Archive for October, 2007

New Moroccan Government

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Following the legislative elections of September 2007 in Morocco (which, while generally transparent, had low levels of voter turnout) the new government has been announced. The new Prime Minister is Abbas El Fassi, of the Istiqlal Party.

Mr. Abbas El Fassi is perhaps best remembered by the young people of Morocco as the man who, in his capacity as Minister of Employment in 2002 was responsible for the Al Najat fiasco. At least one person has committed suicide in the aftermath of that scandal. Abbas El Fassi is also the man who, earlier this year, was quoted in Tel Quel magazine as saying that the efforts to promote Darija Arabic in Morocco are part of a conspiracy by the francophone elite to hurt the unity of the Arab peoples. (Rien que ça? one is tempted to say.)

Several ministers have no party affiliation (Chakib Benmoussa, Taieb Fassi Fihri, Ahmed Toufiq, et al.), and are technocrats chosen for their experience in the private sector, and in that sense the country will continue to be managed as it has in previous iterations.

This new government is quite remarkable, however, for its record number of women ministers: Ms. Amina Benkhadra (Energy & Mines); Ms. Yasmina Baddou (Health); Ms. Nawal El Moutawakil (Sports); Ms. Nouzha Skalli (Family); Ms. Touria Jabrane (Culture); Ms. Latifa Labida (liaison to National Education); and Ms. Latifa Akherbach (liaison to Foreign Affairs).

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Art in the Mail

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

I’ve written in this space before about the wonderful welcome that Mercy High School extended to me last month in San Francisco, but the generosity of the students turned out to be even bigger. Yesterday, the mailman delivered two boxes, each containing artwork by students. These pieces were inspired by my novel, and use techniques from North Africa:

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Slow Day

Monday, October 15th, 2007

I think I am going to take a day off from reading news, and instead I am going to spend my day with Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder.

On NPR

Monday, October 15th, 2007

If you’re so inclined, tune in today to NPR’s All Things Considered. I was interviewed for a segment on art and censorship.

Tom Perrotta’s The Abstinence Teacher

Friday, October 12th, 2007

abstinence_teacher.jpegOn the plane back from Europe, I read Tom Perrotta’s new novel, The Abstinence Teacher, which I believe comes out next week in the U.S.. It’s very similar to Little Children in its structure: alternating chapters take us into the minds of a man and a woman, with diametrically opposed lives, and yet of course strikingly similar flaws. The title character in The Abstinence Teacher is Ruth Ramsey, a recently divorced high-school sex-education teacher who runs into trouble with members of an evangelical church. They complain to the school board, the school board sides with the concerned parents, and a new, abstinence-only curriculum is introduced. The other protagonist is Tim Mason, the soccer coach. He’s a drug addict and an alcoholic who only managed to get clean and sober when he found Jesus, and he is a member of the church that forced the abstinence curriculum on Ruth. Tim is riddled with doubts, though, jealous of his ex-wife’s new husband, and generally having a hard time finding anything in common with his new, church-approved wife.

Given the frightening influence of the Christian right on current U.S. policies in education, public health, and foreign affairs, it’s really refreshing to see a novelist tackle the theme of fundamentalism. (And if you doubt for one minute the wide influence of fundamentalists, just look at what the nutty Ann Coulter recently said about Jews, and at the campaign the equally nutty David Horowitz is mounting on university campuses.) Perrotta does a good job of placing his characters in difficult situations, and his satirical eye is devastatingly sharp. I found the novel engrossing, and ended up staying up to finish it even though I was exhausted when I got off the plane. I did have a couple of issues with the book, though. For instance, the continual mention of brand names grew tiring after a while; nearly each product name was shorthand for a character trait, and consumer choices don’t go very far in drawing out character.

Happy Eid

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim readers! This year, the Empire State Building will be lit up in green in honor of the holiday, and the illumination will continue through the end of the weekend.

And The Nobel Goes To…

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

Doris Lessing! I sort of suspected it would be an English-language writer this year, but honestly I had not even thought of Doris Lessing. It’s nice to be surprised, don’t you think? Michael Orthofer at the Complete Review has already posted links to reviews, interviews, and commentary, which you should check out.

Rome With Love

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

My visit to Rome went by in a blink. I merely had time to catch a glimpse of the Coliseum on my way back from the Moroccan Cultural Center before jumping into a cab and going to my hotel to pack up for the trip home. Is it possible to fall in love after just one look? I think it has happened to me and I just want to return to Rome and to Italy soon and stay for a good, long while.

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More Italy Photos

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

I am terrible at photography, despite having taken a class at UCLA extension many years ago, but wanted to show you a couple of pictures from Ferrara. On Sunday, the main square near the cathedral is turned into an antique market:


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This is a shot of the console that holds all the simultaneous-translation headphones at the Internazionale festival in Ferrara. Attendees had to turn in their national ID cards to get one.

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Something you’re not about to see in our translation-averse U.S. newspapers. This is a short story by the late, great Abdurrahman Munif, which appeared on the cover of a national Sunday supplement:

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The street leading up to my hotel, a.k.a. the Jesuit monastery:

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This is as close as I got to seeing the wonderful waters off the coast of Sardegna. I took this in the airport in Cagliari:

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Panel: Rome, Italy

Monday, October 8th, 2007

I will be doing a panel tomorrow at the Moroccan Cultural Center here in Rome. Here are the details:

Tuesday, October 09, 2007
5 pm
Centro Averroe (Moroccan Cultural Center)
Via della Polveriera, 14
Rome, Italy

Do come. The event will be in English, with simultaneous translation into Italian.

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