Thursday, February 09, 2006

In the days of bad things, how do we decide when it gets worse?

It truly saddens me to see the state of affairs in the world today, especially the newly invigorated calls for death to western countries. It seems like we are having enough issues with: global warming, AIDS, starvation, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, forest fires, tornadoes, and ridiculous snowfall. Do we need any more problems that are created by man?

I saw a picture of a protest outside of a ruined Danish Embassy, still smoldering from the previous day when it had been burned to the ground, with people holding signs that said "Death to Israel". What are these protests really about? Some stupidly misplaced bomb-in-the-hat cartoon? I am not even sure how some of these images were concluded to be representations of Muhammed the Prophet. The particularly offensive one showed Arabic script in the middle of a turban that was black and shaped like a pirates cannonball with a lit fuse coming out of it. But, as others have noticed, the cartoon, regardless of how offensive it appears to be, does not seem to label this man as Muhammed at any point. I can only conclude that these protests and riots, in which I think the death toll of Muslims now stands at 15, represent the bigger picture of the West versus Islam. I wish both sides did not feel like it was some kind of competition. A competition of values?

The vile cartoon above appeared in the Saudi newspaper Arab News, supposedly a moderate paper. Hmmm. It's interesting. Where were the outcries and protests with that one? Israel, and Jews, seem to just shake it off. The last just five-thousand years has shown the Jews that times can be rough. A few cartoons, even horribly inaccurate misrepresentations (a miniscule percentage of Muslims do actually use bombs, whereas I find it unlikely that Ariel Sharon committed any of the atrocities that he is depicted to have done in the cartoon). A well-known journalist for the Asia Times--by the way, a great publication found at this in a large statistically-based article last week:

"Like Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, muses the secular West after the Danish cartoon catastrophe, "Why can't a Muslim be more like a Jew?" After all, Arab newspapers daily publish hideous caricatures of Jews, who do not burn down Arab embassies in response. But the Jews learned to swallow humiliation at a dreadful cost. When Rome defiled their temple at Jerusalem in AD 66, the Jews rebelled. Rome crushed them, but they rose again in AD 132, fighting more Roman legions under Hadrian than had conquered Britain. After most Jews were dead or exiled, the remnant invented self-deprecating humor." -Asia Times Online, February 7, 2006


Israel exists, and will continue to exist. Palestine exists, and will continue to exist. Neither of these countries will ever be able to militarily or politically wipe out the other (even though Israel could easily take out every country in a 5000 mile radius, they never would, unlike some of their neighbors, unfortunately). But when two sides hate each other so vehemently, especially over an argument that boils down to "Who was here first?"--like anyone that lived in the last 1000 years could even remember--there is little hope of achieving peace and understanding.

The west exists and the east exists. Stupidity, ignorance, blind racism, and "discrimi-hating" between both sides must stop. The polarization of sides must stop. In this "war", everyone is in the wrong.

But my question is this: If Israel's government, indeed, its LEADERS, called for the destruction of Islam, all Muslims and Palestine, would we still be holding our tongues in our criticisms?

I admit that I am indeed one-sided here, though it is necessary for sides to be erased. I believe that extremist Muslims who call for death to Jews and the destruction of Israel are bad people, just the same way I think that ultra-Orthodox Jews that retaliate in a similar fashion against Muslims or Palestinians are also bad people. I guess I'm on the side of not effing crazy religious fundamentalists of any sort. And I don't know who is.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Keep the scissors perpendicular to the head*

We all remember the kid in school who showed up one day wearing a wool hat towards the end of spring. What the hell? we'd think--might his brain fall out? When asked, the child would shake his head sadly, and soon we learned that the hat was due to some type of horrendous haircut. Patches of hairless flesh would gaze out as us when, finally, he would agree to remove the black and red Spiderman cap, after our repeated promises not to laugh. Of course, we all laughed anyway, and the scarred boy might have run away to cry in the bathroom, and the next day would begin with a high temperature to assure an afternoon at home.

What is even worse than this is coming to school proudly wearing a haircut that your mother's crazy friend gave, shaped like a mixing bowl, bangs sitting languidly a half-inch above the eyebrows and resembling Chris Partridge a bit too closely. Your unabashedness stole the attention from the kid who was still wearing a hat two weeks after his disastrous chop. He thanked you silently, I'm sure.

One would have thought I was drunk when I came home this evening with a large mop of black half-curls on my head and decided that I would cut my own hair, using a battery-powered beard trimmer to buzz the four inch hair down to a neat 1/2 inch. But I wasn't. I quickly gouged a v-shaped bald patch near my left temple with a pair of scissors spontaneously, and unfortunately, turned sideways. JESUS! I yelled. Why was I so surprised? I don't know what the hell I'm doing!

My roommate Elizabeth saved the day. Instead of buzzing it all, I've turned this "bad spot" into an declaration of coolness. Hey, it's better than the freakin' EuroMullet I see all too often in the streets of Prague. I think of it like a pinstripe of sorts. My God, why didn't I think this through......

*By keeping the scissors perpendicular to the head, you will avoid the possibly of embarrassing yourself in front of your business professional students for the next month.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

On Traveling with moving

My thumbs are sore with internet travel. Another good way to waste a morning/afternoon/evening. I’ve developed squint lines around my eyes from spending lugubrious hours searching “Al Gore’s Invention”. I tell myself it’s for a good cause, but I know the truth. As do you…

Trying to find decent airline tickets online is a good way to ruin your stomach early in the morning. In the end, the hours you spent searching for that magically inexpensive ticket from Prague to Barcelona on Qatar Airlines proves to be worth little more than the opportunity cost spent on discovering it.

Although, it is interesting to see how the airline industry has reacted to the tourism bug throughout Europe over the last 10 years. Europe's low-fare airlines are like the public transportation systems in most of its big cities: fairly cheap, easy to use, cramped, smelly, and completely undifferentiated from one another in appearance and service. Strangely, I often find that it is even cheaper to fly to a city nearby than it is travel by bus or train. It begs the question: What does it mean to travel?

Long ago, I thought that traveling was booking a vacation with your family months in advance to some nefarious tourist trap, like Orlando, Florida (we can all guess what American Icon resides there...), or Cancun. Little did I know that an overwhelming majority of the world travels by foot, or wagon, if they're lucky. Trains, planes, and busses are a rarity for most of the Eastern Hemisphere's explosive population.

My mind skips to an exhilarating bus ride (should a bus ride be exhilarating?) from Prague to Cesky Krumlov, the beautiful and quaint medieval town near the Austrian border. Though this destination sports a hefty tourist register, most Czech people adore its preserved qualities that they can all relate to through their genetic memories; cobblestone streets and narrow passages, aged and wizened with slumbering spirits around each corner.

The ride itself, thankfully, was no preview of the destination, since our driver apparently had been snorting crack all morning and working up a healthy rage for any car not going at least twice the speed limit. Horn blaring, he passed 90% of the cars on the otherwise relaxed country road through South Bohemia, yelling what I can only assume were criticisms and profanities. His wild, bloodshot eyes were scattered and roaming. Ahhh, good times.

The luxury of travel, unknown to some people even in Prague, has become slightly exploited by this sudden availability. It's not as though I would propose to restrict travel to certain people (ok, maybe ignorant people); as if this region of the world didn't already have enough experience with restrictions. Instead, I’d have instructional videos—uh, not propaganda—playing at train and bus depots, airports, and docks, educating people how to be respectful and pleasant tourists in other lands. I remember with disgust an older Italian man with his wife in Split, Croatia throwing a handful of newspaper into the street as he walked by a garbage can. And we cannot forget that piece of whatsit that had the remarkable disrespect to throw a rock into the Astronomical Clock, Orloj, in Staromesto. Even a pacifist would have utterly obliterated that guy.

Part of the travel experience is the process of getting to your destination, preferably unscathed. When do we have the chance in a normal day to stare out the window on a dilapidated bus with leather loops hanging from the grip-bars? This daydreaming, another luxury, seems remarkably accessible during these times. Seeing the things around you amplifies your senses; smelling that dreadful mixture of onions, sweat, and pollution makes you realize that your room doesn't smell that bad after all. Traveling, most of all, offers perspective.

People are taking less busses and trains to proximate locations in the face of cheap air travel. Thus, the quality of this travel is declining quickly. I don't recommend taking a bus from Kiev to Lisbon, but why not anyway? After all, it provides some of us with interesting stories to tell upon arrival, and the exciting possibilities that await you in each new place are reason enough for the onerous, uncomfortable ride to somewhere new. For those of us that feel this newfound freedom to roam deep within our bones, take the reins, and go someplace.