John Patten
Photos from Afghanistan


    Just got back from the mountains after a nine-day, grueling, exhilarating, relentless, problem-filled,
    wonderful experience on the survey. The trip out alone saw seven breakdowns in five of our rental
    Russian jeeps. It took twelve hours through desolate and difficult terrain. Apparently there is no word in
    Dari for “convoy,” so that was a constant struggle with stubborn drivers. It was beautiful in Kohistan (Koh
    means mountains), but the trip out less so. I’m sure biologists would say the desolate place was teeming
    with life, but what they don’t tell you is that it really would prefer to die.

    Mazar is pretty much a dry town again. The police cracked down on shops selling beer to all of us ex-
    pats here. That was short lived. The store I go to will still sell it to me though. I said I didn’t want them to
    get in trouble, as a police stand is right outside their shop, but they said no problem, they want the
    money. They go out to where it’s stored, put maybe ten under the bottles of water in their Nestle boxes
    and out the door I go. Only now they don’t have it so much anymore. I’ll only have two at a time for God’s
    sake. It’s not like I’m a drunk or anything, but it has this guilty air about it.

    We need to have a talk with the drivers. If they are not nearly hitting someone, causing accidents, or
    driving either too fast or too slow (can’t figure that one out), then they are bathing in our tiny fish pond,
    which I’m sure harries the fish to no end. One guy got a warning for his driving today, but if he installs
    one of those car horns that play “Mary had a little lamb,” I will personally see to it that he never drives in
    this town again.


    Haven't been able to write as much, as Mazar has been cut off from electricity by Turkmenistan now as
    well as Uzbekistan. Nobody pays the bills. There is no structure to pay the bills. Back to warm Pepsi. The
    chocolate melts again (Is there no God?!). Plus, no more fans. I’m sweating on everything. Also, I was up
    in the mountains for a couple of weeks trying not to hurl on my Al Qaeda-like outfit because of all the
    gastro-intestinal problems from the bad water and food. I may have to go to the vet and get de-wormed. I’
    m thinner than I have been since I was 18. Things are starting to try my patience here. On the positive
    side, Eriko has gone four weeks now without getting kidnapped. I’m sure local folks have much more to
    complain about.


    Time for some movie reviews and issues. I’m a bit Mazar’ed-out at the moment, and the constant
    fleabites don’t help. The quality of my analysis of life here has decreased significantly. I’ll try to get it
    back when I have some time. Until then I’ve been reduced to bad movie reviews. Critics and people in the
    industry now heap such praise on movies that suck because they can no longer discern what is good
    and what is rubbish. And nobody even notices anymore.

    1. The LA Times critic is a moron. In his best of 2001 (the Pony Express was Fed Ex World service
    compared to here), among his precipitous decline and insalubrity in critical thought, he thought Denzel
    Washington deserved an Oscar for the terribly overacted role in the terrible movie Training Day. It was
    about as true to real life as the band Las
    Ketchup flying to Afghanistan to tell me they just can't do their dance anymore without my input (Aseraje,
    ja, de je, de jebe...) Also, Mulholland Drive sucked, but nobody wants to say so because they just don't
    know why. If I see one more movie about self-absorbed L.A. slackers I think I’ll puke. So it must be good,
    and we have to fall on ourselves to be the first to say so. There was more, but I think I blocked it out.
    Which brings me to my next point:

    2. Suspension of disbelief: what a crock this is. Who invented this or thought it was a good idea? I can
    accept it from Michael Remy because we're still not really sure what Martians look like, but the
    suspension on a '73 Dodge Dart cannot handle jumping a river and continuing on like nothing ever
    happened. I broke two springs once leaving the parking lot at the supermarket. SOD syndrome really
    means, "I'm too lazy to write how things really happen, how people really talk and how they really act."
    And why does the CIA trained operative lecture people on all the nuances of thinking one step ahead,
    yet still turn his back on the guy he hit once with a piece of balsawood? It's just so annoying. What's
    wrong with doing it the way it would happen? It can be just as interesting. I want to write a new
    screenplay, "The postman always hits twice. With a pipe. And then again if you even think about getting
    up." Twenty years of kung fu lessons and cold war intrigue and they can't even tie the guys hands for
    fuck's sake.

    3. Extras. Nowhere in the world are 200 people standing around doing 30 different activities separated
    by only inches, having 100 very animated conversations. Why can't directors get over this? It can be any
    movie from any time period. "Energy, I need energy!" No you don't. Even here in the bazar people are
    sitting around in the shade and sometimes the biggest activity is shooing away a fly every second hour.
    There is not yet standing room only left on earth.

    4. Did you notice how the dog can never die, even in D-day pictures? Show a guy walking around
    holding his intestines, but make sure Scruffy is in the last 30 seconds returning happily to the owner. We
    have a dog here that is so stupid he gets hit in the head by the front of the jeep every time we come
    home, and still cannot comprehend that it's big and metal. Don't know how far he would really get against
    the Luftwaffe and 30mm artillery. I'm writing another screenplay called, "The dog gets it." Horribly. So do
    the goldfish, the cat, the iguana, and the pig named hamlet, which gets eaten in a later scene so the
    occupants don't have to resort to cannibalism. There's also an ethnic minority who really is not poignant
    or enlightened, or benignly saves all the hapless white people, and a strong man who brings home the
    bacon without apologizing or being self-deprecating and ineffectual. The woman integral to the plot is
    strong, yet does not confuse strength with having a bitchy attitude. Then the guy goes rollerblading at
    Venice Beach wearing the burka he got from a friend in Afghanistan (not sure how this will go over).

    5. The spiritual, enlightened, health conscious vegetarian who is none of the three. She's really a chain
    smoking, expresso and vodka/red bull swilling English moron with too many cheap baubles and hair that
    is shorter than what is reasonable, that doesn't know astrology is not a science and bunk even using its
    own definitions. She annoys everyone with her self-important drivel, but nobody says anything because
    they don't want to look like they are not open minded, and can't really think critically anyway. Don't get
    me started on the fuckin Wiccans.

    6. Quick movie reviews: The Score: Here's the score: Me, zero, the movie, two, meaning they owe me two
    hours of my life I will never get back. Showtime: No, every American does not want to be on TV. I was
    several times and thank God I am still reveling in my anonymity. Mission Impossible 3: There is no such
    thing. The store here owes me two bucks. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2: see above. Charlie's
    Angels: Any critic that had any nice thing to say about this should be removed from the gene pool. I don't
    really believe in censorship, but some DVDs you really have to throw against the wall to keep from
    circulating. Who cares if I can't trade it in now. The Mothman: Scared the piss out of me, especially alone
    in the dark on a really grainy bootleg with shelling going on in the background. I can now see Richard
    Gere on the screen without first thinking, "So do you think that whole gerbil thing is true?" Moulin Rouge-
    So bad I don't want to waste time typing. I hope John Leguizamo gets hit by a bus. Anything with Ben
    Affleck: He always looks like he just got hit in the face with a two-by-four and is quite dazed. Sum of All
    Fears was ok though. It may not be politically correct, but I wish Morgan Freeman would occasionally play
    a really stupid guy that is the getaway driver in a 1936 rusty Ford flatbed, and says, “Well ah checked
    the timin' belt before the robbery and I thought we’d be inconspickyas,” instead of always having to play
    Parsident or Chief of Staff. Now he’s going to play God in a movie? How do you follow that? He and
    Denzel may just noble role themselves into irrelevancy. Hollow Man: Please, if you nail Kevin Bacon
    repeatedly with a flamethrower you’ll be smelling bacon, not watching him climb an elevator shaft to
    chase Elizabeth Shue, who should have stayed with the Burger King commercials, or at least stayed in
    Las Vegas. Oh Brother Where Art Thou: previously reviewed, but yet another plus in this gem of a movie
    is that they kill a computer generated cow in the road with a vehicle driven by cops chasing Baby Face
    Nelson. Johnny Depp in the Jack the Ripper tale: Really good, I always like his stuff even if I'm on the
    bandwagon. He probably has the best acting jobs in Hollywood because he really can afford to choose
    the good roles. I never saw jump street so I don't really have a bias against him. Blow was great too, with
    a good Massachusetts accent. You don't blow on it though, that's just an expression. I’m on the same
    bandwagon for Kevin Spacey. American Beauty was classic. Windtalkers: Haven't seen it, but already
    want to tell Nicholas Cage to shut up. And stick that mandolin somewhere. I used to really like him. Shawn
    Penn can kiss my ass too. That's not a review, I just though I would throw that in. What's that one with the
    mentally challenged guy that plays the great classical music? I remember not having the patience for it
    that day. Plus he has a clear case of pianist envy. Speed 2: bad, bad, bad. Where have you gone,
    Willem D. Dafoe? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. But you went for the check, ya' bastard. I
    thought I was watching a Love Boat episode that just got out of hand. And Sandra Bullock is not spunky,
    she's every girl from Michigan that used to annoy me without me being able to put a finger on it as to
    why. Michelle Pfieffer will still turn me on when she is 60, but What Lies Beneath is myself; under the bed
    when I fell out of it asleep because the first 40 minutes is so boring. Gets better later. Penelope Cruz
    could sell me snow in a snowstorm, but lately I think I also want to tell her to do shut up. We often see
    Titanic here, as Afghans are nuts about it, right down to getting the same haircuts and painting it on the
    back of minibuses, but I think in the last scene when he says, "do me this honor," they collectively think
    he should have said, "you know, if you move that fat ass over on the door maybe we can have a happy
    ending. I only get one shot at this?" All the babes are on stupid videos now. I saw one with 2000 African
    women all painted red and all I could think after being here 7 months is "God, I think I really like red
    women." Incidentally, Holly Valance was born the week I graduated high school. That instantly changed
    my perspective. I'm no Michael Douglas. But I'm getting off the track. I need to see my girlfriend. I’m
    starting to sound like an acerbic David Spade.

    Sorry, a bit tense at the moment. I switched to opium lite. The fighting commanders here are now the
    ones cutting off Mazar from electricity. Three-thousand year's at the crossroads of history and it's come
    down to me being pissed off because I have no power to watch the second half of Legally Blond. It's all
    going down the bin.


    Don’t ever send me another flow chart. They are so forgettable, along with the frameworks they bring. I
    think I will ban the term framework from my reports. Same goes with analytical, conceptual,
    contextualized, and theoretical frameworks, which I’m sure is not even understood by the people using
    the terms. The last flow chart I saw I thought was a diagramed play for an end-around used by the ’65
    Packers. My mind does not think in those terms. Maybe I’m more spatial, another term that needs to be
    banned because it sounds pretentious, instead of just saying I’d like to see it and touch it. Also, the
    words re-double, nuanced approach, litmus test, engendering change, linkages, empowerment, scaling-
    up, coherence, coordination, continuity, capacity, watershed moment, disconnect, sustainable,
    engagement, TOR, MOU, acronyms in general, who knew it and when did they know it, mistakes were
    made, it could happen to anyone, and Eve Arden.

                           PREVIOUS                                                                                             NEXT