The solace of trivia in tough times

June 14, 2010 at 12:25 AM 2 comments

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My mind lately has taken a turn toward some stray memories. These are the kind of minor thoughts that do not add up to ideas, ideology, books or blog posts. One memory: I am waiting for a bus in the dark at the north end of the Rutgers University campus to get back to the south end where I live. Another: I go to a Talking Heads concert at CBGB’s with two friends, but I hate the music so much that I flee into the Lower East Side night one minute into the set. Another: A bingo-armed lady drapes a towel over my feet on an Atlantic City beach when I am a little girl to keep me from shivering.

If you add a couple of dollars to the whole odd lot of these memories and a thousand more like them, you will have enough money to buy one tall Starbucks latte.

I am still not making enough money to spill the maundering of my mind into a psychotherapist’s ear, so I have been trying to figure out for myself why my brain entertains so much trivia when so many other grander public problems compete with my attention. Those issues are the ones that flood the old and new media, and give not only reporters and columnists a platform to parlay their opinions, but also let ordinary people — myself included — offer up their feelings about the BP oil spill, Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan, striking automobile workers in China, violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kenya, etc.

I am aware of these big subjects, but I mostly do not blog about them. When I started publishing the Bookpod blog, I vowed never to post anything about which I had no direct knowledge. This decision has limited me to writing about work, corporate communications and old boyfriends, and has completely ruled out my yammering on about the Obama Administration, healthcare reform and military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few examples. It makes no sense for me to write about public policy when I have no opportunity to interview deputy secretaries, generals or even private first class personnel.

If I am going to rely on information from newspapers, TV, radio of the Internet, then I will have to trust secondary sources. If I learned anything from my fifteen-odd years in corporate communications, it’s that forming an opinion based on secondary sources is a sure mark of the amateur. It is almost certain that building a story based on secondhand material will lead you into a misinformation minefield that says more about your own assumptions than about any external reality.

The marriage of left and right (brain)

Bookpod is a real right brain/left brain project. My interviews with writers use the left side of my brain. For the most part, they are based on conversations about matters of public policy, and they require that I aim for objectivity and dispassion. Because I have no direct knowledge of Rwanda in the mid-1990s or the People’s Republic of China in 1986, I had to depend on other people to tell me what they learned through their own research and reportage.

By contrast, the Bookpod blog uses the right side of my brain. My personal essays are unapologetically subjective. If they work at all, it’s because they are the marriage of random thought and intuition — the same ingredients that go into writing novels and memoirs.

Now, every so often, something happens in the wider world that pulls the left and right sides of my brain into a kind of double helix. The incident that recently brought both sides of my brain together is the Turkish effort to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

I promise not to subject you to a tit-for-tat dissection of the issue. I’m not qualified to talk politics because all I know is what I see in the newspapers.

Despite my skittering around the Web, what I discovered actually has very little to do with any serious analysis of the Middle East. In fact, what the Gaza Flotilla Raid — Wikipedia’s term — revealed is how eager everybody was to shout out their opinion even before much was known.

I am sorry to say that the most vituperative name-calling I saw was on Open Salon, the piece of real estate reserved primarily for amateur bloggers. Here people who think of themselves as liberal, humane, open-minded and tolerant  really let ‘er rip when it came to calling Israel and Jews “fascist,” “criminal,” “killers” and “murderers.” I saw almost no attempt in the blogs and comment section to reserve judgment until factual information about the flotilla and the Israeli Defense Forces’ response to it became available.

That’s because the “Gaza Flotilla Raid” is incidental to fact.

If you think that the Jews have a legitimate claim to a country that figures in their political, religious and literary life, then you see Israel’s “raid” as a necessary act of self-defense against Gaza’s ant-Zionist Hamas regime.

If you think the Jews are Polish, German and American intruders in the Middle East, then you will believe that the flotilla’s Mavi Marmara had a right to protest Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Maybe there will never be agreement on anything involving the Middle East. The Open Salon bloggers do not even agree on a definition of “humanitarian” or “self-defense.” Well, George Orwell did say in 1984 that war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength — so maybe humanitarianism is violence and self-defense is a raid.

There. That clarifies matters.

Some of my best friends are Jews

An occasional comment on Open Salon pleads with the debaters to carry out a civil discourse. Few people seem capable of doing that. Many comments are of the some-of-my-best-friends-are-black variety: “I’ve got lots of Jewish friends, but I cannot support the Israeli oppression of Palestinians.” And, “Just because I want people to understand how powerful the Jewish lobby is doesn’t mean I’m an anti-semite. Everybody knows that two percent of the American population [i.e., the Jews] determines U.S. foreign policy because of its political involvement, political contributions and influence in the media.”

I for one would love to know where to find this harmonious Jewish two percent. It would be nice for its members to bolster each other at a time when the ad hominem attack against a Jewish cabal of “murderers” and “killers” is making such a noisy comeback.

Which brings me back to all the little memories these days that are flying around inside my head like sand in a storm. I think they are there as a protective shield against the old canards about Jewish power and Jewish illegitimacy, and now a new reckless assertion on Open Salon that says Bernard Madoff sent all his loot to the West Bank on a flotilla.

So, I remember how I once hiked from a mountaintop in St. Thomas down to the island’s Neltjeberg Bay, and I remember that I am an individual, not a caricature cooked up by people who, sadly, sadly, come to a conflict with their minds made up and their souls full of rage.


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Entry filed under: Judaism, Middle East, Politics, Religion, War. Tags: , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sara Bennett  |  June 14, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    I just keep on writing the same comment every week–great post. And, as always, your post gave me something to think about and made me chuckle.

  • 2. Pesha  |  June 15, 2010 at 11:57 AM

    As I wait for Turkey to sponsor a humanitarian effort to Kyrgystan refugees (which I am sure is imminent), I tender my comment that most people engage in debate not to become enlightened or listen to counterpoints, but just to hear themselves talk.


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