Monday, December 24, 2001

On Chris Cringle and Cave to Cave Searches

Come gather round people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone
If your time dealt with saving
Then you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone.
Oh, the times they are a' changing.
Bob Dylan, 1963

I must have been on another planet these last twelve months. Either that, or working too hard.

The first time that I heard the name "Chris Cringle" was about ten days ago in Melbourne, when a friend explained the concept. Instead of buying presents for who you want, you get one person selected for you, by the host of the function where gifts are to be exchanged. Now you may or may not know this person. And they may or may not know you. But that latter doesn't matter, as they don't find out who gave them the present, so they can't thank you, or be impressed with your excellent choice, or anything normal like that.

It is all the rage here in OZ where I am for the next few weeks. And not just at office parties, but at family gatherings. Who IS this Chris Cringle when he's at home. I don't like the sound of him one bit. But Christmas, like the times, is a'changing.

So much so, that it may soon, like smoking, be banned in public places. I read on page 10 of last Saturday's Age newspaper, an article ridiculing America's attitude to Christmas. In his "Inside America" column, Roger Franklin writes, "There is something missing in America, this Christmas, and it's not just the Twin Towers. Nor is it the longed-for spectacle of Osama bin Laden being made to pay for the massacres perpetuated by his Islamikazi acolytes. This year, more than ever before, the absent ingredient is another bearded fugitive and previously unrecognized threat to the common good: Santa Claus... Blame it on the U.S. Constitution ... since it demands a total and absolute separation of church and state."

Mr. Franklin goes on to give examples of Santa being banned in Kensington Virginia, Silverton, Oregon and on certain streets in Manhattan. I agree with Mr Franklin. It IS silly. BUT...

On page 12 of the very same paper, Terry Lane writes (in a piece headed "Why are we doing away with the manger?") of the very same phenomenon here in Australia. Mr Lane: "However, culture, in a multi-cultural society, is something that every one else has, but we don't. By we, I mean those of us who are white and had the misfortune to be born here before 1949, when culture first arrived. I have been thinking along these lines by the annual agonizing over the performance of the nativity play in your local kindergarten. In some places it is banned, to protect the sensibilities of those not of the Christian faith".

I agree, Mr. Lane. I did, however find it amusing that your colleague, Mr Franklin perceived such "political correctness" as a particularly American absurdity.

Not as absurd as Mr Leunig's end of year reflection in today's Age however. Australian cartoonist cartoonist Michael Leunig has written an article entitled, "We should try to love bin Laden, for Christ's sake". If that is Mr. Leunig's contribution to analyzing 2001, he's become as silly as his character Mr Curly. Mr. Leunig should keep to cartoons.

As far as Christmas is concerned, I can take it or leave it. The child of atheists, I've never quite understood it anyway. As a young child, I found Christmas a depressing affair. With no extended family, and a very small and poor nuclear one (one adult, two kids), Christmas often meant sitting around an old laminex table eating hamburgers with holly on top. My mother had what you could call, "a dry sense of humour".

Later on, when we were grown up, I'd go to my brother's for Christmas lunch. He managed to combine Hindu and Christian tradition with a bit of Australiana. In the fireplace the children would assemble a manger, with real straw. A baby koala toy represented baby Jesus; a kangaroo, a possum and an emu, the three wise men. We'd sit around drinking beer with his mates and our kids, under the hot Melbourne sun. Around four o'clock the lamb curry and Suki Bhaji nu Shak would be served.

The beer having hit us well before the meal, love and peace would somehow melt along with the raita, and the traditional "John and Yoko" argument would begin. One year, we almost forgot to have it. "Hey", someone called as guests began to depart, "we haven't had the John and Yoko argument!".

Back they all trooped. "John was destroyed by Yoko, she ruined the Beatles". "No, John was the genius and Yoko helped him, it was Paul who messed up". And so on, as per the year before, and the year before that.

After such Christmases you can imagine that I greeted the crisp Manhattan days of regular-shaped and cultivated fir trees (as compared with the branch shoved in a bucket filled with sand of my OZ days), with warmth and anticipation. Such "Christmases" now seem normal to me. Plus, it is all over with fast. No hanging around the table discussing politics and the state of the economy and what's wrong with the world. Christmas-on-the-go. My sort of Christmas.

And although I agree with Mr. Lane on multiculturalism being all one-way at times, I have to say, that as an agnostic I quite like saying and hearing, "Happy holidays" rather than, "Happy Christmas".

This has been a strange and tense year, especially for those of us who live in New York and Washington. In January 2001, we had never heard of "Cave to cave searches", and hopping on an airplane was no more worrisome than hopping on a bus.

Let us hope that 2002 will treat us all better. And on that note I wish you all, Happy Holidays.


December 2001

Sunday, September 30, 2001

Get Real!

U.S. foreign policy since world war II has been criticized and often blamed for the September 11 attacks. I think that's dangerous and shows a level of pacifism that is pretty scary. There are many who think appeasement of the forces behind this attack will resolve the "problem" and stop further terrorist activity. I'm not sure where these people get their opinions from but maybe they've been listening to Harvard's well known pacifist Noam Chomsky, who has written extensively on this over the past few weeks.

Why is it that people are so quick to blame the U.S. for everything, even what happened 3 weeks ago. Geez, over 6,000 innocent people were killed in New York and Washington, D.C. ...many of them were guilty of merely going to work. Period.Jenny Tomkins, Australians Abroad, September 29 2001

In the name of God, more than 6,000 noncombatants are dead, more than 6,000 families bereaved. From what dark wells of malevolence springs this dreadful reflex desire to dance on their graves? Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times (UK) September 23 2001

An Irish Times editorial castigated America for its unilateralist policies. Numerous commentators said that the U.S. had bought this upon itself with its hateful foreign policy. A major radio presenter on the national station, RTE, said that "the sins of America's past were coming back to haunt them. Blaming America - What the European elite really think about 911. David Quinn, columnist with The Sunday Times (Ireland edition) September 24, 2001

I live in a city where over twelve thousand people have been murdered or injured in the past 18 days, most on day one. Most of these people were ordinary workers and many were the breadwinners for their families.

These atrocities were committed by people who did not know their victims. The dead and injured had never met or seen the murderers. The over 6,000 dead were not given any chance to bargain for their lives, to beg, to say goodbye to their spouses, friends or children. No time for them to make arrangements for those left behind.
My first question is - "Does it matter what country these people were in at the time?" Just because it wasn't Afghanistan or Palestine, are their deaths and injuries any less real?

My second question is, "What possible logic draws some people, many in Australia, to blame the deaths and injuries and resulting damage to people, society and world peace, NOT on the killers, but on American foreign policy of the past few decades?"
Am I missing something? Is there some vital part of the argument that they have forgotten to tell us? Let me try to reason it out.

Four decades ago American foreign policy led to the slaughter of innocent civilians in Vietnam. As well as this, the U.S. has supported Israel over Palestine, the Muslims against the Serbs, and has not supported Castro and has given arms to the fundamentalists who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. A bit of a muddle all round, and no doubt some of these policies were misguided or just plain wrong.

At the same time, the US is an independent country, has a democratically elected government, and doesn't impose harsh laws on its citizens. Women here are not beheaded for adultery, females are allowed an education. A multi-cultural and racially tolerant society is encouraged.

No society is perfect. But, BECAUSE the USA is NOT perfect, when its citizens and immigrant workers are "punished" by deranged fanatics, then we should "understand the context". And while the murderers definitely believed god was on their side, god help any American who mentions god and country in the same sentence.
Is that it? Or have I got it wrong?

Perhaps Sue Williams, who wrote in the Sun Herald (Changing partners in an Orwellian dance of death) can tell me. I quote from her article,

"I realise it may be sacrilegious these days not to want to kill all the ragheads in the Middle East and spit on their womenfolk in Lakemba. And it may have been un-Australian, or un-American, when seeing TV footage of Palestinians celebrating the World Trade Center horror, to have asked why the US engenders so much hatred, rather than simply cheering an arsenal into the Persian Gulf".

Who is encouraging spitting on women, or killing what Ms. Williams terms, "ragheads"?

And just WHO does Sue Williams think engendered the hatred in the Palestinians? The people at the World Trade Center? I don't think so.

Writers like Ms Williams, inevitably preface their own hatred of a culture with sentences such as "Of course, no amount of hatred could ever justify flying passenger planes into busy office buildings." And then they go on to justify it.

I should feel sorry for these logic-challenged people who attempt to influence opionion in democratic societies. No doubt Ms Williams is not peddling her thoughts in Afghanistan as she'd suffer a similar fate to the 6,000 office workers, firemen, police men and women and cleaners.
But here in New York it is difficult to ignore the many naive articles coming out of my own country.

Getting back to normal

Meanwhile, New Yorkers are trying to get back to normal. "What is it like now?" I am frequently asked. Well, it is far from normal.

With many of the bridges and tunnels joining the island to the rest of NYC and New Jersey, either closed or restricted, the traffic is unbelievably slow, and getting too and from work is a major problem. Despite measures to ease the situation (private cars MUST carry more than one person), the fact that the subway system is still working at 20% below capacity, and that bomb squads and police are regularly inspecting cars and trucks on tunnel and bridge approaches, means a substantial slow-down.

There are no smiles on the faces of the people in the streets. There is the gap left in the skyline, and now the sky. The absence of planes is noticeable. We are getting used to military vehicles, bomb disposal cars and the random searches of vehicles.
People are still staying home. There is the smell of death in lower Manhattan. Firemen interviewed on TV have the look of WW1 shell-shocked soldiers.

On the way to work last week, I passed some firemen unloading shovels and rescue capsules they'd brought back to their depot from ground zero. Knowing than these men had been salvaging body parts, and what the shovels had been used for, I hurried on.

And although people with apartments near the World Trade Center are starting to be allowed back, life will still not be easy for them. Their apartments are full of debris. Computers blown through the windows on the 11th, body parts, dust and rubble.
I fear our city will never be the same again. But from reading some of the press commentaries in Australia and Britain, at least this will make some people, very happy. After all, we all only got what we deserved...

Kate Juliff
September 30th 2001

Sample responses from readers

Below is a small but representative selection of readers' responses to last week's article, Clouds.

Dear Kate,

I happened to come across your Web site via Alumni.Net. I was pleased to
see a response to the trend to deplore the terrorist attacks but then add a
criticism of America, or its foreign policies, or its past international
relationships, etc. Somehow, this ill-conceived association of ideas is
meant to 'prove' that America deserved what it got and it is good to see
such tripe being exposed for what it is.
All the best
Vida Jarasius (MA, Uni of Melb 1977)

Hi Kate,

Just wanted to say well done on your last column. I can't believe people are preaching peace at this stage. War is an ugly, terrible thing, but if you don't have a military response to thousands of innocent people being killed, when do you have one?

And even if US foreign policy has been imperfect in the past, that's no excuse, reason or justification for what happened to civilians in New York.



You have hit the nail on the head!

The sadness will ease but not in the short term, people are now starting to attend the Memorial Services for individuals. The fact that they have to be Memorial Services says it all. I attended one up in New Fairefield Connecticut on Friday night.

Candace Williams was a young 20 year old girl who had worked as an intern in one of my groups from January to June, she was on one of the flights which crashed into the World Trade Center. She was smart, pretty, and had such a love of life that it was very painful to see her family and friends as well as her work mates impacted so hard. The pain will ease and New York will go back to being New York, but the resolve will never fade, I think of all the slogans we will see the one on the cap says it all.

I think America may just have the staying power to go after this like it has not for some time.