In the fall of 1971, I was a sophomore at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, studying Italian language and literature. Hoping to improve my fluency, I attended a weekly “Italian Table” held in one of the school’s dining halls, where we conversed, as well as we could, only in Italian. It was there that I met a charming and intelligent young man named Shukri, who told me he had recently arrived from Tripoli, Libya, and wondered if perhaps I would be kind enough to show him the sights in Boston.

I agreed, but when I showed up for his “tour,” he arrogantly informed me that there really couldn’t be anything of interest to see in a city that was, what, perhaps 400 years old? He admitted he was just hoping to get me to agree to a date with him.

While I had my misgivings (including the fact that I was a closeted lesbian), he was both charming and intelligent, and so I agreed to go out with him. On our very first date he told me he had worked for OPEC, where his special talent was pricing oil to maximize both sales and profits. I asked him what he was doing in the United States, a country he seemed to disdain. He launched into a diatribe like nothing I had heard before, about how amazingly stupid my country was, how they had invited him, a patriotic Libyan and profound enemy of the U.S., to come here to study — for free! — at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Why, I asked him, if he hated the U.S., had he agreed to come here? His response was, “Learn things, wear blue jeans, date pretty girls? Why not?”

Thus began our year-long relationship. Shukri loved to tell me about how much he loved his homeland and how much he despised the Italians who had still colonized his country when he was born. He told me, with tears in his eyes, of his first day of school, of how he, part of the first generation of Libyans allowed to get an education after Libya’s liberation from colonial rule, marched to school through streets lined with people who shouted encouragement or ran up to him to press candies or coins into his hands.

His feelings of love for his country and culture were profound, although his interpretation of his Muslim religion probably wouldn’t have sat well with Muslims holding more fundamentalist views. For example, when I asked him why he drank hard liquor — wasn’t that against his faith? He explained that Allah was great, all-loving and all-powerful, and that he, by committing a little peccadillo, was giving Allah a chance to show his magnanimity by forgiving his sin.When I asked him how he felt about being dedicated to a country ruled by a madman, he replied that if one were a small, relatively powerless country, constantly threatened by larger, more powerful countries, might it not be prudent for the leader of the weaker country to seem more capricious, less predictable, and hence more dangerous?

He enjoyed some American music, and I vividly remember him singing a folk song when we drove around in his VW bug. As soon as the light turned green, he’d sing, “Green, green, I’m going away, to the far side of the hill….,” in his heavily accented English. (I believe that he spoke a half dozen languages.)

Occasionally he would order me to show up wearing a “nice dress,” and he would take me to a party at the Fletcher School, where I would juggle his cigarettes and drink, and listen to the amazing array of diplomats, military officers, teachers, and government workers who would mingle and exchange ideas. Shukri’s roommate, when I knew him, was a U.S. Air Force officer, a Mormon from Utah.

Regardless of how much Shukri railed against the U.S., he was living cheek-by-jowl with Americans, and even dating one.

Why am I sharing my reminiscences of my long-ago dalliance with a U.S.-hating Muslim Libyan? Because long afterwards, Shukri Mohammed Ghanem became prime minister of Libya, and while he was in that office, he worked to thaw and improve Libya’s relationship with the United States.

Shukri Ghanem in 2010 (Photo by Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών)

Shukri Ghanem in 2010 (Photo by Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών)

Many Trump conservatives would agree with the 28-year-old Shukri that the U.S. was “stupid” to let him into our country and educate him for free, but would they be right? If Shukri never came here, would he have worked to improve Libya’s relation with us? This idea that keeping all of our potential enemies out of our country makes us markedly safer ignores the reality that to know a country and its people is the only way to build bridges. As the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, said, “Hatred never ends through hatred.”

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in International Relations, Politics

The Coming Zombie Apocalypse

The Coming Zombie Apocalypse

Lately, I find myself worrying about the imminent zombie apocalypse.

It began when my partner introduced me to the American Movie Classics (AMC) cable channel series, The Walking Dead (based on the series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard). It is a well-plotted show, with lots of interesting characters, but I have trouble abandoning all reason so that I can enjoy it.

You see, the zombies are dead. They are rotting, decomposing. They have this compulsion to feast on living flesh, but as is established fairly early in the first season, their insides are rotting, too. In other words, they cannot digest the food they eat. It does them not one bit of good to eat the living. The zombies gobble someone up and then the meat just rots inside them.

Anyone with a basic understanding of human biology knows that the process of breaking down food fuels the necessary activities that must go on inside a human body to sustain life or in order for it to function in any way, shape, or form. But these zombies only eat for fun (not profit), they do not breathe, they are, on a number of levels, rotting away. But they do not fall down and decompose entirely. Instead, they run around — and I do mean run: The contemporary zombie doesn’t just lumber after you at a speed that is just slightly faster than a living person crawling on his belly.

I am perturbed by the sheer absurdity of this conception of zombies. In order to watch or enjoy the show, I have to park my intellect and reason by the door.

I went online to see what other people were saying about issues like this, and what I found concerned me on an even more profound level. I encountered, for example, one man explaining that “Zombies can run faster than us, ‘cuz they don’t have to breathe — they never get out of breath.”

It does not seem to bother this person that respiration is necessary to fuel the muscles that enable us to run. No breath equals an extremely short sprint, followed by complete collapse. Anyone who has ever experienced anaphylaxis (which tends to interfere with things like respiration and maintaining blood pressure within a functional range) can tell you that if you do not have adequate blood pressure or breath, well, you sure as hell ain’t gonna run very far.

There are even Web pages that answer pressing questions that may trouble people, such as:

  • Are Zombies Real?
  • Do you think zombies are a threat?
  • If zombies ruled the world, how would I survive?

Other commentators have found other aspects of the series troublesome. Perhaps the most famous gripe is summed up in this photo:

Who mows lawns after the zombie apolcalypse?

I suppose that I should also worry that people may confuse zombies with the chronically ill. We, too, lumber, occasionally mumble or seem out of it, and are regarded as being little more than a burden on society. I guess we’re not quite the affliction posed by flesh-eating automatons, but I’m sure there are those who might want to argue the point.

But the most troubling aspect of the zombie craze for me, a child of the 60s and the original Star Trek, is that in the era of science fiction, a story had to make some kind of sense, had to possess some kind of internal logic or consistency. Once upon a time we feared having a mouth and being unable to scream. Or that space aliens would disable non-essential electricity for a half hour to get us to listen to their warning about the follies of our ways. Heck, even Gremlins came with specific instructions, and the plot of the movie demonstrated the consequences of ignoring them.

My fear is that the rise of zombies as the monsters du jour reflects the ascendance of polarized and passionate irrationality. Just today I heard that still another Republican (this one an obstetrician-gynecologist!) had stepped forward to assert that, yup, women’s bodies really do have a way to halt rape-related conception. Representative Phil Gringey (R-Ga) did admit that Todd Akin was not entirely correct in his earlier comments on the issue, but then Gringey explained that even in non-rape situations, women may require a glass of wine and an admonition to “Just relax” before they are able to ovulate and then conceive. (That explains why no children were conceived prior to the discovery of fermentation. “No wine, no kids!” as the grape-stomping cavemen used to say.)

To be fair, I shouldn’t just point out the GOP’s irrational ideas. We have liberals who are certain that a major cause of school shootings is violent video games, even though the research that has been done doesn’t really support that conclusion.

And we have NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre, who reduced the complex and difficult subject of how to prevent gun violence to a statement that is a model of oversimplification, namely, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

This is national discourse that is basically on the level of grammar schoolyard taunts. What is the world coming to? I know that that is the lament of every aging generation, but at the moment, it seems like a reasonable question.

Zombies free yard work jpg

Photo credits:

  • The first and third photos used in this article were created using Make your own Road Construction Sign. Thank you to!
  • The second photo used in this article was taken from Urlybits. It’s become an Internet meme — I am not sure who created it.

Copyright © 2013 by Candace L. Van Auken. All rights reserved.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Medical knowledge, Politics, Social issues, Women's health

One More Thing

The day after I published Friday’s blog post (The Thing I Don’t Get), I took a second look at the image from Facebook that set me off. For those of us with non-eidetic memories, here it is again:

Guns dont abortion clinics do

When I glanced again at that arch bit of political posturing, something really obvious whacked me right between the eyes. Appearing on Facebook only a few weeks after the horrendous grade-school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, I could only view the image as suggesting that abortion is a worse crime than what happened that day to those 20 children, 7 adults, and one suicidal shooter.

To me, that image says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, so a couple of dozen people got killed, abortion is the real crime here.”

To which I say, “Huh?”

Paul Hill, holding poster

I know that there are hardline anti-abortion advocates who feel that, for example, murdering a doctor who has performed abortions — even in the middle of Sunday church services — is okay. Most “pro-life” advocates would eschew murder or bombing in the furtherance of their cause.

However, I feel that, even if a person poses as a reasonable, law-abiding moderate on the issue of abortion, by posting that particular image on his or her Facebook page at this time, that person is implicitly creating a moral hierarchy in which outright murder of unarmed children is a lesser crime than a first-trimester abortion.

And that is deeply troubling.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Politics, Public health
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