21 November 2006

Amnesia Needed & Some Other Stuff

What the world needs is a highly contagious, non-fatal, fast-spreading virus that erases memories. To be really effective, the disease needs to also infect books, dissolving those pages with records of historic conflicts.

Last week I was watching Ted Koppel on The Daily Show. He was talking about his new reportage on Iran. One of our primary bones of contention with Iran can be traced back to the taking over of our embassy in Tehran and the holding of American hostages for 444 days. Go back a bit further, to 1953, and the Iranians remember when we overthrew their democratically elected government and replaced it with the Shah - a brutal dictator. That's a relatively recent problem that some amnesia could help fix.

When I turned off the TV I turned to my reading: William T. Vollmann's Rising Up And Rising Down. (I'm most of the way through volume five "Studies in Consequences.") That night I read the opening chapters of the section on the wars in the former Yugoslavia. The grievances that everyone is fighting over in that part of the world go back to at least 1389. There was a slaughter. Then a retaliatory slaughter. Then one in revenge for that and so on up into the "modern" era when the ancient animosities led to everyone choosing up sides against each other in the Second World War and it's all still going on. (Okay, so there's a lull at the moment, but I would not take odds that it will last forever.) They could use some deeper amnesia in their part of the world.

The next morning I read the newspaper. The Israelis and Palestinians were swapping killings again in Gaza. Who the hell even knows who got to any of those places first? Israelis will tell you that they did; it's the promised land that Moses led them to and they've been there ever since. Palestinians will tell you that they were there when the Israelis showed up and they've been there ever since. Either the Israelis or the Palestinians and Arabs - depending on who you're talking to - tried to drive the others out of their homes when Israel was created by UN mandate. No one really knows who started it, who was there first, who killed who first, or anything that could possibly rely on history to resolve the questions of today. There's plenty of historic "evidence" to support all sides of the conflict.

Won't someone erase these people's memories and free them from the chains of their perceived histories?

There's an old saying that is all too often accepted as a truism: "He who forgets history is condemned to repeat it." But the saying itself is a good example of the problem of history. It's been attributed to Sisyphus, various French philosophers, Karl Marx, Winston Churchill and a slew of other notables. No one actually knows who first said it. It just sounds good.

But the other morning I was thinking it might be time for an update. Something along the lines of: "He who thinks he remembers history is condemned."

World Starts Fresh Day
If no one can come up with a biological fix for this memory conundrum, maybe it's time for an international holiday; the annual, perhaps bi-annual, "International - World Starts Fresh Day." At exactly 12:01am every World Starts Fresh Day, no one will be permitted to use any historical arguments to press their case about anything. They have to start fresh, as if they just woke up and found themselves, surprise surprise, in the situation that they're in, and now they have to make the best of it.

They'll be allowed to keep their history books only so long as they regard them as, and teach them as literature; no more, no less. Much as the Bible and the Koran and the Teachings of Buddha and all that stuff ought to be regarded and taught. Anyone who acts on their perception or interpretation of history will be rounded up and sent for re-education. If they fail to learn their lesson, they should be transported, isolated from the rest of us, so that we can live in peace. Australians, as a people, seem like they're concerned about world peace. They'd probably be willing to move elsewhere to make way for those who remember their history to be marooned on their island. It might even appeal to those who remember Australia's history.

Enough's Enough
Now I'm going to try and forget about what I saw, heard and read last week, other than the new James Bond movie, Casino Royale. It is the best Bond movie in a very long time. Daniel Craig is by far the best Bond since Sean Connery, maybe even as good as Connery. He has the air of menace about him that makes him seem a more likely killer. And best of all, the action is driven by stunts, not by gadgets and special effects. There's a chase scene that is worthy of the best of Jackie Chan. There's even a stunt person listed in the opening credits.

And lastly, I seem to have been getting a lot of spam email lately from people flogging bad stocks. There is one group, however, that sends them with truly wonderful subject lines. Here are some of my favorites:

Impudent statesmanship
Sadist assembly line
Manliness gratuitous
Good Book refugee
Very Woof
Realism sheepish
Protagonist detention
Garbage can voyage
Indisputable sadly
Mistook deadpan
Sticky democratic
Sickening yep
Eccentricity probe
Chicken feed alcoholic
Flatulence wide-eyed
Guy drunkenness
Insufferable champion
Strenuous vomit
Token prosperous
Perky coolness
Estranged pajamas