Archive for July, 2002

Monday, July 29th, 2002

This Washington Post review caught my eye:
“In the standard list of artistic masterpieces, [the Hamzanama] may not ring a bell. Even the most dedicated museum-goers don’t know about the lavishly illustrated manuscript executed for Akbar, great Mughal emperor of India in the 16th century. But they should. And some day they all may, if a breathtaking, groundbreaking show at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery has the ripple effect it ought to.”
The Hamzanama, Heroic in Deed
If you’re in DC, you can see the exhibit at the Sackler Gallery. For the rest of us, this online intro will have to do. The snapshots of the Hamzanama are breathtakingly gorgeous.

Sunday, July 28th, 2002

They don’t put that in the Islamic Revolution brochures: Iran has a huge prostitution problem. The war with Iraq created thousands of war widows, many of whom have no other way of making a living in a society with an already high unemployment rate. The government is at a loss what to do, so their latest idea is licensed “decency houses.”
The Revolution did bring a higher literacy rate and greater social justice for the lower classes, but at what cost?

Sunday, July 28th, 2002

I’ve had a crippling back pain since last Saturday. I have a tendency to slouch when I’m working at the laptop and I must have pulled something. I can’t get in and out of my car, I can’t pick up stuff from the floor, or go about anything without pain shooting in the lumbar area. I hope the chiropractor can do something for me tomorrow. I had to miss one yoga class and I’d hate to miss another.

Wednesday, July 24th, 2002

I went to a reading at Dutton’s bookstore tonight where Jean Harfenist read from her story collection A Brief History of the Flood, which won rave reviews, including from the New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani. The excerpts she read were excellent and I’m getting the book. Please check out her book and support a local author!

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2002

Chaim Potok passed away today. Jewish American literature has suffered a great loss.
Here’s an excerpt from The Chosen and a sampler of his works from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2002

Where have I been? Why didn’t I notice this book before?
I was doing research at the library today for a syllabus I’m designing and stumbled on a description of The Poet Game, by Salar Abdoh. The novel is about the 1993 bombing of the WTC, and about the Iranian man who is sent to infiltrate the Muslim radicals who are responsible. It dates from a couple of years ago (2000), but I’m surprised that it hasn’t gotten more write ups after what happened last year. It’s unusual to have a “terrorist thriller” written by an Iranian, but I’ll have to check it out before forming an opinion… Here’s a piece on the author and the book:

“Everyone with ears, eyes and a television has a September 11 story to tell but Salar Abdoh — a teacher at City University in New York — has one that’s better than most. Forget TV: ears and eyes were all he needed when, a little after 9am on that morning, he heard an explosion near where he was teaching an English class. Very near, in fact.
‘I was almost at the foot of the World Trade Centre when it happened and for a second I thought I was going to bite the dust. But I wasn’t afraid, I was fascinated by this ball of flame coming towards me. People were saying this and that, that an aeroplane had hit the building, but right away I knew what had happened.’
Abdoh knew because a year earlier he had published The Poet Game, a spy novel set in New York in the aftermath of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing.”

Books: The man who was waiting for September 11

Monday, July 22nd, 2002

From corporate sponsorships of school programs, it was only a short step to their involvement in textbooks. Here is an interesting article in today’s Christian Science Monitor:

“What if a junior-high school textbook wrongly stated that John Marshall was the United States’ first Supreme Court Chief Justice, instead of John Jay? Or that the Louisiana Purchase occurred in 1804, not 1803? No one would fault textbook publishers for fixing factual errors like these found in recent textbooks. But, when it comes to “fixing” harder to define social or political biases, what happens when publishers eager to make a sale are willing to edit content that special-interest groups object to — or even submit their books to those groups for input prior to publication?
The practice of self censorship is increasingly apparent here in Texas, where battles over textbook content are epic. (…)
The lobbying roster of 70 speakers [at the public hearings over 2003 social studies texts] included Hispanic college students and the NAACP wanting more minorities and women represented in textbooks, Christian groups seeking more conservative interpretations of issues, and social-studies teachers arguing against such tinkering. (…) Conservatives over the years have battled such things as a photo of a woman carrying a briefcase, the theory of evolution, and “overkill of emphasis on cruelty to slaves.””

Texas wrangles over bias in school textbooks

Monday, July 22nd, 2002

The Old Man and the Haircut
“A hair salon owner crediting his own redone hairstyle as giving him an edge has won Key West’s 2002 Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike contest among 154 white-bearded men claiming resemblance to the U.S. writer.”
Overstatement of the evening? “New York City policeman Dennis Sullivan, in his pitch for the title, said, “It would lift the spirits of every New Yorker.”
Hair salon owner wins Hemingway contest. Link via Moby Lives

Monday, July 22nd, 2002

“The Bush administration announced yesterday it will withhold $34 million in international family planning funds from the United Nations, saying the organization implicitly condones forced abortions and sterilizations in China. The move drew praise from abortion opponents and criticism from proponents of family planning, who said it will undermine poor women’s health. Conservatives had lobbied the White House for months on the issue, saying the U.N. Population Fund, or UNFPA, violated U.S. law by supporting China’s “one-child” policy, which has led to abortions against women’s will.”
U.S. Withholds $34 Million in Family Planning Funding to U.N.

Admittedly, the Chinese government’s policies are immoral, but does the administration want us to believe that the only beneficiary of UNFPA services is the Chinese government? What about the women in Africa or Latin America or Russia whom UNFPA helps with family planning (pills and condoms)? Is penalizing China really the lesser of the two evils?

Saturday, July 20th, 2002

Season finale: Back to the status quo.
The 10-day confrontation over the island of Leila (Perejil) is over, after a U.S.-mediated deal. The Spanish and Moroccan foreign ministers are to meet Monday in Rabat. According to the Post, “[The] Moroccan newspaper, Al Alam, faulted the government’s lack of foresight, saying that it should have understood in advance the “betrayal” of the Spaniards and notified the United Nations, the European Union and NATO “as soon as Moroccan security agents arrived on the islet.” The Madrid daily El Pais editorialized today about the “conflict that Rabat never should have started and to which the Spanish government overreacted with a military deployment that is proof of the diplomatic failure of Aznar’s policy toward Morocco.””
At least the goats on the island must be happy that life is back to normal.

Wednesday, July 17th, 2002

Perhaps you may have heard about the escalating crisis between Spain and Morocco? Two stable countries like that, these are just friendly skirmishes, right? Hmmm.. Maybe not. If you’re just catching up on the soap-operatic happenings between the two countries, here is what’s happened in previous episodes.

Spain You gotta do something about those illegal immigrants.
Morocco: Look, those are your borders. Why should I be responsible for controlling them?
Spain: The EU is giving me a hard time about this, so I have to give you a hard time about it too.
Morocco: I’m doing what I can–it’s very costly. I’ve dismantled smuggling networks. But those networks operate in Spain also. You have to control those.
Spain: It’s all your fault. Your people all want out. Europe is a castle and I’ve got to protect the moat.
Morocco: They’re not just my people. They also come from the African ex-colonies?
Spain: By the way, I need another 4,000 people to come pick my oranges and tomatoes this summer. Can I have some?
Morocco: Your embassy is doling out the visas. Don’t come and complain if they want to stay, though.
Spain: What about fishing rights? It takes lots of shrimp and fish to make a good paella.
Morocco: You’ve been overfishing for years. I’m sick and tired of catching your fishermen illegally on my waters.
Spain: You have to give us a good deal. This is ridiculous.
Morocco: I don’t have to give you anything. Ever heard of supply and demand? Japan wants to fish here too.
Spain: I see. Well, let me see here. Ah, we’ve got the Western Sahara.
Morocco: Don’t you dare.
Spain: Watch me. (Turns to the EU: The Saharan people must decide whether they want to be independent or join with Morocco. Morocco is delaying the referendum.)
Morocco: I’m recalling my ambassador.
Spain: This is an illegal occupation that must end.
Morocco: You’ve got some nerve. Weren’t you here illegally for 40 years? Aren’t you still here illegally in Ceuta and Melilla?
Spain: Those are Spanish enclaves.
Morocco: Someone please explain how two cities on Moroccan land can belong to another country.
Spain: They’ve been Spanish since the late 1600s.
Morocco: They’ve been occupied since the late 1600s. They’re the oldest colonies in the world. That makes you the oldest colonizer in the world.
Spain: Like I’ve been saying for years, you can have them if I get back Gibraltar from the UK.
Morocco: That will never happen.
Spain: It could. We are working out our differences.
Morocco: Like hell you are. The people will vote to stay with the UK and you know it.
Spain: I don’t know that. You don’t know that.
Morocco: In that case, I’m sending 6 soldiers over to the island of Leila, off the village of Benyounech.
Spain: You mean Perejil.
Morocco: Leila.
Spain: Perejil.
Morocco: Leila, Leila, Leila. You’ve given it up when you got out of Morocco 40 years ago. It’s a rock. Don’t get all worked up.
Spain: You can’t put me in front of a “fait accompli” and expect me to do nothing. We’ve got to work this out diplomatically.
Morocco: We will work it out diplomatically. It’s a handful of soldiers for crying out loud. It’s not like we sent an army.
Spain: We will work this out diplomatically. (Meanwhile, sends a commando during the night, plants its flag, takes the Moroccans in custody.)
Morocco: This is an act of war.
Spain: No resistance was offered. Not a single shot was fired.
Morocco: The Arab League is on my side.
Spain: The EU is on my side.

How will it end? When will it end? I’ve no idea. But if these two can’t get along, despite a shared history that spans more than a milllennium, goodness only knows about the rest of the world.

Addendum: My parents have been joking that I’m the center of the dispute. Apparently, these guys agree. Thanks to adnan for the link.

Tuesday, July 16th, 2002

NPR posted the list of 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900 from the March/April issue of Book magazine (which really should be titled the 80 or so Best Characters in Fiction written in English, but anyway). Usually, with lists like these the fun starts with picking out what they left out. Let’s see. How about Frodo in The Lord of the Rings? Old Major in Animal Farm? Asya in In the Eye of the Sun? Stephen Kumalo and Absalom in Cry the Beloved Country? How about Tintin?

Tuesday, July 16th, 2002

“Some Arab poets are more popular than Adonis– Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet, for instance — but none are more admired. A pioneer of the prose poem, he has played a role in Arab modernism comparable to T. S. Eliot’s in English-language poetry. The literary and cultural critic Edward Said calls him “today’s most daring and provocative Arab poet.” The poet Samuel Hazo, who translated Adonis’s collection “The Pages of Day and Night,” said, “There is Arabic poetry before Adonis, and there is Arabic poetry after Adonis.”
Experimental in style and prophetic in tone, Adonis’s poetry combines the formal innovations of modernism with the mystical imagery of classical Arabic poetry. He has evoked the anguish of exile, the spiritual desolation of the Arab world, the intoxicating experiences of madness and erotic bliss, the existential dance of self and the other. But what defines his work, above all, is the force of creative destruction, which burns through everything he writes. “We will die if we do not create gods/We will die if we do not kill them,” he once wrote, echoing his favorite poet, Nietzsche.”

I remember how everyone in our Arabic class used to light up whenever we got to read an Adonis poem.  But since this is a <i>New York Times</i> piece, there is of course discussion of repression, fixed elections, fundamentalism (all of which are themes the newspaper is incapable of not bringing up when talking about the Arab world, regardless of the topic) and an insistence that Adonis’s secular views are “unpopular,” which seems to contradict everything else they say about him.
An Arab poet who dares to differ. (Site requires registration.)

Monday, July 15th, 2002

Smile. The postman is watching you.

“The Justice Department is not saying much about the Terrorism Information and Prevention System — otherwise known as Operation TIPS — which is due to begin as a pilot program later this summer. Apparently the only public information about the program, in fact, is on a government Web site, which describes it as “a nationwide program giving millions of American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees, and others a formal way to report suspicious terrorist activity.” Operation TIPS will, in the pilot stage, involve a million workers, who, “in the daily course of their work, are in a unique position to serve as extra eyes and ears for law enforcement.” It will offer them “training . . . in how to look out for suspicious and potentially terrorist-related activity.” It will also provide “a formal way to report” that activity “through a single and coordinated toll-free number.” This description, which is essentially all we know about the program, poses more questions than it answers.”

What is Operation TIPS? from the Washington Post site.

Basically, 1 in 24 Americans could be used as “citizen-informants.” McCarthy would be proud.

Monday, July 15th, 2002

Don’t mess with Nigerian women.
“The unarmed women holding 700 ChevronTexaco workers in a southeast Nigeria oil terminal agreed Monday to end their siege after the company offered to hire at least 25 villagers and to build schools and electrical and water systems. The women, some with babies tied to their backs, broke out into singing and dancing on the docks at the Escravos facility on learning of the agreement . But they said they would wait until the verbal agreement was put in writing and signed before leaving the Escravos facility.”
It’s strange to read about these oil companies’ involvement in places like Nigeria, where they have essentially replaced governments as colonial powers. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, July 15th, 2002

Amanda Ngozi Adichie of Nigeria, Florent Couoa-Zotti of Benin, Allan Kolski Horwitz of South Africa, Rory Kilalea of Zimbabwe, and Binyanvanga Wainaina of Kenya are finalists for the Caine Prize. I mention this prize because the chair of the jury is Ahdaf Soueif, whom I’m absolutely obsessed with, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, but that perhaps have to do with the fact that she wrote In the Eye of the Sun.

Anyway, here is the BBC article, via Moby Lives.

Update on July 16: Binyanvanga Wainaina won the Caine Prize. Congratulations to him.

Saturday, July 13th, 2002

In a potent sign of the proportions of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, the South African version of Sesame Street will introduce an HIV-positive muppet next fall:
“”Takalani Sesame” in South Africa is one of several locally produced versions of the children’s program. Egypt, Russia, Germany, Mexico and Spain, among other countries, all have shows modeled after the American “Sesame Street” that premiered in 1969. The South African show uses Muppets similar to the American characters of Big Bird, Elmo and the Cookie Monster. The South African Cookie Monster, for example, is called Zikwe. Sesame Workshop hasn’t revealed the new, HIV-positive character’s name, but it will be a girl Muppet who is an orphan, said Robert Knezevic, head of the company’s international division. In one script being developed, the character is sad because she misses her mother, he said. In another, the character is shunned by children who don’t want to play with her because she is HIV-positive, but the other Muppets rally around her.”
HIV-Positive Muppet on Sesame Street

Friday, July 12th, 2002

Handy dandy list of civil liberties that have been lost since 9/11, from the Utne Reader.

Friday, July 12th, 2002

Israeli Arabs turn to rap music:
“MWR’s hit “Because I’m an Arab” includes the words: “A policeman sees me, immediately arrests me, asks me some racist questions, and why? Because I’m an Arab. Let me live. I’m just trying to live.” The song topped the charts for two weeks on a Haifa radio station. A rap festival in Nazareth last year drew thousands of people. Even some Jews are listening. MWR performed last month in Tel Aviv, where about 1,000 people, almost all of them Jews, bobbed their heads to the beat and cheered. “It was powerful to sing Arabic in front of them,” said Charley Shaby, 25, the group’s DJ. “They listened. I don’t care if they understand it or not … they understand the message.””
Arabs Voice Protest in Rap Music

Friday, July 12th, 2002

The King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, or M6 as he is affectionately called by Moroccans, is getting married today in the capital of Rabat to a computer engineer. In a break with tradition, the bride is not from the Moroccan aristocracy. She was educated in Morocco (in contrast with much of the elite, which still prefers to do post-grad work abroad.) Lastly, the wedding is a public event, a marked difference from other Moroccan royal weddings, which were kept private. Here are some pictures of the wedding preps.

Thursday, July 11th, 2002

Oh, look, MOCA is having an Andy Warhol retrospective.

Thursday, July 11th, 2002

I took my first yoga class last Tuesday and loved it. Granted, I did feel it a bit funny, when, index fingers and thumbs joined, palms facing the floor, we chanted “Om” and “Shanti,” but it was a relaxing session. Except now my abs are sore and I feel so sleepy I’m on my second espresso. I wonder if that’s to be expected.

Wednesday, July 10th, 2002

This is a few days old already, but worth reading: An interview with Gore Vidal in the L.A. Weekly. The interview deals with Vidal’s book, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, in which he argues that much of what has befallen America of late was caused by the government’s actions in foreign countries. Vidal tends to ramble a little but Marc Cooper, the interviewer, does not let him off easy. Vidal does make a couple of important points (e.g. the fact that finding Bin Laden is not a mission on the U.S. military’s agenda in Afghanistan, the whole myth of “us” vs. “them” originating in Washington and echoed by the media, etc.)
And Vidal is not the only writer upset with the government’s actions of late. Take a look at the Statement of Conscience signed by people like Russell Banks and Barbara Kingsolver.

Sunday, July 7th, 2002

Just got back from Mammoth Lakes–I drove to meet up with Alex who had just finished the John Muir trail. It was a quiet Fourth of July, and when we got back we heard about the shooting at LAX, smallpox vaccination plans, and other assorted horrors. The President is trying to appear tough on shady corporate accounting practices though it is hard to take him seriously given the $848,560 of Harken stock he dumped in 1990, a few weeks before the company on which he served as director reported losses. It’s enough to make you want to go back to the mountains.

Thursday, July 4th, 2002

Happy Independence Day. I am an American now, but I wasn’t always one. I did not grow up with what many Americans take for granted: freedom of speech, the right to dissent, the right to hold assembly, the right to a fair trial–in other words, the Bill of Rights. So it’s with grave concern that I’ve been watching what’s happened to our civil liberties since September 11. In the ten months since the horrific attacks, the government has steadily curtailed many rights that had been guaranteed by law. The FBI now has greater powers to monitor mail, email and phone conversations. It can access library records. It can even access medical and financial records. Privileged communication between attorney and client can be monitored if the client is held on suspicion of terrorism. Law enforcement agencies now also have the right to investigate citizens for criminal matters without establishing cause, if it is for “intelligence purposes.”

To be sure, there has been some opposition to these rollbacks, but none of it strong enough to stop them from taking place. In fact, pundits are quick to point out that, in times of war, civil liberties are often curtailed. The problem with this view is that this is not a traditional war. There is no defined enemy, no specific army, and no exact battleground. Saying that we are at war against terrorism is like saying we are at war against violence, or against drugs, or against murder. You can jail offenders after they have committed crimes but you can never be sure when the next will happen. There is no foreseeable time in the future when we might expect some of these rights to be restored. And what guarantees do we even have that the loss of civil liberties is temporary? In the middle of the melee, no one seems to be bringing up this point.

Of graver concern is the case of the “detainees.” The government holds several hundred people (the Attorney General will not disclose the exact number), most of them Arab or Muslim, many without the right to a lawyer or the right to know the charges made against them. Their families cannot attend court proceedings. Their lawyers have limited access to the evidence, if any. The USA Patriot Act also enables the Attorney General to detain non-citizens based on mere suspicion. If this sounds like Kafka’s The Trial, that’s because it is, except on a mass scale.

Proponents of these proceedings say that the “detainees” are non-citizens. However, the Bill of Rights does not discriminate between citizens and non-citizens. Anyone physically on this land has the right to be treated with fairness. The “non-citizen” excuse has a long history, from pre-war Germany to our United States. A few centuries ago, slaves brought from Africa were considered non-citizens and therefore not subject to the protections of the law. It took three hundred years for slavery to be abolished, and another hundred years for blacks to have equal civil rights. How long will it take us to give today’s non-citizens the rights that the Constitution already provides for them?

As Americans, we are bound to “support and defend the Constitution.” We ought to regard the curtailing of freedoms as a threat to the transparency necessary for the system of checks and balances to work properly. Losing freedom is not a guarantee of greater national security, but it is a surefire way to encourage harassment, silence dissent, and threaten the ability of people to govern themselves.

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2002

I wasn’t the only one to notice the oddly colonial undertones of the Bush Plan of last week. In this week’s Time magazine Michael Elliot writes:

“If you’re nostalgic for gin slings, parasols and fly whisks, the White House Rose Garden was the place to be last week. The speech that President Bush gave on the Middle East could have been delivered by a colonial governor. As if the Palestinians were hapless natives, Bush set out the conditions they had to meet before winning approval from the Great White Father. (…) This is all mighty odd. Republicans spent eight years criticizing the Clinton Administration for neocolonial nation building in such places as Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti. This, we were told, was a diversion from America’s core missions: national defense and the establishment of a global security system based on relations with other great powers. Last week, however, a senior White House official blithely said, “We’re for nation building,” as long as American troops aren’t used to do it. (Which begs the question: Who will be used?)”

I don’t want to excerpt more, because the entire piece was a good read and worth checking out in its entirety: George W. Kipling.

The article coincided for me with a movie I saw last night on TCM: The Letter (with the amazing Bette Davis.) The entire movie is awash with colonial attitudes, with Bette’s character referring to Malaysian workers on her husband’s plantation as “the boys.”

Might be time to dig out Heart of Darkness and Season of Migration to the North.

Monday, July 1st, 2002

This is disturbing. Notice that nowhere in the Reuters brief are the words “victims” or “innocent” used. They’re just collateral damage.

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