Archive for May, 2002

Friday, May 31st, 2002

This one’s pretty funny.

British marines returning from an operation deep in the Afghan mountains spoke last night of an alarming new threat – being propositioned by swarms of gay local farmers. (…) “We were pretty shocked,” Marine Fletcher said. “We discovered from the Afghan soldiers we had with us that a lot of men in this country have the same philosophy as ancient Greeks: a woman for babies, a man for pleasure.” (…) Originally, the marines had sent patrols into several villages in the mountains near the town of Khost, hoping to catch up with al-Qaeda suspects who last week fought a four-hour gun battle with soldiers of the Australian SAS. The hardened troops, their faces covered in camouflage cream and weight down with weapons, radios and ammunition, were confronted with Afghans wanting to stroke their hair.”

Startled marines find Afghan men all made up to see them (via Adnan.)

A couple of comments:
One: A British marine, quoted in this article, considered being propositioned by a gay farmer to be “more terrifying than Al Qaeda”. Well, now. Come on.
Two: In a country dominated by males and males’ interpretation of religion, it’s OK for a man to have sex with another man, just don’t take that to mean they’ll let their women get a job to feed their families.


Thursday, May 30th, 2002

When do your national origins matter?

I was reading news coverage of the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, which is due to start this Friday. There were plenty of articles on how Zinedine Zidane, the best (and highest paid) soccer player in the world, is out for at least his first two matches due to an injury. Zidane and is a native born Frenchman. If you Google him, 53,900 hits come up. If you then Google “Zineddine Zidane” + Algerian, you get 575 hits. Ratio: .01.

Now, the man who the FBI alleges is the 20th hijacker is a native born Frenchman by the name of Zacarias Moussaoui. If you Google him, 17,500 hits come up. If you then Google “Zacarias Moussaoui” + Moroccan, you get 3,140. Ratio: .17.

Conclusion: When it comes to the glory of the World Cup, being French is more important than being North African. When it comes to terrorism, you can bet the North African origins will make the headlines.


Thursday, May 30th, 2002

You couldn’t tell by the unusually overcast skies over L.A., but summer’s here, and, with it, summer books. Here’s a forecast by the Washington Post.


Thursday, May 30th, 2002

When I was growing up, my school had a miserable one-room library, staffed by a teacher in her off-hours. After that got eliminated, our teachers used to host “borrowing clubs” where you had to bring in 2 books at the beginning of the school year, and you could borrow up to 2 books a week from the pool formed by the entire classroom. Since the average class size in my school was 40 students, there were about 80 books available to each student during the year. Paltry numbers, but, looking back, I think the teachers were heroes, all things considered. Which is why stories such as this one upset me.

The end of the school year is fast approaching. And in at least 14 schools, it also means the end of the school library as it currently functions. Librarian positions in 14 Philadelphia schools, including several high schools, have been eliminated. That means, come fall, the libraries will no longer be staffed by professionally trained librarians. (…) The problem is that too many people, principals included, look upon a library as a frill, and not as an essential component of a quality education. And why are librarian jobs often targeted for elimination? Because in a society where the bottom line is the only thing considered, librarians are expensive. They are certified teachers who have master’s degrees in library science. Their salary and benefits package is more than that of the typical classroom teacher. Nationally, the ratio of students to librarians in schools is 550 to 1. In Philadelphia, that ratio is 1,433 to 1. Come fall, that number is going to be frighteningly larger.

Library, no librarian? It just doesn’t compute.

Via Mobylives.


Monday, May 27th, 2002

A short article from the Guardian today confirms what everyone already knows:

Fiction reading as a daily habit is a niche activity dominated by women.

Novels lose out to newspapers.


Monday, May 27th, 2002

This sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone:

The notion that Jewish soldiers were fighting for Hitler even as the Holocaust unfolded is so bizarre that it catches one’s breath. Yet truth is stranger than fiction, and there actually were a few such soldiers, in a manner of speaking. Finland joined forces with Germany against the Soviet Union in 1941 and, not being prone to anti-Semitism, admitted Jews into its army alongside other citizens. Technically, then, they were part of Hitler’s war, but when SS Chief Heinrich Himmler stopped by to sell his extermination plans, the Finns showed him the door.
Bryan Rigg’s book is not about these Jewish soldiers. Rather, it concerns German soldiers who for the most part did not regard themselves as Jews at all but became labeled as part-Jews, referred to as Mischlinge, by the complicated Nazi racial laws about people with a Jewish parent or grandparent.

Read Geoffrey Giles’s review of Bryan Mark Rigg’s Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers


Monday, May 27th, 2002

From Yahoo! News:

“Ali Mestali could barely conceal his enthusiasm: “Alexander the Great is coming to Ouarzazate. It’s the best news since Gladiator.”
Mestali, 31, has been out of work for six months. He is counting the days until September when the American director Oliver Stone is expected to come to the Moroccan film capital of Ouarzazate to shoot “Alexander the Great.”

Moroccan film capital awaits Alexander the Great.


Wednesday, May 22nd, 2002

More depressing news out of the Middle East today. Israel cut the Gaza Strip in half while a suicide bomber killed himself and another person. Perhaps more than any other feud in history, the trouble there is a perfect illustration of what Mark Twain had in mind when he wrote that famous chapter of Huckleberry Finn. I looked around for the passage and found it:

“Did you want to kill him, Buck?”
“Well, I bet I did.”
“What did he do to you?”
“Him? He never done nothing to me.”
“Well, then, what did you want to kill him for?”
“Why, nothing — only it’s on account of the feud.”
“What’s a feud?”
“Why, where was you raised? Don’t you know what a feud is?”
“Never heard of it before — tell me about it.”
“Well,” says Buck, “a feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man’s brother kills HIM; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the COUSINS chip in — and by and by everybody’s killed off, and there ain’t no more feud. But it’s kind of slow, and takes a long time.”
“Has this one been going on long, Buck?”
“Well, I should RECKON! It started thirty year ago, or som’ers along there. There was trouble ’bout something, and then a lawsuit to settle it; and the suit went agin one of the men, and so he up and shot the man that won the suit — which he would naturally do, of course. Anybody would.”
“What was the trouble about, Buck? — land?”
“I reckon maybe — I don’t know.”
“Well, who done the shooting? Was it a Grangerford or a Shepherdson?”
“Laws, how do I know? It was so long ago.”
“Don’t anybody know?”
“Oh, yes, pa knows, I reckon, and some of the other old people; but they don’t know now what the row was about in the first place.”


Tuesday, May 21st, 2002

Alex forwarded me this fun article from the Evening Standard, which argues that Luke and Leia Skywalker are nothing but royalists who want the crown back while all Darth Vader and Palpatine want is to have some order in the galaxy: The Case for the Empire.


Monday, May 20th, 2002

From the New York Times:

In its two months on the market, Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book “Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children” has generated the kind of publicity authors and publishers usually only dream of.
The book was featured on “60 Minutes” and the cover of Time and New York magazines. It was promoted on “Oprah,” “Today,” “Good Morning America” and the “NBC Nightly News.” It was debated on the editorial and op-ed pages of The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times.
But there’s one place you will not find a mention of Ms. Hewlett’s book: the best-seller lists. The most talked-about book in America, which raises the specter that women who sacrifice families for careers might wake up childless at 45, is hardly selling at all. (…)
Manhattan publishers, especially those at Talk Miramax, which paid a six-figure advance for the book and printed 30,000 hardcover copies, are considering the possible causes: a generic title, an ambiguous cover, the failure of the news media to appreciate the nuances of Ms. Hewlett’s research. But out on the front lines, at the bookstores where publicity turns to sales– or does not– the explanation is all too simple: women are just not interested in shelling out $22 for a load of depressing news about their biological clocks.

The funny thing is that I remember the spate of articles (Time comes to mind). In fact, I had quite a few lively discussions with my husband and then also with some of my girlfriends about the findings on fertility, etc. I just never remembered the title of the book, and frankly the findings were so stunning that it sent us thinking about our own specific lives rather than going out to get the book. Now they’re blaming the marketing campaign for focusing on that infertility angle, and they’re thinking of doing another campaign on “having it all” (which is the opposite of the book’s message, I should imagine.)

The Talk of the Book World Still Can’t Sell


Friday, May 17th, 2002

When, hours after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the President came out and accused Bin Laden, it was probably for good reason: Reports now abound that he had received intelligence as early as August 6 warning that Bin Laden was planning to hijack planes. Naturally, everyone in Washington is all over this. Denials on one side, accusations and counter accusations on the other.

Democrats are demanding the Aug. 6 CIA memo that mentioned the hijackings and another pre-Sept. 11 document–an FBI memo that warned headquarters that many Middle Eastern men were training at American flight schools. “Why did it take eight months for us to receive this information? And what specific actions were taken by the White House in response?” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., asked. Turning the tables, [White House spokesperson] Fleischer noted Friday that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told a TV interviewer in July that panel staff members had informed her of a “major probability” of a terrorist attack. “And that raises the question,” Fleischer said, “what did the Democrats in Congress know. And why weren’t they talking to each other?”

Bush Defends Self on Warning Controversy. I predict some action againt Iraq really soon…


Friday, May 17th, 2002

From the Detroit Free Press:

Mohandas Gandhi’s wooden spinning wheel still stands among the simple throw pillows where he once sat cross-legged, threading cotton, receiving world leaders and promoting his vision of a unified, secular India. Today, just beyond the whitewashed cottages of the independence leader’s ashram, across a dry riverbed where sacred cows graze under the searing subcontinent sun, Muslims and Hindus have turned on one another with a ferocity not seen in a decade. The violence in Gujarat, Gandhi’s home state where he founded his ashram, has claimed more than 950 lives statewide since late February, mostly Muslims beaten or burned to death, or killed in police shootings. Human rights activists say the death toll may come closer to 2,000 when missing people are also counted in the western state. (…)
“Whenever you have deluded yourself that you have been freed of the religious biases your forefathers lived with, the poison that flowed in their veins, comes a fierce reminder like this,” [Indian filmmaker] Bhatt said. “The Indian mind is still shackled to its religious prejudices. Incidents like these just mirror the real soul of India.”

Read more of this excellent article at: Hindus, Muslims juggle old hate, shared hopes via Holy Weblog.


Thursday, May 16th, 2002

Do writing programs help or stifle creativity, asks the Village Voice:

Of course, graduate writing programs have produced top-shelf writers: Michael Chabon, Matthew Klam, Rick Moody, Junot Diaz, Nathan Englander, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Lorrie Moore. The appeal is clear: the master of fine arts degree offers a protected two-year gestation in a supportive, creative community and credentials to cite in getting that first book published. (…)
While the University of Iowa awarded its first M.F.A. degree in 1941, the past 30 years have seen a blossoming of their prominence and popularity: It is now harder to get into the Iowa program than into Harvard Medical School. At the same time, skepticism over their usefulness and backlash against so-called “workshop fiction” have dogged the M.F.A. since the late ’80s. (…)
Publishers and booksellers, of course, also promulgate fads and define genres, which promise familiarity of structure and aesthetic. One expects literary fiction to defy such familiarities. And yet “debut fiction” has become its own category, a mini-genre packaged and presented by Barnes & Noble’s “Discover Great New Writers” series, awards like the Hemingway Foundation/PEN, or the annual debut fiction issue of The New Yorker (or the Voice’s own Writers on the Verge list). Troll through a selection of recent books and it’s hard not to notice categories: the ubiquitous urban single woman novel (Melissa Bank and her offspring Melissa Senate, Lisa Jewell, etc.), the well-researched historical fiction (Heather Parkinson, Charles Frazier), the prizewinning Indians (Akhil Sharma, Jhumpa Lahiri), queer lit (David Ebershoff, JT Leroy).

Taylor Antrim goes on to examine debut fiction by three writers (Meera Nair, Steve Almond, and Raul Correa) and finds that “they share an underlying contrivance, a received and overly strict notion of what constitutes a story and how best to tell it.”
Young, Gifted, and Workshopped


Wednesday, May 15th, 2002

Star Wars comes out tomorrow, and of course, my husband has had tickets for days. As is usual before a SW event, there will be some documentary on TLC or the Discovery channel or some snippet on the 11 o’clock news about how George Lucas used stories of ancient mythology and Joseph Campbell’s work to fashion the story about a galaxy far, far away. I had never really questioned this, because it was so reported by so many reliable sources. But this Salon article by Stephen Hart debunks the “myth”:

Lucas himself was mum about any Campbell influence when the original Star Wars opened — “The word for this movie is fun,” he told Time in 1977 — but he began name-dropping the retired Sarah Lawrence academic (who died in 1987) as the movie became a pop culture milestone. Feature writers took him at his word, unwilling to believe that a mere science-fiction flick could be so popular unless some deeper meaning was at work. Campbell, happy to have his work associated with the most successful film series of all time, returned the favor by praising Lucas’ use of mythological motifs, though he had trouble keeping straight exactly which motifs were being used. The relationship built until the men have become as closely linked in the public mind as Chang and Eng. (…)
Like many of mankind’s oldest legends, this notion offers multiple levels of absurdity. First, if knowledge of “man’s oldest stories” underlies the popularity of “Star Wars,” then why is Lucas’ non-“Star Wars” resume so dismal? Apart from conceiving the “Indiana Jones” films, which owe their box-office impact to the kinetic genius of director Steven Spielberg, Lucas has produced an unbroken series of flops. Anyone here remember “Howard the Duck”? Or “Tucker: The Man and His Dream”? “Radioland Murders,” anybody? And let us not forget “Willow,” which is a virtual textbook of Campbell’s mix ‘n’ match approach to mythology.
Second, and more damningly, the real roots of “Star Wars” are obvious to anyone not blinded by snobbery or the need for self-inflation. They lie not in “The Odyssey” or the “Upanishads,” but 20th century science-fiction magazines such as Astounding, Amazing Stories and Galaxy. The “true theology” of “Star Wars” was written not by Virgil or Homer, but Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, E.E. “Doc” Smith and a host of other S.F. writers.

The article goes on like this, examining different characters and events in the original Star Wars and pointing to sci-fi books that could have served as “inspiration”. Interesting read. Galactic Gasbag


Monday, May 13th, 2002

I’ve blogged on a few occasions about the Israeli reservists who are refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories, but I just read an article in the L.A. Weekly about a group of high-schoolers, which calls itself the Shministim, and which is also taking up the same stance with respect to army service. The article discusses other such groups of “refuseniks” and the place that they take in Israeli society. An excerpt from the article:

“We are not negating the need for the army, we’re saying that the army cannot be used for political purposes, whether it was in 1982 with the invasion of Lebanon, or now with the occupation,” says [activist] Rahat. “Beyond that we see the whole framework of the occupation as one flagrantly illegal act, and if you go there you have no choice but to take part in order to take orders that are flagrantly illegal.” From his point of view, doing guard duty at a settlement may not be illegal from a minimalist point of view. “But if you look at it on a larger scale, being there is guarding something that is illegal as determined by international law.” Yesh Gvul believes that seeing the suicide bombings as the cause and the occupation as the result is going backward. “You have to drain the swamp,” says Rahat, “in order to get rid of the mosquitoes.”

Just Saying No: Israeli Soldiers Vote with their Feet.

Interestingly enough, such a statement comes on the same day in which the Likud party voted in favor of a resolution never to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state, with Netanyahu saying “a state with all the rights of a state, this cannot be, not under Arafat, nor under another leadership, not today nor tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Arafat is touring the territories to reassert his leadership over a region he was not allowed to visit for 5 months, instead of attending to the more pressing problem of restructuring the PA.


Saturday, May 11th, 2002

I enjoyed Nathan Englander’s For the Relief of Unbearable Urges so much that I found myself slowing down considerably toward the end because I didn’t want the pleasure to end. I just started In Cuba I was a German Shepherd, by Ana Menendez, and have been telling my husband (who is of Cuban ancestry) about each story as I go. Delectable so far.


Saturday, May 11th, 2002

From the BBC:

Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets of Tel Aviv to demand the immediate withdrawal of the Israel army and settlers from Palestinian territories. The protest, organised by the Peace Now movement, also called on the Israeli Government to pursue the Saudi peace plan which specifies a full withdrawal in return for full peace with Arab countries.

Thousands Rally for Peace in Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, the planned assault on Gaza has been delayed because of international pressure, though the tanks are still staying put for now. Israel Delays Gaza Assault Amid Peace Pressure.

Elsewhere, Shimon Peres was quoted as saying that Israel may have been wrong for not supporting the formation of an independent Palestinian state earlier. And:

“We feel that the weakest point in the Palestinian making is the fact that they have three or four or five dissident armed groups, and each of them is shooting on its own in a different direction, and by doing so destroying any possibility of having a joint agenda,” Peres said.

Peres: Israel should have backed Palestinian state earlier


Friday, May 10th, 2002

Top of the news today:

In an unprecedented challenge to Fidel Castro’s 43-year-old rule, activists delivered more than 11,020 signatures to the National Assembly on Friday, demanding a referendum for broad changes in Cuba’s socialist system less than two days before a visit by former President Carter. Known as Project Varela, the signature-gathering campaign is seen as the biggest homegrown, nonviolent effort in more than four decades to push for reforms in Cuba’s one-party system. (…)
Asked by reporters in April about the campaign, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said he doubted it would succeed and accused its organizers of being on the U.S. government payroll. Paya, who says the project has received no money from any government or group outside Cuba. “This is not project of the opposition, but a citizens’ project to attain the rights of all Cubans,” Paya said, reading a prepared statement. “The world should know that we Cubans are traveling our own road to improve our society. Whoever wants to express solidarity with Cuba, and respect the self-determination of Cubans, should support this demand for a popular vote.

Cubans Deliver Reform Petitions.

As Jose Marti said, “Only oppression should fear the full exercise of freedom.”


Thursday, May 9th, 2002

I just noticed that Mark Bowden’s excellent article on Saddam Hussein is finally online at the Atlantic site. It’s a fascinating read. Check it out: Tales of the Tyrant.


Sunday, May 5th, 2002

From the Boston Globe:

Anglo-American understanding seems to have suffered a setback, judging by the furor over the US publication of a rough early work by novelist Virginia Woolf. In Sunday’s editions of the London newspaper The Independent, Woolf’s great-nephew Julian Bell disparaged the book’s introduction, by author Louise DeSalvo, as ”crude Freudianism.” English novelist Jeanette Winterson was quoted as saying of the book’s publication, ”It offends me. Virginia Woolf was very fierce about what should and shouldn’t be published, so she would have hated this.” Yet according to the publisher and DeSalvo, who edited the manuscript, the Woolf estate authorized the book.
The fragmentary work, called ”Melymbrosia,” was completed by Woolf in 1912, when she was 30, but never published, though much of its content appeared in Woolf’s first published novel, ”The Voyage Out,” in 1915. The material concerns the sexual and social awakening of a young Englishwoman, Rachel Vinrace. It deals with themes of lesbianism and incest, and Woolf filed it away. After her death, her husband, Leonard Woolf, donated the manuscript to the Berg Collection of English and American Literature of the New York Public Library.

Early Woolf novel elicits harsh words


Wednesday, May 1st, 2002

Should writers engage with politics, asks this article from The Guardian:

With the exception of a notable debate in and around the London Review of Books, authors’ responses to September 11 and the conduct of the war were no more than an intensification of the usual traffic between the journalistic and literary worlds. It has taken the binary fix of Israel/Palestine – nomenclature itself is a charged issue, as Jack Straw learned to his cost – to marshal writers along partisan lines. Discounting world wars, in which many British authors were official propagandists, not since the Spanish civil war have so many writers taken sides. (…)
British writer Sarah Maguire has been using emails to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinian poet Zakaria Mohammed, who was holed up in Ramallah. (…) A large number of British poets have lent their support, Maguire says, including John Burnside, Carol Ann Duffy, Sean O’Brien, Ruth Padel, Kathleen Jamie and Benjamin Zephaniah. (…)
Other authors emphasise the danger of writers speaking out on events abroad. “On the whole,” says A. S. Byatt, “I do not believe writers of fiction have any more privileged insight into international affairs than other members of the public. (…)
A somewhat similar situation existed in 1937, when Auden and Spender published “Authors Take Sides on the Spanish Civil War” in the Left Review , having sent out a questionnaire to virtually every leading British and Irish writer. The Spanish republic, they asked: “are you for/against/neutral?” (…) There was some literary gerrymandering: Ezra Pound, a natural fascist, found himself in the “for” camp as a consequence of the ambiguities of his prose. But the result was pretty clear. Of all the writers asked, only five – including Evelyn Waugh and Edmund Blunden – were against the republicans, which is not necessarily the same thing as being pro-Franco.

When authors take sides

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