Did Sisyphus Ever Make it?

February 20, 2021 1 comment

Back in Virginia, Patricia cleaned house for us for sixteen years, until we left the States to return to Paris. Once every two weeks, she spent about three hours on the job, then drove away leaving everything sparkling. No spot of dirt, no trace of soap in the bathtubs remained to be seen, no hairballs from the cat Pishoo and her successor Cerise (each of which she cuddled and cooed to and called “my baby.”) Patricia was efficient, always in a good mood as she went from one room to another, from one floor to the next. She had legal residence, as did her husband, but sometimes brought an illegal helper. 

When we had work to be done and brought in carpenters to redo the deck or painters to repaint a bedroom, and I admired their skills and timeliness, they were often from “El Salbador,” like Patricia herself. I would ask her why her country remained so poor when in the States, her fellow citizens worked so hard and so well, and didn’t they work the same way in El Salvador. She countered that there was no work there, and also that people didn’t need to work as their relatives in the States sent them money. I don’t know about that but I do know that I was happy at Patricia and her family all being legal residents and not risking deportation. When the awful Trump started talking about “rapists and criminals,” I called her from Paris to make sure she was all right and was relieved to hear they had all become legal citizens in the meantime. 

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What I lost forty two years ago : the idea of a country

February 11, 2021 4 comments

The Islamic revolution took place forty-two years ago today, February 12, 1979. I was in Paris at the time, Paris where I had first traveled when I was five years old, to which I came back often, where I obtained my degree at the Sorbonne and had now been living for a number of years. Born in a French-speaking family with complicated roots and history, I was of French culture and felt so. But I was an Iranian national and I equally felt so. 

The revolution occurred not long after the return to Iran of Khomeiny from the Paris suburb of Neauphle-le-Château from where he had spread his revolutionary messages to Iran, reflecting the wisdom and serenity of a new Gandhi. Or so he was perceived by the West, always a pushover for imported spirituality. The riots of the cadets of an air base were the last nails in the coffin of the Shah’s fallen regime, after months of troubles. The street followed, with a nonstop flood of unfamiliar characters, dishevelled, spewing hatred, their fists tight as they  chanted slogans about revenge and promised those brighter tomorrows that become the first line of any discourse in times of power grabs and upheavals. The government, already shaky, fell. Shapour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister appointed by the Shah, went into hiding ; blood started flowing that would never stop.

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We, the Frogs

The fable, as we know it, is that of a frog put in a pot of water, the pot of water put on a stove and the stove lit. As the temperature rises, the frog adjusts its body temperature until the water comes to a boil and the frog dies.

This story comes to mind as, over the last year, the temperature of the water we swim in has been rising steadily. We had already paddled, since 2016, in the murky glop of a country and a world twisted beyond recognition, rules, or sense by an unhinged leader who had made his way to the White House on the shoulders of millions of simpletons eagerly letting themselves be manipulated and ready to swallow any lie, any promise and any conspiracy theory. Added to which more millions who didn’t stop and weigh the consequence of simply voting Republican as they always had.  

The temperature of the water kept rising and we paddled on, unaware, though we started seeing weird images out of the corner of our eyes: news reports too extreme to grasp, unholy alliances with other unhinged world leaders, followed by spats and breakups, laws changed and executive ordered over night, nominations of totally inept and corrupt officials, the Treasury looted by thugs out to make fortunes, the rise of overt and criminal racism with cops killing Blacks on every street corner, Latino children kept in cages. 
Through it all, we adapted, though starting to feel a little overheated. Then the virus struck, and people started dying in unbelievable numbers, city streets were deserted as everyone was told to hunker down at home as the cost of survival, businesses shut down while the economy, unbelievably, soared to thus far unseen indexes. The air was silent, millions of planes grounded, and still people died, and still the unhinged leader shrugged it off with his compassionate wording, “it is what it is.” 

(On the plus side, Nature, meanwhile, started breathing again, plants grew, oceans cleared, animals on the verge of extinction thrived.)

We sat in front of our computers, wearing comfortable clothes that camouflaged our growing blubber, and we gradually became too stunned by the increasing heat to move. When the votes came in and we at last breathed a sigh of relief, we also physically felt the water cool down. While goons with horns attacked the Capitol in retribution for their guy having lost, we all started crossing fingers, for though death was continuing to claim untold thousands, the water was still cooling. Overworked scientists finally came up with vaccines, elections were held, decent people who know what they are talking about were voted in and we, once again, had a future, actual tomorrows rather than a dull, gray, today after today after today.  

On the 20th of this month, things will actually begin changing. What lessons have we, the frogs saved in the nick of time, learned, what conclusions have we reached, was all this necessary? Did we have it too good before, should we be content with less? Will things go back to normal once we figure out what normal is? Have we changed?

Categories: Daily life

This Is Not Who I Am, This Is Not Who we Are

January 13, 2021 7 comments

The racist imbecile who a while back called the cops on a Black birdwatcher in Central Park used these words to apologize for her behavior: this is not who I am. Meaning, presumably, that the unseemly rant didn’t come from her but from the evil spirit that had temporarily taken over. I’m a good person. Ask my family, ask my friends. THAT woman? I don’t know who that was. I’m as appalled as you are by what happened.

We know that for a while now the creeping non-apology all but prevents an actual plain and simple apology which is usually enough to see most sins forgiven. This one—”that’s not who I am”–is yet the best people have come up with (even better than the prevalent non-apology apology: “I’m sorry you feel hurt/disrespected/slighted, etc.”) It takes away responsibility, what happened is really not their fault. The danger is that like so many of the language tics that are adopted overnight, not only does it not excuse shocking behavior and is downright insulting to the offended party’s intelligence, but it becomes a standard. You can’t arrest me, chastise me, turn your back on me, I didn’t do anything. That’s not who I am.

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Dear President-elect Biden, please don’t apologize for the Iranian events of 1953

December 4, 2020 4 comments
Mohammad Mossadegh

(le texte français suit)

Assigning guilt for past real or conflated crimes and misdemeanors can and often does lead astray leaders and even historians, insisting on blanket and endless apologies where a sharper look at facts would better serve policy. Humans being what they are, the abominable, the criminal and the appalling does occur through centuries and countries. All do not deserve the same treatment. As an example, the case against the atrocity that was slavery cannot be watered down by a redeeming explanation and Black lives must forever be honored and protected in atonement for that sinister page of history.

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Islam Is Killing Us

Anxiously counting the days until November 4th and the US elections results doesn’t cancel or even slow down the vortex of other matters that call for attention and sometimes bring us much anger and sorrow. As reflected in the news, Paris where I live is once more under Islamist attack. The assassination and decapitation on October 16 of a high school teacher who, discussing freedom of expression with his class showed as illustrations the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad (which, in 2015, had caused bloodshed with 15 deaths) causes, again, immense indignation, and more fear that this Western democracy where the separation of state and church or secularism (laïcité) has been law since 1905 will have to adopt strict measures that go against its culture and principles.

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Black Lives Don’t Matter

They used to. In 1850, a slave in good physical condition could be worth $35,000 in today’s dollars. A skilled one, such as a blacksmith, $50,000. That’s before it became illegal to buy and sell human beings kidnapped and brought forcibly to this country for a life of hard labor and early death. As property of a white master, black lives mattered.

Not now. Not one hundred and fifty-five years after the end of the Civil War, 157 after the passing of the thirteenth amendment making slavery illegal. Killing a black man will have no legal consequence, whether the murder is perpetrated by a foaming-at-the-mouth white civilian or two, as in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, or by a posse of white cops, as in the case of George Floyd. Until these recent murders, the count for this year alone since January 1, 2020 of blacks killed by white cops stood at 1099. The horrifying figure is for known and often documented deaths. Would it be a stretch to maybe double that?

slavery

Who knows how many unsolved deaths have occurred in smaller localities where people keep to themselves and wouldn’t say anything to incriminate members of the police, pillars of their hometown?

Black communities are our third world. It’s true that a good percentage of African-Americans are now on par with privileged segments of society. They graduate from good schools, follow a career path, have a solid network, often occupy high positions. But their skin remains black. Read more…

“Das Kapital” the only American value for Republicans?

Not to be facetious by linking Marx to the American economy but the title of his magnum opus seems to fit the United States as what Europeans and most of the rest of the world have been forever describing as being “all about the money.” They’re certainly right now about the country that has the misfortune of having Trump as its “leader,” Trump who is working hard to demonstrate he can fail not only his own businesses but Americans at every step.

Capture d’écran 2020-04-02 à 19.48.06

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Respect Me or I’ll Kill You

February 13, 2020 2 comments

Warning, do not read this post if you are quick to take offense. That covers a good number of people, mafiosi, petty crooks, but also those exiles in, or immigrants to, Western democracies who consider degenerate the mores of the land and find themselves insulted and deeply offended by the slightest criticism. Respect–italics, capital R–is a great concept that has now become twisted and the primary driver of any exchange between people with wildly differing views on family, society, religious belief, on virtually any subject. It has become the basic requirement–which would be fine if it didn’t flow in one direction, only. Femme voilee 2020-02-13 à 20.40.05

In Iran (where I come from, originally) as well as in other countries of the area, you’re OK as long as you compliment people, tell them that their history is grandiose, their taste unique, their hospitality the best, their virtues without compare. Any deviation from full appreciation immediately draws strong reactions and the slightest remark can be perceived as negative, and therefore, insulting. Multiply this a hundredfold in France where I live, home to innumerable people from those same Muslim countries, many of them now with French nationality. The perceived lack of Respect draws the ire and the lightning bolt of all suburban Jupiters, often first- or second-generation immigrants who have been brainwashed into believing that acceptance of recently-refurbished customs and mores must be absolute, not only from the locals among whom they live but also from the authorities of the country that has taken them in.
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After the Infamous Trump-Netanyahu “Peace Plan,” a Sober Look at Numbers

The Israeli peace organisation Btselem has compared the Donald Trump US plan to Swiss cheese. In their press statement,
they explain: “the cheese is being offered to the Israelis and
the holes to the Palestinians.”

Israel as a state goes back to 1948, while previous centuries or even millenia saw Jewish wandering throughout the world, millions settling down in communities, sometimes accepted, more often either shunned or suspected/accused of every crime or malfeasance under the sun. That they paid a terrible price under Nazi Germany for simply existing is a fact, save for Holocaust deniers–and those are legion. That equating the creation of a Jewish state is seen by many as a disproportionate compensation is also a fact. (My view is that there can never be enough compensation for a crime surpassing all others in the history of a world that has been ever creative in the field.)

Capture d’écran 2020-01-31 à 21.00.15

Arabs (save for Jordanians and rare others) share with my fellow Iranians a deep hatred of Jews and nothing would make them happier than the destruction of Israel. They pride themselves on their brotherhood with the much put-upon, oppressed, crushed Palestinians but the feeling is caused by anti-Semitism rather than by virtuous empathy or Hegel’s “schöne Seele” (beautiful soul). Push them and they will say that the only problem with the Holocaust ( if it ever happened) is that the much admired Hitler didn’t do away with all Jews. But then, hating Jews has been a tradition forever–entire libraries are filled with books about the subject, with disquisitions on eras, events, legends, etc. Of the many strange facets of the human mind, this is one of the weirdest but one that yields no answers.

Certainly, ever since European Jews settled down in Israel, realising Theodor Herzl’s Zionist dream, cohabitation never proved easy between them and Arabs who had lived in the original Palestine almost since the beginning of time along with the original Sabras, the Jews who had never left. Clashes have been frequent, appalling stories occurred with the Palestinian population which legitimately felt wronged, deprived of basic rights, their land stolen and innumerable lives lost. As for Arab Israelis, they chafed under their second-rate citizenship. There were skirmishes, wars such as the 1967 one with Egypt, massacres took place, such as the abominable 1982 ones in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila near Beyrouth perpetrated by Lebanese phalanges while the Israeli military under Ariel Sharon looked the other way and even facilitated operations.

Yet, until relatively recent times, Israel had an active liberal press and progressive Jewish Israelis strongly voiced their dissent with the human violations of the government, though the hardliner Jews grew ever more rigidly religious and the army more often than not brutally crushed dissent. Meanwhile, the illegal settlements have increased in scope, making life ever more difficult or even impossible for Palestinians. Activists and sympathizers, despite good intentions, are not able to make headway as long as the people in power have no intention of looking for solutions. We remember Rachel Corrie, crushed by an Israeli armored bulldozer (photo below), or James Miller, the British filmmaker killed by Israeli soldiers, both in Gaza, both in 2003, but there have been and are others.

rachel corrie

Today, there are 9 million Israelis, including some 2 million Arab Israelis. Settlements number 130 government-approved ones and 100 unofficial ones. East Jerusalem (that Palestinians still believe will some day become their capital, demonstrating that hope does indeed spring eternal) counts 300,000 Israeli citizens, both Arabs and Jews. In nearby Syria, the Golan Heights, a desert region hardly populated and illegally annexed by Israel in 1981, counts 20,000 settlers. While Gaza, separated from the West Bank by the width of Israel and a battleground for all in the area as well as for unhinged warriors remains an impossible proposition.

Settlements are generously encouraged and approved by Trump who would be hard put to find Israel or any country in the area or any country, period, on a map, has no idea what languages the people there speak, what gods they worship and the future or lack thereof they see for their children. Where other U.S. presidents more or less half-heartedly paid lip service to possible roadmaps, the present one, the “very stable genius” who swerves from one pathetic and destructive bright idea to the next helps his best buddy, the corrupt and dangerous Netanyahu, by bringing him total support in what often looks like a “final solution” regarding Palestinians. The “Peace Plan,” brainchild of the brilliant international policy expert Jared Kushner, calls for occupation of even more of the West Bank by Israeli settlers, in exchange offering Palestinians desert land on the Golan Heights. By some estimates, the Palestinians will end up losing 30% of  of the land they occupy now, generally in a most uneasy cohabitation with the ever more rabidly religious and Palestinian hating settlers. The appalling injustice makes even staunch supporters of the existence of Israel such as myself wonder how long this situation can keep deteriorating and not end in total disaster.
And the world looks on…

 

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