Sliding toward the Solstice

Pamela Olson
November 12, 2006

It's a beautiful fall in DC. I haven't enjoyed a continental autumn since high school in Oklahoma. The skies are crisp and clear, the trees are all shades of color, and coffee and flannel are assuming their place of prominence. I bought a beautiful black wool knee-length coat last spring at an 80% discount, and soon I'll get to wear it. Best of all, I have central heating in my apartment, so I won't be able to see my breath in my living room like I did when I was shivering through winters in Ramallah. I will not miss getting up and going to the bathroom when the ambient temperature everywhere but the three cubic meters around my space heater had a wind chill of 35 F.

That said, it's olive harvesting season in the West Bank now, and I'm really sad I can't be there. It's one of my favorite things on earth. I'm pretty sad about the situation in Palestine these days in general.

I've been taking classes in Arabic and ballet, both of which have been a lot of fun. I started in Arabic 2, since Arabic 1 would have involved re-learning the Arabic alphabet, and the first couple of chapters of Arabic 2 were new stuff. But then I looked ahead and realized the next six chapters were 70% stuff I already knew. So I studied ahead for the Arabic 3 midterm instead of the Arabic 2 midterm (that was a looooong weekend), passed, and joined the Arabic 3 class midway through. It's more of a challenge, which is good. I'm learning a lot.

Ballet is fun both as a physical thing and because now when I watch ballets, I can name the moves and comprehend the sequences better -- much like after I studied jujitsu, martial arts movies were a lot more interesting. Instead of a fluid series of motions, I started to be able to identify discrete moves, understand why they were used, and empathize (to some degree) what it felt like to do them (or receive them).

"Ow, haito to the windpipe!"

"Nice rear hiji / rear uraken combo."

"That mae geri was shit! Who hired this clown?"


It's also nice, as a girl who's done a lot of 'guy' sports, to be doing a physical activity where size and strength aren't advantages. It's all about grace and flexibility, where girls have the clear advantage. The men in the class are like hairy Gumby dolls that have been dipped in ice water. They try, though, valiantly.

Oh yeah, and the midterm elections. How 'bout that? The world and humane Americans with any modicum of enlightened self-interest and any care for their children's futures are breathing a sigh of relief this week.

Of course, as Jon Stewart said to Howard Dean after the results were in, "Don't you think that if the Dems hadn't won this election -- after Katrina, Iraq, Abramoff, Foley, and so on -- it would be like a guy who couldn't get laid in a whorehouse with a fistful of twenties?"

If they hadn't won, though, and Americans once more overwhelmingly showed that the only things driving their life choices (and thus the fate of the planet, given America's power) were short-term monetary gains (usually at the expense of their children), childishly bogus scare-tactics, and a parochial, xenophobic, and often exploitative form of 'faith'...

Well, 2000 was shocking, 2002 was gutting, and 2004 was so depressing I went numb. If 2006 went the same way, what more could have been said?

So thank goodness the Republicans were so outrageously hypocritical and foolish and greedy and shameless that even Missouri got sick of it. (No offense, Mo.) Thank you Montana and Virginia and all the other fine red states that held their noses and swallowed their pride and voted for not-Republicans (even if their friends and favorite pundits all agreed that Democrats were gay baby-killing tax-and-spend terrorist-lovers). As more than 200 Socialist members of the European Parliament said in a joint statement, "This is the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world." Let's hope they are right.

I certainly can't think of a single person who will miss Rumsfeld. A friend of mine who works at the Pentagon said the only sound heard on Wednesday last week was that of kegs being tapped quietly behind closed doors.

Looks like Germany is also going to be filing war crimes charges against him. You know you're in trouble when Germany feels confident enough to point fingers at you. (Just kidding, G.)

Not much else to report. City living is, you know, going out, eating out, hanging out, working out, meeting people and walking and talking and Metro-ing and looking at the sky. It seems somehow like nothing much to write home about, as enjoyable as it is. I do have invitations to do more talks about my time in Palestine, one with the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and one at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, so hopefully those will pan out.

Also, apologies for being so bad about keeping in personal touch lately. I've been keeping unsustainably busy at work and in my free time. I'm trying to figure out how to be better about it.

I saw Borat this weekend. It was pretty funny, but I feel like he dumbed it down and ix-nayed all subtlety for an American audience. And unfortunately, I think Sascha Cohen is starting to get a bit too big for his britches. Borat is supposed to be the ornate negative space around the stars of the comedy, the Americans who feel like they are given license to say horribly un-PC things. THAT'S what's really funny. He should have stayed subtly hyper-offensive instead of blatantly hyper-offensive. Once people catch on to his hoax, it's not funny anymore. And sometimes he's just plain mean. Just plain mean is never funny. And most of the scripted stuff isn't far above the level of a Will Ferrell movie.

Honestly, we would still have watched it if he hadn't had naked men wrestling and bears scaring young children. We just like to watch ourselves act like bigots. Give us some credit here. I thought the stuff he did for his TV show was funnier, plus he used actual proper Russian for the subtitles in the movie instead of the nonsense Russian he used on the TV show. The nonsense Russian was hilarious, just a bunch of random consonants. At least he still spoke nonsense Russian (which at times sounded a lot like Hebrew).

Not a bad way to spend two hours and eight bucks, though. Next must-see movie: Reno 911. I laughed harder at the previews than I've laughed at most movies.

In other news, I've been working on and off since January on a story called The Fable of Megastan, a historical fiction in which America is invaded and occupied by an overwhelmingly powerful foreign country for no particularly good reason. Here's an excerpt:

By September of 2031, the Neo-pros had helped engineer the election of Malik Henna as Megastani Prime Minister. He was a young and inexperienced politician whose history of failure in nearly all endeavors public and private seemed to endear him to large blocs of Megastani public opinion. Neo-pro ideologues were subsequently placed in positions of power in the Megastani Cabinet and Department of Defense.

It was barely a moment too soon, for that month the Neo-pros' wish for a Megastani Pearl Harbor was granted when an extremist gang of Venezuelan Communists known as Los Quaidos perpetrated a horrific terrorist attack against the Megastani capital of Megadina...

You get the idea. Megastan topples the Cuban regime (which had been harboring Los Quaidos) on its way to crushing the uninvolved Americans, and utter chaos ensues as the Megastani leadership alienates all shades of American citizenry with its insensitivity and incompetence, and American Anarchists, former U.S. Army soldiers, North Dakota militias, and The Pat Robertson's Martyrs Brigades prove to be tough fighters and expert bomb-makers.

It's thoroughly cited with respectable sources, so if anyone has a problem with my facts or history, he or she will generally have to take it up with the New York Times, the Washington Post, and William Polk (Harvard / U. Chicago historian, former member of the Policy Planning Council of the Department of State responsible for the Middle East and North Africa, and a founding director of the American Middle Eastern Studies Association). My implicit analyses, on the other hand, are wide open for discussion.

I'll be happy to send the current draft to anyone up for giving it a look. Feedback would be greatly appreciated, but I understand that we're all busy people, so no worries. After I've gotten a bit of feedback, I'll see about trying to publish it.


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