Sunday, June 29, 2014

Oliver Twist, also “Israel or ISIS”

Oliver Twist is an angelic sap, devoid of mischief and guile. I would not want to play with him. He might run home and tell on me. What you’re looking for in a friend is a co-conspirator, not a role model.

I’m half-way through this novel by Charles Dickens – I am disillusioned. I don’t care very much about young Oliver, but I will bring the book with me to the beach and soldier on.

My next Dickens novel might by Nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit or Bleak House.

Nicholas Nickleby, being the one written after Oliver Twist, seems like a good choice.

Martin Chuzzlewit is funny, and since Oliver Twist is humorless, I might need a laugh.

Or Bleak House -- people say this is his best work, and I had been saving it for last, but why not now?

It’s summertime, beach reading season, in Southern California – all conditions point to a sublime experience, so it might be Bleak House.

Feel free to advise me on this choice.

I could write at much greater length about the novels of Charles Dickens, but I suspect not all of you are interested.

Israel or ISIS

Rather a dramatic change of topic, and yet it is what we are considering. Let me talk about having dinner with younger friends last week. They cheerfully admitted to a lack of news, as in not reading the news, not the newspaper or the Internet. It depressed them, so they avoided it.

You avoid bad news in order to be happy? How shallow. Happiness comes when you square up to the misery and cruelty of this world and still smile. I make a daily effort to be the good news, or at least part of it. And that makes me happy. But if there’s trouble, I want to hear about it, and hear about it right away. And people say, wrongly, that it does no good to hear about war in the Middle East because there is so little we can do about it.

Paying attention is doing something. Paying attention is no small thing. Read and learn about all the turmoil and all the calamities of all the people of the earth and make your heart big enough to be happy just the same.

And that brings me to this news item that I found on the Daily Beast. (Kids read news sites like the Daily Beast, if they read any news at all)

Israel or ISIS

Who has the toughest, most zealous, most determined military force in the Middle East? The Israelis. They’re not “weighing their options.” That is our luxury, not theirs.

We don’t defend Israel. It defends itself quite well. Israel has its boots on the ground right now and has no exit strategy.

You can find much fault with this society, but Israel does exist. And I will state, with my limited knowledge, that Israel might be just a hair less psychotic than the rampaging religious maniacs called ISIS. People might not feel free to say that out loud but it’s true.

Realizing this almost made me smile, because the ISIS is downright scary, and who can stop them? I will tell you who can stop ISIS – those same people you said don’t exist, the ones you will drive into the ocean. Now you will swallow your words because you will need their help.

And that would be a good thing, if people admitted, without actually having to come out and say so, that Israel is part of the solution to the future of the Middle East, not a peaceful and good future, but any future at all, because at this point, with all that war and fear of war, and martial intoxication, and the wild urges of young men to join in battle, any future at all is worth seeking and believing in, and this future will include Israel in some way, and it will not include ISIS.

That’s the choice. Those are the options. Israel or ISIS.

Thomas Friedman. Honestly, I should pass this on to Thomas Friedman at the New York Times, but he’s a clever man and will likely arrive at the same solution that I have just declared.

Not Forgetting Charles Dickens. This is why we read Charles Dickens on the beach, in the summer in sunny Southern California. Good books are not an escape at all. They are a part of what makes us alive, and that’s how we can be happy without hiding from the raging realities.

Fred Owens
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Fred Owens
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Sunday, June 15, 2014

At the Beach in Santa Barbara

I was stymied on how to proceed with the newsletter. I sent out two editions in March celebrating the Fishtown Woods Massacre of 1988. This heartfelt and well-researched story met with widespread and rather definite indifference.

And then I thought -- "Geez, I'm in Santa Barbara three years now, and I'm getting out of touch with the Pacific Northwest, and I just can't sell another Fishtown story. Their not mine to tell anymore."

So I dropped it. I put the files back in the box and put the box back in the attic. Let it gather dust with the rest of the archives.

I plunged right into another project which has kept me occupied these past two months -- and those two months, if you may have noticed, did not get you any more Frog Hospitals.

Instead I composed a family story -- about my Uncle Ted and my Granpa and my great-Grandfather. I had lots of photos and documents, and I spun it into a story -- rather than a history. With a story you can just make stuff up to fill in the gaps -- it saves you a lot of painstaking research.

Anyway, most of this "Uncle Ted" story was posted on Facebook in daily doses, like a publication in a serial format. And a lot of people liked it -- mainly my cousins. I really enjoyed getting back in touch with some cousins I haven't heard from in 20 years.

My cousin Florence, for instance. She married Uncle Ted's boy Dick in 1951 and they moved to Wisconsin and we didn't see them much after that. But I got her phone number from her daughter and I called her one Sunday afternoon. Florence and I haven't had a chat in almost 50 years, but she was right there. I just said hello, this is Fred Owens, and she laughed and said "What a surprise!" And right away we got talking.

Cousinhood does not expire, I realized. Friends may fade away, but cousins are forever.

Charles Dickens. I'm reading Charles Dickens this year, all of Dickens and nothing of non-Dickens. Not literally all -- I doubt I will read Martin Chuzzlewit, but I will read Little Dorrit and the Old Curiosity Shop, and am reading Oliver Twist right now, and did finish the Pickwick Papers last week, with an intervening plan to read two Sherlock Holmes short stories between each Dickens novel. This will keep me literarily occupied for 2014.

The thing about reading Dickens is that there is no possible better use of your time.

Writing Letters. I began to miss writing letters, so I have began doing that again. Paper, pen, envelopes, stamps, the post office -- the whole shebang. Send me your address, and I might write to you.

Or send me a letter and I will write back. Write to Fred Owens 1105 Veronica Springs Road, Santa Barbara, Ca 93105

This is a revolutionary and highly subversive activity, because I am sticking it to Facebook and Gmail and the NSA. I am tired of those people and their "free" services. Facebook is mining my data. Gmail has saved and will never forget any email I ever wrote on their program. The NSA snoops on everyone. To hell with them.

Besides that, the mail works just as good as it ever does. Think of what you have to say, and realize that almost everything you have to say can wait for the time it takes to deliver a letter. "Instant" communication is rarely necessary or helpful.

Thank you very much and Happy Father's Day to everyone