Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Travels with Henry

Last night my friend Ruby introduced me to the brilliance that is Henry Rollins. He did a three hour show in Portland and talked about politics (as expected), his mediocre acting talent, and his forays through the quagmire that is the TSA at most airports. Seems he spends a lot of time at airports, since he’s assigned himself the job to travel where most folks thinks he shouldn’t. Islamabad Pakistan, Phom Penh Cambodia and the very Orwellian country of Burma have been some of his recent destinations.

Henry—man—you’re my kind of traveler! While Italy is very nice and all, and New Zealand is different than Oregon (more sheep in NZ for instance), they just don’t titillate the tiny chunk of my brain that thrives on the absurd, dangerous or different. That’s what I like to gather from my favorite travel destinations.

One place that really sticks out in Henry’s mind is Cambodia. Walking in the “killing fields” of Cambodia, he describes picking up human bones (which still remain after thirty years, despite repeated attempts to gather them up) and leaning them against a tree. Cambodia has a way of affecting those who travel there. I know that for me, the only country I constantly go back to—at least in my mind—is Cambodia. This is a country that killed its scientists, engineers, educators and writers in a great political purge because they were dangerous eggheads—an obstacle to attaining a state for the common people.

How such a massacre could happen seems especially nefarious. Yet Henry drew the conclusions I’ve drawn: we don’t believe that this page of history is something unique to just Cambodians. It may seem a long stretch, but the continual slide towards anti-intellectualism in our country—where evolution is “debatable,” science is derided, math is “too hard” and knowledge of geography is bordering between comic and dismal—makes me wonder. Did half the population in Cambodia wake up on April 17, 1975 and just decide to kill those who wore glasses because they associated wearing them with intellectualism, or was it a slow, herky jerky trip?

Bob Herbert wrote an op-ed in the NY Times today, which travels down that same road of thought with Henry and me. Herbert laments low math scores, disinterest in scientific careers and our desire to amuse ourselves to death. History isn’t mentioned as one of the suffering subjects, but it’s not a favorite subject for most Americans. As Mark Twain said, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Rap, beat or sonnet, this is not a rhyme I think we want to hear from our shores.


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