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11 October 2005

The Day of Atonement

Greetings, friends,
Before I get into an awesome roller-coaster of a rant, a joke (thanks, Dana & Aunt Nona):
A Quantitative Reasoning Problem?
Donald Rumsfeld is giving President George W. Bush his daily briefing on Iraq. He concludes by saying: "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed."

"OH NO!" the President exclaims. "That's terrible!"

His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits, holding his head in his hands.

Finally, Dubya looks up and asks, "How many is a brazillion?"

Not quite a "brazillion", but the Earth made its 40th revolution under me last week, and after two strikes at trying to have a party, I got five friends to show at "Zabriskie Point". Yay! I'd been there early for "Blowup", and was delighted to hear a great line I'd forgotten years before: At a London party, the photographer asks the model, "I thought you were supposed to be in Paris." The model, sucking on a joint, stares in disbelief and replies "I am in Paris!". Anyway, seeing a film as flawed as "Zabriskie Point" reminds me that while a lovely rendition of Los Angeles, Death Valley, and especially the Valley of the Sun in Arizona (before they were filled in), the highlight of the film for me is always seeing the RICHFIELD BUILDING come back to life. I remember this building very dimly from my childhood, torn down as it was in 1970. In "Zabriskie Point" it fills the background outside Rod Taylor's office window, an eerie and haunting image of oily black and gold Art Deco. I've enclosed a photo, a color painting and a photo of the view from the building to give you some idea what we've lost here in Los Angeles. PS Yes, that is my place of business, the Central Library, across Flower Street there on the right.

Not that LA has learned anything since all the oil companies had their headquarters on pungent Flower Street. By Christmas one of the most historic hotels in the city, the Ambassador, where Joan Crawford became famous dancing on the tables without her panties on, will be razed by the school district. Thankfully the yearly Day of Atonement is upon us at last, because I'm needing it. Every year around my birthday come the Days of Awe, the only Jewish holiday I celebrate (and which I believe would be the one holiday my great-grandparents would pick for me to hold fast to.) Beginning last week with Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, you've got ten days to repent and reconcile the wrongs you've committed during the year before the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, which this year is 12 October. Repent! Atone! Listen, friends, the world seems so modern, but the suffering is still out there. Does throwing Kashmir atop New Orleans atop Baghdad give you any ideas? Any philosophical revelations? Or are we all on the page already? I hope so, because Venus is high in the west and Mars is climbing in the east, and we are seriously in need of good news on this planet.

When I was a mere nerdy young boy, we celebrated 12 October as Columbus Day, a holiday first celebrated in this country by Italians in New York City. On Columbus Day, not that my Italian grandmother gave a whosis, I was always happy to hear the story of Cristoforo Colombo, the little boy in Genoa watching a ship disappear over the horizon and realizing the world was round. The real story, as usual, is more complicated, as I found out from angry students at UC Berkeley in the Eighties. The Greeks figured out the world was round almost 2000 years earlier than him, and calculated its size better than Colombo - Columbus - Colón. But he did sail those tiny ships across to America, and for better or worse, he's planted and no more atonement for him.

In Latin America 12 October is the Día de la Raza, a day when Mestizo people get the uneviable task of figuring out who the hell they are, European or American or WHAT, except in Venezuela, where they made a choice, knocked over their statue of Colombo and renamed the holiday Día de la Resistencia Indígena, or the day when we natives (unsuccessfully) resisted European invasion. But did everyone resist? If you didn't know it yet (and they didn't even teach me at Berkeley), between 80% and 90% of the Native Americans were dead before anyone had a chance to take their land away. The Puritans at Plymouth in Massachusetts settled on an abandoned village ground, as did most of the large cities across the continent. America was not a wild place in 1492, but a large, complicated group of nations, with a population almost equal to the Old World, and their lack of resistance to Old World disease (or even understanding what a plague was) created the greatest human disaster ever...a conservative guess is that ONE-FIFTH of the entire population of the Earth died between 1492 and the early 1600s. WOW.

Likewise in my former home of Berkeley, California, 12 October is now Indigenous Peoples Day, although I don't remember meeting any indigenous types in that lily-white university town. In Italy they celebrate their boy done good, natch, any Italian mother would be proud to be Colombo's mom. "Lookee he discover America," they say, smacking you hard in the face, living the stereotype like only Italians can. "Shaddup you!" None of that Native American guilt trip in Italy, but it's really just "Italian Day" in the US, let's have a parade and yeah, sorry Hank, all the banks are closed. I got the day off so I can't complain.

In Spain, 12 October is the Día de la Hispanidad, the national holiday. For you see, 12 October was not just the beginning of the end for the Americas, the newly empty space soon overrun by tourists from Spain, Portugal, England, France, the Netherlands, etc. It was the beginning of the Imperium, the competition to rule the world that would consume enormous resources and finally break the Roman Empire (although some of you disagree, and please send me your websites about Revelations and Europe being the new Roman Empire, with Javier Solana in the role of the Anti-Christ, etc.) When you visit Spain today it is hard to imagine the hegemony of their rule, but in 1492 they began the Conquest of America and finished the Reconquest of Hispanica, finally expelling the Muslims and Jews (who had, PS, kept Spain out of the Dark Ages.) Whether you agree or not (it's like bullfighting, eh) this is some accomplishment for the Spanish and I'm curious how they celebrate this day. Especially this year (and am I destroying the irony by rubbing it in?) the Día de la Hispanidad falls on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Hmm.

Before I fell under the spell of good European living, which frankly appeals to a portly, balding 40-yr. old more than it did my too-worldly-for-the-world filleule, I spent many years exploring the northern edge of the Spanish Empire, though I didn't really think about it as such at the time. I've been deep in the wild deserts of Mexico and Arizona, looking up at the filigree of the "French" Quarter in New Orleans, following the missions along the Rio Grande to El Paso (a century older than the California Missions), and even witnessed a friend get married (to a Spaniard, by coincidence) in the most northern Spanish mission, San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, Calif. All along this border are great tales of the Empire, the Hispanidad, which spawned my own city, el Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula.

My favorite experience along this historic border was in Mishongnovi, a poor Hopi village just off the highway in NE Arizona. All the old Hopi villages are on the tips of narrow mesas high above the desert; the highway goes up and down across them, with the newer towns built in the valleys between the three mesas. The people here, like the Zuni and the various Pueblo Nations, are what remains of the great Hisatsinom (Anasazi) Nation, which built a magnificent capital (and even post-Europe, still the most impressive ruin I've ever seen) at Chaco Canyon. Around 1100 terrible drought and poor land use planning (seriously) crippled the Hisatsinom, and invasion by the Dineh (Navajo) around 1350 did the rest. The Hopi Nation was just outside Spanish control, high on the Colorado Plateau.

I drove to the Tribal Office in Mishongnovi in January 2000, a small unheated cabin by the entrance of the village, and politely asked the kikmongwi (village chief) for permission to enter the village. I remember she was knitting a sweater and had on very thick bottle-bottom glasses. As the freakiest white bahana she'd seen in months (I hope), naturally she wanted me walking up the steep hill into her village, wild dogs dancing around me. It must look like it did in 1680, the ancient stone buildings, except for the high TV aerials and the broken-down VW buses. At the top of the village, the end of the road, there are no more houses but an open space I recognized for the prayer-ground, with small offerings of sticks and feathers carefully arranged. And what a church! The prayer-ground was at the very tip of the mesa, and it looked like the top of the world. Even the snowy top of Hintertux Gletcher in Tirol or the amazing miniature 11th-century fortress of Omar ben Hafsún above the El Chorro gorge in Andalucia can't match this view. The Painted Desert dotted with snow stretched away in every direction, a 360-degree view of the horizon unbroken by water or even mountain chains. To the southwest I could see the wind blowing snow off the top of the San Francisco Peaks above Flagstaff, Arizona, 70 miles (110 km) THAT is clear. What an awesome experience, and definitely the end of the Spanish and the American empires both. I had my own special moment of atonement, because I understood why the Hopi endure such poverty to live at what they consider the center of the universe.

The Spanish reached the Hopi Nation only a few times, and only sent out a mission in 1629. The mission was in Awatovi, the first Hopi village on the road from New Mexico. The Hopi joined the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, but most of the fighting was again in New Mexico, as the Spanish were driven out for almost a dozen years. They again sent a mission to Awatovi in 1692. In 1700, the other five Hopi villages formed a small army to destroy Awatovi entirely, killing all the Spanish and Hopi men there, sending the women and children into servitude and essentially wiping the name of Awatovi from their history. Even today it is a closed archaelogical site, an empty place easy to see from Mishongnovi, which the Hopi don't like to talk about, their Christian brothers that they carefully wiped out.

I wish I had a photo to show you, but it couldn't capture the almost unearthly quality of this view from Mishongnovi. The Hopi strictly forbid photography, even forbid sketching in their Nation, and I respect this. You will just have to go there and ask permission from the kikmongwi as I did.

Hidden all over the world are little memorials to the past we would forget, like the SS memorial tucked into a corner of the Innsbruck cemetery, or the ruins of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, or the three inconspicuous stones in a Paris street that mark the location of the revolutionary guillotine, or the tomb of Hernán Cortés behind the altar in a small church in Mexico City, or the unmarked street just off the Placita in downtown Los Angeles, once charmingly called "Nigger Alley", where 19 Chinese were murdered during a race riot in 1871. I seek out these little memorials wherever I go, because they are places of atonement.

See, the day of atonement is serious business. When I was working down in South Central Los Angeles, the blacks introduced me to my new moniker "European American", which to them is a slur but I adopted with pride. It is not possible to be a European, or a human being, I think, if you have nothing to atone for. My ancestors were victim and oppressor both. My great-grandparents took their first child and fled the Ukraine in fear for their lives; no telling how many of their ancestors and siblings were murdered in Slavic or Nazi pogroms. Another ancestor was the captain of a slave ship on the "triangle route" from Bristol to Africa to America, and went from a poor boy in Northern Ireland to a wealthy plantation owner in Kentucky. My German ancestors were forced from Bavaria during the Seven Year's War and walked to Rotterdam; my French ancestors left during the expulsion of the Huguenots. Both families, shattered in Europe, reconstituted in the American South; the Germans became the largest slaveowners in Lexington, Kentucky. The wheel of fortune spins up and it spins down. Like Jared Diamond, I believe in the power of "guns, germs and steel", which guaranteed Europe temporary mastery of the world. But I also believe in eastern Karma, which gave Europe the Dark Ages and dozens of suicidal wars in repayment. What Karma has in store for young America should make you pause, because we haven't paid the piper yet. We've only torn down the beautiful buildings of our past, we haven't had them bombed, filled with poison gas, flattened by atomic blast, burnt in air-raids, decimated by plague, etc.

Let me tell you a story: the contradiction of being part Italian, like Mr. Colombo, and also part Native American used to drive me crazy. Then I met one of my oldest friends, dear Miss Amy from Charleston. Amy is part Cherokee, wild women from the mountains, but her last name is Barbanel, and the Jewish side of her family can trace back to the most important Sephardim in Spain, the Abravanels. Her ancestor Don Isaac Abravanel helped finance the Castilian victory over the Moors, and as a reward the Jews were expelled from Spain on 31 July of the same year, three days before Colombo led his expedition out of Palos. They were later expelled from Portugal and penned in the first "ghetto" in Venezia. It's a rough ride but I often think of it and still marvel at the contradiction, to be Native American, Spanish and Jewish at the same time.

Although even when my Spanish friends just say "Jew" it sounds menacing...YOU-DEE-OH...I give them the benefit of the doubt, because I am not sure if One Europe is not more successful in the face of prejudice than our own One America under God. This Yom Kippur they have much to be proud of:
Spain Asserts Right to Try Genocide Crimes Committed Abroad
Agence France-Presse

Much to be, well, the subject of jokes by us ignorant McDonald's scarfing Americans:
Spain Vows Eternal Vigilance In War On Bulls

But don't think it'll protect them from the New Crusade, where the Christians pound Jew, European, and Muslim together:
Bush Subconsciously Sizes Up Spain For Invasion

The Jews, of course, can even make a joke of their own atonement:
Jewish Elders Lift 6,000-Year Ham Ban

Now for something completely different: recent images by my friend Ray Pettibon, which are part of an exploitive, catty article from the 5 October New York Times (thanks, Mike):

On this Day of Atonement, I salute this fellow poet who refused to break bread with the murderers running the United States:
No Place for a Poet at a Banquet of Shame
By Sharon Olds
The Nation

There's certainly no respect in Washington DC for writers from any other country:
US Bars Robert Fisk from Entering Country
By Doug Ireland

Embarrassing when the UN starts investigating us like some failed dictatorship, and our president is discussed like a war criminal; embarrassing but true:
UN Human Rights Body to Scrutinize US Abuses
By Thalif Deen
Inter Press Service
'Frog-Marching' Bush to the Hague
By Robert Parry

Not only is Mr. Bush a war criminal, he's the worst sort of Christian, who'd sooner plant his loyal soldiers in the Reichstag than even help his Christian friends take over the US:
Bush Nominates Harriet Miers to Supreme Court
A Crony for the Court
By Matthew Rothschild
The Progressive

Could have been much worse, eh?
Bush Nominates First-Trimester Fetus To Supreme Court

Or could it get much worse than this?
Torture of Iraqis Was for 'Stress Relief,' Say US Soldiers
By Neil Mackay
The Sunday Herald

Well, we've all got troubles:
Pakistan's first women's football championship ends in brawl

But now, at least, with the government on the ropes, resistance is NOT futile, my friends:
Senate Defies Bush on Torture
The Associated Press
The Broken Contract
By Michael Ignatieff
The New York Times
A contract of citizenship defines the duties of care that public officials owe to the people of a democratic society.
Senator John Kerry's Speech at Brown University
As Prepared for Delivery
t r u t h o u t Statement
Clinton Launches Withering Attack on Bush on Iraq, Katrina, Budget
Agence France Presse
Clinton: Why High Oil Prices Are Good Thing
By David Usborne
The Independent UK
Albright Warns Dark Days ahead in Iraq
The Associated Press

Although frankly, I think this is a lot of "too little, too late."
If Oil Was the Question, War Wasn't the Answer
By David R. Francis
The Christian Science Monitor
More Blood, Less Oil
By Michael T. Klare
The failed US mission to capture Iraqi petroleum.

Too little, too late, and still no atonement. Even our friends are finished with us:
Britain to Pull Troops from Iraq as Blair Says 'Don't Force Me Out'
By Peter Beaumont and Gaby Hinsliff
The Observer UK

The killers who struck New York City will have to wait until some New Yorkers come after them, because George W. Bush is too busy:
Al Qaeda recruits techies for website

Too busy ruining the Earth:
Blair Falls into Line with Bush View on Global Warming
By Geoffrey Lean and Christopher Silvester
The Independent UK

Even his fucking HOME STATE can't catch a break with this nimrod at the wheel:
Conditions Primitive in Texas after Hurricane Rita
The Associated Press
Katrina Redux? Beaumont Paper Finds Federal Storm Failure in Texas
Editor & Publisher

PS If you're still trying to find a way to donate to the relief of our neighbors in the South, you can talk to a real live Beach Boy (thanks, Geri):
Talk to Brian Wilson--4 reals
Just donate $100.00 for hurricane relief...

Nope, the most sophisticated operation the White House could conduct in New Orleans, ironically, was to fly in George Bush and a bunch of TV cameras for a half-hour speech in front of St. Louis Cathedral in the Quarter:
The Presidency Shines (for Twenty-Six Minutes)
By Tom Engelhardt
Don't say they can't. They can - and they did. Despite every calumny, it turns out that the Bush administration can put together an effective, well-coordinated rescue team and get crucial supplies to militarily occupied, devastated New Orleans on demand, in time, and just where they are most needed. Last Thursday, in a spectacular rescue operation, the administration team delivered just such supplies without a hitch to one of the city's neediest visitors, who had been trapped in hell-hole surroundings for almost three weeks by Hurricane Katrina. I'm speaking, of course, of George W. Bush.

Yeah, he "took responsibility". What unmitigated bullshit. It all just about entertainment (thanks, Robert):
Dolphins sing 'Batman' theme

Meanwhile, George W. Bush's own bureaucrats are running around and making everything a whole lot worse, if that's even possible:
Bin Laden's Little Helper
By Sidney Blumenthal
The Guardian UK
US administration lectures about God delivered to Muslims are a dangerous folly. President Bush has no adviser more loyal and less self-serving than Karen Hughes.

But no one working for the President can top him on the idiot scale:
George Bush: 'God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq'
President told Palestinians God also talked to him about Middle East peace
Ewen MacAskill
The Guardian
George Bush has claimed he was on a mission from God when he launched the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a senior Palestinian politician in an interview to be broadcast by the BBC later this month.
George Bush: 'God Told Me to End the Tyranny in Iraq'
By Ewen MacAskill
The Guardian UK

All I can say is, three more years of this and I won't need to go to Europe. I'll be living in a nuthouse behind politically-motivated razor-wire:
End of the Bush Era
By E. J. Dionne Jr.
The Washington Post
The Bush Era is over. The sooner politicians in both parties realize that, the better for them - and the country.

If anything, Mr. Bush has brought IRONY back into enjoy two more mean, sarcastic jokes this Yom Kippur...Día de la Hispanidad...Día de la Resistencia Indígena...Ramadan...Day of Atonement. REPENT! ATONE! And LIVE FREE OR DIE, how about THAT?

Suicide Bomber Killed En Route By Car Bomb

And thanks again, Dana & Aunt Nona:
Bush Defines "Tragedy"
President Bush was visiting a primary school and dropped in on one of the classes. They were in the middle of a discussion related to words and their meanings. The teacher asked the President if he would like to lead the discussion on the word "tragedy". So the illustrious leader asked the class for an example of a "tragedy".

One little boy stood up and offered: "If my best friend, who lives on a farm, is playing in the field and a tractor runs over him and kills him, that would be a tragedy."

"No," said Bush, "that would be an accident."

A little girl raised her hand: "If a school bus carrying 50 children drove over a cliff, killing everyone inside, that would be a tragedy."

"I'm afraid not," explained the president. "That's what we would call a great loss."

The room went silent. No other children volunteered. Bush searched the room. "Isn't there someone here who can give me an example of a tragedy?"

Finally at the back of the room a small boy raised his hand. In a quiet voice he said: "If Air Force One carrying you and Mrs. Bush was struck by a friendly-fire missile and blown to smithereens that would be a tragedy."

"Fantastic!" exclaimed Bush. "That's right. And can you tell me why that would be a tragedy?"

"Well," says the boy, "it has to be a tragedy, because it certainly wouldn't be a great loss and it probably wouldn't be an accident either."

Vive le screed!

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