July 15th, 2006


Robbed on the El ...

Well, technically, I was pickpocketed on the El this afternoon ... down in the Clark/Division station. I was waiting to get on with my daughters (10 and 6) on our way up to their Karate class. A tall middle-aged black guy in "business attire" acts like he's getting off the train, then acts like "oops, not my stop", pushes right in front of me, and then pretends to get his foot caught between the car and platform, "falling" back into me ... I reach up to catch him, and he does this weird "bobbing" motion ... my daughter says he was acting like he was trying to get his foot loose ... after nearly falling a couple of times he finally finds his feet, and turns back out the door. About a stop later I reach into my pocket and find it empty.

I am real lucky that I had my "wallet pocket" buttoned, because I guess his first "bobbing" was reaching back there, and then going for my front pocket. He was obviously well practiced, as I never suspected a thing while it was happening. He got six bucks, my Chicago (transit) Card, my daughter's discount transit card, some lottery tickets, and a bunch of assorted business cards and Walgreens (etc.) receipts (that I keep for jotting ephemeral notes on), and a couple of McDonalds napkins (I'm sure he was pissed that the "big wad" he grabbed was almost zero cash). Again, I was real lucky that he didn't get my wallet!

Fortunately, the "most valuable" thing he got was my Chicago Card (I'd just added $20 to it on Wednesday night), and I was able to get on the phone (once we got out of the subway tunnel), call the CTA's customer service line, and had the original card canceled and a new one (with the full balance I had) being sent out to me before we got to our destination (well, a lot of that was while we were waiting to transfer lines, but still). It took 10-15 minutes to get a live body, but once I had somebody on the line they were very responsive and helpful ... which is nice to find out about something like that!

I ended up getting my daughters to their class and then went back over to the CTA station to file a police report ... again, especially with getting a replacement card, I was only out like $10 and some replaceable contact info (the business cards for the temp agency, etc.), so it was hardly a "high priority" crime, and I was able to take care of all that on the phone. I'm hoping the guy ended up trying to use the card later that evening (when it would have shown up as "stolen") at a station which had cops handy.

All I know is the next time I see somebody acting like they're going to fall down in front of me, I'm stepping out of the way and laughing at them instead of trying to catch them and help them up! Unless, of course, it's this same motherfucker, in which case he's going to wish his foot was caught next to the train!

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A Windows gripe ...

OK ... so I'm not one of those "I hate Windows" guys ... heck, most of the time I don't even notice it ... but, man, it has one thing that just riles me every time it happens ...

This particular "issue" is in the Windows automatic update ... yes, I have things set so Bill Gates can meddle with my OS when they have stuff to add ... I don't really mind that, but I just wish the damn thing would not re-boot my damn computer without asking! I will typically have 2-3 programs open where I'm working on stuff (which hasn't been saved), not to mention a half a dozen browser tabs that I may or may not be able to find again. Now, I know I should have "dealt with" the notice that there were updates ready last night, but I didn't want to close out all these things at the time, and ended up nodding off and then dragging myself to bed ... unfortunately, when I got to the computer this morning, I find it had installed and re-booted, and I lost a substantial chunk of work in at least one Word window, as well as now trying to piece together where the artical that I'd started reading was so I could find it again on the web.

Damn! Again, I don't mind it doing the install while I sleep ... but I wish I could make it default to NOT doing the subsequent re-boot until I tell it to! Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be an option for that ... I can get it to download but not install (until I tell it to), but nothing for "download, install, but not complete with reboot". Pisses me off.

Grumble, grumble, grumble ...

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Wow ...

This is an amazing book ... due to my reading choices, I rarely hit a book that "I can't put down", but this came pretty close. Louis Palmer's Adventures in Afghanistan (published in 1990) takes place in the post-Soviet/pre-Taliban years, where a puppet communist regime had a tenuous grasp on the country, and "the resistance" controlled much of its territory. This is, on the surface, a travelogue of the author accompanying Mujahidin fighters on a "supply run" through various parts of Afghanistan, under the "protection" of the Mu'assisa, the "Sufi central organization", but it is more a collection of vignettes where "ancient teaching stories" are presented to the reader. Frankly, despite my serious caveats below, I highly recommend this book to anyone.

The author describes fabulous scenes, hidden palaces cut into mountains, Alexander-era Greek cities sitting abandoned since being sacked by the Mongols, vast monasteries more complex and impressive than the Potala, standing forts in the style to the Taj Mahal ... he himself says he'd not believe the things he's seen had he not seen them. Incredible. And, unfortunately, that seems to be the sad fact here, it's not credible. As the book moves on a nagging voice starts up in the back of the head ... "how come I've never heard of any of these places?" ... "why are there no photos/sketches" ... "where exactly are these places?" ... none of these have answers. Also, a Google search for a "Louis Palmer" (coupled with "Sufi" or "Afghanistan") turns up nothing but references to the book ... who is this fellow, and what were his qualifications to get into a position to go on this hazardous yet wondrous journey?

As those who read these little reviews know, I've read quite a lot of Sufi material, primarily that coming from Idries Shah's Octagon Press, and it is always wise to take a step back from the "immediate impression" of this material and ask oneself, "What is being achieved by this book?". To be honest, I was buying everything here hook, line, and sinker for about the first 3/4 of the book, making notes of stuff that I wanted to research further (as frequent readers also know, I'm a "ruin junkie"), and wondering if it was safe to travel as a tourist in Afghanistan these days! I have also had quite a fascination about the "Sufi world", and have wondered how one could get hooked up with "the Mu'assisa" or something like it, the true source of these teachings, making me deeply hope that it was as easy as the author found it. I did, however, note how many of the various "teaching vignettes" really hit home with me, and came to realize, somewhere towards the end of the book, that this was no doubt the point. That this book was one of Shah's experiments in reaching out with teachings via a vehicle different from yet another Mullah Nasruddin book, or a look at Sufi activities in a particular culture.

That said, this is quite a tale, especially enticing to somebody with my interests. The author weaves a stunning tapestry of little factoids and histories that may or may not be actual, from the roots of Masonic ritual, the inter-relationship of various Royal houses, the inter-play of Buddhist, Greek, and other cultures in the area, and an extraordinary string of descriptions of ruined cities, monasteries, palaces, fortresses, etc., etc., etc. in the virtually inaccessible reaches of Afghanistan. If even 10% of the travelogue is true, it provides tantalizing clues to much which the modern seeker might not even suspect, however the "payoff" is in the teachings which are discussions that the author reports having with numerous "wise" personages through his journey. The setting for each of these draws the reader in, and provides "conditions" for the story to have some impact. Of course, "what do I know?" ... for all I can prove every word that the elusive Mr. Palmer writes may well be factually true, but I strongly suspect the "fabulous" elements are the cheese in the trap, focusing the reader on what is being transmitted.

However, as I said above, I highly recommend Adventures in Afghanistan to anybody, but especially to those who share my fascination with the general subject matter. Being that the book is from Octagon, it is still in print, but is (as nearly all their books are) very expensive. A new copy, either direct from them or from Amazon, etc., will set you back $35 for the 240-page hardcover (which I have) or $19 for the paperback. As is also frequently the case with Octagon titles, there aren't that many to be had in the new/used market, and the cheapest this could be had seems to be $7.20 for a used copy of the paperback. Either way, I believe that it would be money well spent!

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