old Testament attitude to fight fire with fire, leaving only scorched earth, ashes blowing in the wind. Ashes that could be you, my daughter, the beauty of nature, man made beauty in museums.
That attitude leads to more sickness, poverty, homelessness, and despair. To more domestic violence and the daily humiliation of powerlessnes. We – peace people- should not be frightened into silence by the tumultuous clamor about “war against terrorism”, claiming bigger and better weapons. We need to protest the stockpiling of these weapons. We need to claim that money and effort for health care and education.
Our means are: steadfastness, strong resolve, asking questions, thinking, resisting, being in the way, laying in the path of destruction… All this breaks the circle of violence, replacing it by listening to each other, finding common ground in this realization: We all have the same grooves in our soul when we experience our lives to the fullest: grooves for joy, sadness, the same need for food and shelter – and a longing for peace and love.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tar and Feathers

Tar and feathers but not for two bloggers: Melissa Mc Ewan has a personal blog with the name ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’. It is a funny, intelligent blog and yes it is overtly political. She was also a part-time technical adviser with Senator John Edwards. February 13 she has quit her job with the presidential campaign under pressure from conservative critics who were using her blog and opinions against the Edwards campaign. She is the second blogger to quit. The first is Amanda Marcotte after been accused of religious bigotry for earlier writings…
What is up folks? Is free speech and the separation of church and state the issue of the next presidential election? John Mc Cain for one is veering more and more to the extreme Christian right. He is saying things like “I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned…” Why would any women vote for him? He will also be delivering a speech on February 23 for ‘The Discovery Institute’, who believe in intelligent design and are getting their money from the Chalcedon Foundation who want to impose a Christian sharia on the USA. Sharia? Yes that is when religious law in Muslim countries replaces state law. In the US The Chalcedon Foundation advocates the replacement of American civil law with biblical law. This has the strangest consequences. Did you know that if you are visiting the Grand Canyon and if you, as an innocent tourist ask ‘How old is the Grand Canyon?’ that you would not get a geological reply. ‘No comment’ is all they are supposed to say. “In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is ‘no comment'." In this blog I want to honor the bloggers who speak their mind and thus defend our civil liberties. Thank you, Shakespeare’s Sister and Amanda.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Golden shoes
and lace
on a bony knee
of aged Sundays
and pearls
around necks of
sagging flesh
in excitement
for the procession
of shared solitude.

Behind the ardent rows
the beauties
No need yet
for this wait
that brings out
the saints.
Their time is the night
the fiesta of the flesh
forgotten the
Carne vale
of their mothers in the street.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Artists' night

It starts out mellow

and then there is music

and the morning after...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Secular values

Abortion is not only a women’s issue. A socio-cultural debate is necessary on the subject. Why? In Poland the plan is to write into the constitution that interrupting a pregnancy is illegal, also in case of rape, also in case of incest. When a women is sick during pregnancy, she will not be allowed to take medication if that could endanger the child… This is happening through the influence of the church, just as the opposition to civic unions and ‘gay marriage’. Churches can think and say what they want. Free thought and free speech does however not give the right to impose one’s views on governments or parliaments. People who oppose abortions use phrases like ‘the Swedish slaughterhouse’, because abortion is legal there. In the US Tashina Byrd went with her boyfriend to Wal-Mart to buy Plan B® - the "morning-after" pill, the pharmacist laughed and said, "We have it on hand, but there's no one here who can dispense it." This happened at a Wal-Mart in Springfield, Ohio. In Belgium, 40% of all interruptions of pregnancies is requested by young women of the first generation come from Middle and Eastern European Catholic and Christian countries and Africa (27,5 %). In the remaining 12,5 % the seccond generation Turkish and Moroccan women are the largest group. Poverty and cultural and linguistic barriers which result in no or incorrectly use anti conception, still play a role. In Ireland the debate has been almost impossible since 1980. As long as religious groups act as if there are no secular values, a rational debate will be hard to come by. The issues are: decriminalization of women having had an abortion, respecting their reproductive rights and all options, and improving women’s health. Poland and France have a similar size population. In Poland however abortion is illegal whereas in France it has been legalized 32 years ago. You may be astonished to learn that both countries have a similar amount of abortions per year. The predicted inflation of the figures just never happened in France. What did change was that the death rate of women being cared for in medical facilities dropped spectacularly and that the consequences where no longer life threatening or maiming for a large percentage of women. The debate if conducted in a rational way sways even very catholic countries like Portugal, where in a recent referendum the people of the country decided abortions should be legalized. The issues dealt with in Portugal were: Decriminalizing the women, legalizing the procedure, women’s health, aspects of equity and public health within society. Rich people could go to Spain, while poor women often lost their life in back rooms or suffer the consequences physically for the rest of their life. The discussion shouldn’t be about when life starts. It is not a religious discussion since legalization doesn’t impose anything; it only does away with hypocrisy. Decent medical facilities, and dealing in a human, responsible way with a crises situation saves and improves women’s lives because they are no longer mutilated but dealt with in a respectful, caring way. Let’s recognize the need, do away with hypocrisy and treat women with respect.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


The water flows high and fast under the bridges in this city I visit too often without ever being remotely a part of it or really seeing it. The high water implies that one can not walk along the canal, and as a consequence the homeless, who like to sleep under these bridges, out of the rain, relatively out of the wind, have no where to go. Further along the quai there is a tent city. Flyers that have been stuck to some trees inform me of a demonstration by ‘Les Enfants de Don Quichote’, Don Quichote’s children. In front of a larger community tent kids are burning scavenged wood in a metal vat. The youngsters prepare a demonstration on a square from where they have been chased. I ask: What is the demonstration about? “They don’t listen, they promised us a place to stay.” is their answer. “Nobody listens, some of us here, their parents don’t even listen.” They are homeless. The tents have been bought with money people donated. They have been here for over a month, almost two. Walking on I see that as always there are dogs around. No toilets. Some tie their place up seriously for fear of loosing their precious few possessions. Some who are ‘home’ left their sneakers out… The city picks up the garbage and two older guys tell me that usually the police leaves them alone, however blankets will be removed from portals in the rest of the town. It is a kind of free republic. A man about forty-five -but who can tell- curly hair, dark eyes, a few small tattoos, bad teeth insists he is on this road by choice. He used to have an apartment and it was too hard. He didn’t like to work and pay the bills. ‘There was no time left to have a good life. One used to be able to live on 5 € per day, now 10 € doesn’t get one anywhere.’ They tell me: ‘ We hold meetings, but then there are only a few who are always talking, interrupting, screaming and being angry. They don’t let others speak. So even they don’t listen, we don’t even listen to each other. There are a lot of fights; we live really in close quarters.’ The distance between his tent and the one of a blond blue-eyed guy with worn black shoes is maybe one foot, 30 centimeter. The latter had a job and an apartment with a cardboard wall between him and a pita place that only closed at two and he had to get up at five. Impossible, he lost the place and his job. They are not going to the demonstration. Rain is threatening, the dark eyed man is covering the tent with silver foil that keeps in the heat. Through an opening I see a blanket, a coat, a pillow, a strip of medication, a book, a few pieces of twine… No mattress between the bottom of the tent and the pavement. He checks me out and seriously says: ’You have a job.’ Smiling I say yes, I chose that road. They both agree on the government and the citizens in general: ‘Its easy to give us bread and oranges, but to give us another chance to get back into a better life, an apartment just seems impossible. They make it too hard! And nobody listens…’ I take my leave, greet them and walk to the hotel. In their world twine is a survival tool, in mine wifi is. Theirs is life outside the margins of power, down and out in Paris and London and all the major cities of the world. Mine is looking in from the sideline.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Salon de Thé

There is a small Salon de Thé, very French , where I like to sit before or after work and watch the world. Especially on a rainy day, it exudes a rare cheeriness. People hurry by bundled up, negotiating wind and umbrellas. The new tram glides by silently. Occasionally you’ll hear the warning bell for an inattentive pedestrian. Inside, the light voices of women speak the local dialect. I eavesdrop to all the languages around, read or write. They are Patissiers, Chocolatiers, Glaciers, yes they make their own ice cream too. Surrounded by all the luscious temptations, it is easy to desist: yes choosin’s illusion. Les Torches aux Marrons (Flaming Chestnuts), Granité de Noisette (Rocky Nuts), Savarin, Punch aux Rhum, Tarte au Poire-Chocolat, yes Pear and Chocolate Pie, Pensée (Pansy), Linzer, and les Sablés: five kinds of sand cookies and a variant thereoff les Florentins. I am just eating, tasting the words and contemplating the impossibility of choice.
The light is reflected by mirrors, so placed that one is not confronted with the image of oneself ‘stuffing’ one’s face. Usually I am frugal: a light salad, a healthy choice. The ladies working here seem to be coifed by the same hairdresser. They all have a dark and blond mix: one has sober blond strands, another a shock of zebra striped hair on the left side while the rest is blond. The third sports a peacock effect; one could call it brindled like a white appaloosa with peacock eyes. The color scheme of their hair suggests a harmony between them and brings light hearted good vibrations to the place. Today a few men come in buying chocolate and getting good advice: it is after all St Valentine and that is taken seriously in France. The old man at the table next to me toasts his even older wife saying: ’I have never seen anything as beautiful’, lightly caressing her hand.
Listening, looking, I learn the rules of the game as it is played in Rue du Noyer # 1. Whenever melancholy hits me, the shame about the state of the world wears me down, this Salon de Thé is my temporary refuge.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Friends are important. Each has his/her own domain. I mean domain/s that we share, interests, opinions, longings, values. Each gives me new thoughts, shows me a particular strength. Last evening I had dinner with a long time friend, and with her I need to check a couple of times per year whether our singular evolutions still follow different roads while coming to similar conclusions. In these talks we are ruthlessly honest about what we want, need, would like. We’re honest about our uncertainties, our frailties, ailments and fears. We have cried together and laughed. I have told her about some of my other friends: Rockcastle, the astrologer, Dr Scarpone, my Peace Buddy, and others you have met on this blog… Once in a while our being finite comes up, mortality and neither of us writing that all-important letter to our daughter quite yet. The letter that should reassure and console, give warmth and acceptance; a letter that would explain about the time of rocks, how the sand gets to the sea, arrives in the oceans. We want to write about the wind whispering, caressing, bringing tears to your eyes and leaving a message on water. Oh, we feel we have time, and talk about retirement, the need to do more, different things, expand our experiences. We know we’ll work still for a while but keep the end date ‘flexible’… We care about our job, even talked about how to coach young colleagues… But I think neither of us is defined by the job. We are defined by how we perceive the world and interact with it; how our heartbeat picks up the pulse of the world and responds to it. We are also defined by the people we care for.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Das Leben der Anderen

Rockcastle, my oldest (no not in years), my longest (no not tallest) friend invited me to go catch a movie. She is more attuned to the joys in life, lives more in her body, whereas I live more in my head… She has a discerning taste in movies. Das Leben der Anderen is a film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the 3 main actors are Martha Gedeck as the famous actress Christa Maria Sieland, Ulrich Mühe as the Stasi official Gerd Wiesler (magnificent!), Sebastian Koch as the writer Greorg Dreymann. The movie starts in 1984 a few years before the fall of the wall in Berlin at the end of the DDR period - the German Democratic Republic, aka Eastern Germany known for spying on their civilians, dissidents and of course as always on artists. The analogy between what is going in the USA today is flagrant in the fact that civil rights are trampled, that the rule of law is compromised all under the guise of protection, safety and anti-terrorism. In the GDR the tune was different, there the reason given was not to compromise the revolution - in reality it was about consolidating power and privileges. Whatever the reason, the rights of innocent citizens were non existent so they would confess to whatever the ‘Staatssicherheit’ wanted to hear. Real betrayals between friends, lovers were not uncommon. The hero is the dull, hardened prototype of a strict interrogator. The character seems bloodless, cold, efficient. In surveying a famous writer, he slowly develops feelings, respect and pays the price for it. The film takes you by surprise, makes you think and must give us hope, because when our mails are read, our phones listened too (all foreign calls?, incoming and outgoing?) that somewhere in that whole mess, there is a real human being who could not listen to the ‘Sonata of a Good Man’ and not be moved. So, go! Go, run to your car, drive an hour, two, three and go watch the movie or go look for it in the foreign section. You might find Das Leben der Anderen. La Vie des Autres because it won 4 prizes and had an Oscar nomination. 'The Life of Others' watch it and be moved by this smart, clean, perfectionist film with wonderful music.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Why does it matter?

Why do I care about the Wave Structure of Matter. Do I understand the mathematical part of it? Not really. Yet when I am reading on the Space and Motion site I realize the philosophical implications of some parts a few paragraphs before I find the confirmation in the text. Now think, space in motion is infinite. It makes sense to me, a beginning and an end never did. This space is infinite eternal and continuous. Space is all there is. So is the yearning for space in the heart of the restless traveler. And the rest (time and its consequences) is a consequence of movement in space. Being ‘spaced out’ to me always was being so in flow, so engrossed in a book, in writing, that suddenly your body calls you to order. Having to use the bathroom, and before you know it, it happens again. That is then usually the moment I look at my watch and realize that four, five hours have gone by and that time has passed me by. That is how space must be, waving in and out, relating, not quiet reaching all and everything, yet part of the whole. So what we can ‘see’ as influencing us, we consider part of our universe. Isn’t it great we are the center again of our own universe? It also works this way in networking in human relations. I feel the more waves we let in, the more waves we can send out. The more my friends provide me with opportunities to learn, to feel, to enjoy, to live fully, the more waves I create out again. The sad thing in the infinity of space our own universe is finite. The planet could be ruined by us, by our human activity. Already today we have created an ecological debt that is longer than fifty years. We have made life harder, less healthy, more precarious for at least three generations. So in order to keep the equilibrium in our finite part of infinity, we need to change our ways and strife for justice, equity, kindness, beauty, solidarity with all and everything. The sixties said it right, sometimes there are good vibrations, waves in harmony and equilibrium, yet listening to the world now what I hear is the dissonant of war, the ugliness of greed, the darkness of doomsday sounds of injustice and egotism and bloodthirsty power. Yet we have a choice (if we are not dictated by past and genes and such) or the waves right now give us the opening to try and heal what is sick, they repeat with every pulsing motion that touches us: we are all related!
Mitakuye Oyasin. To all my relations… If we truly feel this, maybe then we can imagine long term inclusive futures.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Finite universes

This link is a gift from a friend. I started reading it and my joy grew with every new concept that was introduced. I have known for a while that there are pluriverses: more than one, several and all united in ‘space’. This last jump is quite amazing: space infinite and eternal and continuous. The different universes are finite just as matter is. There are waves going in and waves going out. We are just as each particle, the center of our universe. Definition: Universe is the Finite Spherical region of Matter and Space that we can see and interact with (within an Infinite Space). Only this other matter's Out-Waves contribute to the formation of our Matter's in-Waves. i.e. Huygens' Principle - and this is the cause of Mach's Principle, that the mass of our matter is determined by all the other matter in our finite spherical universe (because it is created by it!). Read on on the site and you’ll jump for joy because this is the end of unconnectedness. I have said before: the stars and I are part of each other, now I know why. And time? Definition: Time is a consequence of the Wave Motions of Space, and that it takes ‘Time’ for Wave Motions to flow from place to place in Space. Time does not exist as a thing in itself, it is, like the ‘Particle’, an effect of the Wave Motion of Space, not a cause! Thus Time only applies to Matter, as the Spherical Wave Motion of Space and not to Space itself. Of course during my many goings from one place to another, in cars, trains, planes, boats, I have often wondered how time was needed to get to another place and the close connection between aspects of Time and Space.
The definitions come from Cosmology, Geoff Haselhurst website on ‘Space and Motion’.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Pet Peeve

Wal-Mart is my pet peeve. Betty Dukes deserves our respect for taking on the world largest supermarket chain with its 3400 shops; a chain seemingly discriminating women, not giving them training possibilities, not paying the same wages for the same jobs. Two million women have worked for Wal-mart since December 28, 1998. Now they could get a settlement if they win this case. Furthermore there are no trade unions, except I am told in Quebec, in Canada because obviously ‘nobody wants to get on the wrong side of the Quebecois’ and in China where trade unions are not free and independent. China only acknowledges state trade unions. Not only are much of the ugly cheap plastic consumer goods Wal-Mart sells and that break when one looks at them Chinese, but the workers producing them live in miserable circumstances. When China did bid for the Olympic Games they made 5 promises: they would organize green Olympics, there would be freedom of the press (that is actually in their constitution!), friendly security, the profit would be used to create a better social situation for all, and lastly more transparency to the public. Nice promises, good rhetoric. One could compare this to the 1936 Olympics when in Germany a certain dictator pulled the same publicity stunt. What are the problems with China: the internet is not free (Google accepted that), cyber dissidents are thrown in jail, there is no freedom of the press, vast stretches of land is so polluted it can not be used and in Bejing the air makes you cough constantly. The country doesn’t think about sustainability. There are problems with health (HIV is increasing rapidly), with women rights. NGO’s can do their jobs. There has been a severe crack down on lawyers last year. Human rights, capital punishment with about 10.000 executions per years, workers rights, ecological disasters such as the big dam projects responsible for the displacement of 30.000.000 (40 million, 300 million, what figure is right?) landless farmers and Tibet to name but a few issues which should make one think before buying Chinese goods.
China claims Western values don’t work in Asia. Is that true? Are there no universal values? Is only competition and profit universal?

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Tower of Silence

We have to write. Not privately, like a diary, where there is no ‘publicity’, no testing of truth and history and reality. Our reactions in private settings don’t yield results, don’t flow into schools of thinking nor are they part of the general critique of government. Our private thoughts cannot change the paradigms of our society. So if we write we need a private/public situation like a blog, a website, a newspaper, to exchange ideas, to influence and be influenced, to learn. Whenever there is a marriage between capital and power, democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of the press and our civil rights are in jeopardy. So we need to write as sharp and clear as we can. We need to point out that no more money should go to the surge in Iraq. We need to be vigilant because there is a real risk that without a word, without the approval of the congress, the UN or the allies of Nato that President Bush will attack Iran one day soon. We need to prevent this. We need all to write as good as we can to stop our government, to embarrass our government, the business Tzars and the power brokers. Let’s polish our words till they are strong enough to bring about peace. Don’t lock yourself up in a tower of silence, care about the lives and beauty lost. Build confidence and trust, talk and listen, and heal the world of violence.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007


Soft spoken they had been getting used to each other sitting outside under the tin roof of the old gas station. CJ stopped by with his fiancée. The tone of the conversation changed. The talk was guns and rifles, they came out of the pickup truck and CJ sighted, checked and moved every movable part and eventually could not get the ‘bottom loader’ to shut tight anymore.

It was then that CJ announced his impending wedding. She, tall with flowing hair and a gentle soul looked apologetically down. It was not her idea. The thought scared her, yet the gesture of asking her was meant to be generous and caring. She had been through a lot with CJ. She knew the caring would be hers to do, between the heart trouble and the nightmares…

While they fought, maimed, bombed, sprayed and gored, saw death and destruction and sowed the same, she grew up listening to the news, marching in the peace marches. She woke up with nightmares of burned children and young men without legs. CJ too woke up every night to them. Not knowing what he was doing he would take his gun, cock it and walk around the house, look in every corner. Cin then would calm the wild look in his eyes. He hoped that they, that is the Veterans Administration, would recognize that he was crazy and paranoid and pay him a pension and grant full health care for him and his family. It was the plan to give Cin security that way, an honorable plan after a life of two and a half tours as a volunteer, then working as a cook or cowboy because he could not stand the confinement of having a boss.

Nobody knew whether he had been a tunnel rat. He never said a word, probably was slightly offended at the one foot lettered peace sign over the gasstation’s door wrapped in Christmas lights. About a block away was the best spot to read it properly.

With Cin most things went unspoken. There was no need to explain, elucidate. The inclination of the head, the repressed tears, the smiles had told all. Probably she was aware it was going to be a hurricane ride. Love and caring can bring one to strange spots. There was no need to apologize either for the outrageous comments he made at the table one evening. They should shoot all democrats. The democrats are worse than communists. They should go into Iraq, take his gas and kick his ass. Yes, everybody knows how he is and everybody seems to have forgotten when exactly CJ moved in with her. Probably at the time his Rottweiler died. It was also the time when both her sons joined the Army within a couple of months. In her loneliness, she had put up the brave front of any Army mom. The world was not in a good way. Her boys were gentle, had an uncanny talent for bizarre stories, well written. The boys were also big and strong and joining the forces might just be the only way ever to get through college… What to say about that? She lost one and the younger one couldn’t deal with a dead hero brother, left the Army and got in with a rough crowd. There is hope for him; he was the better writer. He might just be gathering the dirt under the fingernails that good stories are made with. Having CJ as a protector in the house must have seemed a godsend to her who holds no violent thoughts. The town heard her sing Christmas carols, saw her grieve her son, saw her still believe in a purpose for all that pain. And seeing her, anger against the universe was hot.

Many have been in that spot where between flashes of genius, mood swing and old fears of dying, the days are eaten away, balking at the caring role of a housewife on top of everything else. Maybe Cin can pull off, what pulled others down. Some women are not a natural talent, resent the time spend in dusting and mopping. Give them a laptop, a paintbrush, a job anytime over the vacuum cleaner:

There is a job to do
the getting up at six
feeding the dogs
watering the plants
washing the dishes
drying them
and putting them away
scrubbing and
washing drying and
putting everything away
use knife and forks
wash them dry them
put them away again
walk the dog
cut off some blossom
arrange it in a vase
brush your teeth
change your clothes
and go to work
come home and go to work -

When is your time to be a woman?

Of course there were also times of luxuriant happiness then.

Some girls alone stay alone and vow never to compromise on love, lower their expectations or darn socks for anybody. Gentle talk and the time and place when one needs to be held in a good and warm, caring way that makes the body sing, make the women fall falling failing doubting, falling. The prayer has been to have the strength not to accept out of need, out of loneliness what only should happen, because it was meant to be.

CJ sat in the bar and told nobody in particular how he ended up here in this godforsaken place that fries your brain in summer and chills your bones in winter winds. Nobody tells me what to do. Not even my father could. I did, as a volunteer, two tours of duty. One day the Fonda women came and sang for us and she said, we shouldn’t be there; that we all should go home. So I went to see my officer and told him: I am going home. He asked me why, so I replied that Fonda had told us all to go home. The commander shrugged and sent me back to my quarters. Big laughs all around, they know about Jane Fonda in these parts. Some of the cars still have the bumper sticker saying: Jane Fonda communist traitor bitch. Some people seem to carry a grudge for over 30 years. The need of others to justify all the suffering that war caused, the need to make it right, by making it honorable is overwhelming here…

CJ has a soft spot. He loves animals, values their trust and loyalty. Was it her kindness that drew him to Cin? What need he fulfills for her. She defers to him. At home, her home, she still treats him as an honored guest. Bringing coffee or tea, being attentive to his needs. Maybe after a year or two becoming more like a wife than a lover to him. No public display of intimacy between them. The only clue is that she kind of dresses up, when seen with him. Did she after the end of the previous marriage, after seeing her sons go, and one never to return, feel superfluous and does he give purpose and center to her life, filling the place of pain with here and now. Does she know what it is to burn body and soul for love? Does she long for that? And you? Will you be able to rise from your ashes and be free, and wild and wondrously whole? Dogs, after loosing their master, take to the kindness and warmth of another voice, in new fidelity…

Cin, you know, jeder Anfang ist schwer.

Monday, February 5, 2007

We and them?

Conservatism, prejudice, them and us partitions, lack of social justice always are influenced by narrow definitions of “we, the people”. In a time of climate change, global economy, war & peace options “we, the people” is humanity.
Sometimes the leaders of conservative, intolerant groups incite to racism, sometimes their supporters don’t need any encouragement as was the case in a small town in Belgium, where 1/3 voted for Vlaams Belang (former Vlaams Blok, convicted of racism in the courts of Belgium). Wouter Van Bellingen is an alderman in this town and charged with performing the marriages. He is clever, young, good-looking, grew up in a nice Flemish family, went to the boy scouts, got interested in politics and got elected with a rather good personal score. He is Flemish on all counts, but also black. So where is the problem. Ma and Pa Van Bellingen adopted 4 kids from milk chocolate to dark and three couples recently objected to being married by Wouter, because he is black. This got into the international press, a wave of support and indignation swept through the country. This right wing party has a slogan ‘Eigen Volk Eerst’: own people first! But who is their ‘own people’: not working women, they should stay at the hearth, not gays (dirty!), not colored people, not weird artists, not muslims… , not… ! Until actually only ‘their kind of people’ is left. They want good housing and jobs and social security but only for their kind. The alderman has a sense of humor. He developed it being exposed to daily small acts of racism I read in a paper. Small acts of racism? Does innocent racism exist? March 21 is the International Day against Racism. Since many couples sympatize with Wouter Van Bellingen, they expressed regret they hadn’t been wedded by him. The small town will organize on this March 21 a mass wedding for all these couples. That should be fun and should put some shame on the three couples cheeks. This may be more effective than going to court. Small acts of discrimination, race, class, ideology… Sherman Alexie (Spokane writer) in Tiny Treaties (from First Indian On the Moon) doesn’t ask a question I have struggled with concerning my late husband and a pacifist buddy of mine, wearing a mohawk:

… I promised
to ask if you would have stopped
and picked me up if you didn’t know me
a stranger Indian who would have fallen in love
with the warmth of the car, the radio

and the steady rhythm
of windshield wipers over glass, of tires
slicing through ice and snow. I promised
to ask you that question every day
for the rest of our lives

but I won’t ask you even

because I don’t want to know the answer.

Would you? Would I?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Chameleon's wedding

Chameleon and The Hungarian did it. I feel an immense gratitude for having been part of the ceremonies. At the registrars office, in a splendid stain glassed hallowed secular hall, the civil ceremony was short, simple and strong, meaningful in all its parts. The bride and groom walked in accompanied by an impressive old bagpiper. There is something about how the bagpipes move the air that makes us vibrate and opens us wide, makes us receptive and ready to be emotional. The law and depth of the commitment was made clear, the love shone through their whole attitude during handfasting, a Celtic knot tying ceremony by means of a Scottish sash. During the reading with the right Scottish accent of Burns ‘A Red Red Rose’, the bride bloomed with pink cheeks and at that moment I noticed the pink roses and blue thistle of her bouquet. The gentleness and respect for each other radiated out of them during the Apache Marriage Blessing and touched all of our hearts:

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be the shelter for each other.
Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be the warmth for the other.
Now you are two persons,
but there is only one life before.
Go now to your dwelling place,
to enter into the days of your life together.
And may your days be good,
and long upon the earth.

Treat yourselves and each other with respect, and remind yourselves often of what brought you together.
Give the highest priority,
to the tenderness, gentleness and kindness that your connection deserves.
When frustration, difficulty and fear assail your relationship -
as they threaten all relationships at one time or another -
remember to focus on what is right between you,
not only the part which seems wrong.

In this way you can ride out the storms,
when clouds hide the face of the sun in your lives -
remembering that even if you lose sight of it for a moment,
the sun is still there. And if each of you takes responsibility for the quality of your life
together it will be marked by abundance and delight

Seated at the bloggers table, the virtual world materializing, it was time for lightheartedness and the sustenance of the body: delicious food, a thoughtful, teasing, slightly embarrassing, but never shaming speech by the best man and yes, almost all the guy’s wore kilts and strutted their stuff, peacocks and lions all of them! A long Victorian funny, sharp witted poem about how the couple met, would win a poetry prize for light verse, a difficult discipline! A Ceilidh Band with a caller provided the after dinner entertainment, rather we all provided it for them, trying out the different spinning, twirling, hop and scots passes we had never done before. ‘ The White Sergeant’ almost left me in an asthmatic stupor. After a dark devilish, voluptuous velvet black chocolate wedding cake and a few more experiments on the dance floor, it was time for Old Langsyne, holding hands, forming a circle of friends and breaking it at the end to return to all our far-flung places, yet bonded by the joint experience. I feel I have taken a bath in a warm and kind humanity and have had a glimpse of ‘the meaning of life’.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Hen party

A larger group of women, some of them work in the same environment, others never met anyone before, recognize each other but don’t really don’t know each other and yet we here for a hen party. The dynamics are wonderful: open, honest conversation, good fun and serious stuff, wine, gin tonic, vodka. A late walk through town on a wonderful winter night with a full moon makes me think about the spirals of experience in our lives. Definitely the cycle of life is being celebrated. All our lofty or lowly –bassement matérialiste- pursuits have been put aside to be part of this rite of passage. The women here are all strong, vibrant, interesting, intelligent and one can feel the excitement of being part of this ritual, age old and primitive. Maybe primordial behavior is the only true behavior left. Participating in the transition of one phase of life, one status to another is definitely a privilege. Seeing a friend entering a legal union after years of ‘shacking up’, meeting her friends and family, having had a few serious talks about all this and finally sharing her excitement reminds us all of the cycle of life. There is talk of old, ailing parents, there are a few kids who remind us of the manifold futures yet unseen, and we know of loss and the ensuing loneliness that comes with it. In participating, being a member of this wedding party, all of us are, once again, fully immersed in the stream of life. I wonder who will catch the bouquet? By respecting the rituals, one signifies (maybe tongue in check) seriousness about the matter at hand, solidarity of the group and thus the bond that we are witnessing will be strengthened. I wish you abundant delights…

Thursday, February 1, 2007


Home at 1 am after work, I feel great. Working at different times than ‘the general’ population is exhilarating to me, as if the sleep of others sustains me when I get too fatigued. I have to admit I like my job; yet I would avoid saying: ‘I am a carpenter, a neurosurgeon, a plumber, a shopkeeper, a waitress.’ Not that I would be ashamed of any of the jobs just mentioned, but a job is what I do and not what I am. In On Seeing and Noticing Alain de Botton included a short essay ‘On work and happiness’, noting that ‘The most remarkable feature of the workplace has nothing to do with computers, automation or globalization. It lies in the widely held belief that our work should make us happy.’ He speaks about work ethic, postulating that most people would work even they didn’t have to. Now that would get me a roaring laugh in my small desert town… maybe even a few free drinks for telling the weirdest joke ever. My buddies there definitely hold the view that work is penance or punishment or an unavoidable necessity to be resorted to only in case of dire necessity and advocate the right to laziness. Some jobs are rewarding, financially and in personal growth. Some ‘jobs’ lead to glory and fame. But the giga majority is not. Not well paid, not fulfilling. Yet de Botton is right when he says that in meeting a new person, often one of the first questions is ‘what do you do?’ That information tells us something about perceived social status, areas of interest. Maybe, we are just shy asking new acquaintances real personal questions: where did you grow up, who were your parents, etc. The concept of meritocracy is another conundrum. Obviously it helps to have a certain talent or knack to do a certain job; if you hold a certain position you must ‘merit’ it and thus it says something about you as person. And also obvious is then that those not having 'nice' jobs didn't merit them. In a company, institution where promotions are based on ‘merit’, sometimes things work out right and everyone ends up doing exactly what she is good at. However, this could engender a lot of hidden hurt, fear of under achievement and stress since the perceived relationship with authority will also play its part. We should remember that one’s status is never guaranteed. I wonder how, when and where the Peter Principle comes in. Ivan Illich pointed out that work, people, even health is commodified. So although some of us may enjoy our jobs, the majority of the working class can be laid off at whim, since it is all about profit and paiing the least possible for all resources, also the human resource. Inequality still plays its part in the workplace with consequences for one’s self esteem and quality of life. Optimism about nice and fulfilling jobs and living in the Wal-Mart, fast food zone, has left many people unhappy. If that is your case: estimate what you need, what you would prefer to have money wise, says Dr Scarpone, and then do what you really want to do. Since you want to do it, you’ll enjoy yourself, be good at it and probably financially successful at the same time. Free advise.