Wednesday, May 30, 2012

An Unearned Celebrity

There are not many white people in my neck of the woods, being as it is rather off the beaten tourist track, and as a result of being rare in this sense, I often find that I’m a bit of a celebrity. Not like, say, Brad Pitt or Lady Gaga, given that people neither go into a frenzy at my presence nor violently protest it, but more like a giraffe or a duck-billed platypus. I‘m unusual, I‘m odd. Children cannot help but shout at the sight of me. “Hey bule!” Either that or they shy away, hide behind a parent or a nearby tree. Some of them merely stare, like little deer caught in headlights. The older boys, the adolescents, have learned some English, and they like to employ it whenever opportunity knocks. “Hey Mister! Bintang ya? Obama! Boom-boom!” Honestly, I find it all purely delightful.

I suppose this is because I’m so accustomed to being fairly perfectly anonymous. In America if you are not Brad Pitt or Lady Gaga or some reasonable facsimile, people simply don’t give a shit You may as well be a fire hydrant or a telephone pole. And if you were to pipe up and say “Hi, how ya doin’?“ or “Hey, where ya goin‘?“ the stranger so addressed would more than likely avert his eyes and walk a little faster, taking you for some kind of weirdo or pervert. Either that or he’d flip you the finger if he had enough time to bother.

I’m not saying it has always been that way. It’s more of a recent development, over the last half century or so, a period of time that has seen the division of community into small special interest groups, isolated cliques through which the general society is negotiated with paranoid caution, being considered vaguely dangerous and by and large threatening.

I’m reminded here of a scene from the movie Blast from the Past. In this movie Brandon Frasier has from childhood been sequestered with his family in a fallout shelter since 1950 or so, the father having mistakenly believed the world above had been wiped out by a nuclear war. When finally Brandon emerges from the shelter, sometime in the 1970s, one of the first creatures he sets eyes upon is a black female mail carrier. Aghast, nearly frozen with delight at the novelty of this occurrence, Brandon finally exclaims “Oh my lucky stars -- a Negro!” In the deeply segregated society of the 1950s one simply did not see black people, nor did black people see white people. We knew of each other’s existence, of course, but to behold the actual creature was extraordinary and inspired a certain sort of amazement, a passing enchantment.

So it’s kind of like that. Oh my lucky stars, a bule! And why not? Brandon’s character intended no insult, but merely expressed a child-like wonder at the brave new world he had so suddenly entered. Here was something beyond the pale of every day experience -- the environment of the self-sufficient yet hopelessly remote fallout shelter -- and by extension, the social environment of 1950s America. In the same way, these people who greet me mean no insult nor intrusion. They simply acknowledge the uncommon event and are driven to connect, and thus take part through speech.

The beach nearest my house is not a tourist beach. There are no shops or cafes, no chaise lounges, no sellers or hawkers. From Padang Galak to Ketewel and beyond the sand is black, and hot like smouldering coals. People don’t swim or surf or snorkel here, partly because it’s a rather dangerous sea, and partly because you’d come out looking like a loaf of poppy seed bread. It is local people who frequent this beach, to fish, to collect black and white rocks for sale to the warehouse down the road, to attend a ceremony or a ritual bath; and in the evening they go there to stroll, to chat, and to let the children play in the lake-like shallows left by an outgoing tide.

It is here that my celebrity seems most noted and esteemed. Everyone wants to say hello, they need to say hello. They alter their path to approach nearby, to smile, to wave, to say hello. “Where are you from? Where are you going? Where do you live? How many children do you have?” It is simple, it is the same, and yet newly pleasant with every occasion. I am alive after all, and they are alive, and we are alive together in this one small place, in this huge, nonnegotiable, impersonal world.

“Om, Om,” one man exclaims, calling me ‘uncle’ as he turns his little daughter by the shoulders to face me. “Minta uang dari Om,” he says. Ask for money. And I am slain by the innocence of the thing, the faith of the man, the shy anticipation in the eyes of his little girl. Ask and you shall receive, knock and the door will be opened.

Sadly, I am helpless to help them. Silver and gold have I none. My pockets are quite empty, and my wallet as well. But such as I have, I give. Friendship. Kindness. Humanity. Celebrity.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sorry Didn't Do It.

This is something we will be hearing a lot about in the next few weeks -- the so-called “apology” of Bali mastermind bomber, Umar Patek, followed by a court verdict for that act in late June. You will read about it dozens of times -- perhaps dozens upon dozens, depending on how much you read and of what variety and origin -- and much of what you read is going to say the same thing that I’m about to say. But that’s okay. It bears repetition if only to guarantee that the truth remains louder and nearer at hand than lies.

But lets start with Kip Kinkle. As a teenager in my old home State of Oregon Kip Kinkle decided one day to murder his mother and father. After that he went to his high school with a rifle and shot a number of students, leaving two dead and 22 injured. He was apprehended, tried and sentenced to 111 years in prison without the possibility of parole. The State of Oregon does not have the death penalty. Kip is now incarcerated at the Oregon State Correctional Institution.

Here’s the point: Kip said he was sorry, I and believe that he was. How do I know Kip was sorry? I know this because I saw the news video shot from outside his cell just after he was arrested. In the video recording the viewer can hear Kip screaming in emotional agony -- tortured, unworldly screams and groans of inexhaustible self hatred. “Just kill me,” Kip shrieks through uncontrollable sobs. “Please just kill me; God please kill me.”

Here is the voice and the visage of a young man who has come to a full realization of exactly what he has done, here a young man suddenly buried beneath the unbearable weight of his crime. He has killed, murdered in premeditated cold blood, without passion, without mercy, and without reason other than the notion he had suffered that his parents might be disappointed with his grades for the term. And now Kip was sorry, truly very sorry -- for he understood that what had been only thoughts, fears, ideas and imaginations had somehow driven him to unthinkable action, and that he had crossed the line between infantile fantasy and enter a world of sheer horror and regret. The features of Kip’s face were twisted in extremis, rendered barely human by the stranglehold of sorrow and guilt that shook his slight frame. There was no going back, ever, and he knew it.

Kip Kinkle made no excuses. Though a mere boy, he faced the full import of what he had done. Was Kip insane? Maybe so. And yet he forewent a plea of insanity, for he must have felt that payment for what was inexcusable was only proper. Which in itself seems a pretty sane conclusion.

Now lets take a look at Umar Patek -- the man with the silly, toothy grin, the man in the self-conscious religious garb, the man who brightly smiles and shakes hands with the jurors and lawyers as if he were some kind of sheepish celebrity. What are you smiling at, Umar? Do you fail to understand, even now, that you are being tried for the murder of 202 human beings? What have you to say?

Well, Umar has apologized. He says he’s really quite sorry, and offers a number of excuses and conditions. He says, for instance, that he had never been in favour of blowing up people in a Kuta nightclub. Apparently, in his mind, it would have been better to blow up people somewhere else. Is he sorry then for the act of murder? Obviously not. You see, there are right people to murder and wrong people to murder, and Umar is merely sorry he murdered the wrong people. He adds then that he thought preferable victims might have been found in Israel or Palestine. Oh, ok. Now we understand.

Yes, we understand. We understand that Umar Patek is not sorry at all. We watch him speak with dispassionate composure, and spin an outrageous tale of absurd justification. No tear is shed, no groan of regret uttered. For a decade Patek crawled and slithered about various crannies and hovels, saving himself, planning new murders, unsatisfied with those he had already committed, until finally he was shovelled out of hiding and arrested. And then someone told Umar that it would be a good idea to apologize at this point. Say you’re sorry. It plays well in the Indonesian courts. You might get out alive. You might get off with just ten years or so. Heck, you might even get a slap on the wrist along with an order to behave in the future.

And so he forces out the words which should from the outset have forced themselves from the mouth of any sane or worthy human being. I’m sorry, he says. I’m really very sorry. And it doesn’t mean a God damned thing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Fly in the Ointment

One of the best things about Bali is that there are no horseflies here. Not as far as I’ve seen anyway. It strikes me that this may also be the case in locales other than Bali, and so I should preface any further remarks with a description of the horsefly and why its general absence is to be preferred, such that the otherwise happily ignorant reader will understand what I’m on about.

The horsefly is a special sort of fly, in the order Diptera, family Tabanidae. It is, according to Wikipedia, the world’s largest “true” fly. Whether this means that there are other bugs flying around that only pretend to be authentic flies, or whether something is conveyed herein about some basic sincerity in the character of the genuine horsefly, I am not sure. For all I know, there may be pompous flies among us who, like government ministers for instance, make a lot of noise but are bereft of legitimacy, and there may be honest-to-God flies of integrity and honour, not to be mistaken for blowhards and pretenders, lest you discount their presence and feel their sting.

But I wander.

The horsefly -- which, by the way, does not proceed from a horse -- is known to be extremely noisy during flight -- rather like a flying horse might be. This was the case also with the World War II era Stuka dive bomber. The Stuka’s noise was intentional. The plane was built that way. The object was to strike terror into people on the ground. In like manner, as I suspect, the noise of the horsefly is also intentional, designed to terrorise, confuse and demoralize its targets whilst diving to inflict the actual sting. We should say, so as to avoid putting the cart before the horse, that the Stuka must have come after the fly, and that it is the fly that should be credited with the original concept.

How often indeed are we humans, like the counterfeit fly, found to be merely pretentious. The Blackhawk helicopter, for example, is not at hawk, but merely named after the hawk. A phantom jet fighter is not a phantom, and in fact is anything but a phantom. The horsefly on the other hand is what it is, and has proven itself quite inimitable. There is no helicopter, no plane, no rocket, no missile named after the dreaded horsefly. Not to date, anyway. And God forbid that there ever shall be. The fly itself is perfectly sufficient.

When I was a boy I spent every summer with my family in the high Cascades of Oregon, where we would hike and swim and fish and play. They were wonderful times, those summers, almost idyllic. But for the horsefly. For the horsefly itself spent its summers there too, and seemed ever committed, with unmatchable fervour, to attending our every activity. Whether we were swimming or fishing or sunbathing or climbing, the horsefly was there as well, harassing, pestering, injecting vexation to our every pursuit, the proverbial snake in our garden of simple contentment. Why, I wondered? We were not horses, after all; nor did we bother the private peace of the fly. And yet the thing came loudly buzzing, circling the head, crawling on the neck, landing on the naked back at that exact point which cannot be reached by the hand. It was the closest thing I knew, as a boy, to evil -- that which terrorizes and harms without reason.

I learn however, in these more tolerant years, through the employment of the modern magic of the internet, that the hated horsefly, so long thought merely malevolent and unreasoning, does in fact have a purpose in mind. It is the female of the species which bites animal flesh in order to extract a ‘blood meal’ before she can lay her eggs. Whether the male does not bite at all, or bites just for the hell of it, I cannot find. But in any case, in order to lay eggs and thus produce further swarms of noisome bugs, the female horsefly must have blood. There seems to be something of essential meaning in this, although I cannot quite put my finger on what it is. And though this elucidation of reproductive habits does not fill me with new compassion for the horsefly, an understanding is yet imparted, and a faith in a reasoning creation renewed. Moreover, a certain encouragement and sense of thankfulness attains, given that like bloodletting is not needful in the human female. I don’t say that it doesn’t happen, merely that it is not required.

I have said that there are no horseflies in Bali, but I should amend that I do not know this for a fact. Perhaps it is too hot for them, perhaps too oceanic; and yet it seems just possible that if I were to go looking for horses I might find also a horsefly or two. And perhaps in an equitably measured dose some nostalgic pleasure might arise in the sight -- for the bad has a way of remembering the good, and the good the bad, being both so inextricably entwined in the fabric of this worldly life.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Amazing Rootless Tree

I was reading something recently on Indonesian government and the ideology of Pancasila. I was skimming it, really. Skimming is something I learned to do at University about a hundred years ago, an acquisition of the intellect necessitated by the assignment of War and Peace, Anna Karenina and the Brothers Karamazov as the reading material for one term in Russian Literature, a cruel affront both to the harried student and the masterful efforts of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, and yet a needful one for the turning out of graduates who know just about nothing about just about everything, which in itself is the essential business of higher education.

Skimming is the art of putting three-quarters of the brain on autopilot while leaving one-quarter watching the various flight indicators and keeping generally quiet unless something seems particularly amiss. The main point is for the plane to plummet forward as relentlessly as possible, and yet not fail to take note of potentially important blips in the airspace -- a mountain peak, for instance, or oncoming air traffic.

So it happened in the course of the skimming at hand that something flashed as it passed by, a bit of turbulence irritated forward progress, inspiring that one-quarter of the brain to sit upright, come to attention, apply the brakes

The Indonesian government, I read, formally recognizes six religions. They are Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism.

Beep, beep, beep, says the autopilot unit.

At first it is not clear. The mountain peak is still in the fog. Has a major character died? Or fallen in love? Or fallen out of love? Or jumped in front of a train?

I read the passage again, and again. I’m hanging in midair, suspending forward progress, losing altitude. Something is missing, something has happened, something is wrong.

Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism . . . And what? What?

Hold the phone! What happened to Judaism?

And so I read the list again. The fault must be mine, and not the book‘s. Yes, my eyes are surely bleary, my attention yet impaired. But . . . hmm . . . no matter how many times I read the sentence, Judaism is still not there.

Well then, it’s a misprint, a copy reading error. I decide to consult the internet, just to reassure myself, despite the fact that valuable skimming minutes are ticking away.

“Recognized religions of Indonesia.” I read the list. The list is the same. The omission is not only real, but intentional. And so has a country once again shown itself to be ridiculous to the core. Because here’s the thing -- if you deny Judaism as a religion you must do away with Islam and Christianity as well. Their appearance on the list becomes perfectly meaningless, as impossible as a table that stands without legs. It’s like trying to make a loaf of bread without using any dough.

Christians trace their roots through Isaac, Muslims through Ishmael. Isaac and Ishmael were the sons of Abraham. Abraham, called “the friend of God,” was the father of The Chosen People, the Jews. It’s simple, really. Both the Bible and the Qur’an incorporate the Torah (the five books of Moses) along with the Psalms and others -- in a foundational manner. Both Christianity and Islam arose from Judaism, as surely as Isaac and Ishmael proceeded from Abraham. If you subtract Judaism, you subtract Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, David, the Torah . . . in short, you subtract your own faith from itself.

Did we of Jesus or we of Mohamed branch off and grow toward different slants of shade and sun? Yes. But did we spring up and grow in thin air, without soil, without water, without light. Impossible! God forbid that we should make ourselves so absurd.

The Apostle Paul stated the thing clearly enough in the book of Romans: “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.”

Got it? You can’t have branches without a tree, and you can’t have a tree without a trunk.

How then can Judaism fail to be a recognized religion in Indonesia? It’s impossible. It’s absurd. And it’s hilarious in its own sad way.

Sad? Yes sad. And why? Because it is painfully clear that the chief ingredient in this particular cookery is anti-Semitism. They may as well have begun their list by declaring from the outset that theirs would be an anti-Semitic nation, the only other option being a formal acknowledgement of hypocrisy.

Dear folks in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, dear friends of the Indonesian government, I fear you’ve been skimming a little too blindly. Better slow down, go back, read your course work again -- and take care to pay attention this time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A 2nd Excerpt from Everyone Here Is Jim Dandy (the Book)

When one discovers he has a disease, one of the first things he learns about life thereafter is that no one really gives a damn.

You discover for the first time, or at least more clearly than ever before, how completely enclosed people are within themselves. Your disease will get a lot of lip service from casual acquaintances. It will be a conversation starter, yet will cease to be the subject as soon as the conversation gets off the ground. They will show their concern by asking after your disease, as if it had been an estranged child or a sickly mother, but will quickly change the subject as soon as things threaten to become specific. One wants to reveal himself as a caring human being, without having truly to care. Perhaps they have been praying for you (they say). Perhaps they saw something on TV. Perhaps their cousin’s friend ran the last race for the cure (it matters not for which disease, for diseases are all of one type of circumstance).

Very often they will have a suggestion.

Mangosteen, they will say.

Fish oil.


Vitamins and minerals.
Or worse yet, they will have a cure.

Stem cell therapy! It’s done wonders for my arthritis, and at 50 bucks a bottle, it still beats the money these pharmaceuticals and your doctors want. Kickbacks, that’s what they’re all about.
They are all well intentioned, of course. Just trying to help. Or are they? Perhaps they are really just selling something—doing good, while putting a few bucks in their own pockets. Ya think?

I heard on the radio the other morning that if people would consume 30 percent less fat in their daily diet they could add perhaps 25 years to their lives. You could, for instance, live to be 115 instead of 90.

Is that a depressing thought or what?

In any case, I’m adding fat, not cutting it. It is the natural balm, or so I hear, for most all illnesses, especially MS. Fish fat, that is. Ever wonder why you don’t see so many fat fish around anymore? It is because MS has made a fish-fat-sucking industry out of the poor critters. Involuntary liposuction.

And then there is the fat from flax seeds, which I also guzzle. I have never seen a flax seed in person, but I am picturing that it must be a heck of a big seed for any significant amount of oil to be sucked out—maybe something the size of a tomato, or even a watermelon.

I wonder what the flax itself looks like? Seems like all you ever hear about is the seed of the flax and the oil thereof.

The apostle Paul, speaking in II Corinthians regarding the resurrected body, does mention that the fruit will bear little or no resemblance to the seed (like the zucchini seed as opposed to the zucchini or the pumpkin seed as opposed to the pumpkin), and so I imagine that if the flax seed looks like a tomato, the flax itself may look something like a space station or an alligator. Who knows?

The fact is, I may be overdosing on a combination of oils and other disease modifying lubricants—fish oil, flaxseed oil, peanut oil, Oil of Olay, the oil from Popeye’s Chicken. I have this curious swimmy sort of feeling. My lips habitually make a puckering shape, as if I’m trying to suck up air rather than simply breathe it. The only oil I have not tried yet is motor oil. Seriously.

I find myself darting about rather than simply putting one foot in front of the other. I am suddenly fascinated by flies and other small insects. They make me feel . . . hungry.

The other night my wife accused me of flopping about in the bathtub rather than properly bathing. I swear, I stayed under water for perhaps thirty-five minutes!

I have noticed a strange, unsettling desire to lay eggs, thousands of eggs. I want to spawn. I cannot stop thinking of water, and yet I am not thirsty in the least.

I see a pan on the stove and I am compelled almost beyond stopping myself to jump in and simply fry.

Countless vitamins and supplements are also swimming through my veins. Vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, sublingual B12, Mangosteen, potassium, calcium, cinnamon, pumpernickel, snickerdoodle, apple schnitzel. My electrolytes are vibrating, humming like bumblebees.

Someone runs up to you—a friend, an acquaintance, a family member—to tell you about a miraculous new cure for MS he has found in a magazine or a newspaper, or has heard on the radio or seen on the TV. A pill, an herb, an oil, a potion.

It has happened to me often enough. And I can’t help but ask myself the following questions:

1. First off, do you really think, what with me being the one who has MS, that I haven’t seen and looked into all these miracle cures?

2. Do you imagine that I’m just being stubborn? That I like being ill so that people will feel sorry for me?

3. Do you think if such a cure truly existed that doctors might be interested in it too?

4. Do you imagine that I am merely a poor dupe of greed, unaccountably sticking with expensive medicines when I could procure a better by mail order for $21.95?

5. Do you think I’m simply too lazy to read about and research my illness? Hot dang, the cure was right there in front of my nose all along!

Good grief.

Yes, I know they mean well. And that’s part of the problem. What is one to say? Do you first force your lips into a callow smile. Wow! That’s amazing! Tell me more. Lemme see that article, dude! Do you buy the potion in which they so enthusiastically believe (having taken the time, after all, to read a four paragraph article in the newspaper)? Do you tell them that you’ve already heard of this bullshit and run the risk not only of alienating a friend but being labelled as bull-headed and obstinate for not even trying? Do you tell them that it is they who are in fact being duped by the miracle cure as seen on TV, pills containing nothing of any more substance that birdseed, peddled by people who attend ITTL seminars (I take the lead), and who know that $19.95 is just as good as $1000 in the bank if it is turned over enough times. Why is it, for instance, that stem cells cure so very many maladies? Could it be because there is so very much money to be made in multiplicity?

Not wanting to appear recalcitrant or stubbornly unwilling, I actually tried the stem cell cure. I’m not sure what they actually put in these pills, but I’m pretty sure it is not stem cells, although admittedly I did not open any capsules to see. Perhaps I was afraid of what might wriggle out on the countertop. In any case, I was apparently not injured in any way. When I mentioned this to my neurologist, however, he advised that I quit the pills right away, on the off chance that something might actually happen.

“Given that your autoimmune system is already over-excited,” he said, “why would you want to excite it any further?”

Good point, I thought. I quit the stem cells and declined further purchase from the nice lady at church who had initially made the offer (or offered the cure).

"But you have to give it time,” she said.

I shared then what my doctor had said.

She frowned. There it was. That sad old American faith in the corrupt medical establishment.

My Robert was on them for three months for his depression, and now he’s happy as a lark. You have to give them at least three months.

I thanked her again, of course. I said that I wished they had worked as well for me as they had for Robert.

Well then, enjoy your MS. We’ll still be praying for you.

Because the thing about you is that you just don’t want to be better.

Faith healing.

Fish oil (squeezed fresh from the living fish, of course).




Cinnamon bark.


Mind over matter.

Benny Hinn.

A milk free diet.

No red meat.

A shit-load of legumes.

Flaxseed oil!

Stop your sinning—repent and be saved!