Making bail

          Back in the day, I knew a Nepali guy who ran a whitewater rafting company. My friends and I hired him to take us on a four or five day trek down some raging torrent tumbling out of the Himalayas. It was so long ago I have no recollection of the guy’s name, the name of the river or even the names of most of my friends, but I do remember the time we emerged from some torrid whirlpool, soaked and disoriented, prying our white fingers reluctantly from the ropes that had kept us from being flung into the roiling, boulder-strewn moil.  Our raft was nearly sunk, full of water, and just as we were taking it all in the guide shouted “bail out!” I obediently and carefully began climbing out of the raft onto a nearby rock, which sent the guy into a raucous bout of merriment, because he meant to bail the water out of the raft, not to bail out. It was not the most Continue reading


In pursuit of the banal.

          Who, exactly, knows what it is like to be normal? I’d like someone to point out to me a normal person, and allow me to pose a question or two. I’d like to know what its like to be normal, but imagining what that would be like is like trying to imagine what it would be like to be smarter than you are. Besides, I don’t think there is one single human on this planet that is normal. But still, if you’ve never had a brilliant notion just pop into your head, I don’t see how you can ever really imagine what it would be like. People asked Einstein how he came up with the idea of the time-space continuum, and he said it just occurred to him. The  kinds of things that occur to me are much more likely to be that I need to buy peanut butter or that if bats really do sleep upside-down their fur must get all ruffled and itchy, since it would be falling ‘against the grain’. Those are the things that occur to me; not relativity. So I can’t really imagine what it would be either exceptionally brainy, nor what it would be like to be normal, but my day today was a smidgeon more normal -normal for me, anyway – than any Continue reading

colonies – the sequel

          It’s hard to see what’s not to like about Greenland. Once you remember that it’s the one that isn’t green. Iceland is green. Greenland is icy. Yeah, that one. Its been inhabited by Inuit forever, but been ruled by Denmark since the 18th century because all the profitable colonies had been taken by the time Denmark got in the business. Well, that’s not really true; the Danish also had Africa’s Gold Coast, which got that name for a reason, and I suppose that if it wasn’t for the Gold Coast, Denmark couldn’t have afforded its chillier real estate in Greenland, Iceland, the Faeroe Islands and Estonia. Like it would have wanted to. Heh. Those Danish. Sheesh.

          Anyway, the Gold Coast went on to be Ghana pretty early on, but it wasn’t until the 70s that Greenland got even limited home rule. It was a sort of frozen situation (oogh). For some reason Denmark wanted Greenland, and then, well, nothing happened for the longest time. Oh, some fishing and whaling went on, a ruby Continue reading


          Okay, grab your thinking caps, kiddies, because it’s time for our language lesson. Today our lesson comes from the picturesque, pastoral and puny little Himalayan ex-Kingdom of Nepal. In Nepali, as in a number of other Asian languages, no one ever wants a thing. If a speaker of one of these languages feels a liking for a thing – say chocolate, or, perhaps, as is the case with the mountain-dwellers in Nepal, rancid butter – when they say so, they don’t say “I like rancid butter.”  Instead they say, “rancid butter falls to my heart.” When they are hungry for rancid butter or any other thing, it is not the speaker who is the source of said hunger, it is hunger that attaches itself to the speaker. They say “Hunger has attached itself to me.” Or they might say that “love” has attached itself to them, or, if the situation calls for it, hatred, chilliness, confusion, awe, nausea, tickles, sorrow or even indifference. They aren’t things you have, they are things that have you.

          That linguistic peculiarity might seem like nothing more than a footnote, but if you think about it for a minute, you might notice that a person who says “I hate you” is a lot different from one who Continue reading

autumnal pause

          Looking out my window at clouds so low it felt like you could touch them just by raising your hand the way you would to ask a question in class, I was struck by the fact that I could. Not only could I touch the clouds, I could just stand there and look. I could stand there and look, and ask questions. There was no, one nagging thing that it was just about getting too late to do, no other thing that was haunting me with how good it would feel to –finally, at long last – get done and no other thing that was ringing my phone or knocking on my door, so I just stood there, looking out on the sodden world. The clouds had been low all day, and where they dipped down over the forested mountains and into the valleys they deposited rime on the trees like Christmas scenes in a department store window. I could picture a little toy train choo-chooing its way down through the mountain across the way, sending a plume of cheery little-engine-that-could smoke up to blend with the clouds. And with the cold, damp, cottony, almost-frozen stuff of the universe settling in, it occurred to me how much I like winter.

          In summer you can’t stand there and look, wonder and ask; Continue reading

Rummy Rummy


Chiefly British Odd, strange, or dangerous; rum.


          For those of you laboring under the misapprehension that Eurasia watchers have a niche market with little or no competition from the population of wonks-at-large, I say follow the money. Or, in this case, follow the Rummy.  It turns out that Donald Rumsfeld has set himself up a foundation with his personal friend S. Frederick Starr (relation to Kenneth?….), head of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute.  So far they’ve only financed a fellowship here and there, sending students off to Pipelineistan to study, and so far the money has come from Rummy and some so-far undisclosed “friends” (eventually, when the tax man cometh, those contributors and any sundry un-indicted co-conspirators will have to be named, but that’s okay. For now we can guess. It’s not hard.)

          Ostensibly the raison d’etre  for the foundation lies in the fact that other post-Soviet countries have expats abroad (presumably because there was fleeing involved) and as far as diasporas go, Continue reading

Where in the World is Atticus Finch?

          Well no matter how you slice it, the world is happy that there is soon to be a grown-up in the white house.  After eight long years, it is just possible that the US will not be the lone hold-out in world opinion on such topics as ethics, equality, the environment, trade, diplomacy and, well, everything. Okay, okay; to say “lone” is actually a scurrilous exaggeration. Poland sent lotsa troops to Iraq. Kazakhstan did not sign the Kyoto Protocol. Somalia, like the US, has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. And there’s more! Just don’t ask me to look it all up; its too depressing, and right now there’s euphoria in the water, and I don’t want to spoil it by recognizing that there will be puh-lenty of opportunities in the offing to find out just how reprehensible all politicians are, no matter how dignified and generally Atticus Finch-y they might look at first. Perhaps it doesn’t take much to resemble a tall, spreading, sturdy and all-encompassing oak when you’re being compared to – in the words of the inestimable Molly Ivens: The Shrub.

          It shouldn’t have been a surprise that the oak won even though it was, since every worldwide poll or mock election favored Obama by a landslide, and any international paper you pick up Continue reading

let’s get unbalanced

          It is that stalwart of American Democracy, John Stuart Mill whom we should be thinking about today, don’t you think? I mean, he was the guy who said that only if votes were public could people be trusted to vote for the public good over their own interest. And it is today that an expected record number of Americans are casting their secret ballots; presumably for their own good- and why not?-  since we are all a long way removed from the great JSM’s understanding. Who doesn’t look after their own good – oh, I mean besides people from Kansas. And Jesuits. Oh, and of course, the visionaries of democracy like JSM, who never, not even once, succumbed to a sound bite. And that just might be why he argued that free speech is necessary for intellectual and social progress.  We can never be sure, he contends, if a silenced opinion has some Continue reading

Buy, buy, buy!!!

          During the Greenspan era the Federal Reserve took it upon itself to vigorously fend off recession by lowering the prime rate to unprecedented levels. This made it prudent for people to borrow and spend rather than save.  The ratio of private debt to the Gross Domestic Product rose by 50% in five years, while the personal savings rate fell to 0.  This kind of “stimulus” to the economy was like so much caffeine (by the way, did you know that the average German drinks 77,000 cups of coffee over a lifetime? You didn’t? Well, now you do.), which we all know can only keep you pumped up for so long.  Now it’s time for an enforced economic nap, folks, so nix that planned trip to Montserrat and learn to like cozy evenings in front of a fire (fuelled by your furniture, natch…) with a book. And be sure to read the provocative (dare I say ‘inflammatory’?) books first, before they’re banned and you get to Continue reading

Tomatoes. Sigh.

          Whoever said “let the world be your oyster” was definitely a man. No woman would wish upon the world that it be encased in a stoutly guarded shell which could only be opened by killing the occupant, and that upon being opened one would find a briny, slimy, gag-inducing piece of innards. Of course it was a man, man being used to conquering his food, whilst women spent their time in the garden.  A woman would much more likely say ‘let the world be your Lycopersicon lycopersicum!’  Women like to be specific. But that doesn’t mean that there is a more lyrically perfect  fruit than a tomato. Oh, peaches definitely have their fuzzy, sticky-sweet charm, as do simple apples and exotic star fruit, and there’s no reason to underrate the tomato’s natural partner, the cucumber, but for all-around versatility and taste, let the record show that tomatoes, should they be grown in a home garden, of an heirloom stock (god forbid we include those pink baseballs you get at the store, grown in the fruity little forced-labor camps cum assembly-lines that is commercial agriculture), can not be beat. What other fruit, I ask, can star in such disparate and iconic dishes as spaghetti, gazpacho, Continue reading