Archive for Middle East

New Story in Print

Posted in blogging, history, indie, Middle East, urban fantasy, writing, young adult fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2014 by rachelcoles

Hi Fellow Indies,

 

Exciting news! My short story ‘The Littlest Fury’ is available in the summer edition of The Horror Zine,  in print, or Kindle. The story is about a Fury who is so bad at her job, she didn’t even make it into the myths. She doesn’t think she’s cut out for it, but when Hades threatens to fire her, and end her existence, she has to see if she can find a way to do her job without losing her own identity. The zine edition has a lot of terrific stories from a bunch of terrific authors, and the Horror Zine’s other editions are worth a read! Leave the lights on!

Like ‘The Littlest Fury’, it seems like identity has been a big theme lately, how people are defined by other people, how we define ourselves. I’ve been reading recently about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, or rather between the Israeli government and Hamas. Since that is who is really perpetrating the conflict. It’s not the everyday people trying to earn a living and take care of their families on either side. I remember reading about a project a while back in which Israeli and Palestinian schoolkids became pen pals. The program was reported as successful for a while, until there were more hostilities, and they were forced to stop the program, even though the kids and their families wanted to keep communicating. So the potential is there. But who can say what will have to happen to make those voices louder than the angry ones? My heart goes out to all the people who are getting hurt in this. I hope it stops soon. I say that even though I know that’s inadequate to express what’s going on.

Thinking about that reminded me of another story I wrote that I wanted to share. It’s a fun piece, because I saw a bee get drunk on beer once. I had no idea they could do that. So this started out as a goofy ‘bee gets drunk’ spoof, and turned into something else. Stories sometimes do that, hijack the writer.

 

Beergarden

by Rachel Coles

Jocular people wandered down the cobbled streets of Munich past patchwork buildings that were a strange mix of modern structures, soot-stained medieval houses and new light-colored buildings in the style of the old buildings destroyed in WWII. The effect was like a honeycomb.

The slow crowd headed to the new Ellsen Brauhaus in the park by Ellsen Street. It was mostly open to the sky, shaded by trees and draped with colored waterproof fabrics for when the weather was inclement. Hundreds of light strings danced and swayed overhead in the slight June breeze. To the patrons eager for the rich Dunkles and light Helles beers, and the smoky sausages trickling fat, they might have stepped into faery, loaded with the only riches that really mattered to them: meat and beer.

It was the dinner hour and the early evening sky shone in pinks and golds as Eva Worker ventured to the profuse flower boxes in the new human gathering place to explore. She was a new forager, finally old enough to swim the tide of magnetic waves with the older bees, into the forests of flowers in every nook of the enormous human city.

Near the flower box she chose, on a table like a vast wooden plain were a few glasses partly filled with a rich honey-like liquid. And the scent from the glasses was unlike anything she had ever encountered.

Bruna Worker, a pushy bee who thought she knew everything because she was one summer older, had warned her as they left the hive, “Stay on task. Just find the pollen and nectar and come home. That’s your job, do you hear me? Stop waggling. You don’t do that until you have your load back here. And look out for the wasps!”

Boring Bruna, Eva had thought as she flew away. How can I not look around? Everything’s so bright: purpley yellows and golds and blues! But after entering the human-packed enclosure, she pictured the disapproving flick of Bruna’s antennae. She diligently began filling her pollen baskets before finally giving in to curiosity some time later.

Just a little break before the next flower, she thought. She flitted down to the rim of one of the glasses, leaned over and tasted a sticky, drying rivulet at the edge of the glass. The human’s strange nectar flooded her senses with warmth and sweetness and a strange acidic tang.

Before she could get another taste, a gaggle of salty-smelling humans approached with plates of long fat tube meat. Under the smoky scent of the meat, she smelled two females and two males. They were enormous, but the aroma of the meat was so overpowering that she almost failed to dodge the giant hand that swatted at her. She landed warily on a cooled sausage at an adjacent table.

An angry buzz and sharp wasp scent warned her she wasn’t alone, as a flash of violent yellow and black blazed toward her. A stinger swiped by her abdomen and powerful black mandibles clacked near her head. She weaved and dumped herself into the nearest flower box, stinger at the ready.

My meat tube, honey bee! Go back to your hive or you’ll be food for our larvae instead!” The yellow jacket called after her. Eva didn’t move from her defensive position.

A minute later, gnawing vibrations and the now-familiar smoky meaty scent wafted to her box, from where the yellow jacket fed, “Mmmm. Tasty meat tube. Maybe I’ll just save a little for myself.”

Eva’s wings trembled with fear. She exited the other side of the box as quietly as she could and started toward less hazardous pastures. So that was a wasp, she thought, her hairs still raised in alarm. She had been warned of the wasps from the time before she had grown wings. Her hive prepared for wasp attacks every season. This was the first time she had ever actually seen one.

Before she left, she noticed several workers from her hive sitting at the edge of some of the glasses of liquid. Every once in a while, the humans at the table waved them away, but the workers deftly dodged the waving hands and then returned to the glasses. The humans didn’t expend much effort to chase the bees away so it looked more like a dance where everyone was just playing a role. One human even took a drink of his liquid with a worker perched at the edge. And the worker drank from the glass right next to the human’s gaping mouth.

Wow, Eva thought, my sisters are brave.

That vision dominated her thoughts as she went pollen-gathering in a nearby woman’s garden. Instead of returning to the hive with her full baskets some time later, she chanced another pass by the human drinking place. She returned to the earlier site of her sisters’ brave foray into human interaction.

The humans and bees were still attempting to do their mutual swatting and flying dance, but the waves of the giant hands were barely flops now. And the workers weaved and teetered at the edges of the glasses as though they might fall in. One of them did. She plunked right into the liquid, and instead of fighting to climb out, she took a long drink from the fluid.

“Jurgen, you have a bee in your beer. And I think it’s drunk.” One of the human males told the other, who picked up his glass with Eva’s floating sister.

“Awww. Poor bee. She’s had too much to drink. Here, let’s dry you out.” He fished her out with a spoon and dumped her on the table, laughing. Hilda Worker, the swimmer, appeared to be laughing too, as she preened the liquid from her wings and legs.

“Hey, there’s pollen in my beer.” Jurgen exclaimed without very much concern.

His fellow clapped him on the shoulder, “Drink it, it’s good for you.”

Jurgen upended the glass into his mouth.

Eva drifted closer to make sure Hilda was all right. The other bees didn’t appear to be worried as they stared at Hilda in a stupor. What in the Hive is going on?, Eva thought.

“Eva, sister, come here! You must try this. It is wonderful. It is a new nectar and it comes in giant tanks. The humans drink great rivers of it and they don’t seem to mind us sharing.” Hilda’s mandibles clacked happily and her eyes seemed… muddled. Her pheromones also smelled of the sweet rich nectar.

“What is wrong with you? Why are you not taking your load to the hive?” These bees, like Eva, were all first season foragers, new to the outside world. Surely someone would notice the absence of a bunch of new foragers.

“We will. Come join us first, Sister Eva!” A chorus of striped behinds waggled at her. One of them waggled so enthusiastically that its owner also fell into the glass she had been perched on.

“Oh, another one down.” Jurgen Bee Saver smiled. In went the spoon to his friend’s drink. He dumped Sister Dagmar unceremoniously next to Hilda. As Dagmar consumed the liquid beaded on her legs, a larger black and yellow shape wobbled toward them in the air, from another table.

Eva zipped into the air, her stinger ready. But the yellow jacket that had chased her earlier, waved her off now with a wiggle of antennae and a surge of the same tangy scent that  drenched Eva’s fellow bees.

The intoxicated wasp landed uncertainly on the edge of the table, almost fell and then righted herself, turning back to Eva. “Ah, little bee, I’m sorry about earlier. You want some of my meat? It’s still all chunky but I could chew it for you.” She offered a partly-digested piece of meat . “You want?”

“No thank you.” Eva declined quietly and sank down to the surface of the table. She still eyed the wasp with caution. The humans shooed the couple of bees remaining on the glasses, downed the rest of the liquid and rose. They placed their steins next to a sea of other empty glasses on the table, and left. They had been there a while, it seemed. How long had her sisters been there?

The wasp nodded, “I am Worker Gertrude. Who are you, little bee? Come here. I will not eat you.”

Eva edged closer, and Gertrude hopped suddenly next to her. A wave of pheromone swept over Eva, as Gertrude nudged her in the side, “Hey, you are cute for a Honey Bee.”

Eva almost tumbled off the table again, and backed away, wings over legs. Bless the Queen! she thought, Non-queen wasps wanting to mate with female bees? My own sisters shirking their hive duties? It is summer. It’s too late for Hive Fever. The eagerness to get out of the long sleep of winter often drove workers to act a little strange. But this?

Her sisters waggled at Eva again. Gertrude twitched her antennae and stumbled towards the glasses. “Come! There is plenty of nectar to go around. We shall all share, yes?” Gertrude pressed.

Hilda and Dagmar scrambled up the sides of a couple of glasses and dumped themselves into the films of beer at the bottom. Eva finally followed the bewitching scent, picked a glass, and climbed in. Well, I did want to explore. And oh, Sweet Flower, does that taste good! She sucked up the beer and wallowed in the remaining drops, her pollen baskets soaked.

“And they are all different. There are different nectars. Can you smell that? Try this one, Eva!” Hilda tapped and bumped at her from the walls of one of the other glasses that had a pale golden wheaty smell. Eva slowly buzzed over, after dunking in two more glasses of the dark, rich, sap-colored nectar.

Some indeterminate amount of time later, the sky darkened and the twinkling lights became clearer overhead. None of them could drink another drop without popping.

Gertrude was first to pull herself from her glass. “Ai, I must return to the nest. I have meat for the young ones. And lots of this nectar. We had a good time, yes? I will do this again tomorrow! Maybe I see you here, little bees.” She flopped off the table, her wings beating erratically. She landed on the ground, and Eva crawled to the edge to see.

Gertrude lay on her side for a moment. Then she righted herself and slowly crept across the ground, narrowly missed by a huge pair of shoes. She called back, “I’m okay. Everything’s okay! Everything’s great!”

Eva followed Gertrude’s progress, holding her breath, until their new wasp friend disappeared into the bushes at the edge of the wall.

***

Eva didn’t have a good memory for how she, Hilda, and Dagmar finally made it back to the hive. And neither did they.

Mitzi Worker, their receiver bee, just buzzed in confusion and looked around her, trying to comprehend the waggling, bumping and weaving rears the girls were showing her as they accidentally bonked into each other.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this dance before,” Mitzi said, hesitant. “Um, can you do that again? I might be crazy but it looked like you just said ‘make a left at the dog’. Okay, there I’m definitely wrong. I’m pretty sure you’re not trying to tell me the flowers are burping.” She looked desperate.

Eva touched her gently on the leg.

Mitzi looked at her in panic. “I really did study. I just don’t understand. I haven’t been able to understand anyone coming in tonight.”

“It’s ok, sister. We’ll show you tomorrow.” Eva brushed the girl’s face with her antennae. “Be at peace, sister. Come with us tomorrow.”

“But I can’t, I mean I’m a receiver. I’m supposed to be here. Oh, let me get your pollen.” Mitzi collected the soggy nectar-soaked gloop from all of them and disappeared into the brood comb.

***

The next day, Eva crawled from the hive entrance wondering if her antennae were going to fall out. And it felt like some crude human boy was trying to pull her wings off, but there was no one to sting. She meandered aimlessly, gathering pollen from the numerous park flowers along the way to…somewhere. The colors were too bright and the ultraviolet felt like it would sear through her eyes. But the flower nectar along the way was nice and sweet.

Then she happened upon the human drinking place where she had been last night. Her sisters had somehow beat her there and they buzzed lazily around the profusion of flowers that lined the low wooden and brick walls.

Gertrude had made it back to her nest safely. Now, Eva saw with relief, the young wasp was feasting once again at a great piled platter of meat tubes five times as large as any yellow jacket nest. There was another wasp with her who occasionally pushed her out of the way of a human’s hand, as the enormous human male piled the meat even higher. The golden silk-haired male smiled and waved his huge hand at the other humans who stabbed and took the meat with long shiny, forked stingers.

Gertrude dived at one of the reaching hands, and her wasp friend knocked her to the side and herded her towards the table Eva had landed on nearby. Eva smelled, with a shock, that Gertrude’s friend was male.

“You’re going to get us squashed, Gertrude!” he exclaimed. “The humans will have their meat too. There is too much to carry it all back anyway.” He almost stopped in mid-air as he spied Eva. “There, Gertrude, there is your meat. Bees! They are less dangerous. No match for us!” He dived toward Eva before she could react.

But this time it was Gertrude who shoved at him, knocking the small male clear across the table and into a glass, to the exclamation of its owner. The woman stared at the doused wasp for a moment and then fished him out with her fork and flicked him on the ground and ignored him. Gertrude rushed to his side as he shook his sopping wings out.

She exclaimed, jerking her antennae at Eva, “No Klaus, you old drone! Not these bees. They are my friends. We shared human nectar together.”

As Klaus edged out of the way of passing shoes, and began climbing the rough wooden table leg, Gertrude flew back up and explained, “His mating time is almost passed and he has not found a queen yet. He’s cranky. So I brought him here to taste of the human nectar. That will put fire in his abdomen!”

Klaus clacked his mandibles at Gertrude, and a wave of irritated hormones nearly knocked Eva sideways.

Hilda and Dagmar settled next to Eva. They had Mitzi in tow. Her eyes roamed the first scenery she had ever seen or smelled outside the hive. The diminutive bee wobbled a little on landing. All her sisters already smelled faintly of the nectar. So did Gertrude, Eva realized.

It did smell tantalizing. Even crotchety old Klaus seemed intent on preening every last drop from his legs, body, and then from the table. Finally he hopped back onto the rim of the glass he’d been dunked into, while its owner talked with other humans.

“Excuse me, fraulein,” he slid down into the liquid.

Eva shivered in a bee shrug and selected a glass of amber nectar she hadn’t tried yesterday.

As the day wore on, and she peered around and smelled, she realized that many new members of the hive wobbled among the glasses in this human place. And quite a few wasps from Gertrude and Klaus’ nest too. The humans half-heartedly waved their hands around to dispel the bees, but mostly watched them wade in the cups, amused.

Some time and several glasses later, Klaus snuck up and buzzed in Eva’s ear. “You are looking very royal tonight, Fraulein Bee!” His old wasp pheromones washed over Eva again like a magnetic wave.

She hopped away, since she could no longer fly straight. “Agh, you’re a wasp! I’m not your type, Herr Klaus, please.”

He tottered after her on the table for a step or two, and then tangled up his legs and fell onto his mandibles. He gazed at her and wiggled his rear at her longingly with his nectar-goggled eyes. Eva passed the rest of the evening crowding close to Gertrude, who probably wasn’t much of a safer choice.

***

A couple weeks later, the bees, wasps, and humans were still communing in the beer garden. And before leaving the hive one morning, Eva noticed the odd lumpy shape of the new combs they were building. It looked as though a human child had tried building combs out of chewed up gum.

One of the larvae that had been deposited into an odd-shaped cell wiggled and gave her a skeptical scent, “Who built this, and what were they thinking?” And then there was a musky frustrated scent, “I think I’m stuck.”

As Eva was leaving the hive, Mitzi, who had been tasked with re-paving the hive entrance with propolis, had stuck herself in the goo to the wall instead. She wiggled her legs, dangling and laughing, “Hey, look! No legs!”

Eva sighed and pulled her down as the sticky gel congealed on the girl’s abdomen. “You could have suffocated yourself! No more human nectar for you!” She pointed to Mitzi’s air holes almost blocked by the glop covering the rest of her belly.

On her way to the human drinking place, Eva passed Klaus and Gertrude, who were muttering to each other.

“The nest looks like the wasps working on it were missing their brains,” Klaus complained.

“So they’re a little different.”

“Different? They’re upside down! In my day, we never built them like that!”

“In your day, they were trapped in rock, Herr Klaus!”

“I tell you, this nectar isn’t a good idea anymore.”

***

The bee queen had the same notion. That night a decree went out from Eva’s Queen that the human drinking place was off limits for nectar collection. All of the workers buzzed in disappointment. Eva wasn’t surprised.

They resumed their pollen collection and resorted to flying farther to other patches of flowers in the park. As Eva snuck a peek into the human nectar park once, it looked like a similar decree had gone out among the wasps. There was not a single one in sight.

Eva came across another drinking park a couple times, farther into old Munich, and spied some of her sisters there. A few days later, when their combs and honey started smelling of the human nectar again, the decree went out that there was to be no collection of human nectar anywhere.

The day after the new decree, Eva and her sisters moped to the boring flower gardens and sill boxes around the rest of the city. There was much to do to prepare the cells for winter.

***

One overcast day, as fall approached and the air had a hint of crispness, the yellow jackets came from everywhere. Bullet shapes rained from the sky around the Langstroth box in which Eva’s hive was nestled.

Every season, the hive drilled and prepared for this predator attack. This was the first time Eva and her sisters had actually witnessed it.

Eva thought, Things should have been different this season! What about Gertrude?

In their confusion, the bees took a precious few moments to realize what was going on before the acrid alarm scent blasted through the hive. Eva swarmed out of the hive entrance and encircled the nearest dive-bombing wasp, with her fellow workers, in a vibrating ball of bees. The temperature in the bee sphere rose to deadly levels for the frantic wasp.

Eva shook with fear and anger. How dare those wasps? I thought Gertrude was so nice, once she stopped trying to kill me!

That thought just made Eva angrier. She beat wind from her wings so hard the whole yellow jacket nest would feel the blast, she decided. The panicked wasp at the center of the ball bounced off the bees around her, and lunged with her stinger. A couple of bees dropped, but the vibration and heat was so great that the wasp just weaved and rattled helplessly.

You can just cook, you lying flesh-eater! Eva thought.

The wasp convulsed and sunk to the ground. The ball of angry bees dissipated and swarmed another wasp target. As a few of Eva’s sisters dropped from wasp bites and stings around her, she blasted a nose-ful of defiance, and dived for the wasps with abandon.

Vibrating bee balls surrounded several of the wasps, as the fight escalated. The air was a sea of sparkling wings and the deep humming drone of battle. As Eva hesitated in awe, a wasp landed on her back and slammed her down in the air.

But as the great mandibles loomed around her head, another missile hit the wasp and tumbled them into the nearby tree trunk. “I saaaaave yoooou, mein little beeeeeee!”

Gertrude! Eva realized, with a jolt of surprise.

“Surround me, quickly! We must talk! So the nest does not see!” Gertrude flew at her as though she would sting. A ball of workers swarmed Gertrude, but Eva fought to the center, to meet Gertrude.

“Don’t kill her, she’s not an enemy! She helped me!. She’s just faking so her nest sisters don’t see!” Eva scented to the others.

Hilda, Dagmar, Bruna and a few others started looking at each other and faltering.

“No, don’t stop or the other wasps will know,” Eva continued. “Gertrude, talk quickly.”

Gertrude wiggled uncomfortably in the heat but didn’t try to sting anyone. “I am a Loyal Worker. My queen is Mother. But we do not need to hunt you. I will convince my Queen to let us all go back to the human drinking place. There is plenty of meat and nectar there. She became angry that the nest was growing lopsided. She said nectar was making us sloppy and lazy.”

“Do you think it will work?” Dagmar asked, her buzz almost lost in the violent vibration.

“I think so. I don’t know. I will try. Ok, I go now. Too hot.”

The bees dropped away from a dizzy Gertrude, just as a broom pummeled down towards her from a giant angry human.

“Get away from my hive, you wasps! Agh!”

Eva dove at the net-covered man waving the broom, and signaled her sisters to swarm him and help Gertrude escape. They dodged the flailing human and kept him distracted. Gertrude buzzed away erratically, still dipping from the disorientation of the ball, and almost flew into a tree.

***

Eva refused to go for pollen until every bee in the hive repeated her waggle dance that told what Gertrude, Friend to Bees, had done for them.

She waggled for two days, while Bruna clacked at her to get to work. Hilda, the best waggler, picked up the dance and soon the hive was full of bumping behinds. Every time two bees met outside the hive, they did the dance. Finally, at the end of the third day, the decree came from the Queen that the human drinking place was back on the list of approved nectar-gathering sectors.

That very afternoon, Eva drifted into the flowered human enclosure that smelled of salt, smoke, flowers and at least four different varieties of everyone’s favorite human nectar. The twinkling lights swayed overhead in the breeze, as Gertrude and Klaus perched on a child’s meat tube. They argued about which of the nectars were making them build their cells more lopsided, and which were sweeter. Then they jumped, and flew over to Eva as the human child extended a pudgy thumb to poke them.

All around Eva, bees and yellow jackets feasted and drank together, occasionally calling for a new companion to pull them out of a glass.

The End

I hope you got a kick out of the story! If you have any funny animal stories you want to share, please feel free to post a link!

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Milgram’s Experiment and the War on Terror

Posted in Arab, bullying, discrimination, history, Islam, Middle East, Muslim, politics, racism, Vietnam, world events with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2011 by rachelcoles

Many politicians and citizens have raised an uproar decrying the comparison between our use of tactics, such as profiling against a group of people, and against detainees who have not been proved to be guilty of terrorism, and those used by the state of Germany prior to the rise of the Nationalist Party. Invariably, the catchphrase ‘patriotism’ and ‘national security’ get thrown into the argument, and what I believe is the real shape of the situation becomes distorted. Indeed the very mention of the Nationalist Party, because of its overuse as an icon of ultimate evil, sends people flying off the handle in indignation, without any analysis of what the central issues really were that allowed a situation in which otherwise normal sane people did evil things. Or failed to prevent them. And this blanket gag order certainly makes an analysis of our current situation almost impossible. Taboo subjects cannot be explored.

Well, I’m exploring them anyway. I’ve known quite a few German people in my life. I’ve visited Germany. My husband has visited Germany. Everyone I met was very hospitable, nice and about as more or less normal as anyone I encounter here. Though everything was insanely punctual.

This is not to say that the people who did do terrible things or the people who knew about it and did nothing are absolved of their crimes. No. Their actions were inexcusable. But after looking at the Milgram experiment, and frankly, reviewing incidents that cannot be swept under the rug such as the torture at Abu Ghraib, it is somewhat more difficult to look at the individuals involved in the original ‘Axis of Evil’ and say we are different. It makes me wonder how many of us have the potential to become the same kind of monster in similar conditions. This experiment scared the crap out of me.

I think that this topic of comparison has become taboo because we are afraid. We don’t want to see our own potential for such evil acts, so we place a firm barrier there and say, ‘this could never happen here’. But in the 1960s, Stanley Milgram proved definitively for the next twenty years with repeated experiments that it could absolutely happen anywhere in the world with any group of people.

The Milgram experiment consisted of a triad of players: the teacher-subject, the learner-actor, and the authority figure-researcher. The subject was told to have the learner repeat pairs of words. Every time the learner got one wrong, the ‘teacher’ subject was to administer an electric shock. The shocks got progressively stronger until there was a final voltage that would render the learner unconscious. They would begin screaming and pounding on the wall and then finally stop responding if the teacher did administer the final shocks. If the teacher hesitated or asked to stop, they were given verbal prompts to continue four times by the researcher who told them that they must go on, that it was very important. If the teacher protested more than four times, or if they refused to go on, they were released. The learner was an actor. There were no electric shocks in reality. But as far as the subject-teacher knew, they were real.

And consistently in all variations of this experiment in different populations, do you know how many of the subjects continued to the final shocks? Between 61 and 66%. Over half. Over half of people inflicted progressive, painful, and dangerous shocks to someone, rendering them ‘unconscious’ or ‘dead’, since in a few of the scenarios the actor stated they had a ‘heart condition’, simply because they were ordered to do so. These were not enemy soldiers or Nazis. They were not skinheads, they were not white power advocates, or sociopaths. They were school teachers, doctors, lawyers, grocery store clerks, truck drivers, friends, next-door neighbors. They were you and me. That’s a terrifying realization. One that has somehow been lost in the current jingoistic move toward our own brand of nationalism. And I use the term nationalism not as an epithet or a curse word, but as the definition of what we are doing, rallying behind an image of what our leaders decide the US stands for. That’s what nationalism means.

Nationalism has its uses. It can make people proud of who they are. It can make us build a nation with amazing things like roads, sewage systems, as the Romans did, purely on the steam of national pride. The dangerous part of nationalism, however, is that it can be used by the greedy, by the power hungry with some other political agenda, to sharpen the borders between what is and is not American, creating an Other where there was none before. Does it look familiar? It should and if it doesn’t, it is because we are mired in denial.

We are so horrified by the revelations of Milgrams experiment and what it says about the human race, that we forget to be analytical. Some of us declare disgust with humanity, without the most critical question. Why was Milgrams experiment recreated so consistently, and why does it happen in history so often with the same results? Why do we fail to learn from this particular mistake? Because we are primates. Every primate species in the world reacts to an authority structure in a similar way. We do not question authority, whether by force of arms, or by persuasion and influence, except in direct challenge, and this is the exception rather than the rule. The majority of times we are faced with a dilemma to do something wrong which is sanctioned or encouraged by authority, we will do it even when we have an idea that authority is wrong. Because on some level, we are fighting hundreds of thousands of years of programming as a primate species. Does that make humanity evil? No. We are what we are. Does it excuse appalling acts of torture and cruelty? No. But it does explain it. And as we look for answers as to whether we can overcome this programming, they are there.

There was a baboon troop that was documented some years back to have a structure different from every other baboon troop studied. Most of their alpha males had been killed off by some kind of disease, or poaching. In any case, only the gentler males were left. These males became the authority structure, though they chose not to exercise authority except when absolutely necessary. They stood up and fought only if another more aggressive male tried to come in and take over the troop, then the whole troop banded together to ‘discourage’ the intruder from being aggressive. The result was that the aggressive males often stayed in the troop and changed their behavior to become less aggressive and more laid back, because they apparently seemed happier there. In fact, the longevity of these baboon compared to others was marked. They were living longer too.

The amazing thing about humanity is our ability to evolve, to learn from our mistakes, to become different, like these baboons. Milgram’s experiment will rear its ugly head in history again. And maybe we’ll fail another hundred times when faced with the choice between our own internal compass, and an errant authority. But someday we won’t. And that will happen more and more. Why do I believe this? Because many of the past subjects of Milgram’s experiment wrote him later on, despite the emotional distress they felt after a review of the experiment, to tell him that they were glad they had been shown about themselves what the experiment revealed. Many wrote to tell him that they were becoming conscientious objectors when it came to the Vietnam War, because of what they had learned. Whether you agree or disagree about the wisdom of the Vietnam War, the point is that they decided for themselves rather than relied on an authority to make that moral decision for them.

I also know that this slow advance toward individual thought is still happening. If we take the world as it is now, and the world as it was during the Roman Empire, though we make jokes about being the new Roman Empire just short of orgies and vomitoriums, there are profound differences. We collectively agree that slavery is wrong. The proportion of nations who agree that all people should have basic civil rights is the majority. However well or poorly this is executed, the fact that this is even attempted on such a global scale is light years from where we were during the Dark Ages, the Crusades, and the Inquisition.

But progress grinds to a halt if we aren’t allowed to discuss certain issues for fear of offending, if we can’t even have a conversation about history without being branded unpatriotic or accused of disparaging veterans. Veterans are respected with good reason. They are people who act on an urge to be part of something bigger than themselves. This is never a bad thing. It is however a good trait that has been used by unscrupulous people in authority, who then veil their own agendas by forbidding conversation about the history that follows. But the fact remains, and most veterans I have spoken with agree, that the first step to learning from our mistakes, is to admit, collectively with collective responsibility that we’ve made them. Many veterans I’ve encountered, being also honest self-evaluating people, like Milgram’s conscientious objectors, welcome the chance to air their own thoughts instead of keeping them locked behind a wall of silence.

Late Thoughts on 9/11

Posted in 9/11, Arab, Middle East, revolution, terrorism, world events with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2011 by rachelcoles

Since I’m not at the computer much on weekends, I don’t post unless I set it up ahead of time. And most of the time, I’m way too disorganized for that. So though the 10 year remembrance of 9/11 was yesterday, I’m posting today, because it was very much on my mind.

I worked in Tower Two about four years before 9/11 happened. It was a part time position, annotating social science articles for the National Development and Research Institute, Inc., on the 15th floor. I think it was the 15th floor. I don’t completely remember, it was almost fifteen years ago now. I didn’t spend much time there. I annotated the articles and brought them in twice a week, and talked with my manager, J.B. O’Kane. The job gave me something social science-related that I could put on a graduate school application. And J.B. O’Kane wrote me a recommendation.

A year later, I received a scholarship to attend Arizona State University’s medical anthropology program, based on, among other things, those recommendations. It is quite possible that if I hadn’t gotten into school as I did, I may still have been working there, part or full-time when 9/11 happened.

When 9/11 happened, I had graduated with a masters in medical anthropology, and had been working for a year at the Maricopa County health department as an epidemiologist. I got a call as I was getting up to go to work. My director said, “Oh my God, you have to come in! Are you coming in soon? Something terrible has happened. We need everyone to come in. Someone just flew planes into the World Trade Center.” At that time, everyone watching knew that this was not an accident. It was an intentionally caused disaster. Health departments in most places had been training for bioterrorism response. So were activated when this happened, because no one knew yet how coordinated this attack was, or when, if, or where the next attack would happen. We spent the next few weeks doing enhanced syndromic surveillance of the hospitals and medical offices to identify any rise in any kind of symptoms. That’s the short answer for what syndromic surveillance is, monitoring flu-like illness, GI illness etc to see if we can identify a rise in symptoms before an epidemic occurs.

And I thought about J.B. O’Kane in those days and weeks. I wouldn’t have been doing that surveillance, that job at that time if it hadn’t been for him. Whether I still would have been at the WTC is impossible to determine, but his recommendation was partly responsible for my grad school opportunity and the job opportunity in public health that followed. In the days and weeks afterward, I did multiple and complex internet searches through every engine I could find. Nothing turned up for either NDRI, or J.B. O’Kane personally. And I couldn’t look them up by address anymore. In the years that followed, I still did searches occasionally, wondering if being on one of the lower floors could have saved at least some of them.

Most of my college friends still live in New York. And they told me that at the train stations, they would start marking the tires of cars with cut marks, because chalk washes off in the east coast rain. After a couple weeks of cut marks, they knew that the owner of a car wasn’t coming back to pick it up. And I sometimes find myself wondering if my supervisor’s car was one of those.

Sometimes people say, “Oh did you know someone who was killed?” I say, “I don’t know,” thinking about him. But I do know that if you lived in the tri-state area, then you either knew someone, or you knew someone who knew someone. Hundreds of people were killed. And years later, there are people still turning up who have COPD, or emphysema, or respiratory distress otherwise incurable, as young as thirty years old because if they weren’t first responders, they worked nearby, or lived nearby, or were on the street and handed out water, trying to help nearby.

And those deaths weren’t the only ones that day. America died, at least the America that we all grew up with or were taught existed. Maybe it never did. No one will really know for decades, until historians have a long view, and ‘secure documents’ are unsecured because the people who kept the secrets die of old age. Maybe the terrorists knew what would happen if they committed such an act, while someone like George W. Bush was in office. Maybe they predicted that he would pursue a course of expediency to rid his administration of inconvenient tyrants, instead of actually investigating the party responsible for the 9/11 massacre. Maybe they anticipated that some fundamentalist factions within the U.S. would, like Herman Goering, use the blanket of ‘national security’ as carte blanche to chip away at the personal freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. It is a terrible irony that while our dedicated men and women in service were diverted to protect our freedom, our freedoms were being eaten away from the inside out.

Perhaps the terrorists knew that the most efficient way to destroy us would be to erase trust, that elimination of trusting your neighbor was the quickest way to choke a real democracy. Instillation of fear of the ‘other’ allows fertile ground for lies, for groups with their own agenda to present a solution of safety and ‘security’ that was never possible, and has never existed. That is, after all, the definition of terrorism, using fear to tear apart. We gave them our fear, as demanded, acted against our neighbor because of it, let it change the way we thought and lived and experienced the world. And this ‘solution’ for security, like all other such solutions in history was merely a policy of thinly veiled institutional bigotry based on creed or ethnicity, or even the perception of ethnicity or religion, something the U.S. was supposed to be against.

That day, and every day since, when a hate crime is committed against a middle eastern person or Muslim person in the U.S., or someone even perceived to be, the terrorists have won. Every day that someone is detained without formal accusation or trial, every day someone is violated by the Patriot Act, the terrorists have won. Every day that we bankrupt ourselves further to fight amoeboid and ever-shifting ‘wars on terror’ on multiple fronts, instead of putting our money into educating the next generation of leaders in public schools and colleges now, the terrorists have won. Every day that one of our own populations dies of a preventable disease or starves for want of the tax money we have squandered on fear-based measures of ‘security’, the terrorists have won.

There is no denying that there is a threat. But it is simply not possible to eliminate all risk. Life is risk. What we do know is that because of these policies and decisions, people of the lower income brackets suffer and die from lack of health care, people lose their health because they lose their homes and the ability to put food on the table, and methods of interrogation that were once ruled as torture, by us, are now being used and rationalized, by us. Our democracy has changed, and our society is transforming into the terrorists’ vision of us.

I remember that when I was growing up, I was a bitchy teenager. But underneath it all, I think that there was an optimism I would never have admitted to anyone who asked, that I lived in a time and in a country that really made almost anything possible. Our generation was painfully self-absorbed, and you could hear it in the music of the 80s especially. But, I am still glued to that music like a shipwrecked person to a floating chunk of flotsam because it also contained a hope for the possibilities of the future, a deep-rooted belief in the legacy that we were inheriting, of a country that had gotten something right. It really was a land of freedom and opportunity and good intentions from most of the people most of the time. We had our flaws, for sure, but we were working on them. And ultimately, I think that we believed that things would be okay.

I no longer believe that, I am sorry to say. I don’t know if average citizens like me will be mobilized to turn things around, and create enough perspective to get us headed the right way again. I don’t even know what we could do. I just know that the America now is not the same America I grew up with. Maybe I’m naive. I know I am. But I think that loss of freedom, and even the loss of optimism and hope is one of the more profound casualties of 9/11. So when I mourn the deaths, it’s not just for the people dead, but for the people hurt, and for the casualties in our way of life that seem to keep coming. I mourn my failure as a person during these years to do anything as a citizen to change the train wreck course we seem to be on.

But as a child of the 80s, I guess I still hope, and still search. The music is still playing, so there’s still time to change things and learn from our mistakes. An idea is too powerful a thing to ever go away. We see that with negative ideas all the time, why not positive ones? As long as the idea of America and the idea of democracy the way that Thomas Jefferson envisioned it is still remembered, I think that we still have a chance to recover.

Taliban and Spaceships

Posted in history, Middle East, politics, world events with tags , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2011 by rachelcoles

I love how little kids think. Driving to camp today, my daughter heard a news clip about the Taliban. All news clips about these jerks are sobering. But it is nice to see such things through non-cynical first grader eyes. She asked who they were. Once again, as in previous politically-inspired conversations, I was forced to slow down, take all the million dollar words out and distill the situation into something a first grader (albeit very smart) would understand. So I explained “that they are a group of people who want to tell other people in their countries how to live and dress, and what to think, ( not like your parents do, kiddo), and they hurt people who don’t do what they say. So a lot of people are unhappy and don’t want to be ruled by them.”

She thought about that for a minute, and said, “Well why don’t they go somewhere else, away from the Taliban?” (Since we often tell her that if someone is bothering her to walk away and go play with someone else.) So I explained that when it is somewhere you live, it is not always that easy. Not everyone has money to go somewhere else. It takes money to move. Also, the Taliban are in a lot of different places, and we don’t always know where they are. To which she asked, “Well, why don’t we give them ships so they can get away from them in space? Are the Taliban in outer space?”

At this point, I bent double over the steering wheel, but explained that we really only have one spaceship that can carry people and it just went on its last mission, the Space Shuttle, and it only carries a few astronauts. So from there, the conversation took a left turn into why we don’t have more space ships, and money for the Space Program. And that conversation ended with our arrival at camp, an explanation of thermodynamics, and why popsicle sticks wouldn’t work for space ship material. After the physics reasons, she added that people would get fat from eating all those popsicles to build the ship.

Well, we didn’t solve any world problems today. But despite the normally depressing topic, I was really glad, as I always am of talking with my daughter. I don’t make light of the horrific plight of folks who are trapped in oppressive situations like those facing coup by the Taliban. On the contrary, my daughter’s innocent yet innovative suggestions remind me that I can have those conversations, and how lucky she and I both are to not be in such a situation. Nor is this meant as a blanket statement about freedoms in the U.S. Really, I just wanted to remember that moment when my day got a little brighter thinking about solving problems with popsicle-stick space ships. That’ll never get old.

Arab Revolution in Bahrain

Posted in Arab, Bahrain, Middle East, world events with tags , , on June 3, 2011 by rachelcoles

First, I want to comment that the journalist and blogger Angry Arabiya wins the prize this week for having the world’s biggest brass cahones, in my opinion. This amazing young woman is currently being interrogated by the Bahraini police, and tweeting about it when she gets the chance. Holy crap! And her heinous crimes for which she is being interrogated are the police having bogus photos of her at an ‘unauthorized gathering’, having family who voiced their opinion about the regime and refused to apologize for it, and her having a sign protesting torture. What a monster…  Kind of puts getting pulled over for a speeding ticket here in the US into perspective. Her dad has revealed that he has been tortured since he was detained, and she still doesn’t know where her husband and brother are. My thoughts and wishes go out to her, and I hope that she is not harmed.

All across the Middle East right now are people who are fighting for their freedom and for the basic rights that most European and North American continent countries have had for decades. I read about some support and comments coming from the US, but I am a bit surprised that I do not hear more, since it is so similar to the struggles that brought us to the Revolutionary War. And then I read about the fear of Arabs in blogs and comments on articles and remember that people have *temporarily* (one hopes) gone bonkers about Islam and anyone perceived as Middle Eastern.

If these revolutions had happened before 911, what would American people’s responses have been? Comedians like Dean Obidallah, Ahmed Ahmed, Maz Jobrani, and Aron Kader have talked about how the day before 911, they were average US citizens with diverse backgrounds like everyone else in the US. On 911, they became Arab. These guys say everything a lot funnier than that. But it’s funny because it’s true, and because if we don’t laugh at our ridiculousness, the remaining people with common sense might lose their minds and stick forks in their own eyes in exasperation.

I’ve known a lot of ‘Middle Easterners’ and a few Muslim folks in my life so far. I think the first experience I had with Islam was our next door neighbors in my apartment complex in Arizona.  I don’t remember what nation they were from, but she wore a hijab. The only reason I remember that is because I was curious. But what I remember most about them is that they were a young couple who liked to barbecue. We liked to barbecue too and so we had weekly potlucks, sometimes daily… It never would have occurred to me to be afraid of them or view them as possible terrorists or extremists then…and it doesn’t now either. I missed them when they moved away, they were cool.

I’ve been guilty of briefly taking note of someone wearing a hijab or burka in the past because while I didn’t know what it was called, I was just plain curious. It was different than what I usually saw. However, the more I talked with this couple and with other folks, the more I found that we really weren’t different. As a Jewish person, I actually found, especially from chatting at work with a Muslim co-worker, that we had a lot on things in common. In fact, this co-worker kind of became like a surrogate Jewish-Muslim mom. When my boyfriend at the time visited, and he wasn’t Jewish, and when I ate our director’s delicious pork mole, she responded with, “Are you trying to kill your parents?” 😀

This anti-Muslim mania has seeped into the airlines to the most notable degree. Anything goes if you tack ‘national security’ to the end of the sentence. I acknowledge that there are wackos who want to blow people out of the sky, but like my husband and I were discussing, I’m way more afraid of the home-grown entitled bell-tower crazies whose lives didn’t go the way they planned, than I am of entire populations of regular citizens who happen to wear more clothing than me, and call God by ‘one o’ them dang furrin names’.  And as far as the searches, ‘random’, my ass. My husband is Native American, and I am Semitic looking. Especially when he grows a beard, two somewhat dark people of unknown ethnicity equal one searchable ‘threat’, in profiler’s eyes, because unless we’re traveling with a really White midwesterner, we get searched with frequency. And if you have anything that could be interpreted as Islamic, forget it, show up to the airport three hours early, not two. I had a great conversation with a couple of ladies on Twitter. One of them @muslimasoasis expressed people’s confused reactions to her because she is very Caucasian-looking, yet she is a hijabi, and @ayakhalil did a really enlightening sociaological experiment when flying. She noted people’s reactions to her as she normally is with her hijab, and then noted their reactions when she covered it up. Poof, like magic, the flocks of stand-offish were markedly more chatty. Her blogpost is really worth a read at http://sweeteaya.blogspot.com/  Scroll down to the entry Flying Hijabless. No, there’s no racial or religious discrimination in profiling…cough…’national security’.

The countries struggling right now with defining themselves and finding a government solution that works for the majority of its peoples are ancient and their histories and their cultures complex. They are not primitives or ‘noble savages’ or any other such nonsense that we seem to attribute to people we don’t understand, whether or not they have iPads and Netflix. I may not always agree with some Islamic perspectives from the Koran as interpreted by individual people now, but I don’t always agree much with my own Torah either or the people who talk about it. My own opinion is my own, that they were and are very useful documents and paradigms that were set firmly when they were written, in a particular historical context not separable from those paradigms. They got people where they needed to go at the time, and still do.

As for my own ideology, I don’t set much store by what some random person thinks a book did or didn’t say. I’m watching what’s going on in these nations with the fervent hope that the people who are fighting their own autocratic regimes right now, often far scarier to do than the thought of outside invasion, will continue to fight until the world knows the truth they are trying to tell about what is going on there, and until they get the freedoms they are fighting for, right to assemble, right to criticize stupid selfish politicians, right to drive! Viva la revolutions, wherever they are occurring, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, and all the others!

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