Sunday, February 28, 2016

Cues, clues, conjectures and non-evident evidence.

At the Fulbright conference in Jaipur, and a wonderful opportunity it is to meet US scholars who have been placed all over South and Central Asia. Most of the scholars are younger than me, putting together their dissertation research, but all are doing fascinating work. As I meet new people I find myself putting together a sort of elevator talk to describe my own research over these past five months. Interestingly the words "cues, clues, and conjecture" hold a central position in my narrative. I've realized that the research I undertook, an analysis of irrigation landscapes in Sri Lanka, is supported by very little in the way of tangible evidence. And it's this truism that I have to convey in my short description of the research. In that case you might ask, how valuable is the research?

I'm biased of course. The research I've been up to seems very valuable indeed as I search for a way to understand the cultural role of irrigation landscapes in Sri Lanka life. Talks that I've heard so far mirror in a surprising way my own modalities (I can hardly call them "methodologies") of study. The talks that have been the most interesting to me are talks where people reflect on the lacunae of knowledge rather than the hard and fast "facts." It's those lacunae I think, places that you explore that lack clear "information," that make research and the Fulbright experience most valuable. 

Let me give you one example, a very fine talk I heard was given by a young scholar who literally read between the lines in her approach to a public health problem. She stressed her attempt to listen, to observe, and to develop questions. Her questions were seen by her to be as valuable, if not more so than the "solutions" she is starting to formulate. And she mentioned, very pertinently I think, her desire to not introduce interventions that she thinks may bring about unexpected consequences. 

How do we trod this research landscape, a landscape fraught with human frailty, in a way that is both immersive and light on its feet? I think she accomplished this, very much more effectively than the next speaker, who introduced surveys to her research population but highlighted the numbers in her survey findings rather than the glaring problems of unanswered questions or people who dropped out of her survey for various reasons. The first speaker focused on cues, clues, and to an extent, conjectures. The second speaker depended on her own imposed ideas. Which project will take us to unexpected places? Which will move us forward into more unknowns?

As I face the second half of my Fulbright experience, an experience that has held amazement and challenge almost every day, I question how I can develop or continue to pursue a program of exploration that depends more on intangibles, cues and clues that fall into place across a broad spectrum of experience, perception, and non-evident evidence. I want to continue to build a narrative from these intangibles. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Some of the layers of Jaipur

Layers of carrying and layers of sitting 
Layers of selling and layers of cheating
Layers of paving and layers of scramble
Layers of burning and layers of baking
Layers of melting and layers of welding
Layers of dust and layers of must
Layers of mist and layers of fog
Layers of cattle and layers of dogs
Layers of ants in layers of sand
Layers of driving and layers of swerving
And layers of gossip and layers of trade
And layers of handling and layers of stitching
Layers of travel and layers of immobility
Layers of music and layers of chanting 
And layers of horns and layers of drumming
And layers of windless wind
And layers of whispered dust
And layers of rattle
And layers of crackle
And layers of scrape
And layers of scraping
And layers of motor
And layers of wheel
And layers of chain
And layers of filthy water
And layers of flowers
And layers of fabric
And layers of shine and layers of dullness
Layers of grease and layers of grime
Layers of feathers and layers of leaves
Layers of kites and layers of statues
Layers of promise and layers of failure
Layers of covering and layers of unraveling
Layers of blowing and layers of dragging
Layers of truths and layers of lies
Layers of swearing and layers of lying
Layers of waiting and layers of going
And layers of sifting 
And layers of filling
And layers of begging and layers of beggars 
Layers of tying and layers of measuring
Layers of rolling and layers of waving
Layers of staring and layers of averting
And layers of handling and layers of palming off
And layers of sneezing and layers of holding
And layers of swinging and layers of soaking
Layers of stroking and layers of pouring
Layers of spitting and layers of packing
And layers of picking
And layers of sprinkling
And layers of pedaling
And layers of masking
And layers of taping
And layers of wrapping
Layers of bagging and layers of counting
Layers of flowers and layers of insects
Layers of engines and layers of syllables
Layers of cell phones and layers of meters
Layers of sandals and layers of slippers
Layers of dung and layers of garbage
And layers of picking and layers of pickings and layers of pickles and layers of gnats and layers of gutters and layers of soft and layers of fabric and layers of lining and layers of beads and layers of friezes and layers of metal and layers of pipe
Layers of pushing and layers of pulling
Layers of voices and layers of instruments
Layers of ozone and layers of oxygen
Layers of labels and layers of bags
Layers of wire and layers or rope
Layers of color and layers of colours
Layers of powder and layers of dry
Layers of pasta and layers of eyes
Layers of coasting and layers of strolling
And layers of glare
And layers of murk
And layers of flies
And layers of drip
And layers of bottles
And layers of chips
Layers of pockets and layers of covering
Layers of plastic and layers of thread
Layers of rolling and layers of balconies
Layers of roofs and layers of tires
Layers of canvas and layers of wood
Layers of pink and layers of gray
Layers of plaster and layers of silk
And layers of cotton
And layers of skin
And layers of fruit
And layers of roots
And layers of bark
And layers of rubber
And layers of leaves
And layers of red
Layers of Hindi and layers of English
And layers of incomprehensibility and layers of clarity

Friday, February 26, 2016

What is peace?

Peace is wholeness. A place, a society not divided against itself. In peace, daily activities go on. Manufacturing, commerce, service, noise, all are experienced by the unfettered and unafraid. Peace lets the arts flourish. Creativity is part of the chaos of peace. Because people are free to create. In peace people are protected to criticize, to build, to invent. You may have to experience war in order to understand peace. And what about my experiences in "peaceful" Sri Lanka, now seven years past the armed conflict but sliding into a series of ethnic and demographic conflicts that we may not see the end of for a long time. The continuing conflict, characterized by interethnic mistrust and fueled by hatred, is a rampage unchecked by critical thinking. It's as though no one knows better than to tag their neighbors "Those Tamils...those Muslims..." These are the appellations you hear in Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka and there is nothing to stop these prejudices. I hear these tags from educated people, well-meaning people, wealthy people, sophisticated people. These tags are prelude to misunderstanding. They are the basis of past wars. It's only that people just now in Sri Lanka lack the means to stir them up further. And among people in the Tamil East there is still ample evidence of suppression by the police and the military. Physical evidence of a painful past is everywhere, even if it takes forms other than billet-riddled walls. The psychological pain is measured by what people won't talk about. 

Peace is "shalom." The word shalom comes from the Hebrew root "shaleim," which means, literally "whole." Some of my Sri Lankan readers may not want to be reading this. They have been convinced by their press, which prints lies about Israel, labeling it an outlaw state that is based on illegal "occupation." I encourage these readers, who I'm sure value a critical analysis of history, to read more history and to shy away from slogans, just as they might when it comes to a political understanding of their own country.  Israel's legitimacy is repeatedly challenged by the Sri Lankan delegation to the United Nations, whose members slavishly vote against Israel in frequent human rights declarations. It's a joke. Human rights in Sri Lanka were trampled during the 30 years' conflict and they are still challenged. The conflict took root in contemporary political history in the 1956 "Sinhala only" laws. What these laws set into motion is still unrolling today in a deeply divided society with few civil institutions to moderate it. The press and other media do little to challenge these problems. "Land," "demographics," and "blood" continue to play a central role in Sri Lankan social and political  life. I've seen with my eyes the "settlements" of Sinhalese farmers that were imposed in the Tamil East in blatant disregard of environmental protocols. The hundreds of thousands of people involved in these measures, epitomized by the Mahaweli Scheme, dwarf Israel's "settlements." And the consequences may well be as far-reaching. 

But in a society where critical thinking is not taught in schools., even in universities, and where rote learning for test results is encouraged in burgeoning private "tuition" classes that are given nights and weekends, what can you expect? Where will a generation of future leaders come from when the current educational situation is so weak? Where will critical thinkers arise in a society wedded to power? How can creativity and creative solutions be brought to bear in a world where authority and submission are the default behaviors?

Sri Lanka is a beautiful land with valuable resources, a gentle climate, fertile lands, and an important geographic location. As it continues to commodify its beauty and abuse its lands, territorialize its landscape and marginalize its minorities, I wonder how the difficult questions of its future will be addressed. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016


On one street in Jaipur we saw more design and visual abundance than we've seen in all of Sri Lanka these five months. It was pathetic to think about. I asked Janet what she thought. Her one word answer: "war." The best brains, she suggested, were trying to figure how to get their kids out of there. Or they were building walls of personal comfort, wealth, and design to keep themselves insulated. But always in people's faces, she said, had to be the insecurity, worse, the horror of war. Sri Lanka was gutted for the past thirty years. No one was immune. It acted not only on individuals but on institutions. The whole society suffered. 

Where do you go with that kind of phenomenon? Or at least what we assume to be the case based on the many people we've met and the experiences we've had? I've been thinking along these lines ever since we got to India. Jaipur is noisy, crowded, dirty like Colombo. But it's rich. Whole. There is so much here from antique architecture to bangles. It's all here. And so much is made here. The few things Sri Lanka has to offer are paltry, limited, sad. Most of the stuff you see for sale is from China. 

Part of the problem I see has to do with critical thinking. I wonder as I sit in the Shanti Cinema in Batticaloa how the boys there are seeing the bloody zombie film we're watching. It's a hoot for us all. I see it through a hundred filters of film history, film understanding, cultural signals, etc. How about these kids who might have finished high school? Or maybe who didn't? What are they seeing?

But that's not really the example I want to discuss. Yesterday walking the streets of Jaipur we entered the city through New Gate. Like all the entrances we've seen, the road there is lined by raised bazaars, a long line of shops with a long covered walkway. Rising behind the shops are same-age building three or four storeys high, built in the late 1940s or early '50s, just post-independence. Behind them lie the dense narrow roadways or pathways of Jaipur. These buildings that front the roadway are not posh or elegant, but they do project a message of this built environment. They were planned and designed to send this message. 

As we walk further we notice a group of these modern ('40s and '50s) buildings just above the shops. They have varying heights and they also appear to have some depth, a narrow courtyard, a staircase, some of the rooftops just visible. These were built, I conjecture, to represent a Rajasthani village, or to reference the older neighborhoods that fill Jaipur. I have come to this conclusion by noticing dates, layers of age that I can detect, colors, activity, shape and form, and some knowledge of political and social history of this part of the world. The cues I see set off a series of thoughts based on conjecture and critical analysis. I build a model of this city or this part of the city, a hypothesis if you will. I can observe more, learn more, and refine my understanding if I want to. This is critical thinking. 

I had hoped to work on some critical thinking exercises with students at Moratuwa University in Sri Lanka, where I am a Fulbright scholar this year. I observed very poorly developed critical skills among advanced design students there though I didn't comment on this to my colleague. I saw as well that the standards by which their critical skills were evaluated were low, and that the way they were taught (how they interacted with instructors and how instructors interacted with them) did not encourage critical skills. Of course I did not discuss this with my colleagues there. Insulting them would have been totally unacceptable. But I did want to do some work like what I do with my students in Boston to encourage critical thinking skills. The work I had hoped to do was squeezed out because of "scheduling" and "curriculum" requirements--at least these were the excuses I heard. I had wanted to lead students on field trips around Colombo. We would have studied exactly the kind of phenomena I describe here in Jaipur (I also posted on this earlier in an essays on walking through Colombo and making "sense" of the dense Wellawatta neighborhood there). My offers to do this were put off with vague statements of "maybe next term," and "we'll see." Finally, I left. You can lead a horse to water and all that. 

But this kind of rejection of critical analysis holds consequences for the future of Sri Lanka, a place that I see quite well now, has been gutted of culture, gutted of civil society, gutted of creativity. In a sense, gutted of intelligent self-determination. Advanced planning students at Moratuwa are put to work on projects about Galle Fort, a spoiled tourist destination and a UNESCO site that truly does not deserve the appellation. They are encouraged to travel to Singapore and Bangkok, cities that Colombo's leaders and planners would like to emulate in the next decade. There is little appreciation anywhere for the role of Sri Lankan culture or its expression in the vernacular built environment. 

Comparing Galle Fort to the Pink City you get more perspective on this problem and the consequences of poor design thinking. Galle Fort is characterized with expensive tourist destinations, overpriced eating and buying venues, a large military installation, and limited access pedestrian or vehicular access. It is packed with tourists who lend their own consumerist character to the place. It is also subject to the ugly demographic struggles that have come to characterize Sri Lanka since "Sinhala only" (in 1956!) started the ball rolling against Burgher, Tamil, and Muslim minorities. Through a series of land exchanges most of the Galle Fort community is now Muslim, a demographic that is unlikely to change and unlikely to play out in peaceful or democratic ways. There is just too much distrust among the ethnic communities of Sri Lanka for this to resolve equably. And it's not being addressed by people like the planning students at Moratuwa who might, if they were equipped broadly enough, be able to build a platform for positive outcomes. 

In Jaipur, locals outnumber tourists overwhelming. In this relatively heavily tourist city you are unlikely to see foreigners wherever you go. Trade is booming in every kind of trifle from marigolds for offerings to marble statues to plumbing supplies. Wealth is being made here through manufacture and commerce. The vibrancy, along with a good measure of dirt and seeming chaos is incredible to witness. Jaipur is alive. Galle Fort, not so much. 

But future designers for Sri Lanka are put to work at Moratuwa designing another restaurant, exhibit space, or information kiosk for Galle Fort. The big questions about the place, the questions that require a sophisticated perspective, some kind of interdisciplinary critical analysis are missing. 

Galle Fort as an urban space is in its death throes. Colombo is unlivable and becoming worse. The "megapolis"project will add to its woes, not improve the situation. But in academia, the one place where people should have the freedom to observe and question these phenomena, there are no questions being asked. Has Sri Lanka been gutted of its intellect too?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Jaipur. Like a piece of cloth

Open the door and you will slip right through. It's allowed. It's different but not that much. You will see. The hours spent lying on the street or in the sun these are the hours you exist, one in many. The days you spend working with your hands or brain. These are the days you spend, flowing, floating. The barks you hear of dogs or hogs, these are the sounds of days. Your days or the days of others. These are all days. Scraping of chairs or folding of burlap or chiseling of marble or rolling of incense or guiding or whistling at wrongdoers, those who climb the wrong ramparts, these are the occupations of your time, yours and everyone's. Finding sun or shade or walking or riding you move in motions your's and everybody's. Lie still as the city spreads and drains and produces and sells and stands and settles. These are accomplished without resistance or with resistance or somewhere between resistance and non-resistance. Like a piece of cloth. 



Whole precincts of sculptors
In marble of busts and gods
Incense makers rolling their sticks
Jangles of bangles in loggia'd markets
Vendors of pickles in gallon drums
Trishaws and rickshaws and buses and taxis 
Piles of dust and piles of brick
Goats and pigs and cows and drums
Scooters, saloons, saris, slippers
Kites bounding and racing and bouncing and struggling and sticking 
Cows licking and lowing
Sun stronger then setting
Fried and sweet snacks and tiny cups of tea
Stalls open and closed
Burlap and silks and parcels and bags and boxes on bikes
Trains and trains of thought
Open views and closed views
Flat skies and jagged skies
Forts and walls and ramparts and friezes
Shadows and soaps, swill and gutters

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Jaipur Resolution

An hour before sunrise
Walls come into view
Color fades in the east
Cows graze in alleys
Drums rattle and roll
Sweeping commences
Women in veils throw out the garbage
Sparrows tweet
Breeze picks up
A cough crackles
Roofs shine
Scooter motor goes
Bicycle lying in a roof comes into view
Cans clatter
Metal on metal, voices are heard
Haze picks up 
The cow bellows deeply and long below the zones of light that resolve into one



A cool night in Jaipur and feeling heat come off the thick walls of the place we're staying in the Pink City. Many more questions about remembrance, testimony, memorialization. These things reverberate and shed a hazy but sure glow like the heat off the walls. 

In conversation wondering why this matters to me, how I'm coming up with so many questions to frame it, questions I generate and not people I talk to. Could it be my questions come from the blank spaces, the quiet places where people won't talk? Why do my questions have more to do with feelings and sensations I imagine people to have than with so-called facts and figures that supposedly run the way people behave and experience. Can you get the facts wrong but always the feelings resonate?

Can we "use" feelings of a persecuted minority kicked out of their centuries-old home to understand what's going on now with the exodus from Syria? Other exodus experiences? Is there any use to using that? Why not try now than later?

If I talk to a young educated person who lives in England and thinks the war will continue in Sri Lanka then what about the jungle peasants who are uneducated who slip into their pineapple fields or cinnamon plantations or teak forests and are part of the next wave of war?

Friday, February 19, 2016



It took one hour to get my friend to talk about his parents. Should I be bothered by this? Why do I feel any time pressure? What's the difference? Well, I'd like to get at things through the back door. It just totally wouldn't do, not a bit, not one iota, not a speck to ask him about his own feelings from the time of a double whammy war against civilians. Maybe triple whammy. 

My friend is 73. His mother died about 15 years ago. "Fifteen years back," as he says. She was 91. Same with his wife's mother. "What did the old people say about the trouble?" I chance. "You know," claims my friend, "they didn't say much. They were looked after by their children. They didn't have anything to say. They mostly sat around and read their bible." He pauses, hits the armrests of his plastic chair, and with his usual wan smile adds, "Well, I shall take my leave now."

Another chance for testimony testimony testimony testimonial remembrance lost lost lost. For now. I know he doesn't want to talk about it. I know no one does. It's ancient history for one thing. None of us remembers 15, 20, 30 years ago (I'm aiming for 1983: What happened in Matale? The "victors" still want to cover it up. They cover it up with a vengeance. What else are they hiding? Why? Must be something important there). But the non-victors (can I call them that?) want to get on with life, not open old wounds, not rub salt in wounds, not feel the hurt again, not restate the obvious, not encounter horror, not re-encounter horror, not enter this conversation.

I reference two pieces of holocaust testimony. One I saw at the British Imperial War Museum in London, a powerful exhibit. Not just this testimony. The smells coming from a porcelain vivisection table from Nazi times on display. Maybe it's not there anymore. What happens when you smell brain? The testimony goes like this. The speaker as young boy is playing soccer with his friends and classmates. Who wouldn't? It's Poland, 1939 or 1940, after the German invasion but before his family is forced into the ghetto. The friends beat him one day for no reason at all. He runs home. Grandfather tells him, "we are all marked for death." You can't Wikipedia this. I tried. But if you go to Israel you can see this kind of eyewitness accounting. You might not want to go to Israel. You might think it's an illegal "occupier" entity. Get over it. Study history. Will you go to London? Maybe you can force yourself to go to the locus of imperialism (or past imperialism?) Anyway, they more than set the stage for what unfolded, unraveled in Sri Lanka. Read your history. Find out what they did in the Middle East too. Especially "Mandate Palestine" circa 1947-48. Or go a bit further back into the British occupation of Palestine  and see how they abetted pogroms against Jews there. Try 1929 and 1935. Why do I care? For one thing , just a small something, trying to put this whole Sri Lanka thing in a container. Trying to put "occupation" and "imperialism" and "language" and "demographics" and "geography" and "violence" into a container. But it's gotta be a big one. Way too big for the non-fiction audience. No way this is going to a university press. Can't! Maybe too big for Wikipedia. Can we parse it one tweet at a time? 

The other account is Maus. Spiegelman's great-grandparents are in their 90s. Maybe they are 91. They are hidden by the family, already trapped in the ghetto, in a secret passageway. Finally the gendarmes approach the family, "If you don't give up the grandparents, who we know are here, we'll have to take all of you." This is in a comic book. Is this fiction? Fact can't possibly hold it. Fact breaks. Fact splits open. Fact defies this. This defiles fact. Fact can't tolerate this. Fact has to be backed up with figures. Facts and figures. Got it? (Coming. Please be patient. I figured out how to get facts for this stuff. Just wait. Can quantify! Can scale! Can make statistical! It's brilliant). OK. The family gives up the grandparents. I think they're 91. Like my friend's mother and his mother-in-law. Not so active physically but "with it" as they say, mentally. How did the grandparents respond? What did they know? They were reading the bible most of the time too. In the comic they are mute. Most of the mice are, most of the time. But mute doesn't equal no testimony does it? Or no ability to testify does it? The family looks at a brochure of Tereizenstadt, the "ideal" concentration camp. They look bemused and mildly optimistic in the frame. They are not bent. They all know they're headed for Auschwitz. The old ones and the whole family. 

Why do I care about these testimonies? How can I trust a comic book more than Wikipedia? Read the comic book yourself! Why do I care about testimony? Why should anyone care about testimony? What's the difference? Lots of differences. One big difference is somebody doesn't want this testimony to happen, that's just for one thing. What is there to hide and why hide it? What are the consequences of letting it go? Letting it open? Is it like a huge societal vomiting? Might that make people feel better? Better to bury it? It (Sri Lanka) is not my society. You tell me what would make it feel better. Please. 

What am I after? I'm after a map of safety and danger. I want to know, physically, which places were dangerous. How they were dangerous. Who endangered whom, when, in what way. If you crossed this street was it dangerous? If you passed to this island was it dangerous? If you passed this hour was it dangerous? What were the boundaries? How wide were they? How fluid? Did they work the same for everyone? Was it one way for the rich and one way for the poor? One way for cultivators and one way for city people? One way for Hindus and one way for Christians? Different again for Muslims? Women? Men? Children? Professionals? Businessmen? People in traditional clothes? People in western clothes? People with glasses? One way for children and one way for grandparents? What were you doing in these days, these moments?

Someone tells me, not in the context of "war" or "conflict," that they had American sitcoms. So you could watch tv and laugh. So you had a tv. So you laughed. So you learned some English from the tv. And you laughed with it. Was this during all the years? Thirty years! Lifetimes! Did it change and how did it change? Did you laugh less? Did your parents laugh less? Did the old people really and truly never opine? Whisper? Did they really feel safe? Did your parents feel safe? Did you feel safe? Were you ever hidden by your parents? Did you ever hide your child? If there's nothing worth remembering can you please tell me why and under what circumstances you sent your child/children to the UK? Australia? Canada? Who was "in charge?" Did you ever feel in danger? How? Did zones of danger change? Did safety zones expand? Contract? Morph into danger? How quickly? Overnight? At night? Can you remember one thing? 

Which places were safe? Which borders were safe to cross? Which friends was it safe to play with? Which things did you hear? Which things did you try not to hear? Which news was rumor, radio? Whispered?Shouted? What was in the papers? What was censored? What did you think was censored? What did you know was censored? How was the ground you walked on? Certain? Uncertain? See? There is a large container here waiting for you to fill it up. Fill it up any way you like. Go ahead. Sing it out. Throw it up. 

Why do I pick up on this energy here among people? It was all so long ago! All of it! What if we just keep it buried in the past and move forward. There are lots and lots of young boys in the Shanti Cinema just past the Kallady clock tower. Just past the Pilliyar Kovil, other side of the road. They come on scooters. They come with their friends in small packs. Together in the fan-cooled room they make a larger pack. They go out for orange soda at intermission. They are hooting at the stars and the plots and the foils and the monsters, movies from Tamil Nadu. Hilarious rollicking time consuming loud colorful musical fun. Does this testimony have anything to do with them? Did they grow up free of the subjects I'm interested in here? Yes. They were born let's see, maybe 20 years ago. Would have made them 13 in 2009. Lots of years for their parents to have to have looked after them. Bet they were busy. No time to be reading their bibles. 

Do these boys have critical skills? Who cares? Facebook is there for them. Invented in Boston! Their testimony is every day. This mass of electrons adds up to a collective testimony at once powerful and meaningless. This mass of electrons. Can we measure it? Can we measure the testimony? If the old or the middle aged or the young won't talk can we ask them to fill out a survey? Of course I'm joking! What did you think? But then I could contain it, social-science style. A social scientist! Not an asocial scientist like a botanist or archeologist. 

What kind of survey monkey survey could you administer (let's do it electronically! More electrons into the black hole!)

How scared were you in the war years? Scared shitless, heartily frightened, frightened, hardly frightened, unfrightened. I was looked after by my (children, grandchildren, grandparents, parents, aunties, orphanage--choose all that apply) and reading my (Bible, Readers Digest, newspapers national and/or local) other. 

How much did things shift from safe to unsafe? Very very much, very much, much, less than much, not. 

What did your parents/grandparents/aunties/uncles say (leave blank for optional comments). 

We can go on. We can characterize enervation, dysfunction, quaking fear, maybe bravery, appetites, freedoms or lack thereof, feeling surrounded, vulnerable, clueless, at sea, entertained, hungry, isolated, or maybe it was life as usual. I'm not a Sri Lankan person. Maybe things were different here. You're from Sri Lanka. You tell me. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Incorporating the natural and inviting the supernatural

At the Mamangam Kovil tank in Batticaloa you take a breather next to a stunning urban lake. Almost as much wildness is incorporated here as you might see in a rural tank, one of the 30,000 human-built ecosystems spread throughout Sri Lanka. In the near distance at the other side of the lake lies a thick forest. It hides more miles of sub-urban settlement behind it. More lakes and waterways lie in and among the houses and kovils that stretch northward to the Kali Kovil, a sort of terminus of this sacred series. 

Covering the lake are lotuses, water lilies, and other assorted plants that suggest deep country more than inner city. Fish dart here and insects glide along the water or in the still air just above. This is a natural space, probably built before the city grew up around it rather than the other way around-something carved out of the urban fabric. 

How people use and perceive this space is a point of interest. I've seen children walking along the concretized steps of the gently curbing bund, barefoot, chattering, happy. Older people too I've seen stopping here, either to look or to touch the water. I've heard much about young couples stopping by temple, either Buddhist or, like this place Hindu. Here they come for relaxation, a moment to meditate together, or, as I saw today, to supplicate prayerfully in hopes of starting a family. 

The peacefulness and peaceable surroundings lend themselves to a feeling of relaxation that might be regarded as a kind of holiness. The gentlest breeze refreshes as your eyes rest on the green expanse of water, the weightlessness of local birds, the harmony felt by standing here in silence. This awe is brought by a connection with nature. It's no wonder then that holy places like this kovil incorporate the natural. 

In the preserve of nature is also a claim to ownership, something I've observed in Buddhist spots here in Sri Lanka but perhaps true as well of the Hindu holy places I've encountered. "We are here" as part and parcel of this nature's world makes a statement of belonging, profound in its embrace of nature as part of your humanness. Our houses and roads and buildings are less than pretty. Our holy buildings stand apart, not within a natural surrounding. But these ponds, these forests, these meditative steps taken among rocks or water are a living iconography of landscape and our embrace of it. Embrasure is at once a holding and an immersing. In this simple gesture lies a dawning of the complex, a drawing of human and nature together, "human nature." Possibly the ownership expressed here is mutual. We may own this spot but as part of nature, at least in gesture, we acknowledge nature's ownership of us. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Anschluss or: power is wielded at the end of a scrub brush

Where to go with this story? It's a story of how things go bad. How love goes to disillusionment and disillusionment to something scarier. It's scary in part because the spores of disillusionment have been there all along. Why weren't they recognized? Why were they ignored? Were they hiding? Camouflaged? Fooling us? Like the spores of a disease that takes hold when the immune system is down. Or the precursor cells of cancer that become "activated" by a cascade of biochemical signals. No one knows for real how any of this happens. How this works as a system. Yes we know the parts. But. Our ways of looking at it, all of it, are too reductive. We can only see one corner, one surface, one reaction or the gateway to that reaction. Why are we so limited?

Maybe it's the intoxication of beauty. There is so little of it in our world. I mean the Western world. I mean the postindustrial world we pretend to thrive in or maybe we actually do thrive. But it's not a beautiful world for the most part. You can't be that graceful making your way with freezing wet feet through slush. Or climbing three feet to throw yourself into the seat of your Suburban. Or reaching through your car window to pick up your Starbucks. On the other hand. How could you not be intoxicated with the sultry beauty of Sri Lanka? Swaying coconuts, glassy lakes, steaming jungles, beautiful bare feet. Not so pretty towns. But still, a beautiful place where all "truth" is relative, where people are shadows and shadows are forest glens and glades. What's not to like? What can you possibly see?

My project was one of intangibles. I was to see and record and analyze intangible features of the landscape. What do you do with that? It's not history. It's not art history. It's not diplomacy. It's not reconciliation. It's not any kind of buzz word. It's only one man's word and how can you trust that? What if his arguments turn out to be circular? What does any of this have to do with contemporary Sri Lanka? A hard sell on the grants market. How do you quantify or even rationalize, let alone defend the statement, "my findings will guide me to further research." Shouldn't have written that one. At least, shouldn't have submitted it. But someone bit. A bit open minded, that. Or cockeyed. What if you don't find anything? What if you're just over here to sit on the beach and drink beers? Or king coconut? What can the bend of a tank bund possibly tell you? What can 30,000 of them tell you?

No interviews? No. Because no questions. No questions? No. Because "actually, sir." Get it? If you're not quite sure I'll tell you. Because every question gets a lie. So. You can sift through lies or half truths after you have made copious notes on your gargantuan efforts. Or. You can sit quietly, walk quietly, stand quietly and let would-be answerers creep up behind you and tell you what they want. And there are answers in the curve of every tank bund. Just come up with some other way to say it would you? Some way that's a little further from your personal "truths." Some way to the bank. 

But if they (the curves and the people who sneak up on you, the way you feel the wind, the way language is used) tell you what they want how will you get what you want? Simple. Kind of Buddhist actually. What you want is what you get. You formulate from there. Sound circular? Please. Don't bore me. Those many years at Harvard led me to the hems of garments of so many circular-argument promulgators. But pal, make one peep out of their circle of "truths" and your words garner the label "circular argument." Nice to have a label isn't it? Because the label is so circular, so perfect, so seamlessly closed onto itself that you cannot argue your way out. It's a beautiful thing. A disappearing weapon like an icicle. Round and round we go in circles until "actually sir" carries with it an implacable truth-telling. Like. Truth is at the point of a gun. Or like wikipedia quotes Mao, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Arafat said it too, a little more brutally, at least for every single Jew. Who. He. Swore. To. Kill. Oh Gloomy. Check his properly attributed quotes in Wikipedia. Check his improperly attributed quotes too, just so you've got a good handle on the man. Swedish Academy must have. He got the Nobel Peace Prize! Like Wikipedia? I do. But sometimes truths get scrubbed out of there. Like the truth about Matale. Didn't need Wikipedia for that. Only needed the planning department at a university here in Sri Lanka to do the job. Maybe because they were using circular reasoning. 

Self referential is another "critique." Because gotta be unusual, get out of the circle. Not reference your own ideas. Use someone else's. But don't forget to cite appropriately! Anyway I think Hitler had it right after Kristallnacht, after the Anschluss, when truth came from the bristles of a scrub brush. He taught those worthless German and Austrian Jews a lesson. Just like these Tamils needed a lesson to be taught to them. And they got it in Matale, not to mention Colombo and Jaffna. And many other cities. Scrub those sidewalks. Scrub those latrines!! Nothing to do it with? You people are smart. Use your clothing! I saw a building next to the Mt. Lavinia hotel that was abandoned by its Tamil owners in 1983. What would you have done? I stayed in a place in Anuradhapura and met the owner. A doctor. "I bought this place from Tamil friends who were 'leaving the country' in 1983. I bet you did. 

Achtung. Breathless. Now breathe. Go to MOMA for an afternoon. Go see the brilliant controversial frescos that Diego Rivera did for his rich American clients. Look at his workmanship. Look at the technological genius behind his frescos. Think about the controversy. No. Rockefeller and Ford weren't Jews. Far from it. Can you say far from it when you're either "in" or "out" of that small circle? Is that circular reasoning? Is that circular enough? What was Rivera's 1930s vision? Rich bastards and (please do pardon me) rich bitches cleaning the sidewalks and the verges. His vision. Put into "aktion" just a few years later by the Nazi Germans! Or did Rivera just look in that week's paper to find the image? Must look it up in wikipedia and maybe I can tweet it afterwards. Or is circular reasoning one that doesn't belong on Twitter only Facebook? Instagram? Snapchat. So bad to age yourself. But where's the room for being self-referential? Everywhere. That's a selfie!


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The breath of morning plants

The breath of morning plants
Streams its vaporous odors 

The breath of morning plants 
Unites the soils and skies

The breath of morning plants 
Enters and embalms

The breath of morning plants 
Pulls and surrounds 

The breath of morning plants shades and protects 
Sorrows a broken cord

You are put on earth

You are put on earth
You see things your own way 

You're not forced to see things one way
You have your narrow world

The world may expand for you
Sometimes it expands greatly

And sometimes the expanse is just your corner and that corner is small

What do you detect?
How do patterns make themselves apparent?

What's a lie?
A falsehood?

A break in the pattern?
A breach in how you see things?

What qualifies you to see a lie?
What's your right to the truth?

Based on your experience and your senses
Is that enough?

What about the base of your gut?
The need to get away from the source of a lie? The allergy to a particular lie? To cause distance, to remove you from the rend?

Is it the wider your world the better you understand the pattern
Or is it the smaller your corner the better you see?

If a curator doesn't know a naga is that a lie?
Only if she's a curator of South Asian Art 

If the police speak Sinhalese to an old  Tamil man is that a lie?
Only if the pattern of courtesy requires another language. 

If water flows backward in the lagoon is that a lie?
Only if only if only if only. 

Is a liecatcher like a dreamcatcher?
Are dreamcatchers lies?

Is a cantata a musical truth that's terraced with lies or that terraces lies?

Does the lie lie in judgement? Detection?
What is judgement and how is it calibrated? 

Who judges the judge and measures the lies and detects the corners and their torn patterns?

Do you find lies by looking hard or looking soft?
Do lies flop on your lap like so much ham off a platter?

Do lies slip by the window of your bus ride?
Do they jump off a page of a newspaper?

Do they hide in memoirs and books
Or like police garrisoned, silenced by their superiors during a pogrom?

Whose lies count and whose lies are inconsequential?
Do all lies tear at the fabric of being?

Are truths peppered by lies because of the weakness of human perception?

Are perceptions fed by your eyes, your soul, your affinities and allergies?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

More about giving and its aftermath

 Yes it's more about giving than receiving. But a more immediate concern is the way giving here in Sri Lanka is fraught with cultural implications. It's not a clean thing, which I guess it never is, in any culture. An amazing feature of the Fulbright is that I've had so many opportunities to give in so many contexts. As I sit to think about it I can recall that there are dozens of "giving" transactions I've experienced, some more successful, at least as I perceived them, and some less so. 

But here I want to focus on certain peculiarities of giving that I've noticed, experiences that are both strange and frankly, unsettling. Does this mean they were "unsuccessful?" Not necessarily. Does it mean I'm still trying to figure them out? Very much so. 

So for a moment consider this scenario. It's not as much about giving at a personal level as it is about the nature of exchange here (if I can be as presumptuous as saying there is a "nature of exchange here."). I guess what really struck me was the fact that this had to do with sacred exchange. 

I was visiting the Kelaniya Temple with the driver from our guesthouse, Susil. I could have gone straight from Galle Road to the temple, I think on the 138 bus (not the Kiribatgoda bus--the other Kelaniya bus) but it would have taken me a good two hours. I was glad to spend the money to go with Susil. I had someone to guide me through the experience and also to reflect with me. (Still took a couple of hours each way). 

At the sprawling parking lot, where we pulled into a shady space that had to be vacated by two child-vendors Susil suggested, "should we buy some flowers?" Great idea, I thought, though I had no idea how to conduct such a transaction or which flowers were appropriate. We settled on a small basket of white flowers you see on every shrub here, for Rs 100. They were like a cloud in a basket. Instead of doing what I should have done I lifted them to my nose. Nothing like a cultural guide to let you know, ever so gently, that you don't smell the flowers out of respect. 

I had looked at the array in front of us, some flowers being sold at booths, some offered by individuals the way hawkers would sell you tickets outside of a show in our cold country. One amazing flower hit my eye, a flower I never got close to but which nevertheless struck me with its exotic appearance. Something between a cattail and a partially shucked corn, the sorghum-like monocot was appealing in an exotic, almost dangerous sort of way. Susil told me, "those come from the North Central Province (where he's from)." What I understood next didn't make total sense but I could make out the gist of it. "People buy them and bring for an offering. Then some people collect and bring back to sell." Bring them back all the way to Rajarata? No dummie. They bring them back to the parking lot. Maybe it's the hawkers who sell them. Strange thing I thought. But the glorious energy and crowds and interest in the visual setting and our limited common language kept me from asking more. 

Some weeks later I was in the Deep South near Batapola with my friend Karu. He was there to dedicate a lamp to the village Ponsala on the occasion of the centennial of his father's birth. A handsome lamp it was, tall and gleaming in its special shelter (he took no hesitation in telling me how much the outfit had cost or how badly the first builder had messed up and how much repairing the damage had cost-what a way to celebrate the "giving" occasion!) Back to the lamp, and this was a wonderful thing to see. Parents sent their children up a short staircase where they could pour oil into the appropriate receptacle and then step down (lots of scary flame and flowing dresses but no casualties in the hours I witnessed it this particular Poya day). A series of dozens of lamplets at the bottom were fed this way and the lit wicks surrounding the stem of the lamp shone merrily. Quite a sight. 

At the bottom of the towering lamp was a larger receptacle. It was there I assumed to store oil that would keep on being burnt for days or more. I didn't ask. Karu offered, "People come to empty that lamp and they resell the oil." I was sure he told me this out of anger or distaste or disdain, exactly what I had thought Susil projected when he told me about the flowers at Kelanyia temple." My answer, which I thought was appropriate and appropriately sarcastic (Karu's English was also quite limited in spite of the fact that he had first presented himself as an English teacher and spoke very highly of his own language prowess),  was, "Wow. Great for their Karma." 

Karu's response, which may have picked up my sarcasm, was a surprise. "Actually there's no harm done. Someone has made an offering and they feel good about it. Someone can make some money selling the oil, and they can give another person a chance to make an offering." And 'round it goes. Where it stops nobody knows. What does this say about giving? What does this say about the way "sacred" is parsed here? What does this say about property, individual or communal? How does this convey information about "intent," "merit," or religious offerings? Do we even understand these things in our own society?

The final giving I want to discuss is somewhere between "sacred" and "secular," if these terms have any meaning. I wrote about this in a couple of other posts, "Time to give school supplies" and "Endless pocket of need." In short, I gave hundreds of dollars worth of school supplies to a nearby girls' orphanage that had reached out in their need. What about the aftermath of that giving?

My friend and fellow Fulbrighter Kim Kolor happens to teach English there once a week. She recently was asked to bring the girls notebooks. "Notebooks!" I popped out of my chair. I brought them a few hundred a couple of weeks ago. Didn't they get distributed to the girls? Kim, embarrassed now, which she shouldn't have been- this wasn't her doing-told me she'd seen the piles of school supplies, even the backpacks, piled up in Sister Helen's office. The girls hadn't been given a thing. Kim suggested that there's a culture of hoarding here in the East--who can blame them?-and that if I wanted to see the supplies in the girls' hands maybe I should go over there and give them myself. 

Who can know what Sister Helen's motives were? Will she mete out the supplies, which we were told were urgently needed, as she sees fit? Will she save them for another term? Were the girls given supplies from another source that also responded to their "urgency?" Will these supplies be sold? Did I do "good" so that the "good" could go on in an ever-revolving basis? Not my problem, I guess I can say. But the signals I picked up from these experiences are signals hard to read and even more difficult to interpret. 

What happened in Alaska? What happened in Matale? Tweet me.

This is an excerpt from my novel of Sri Lanka, "The Longest Tweet." I've been trying to keep my cool, my composure, my sense of humor in spite of the darkening skies I see around me. 

In this section I talk partly about how things go bad that we once thought were good. I also touch on a very serious problem, that of academia being used to fabricate lies. We expect politicians to lie. We expect journalists to be self-serving. But we expect academia to uphold some kind of beneficial truth. Naive? Of course. But how else can I keep my sense of humor? Tweet me!


What happened in Alaska? What happened in Matale?

When does something go bad?

When does something you thought was good turn into something that is bad? When is something you thought was beautiful go to pretty to pretty ugly to ugly. What are the steps as you ratchet your way to disdain and disgust? Are there infinitesimally small ratchet-steps downward until some moment when you have hit the floor, red and waxed or fake wood or tile or just dirt. Is it a straight line? How do you get there? Is there any way to fight your way back. What's lost on the way? Can't you hold onto your good humor or at least your sense of humor or at least a humor? And what about your sense of forgiveness? What formulas of forgiveness can you use to take you up a ratchet or move back up to a state of like or tolerance at least? Too much to ask? 

Is it a decision or a set of decisions? A moment or a monument? Private or public? Silent or explosive? Gradual or all of a sudden?

When you beat your wife did you ever think "I could be sorry for this later." When you thought of beating your wife...beating your wife!!?? What am I writing about?! Did you think, "She's gonna make me sorry." Did anything whisper or yell to you "I'd better not." Were you drunk? On alcohol? On power? What "power" is it to beat your loved one-ever! To break the walls of your own house? Who do you share a home with? Who do you share a home with when your home is a small island? A precinct? A ward? A street? When do you start beating? How do you start beating? How long did you meditate on this beat? Did anything at all along the way stop you or make you think to stop or make you stop to think?

"Share my story. Write about my story. It's Sri Lankan." But how could I write about a Canadian who beat his wife? Can we count the pressure points, the ratchets as he first considered lifting a finger against his bride? Who thinks that? Who does that? "You are still the man," I could have told him in his language, not mine, because there's no word for that in my language. That expression belongs to Here. "You take control." "You take control sounds nice." Men lose control. 

What is the nature of control? What are "controls?" A Supreme Court ideologue dies. His nasty grip of control is gone. We speak of controls like "checks and balances," a nice financial asymptote. But what are the points of deflection, inflection, predilection, traction? 

He asks me how I like Sri Lanka. First sentence? Like asking me my religion. It's too out there. It's friendly and lite like a lo-cal yogurt. You can never get enough of that. But you can get enough of Sri Lanka. How? You can see enough. See enough? How's that possible? There are thousands of corners to this country. There are 30,000 tanks to explore. Your presumed focus of research Most of them ancient. How can you say you've seen enough? "Because I've seen too much." 

Too much! Outrageous. You're a foreigner. You have no language, no ties to this country, no "relations" who could relate anything to you. Anyway what's enough? What's too much? How did you come up with this? Did you tell your wife? What did she say? What do you mean she'd also seen enough? Did you put the screws on her? Urge her to say that? Invite her to say that? Tempt her to say that? Cajole her to say that? Trick her into saying that? Enough? Enough is enough. 

She said, "Let's not get paralyzed by this." She said, "just keep writing down your words." She said, "just keep thinking about these things." She said, "sometimes I feel like we've seen enough." She said, "I don't want this to turn out like Alaska."

What about Alaska? What was the beginning, middle, and end of that chapter?

He'd lived in Alaska a year when he started to write. Actually he started to write the first day. Things he didn't know a thing about. Things he noticed and didn't understand or thought he understood. The dip of a road, a change of elevation, a shadow, a breeze, a dapple of sunlight, the moistness of a bud, the taste of a new leaf, a speck of dust on a petal, a cloud of gravel dust along the road, the roar of a motor, the grace of a feather or wing, the sound of a bird landing, the sound of distant gunshots or the engine sound of a Piper Cub. 

Landed near him one day a sandhill crane, his height. Another friend had told her, in Fairbanks, showing her his treasure, and maybe his dowry, a freezer full of game meat, "Sandhills are good eating." The landed sandhill here, on this gravel road, bigger than life it seemed, scared this city boy. Why wouldn't it? Whoever saw a bird this big closeup and very much alive. Good eating? This marvel? It flew at 11,000 feet over the Alaska Range to get here. She flew over the Alaska range with a canister of oxygen between her legs. Had the patient had a heart attack or was he just dead drunk? What about the pilot? Ready to fly? Dead drunk? Heavily drinking that afternoon? Moderately drunk? Just a bit drunk? Ready to fly over the Alaska Range to Anchorage? Nice place to work? Helping others? Building a better rural community? Delivering medical care to the underserved? Empowering native healers? Or as we'd say now. In Sri Lanka. "Building capacity?" I love language. Absolutely do. 

When he'd finished with the intangibles, the curve, the gleam, the wave of heat or grip of cold, he'd gone on to identify tangibles, or what seemed like tangibles. Naming the birds, identifying the plant species, thinking about their distributions and how they connected to the intangibles he'd studied. This one likes full sun. This one takes root in a rock. This one grows sideways. It was poetic and it was ecological. It was a place of dramatic dark and sun. Nearly unimaginable cold and neatly defined (thanks to its smallness) shadows. This is how things started in Alaska.

In the middle phase of things in Alaska he noticed an intangible that could be quantified. One small intangible circumstance that rewarded observation and promoted a link between tangible and intangible. What was tangible? At the beginning of May when the sun was strong, before the snow had gone and before breakup on the river, before water levels rose so high they reached within an inch of their styrofoam- covered outhouse toilet seat, before the boy split his head at 11PM, still light, and she had to beg for a medivac that couldn't land because the runway was flooded, at the beginning of May, the sun was strongest in the southwest. This was tangible. It stayed there for hours in a never final descent and sent waves of differential melting, a kind of opposite of "moss-on-the-north-side-of-the-tree," where small and ever bigger plots of dirty or clean snow melted in relation to this long-held-grip of growing-more-powerful-each-day sunlight. Does this happen in Toronto where your wife took out a restraining order on you? Is there a willow growing near your house?

There was a willow by their house in McGrath, Alaska, a willow that grew in a southwest exposure. So cruel was the climate there that even an arctic willow needed a favored space, one with sun. In a favored space the toilet and associated indoor plumbing was not. They were in the slowly sinking back of the house (permafrost and all), permanently in the shadow of the house so guess what. Frozen solid. Frozen in March when he got there and frozen through until September when the frosts started again. So, a styrofoam-seated outhouse they called "Telida," the name of a village on a tributary. In modern parlance,  Kuranagela. 

The willow that faced southwest. In its swelling, warming branches a migrant warbler came to visit. Like the sandhill crane it had come several thousand miles, crossed the Alaska Range over Rainy Pass, ten thousand feet, and then hop skip and jump found the budding taiga of the light-drenched Kuskokwim Valley. Lots to eat in those melting pockets and swelling warming budding branches of the willows and that particular sw-facing willow. 

Looking close at the bird. What a pleasure! He saw a cat. No. Not a cat! A catkin. A willow flower. A make willow flower. A staminate flower, since he would someday soon start to become a scientist, a botanist. Slip into science though not always as comfortable or as easy as an old shirt or pair of pants. The catkins, ovoid, came to light slowly. Though frost was gone yet it was nigh. Conservatism for those first days and weeks. Don't open all at once (April for "open" was invented on a warmer clime, wherever). Put out your anthers slowly, in rhythm with the sun and its strongest rays. Put out your anthers and make them available to pollinators geometrically in proportion to that southwest sun. You're a willow, a modular organism, make use of those modules. Strategize with those modules. Flower carefully, not all at once. Expose slowly, a fading of the grey, a blush of orange, a tinge of yellow, a pod of exposed pollen. It was expensive to make, full of protein and replete with information-bearing sperm. Don't risk it all at once. Make a little tuft of exposed anthers (can't close them back down--no mechanism for that) just facing the warm of the long-setting sun. 

Make your tuft a little bigger each day as the sun grows stronger and lasts longer. Control this process. How? Hormonally? Let's just call it light-mediated. Link your opening, barely tangible, to the growing sun (tangible). Make a new measure-anthesis-the phenomenon of flowering, in correlation with an old measure, the tracking of the sun. Trace the tangible track to an intangible tract, that tuft of colorful pollen-bearing catkin that grows each day, always facing just that angle of southwest, until spring has sprung. 

It was done. It was fun. It was fine. Observing intangibles had led to a new tangible. One he could document and even calculate, if he'd been into math. Which thank you, he wasn't. It transformed for him what he knew was there, a landscape of intangibles, into an ecology as subtle as it was gorgeous. As hidden as it was clear. And as dear. How could you not fall in love with this place? It was compelling. It blushed like a beautiful cheek. It responded like a breathing being. Its plants and animals, and for all he knew its fungi responded in irrevocable embrace to the sun and its by-products. Light and warmth. Embrace this set of phenomena. 

Second part of "how Alaska happened" over. The third was swift and dangerous and ended abruptly with them leaving this Eden for good. And quickly. And with some goodbyes but not many. And with many sighs, long breaths of relief. 

The state of Alaska, flush with oil and gas money, granted the town a grant. Seems small now. It was only $100,000. Every resident that year got their own thousand dollar check just for living in the state. What could a town do with $100,000? Lots. 

Take the lot in back of town along the river. Scenic and sandy and open and mostly unused it had served a nice purpose in a nice place where nice men brought nice guns and some beers and had a nice afternoon of target practice. What?! Guns are legal, always have been in the United States. Unlike Sri Lanka. Rifles too. So bring your rifles boys and let's have a shootup. It's good clean fun and no one ever gets hurt. 

Now with a hundred grand they could get a new lot for shooting, set up some blinds, clean up the sand dunes in back of town and mine them for some construction projects. Roadbuilding and whatnot. But where to put the new shooting range? Hire one of your hotshot pilots, only moderately to severely drunk and only 80% of the time, name of Lucky he went by. Yup. Didn't make that up. Lucky went up up up. In the days before google satellite! And found the town a nice juicy spot where they could set up the new shooting range. He went out a few times. Wanted to make sure he got it right. Yes! Perfect! No laws against this great new spot! Buncha tundra waste anyway that nesting area. Sandhill cranes. Great eating. 

How did Alaska come to an end? When did they decide to emigrate? Go back to the Lower 48 where they Belonged? He wrote about it just like I'm writing now. Pointed out some injustices (my friends this was long before the days of google satellite and even "animal rights," whatever that's supposed to mean). This was the last frontier I mean Last Frontier. You can read it on license plates. Just like "Law and Order: the Breath of the Nation." What a motto for Sri Lanka! Why not "Land 'o Lies?"

He wrote and published and attended a meeting at City Hall (McGrath was a sophisticated place with great civil structure and a hall to practice it in. Don't go outside though. Things break down). The unanimous feeling was to build the shooting range where Lucky had flown. The lucky place Lucky had mapped out. Mmm. Good eating those Sandhills! He raised his hand and spoke. He must have spoken about intangibles because people saw red. No one likes fuzzy logic! Another meeting was called I think.  

The next meeting was scheduled to wrap up the question. Not to worry. No violence was done. No injuries to any vertebrate animals during this court session. Lucky's tall blond girlfriend, Ginger (couldn't make up this name any more than I could make up Lucky. Sorry. Not creative in that way) took the stand. Ginger was a graduate of Dartmouth, the Harvard of New Hampshire. Many thousands of miles away. The girl was seriously slumming it up here in interior Alaska with her man Lucky. Ginger took the stand. Swore she had studied ecology at Dartmouth. Swore she'd been doing a study of her own. But a lot more real than staminate willow flowers. Girl swore up and down she'd done a population survey of the sandhill cranes and they were infesting the runway in town. There weren't any cranes out where Lucky and his handlers planned the Big Shoot. They were seeking the warmth of the asphalt at the end of the mile-long runway and they posed a threat! A threat to commercial flights, threat to FAA flights, threat to BLM flights (firefighters could be killed!). The sandhill cranes were a pest species like the Canada geese we have today in our cities that just won't go away, that were overpopulating the region and highly likely to cause damage to the infrastructure, if not a threat to life and limb. Ginger was applauded. We realized it was time to get outta town. Academic creds were used for the first time (for my records) promulgate a lie. The next time was in 2013 when a graduate student at Moratuwa University, the MIT of Sri Lanka, compared the pogrom in Matale to rust belt Detroit. May this not end up like Alaska!

My new friend who is separated from his wife, "I'm not perfect. No man is," asked me, "Couldn't you mention to your colleague how he was wrong?" I asked, "who do you talk to in this country when you see something's wrong?"Couldn't you mention to your colleague how he was wrong?  Who do you talk to in this country when you see something's wrong? Couldn't you mention to your colleague how he was wrong? Who do you talk to in this country when you see something's wrong?

Could you talk to a politician? The darker their hair the more they lie. Could you talk to a Tamil politician? You think I'm crazy? I don't want to be involved with them. Could you talk to a journalist? Are you kidding? They're all bending over backwards to defend Sinha-le, the " lion's blood." Politicians. Journalists. Academia. Still naive after all these years. I expect history to be preserved, not wiped clean, in the Academy. By the way, check for yourself what happened in the German Akademie in 1933-1943 (absolutely no Jewish Problem after that). Tell me what you find in Wikipedia. Tweet me.