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Under Construction
At a recent birthday bash in Oakland

April 15th, 2005

Anger and Fear?
I took the car in at 2375 miles after eight months of driving and had the oil changed. I figured after eight months it would make me feel better, even though they say bring it in at 10,000. No need to rotate the tires, I figured. Do that next time. And I had rubber mats put on the floor. I realized, as I got into the car when I picked it up, that I'd not quite understood the concept of rubber mats in an Element. Instead of individual mats that sit on top of the carpet with cut outs, you know, that fit around the break pedal and gas pedal on the driver's side, they, well, cover the entire floor. Which explains why they cost 150 bucks. I think rubber mats are an option you get instead of carpeting, not something you put on top of carpeting. OK. Learning as I go. Here in Oakland.

A friend recommended Hotel Rwanda, a movie I've heard about, read about, understood something of (Rwanda, thousands hacked to death with machetes: women, children, kitty cats) and thought, do I really want to see this movie?

Hundreds of thousands hacked to death with machetes in 1993 and 1994. How many Holocaust museums, news reports and history lessons have we seen and heard and read? How much collective nodding of heads - never again, never again - have we seen, have we done and here, ten years ago, another Holocaust is reported in Africa, a tragedy that could have been stopped in its tracks with a word and a few hundred troops, yet very nearly nothing was done? Well, we have Uganda right now, over a million killed, women and children, the usual crew.

Why do I even ask? I don't know. I'm sitting here in Oakland, in California, in the United States of America drinking my glass of wine, whining online, carping about work, taking home a paycheck large enough to support fifty people in Rwanda or India or China (but believe me, not in California); I am sitting here drinking-carping-preaching about diddley-shit and people are being hacked up by monsters in the hundreds of thousands a plane ride away yet I seem to feel little and do even less except to write a couple of paragraphs.

There is a scene in Hotel Rwanda that perfectly describes this sense of the surreal. The manager of the hotel (their hero - our hero) has driven through town (the town an ongoing scene straight out of Hell, the capital letter Hell) to see a general whom he's cultivated over the years with bribes of Glenmorangie whiskey and cash, has driven now at great risk to see this general in an attempt to save his wife and children and the refugees in his charge at the hotel who are depending on him to keep them alive.

The general's soldiers have been aiding and abetting in the killing and the general says in a conversational tone (after a few pleasantries about art and life and single malt whiskey) that our hero shouldn't return to his hotel because (just between us kids) his soldiers are going to be hacking them all to death a little later in the day. So, you know, it would be better to go somewhere else and he, the general, in his largess is offering a lift in his jeep to a safe place for old times sake, and my, isn't this single malt whiskey you've brought me good? Is not life wonderful when single malt whiskey is involved? He (the general) has toured Scotland, you know, and visited the distilleries. Isn't Scotland a wonderful land, a land with a wonderful people?

Now, is the general oblivious to what's happening? Does he not understand the surreal character of this conversation with a man who's fighting with every nerve for his very survival? Sure. He's the general: a man for whom ordering a killing is no more than ordering a beer, it has no real cost, the one or the other, and the manager of the local five star hotel is someone who has learned to survive through bribery, flattery and amusing behavior. If the general finds his act good this afternoon, well, he can always kill these people tomorrow if he's in the mood, if that's how fate would have it, so he'll take an offered deal resulting in saving the lives of the manager's family and the people at the hotel should the deal - the hotel manager's performance - be interesting enough or amusing enough. And the manager does. Pull it off. Do a deal. (Hence the movie.)

It's not unlike talking yourself out of a speeding ticket, talking yourself out of a beating at the hands of a street gang on the sidewalk, talking yourself out of jury duty or unfortunate consequences related to a recent affair. Except here, you know, you lose your life. Or your family dies. You dance, you juggle, you improvise around (in this instance) single malt whiskey and, on this day, you save two hundred lives. Shit happened in Rwanda in 1993. Today in Uganda. In Germany, not that long back. Doesn't seem to take much. Could it happen here: a shift in the wind, a muttering that suddenly grows louder from a distant crowd? One day you're sipping wine, writing nonsense, fretting over breakfast and the next day you're squinting into the bloodshot eyes of the local sheriff. Something has happened, but what? The airwaves full of anger and fear?

I take it you've just renewed your ACLU membership?

I wouldn't be surprised.

The photograph was taken at a recent birthday celebration in Oakland with a Nikon D2h mounted with a 17-55mm f 2.8 Nikkor lens at 1/10th of a second at f 2.8 at ISO 400.