Sunday, April 23, 2017

On Questions and Answers

"In the eternal battle between those who answer questions and those who question answers, it is generally best to side with the questioners."
H/t Abba

Thursday, April 20, 2017


A smart person doesn't need a smartphone ;)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Polyglottal Living

This morning, as I was walking to class I got chatting with a fellow selling kleenex who spoke to me in Spanish.  Where in Spain are you from?  By way of La Mancha, but actually de Estados Unidos. In Castilian, we chatted about Madrid and the Plaza del Sol, and before I bade him hasta luego and headed on to my French class.

In French class, I made compromises on the class schedule in 3 languages to our plans moving forward

I went to get some peanuts at a nearby kiosk.  It's a place I often stop at, the fellow who runs it is kind.  He is a dark-skinned Moroccan fellow, I think from Rachidia in the southeast.  We got to talking in Arabic and French about languages.  When I told him I spoke some Czech, he surprised me by speaking Russian.  We compared linguistic similarities of the numbers, and he told me he had studied in Russia and Ukraine.  We spoke of food--of borscht and Central Asia, of Samarkand.  We chatted about linguistic similarities, and I spoke of the closeness of Hebrew.  Through the course of the dialogue, we probably hit 6 or so languages of discussion.

This is why I love Morocco, and it works so well for me.  I have chatted in various forms of probably 7 or so languages today, and the day is still young and long. 

Call me Abu Hurayrah....

My babies! The kittens live in the medina alley next to mine. There are 8 of the precious ones, and I stop by to see them everyday. They are too cute. I have to work hard to refrain from going full on Elvira.

Friday, April 14, 2017

I met a stranger

When I was a camper at Camp Powhatan, every Friday night at services we would read the benediction poem, "I met a stranger in the night" Just as they did when my father was camper before me.

Today, the camp is now Seeds of Peace, and the poem is a graffiti mural where we once held the Friday services.

I made this in honor of my father, Dr. Stephen Rockower. It was created with the help of my brilliant friend Decap.

This is my Friday offering: I met a stranger.

Friday Laundry

Friday is a sublime day to do laundry. On the clothesline on the roof, I hang my clothes as I am accompanied by the songs and chants of the Sufi shrine next door. Through latticework, their songs--sung in unison to the glory and beauty of the oneness of G-d, rise to the heavens.


Raise me more love… raise me
my prettiest fits of madness
O’ dagger’s journey… in my flesh
and knife’s plunge…
sink me further my lady…
the sea calls me
add to me more death …
perhaps as death slays me… I’m revived
your body is my map…
the world's map no longer concerns me…
I am the oldest capital of sadness…
and my wound a Pharaonic engraving
my pain…. extends like an oil patch
from Beirut… to China…
my pain… a caravan…dispatched
by the Caliphs of 'A’Chaam'… to China…
in the seventh century of the 'Birth'…
and lost in a dragon’s mouth…
bird of my heart… 'naysani'
O’ sand of the sea, and forests of olives
O’ taste of snow, and taste of fire…
my heathen flavor, and insight
I feel scared of the unknown… shelter me
I feel scared of the darkness… embrace me
I feel cold… cover me up
tell me children stories…
rest beside me…
Chant to me…
since from the start of creation
I’ve been searching for a homeland to my forehead…
for a woman’s hair…
that writes me on the walls… then erases me…
for a woman’s love… to take me
to the borders of the sun… and throws me…
from a woman’s lip… as she makes me
like dust of powdered gold…
shine of my life. my fan
my lantern. declaration of my orchards
stretch me a bridge with the scent of oranges…
and place me like an ivory comb…
in the darkness of your hair… then forget me
I am a drop of water… ambivalent
remaining in the notebook of October
your love crushes me…
like a mad horse from the Caucasus throwing me under its hoofs…
and gargles with the water of my eyes…
add to me more fury… add to me
O’ prettiest fits of my madness
for your sake I set free my women
and effaced my birth certificate
and cut all my arteries…

-Nizar Qabbani

Merci a la princesse.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Matza m'aidez averted

Matza m'aidez averted, and now I can dine on the bread of affliction.  This is my Moroccan Passover lunch, with chèvre, olives, tuna, golden raisins, juicy dates and confiture de figues. One of the things I love most about being a wandering Jew is how to adapt the holidays to local realities.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Matoke M'aidez

Day 1 of Passover, and the bakery on the corner is cruel. I am in need of a matza air-lift (M'aidez).

I am wishing I had Ugandan matoke to make up for the lack of starch.  Matoke are smashed, steam-cooked bananas that serve as a starch in Uganda.

Maybe the Uganda Scheme should have been accepted.

Flacking for the Fourth Child

Levantine PD is working with the 4th child to rehabilitate his maligned name.  His question, "what does this all mean to you" has been cruelly misinterpreted by the Rabbinic order.  

LPD thinks this is an excellent question, and places blame back on an authoritarian Rabbinic power structure. 

Why can't his question of the meaning of these things be answered?

Why does the Rabbinic order feel threatened by his question that wants further explanation of the meaning and values of these Passover traditions and customs?

Why should he merely accept that this is all good, and not seek a broader understanding? It is not wicked for him to want further answers into why this is meaningful.  He is not a toady like the so-called "wise child."  

LPD is pushing to have him rebranded as the "existentialist child"

I am apparently not alone in this Passover re-Seder: In Slate, they call him the best of the children.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Morning Moroccan Fare

The simplest things in life are often the best, he thinks as he sips spiced coffee and waits for his warm bucket bath to be ready.

Round hearty bread literally straight from the underground bakery oven. The baker bade me come in to get the still warm loaves.

Still warm, topped with real butter, fresh nfis (cow chevre) cheese and confiture des figues. .  

Où est la mosquée pour les juifs?

I made my way through the medina and on towards the mellah (old Jewish quarter).  I was looking for Avenue Moulay Ismail, where the synagogue was located.  I was savvy enough to shake off the directions of the woman who pointed me in the opposite direction when I asked if the street I was standing on was correct.

Eventually I found Avenue Moulay Ismail but wasn't sure about the synagogue.  So I stopped a fellow on the street and asked him in Moroccan Derija Arabic.  After exchanging the requisite Moroccan pleasantries and greetings, I got down to business: where is the mosque for the Jews? 

It was a question I asked 15 years ago when I was on a similar search.  He smiled, and pointed to the nondescript building across the street. Bonne fête, he said with a smile. 

Happy Pessach

May G-d deliver the 10 plagues onto the little-fingered Pharaoh. Boils, frogs, and maybe some new variants like gonorrhea. Happy Pessah to the rest of humanity.

Sunday, April 09, 2017


I termed the occupation of life-coaching an "existential ponzi scheme."

The Sound of Silence

An interesting take on an old fave, Disturbed with "The Sound of Silence"

Eating America

A wonderful essay in the NY Times by Lisa Ko on "What 'white food' meant to a first generation kid:"
James Baldwin wrote that American media is “designed not to trouble, but to reassure.” American movies and TV shows help sustain a fantasy of innocence that masks our country’s violence. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie referred to America’s “addiction to comfort”; Junot Díaz to our commitment to “narratives of consolation.” The soothing myth of American exceptionalism depends on maintaining its comfort and innocence, however false. Perhaps my childhood did, too. After all, my family had the privilege to remain superficially apolitical, to attempt to distance ourselves, mentally and geographically, from the devastation of the Reagan years.
By cranking up the TV, stuffing ourselves with Velveeta and Steak-umms, we were trying to drown out our own fears, our guilt for the relatives left behind in the Philippines, our economic anxieties and uncertainties. What could be more American than this sort of desperate denial? We didn’t need to prove that we were American; we already were.
All my favorite ingredients of identity, migration, Americana and food.  Merci Monsieur Marron. 

The sound of infinite present

Recently in Marrakesh, deep the Assembly of the Dead I had my ipod stolen.  There are many ripples that led to changed directions which caused it (late trains, late arrivals) but none are truly worth recounting.  It is gone; it happens; I have insurance for such occurrences.

But what it has done is make me hyper-present and hyper-aware.  Before, I could duck into my own world and wander through the market with my shades on, conducting Amelie's comptine valse or bouncing to Solillaquists of Sound.  Now, I have nothing to distract me from the sounds and so I pay even closer attention--there is no hiding from the present.

So I listen deeper to the lilt and gutturals of the derija. Or the sounds of the cars passing like waves. Or the waves themselves crashing onto the shores.  The birds chirp-chirping above.

I may get a CD player to replace the ipod, and collect scores of Moroccan sounds.  Or I may continue on without sound shelter, rained on by the sounds around me.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Walking words

"He who reads much and walks much, goes far and knows much."
-Don Quixote
H/t la princesse

Friday, April 07, 2017

Couscous Fridays

The smell of stewing prunes and lamb wafting on the wind down the narrow corridor is intoxicating. 

But I am already full, after devouring a plate of couscous.  There are few traditions I respect more than Morocco's Friday couscous. So I dived into a giant ball of couscous covered with stewed carrots (hizou), potato (batata), pumpkin (garah hamra), chickpeas (humus) and zucchini (garah hydra).  It was a handful, with the heat attacking my diving fingers.  I made little balls of couscous wrapped around the veggies and popped the balls into my mouth with my thumb.

Food is always a key to memory because it is so intrinsically linked to both the senses and the past.  I thought of the couscous lunches with my host family when I first arrived in Rabat.  How my couscous balls would crumble back into the clay tajine plate.  My host father would make perfect spheres of couscous and role them over to me with a gentle push of his thumb, to make sure this adopted foreign son wouldn't go hungry.  He is gone now, but perhaps one can live forever in the deep recess of another's memory-- like how a dream is real until the dream ends.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Existential turtle discussions

I left my building and saw a friend at the bakery at the corner.  We chatted in Arabic and French.

I haven't seen you for a while, where have you been?

I was in Marrakesh with friends.  

Marrakesh was good?

Yes, it was good but I prefer Rabat.  Marrakesh is hot, congested and full of tourists and hustle.

Every city is different, with a different language.  Every city's people are different, with a different attitude.

You are correct.  I need to go, I need to feed mateesha (tomatoes, a new Derija word I learned) to the turtle who lives on the roof.

What is the turtle's name?

Fakran (Arabic for turtle).  Fakran's name is fakran. Fakran al-fakran.

He laughed. I pointed to the bread.  Khubz (bread) is happily named khubz; Le mur est le mur.

He laughed deep at this.

And I walked away down the medina alley thinking of Borges y yo, of what Spinoza knew:

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone, and the tiger a tiger.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The day that was

Just another day here in Morocco.

I had a slow start to the morning, doing some laundry that required a double wash because the washer is connected by power to the light switch, and I mistakenly turned it off when it was just about done and had to wash it again to free my clothes.

I had a nice, interesting chat with certain interested parties about the future of transatlatic public diplomacy and relations between the U.S. and certain interested parties.

A leftover treat of Marcella Hazan's famous spaghetti sauce III for lunch.

I began my Derija Moroccan Arabic class this afternoon.  It is so vastly different than Fusha, classical Arabic that I might as well be learning a new language.  I really am.  With its French, Spanish and Berber influences, Moroccan Arabic is so different utterly different a language that when Moroccans speak Arabic on pan-Arab stations, the channels need to offer subtitles.

I know a bit from my time here, and my time living with my Moroccan family, the Taoufiks, so I have a little base.  But technically speaking, I would consider this studying my 7th language (Hebrew, Spanish, Czech, Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi/Urdu, French). Ana Hamak (I am crazy).

In honor of my new course, I took myself out to dinner.  I had a hankering for some Syrian food, so I googlebaba-ed a spot just outside the medina walls.  It was wonderful.  In the divan, I had a plate of creamy humus and maklouba with chicken.  The fragrant rice came with almonds and eggplant slices. I wrapped the rice and spiced, roasted chicken in the flat pita and dipped it in the humus and garlic mayo.  Yum.  And knahfey for dessert.

On my walk back, I stopped at my favorite coffee roaster to get some of his fresh-ground variety, mixed with cinnamon, cardamom, anise and a hint of black pepper spice.  Looking forward to my morning cup.

I already commented on my kleine nachtmusik in the previous post. 

Gnawi nights

On the rooftop, I sit.  From a distant, unknown roof gnawi music fills the night.  Percussive beats from the iron castanet krakebs match the claps and chants.  The three-string sintir bass lute echoes off the empty walls and the roof top of the Sufi shrine next to me.  I close my eyes and lean my head back against the wall, and I hear the caravan.  A thousand and one nights on the road, and I am a happy sultan.  Morocco is magical.


"Seventeen days. That’s how much stamina flinty-eyed deal master Donald Trump, sober policy knower Paul Ryan, and all the Republican Party had for a health care overhaul they’d been promising for seven years, before the work of negotiating amongst themselves overwhelmed them and they retired to their fainting couches. You can’t close on the sale of a fucking townhouse in 17 days. Holy hell, what a bunch of losers.

Don’t get me wrong! Literally all decent human beings can be glad these incompetent featherweight sacks of crap couldn’t get the job done: If their efforts were shabby, their goals were vile, the stuff of paranoia thriller villains. In all the particulars of their vision the public got to see, it was a pathetic hackwork, an agglomeration of cheap-shit piecemeal bullshit, managing the mean feat of being both a half-assed half-step—when measured against the tenor and substance of the seven years’ worth of caterwauling these creampuffs mounted against the ostensibly socialist evils of Obamacare—and a savage and heavyhanded assault on the well-being and security of tens of millions of vulnerable people. The unintentional consequences would have been surpassed in cruelty and destruction only by the intentional ones. Seventeen days of negotiation is 18 more than it deserved.

But still. These fucking amateurs! These butter-soft babies. These utter, utter fucking frauds. Let us clown them for all eternity; let us never forget what a bunch of unserious cosplaying shit-for-brains they are, each and every one."
-Albert Berneko at Deadspin

H/t Harry, who could have written significantly better health care legislation.  The nation awaits HarryCare.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Decapped in Paris

Here is your dose of genius and beauty for the day--from the incomparable Decap in collaboration with 6Franc and Yak Films. Bravo Decap, this is phenomenal.


I became a turtle-whisperer, and it was all thanks to a mysterious all-white, possibly deaf cat whom I have named Schrodinger.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Love, Loss and the EU

"People say you can love Europe without loving the EU. That’s the wrong end of the telescope for my generation. It was the camaraderie and fraternity the EU fostered that helped us discover and fall in love with Europe. And that makes the divorce so much more bitter."
-Mark Rice-Oxley, "The EU is 60--and it helped my generation fall in love with Europe"

Brain Pickings

"Perhaps the greatest paradox of human life is that although happiness is the most universal of our longings, it is unobtainable by striving. Every seeming end we seek — love, money, purpose, the perfect cappuccino — we seek as a means to happiness, and yet happiness defies the usual laws of effort and achievement: The more ferociously we try to attain it, the more it eludes us."
-Maria Popova of Brain Pickings

Brain Pickings is a weekly newsletter I receive, and love.  I highly recommend it, it a weekly blast of culture and humanity.

Mukhelalet, or the joys of the return

I just finished one of my absolutely local Rabati favorites, a dish called mukhelalet.
It is unique to only Rabat and Sale next door.  The dish is quite simple yet absolutely wonderful.

The dish is a small bowl of boiled potatoes and beets that have been soaking (brining?) in vinegar. The little squares of potatoes and beets are swimming in a bowl of the beet vinegar, with some preserved eggplant chunks and harisa (spicy chili sauce) thrown in.  It is a bit salty, savory and yet refreshing.  After you finish spearing the chunks with a wooden toothpick, a bit more of the royal purple beet vinegar is ladled back into the empty bowl to sip after the snack.

this is a poem that heals fish

"A poem is when you are in
 love and have the sky in your mouth.

"—A poem is when you hear
the heartbeat of a stone."

From Jean-Pierre Simeon's "This is a poem that heals fish"

Friday, March 24, 2017

La Côte de Rabat

If I had a thousand words, I could only barely begin to describe the view I see.

The vast waves of the rugged Atlantic coast crashing along the jagged Rabat coastline. White spray  levels upward and onward. The sun casts its white light on the spray of the waves and the light tower in the distance. The block city by the coast is bathed in white.

I had been following the coast all afternoon.  There had been a pounding hail storm this afternoon and I went to see the storm's fury in the waves; I was not disappointed for my efforts following the red earth cliffs and sea of many colors that crashed into pools and grottos along the coast.

I wandered my way out to the furthest depths along the stone causeway jutting jaggedly into the sea. I slip-slides my way to the edge and back to sit on the giant rock pier.

To my eastern vantage is the beach, a tall North African square minaret and waves of colored graves on the hill.

Further on is the giant orche kasbah, the citadel on high.  The roar of the waves is pounds the ears as the giant white surf pounds the jagged outline of the city.

Past the minaret of the mausoleum of Hassan II, there is an arc of iris stretching over Salé. The sun's white light lights up the sister city in white.

Dirham to dollar, Rabat has some of the finest coastline in the world.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Humpty Trumpty

And all the King's horses
And all the King's men....
I fear that after Humpty Trumpty,
America will never
Be great again.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Gaslighting, explained in a coffeeshop in the Red Light District

Professor Rockower gave a lesson the other day on the difference between gaslighting, bullshitting and spin.

I went into a coffeeshop this morning, and the British fellow behind the counter recognized me.  You were here the other day, and he recalled an incident where a kid fervently tried to argue with the guy behind the counter that he was old enough, even though his ID had him just short.

"But it says you are born in April," the man behind the counter replied.

"Yeah, I am 18," the kid was boldly insistent.

The fellow just furrowed his brow and said, "we are in March.  You are not 18."

Nice try.  I can remember attempting that trick to buy cigars at Rodman's Liquor when I was still 17 but the dates were close.

I laughed at the encounter and his attempts to hold fast with the deployment of alternative facts.

When the guy behind the counter recalled it, I explained that this was: gaslighting.

Gaslighting is the attempt to manipulate you into believing something that isn't really true.

The fellow next to me asked if this wasn't just "bullshiting."

I explained it as such: bullshitting is just that.  If the kid had cracked a smile and said, "yeah ya got me," that would be bullshitting.  But since he was insistent that the guy had his facts wrong, that was gaslighting.  Bullshitting plus manipulation equals gaslighting.

The difference seen in tone and inflection.

"We've seen a lot of gaslighting these days with Brexit-- with the buses declaring how much would go to the NHS, and with Trump," the guy at the counter said.

"Yes, that's why the word is far more commonplace these days," I replied.

Thanks for the enlightenment, he said.  I smiled, and said that it was "disenlightenment, really...."

The Brit behind the counter told me that he used to be in advertising.  Years spent selling people things they didn't really need.  Now, he works in a coffeeshop and sell people things they want.  "I have never been a more honest salesman," he said.

"Now, I sell people something that brings them pleasure in the red light district," he smiled and said.

I smiled and replied: "now you are employing 'spin.'"

You get a 'spin' here too in the Red Light District, he said, for the right price.  I laughed my way out onto the terrace.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


In an old-timey Dutch bar.  Cobwebs and dust cover the chandeliers and birdcages.  The place is lit by candle light, and smoky jazz croons. A cold glass of Brand pilsener casts the afterglow of the candle in a golden shadow.

Color affects emotion

Oh Van Gogh. I spent the morning with Van Gogh, and it was a delight.  I stared at his visage through an array of colors and moods.

Face to face with Van Gogh.

His self-portrait, him staring over his shoulder with no impressionist blur is haunting.  He is just looking over his shoulder, right at you.

Such utter brilliance.  Even his signature on letters were exquisite.

In one self-portrait, he is exploding in a confetti of color.  Others he is gaunt and drawn.

Or brown, in an elegant smoking-jacket--the brown pipe descending down his face. Or black in a black felt hat.  Or in suits and shades of blue.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a painting is double that.  A Van Gogh is wordless, but rather colored emotion.  Van Gogh understood that color affects emotion.  Goethe understood this too.  I don't have enough words to describe some of Van Gogh's portraits and self-portraits.

Just Van Gogh and Iron and Wine on repeat.  Upward.

The stirring textures of his work is without words.  The yellow of his sun flowers.  He only used three  shades of yellow to paint that masterpiece of yellow.  The King in Yellow.

Or the snowy white fields of orchids.  Fields of painted white snow flowers.

Ah, but my favorite amid all of it was not a work of Van Gogh.  Rather a Monet, "Tulip Fields near The Hague."

Hard to upstage Van Gogh in his own museum but I am quixotically biased.

Vincent Van Gogh, you are an eternal treasure.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The floating flower market

"You are a cupcake in a world full of bran muffins."

H/t Allie K.

I wandered my way through a floating flower market. This shop had canopies of hanging lavender, red roses, yellow daisies and tulips. Amsterdam is always a joy.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

albert heijn lunch

Dipping brown pistolet bread into sweet savory kurriekip, Amsterdam tempts you with curry tastes of the East Indies.   Creamy humus too, to give you chickpea dreams.  Both were two euros.  Some kiwi-apple juice to wash it down. Blueberry cream cheese for dessert.  Amsterdam offers the finest dine-in lunches.

mending broken windmills

With my red wine, the KLM stewardess in blue handed me a white napkin with two delft blue windmills on it.  Dank Je Wel.

An amazing peace and calm met me in Holland when I first spied her shores.  A huge smile broke across my face when I saw those giant windmills..

When I was in Algiers, on the way to the final concert venue, we passed a broken windmill with a broken arm.  I said how much that felt like me.

America is a broken windmill.  It is literally in the Twilight Zone.

So now I am mending broken windmills in Amsterdam.

Carry on my wayward son...

Carry on my wayward son

"A lost homeland is like the corpse of a near relative; bury it with respect and believe in eternal life." -Amin Ma'alouf, "Leo Africanus"

Today marks the first steps I take to starting a new chapter in exile and a new life in Morocco. Journey on.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Happy Purim

Happy Purim! Purim is like the Jewish mix of Halloween and St. Patrick's Day. To celebrate Purim, you are supposed to dress up in costume and drink so much that you can't tell the difference between evil ("Haman") and good ("Mordechai").

So in that vein, may you drink so much you can't tell the difference between Trump and Clinton.

What if Trump and Clinton switched gender roles?

A fascinating program of what happens if Trump and Clinton switch gender roles.

As the Pence email scandal comes out, it is good to finally admit that this was never about emails but sexism.

Smoked and Stacked

Mine eyes hath seen the glory, and my lips hath tasted the fury. Kudos to Peter Bayne for his incredibly stellar pastrami spot, Smoked & Stacked.

 It was really one of, if not the, best sandwich I have ever eaten. And I am not one for gastrodiplomacy hyperbole. On my first bite, the only words that escaped my chaw were: oh ma gaw...holy shit.

 Carnivorous friends of gastrodiplomacy in or passing through DC, don't miss this one:

Heil to the Redskins....

There is a pretty good case to be made that the Washington Redskins are "America's Team"

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Israel on my mind

A few things of note related to Israel:

First is this courageous video by Israeli comedian and TV host Asaf Harel imploring Israel to wake up to the situation it is enmeshed in, the reality of apartheid:

-More food-for-thought comes from this op-ed by Samuel Friedman on the Trump-Bibi trade-off:

"The trade-off that Trump and Netanyahu have almost literally offered American Jews is a blunt one: If you want lockstep support of Israel, then shut your mouth about anti-Semitism here.

Don’t complain when the official White House statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day omits mention of the extermination of 6 million Jews. Don’t call attention to growing examples of anti-Semitism when they appear enabled, if not inspired, by Trump’s white nationalism. Don’t get upset when the president ridicules and humiliates a journalist from an Orthodox Jewish magazine who asks him an explicitly polite question about anti-Semitism. One can only imagine the wrath of the American Jewish right had Obama done any such thing.

For the vast majority of American Jews, though, an anguishing reality is now clear. To support Israel when it is cross-branded with Trump’s intolerance is to avert their eyes from a threat right here at home."

-Former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy has an excellent piece making the case on negotiating with Hamas.  Israelis say of the Palestinians that "they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity"; the two sides have been married in conflict long enough that it is equally so on the Israeli side. I am not too optimistic but one can hope that maybe Israel will listen--given the source making the case. If ever there was judgement I would trust on Israeli security, it is his.

-Finally, mazal tov to the Israel baseball team, which won a shocking upset in the World Baseball Classic. Ness gadol haya sham.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Postpone the Gorsuch Hearings

"Last spring, Senate Republicans claimed that Merrick Garland was a perfectly nice jurist, one who was irredeemably tainted by his connection to Barack Obama. As a result, Garland was allowed to sink below the radar of all constitutional norms and mandates. Likewise, Gorsuch is a perfectly nice jurist, one who is—perhaps equally unfairly—now tainted by his connection to the unfolding scandal around the Trump presidency. His nomination should not be allowed to sail above all constitutional norms and mandates. The same rule that held for Garland should be enforced for Gorsuch: Until the presidency is no longer under a cloud, there can be no hearings, and there can be no votes."
-Dalia Lithwick and Sonja West, "Postpone the Gorsuch Hearings"

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Everything is fucked, and it probably due to the internet

"The problem is when this level of distrust is turned on a people’s own political system, that political system will corrode itself.
Democracy relies on trust. Rule of law requires trust. If we lose our trust in our institutions, then those institutions will either crumble or turn cancerous.1
But the internet lines up incentives in such a way that it makes it profitable to breed distrust.
So, we’re fucked.
This isn’t a Trump or US thing either. This is happening everywhere. The Philippines, Turkey, Brazil, Russia, France, the UK. They’ve all had right-wing populist elections. They’re all becoming more fractious and uncompromising. The world itself is becoming more politically polarized. And people don’t trust most of the information they receive anymore, and as a result, they no longer trust many of the people in their own societies.
That’s because infinite information doesn’t enlighten people. It confuses them.
And when people become confused and distrustful, they resort back to their basic impulses, their instinctual drives to be tribalistic and self-absorbed: I take care of me and mine first. Fuck everyone else. If I can take care of myself, why can’t they?...
Civilization was built on people’s ability to suppress their baser instincts—their tendencies towards tribalism and narcissism, their penchant for slaughtering each other over superficial and imagined differences. It took millennia of education and advancement for us to learn how to not do this. Much of this education and advancement revolved around a respect for science, public debate, rational argument, putting multiple institutions in power to balance one another, and so on. We’ve barely even gotten it right the couple hundred years we’ve had it.
The problem is, as far as I can tell, the internet and its technologies don’t deliver us from tribalism. They don’t deliver us from our baser instincts. They do the opposite. They mainline tribalism into our eyeballs. And what we’re seeing is the beginning of that terrifying impact."
-Mark Manson, "Everything is Fucked, and I'm pretty sure it is the Internet's fault"

Reality revisited

Are we living in a simulated world? Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker postulates that it isn't so far-fetched. Fine by me, because I am just-about ready for the reboot. I just started the stellar West World, so this biz was already on my seemingly-sentient mind.

Monday, February 27, 2017


"In practice, this is a war on a century’s worth of work to keep our air and water clean; our food, drugs and workplaces safe; the rights of employees protected; and the marketplace fair and unrigged. It’s one thing to make regulations more efficient and no more intrusive than necessary. It’s another to say that all the structures of democratic government designed to protect our citizens from the abuses of concentrated private power should be swept away.

It’s a very strange moment. Trump and Bannon are happy to expand the reach of the state when it comes to policing, immigration enforcement, executive-branch meddling in the work of investigative agencies, and the browbeating of individual companies that offend the president in one way or another. The parts of government they want to dismantle are those that stand on the side of citizens against powerful interests."
-E.J. Dionne

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Pablo Africanus Revenir

There-and-back-again. This hobbit's adventures in North Africa are complete. I'll let Leo Africanus close it out:
"A last word written on the last page, and we are already at the coast of Africa.
White minarets of Gammarath, noble remains of Carthage, it is in their shade that oblivion awaits me, and it is towards them that my life is drifting after so many shipwrecks. The sack of Rome after the chastisement of Cairo, the fire of Timbuktu after the fall of Granada. Is it misfortune which calls out to me, or do I call out misfortune?
Once more, my son, I am borne along by the sea, the witness of all my wanderings, and which is now taking you towards your first exile. In Rome, you were 'the son of the Rumi'. Wherever you are, some will want to ask you questions about your skin or your prayers. Beware of gratifying their instincts, my son, beware of bending before the multitude! Muslim, Jew or Christian, they must take you as you are, or lose you. When men's minds seem narrow to you, tell yourself that the land of God is broad; broad His hands and broad His heart. Never hesitate to go far away, beyond all seas, all frontiers, all countries, all beliefs.
For my part, I have reached the end of my wanderings. Forty years of adventures have made my gait heavy and my breathing burdensome. I have no longer any desire other than to live long peaceful days in the bosom of my family. And to be, of all those that I love, the first to depart. Towards the final Place where no man is a stranger before the face of the Creator."
-Amin Ma'alouf, "Leo Africanus"

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


"Seven years later, after we moved to a new place, I had no idea where I put the box. I couldn’t remember it. And when we don’t remember something, we usually don’t care about it. If something goes lost in your memory, It doesn’t mean you lost it. It simply doesn’t exist anymore. It’s like change in the pockets of your trousers."
-Rafael Zoehler

On letters that last.  H/t Abba.


I work with some real maestros. This conductor is Decap, and this is his symphony.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A world gone

A stunning photo exhibit of a world gone.

h/t Marianna.

at night we crossed the border following a Black robe to the edge of the reservation—
to Cataldo Mission 
where the saints and all the martyrs look down
 on dying converts what makes the water holy
 she says is that that it's the closest thing to rain.


A bubble bath met with jacuzzi bath jets sends my world whirled in a froth of foam.  Like the wash cycle on a washing machine.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Seeking and finding

"Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it."
 -Andre Gide
H/T Abba.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Mira Miró (I-II-III)

I am watching Miró paint on old footage of the master at his work. I take off my headphones of whimsical Amelie to hear old Spanish guitars wail as Miró sets fire to a canvas of his work. He tosses paint on the smoldering canvas. It is all very dramatic.

The Fish & Chips Shop of Barcelona

Fish & Chips Shop of Barcelona
Merluza de Palangre, tempura style
Patatas artesinas con quatro especias
Salsas: mango chutney and tartará
Both malt and white vinegars on the side.
Vino blanco to wash it down.

I stood outside waiting for my spot at the counter while the smell of curry and tempura wafted out of the window.

It was worth the wait--as most things are.

Muffin muffin...

"You are a beautiful cupcake in a world full of bran muffins"
h/t Allie K

Until all are one

My first bout with understanding good and evil, loss and regrouping came from the original Transformer movie (1986). A classic, and possibly the greatest movie ever made.

This would be the point where Optimus Prime is dead, and there is a world-devouring planet on the loose that sounds a lot like Orson Welles.

But the point is that Trump's short fingers can't open the Matrix.
As Rodimus Prime said: "Now light our darkest hour"

Until all are one!

PS: bah weep granah weep nini bong

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The American Inquisition

My trips are always a journey through the surreal.  And as such, I have a view of the burgeoning American Inquisition, as seen from the vantage of Spain.

Spain was also once a great power, a beacon for learning, for culture, for art, and for tolerance--only to be diminished by those promising to purify the Iberian peninsula, to Make Spain Great Again, through fires of the Inquisition.

Centuries of intolerance followed, with  repression, the crushing of dissent, the oligarchical control of the landowners and industrialists, all blessed by the Religious Right.

The Auto de Fe burned heretics and infidels, Muslims and Jews-- all those who were not the real Spaniards.  The Spanish Inquisition even gave us a form of extracting conventions that is still used today: water-boarding.  Yes, really--the Spanish Inquisition is where water-boarding originated, a practice that our own Torquemada-in-Chief seems to fancy.

But the funny thing is that Inquisitions and intolerance never make countries great again, they make them small, inward and fanatical.  Spain became a backward, isolated part of Europe that was left behind in the years and centuries that followed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A chance

I love all the people saying give Trump a chance. Fuck that.

Trump was vile during the campaign. He was abysmal in the transition. He lies left and right. He put together practically-if not actually, the whitest, richest, least-experienced, worst cabinet in the history of the Republic.

Since he has taken office, he signed reprehensible decree after reprehensible decree. Nothing he has done in his few days in office has made America "great," but rather smaller, weaker, more isolated and at odds with the greatness of American values of tolerance, openness and freedom.

Give him a chance? Fuck that. He has proven time and again already that he is trash.
Fuck that illegitimate orange bastard.

Fuck Trump.

From the mountaintops: FUCK TRUMP!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Kazakhstan first

In light of alternative facts, I am not really from 'Murica anymore.  No, no I am from Kazakhstan. Born and raised.

I will now be claiming Kazakhstan as my homeland.

Kazakhstan first.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Battle Hymn of the Trump Republic

My country's dead to me,
sweet land of bigotry,
of Trump I sing.

Land where liberties die

land of zealous white pride,
from every mountainside
let hatred ring....

"This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him."

-Robert Kagan, "This is how fascism comes to America"

"There are none more hopelessly enslaved than this who falsely believe they are free."


Let the Record Show

"Let the record show that I did not consent to this.

Let it show that I did not vote for this man, that he did not represent me, that I did not believe he was deserving of being here, that I grieved his ascension.

Let History record my objection to him, to the ways he humiliated women and vilified Muslims and threatened protestors and disregarded people of color.

Let it record my repulsion at his tremendous cruelty, his lack of compassion, his contempt for dissension, his absence of simple decency.

Let witnesses mark down my disgust at the way he boasted of infidelity, at how he ridiculed a disabled reporter, at the way he attacked female opponents for their appearance, at the way he marginalized immigrants.

Let it be remembered that I did not look the other way when women accused him of assault, when the reality of his Russian alliances came to light, when he refused to share his tax records—though large portions of the American media and its people chose to.

Let it be remembered that I did not buy into the fear that he perpetuated of those with brown skin or hijabs or foreign birthplaces.

Let the record show that I looked on with disbelief as he spent countless early morning and middle-of-the-night hours following the election on social media, broadcasting a steady stream of petulant, insecure, incoherent messages instead of preparing to do a job he was ill-equipped for and seemingly not all that interested in.

Let the record show that I watched him assemble a Cabinet of billionaires and bigots, of people woefully unqualified to steward our children, our safety, our healthcare, our financial stability—and that I was horrified by it all.

Let it be remembered that my faith would not allow me to fall in line behind this man while so many professed religious people did; that I saw nothing resembling Jesus in him, and that to declare him Christian would have been to toss aside everything I grew up believing faith in Christ manifested in a life.

Let History record my grieving at the racism and bigotry and homophobia that characterized his campaign, marked his supporters, and is evident in his assembling Administration.
Let it be known that I was one of the more than 65 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton; who understood that though flawed, she was an intelligent, experienced, passionate public servant with the temperament, commitment, and qualifications to lead and lead well.

Let the record show that I greatly lamented the day of his inauguration, and that I promised to join together with other good people to loudly resist and oppose every unscrupulous, dangerous, unjust and dishonest act this new Administration engages in.

History has been littered with horrible people who did terrible things with power, because too many good people remained silent. And since my fear is that we are surely entering one of those periods in our story, I wanted to make sure that I was recorded for posterity:

I do not believe this man is normal.
I do not believe he is emotionally stable.
I do not believe he cares about the full, beautiful diversity of America.
I do not believe he respects women.
I do not believe he is pro-life other than his own.
I do not believe the sick and the poor and the hurting matter to him in the slightest.
I do not believe he is a man of faith or integrity or nobility.
I do not believe his concern is for anything outside his reflection in the mirror.
I believe he is a danger to our children.
I believe he is a threat to our safety.
I believe he is careless with our people.
I believe he is reckless with his power.
I believe America will be less secure, less diverse, less compassionate, and less decent under his leadership.

And if I prove to be wrong, it will be one of the most joyful errors of my life. I will own these words and if necessary, willingly and gladly admit my misjudgment because it will mean that America is a better and stronger nation, and the world a more peaceful place.

But right now I don’t see that happening.

Right now I am worried for my country, concerned for our planet, scared for the future of my children, and greatly saddened that 62 million Americans seem okay with all of this.

Let the record show that I was not okay with it.

Not at all."

-John Pavlovitz, "Let the Record Show"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

moroccan last supper

Tajine of lamb with caramelized onions, raisins and almonds. If I am going to leave Morocco, I am going to do it right.

What The World Costs-Morocco

1 dirham (10cents): one triangle of la vache qui rit style cheese; a large onion
1.25 dirham (12.5 cents): an egg
1.5 dirham (15 cents): fresh-baked Moroccan bread
2 dirham (20c): three shbeki (my fav Moroccan sweets); cone of spiced chickpeas
2.5 dirham (25c): 500 go of nougat (mixed variety)
3 dirham (30c): bowl of harira in Djema al-Fena in Marrakesh
4 dirham (40c): cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice in Marrakesh
4.5 dirham (45c): cup of fresh-squeezed orange/grapefruit juice in Rabat
5 dirham (50c): bottle of sparkling water; chickpea-offal stew sandwich (pas bon)
6 dirham (60c): tram ride and ticket in Casablanca
7 dirham (70c): 10 min taxi in Rabat; 1 hour Internet at cyber cafe; pair of socks
8 dirham (80c): cafe au lait at local café; almond paste cookie at kasbah tea spot; fried fish sandwich
10 dirham ($1): grilled kefta sandwich on the street; large cafe au lait to go; 200gr pepper; 150 gr golden raisins; cup of mint tea in kasbah tea house
12 dirham ($1.20): 15 min taxi ride from Marrakesh train station to center
13 dirham ($1.30): omelette panini, fries and salad in medina
15 dirham ($1.50): pot of mint tea at local cafe; bottle of Stork beer at local bar
16 dirham ($1.60): bottle of Flag Especiale beer at local bar
17 dirham ($1.70): cafe au lait at mo v airport cafe,
18 dirham ($1.80): cafe au lait w/ bottle of water incl at Marina Bay cafe
20 dirham ($2): SIM card; entrance to Mo VI Modern Art Museum (student); amount of dirham stolen from me by the ticket machine at the CasaPort railway, but ended up saving me 17 dirham in the long run.
22 dirham ($2.20): merguez sandwich and plate of fries at local cafe; shawarma and fries
25 dirham ($2.50): 1/4 poulet roti w/ fries and salad
30 dirham ($3): Used French comic book "Tristan"; pair of sweatpants bought on the street
32 dirham ($3.20): 20 min cab ride from Medina to Soussi
37 dirham ($3.70): 1.15hr train from Rabat to Casablanca
40 dirham ($4): sweatshirt bought on the street
45 dirham ($4.50): multi outlet extension chord
50 dirham ($5): train from Casa to Rabat--ticket bought on the train
85 dirham ($8.50): 3.5 hour second class train ticket from Rabat to Fez
90 dirham ($9): tajine poulet w/ citron confit at Le Petite Beur
100 dirham ($10): 1 night stay in Marrakesh at Hotel De La Paix w/o bathroom/shower/breakfast; 3-course lamb tajine w/caramelized onions, raisins and almonds
120 dirham ($12): economic room at hotel Berlin w/o bathroom/shower, w/breakfast
127 dirham ($12.70): 4.5 hour train ride from Rabat to Marrakesh
130 dirham ($13): Fish tagine at the Ruined Gardens in Fez
150 dirham ($15): Thai green curry w/ chicken and rice at Chew Moi Annan (excellent)
180 dirham ($18): a small portable heater
230 dirham ($23): room at hotel Berlin w/bathroom, shower and breakfast
279 dirham ($27.90): pair of shoes at Carly
400 dirham ($40): ornate berber hamza
650 dirham ($65): 2 night stay at the Riad Taryana for my bday, w/ breakfast and hot shower

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


There is a poignant Moroccan word, "ghorba." It means something along the lines of "melancholy nostalgia for one's home. The English transliteration of the word does nothing for it because like the sentiment, the Arabic ghayin lingers in the throat like the emotion it conveys.

This morning, I left Rabat. I left the closest thing I have to my own home.  I left the closest thing I have to a routine. The morning walks along the corniche; coffee with the fellows of the cafe; the daily mix of orange-grapefruit juice; the stray cats whom I started to recognize; the afternoons studying French in the tea house in the kasbah; the evenings hanging at the corner of the bakery with the shebab; the nights cooking from the bounty of the souk.

I am finding that letting go of routines gets harder as I get older. Leaving Medellin was hard; leaving Brussels was harder; this one takes the cake.  And yet I am buoyed by what I believe will be an imminent return. Inshallah.

For now, it is onto Marrakesh.  Then onto Spain of Mallorca, of Dali's Figueres, of my pilgrimage to La Mancha. And back to Tunisia and Algeria for one last good fight.

Journey on.

Support for Yole! Africa Cultural Center

Two years ago, I had an incredible opportunity to visit Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the Salaam Kivu International Film Festival (SKIFF, now Congo International Film Festival), hosted by the Yole! Africa Cultural Center.

Goma in Eastern Congo was incredibly hard hit by the refugee crisis following the Rwandan genocide and the civil war in Congo that ensued.  Goma suffered further disaster in the wake of the volcanic explosion that rocked the city and region in 2002, and again in 2014.  

To add further instability, Goma was tied up in the middle of the fight between the M23 rebel group's fight against the Congolese state.  

This is the most shorthand explanation of the horrors that have befallen Goma-- you can imagine that the human toll from all these events was immense.

Yet since 2002, the Yole! Africa Cultural Center has been the epicenter of culture in Goma. The Yole! Africa Center has provided classes in film production, music production, beatmaking, dance, art and entrepreneurship.  

Yole! Africa has hosted the internationally-recognized aforementioned film festival that has brought the world of cinema to the people of Goma.  The center has offered vital creative outlets for the people of Goma to thrive.  Yole! Africa has provided the people of Goma with beauty, perspective and hope. 

For this vital work, Petna and Yole! Africa has been recognized with the highest praise in international outlets like the New York Times and PBS News Hour.

Due to instability related to the upcoming election, Yole! Africa is being forced to pay its administration and overhead expenses earlier than expected.  As such, Yole! Africa is conducting a crowdfunding campaign to help raise the funds to continue their priceless work.

This is the link to the Yole! Africa campaign on Generosity:

I have contributed, and I hope you will consider doing the same.  Generosity is Indiegogo's crowdfunding platform for education and nonprofit organizations, so as much Yole! raises in funds, it will be able to keep all donations.  

I should also note that the figure Yole! Africa is seeking to raise is not a final number; and at present the more that Petna and Yole! Africa can raise gives them more leverage to negotiate with the landlord of the Yole! Africa Center.  This means that any level of donation helps--from 5 dollars on up.

Please consider donating; please consider sharing this earnest request with friends. 

Please consider sharing the campaign link ( on your social media pages. 

I thank you for your time and consideration of this important cause.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday the 13th, Rabat-style

I was chatting with my brother Harry last night for his birthday.  As I mentioned to him, I have my birthday on January 7, but I don't become older until his birthday.  Happy 27th birthday, Harry--even if it takes a zen quality to you.

Anyway, during our conversation he was mentioning landmarks in Rabat.  He said the Archaeological Museam of Morocco, to which I misspoke and said I had visited.  My own archaeology setting in.

So today I went to go visit the museum.  I drifted through the medina and through the Ville Nouvelle up near the palace to find the museum...closed for renovations.  "Closed until March, Inshallah," the guard remarked in Arabic.  Inshallah, I responded, I would be back for its re-opening.

So instead, I decided to hop the tram.  The tram did not exist last time I was here, and I had planned to take a ride on the rails since I arrived.  So I walked over to the tram stop and bought a ticket to ride for 6 dirham (60 cents), including refillable card.

The tram came, and I hopped on a direction.  Any direction, really.  And I was joy-riding.

This particular tram meandered past the Tour Hassan and across the bridge into Salé.

We passed the ochre Bab Lamrissa and ventured across Rabat's elder, plainer sister city.

There was one particular stop of interest to me Hassan II Opera.  I asked the people around me if there was an actual Opera theater.  Moroccan Opera?  In Dereja Arabic? In French? In Berber? I got my answer as we soon passed a shuttered old building with the word Opera written in Arabic and French.

I took the train to the end of the line.  It dead-ended at the last stop and people hopped on to go the opposite way.

I was sitting next to the regulations in French.  It sounded like I had an hour validation for the ticket, and technically I hadn't left the car so perhaps I could tram spot on back into town.

Joy-riding to commence?

Such dreams died a death in ticket-taker fears as I saw a semi-official man pass with a semi-official device.  He walked past me and to the back of the tram.  We took off.

Inconspiciously, I glanced back.  It was definitely the fuzz.  While I thought perhaps I could argue my case, I wasn't sure I had the floos to cover the fine if I was wrong (turns out I didn't).  So I got up and slowly sped my way to the doors to get off at the next stop.

At the next stop, I hopped off and went to the ticket booth.  I explained in French to the ticket vender that I hadn't actually departed the tram, so I inquired if my ticket was still halal.  Indeed it wasn't so I bought another ticket to ride for 5 dirham--far cheaper than the fine.

I took the next tram back a few minutes later, and switched at Bab Lamrissa to the other line.  There was another ticket taker on this train, but this time I should be kosher.  He swam past me as I walked up the tram, so it was never in question.

I got off in front of the medina and made my way through the market.  Along the way, I saw a friend from my morning café.  He worked at a sweet shop, and gave me almond paste cookies for my walk home.

I returned home, and decided to pass some time on the roof with the incontinent turtle, Fakran.

But no sooner did I get to the roof as I closed the door and made a grave mistake: I shut it.  I never close the roof door because my key only works from the interior.  I tried my key to no avail.  I was now locked on the roof.  And there was no one home in the apartment below.

The Moroccan Prisoner of Azkaban.

I started looking around to see if there was a neighbors ledge I could climb down, or perhaps a neighbor in the street I could drop my keys down to.

Thankfully, some neighborhood kids ran out of their home.  Probably about 12 years old, I yelled to the boys.  I screamed in French that the door was closed and I was stuck.  I needed them to come and open the doors.  I pointed to the keys and explained that the yellow was for the bottom door and the plain for the upstairs.  I dropped the keys and they caught it and came running up.

They immediately opened the door!  Freedom!

I departed my Azkaban with the boys and gave them 20 dirham for their role in my jail break.  They beamed at the quick cash they made with my Shashank Redemption.

As it is Friday the 13th, it took me two trips to the internet cafe to write this story because I had given the boys the last 20 dirham I had on me.  I think for the rest of the night, I will hunker down.

Hospitality as the love of the other

 Hospitality is one of man's greatest gift to the rest of humanity.

Hospitality is the love of the guest, but more importantly, the love of the stranger.  It is this love to which Moroccans excel. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Dark Knight bids adieu

I was paying a visit to the U.S. Embassy to Morocco. I had been to the previous incarnation before it became a fortress on the outskirts of town.
As I entered, I was sad to see three portraits for the last time. Obama, Biden and Kerry. It had been Sec. Clinton prior.
Instead, the next time I enter it will be the Joker, Mr. Freeze and the Penguin.
Barack, or "baraka" meaning blessing. In Yiddish, we would call him a "mensch."
"He's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight."
He was more than we deserved.
Have a watch of Obama's final address in full. It was as epic and memorable as the man himself.
He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
- Hamlet