Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Hijab," by Harold Jaffe

Here's a docufiction from Harold Jaffe's latest collection, Orfeo:

French bureaucrat and Muslim teenager at the entrance to the lycée outside Paris.

     Bonjour Mlle.
     You are required to remove your headscarf.

     Bonjour Monsieur.
     I never remove the hijab in public.

     This is a state-supported lycée, Mlle.
     It is not a mosque.
     It is not a souk.
     In France we maintain separation of church and state.
     That is the established policy.

     We understood the established policy to be cohabitation.
     Former colonies are encouraged to cohabit with their benefactors—you white French—with their native customs intact.
     Cohabitation you virtuously opposed to assimilation, such as the United States promotes, where everyone is expected to suppress their native language and staple the American flag to their forehead, indistinguishable one from the other.

     Mlle, the correct opposition is not between cohabitation and assimilation but between a secular state such as we have in France and a theocracy.

     Is the US then a theocracy?

     Without question.

Two global reprobates slouching outside the Bourse, in Paris.

     Who set the Reichstag fire in 1933 and as a consequence facilitated Hitler?

     The Jew.

     Who toppled the World Trade Center in 2001 and as a consequence facilitated Bush?

     The Muslim.

     Who "emigrated mentally" while living unmolested in Nazi Germany and Austria?

     "Aryan" intellectuals and artists.
     With the exception of a very small minority.

     Who, post 9/11, duct-taped US intellectuals and artists into the condominiums of their minds?

     The crusading US government.
     Taking a page from the Red-baiting McCarthy era.
     Even as the US government was apologizing for actual McCarthyism as a shameless departure from capitalist democracy's firmest values.

     The US also apologized for interning Japanese-Americans, then did it all over again with Muslim-Americans.
     9/11 gave them the excuse to reinvent history.

     As farce.

     Farcical genocide.

French bureaucrat and Muslim teenager at the entrance to the lycée outside Paris.

     Mlle, the ordinance is in place.
     Nor does it refer exclusively to Muslims.
     Conspicuous religious items of various kinds are prohibited.
     Jews are forbidden to wear skullcaps.
     Hindus are forbidden to paint their faces.
     Christians are forbidden to wear visible crosses larger than three centimeters.

     Are Catholic nuns forbidden to wear head coverings?

     Catholic nuns would have gone beyond the lycée, Mlle.
     The ordinance does not apply to education beyond the lycée...

     Why not?

     That should be self-evident, Mlle.
     The intention of the ordinance is to instill the ideal of secular education in the young.
     Before religious habits or customs become irreversible.
     Our obligation is to attend to children who enter the French public school system, and the fact is that young Muslim females are often coerced into wearing the headscarf.

     Wearing the hijab is a fundamental principle of Islamic teaching, Monsieur.
     To assert that the hijab is forced on Muslim females is both ignorant and paternalistic.
     The "secularism" you are attempting to impose is to us another sign of intolerance towards the growing Muslim community.

     I refuse to engage in an argument about semantics, Mlle.
     That is the way the ordinance reads.

Two global reprobates slouching outside the Bourse, in Paris.

     When I say hijab what comes to mind?

     The veil.
     Taking the veil.
     Entering the convent.
     France, for example, is proud of its various orders of nuns, "les bonnes soeurs."
     The sisters are picturesque; they don't disrupt the body politic; they have an esthetic dimension.

     Gliding about in their habits noirs.
     Esthetic, bien sur.

     I think too of raising the veil, uncovering.
     Which invokes the practice of clitorectomy or infibulation.
     What percentage of Islamic females worldwide are subjected to this practice?

     Legitimate numbers would be hard to come by.
     I wouldn’t trust whatever estimates the "First World" puts out there.
     What percentage of males worldwide are subjected to circumcision?

     Are clitorectomy and circumcision comparable?

     You tell me.

     Couldn't the veil also be identified with movement induced by natural forces.
     The aeolian harp stroked by the wind.
     Creative imagination without artifice.

     There is artifice in the construction of the harp.
     Winds are increasingly produced by global warming disruptions of the weather cycles.

     What does hijab signify to you?

     The sacred prepuce of its white male leaders.

French bureaucrat and Muslim teenager at the entrance to the lycée outside Paris.

     France--before Sarkozy--officially objected to the invasion of Iraq.
     France objected to Israel's violent annexation of Palestine.
     But what France is doing in its own country to its female Muslim minority is no less prejudicial.

     One thing has nothing to do with another, Mlle.
     The ordinance is unambiguous.
     Islamic females of lycée age are required to remove their head and face coverings while in the lycée or on the grounds of the lycée.
     Once you leave the lycée you may dress and do as you please.
     So long as it is within the law.

     Senegalese and Ivory Coast former subjects of lycée age are not required to remove their dashikis and bubas.
     Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan former subjects of lycée age are not required to remove their kaftans and jubbahs.
     Caribbean former subjects are not required to undo their dreadlocks.
     It is just your orthodox Muslim females of lycée age who are required to remove their hijabs, correct?
     What is it about young Muslim females that intimidates their former colonial occupier?

     You are imagining things, Mlle.
     The official ordinance reads as I indicated.
     I do not propose to argue with you over niceties.

Two global reprobates slouching outside the Bourse, in Paris.

     Except for its Muslims and Jews, France is officially uncircumcised.

     What if someone not Muslim or Jewish elects to be circumcised?

     Unless for reasons of health, which must be officially vetted, he will have to do it outside the law.
     Hijab—as a so-to-speak implied prepuce--can also signify the formal body coverings of its political leaders, graduates of the same elite écoles.
     Have you noticed how indistinguishable France's presidents and prime ministers--Giscard, Pompidou, Mitterand, Chirac—look in their somber double-breasted suits?
     Pale, stiff, fastidious, marmoreal.

     Sarkozy isn't marmoreal.

     Sarkozy is arboreal.

     Was it William James who remarked that the sheerest of veils separates the mundane, agitated, war-making world from the world inhabited by the higher spirits?
     Yet this sheer, transparent veil is so infrequently parted.

     William James was American.
     I don’t read Americans.

     William James's younger brother Henry's platonic version of himself was as un Francais de plaisir.
     The father, Henry senior, was an internationalist and a Swedenborgian.
     Alice James, like Proust, was bedridden.
     Why don't you read Americans?

     They are without history.
     Virtually no lived history from which to draw.

     Is that less privileged than having a long history but drawing the same opportunistic conclusions?

     You mean the French?

     Not exclusively.

French bureaucrat and Muslim teenager at the entrance to the lycée outside Paris.

     Mlle, I will not stand here arguing with you.
     The ordinance is clear.
     If you or any among you wish to dispute it, that must be done formally and lawfully.

     You've repeated lawful several times.
     To you, law precedes justice; to us it is the other way round.
     Isn't it a fact that you formulate then implement laws as you choose, according to your own advantage?
     All the time professing that these laws are immutable, engraved in stone by your Christian god?

     Mlle, I have done my best to be courteous, even as you have insisted on arguing.
     Now you have come dangerously close to blasphemy.
     I hereby terminate this discussion.
     Good day, Mlle.

     You white French fuss about courtesy, which you use to mask your hypocrisy.
     We wonder whether you've considered the repercussions your anti-Islamic ordinance might produce.
     Good day, Monsieur.

Two global reprobates slouching outside the Bourse, in Paris.

     We were discussing the images invoked by the hijab, or veil.
     We've cited nuns; prepuces; the somber formal wear of our leaders; music stirred by the wind; clitorectomy and circumcision; the sheer veil which according to William James separates elevated vision from the every day.
     What about the now-defunct Red Chinese and their Bamboo Curtain?
     The now-defunct Soviets and their Iron Curtain?
     The privileged quartiers of Paris?
     The gated communities globally, with its tiny minority of nervous rich?

     And with its exponentially multiplying oppressed Muslim underclass.
     Enraged and desperate behind their Muslim curtain.
     Which could end up being the most horrific "veil" of all.

     I believe the greatest horrors will be inflicted by the other side.


A French woman who alleged she had been the subject of an anti-Semitic attack invented the story, police sources now say.

The admission came shortly after the she was taken into custody--four days after the alleged assault on a commuter train south of Paris.

The 24-year-old woman claimed six men accused her of being Jewish, then forcibly cut off her clothes with sharp, long knives and spray-painted swastikas on her nude body.

The woman, who is not Jewish, has been detained for falsely reporting a crime, state prosecutor Didier Merleau-Ponty told AFP news agency.

She could face up to six months in prison and an 8,000-euro ($13,000) fine if convicted.

The case has sparked widespread condemnation amid concerns that anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise in France, which of course has a long and sordid history of anti-Semitism.

The men, described as of North African appearance and indeterminate age, are also said to have deliberately upended the woman's 8-month-old infant from its stroller.

The child fell on its head but was reportedly uninjured.

The woman claimed that about 20 people witnessed the attack but that nobody offered her support.

However, investigators, studying footage from surveillance cameras at the Gare d'Austerlitz station where the six alleged North African attackers were supposed to have exited, found no evidence to support the woman’s claim.

Nor has a single witness come forth even after urgent appeals in the newspapers and on television.

Now police sources who requested anonymity say that under "firm questioning" the woman has recanted her accusations. She has admitted cutting off her own clothes and spray-painting the swastikas on her naked body with the help of her boyfriend who is also in custody. Like her, the boyfriend is neither Jewish nor North African, but French and white.

Le Monde, the left-leaning French daily, reports that the same woman had filed several complaints in the past about being the victim of racist or fascist violence.

The reported brutality of the attack on the woman, its anti-Semitic character and the fact that no one came to her help provoked outrage.

It also added to the growing concern over racist and anti-Semitic attacks.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who condemned the alleged assault as "pitiless and reprehensible," said he would deny clemency to any prisoner serving a sentence for a racist or anti-Semitic crime.

Government spokesman Jean-Francois Irigaray told RTL radio that the rising trend of anti-Semitic attacks was "a genuine evil" in France, even though the woman's case "proved to be imagined rather than real, as such."

JG Ballard Exhibition in Barcelona

Heads up from Boing Boing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mark Twain and the (Spanish-American) War

Finally -- nearly 100 years after his death -- the MSM feels brave enough to acknowledge "the man Ernest Hemingway said all of modern American literature could be traced back to," Mark Twain, and how he utilized his art (writing) to thwart war and oppression.

His humor, Arnold sniffed, was "so attractive to the Philistine." It would be truer to say it was attractive to anyone who valued plain speaking and the kind of deadly wit that could cut through the cant and hypocrisy surrounding any topic, no matter how sensitive: war, sex, religion, even race. Twain was righteous without being pious, angry for all the right reasons and funny in all the right ways. You might say he gave virtue a good name.
Contrast this now-reverential endorsement of Twain's wit with NPR's and Fox News' reaction to comedian Al Franken's run for Senate.

Just as in Twain's time, conservatives have a love-hate relationship with artists (love making money off their product, hate their unconventional lifestyles). When it comes to art and politics converging, Americans have always hated the left-of-center artist who becomes involved in political campaigns or causes but love, and even elect, conservative "artist"-politicians.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Orfeo" by Harold Jaffe

Image via bldg blog

The following is from Harold Jaffe's forthcoming collection Orfeo:

I am of the race that sang under torture.

I was about to exit when I felt the heavy hand on my left shoulder.

I knew it would be the left shoulder.

I’d been caught shoplifting the electric razor from WAL* MART.

I was handcuffed then maneuvered through the dazzlingly illuminated aisles, a burly plainclothes security guard on either side.

Shoppers turned to look, perfunctorily.

I caught the eye of a shopper’s child, a small dark-skinned girl.

She gazed at me, alarmed at what she took to be my plight.

Not wanting her to see my manacles, I didn’t wave but winked at her.

She looked uncertain.

I was led into the vast warehouse-like back area.

Seated on the straight-backed aluminum chair with my hands cuffed behind me under the glaring fluorescent light.

The security guard who’d put his heavy hand on my left shoulder wore a large heart-shaped orange nametag on his chest which said WAL* MART.

His head was shaved and he wore a musk-based cologne.

He turned his back to me and spoke into his cellphone.

I heard him say “shoplift.”

He slipped the cell in his pants pocket, turned toward me and held out a wide palm.


I shook my head.

“Driver’s license, social security card, credit card, something with your contact information?”

I shook my head.

“US citizen?”

I nodded.

“Born in the US or green card?”

I nodded.

“Which is it?” he said.

“Your call,” I said.

He shrugged his heavy shoulders.

“You have a salt and pepper beard.

“That’s what it’s called, right?

“Salt and pepper?

“It’s all over your damned face.

“That’s green card, okay?

“What I want to know is what’s a salt and pepper bearded green card planning to do with a WAL* MART-brand electric razor?”

He took out a toothpick from his shirt pocket and picked at a tooth.

He put the toothpick back in the same pocket.

He said, “You’re not a salt and pepper terrorist, are you?”

I looked up at the sardonic flat face.

“I’ll tell you,” I said.

“If you tell me.”

He rubbed his thick palm on his beardless face, grinning.

“No salt and pepper here, bro.

“Smooth all over like a baby’s ass.”

“I can see that,” I said.

“I’m guessing you’re a baby’s ass who carries a sidearm, right?”

He glared at me then raised his right pants leg just high enough for me to see the ankle holster and semi-automatic.

It looked like a new-model Glock.

I said, “If I tell you I was planning to transform the stolen electric razor into a smart bomb and blow up WAL* MART would you unload on me with your Glock?”

He narrowed his gaze.

“Even a green card shit-eater would know not to even think of stealing from WAL* MART.

“Our security is flat-out number one in the free world.”

“I understood that Target’s security was flat-out number one in the free world,” I said.

“With Costco firmly in the number two slot.”

“Okay. Enough jerking off,” he said.

“You’re in deep shit, green card.

“I don’t think you realize how deep the shit you’re in is.”

“You married?” the other plainclothes security guard asked me unexpectedly, in a loud voice.

He wore a close-to-the-scalp crewcut and WAL* MART nametag and stood behind and to the left of the first guard.

“You have a wife and shit?” he said loudly.

“You look spooky with that beard sticking out your face but you don’t look gay.”

“Are you saying I look gay?” I said.

“I’m saying you look like a freak,” he said.

“A little crazy.

“My guess is you’re married with kids.”

I nodded vaguely.

“Well, congratulations, you just fucked your life up,” the first security guard said.

“How does it feel?”

“You want to know how it feels to fuck my life up?” I said.

They both glared at me.

“Give me your cellphone number and I’ll get back to you.”

“There won’t be any getting back, freak,” the first security guard said.

“Not where your green card ass is going."

They separated me from the chair and marched me, still cuffed, through the back area and outside to one of a series of unmarked orange customized SUVs parked abreast.

It was raining lightly, which for some reason surprised me.

I smelled the ozone.

With one hand on the top of my head I was pushed into the rear of a vehicle.

That was how it was always done on cop TV programs; I never understood why.

The rear was un-windowed and barred with low wooden benches on either side.

They sat me on a bench with my hands cuffed to a steel pole that ran above the bench from front to back.

Whichever WAL* MART security male drove, drove very fast.

I could hear them talking on their cells or listening to talk radio and wisecracking.

After about an hour the SUV stopped and they got out.

Ten minutes later they were back with fast food; I smelled the burgers and fries and heard them eat.

Even eating they drove recklessly fast, veering from lane to lane on the freeway.

After some time the driving changed and it felt like we were out of the city.

After another hour or so they stopped.

One of them separated me from the steel pole, relocked my cuffs and pushed me outside.

It was dusk, raining harder.

We were in front of a bunker-like concrete structure, in what looked like a deserted lot with tall weeds and rocks.

I couldn’t see clearly in the rain, but the structure looked as if it was built into the ground.

Two burly males in uniform grey shirts, pants and caps emerged from the structure.

They weren’t wearing nametags.

No words were exchanged between them and the WAL* MART males, who backed up then drove off rapidly

The two uniform males said nothing as they transported me in a freight elevator underground.

The elevator traveled slowly and I felt the air changing.

When the elevator opened, they put leg-irons around my ankles.

“Aren’t you going to remove my shoelaces?” I said.

“I tried to shoplift an electric razor from WAL* MART.

“I might want to hang myself.”

They ignored me.

They pushed me through a narrow corridor of cave-like cells which may or may not have been occupied.

They locked me in a small, low-ceilinged cell at the end of the corridor.

All around was the damp sweet-sour stench of earth.

“Have to pee,” I said as they were leaving.

“Your prob,” one of them said over his shoulder.

I shuffled to a corner of the cell and peed.

Then I removed my shoes and sat semi-cross-legged (the leg-irons impeded me) on the dirt floor against the wall in the opposite corner.

After a time I slept.

I dreamed of eight bighorned sheep-like animals cropping--or trying to crop--the hardscrabble grass.

The horned sheep moved with extreme caution even though no hunters were in sight. Close-up, the animals’ faces were bruised, even torn, with caked blood and what looked like rough sutures .

I was thinking--in the dream--about the number eight.

Why were there precisely eight of the gentle beasts?

I was awakened by a female voice haranguing me through the bars of the cell.

It was my wife; I wondered how she knew I was here.

I opened my eyes partially and rattled my leg irons but otherwise didn’t move.

She demanded why I would try to steal an electric razor from WAL* MART.

She said the cell stank of piss.

She demanded again why I would try to shoplift a razor from WAL* MART.

She seemed more chagrined than angry.

She said despite my “background” and education I’d always been a loser, but this was the last straw.

This was the lowest I could sink without being in hell.

She’d consulted an attorney and now she would sue me for divorce and custody of our daughter.

She said I’d dug my own grave and as far as she was concerned I could rot in it.

A grey-uniformed guard looked on expressionless.

After she left I closed my eyes.

I slept.

I dreamed of eight large pelagic, albatross-like birds with their majestic wingspan flying in formation, not over ocean but desert.

Moreover the desert seemed to be on fire, or blazing fires were scattered over the desert.

The birds would gaze down occasionally but kept flying because there was no habitable place to land.

From where I was located below I could see the great birds’ faces which weren’t the faces of pelagic birds but rather the round faces of infants such as barn owls resemble.

I was awakened by someone rattling the bars of my cell.

He spoke my name.

I opened then closed my eyes.

He was an administrator from the company where I worked.

A small, pale male, vaguely rat-like: I didn’t remember his name.

I remembered that he always seemed to be sweating.

As with my wife, I had no idea how he knew of my whereabouts.

The message he delivered was brief: the company would not employ thieves who attempted to steal from WAL* MART and so I was thereby terminated.

Whatever salary was owed to me would be transferred to my wife.

Then he left along with the expressionless guard.

I shouted after the guard: “Toilet.”

He didn’t respond.

I struggled to my feet and peed again in the far corner, though in truth there was no far corner since the cell was cramped.

I had to squat so that my head didn’t hit the ceiling.

Because the floor was earthen the pee soaked into the hardened dirt.

I noticed a soiled straw mat rolled up against the wall.

I unrolled it and lay down on my back gazing up at the low ceiling.

From every side the damp earth was palpable.

Occasionally a sliver or even small clod of earth would fall from the ceiling.

Moreover there was vermin, and why shouldn’t there be?

Neither the wrist nor the leg manacles hindered me overmuch.

I was having a small problem drawing breath.

I thought I could hear cell doors clanging open and shut down the corridor and on the floor above.

Maybe it was the floor below.

I think it was below.

Which would make it Hades.

Where Orpheus descended.

I will miss my daughter.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Paris 60

Excerpts from Harold Jaffe's new collection "Paris 60" have been posted at the Starcherone Books blog by publisher Ted Pelton.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Drag Your Boomer Parents Into the 21st Century

Tired of listening to the same pathetic, decades-old music options from your Boomer -- or Gen Xer -- parents? Technology has several answers for you!

The article offers several possibilities, but I recommend It's so easy even your parents can figure it out!