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Sunday, October 18, 2015

In Which We Discuss the Mideast, the VFW, Literary Protests, Refugees, and the Fear of Dying Unnoticed

I have an MPA, a masters in public administration.  When people ask what that means, I (half) joke that an MPA is like an MBA for people who don't like money.  It's not like there's an actual job title, "public administrator."

Or so I thought.  Turns out, "public administrator" is a thing--at least in New York City, where the euphemistic title goes to someone whose job it is to manage the final affairs and distribute the estates of those who die alone, unknown, unnoticed.  Makes me think they need to change the title of the degree.

At any rate, a front-page novella-length story about the final disposition of a virtually anonymous New Yorker did accomplish its no-doubt-intended goal of inspiring your old pal The Solipsist (oh, heck, we've known each other so long--just call me "The") to pick up the laptop again and start tapping away.

My problem of late has been twofold: lack of time combined with lack of inspiration.  Not much I can do about the former.  As an economics professor once explained, time is the scarcest resource, the one thing you cannot get more of no matter how much you try.  Of course, this economics professor seemed to hold the opinion that a functioning economy could be built around guns and butter, so we must take her pronouncements with a grain of salt--unless of course we are talking about rural Iowa where, if the local populace is any indication, guns and butter may, indeed, be the primary commodities.  What was my point?  Ah, yes.

The second deficiency, though, the lack of inspiration, is, I think, more manageable.  After all, if I do nothing more than riff on the day's events as outlined on the front page of the paper of record, I should be able to find enough to talk about, right?  I've been thinking about this for the past couple of weeks.  Each day, as I read through the news of the day, my conscience would prod me to get to it, open a new tab, type in The Solipsist URL, and start writing.  But such prodding was no match for my will power, which held firm in resisting those urgings.  Today, though, reading about the lonely death of George Bell, so detached himself from the world that his passing went unnoticed and largely unmourned, I couldn't help but think, "This is what the Times considers front-page material?!?"  But then I also thought, I can wait 'til I die alone like George Bell to have a trivial impact on the world, or I can get back to solipsizing and have my trivial impact here and now.

Easy choice, really.

What a surprise: The Middle-East remains violently dysfunctional.  Today's update features aggrieved Palestinians in East Jerusalem, lamenting the crackdowns put in place by Israeli security forces after a series of stabbing attacks by Palestinians on Jews.  Can't blame the innocent for feeling aggrieved; but you can't blame Israel for attempts to suppress the attacks, either.  A no-win situation.... Intractable.... Yadda yadda yadda. 

But that's the thing, really--the thing that's so frustrating: The situation really isn't intractable.  I mean, the solution is simple, right?  Some land for Palestinians, some basic security for Israel.  You would think that the greatest minds in diplomacy would be able to make that happen.  And yet. . .

I don't really have anything funny to say about this, ore even anything particularly interesting to add to the discussion.  All rather depressing, really.

Not your father's VFW hall.  When I think of VFW halls, I don't.  But if pressed, I would probably describe a dimly lit, wood-paneled rec room-type space.  Folding tables and chairs.  Some flags.  Old men in funny hats drinking beer.  Now, however, in an effort to attract younger members, the Veterans of Foreign Wars has introduced new programs at some lodges.  Yoga, photography classes, child care.  Come to think of it, it all kind of sounds like the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, only the JCC doesn't mandate yarmulkes, so the funny hats are optional.

Why is the English transliteration of the traditional Jewish skullcap, 'yarmulke'?  I've never heard anyone pronounce it that way.  It's "yahmika."  Like in the joke:

Guy goes up to his friend, "Hey, why the long face?"

"I've had the weirdest day.  This morning, I'm walking down the street, and I see this hat lying on the ground.  I pick it up, and inside I find a ten-dollar bill.  So, y'know, I think this is a sign.  I go to the track, and in the first race, there's this horse--Fedora--hundred-to-one odds.  I figure, what the heck.  I put the ten-dollars down, and sure enough the horse wins!  Well, in the next race, there's ANOTHER horse--Brown Derby--also going off at a hundred-to-one odds.  I bet--and I win!"

"Wow, that's incredible!"

"Yeah, but I should have quit while I was ahead. . . . In the next race, I bet another hundred-to-one shot with a 'hat' name, and he came in dead last!"

"Oh, man.  What was the name?"


"Idiot!  'Chateau' is a house, not a hat.  You're thinking of 'chapeau.'"

"Damn!  Wish you'd have been there to talk me out of that bet.  I'd have a hundred thousand dollars right now."

"Yeah, too bad.  Say, what horse won the race, anyway?"

"Oh, some Japanese horse named Yahmika."

In India, to protest the government's responses (or lack thereof) to recent attacks on writers and other citizens by Hindu nationalist groups, several prominent authors have returned literary awards they received from the Indian National Academy.  This, to me, is unimaginable: A country where literature is valued enough to make the returning of literary awards a meaningful protest.

I'd make a terrible refugee.  Here you have these poor people, displaced by ceaseless violence in Syria, gathering their families and what few belongings they can carry, and undertaking arduous and sometimes life-threatening journeys by rickety boat or treacherous land routes.  They trek through Turkey, through Croatia, hoping to get to Hungary and eventually to Austria and parts West.  They face all manner of obstacles, not least of which is hostility from the authorities in the countries through which they travel.  If they're lucky, they find themselves in a relatively safe country, where they can hope to start rebuilding their shattered lives.

Meantime, I get invited to a birthday party in the city?  I'm spending all afternoon mentally debating whether or not it's worth the drive.  For what it's worth, I'd probably also be all kinds of useless in a zombie apocalypse.

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