“. . . They sip at their longing for God. . .” (Samih Mohsen)

Like mother like son

Like mother like son

I bought an iPad about three years ago. I’m not exactly sure why, except that the (more than) friend I was hanging with had one, and it looked so convenient and fun. I discovered it will do almost everything I ever want to do on my computer.

The thing goes with me nearly everywhere these days. About all I do with it is check email and Google to find answers to questions (actually, it’s Safari, not Google) I want immediate answers to. Once in a while I take pictures. Probably the most time I spend on it—shall I admit this public?—is playing Sudoku. I’ve gotten so I can hardly sit and watch TV without playing Sudoku, and the iPad is much easier to see than my iPhone.

The most useful App I have is my Nook book app. All of the books I’ve bought for my Nook, I can read on the iPad. I haven’t picked up the Nook since I bought the iPad.

I hear women occasionally talk about how they have become their mothers (is there a famous book about that?), but I never hear men talk about how they have become their fathers. I have.

My father became interested in computers in the ‘80s when he was in his 70s. He owned one before I did. Now I’m in my 70s and trying desperately (hardly at all, in point of fact) to keep up with technology. I am my father. I am amazed at all of this stuff. My computer knowledge is stuck somewhere in about the ‘90s. I can’t do anything technological. I have a big flat-screen (not THAT big) “SMART” TV that I can’t watch movies on because I can’t figure out how to make it talk to my wireless modem.

And things go downhill from there.

All of the messages from one of my very closest friends (there are many of them) were ending up in the spam file in my email. I was checking the file for messages of his and dutifully moving them to my inbox when I noticed that the “spam” icon at the top of Outlook turns to “Not Spam” when I open the spam file. I clicked on it when I had one of his messages open, and voila! Problem solved.

I’ve been using the same Outlook email for 20 years.

You can extrapolate from that little example to the larger world of GPS and iTunes and. . . . to understand how limited my ability is.

My dad bought his first computer when he discovered he could have the pictures he and Mom took on their 50th anniversary trip to The Holy Lands in 1987 scanned and printed out on a computer. It was pretty crude and rudimentary back then, but it was possible. He had to have one.

I had no clue then.

But when I was part of a delegation of the Inter-Faith Peace Builders (Fellowship of Reconciliation) to Palestine/Israel in 2003, I bought a digital camera. I have hundreds of pictures. Unfortunately, they are on 3 ½ inch floppy disks, and I have no way to read them. But that began my love affair with digital pictures. I use my phone and my SONY camera to take zillions of pictures, as everyone else does.

Wonderfully strange that my father and I both learned about digital photography through trips to The Holy Lands.

There was one huge difference in our experience there, however. He went with a Baptist church group, and the only place they went in the West Bank was Bethlehem—even though the Apartheid Wall was only a gleam in Benjamin Netanyahu’s eye at that time.

My dad’s group could have wandered anywhere they wanted, but they went where all tourists went at that time (and still today). Mom and Dad never saw a Palestinian Refugee Camp or the ruins of a Palestinian village covered in pine trees planted by the Israelis to make the ruins disappear.

Somewhere I have a digital picture of my mother terrified and angry on a camel—she had no idea it was going to stand up suddenly once she got on. Of course, that was at the Great Pyramid in Egypt, but the same trip.

I have such a picture of myself taken on my second visit in 2008—except I was having the time of my life, and not solely because of the hunky young Palestinian man who owned the camel—riding in a little walled-in yard in Jericho.

The Baptists did not know the Al-Aqsa Mosque is on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or that the Dead Sea was becoming a resort for Israelis which the Palestinians who live within walking distance are not allowed to share.

Etc.

The latest download on my iPad is Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory. Ahmad H. Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod, editors (Columbia University Press, 2007). It is a collection of essays about the Palestinian “Catastrophe” of 1948—the year those villages were plundered and the planting of camouflage trees began.

My father, having been two miles (or less) from a couple of those destroyed villages never knew the word “Nakba.” I know because I asked him.

My parents were a stone’s throw from Deir Yassin, one of the first villages to be depopulated by the citizens of the newly formed Israel, and he never saw it or heard of the massacre. (Some of the buildings are still there—used as a state-run Israeli mental hospital.)

I was hoping last week when I heard about it to find a Nook Book version of the book A Bird is not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Palestinian Poetry, edited by Henry Bell and Sarah Irving (Glasgow: Freight Books, 2014). Of course, there is no Nook version. But I ordered the paperback edition.

I’d suggest that you get it. That is, if you have any desire to know Palestinians as persons, as a nation, as a people loving and longing for life in their homeland.

“Lamentation,” by Samih Mohsen

At Manger Square, at midday,
The chairs outside the cafes
Are taken by Western tourists, in September
They sip at their longing for God
The streets teem with passers-by
And foreign languages
We tread on the shadow
Of an old man stretched out on the pavement
With his arm and a tattered shoe for a pillow
His mattress was a story. . .
We pass by his wounds without seeing
Beer tickles our bellies to laughter
And telling inane anecdotes
We try to release the child within us
We stand in Manger Square
And mimic the dance-steps of Zorba the Greek
We step
We laugh
We step into the ring of lamentation.
–translated by Henry King

Samih Mohsen was born in the village of Naqour in Nablus, Palestine (Occupid Territories) in 1953, and has published two collections of poetry, Exiting the Narrow Rooms and Kingdoms & Peril.

From a book review of A Bird is not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Palestinian Poetry in which this poem is published:
“It is poignant and grimly amusing to read of the Western tourists who ‘sip at their longing for God’ in Manger Square and ignore ‘an old man stretched out on the pavement’ (‘Lamentation’ by Samih Mohsen, trsl. Henry King). It is hard not to feel something of a tourist oneself when reading a book of poems like this written, as it were, from Emily Dickinson’s ‘great pain’. As Iain Crichton Smith wrote in his long essay about the Hebrides: ‘Real people in a real place’; the Palestinians are also real people in a real place. And the land itself which is the subject at the heart of most of these poems, guarding the bones of their relatives and ancestors, is sacred to them.” From the online magazine, “The Bottle Imp.”

Stuff an old man will never understand (does he need to or want to?)

"The gods are just and of our pleasant DE-vices make instruments to plague us."

“The gods are just and of our pleasant DE-vices make instruments to plague us.”

For a couple of days, my iPad would not open one of those ridiculous keypads at the bottom of the screen (keypad? annoyance!) when I opened “Safari” (why ‘Safari’?) to Google something. I was stuck. One search I wanted to do was to find out what movie was being filmed at the other end of The Main Street Garden using the Old City Hall as the set. They kept faking an explosion audible for blocks around inside the old building, and then a crowd of extras would rush in, not out, the front door. Take after take.

The infernal iPad would not give me a place to type in a search for city permits (type? how many hours did I spend 50 years ago learning not to poke at a QWERTY keyboard with one finger?). They had a street blocked, so obviously they had a permit.

For some reason I remembered the little black keyboard I bought to make it possible for me to write even minimally (note: 4-syllable adverb) on the iPad. When the iPad is resting on that thing, it won’t open a keyboard on the iPad itself. So I found the keyboard—15 feet away on the kitchen counter—and turned it off. Voilà! The iPad opened a keyboard. How was I to know the two gizmos were talking to each other even half a room apart?

That seems spooky. Unnecessary. Inconvenient. Absurd. And ultimately (4-syllable adverb) incomprehensible.

The movie, by the way is a Zombie movie. We took a walk across the park and got there just in time to see a bunch of guys dressed unmistakably (5-syllable adverb) as Zombies come out of the building. I’ll never see the movie, of course. I’m 68. Why would I see a Zombie movie. Except the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956, which I will use in class.

I have a cute little 2012 Honda Civic I bought on December 31(paid cash for—some things I do understand, such as how you pay double for a car when you finance it—and, more importantly—how impossible car payments would be when I’m forced into retirement next year).

I do not remember a car my father owned, my late ex-wife owned, my partner the organ-builder owned, or anyone else’s car I ever used

Information the way God intended it should be shared.

Information the way God intended it should be shared.

on a regular basis (including mine) that did not have a “dome light” that turned itself on when you opened the door. So they’ve been standard equipment on cars for at least 60 years (I don’t remember if the ’47 Ford my dad owned before the ’52 Plymouth had one or not). Here, suddenly, I pay cash (lots of cash) for a 2012 car that does not have one. Oh, the light is there, and I can turn it on manually, but it doesn’t go on automatically.

This has been a particular pain in the ass (literally) as I have struggled to get in and out of my car with a cane and/or crutches for the past six months. I’m sure one of the little buttons on the steering wheel controls the automatic illumination, but I can’t figure it out.

Why have they turned a simple thing like having a “convenience light” come on when you open a car door into an electronic puzzle? Do I sound like my dad did when he was 68? Well, of course.

Fortunately when the *^+#-ing car turned on its dashboard warning light that told me I needed to check the air pressure in the tires (yes, it came on automatically!!!!), I found the express service center for the closest Honda dealer. Here’s something straight out of “Bizarro World”: the Honda dealership and its express service center are separated by the Aston Martin dealership. Honda→Aston Martin→Honda. I kid you not. So I’m going to go over there today and ask them how in blazes you get that stupid little light to come on. Of course, that’s going to happen right after my 9:30 AM physical therapy appointment when Grady is going to tell me I can finally quit using the damned crutches so the “convenience light” won’t be so important.

Then there’s Netflix, Spotify, iTunes, and “The Cloud.” I won’t even begin with my confusion about all of that. I won’t begin because I don’t understand any of them well enough to know what my confusion is. Voodoo. That’s what they are. All of them.

My dad was baffled by the remote control for his TV. Well, actually that’s not a good example for anything. I am, too. Why can’t I get a remote that simply turns the TV on and off, changes the channels and the volume, and starts/stops a CD video I want to watch. What are all of those buttons for?

Well, Dad should have stayed around for “Orange is the New Black” and tried to watch it on his computer. But then, I don’t suppose the infernal electronics would have bothered him nearly as much as the Lesbian sex, had he been able to play it.

So you can have your gizmos. I’ll stick to Frescobaldi, music of the 16th century played on an instrument that has one electronic component—the blower.

The modern computer is (or is not) Beelzebub. This is NOT a rant against technology by an old fart who does not understand it.

What's keeping you alive?

What’s keeping you alive?

About a month ago I had reason to give an old college friend  a book. He had made a wise crack (although he was dead serious) implying university departments such as Queer Studies are simply “fluff” courses and keeping college students from real scholarly pursuits, thus dumbing down education.

He’s right that some college departments are dumbing-down education. Business schools. At Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, for example, no class is offered in economic theory that includes a study of Marxism. That’s not academic discipline, it’s indoctrination (the Cox students go from there with one understanding of the way economics works; that understanding is certainly serving you well, isn’t it? How’s your retirement fund holding up?).  But, as usual, I digress.

I told my friend I’d ordered a book to be delivered to him, one I know has been used in some Queer Theory departments. I thought little else about it.

This evening I noticed the ads gracing the Yahoo page when I opened my email are for Barnes and Noble, using as samples four books by the author of the book I ordered for my friend. I don’t get it.

NO, I DON’T MEAN NOT UNDERSTANDING HOW THIS HAPPENS. That’s the given. We old folks do not understand this modern technology.

But neither do my very modern, sophisticated, au courant (they have no idea what that means) students at SMU. They don’t “understand” it. They don’t have any better idea , than I do how their precious electronic gadgets work. They simply (I mean “simple-mindedly”) use them and use them to build what they think is a life.

My students were bored with/ surprised by/ confused by my telling them in class yesterday that the first working computer was built in my lifetime. That isn’t quite true—I had forgotten the exact year. (I was born in 1945, and—depending on what you consider to be a “computer”—the first one was either 1941 or 1943**.)

My students will write their next essay on Ronald Reagan’s  Challenger Speech. For the old folks reading this, I need not explain. In the speech, Reagan says (Peggy Noonan says through the Great Communicator),

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that.

I was merely trying to help my students understand the “wonders in this century. . . dazzl[ing] us.” They cannot comprehend that there were no computers available to ordinary people until I was already what they would consider “old” (I bought my first primitive affair in 1987 to write my dissertation). And when Reagan made his speech, the cell phone as we know it did not exist.

The Good Ole Days.

The Good Ole Days.

If my students were smart instead of smart-ass, at this juncture in my rant they would ask, “What’s the point?”

The point is that it does not matter one whit whether or not I (or they) understand the technology on which they are constructing their lives. It does not matter an iota whether or not Yahoo is paid by Barnes and Noble to place an ad on my computer tailored just for me.

What matters is the why. Why are we so enslaved to this technology that we are no more enlightened or spiritually evolved than the people who  three or four thousand years ago were enslaved to Beelzebub (whom people of my generation know as “The Lord of the Flies”)?

But it isn’t even the technology we are enslaved to. It, in turn, is enslaved to rampant, personhood-devouring Capitalism. Everything is for sale. Even your thoughts as you read this. What are you thinking about? The fact that you are mortal or the amount you have to pay for “organic” groceries that won’t harm your health? The reality that your time here is limited or the amount you’re going to have to pay your new personal trainer to get healthy so you won’t die so soon? What about the chic clothes you bought the other day attempting to look young?

You and I know I could go on and on and on and on and on and on. The problem is not the technology. The problem is that for all of us—yes, us old folks who rail about not understanding it, too—the technology is the latest tool in our frantic attempt to ward off our fear of death.

That’s all.

** “Computer.” Wikipedia. Web. 5 Mar. 2013. (I know, I know, Wikipedia is not a “source” for research. In this case, it’s good enough. If you want to check it out, go ahead. It says:
The first programmable electronic computer was the Colossus, built in 1943 by Tommy Flowers. . . Konrad Zuse’s electromechanical “Z machines”.  . . The Z3 (1941) was the first working machine featuring binary arithmetic, including floating point arithmetic and a measure of programmability. In 1998 the Z3 was proved to be Turing complete, therefore being the world’s first operational computer.

Fluff or academics?

Fluff or academics?