Sunday, September 19, 2010


Some apparently good things are just destined not to happen, and to attempt to force the issue is merely to waste one’s energies. The following little misadventure happened to me a few summers ago. Rather uncharacteristically (I don’t travel that much) the events described spanned the globe.

They began in Arles, a beautiful and ancient city in Provence in the South of France, where I found myself pinned to my chair, not long after my arrival from Manila, by my well-meaning family. The subject was the i-Book laptop, which they had deemed it necessary for me to acquire. They are Mac-fanatics all -

"It's about time you faced reality," this from Christophe, my French son-in-law.

"Yes, Papa! It’s the twenty-first century, for heaven’s sake!" this from Tina, the person through whom Christophe and I were connected.

"The PC is so unreliable; it’s a dinosaur Pa!" (That's my youngest, Angela, chiming in.)

"The Mac's so intuitive. Believe me, you'll never look back.” (Tina again.)

"Tomorrow you'll be right there, in Manhattan, where the main store is! Gosh, I wish it was me!" (Angela.)

My defence - “Look, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” - is treated with groans all round.

"Don’t worry, bonpere, the new i-Book really is unbelievably cheap, considering what an incredible machine it is," Christophe astutely pre-empts my final defense.

"Come on, Pa, splurge a little for once. You can afford it!" chorus my daughters.

"I'm not saying I'm against Apples, or Macs, or whatever they are," I protest, weakly, "I just don't really see the need for a laptop right now..."

"That's because you don't yet have one," Tina explains patiently, as to a small child.

"Look, just give it a try. If you don't like it you can give it to me!" chirps Angela, brightly.

"Alright, alright!” I hold up both hands in surrender, “I’ll get one. Good grief!"

"Yehey!" they all cheer.

And that's pretty much where it all started.

Next day the shuttle from JFK deposited me at Grand Central Station. The conspicuous presence of a trio of heavily armed National Guardsmen reminded me that the 9/11 attacks had occurred just a few blocks away. I stopped at a money changer's kiosk and converted just enough sterling into dollars to see me through the weekend. The larger amount I needed for the trip to the Apple Store could wait until I'd scheduled the purchase with my hosts, Craig and Lil. Maybe I could still back out, I told myself.

Behind the thick glass the dark-complexioned young money changer counted out my dollars and, with an Indian accent that Peter Sellers would have been proud of, wished me a pleasant day. Minutes later I was out on the sidewalk, headed two blocks up to Craig and Lil's apartment.

It was, in fact, first thing next morning, that I found myself back at the same booth in Grand Central, this time with Craig – another Mac fanatic – at my elbow. He wanted to come along ‘to hold my hand’ during this important purchase. No way should I change my mind, he insisted; this was a Wise Decision. So, fortified by the insistence of my family back in France, and now by the assurances of Craig and his wife Lil (yet another Mac enthusiast) that I was taking a step into a Better Future, I counted out the equivalent of $1250 in pounds sterling and thrust them through the little window at the young Indian inside.

“May I see your passport, please?” he asked, in his imitation of Peter Sellers imitating an Indian speaking English.

”What?” I pressed my ear to the aperture through which I had just pushed my money.

“Your passport, please. I need your passport.”

“But you didn’t need it yesterday,” I protested, now lowering my mouth to the opening. “Remember? I changed some money here less than 24 hours ago.” I replaced my mouth with my ear.

“You did? How much?”

“A hundred pounds,” again with the mouth.

“But you see that was a small mount. For that amount I do not need to see your passport. This is a large amount. Passport, please.”

“Well, I don’t have my passport with me.”

“Then I cannot change your money.”

“But that’s ridiculous! What difference will my passport make?”

“That is the regulation. I am just following the rules.”

“But the rules must be there for a reason. What’s the reason?”

“It is possible you could be laundering money.”

“And how would seeing my passport prevent that?”

“Look, those are the rules. If you do not like them you can try to change your money somewhere else.”

I pleaded and cajoled for some minutes, Craig watching from the sidelines with a slightly bemused expression, but nothing would budge him.

“Wait a minute!” A brilliant solution suddenly came to me. “What’s the maximum I can change without having to show my passport?”

“One thousand dollars.”

“No problem!” I counted out half my notes to Craig, and proffered our Indian friend the remainder. “Here’s four hundred pounds. I’d like to change this into dollars, please.”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot allow that.”

“Excuse me? Can’t allow what?”

“You just handed half your money to your friend. I saw that. He is just going to change it for you.”

“That’s right. So what? As far as you’re concerned, we each have less than $750. You’ll record two separate transactions.”

“But you know and I know that it is all your money, so the total amount is the same. He is just pretending it is his money.”

“Well, yes, that could be true, but what of it? I’m changing four hundred pounds, and he’s changing four hundred pounds. Two people. Two transactions.”

“But, you see, I know it is still your money! I am not stupid. You are not allowed to do that!”

“Look, mate, it’s really none of your business whose money it is.”

“But I am telling you it is the United States Government’s business if it is more than one thousand dollars!”

“I tell you what, just forget my first request, ok? That’s history. I’m not changing a thousand dollars, see? Now I’m changing four hundred dollars. And I believe this gentleman here wants to change some money too.”

“Not here he won’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because that is structuring.”


“Structuring,” he repeated. “That is when an amount of money in excess of the maximum permitted without identification is divided into smaller amounts with intent to evade legal limits imposed by the United States Federal currency exchange regulations.”

“Wait a minute! Let me step in here,” interrupted Craig. He handed me back my money. “Paul, let’s start again. Are you giving me this money of your own free will?”

“Certainly I am.” I agreed, seeing where this was going, and handed it back to him. “There you are, Craigy my man, it’s yours to do what you like with.”

“And I am accepting this money. Thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome,” said I, as he put it in his pocket. Craig turned confidently to the money changer. “Here’s four hundred pounds. This is my money. My friend here just gave it to me. You saw and heard him voluntarily relinquish possession of it. Now it’s mine. I own it. It belongs to me. And I’d like to change it, please, into -”

“No it is not yours and that is not permitted and I am not changing it.”

“Well why the hell not?”

“You think that you can circumvent the currency regulations of the government of the United States of America by playing these tricks, but I know what you are doing and you won’t get away with it!”

“But it’s just…”, I stopped in mid-sentence. ”Just a second! We’ll be back!”

Across the hall I had just spied a very large policeman. I crossed to him.

“Excuse me, ah, Constable –

“Officer Johnson, yes, how - ?”

“… officer, but I’m having a little problem over here and I wonder if you can help me sort it out?”

“Certainly. What seems to be the problem?” I explained the situation to him as we crossed the hall back to the booth. The money changer drew himself up a bit as we approached. His knuckles looked a bit pale, I thought, where they gripped the counter. Officer Johnson leaned towards the window.

“Are you going to change these gentlemen’s money?”

“No, I am not!”

“Why not?”

“Because , as I have just explained to them, it is structuring, and that is against the law!”

Officer Johnson turned to me. “I’m not sure I’m qualified to intervene here, sir. He says it’s against the law.”

“But how can two people, changing four hundred pounds each, be against a law that says one thousand dollars or less each is legal?”

Officer Johnson turned back to the window.

“Because it is all his money!” interjected our changer before he could open his mouth, “He just gave half of it to the other fellow!”

“So, why is that a problem? It’s two people now, like he says” Officer Johnson leaned on the counter, and, mostly for our benefit I suspect, attempted a menacing scowl. “Just give them their money,”

“Yeah! Give us our money!” Craig and I joined in threatening unison, and we all three glared at the money changer through the glass. He rose nervously up and down on his toes several times, but he wouldn’t budge, and after a few more tense moments eyeball to eyeball with him, Officer Johnson blinked and turned to me.

“I think you’ll have to sort this out between you. He doesn’t seem to want to back down. Good luck!” and he strode off, shaking his head.

More muscle was, however, at hand. Further off stood the three militia I’d seen the day before, guarding the train station from terrorist attack; two men and a woman. They were dressed in black and infested with weaponry. I squared my shoulders and approached them.

“Excuse me…'”

A few moments later our Indian friend was face to face with three National Guardsmen, complete with machine guns, MACE, tasers, Bowie knives, and handcuffs. One of them, the largest, leaned towards the transaction window and addressed the cause of our problem, twirling his cuffs suggestively,

“So, what’s the deal? You gonna give these guys their dough, or what?”

“Yeah!” Craig and I echoed from the rear, “You gonna give us our dough, or what?”

“This is intimidation! You can threaten me all you want, but I am not going to give in!” retorted our man in a falsetto.

“Oh yeah?” said the second militiamen.

“And that is my final word,” he added, clutching the rim of the counter for support.

“Well, I guess we could shoot up the booth,” offered the Guardswoman, reaching through the window and feeling the thickness of the glass experimentally. “Other than that, there’s not a whole lot we can do,” and after a few more moments they, too, turned on their heels and left.

Craig and I leaned an elbow each on the counter, rested our chins on our hands, and stared at each other. Our money changer busied himself adjusting the few objects on his desk, examining his watch, and studiously ignoring our presence.

“I don’t believe this!” said Craig after a while. Then, after another long silence, “Let’s leave.”

“You mean, you’re giving up?”

Craig just signaled me to follow him, and we left the booth and marched round a corner.

“Maybe we can try showing up separately,” he whispered. “When he’s served me, you can show up after I leave. That way he has to serve at last one of us”

He allowed a diplomatic hiatus before heading back, and I watched from the shadows as he again produced his – alright, my - money and pushed it through the window. A few moments passed and then I saw him put his ear up against the glass. His exclamation of disbelief reached me above the noise of Grand Central at 9:15 on a Friday morning.

What?!'” He listened again, and then doubled over with laughter. Unable to contain my curiosity I ran to join him.

What now?”

“No dice, Paul!”

“You’re kidding me! Why not?!”

“He says the armored car hasn’t arrived yet. He hasn’t got any money!”

We left Grand Central in a sort of daze, and stopped at a bank – Chase Manhattan I think, but I can’t be sure – where I was able to change the entire amount without difficulty, no questions asked, and at a higher rate than I had at Grand Central Station the previous day. We then proceeded to the impressive Apple Store – not the main one I have previously referred to, but slightly further uptown. Wide, solid glass stairs arced gracefully out of sight towards the second floor, and there were flashy new gadgets everywhere to play with. I made my purchase. I had finally joined the Mac community, and regained the respect of family and friends.

As it happened I was unable to open my new acquisition until the next day, a Saturday, when I was already staying with my sister up in South Salem, north of NYC. In anticipation of my purchase Christophe had painstakingly burned me a present of five DVDs from a popular British TV series, an episode of which we had watched together in Arles, and I had almost missed my plane waiting for the somewhat lengthy process to be completed. I was eager to share an episode with my sister: it would give me an opportunity to impress her with my new laptop. Better still, I could now view the rest of them on the long plane ride back to Manila the following night. My Mac was already coming into its own! As soon as I arrived I plugged it in to charge, and we agreed to watch that evening.

But things didn’t go as planned. Jaye and Gabe waited patiently on their settee as I carefully inserted one of the DVDs in the drive – and nothing happened. I tried to eject it, but that didn’t happen either. Nor would the laptop shut down, or respond to any further command.

“Christophe’s bloody home-made DVD seems to have… done something to the… The whole thing seems to have… locked solid!” I muttered in embarrassment, hitting the side of the case ineffectually with my palm.

My spirits ebbed further as the full extent of my predicament began to sink in. It was Saturday evening. I had been informed that the Apple Store wasn’t open this Sunday, and before Monday I would already be on my way back to Manila. If I left this now useless chunk of metal and plastic with Jaye – I smacked the side of it again - how would I retrieve it? The only thing was to take it with me and trust that I could get it fixed in Manila. At least it had an international warranty.

In no doubt that the cause of the problem had to be the DVD I very reluctantly destroyed the remaining four disks rather than risk further damage trying them out later. The fifth stayed stuck in the drive.

As my night flight home reached cruising altitude and they dimmed the cabin lights I became aware of the mocking glow of laptop screens all around me. “You should see mine. It’s positively the latest thing!” I wanted to assure everyone. Instead I reached forward defiantly to turn on the tiny TV screen supplied by the airline – and the seat back in which it was embedded suddenly and fully reclined to within about 12 inches of my nose. Trying to watch “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” from this distance I felt a headache coming on, gave up, and feigned sleep.

Back in Manila the Mac store technician was able, after two weeks, to replace the DVD burner, which he assured me had been the cause of the problem, and not the DVD we had tried to watch. I thought ruefully of the DVDs I had destroyed, but at least my i-Book was working at last. I took it home, and for the first time since I had bought it turned it on to explore its capabilities. I then discovered a most extraordinary thing. Whenever I touched the mouse pad the cursor would fly to one or another edge of the screen, as if magnetized! I couldn’t control it at all.

Furious, but also diffident in the presence of a younger and nimbler Mac user, I described my problem to Angela, freshly home from Arles. She rolled her eyes at her Luddite father’s incompetence, and assured me that nothing whatever was the matter with the Mac. The problem was with me. I just had to get myself up to speed, that was all. Humbled, I agreed that the mouse pad was a new experience for me, and retreated meekly to my study. There I struggled miserably for another week to master it, but still completely without success. The mouse pad was a thing possessed.

Meanwhile, there were urgent computer-related matters – email especially - piling up that demanded attention, and the only workable machine I had available to me was that trusty old workhorse, my desktop PC. Soon I was back in the old saddle, my balky i-Book sidelined.

Returning home one evening from the office I chanced on Angela’s Mac Notepad, left open and running ostentatiously on the dining room table. Carelessly displayed on the screen was an email from her sister. It ended with the exasperated comment –

“He’s just being stubborn. An old dog can learn new tricks!”

Well, eventually, and to Angela’s great credit, I was able to get her to concede that something wasn’t quite right with my i-Book, and back I took it, with her permission, to the local Apple store. There it again sat for a considerable while before the technician admitted that there was a glitch in the operating system, and that this could not be fixed in the Philippines.

“It’s brand new, so still under warranty. I suggest you ask Apple New York to either repair it or give you a new one.”

“Apple New York? I was there a month ago, but now it’s on the other side of the planet! Anyway, you’re Apple! Can’t you get in touch with them?”

“Won’t do any good, sir. Not in this case. A defect in the operating system is their domain. You’ll have to contact them direct.”

I consulted the warranty booklet, but, rather oddly, there was no email address to contact, only street addresses in America where laptops and accessories could be bought, or, I presumed, returned for repair. Since I didn’t want to take the expensive risk of mailing them back a computer without their permission I got on the internet with my desktop PC, and scoured the Apple website for ‘Repairs’, then for ‘Complaints’, then for ‘Contact Us’. The only email addresses I could find were for sharing one’s enthusiasm for the wonders of the Mac, and making further purchases.

Finally, I sent an email to the sales department, with a request to whomever read it to kindly forward it to someone who could deal with my difficulty. This they evidently did, because I received a commendably swift reply from a lady somewhere in Seattle I think, and was able to explain to her that events had so far overtaken my i-Book that it was really of no further use to me, and would they please just refund my money? This she agreed to do, upon receipt of the computer, case, accessories, warranty, and purchase information, all of which they accepted via their courier account, and a few days later confirmation came from my bank that a telegraphic transfer for the full value of the laptop had been received.

I continue to be surrounded by Macs, and no opportunity is missed to unflatteringly compare my ‘clunky’ PCs with the ever sleeker machines that adorn my children’s work spaces - but not, I think, with any great expectation that I shall ever again switch my loyalties. You can’t, they seem now to agree, teach an old dog new tricks after all.

Friday, September 10, 2010


I've been pondering for several days what to write to commemorate this infamous day - the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Should I yet again post the damning film clip of the demolition of Building 7, alongside a known controlled demolition, for comparison? Or publish the passenger lists, on which none of the hijackers' names, or even aliases, appears? Or link to the peer-reviewed paper proving the presence of nano-thermite in the WTC wreckage? - or to the first responders' witnessing of multiple detonations in all three demolished buildings before they fell? - or the multiple testimony of witnesses to the molten metal pooled in the foundations weeks after? Or should I question for the umpteenth time the likelihood that a single, slightly singed passport "found" a block from the North Tower wreckage belonged, miraculously, to one of the hijackers? Or show footage of the 16-foot entry hole in the Pentagon made by the 120-foot wingspan jetliner that purportedly hit it, along with the pristine lawn in front? Or the small, wreckage-free hole in the ground in Pennsylvania where flight 93 supposedly plowed into the ground? Or the statement of Hanjour's flight instructor, that he couldn't fly a plane at all? Or the seven "dancing Israelis" high-fiving across the Hudson as the Twin Towers collapsed? Or the drinking and whoring spree ostentatiously conducted by the devout Mohammed Atta the night before his self-immolation? Or the incredible trail of evidence he and his accomplices thoughtfully left, including passports (on an internal flight with no return) and Qurans? Or the incorrectly date-stamped videos of the attackers, purportedly proceeding to their destination airports? Or the FAA log which shows both American Airlines flights (11 and 77) were not scheduled to fly that day? Or the FBI evidence that the phone call that Laura Olsen supposedly made to her husband never got through? Or the evidence that while voice morphing technology existed in 2001 to mimic any voice whose signature has been obtained (c.f. Colin Powell), the technology to make cell phone calls above an altitude of 7000ft did not?

Been there. Done that. You can lead a horse to water, but...

And then I came across this.

Odd things, coincidences. Do they signify anything? Their occurrence always seems pregnant with meaning, but synchronicity has no place in our rational world view, so we quickly suppress it. "What a coincidence!", we cry, when we connect two apparently unrelated events, meaning by this exclamation that the two events are in reality unrelated; they just appear to be related in our mistaken imagination. It was "just a coincidence".

Buddhists don't believe in coincidence. I take that to mean that to the Buddhist coincidence is not "just coincidental". It's the mind that makes the connections which give meaning to the world, not the other way around. Any meaning you find in the world is put there by you. In the world itself devoid of you there is no meaning at all. There are connections because you see them, and that's all the connection and meaning there's ever going to be.

Take the numbers '911', for instance. Meaningless in themselves, but to Americans especially they signify an emergency alert. Why did the 911 attacks occur on 9/11, and not on some other less alarm-ringing day? Just a coincidence? What if - purely hypothetically, of course - the attacks of 9/11/2001 were planned deliberately as a wake-up call to America to counter a supposed - or even a concocted - Islamic threat? What if elements within the United States government were, say, bent on the fulfillment of imperialistic ambitions which required the blessing of the American people? Would they not then seek, by every means available, to impress on the American subconscious the importance of this message? Would they not, for example, choose a day in the calendar that would fuse the event into the American subconscious?

What other clues might such hypothetical planners leave, both to stir the unconscious, and also as a kind of signature of their handiwork, confident that no-one would suspect the truth, far less prove it, because, after all, it's "just coincidence"?

They would need to set the stage for the attacks. What should our beloved President be doing on this pivotal morning? We don't want the hint of a suggestion that he's involved. Perhaps it would be prudent, then, for him not to be in the White House, where he might give the game away, or, God forbid, start interfering with orders essential to the smooth unfolding of the plan. No, the message to the public subconscious must be that he's somewhere as far removed from affairs of state as it is conceivable for him to be. Playing golf, perhaps? No, forget that, gives a bad impression - Nero fiddling while Rome burns. Visiting a mental institution, then? Fitting in one sense, but no again, lacks sufficient public appeal. But here's an idea - why not put him among very small children? And while we're at it, let's make it a schoolroom of African Americans - no point in wasting political capital.

So far so good. The entire visit will as a matter of course be carefully choreographed, as every presidential move must be. What sort of lesson would it be appropriate for the President to be witnessing as these dramatic events begin to unfold? What hints might we use this setting to drop into the public unconscious, in case some part of it gets aired?

An appropriate school, teacher and classroom are selected. The teacher shares with the presidential planners the outline of a word recognition lesson her children are familiar with and would be expecting. "That's excellent," say the planners. "Let's arrange all this for you around your own familiar lesson format so that everything runs smoothly and nothing untoward occurs on this important occasion for your school. Here are the words you will drill with the kids in today's lesson. And here's what the President himself will contribute to the proceedings."

We all know about "The Pet Goat", the story selected by the President's minders for him to read on what would become the most important day of his presidency. The choice of title is interesting, perhaps also significant. The goat is after all the Illuminati sign of the Devil. But a pet goat? Who chose it? Not the compliant president, we can be sure. Was he perhaps the pet goat? If so, whose pet was he?

Not much there to hang a coincidence on, you may say. Ok, but less well known, perhaps, is the part of the lesson which led up to the goat story. Maybe the planners got a little too carried away here, so this part of the lesson was not, as far as I know, aired. Here it is.

Now there's a coincidence, eh? All those words the planners could have chosen, and they chose those. Amazing! More than amazing. I mean, what are the chances? But no, surely not! It means nothing. Nothing at all. Just another one of those meaningless coincidences our minds are continually throwing up, in defiance of the real world out there. Like the miraculously undamaged passport that just happened to fall out of the exploding plane, out of the building, and onto the rubble below. What a coincidence! And the vertical free fall of all three buildings, just like controlled demolitions, except in these three cases they weren't. What a coincidence! And the complete omission of all 11 hijackers from all four passenger lists. Extraordinary happenstance! And the myriad little rust-colored flecks found in the wreckage which looked, behaved, and were chemically analyzed to be nano-thermite - but were just harmless fragments of gypsum board! My oh my, can you believe that?! And all those thumps and bangs which several dozen deluded people all mistook for explosions. And the coincidentally missile-sized hole in the Pentagon through which an entire 737 jetliner disappeared! And the fact that all the many dozens of CCTV cameras that infest the Pentagon surroundings apparently caught nothing of any significance. What an astounding, statistically staggering coincidence! And the seven Israelis who just happened to be celebrating a birthday or something that morning opposite the Twin Towers as they collapsed. And the electronic messenger service warnings not to go to work that day - mental telepathy, obviously, except we don't believe in that, so they were just coincidences...

These conspiracy theorists, I tell you! Wingnuts, the lot of them! Not connected to the real world at all. Now let's see, what's on the telly?


Sunday, September 5, 2010


Let’s at least start with something we can agree on: twenty-three is too young to die.

About the life – and death - of Rachel Corrie, can we agree on more? We humans are a divisive bunch. I just watched “I Am Rachel Corrie,” acted (toute seule) by Monique Wilson, and was astonished, as I stumbled out of the Music Museum theater, to be told by her brother, Jamie, that the production had received hate mail. Hate mail? In the Philippines? About the story of the life and death of a pure-souled young American woman? Yes, it seems some of our Christian brethren here can’t abide anything that threatens to put Muslims in a good light, especially if thereby it puts Israelis in a bad one. Such is the power of the almost universal belief in us versus them.

Rachel herself, in stark contrast, comes across – in her own words, masterfully edited by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner from 800 pages of diaries and emails, and powerfully delivered on stage by Monique - as extraordinarily unbigoted (I see even my computer doesn't recognize this word). While repeatedly placing herself in appalling – and ultimately fatal – danger, she all the while expressed nothing more prejudiced, really, than bewilderment at the deliberate violence being daily visited on the innocent Palestinians she had come to try and help.

Rachel believed in something vitally important, she believed it very strongly, and it was something to which most of us are blind. When you can see something very important that others cannot see, the urge to open their eyes to your vision can be very strong indeed. What she believed she had summed up in a Grade Five graduation speech (shown in a film clip at the end of the play), in which she exhorted her fellow students to reach out with compassion to the less fortunate, especially the poor, because “they are us. We are them.” For the rest of us, so immured at almost every level behind what we feel are unbreachable barriers between our own social group and others, this kind of non-dualism must seem almost a form of lunacy. Certainly it seems so to those 'Christian' hate mailers.

Lunatic idealist that she was, Rachel was consumed by “class guilt” – shame at having been born into apparently undeserved privilege, embarrassment at the willful ignorance that people like us display concerning the suffering of the less fortunate, but determined to use the privilege of her class – the fact that she was someone the privileged could relate to - to bring this suffering to our attention. After the show I got a reminder of our willful class ignorance from Rito Asilo, the director: “Of course, this is not a commercial show,” he told me, matter-of-factly. “The public doesn’t pay to watch this kind of thing.”

Monique, as Rachel, speaking the words from her diary, laments the silence of the mainstream media on the plight of the Palestinians. She speculates that surely the actions of the international volunteers, challenging the Israeli bulldozers (albeit with a degree of immunity not enjoyed by their beneficiaries) must cause some ripple of concern in the outside world. If they won’t respond to Palestinian sufferings, perhaps they’ll wake up to the dangers that their fellow countrymen and -women are facing. Humanity just can’t be so callous and uncaring not to notice, and react. Can it?

Dream on, Rachel! Our cultural immune systems are not so easily swept away. By the end of the play, and of her diaries, our willful ignorance has all but worn her down, and she has begun to doubt inherent human goodness. She has by now witnessed horrors that no girl her age should, but she realizes that, young though she is, these experiences pale beside the fact that the children all around her have never experienced anything else. What view of human nature must they have?

Well, the answer apparently is, a benign and tolerant one. In the midst of appalling suffering and deprivation she is met with nothing but sharing kindliness and (something that the inhabitants of Tel Aviv also apparently possess) a determination that life must go on – and even be enjoyed - no matter what. Her last act in the play, before her death under the tracks of an advancing bulldozer, is to answer the door to her neighbor, who has brought her a gift of some peas from his war-ravaged garden. Ah, but – my cynical, privileged self whispers - they are brother and sister in adversity, are they not? There’s nothing like an external threat to abolish differences and bring people together. They’re united – but against a common enemy. How would her neighbor behave, I find myself wondering, if he too were affluent and privileged?

Which raises in my mind a troubling thought: are the problems of humanity caused by poverty, or might they perhaps be caused by privilege?

The tragedy of Rachel Corrie was that her idealism was exposed to the extremities of human suffering too soon after a carefree childhood. She had an all-consuming desire to give back to others the privileges with which she had been blessed. Her idealism drove her to meet the forces of Palestine’s destruction literally head-on. She faced her last, on-coming bulldozer with exactly the same conviction with which that lonely, briefcase-carrying young man faced the convoy of tanks in Tiananmen Square. They were both declaring their utter repudiation of a primitive form of human behavior which their own higher values found intolerable. They declared it with the most precious thing they could – the temple of their bodies, the physical foundation of their existence - because they believed that no fellow human being would dare violate the sanctity of that upon which all our values rest. They could not live and have that not be true. The Chinese tanks turned aside. The Israeli bulldozer did not.


Watch a filmclip about Rachel Corrie here.


I recently made a brief visit to the U.S., to see my sister, newly moved to Florida, and afterward an old friend and business associate in NYC. While staying with the latter my younger daughter Angela emailed me a one-liner -

"Why not buy an i-Pad while you're there?"

So as not to be accused of being a complete Luddite (a similar, previous piece of advice - to buy an i-Book laptop - had ended in disaster), I dutifully got myself on the subway uptown from my friends' apartment to Apple's main store on 59th and 5th.

You enter through a glass cube - all that's 'visible' of the Apple store above ground. Descent into the maelstrom is either via glass spiral staircase, or, alternatively, by pneumatically operated cylindrical glass elevator. I chose the stairs - along with a vortex of other worshipers converging on the cube from all directions.

Below is a single, fairly (though not cavernously) large room where casually dressed geeks of all ages press forward to feast their eyes and ears on sleek electronic goodies tethered discreetly to white altars, elsewhere known as display tables. Blue-shirted avatars circulate among the throng, bestowing wisdom. Two walls are devoted to back lit pictorial renderings of the lives of two deities currently in vogue: the i-Phone G4, and - yes! - the object of my pilgrimage, the i-Pad! The width of the third wall is entirely taken up by acolytes handling the transactions of those whose prayers have been answered.

It's 5.30pm. Notices advise punters to shop during off-peak hours, to avoid the crush. I judge the current, off-peak through-put at about $2000/minute.

After about 20 minutes of cultural readjustment I locate a table on which i-Pads are displayed. A tall, bearded avatar in his late 50ies is extolling their virtues to a disciple, and I listen respectfully. True to liturgical form it's all mumbo jumbo, but I am enrapt. To purchase a tablet all I am to do is shuffle along in one of the lines to a sales point. No merchandise or paper to present - just state my wish and it will be granted.

"I want an i-Pad," I intone when eventually my moment of truth arrives, "- the entry version," (I am a neophyte after all). In seconds the object of my desire materializes, and there ensues a brief and seamless transaction involving both cash and card (I have been moved to spend more cash than I have, but local and foreign cards alike are acceptable. This is a tolerant religion; no distinction is made as to race or creed, no identification need be presented. My signature, scribbled on an electronic tablet, is sufficient sign of my good faith.)

But of course i-Pads and the like are not intended for old fogies like me, and since arriving home I've hardly laid eyes, let alone hands on the thing. With just one, brief, emailed suggestion Angela has spirited it away.