Archive for the ‘department of wtf’ Category

UC Walkout

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Back in June, when the governor and the legislature were still fighting over the best way to balance the state’s budget without raising taxes, they agreed upon a series of cuts to public education in California. One of their ideas was to take away $800 million from the University of California system. When I wrote about this for the Nation, I argued that:

The UC budget represents only $3 billion of the state’s budget, but its economic, educational and health benefits are enormous. The UC system employs 170,000 faculty and staff; it educates 220,000 students; its five medical centers serve more than 3.6 million patients each year; and for every dollar it receives in state research funding, it secures six more in federal and private research dollars. Cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from California’s public universities would be an unmitigated disaster. It would result in huge losses in tax revenues for the state and a decline in the quality of healthcare, and it would eventually lead to nothing short of the dismantling of quality public higher education in the state.

In early July, when most faculty and students were away, the administrators of the University of California began sending a series of emails, which seemed to me confusing and contradictory. It eventually became clear that President Yudoff’s plan included salary cuts and furloughs for all faculty and staff, larger classes, reduced enrollment, and higher tuition and fees. Because of the University’s system of “shared governance,” the faculty and staff still believed they would have a voice in how the budget cuts would be implemented on their individual campuses.

So when the UC faculty voted (system-wide) to have at least 6 instruction-day furloughs (out of a total of 26), they expected to be heard. Ordinarily, faculty divide their time between three main duties: teaching, service, and research. It makes sense that at least some of the furlough time be on instruction days. In addition, instruction-day furloughs keep the pressure on the state and force the governor/legislature to be accountable for the effects of continued disinvestment from public education. But on August 21, the University’s administrators announced that “the decision was made to not have faculty furlough days take place on instructional days.” This seems to be a fairly clear violation of the system of shared governance.

In addition, while the administrators claim that the salary cuts were unavoidable, they also somehow managed to vote for pay increases for a couple dozen top administrators way back in May. So the administrators do believe that the cuts are necessary, so long as the people at the very top are not affected.

Most importantly, the students will have larger and fewer classes, and higher tuition and fees. The cost of their education has risen dramatically and, chances are, will continue to rise over the next few years. Meanwhile, there are fewer options for them in the job market.

The UC Board of Regents Chair, Russell Gould, launched a commission, which he will co-chair with President Yudoff. It’s called the “Commission on the Future of UC” and it will likely help redefine the way in which the University will operate in the next few years. It consists of business and professional people, chancellors and deans from UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UCLA, and UC Santa Barbara (but not other campuses—UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced, UC Davis, UC San Francisco, and UC San Diego), and very few faculty. There is real reason to worry that certain fields and certain campuses will be given a higher priority than those fields/campuses that do not bring in as much money to the University.

It is because of all of this that a group of UC faculty, including faculty on my campus, has organized a walkout for September 24. Our walkout is endorsed by the American Association of University Professors.

Existential Angst

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Here is how the French newspaper Le Figaro titled its exclusive interview with Afghan president Hamid Karzaï: Karzai: “Je ne serais pas une marionette des Etats-Unis”. (Karzaï: “I will not be a puppet of the United States.”) It’s the funniest headline I’ve seen in a long time. Such existential angst on his part.


Department of WTF

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Harper’s Scott Horton links to footage from an interview that General Petraeus gave to Fox News, in which he argued in favor of the release of the remaining photographs showing alleged prisoner abuse.  Says Horton:

Petraeus argued in favor of release, saying “Let’s lance this boil.” He feared that the damage from withholding the photos would be greater than that from releasing them, because it would fuel suspicions that the photos are worse than they are. General Ray Odierno took the opposing view, and Obama sided with Odierno, although my sources say this is strictly a timing decision, and that Obama fully intends ultimately to release the photos.

That last bit seems somewhat optimistic.  At Salon, Glenn Greenwald points out that Obama is actively supporting a new bill, sponsored by Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009.  Greenwald explains:

[This bill] literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any “photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.”  As long as the Defense Secretary certifies — with no review possible — that disclosure would “endanger” American citizens or our troops, then the photographs can be suppressed even if FOIA requires disclosure.  The certification lasts 3 years and can be renewed indefinitely.  The Senate passed the bill as an amendment last week.

If this is what the Obama administration calls transparency, can you imagine what obfuscation might look like?

Department of WTF

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Life expectancy in the United States has now fallen behind that of almost every other industrialized nation, while at the same time the U.S. is spending more on health care (per capita) than any other country.

Department of WTF

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Remember Kanan Makiya? Aside from predicting that American troops would be “greeted with sweets and flowers” in Iraq, he’s apparently also moved more than 7 million pages of records from the Baath party to the United States, where they will be housed in the Hoover Institution at Stanford. The Iraqi National archivist Saad Eskander wants the looted papers back in Baghdad, where they belong, but who’s listening to him? Neither the occupying forces nor their handmaidens in Iraq.

Department of WTF

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

I don’t get all the hoopla over Scott McClellan’s What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception. If he knew that his boss’s arguments were war propaganda, then why didn’t he step down? And if he didn’t know, then why suddenly come out with it now, when criticizing George Bush has become the safest national pastime? Oh, right: Ka-ching!

Department of WTF

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

You’ve heard a lot about Jeremiah Wright, but have you heard about McCain’s “spiritual adviser,” one Rod Parsley?

Don’t worry, most of the mainstream media haven’t heard either.

Department of WTF, Redux

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Then again, when I read what Mike Huckabee told a Michigan crowd on Monday, it made me feel like there are enough nutcases in every religion to turn you into an atheist:

“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

And this guy won Iowa, for God’s sake.

Department of WTF

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

I heard that Britney Spears wants to convert to Islam. There comes a point in every lunatic celebrity’s career when this happens (See: Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, etc.) And all I can say is: Our nut house is full, Britney. Please take up another religion, we have enough crazies of our own.

Department of WTF

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Giles Foden, the author of The Last King of Scotland and this year’s chair of judges for the Booker Prize, files a post-mortem piece for the Guardian about the judging process. I was shocked to read this tidbit:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist divided the panel: one judge felt the book tacitly supported Islamic fundamentalist violence, another that it evaded the issue. I thought these views were wrong. To my mind the skill of the book lay in the way its ingenious narrative device implicated the reader in the political issues explored.

The text itself remained ambivalent. The fact that the device was borrowed or learned from Camus’ The Fall did not generate as much excitement among the judges as it did among certain literary journalists. Most of us felt imitation of form was one of the ways in which literature is carried on. Besides, the debt to the author of The Fall was implicitly acknowledged by its overtness, and by a mention of Camus in the blurb.

Some of the judges thought The Reluctant Fundamentalist condones Islamic fundamentalist violence? The character of Changez smiles at the collapse of the towers not out of political or religious fervor, but because of feelings of inferiority and resentment that he, a man from a forgotten city of the third world, harbors toward the strongest city of the first world and its obscenely powerful corporations. But let’s face it: If the book had been written by a middle-aged white man (think Updike) he’d have been praised for his insights into the “Muslim mind.”

Department of WTF

Sunday, August 5th, 2007

It’s really disheartening to have to write yet another post, about yet another problem in the Moroccan press, but it seems the wheels of censorship never stop. Over the weekend, the government ordered all issues of Tel Quel and its sister publication Nichane seized from points of sale. The magazine’s editor in chief Ahmed Reda Benchemi was heard by police on Saturday, and was back at home on Sunday, according to this Reuters report.

Department of WTF

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

So Salman Rushdie was finally honored with an honorary knighthood (he’s Sir Salman from now on) and a Pakistani MP apparently thinks that this award justifies suicide attacks. In addition, the Pakistani minister for parliamentary affairs says that the honor “has hurt the sentiments of the Muslims across the world. ” I’d love to know what qualifies her to speak for Muslims across the world. My God. Can you imagine if Rushdie ever wins the Nobel? The loonie fringe will probably blame him for everything from the Iraq war to the fighting in Gaza. Enough.

Department of WTF

Monday, May 7th, 2007

Suketu Mehta (Maximum City) writing in The New York Times:

I grew up watching my father stand on his head every morning. He was doing sirsasana, a yoga pose that accounts for his youthful looks well into his 60s. Now he might have to pay a royalty to an American patent holder if he teaches the secrets of his good health to others. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued 150 yoga-related copyrights, 134 patents on yoga accessories and 2,315 yoga trademarks. There’s big money in those pretzel twists and contortions — $3 billion a year in America alone.

Read on, to find out how knowledge is being patented, and by those who should know better.

Department of WTF

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

The Los Angeles Times obtained a copy of the budget for the 2005 action film Sahara, which starred Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz, and which is considered a financial disaster for the studio that produced it. What I found interesting about Glenn F. Bunting’s article was this tidbit, which describes the shoot in Morocco: the work involves paying out bribes, interfering with government development projects, and the removal of trees:

Although portions of the movie were shot in Britain and Spain, most of the filming was done in Morocco, a country in North Africa that has become a popular site for U.S. filmmakers. “Babel,” “Syriana,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Kingdom of Heaven” all have benefited from Morocco’s welcoming environment, favorable exchange rate and cheap labor. An “assistant propman” on “Sahara,” for example, earned a weekly salary of $233, the equivalent of one day’s pay for a U.S. prop worker. In one impoverished village, a “Sahara” crew acquired household items at a bargain price. “We actually bought all the dressings from this person’s house at a very inflated rate, which was probably about a dollar,” Eisner said on the “Sahara” DVD. Producers had little reason to worry about red tape or paperwork because in Morocco a single permit provides access to the entire kingdom.

Cold cash came in handy. According to Account No. 3,600 of the “Sahara” budget, 16 “gratuity” or “courtesy” payments were made throughout Morocco. Six of the expenditures were “local bribes” in the amount of 65,000 dirham, or $7,559. Experts in Hollywood accounting could not recall ever seeing a line item in a movie budget described as a bribe. “It’s a bad choice of words in a document, but it’s a perfectly normal and cost-efficient way of getting a film made in a place like Morocco,” said David A. Davis of FMV Opinions Inc., a Century City financial advisory firm.

The final budget shows that “local bribes” were handed out in remote locations such as Ouirgane in the Atlas Mountains, Merzouga and Rissani. One payment was made to expedite the removal of palm trees from an old French fort called Ouled Zahra, said a person close to the production who requested anonymity. Other items include $23,250 for “Political/Mayoral support” in Erfoud and $40,688 “to halt river improvement project” in Azemmour. The latter payment was made to delay construction of a government sewage system that would have interrupted filming. Putnam, Anschutz’s lawyer, said the “local bribes” reflected line items that were budgeted but not actually spent. He said the payments on location in Morocco were reviewed after “Sahara” executives were contacted by The Times.

Honestly, I started to laugh about all this, until I got to the part where palm trees are being taken out and river improvement projects that benefit Moroccans are halted in order to accommodate films, and then I wanted to cry.

The rest of the article describes, in painstaking detail, all the movie’s expenditures, which included a payment of $72,800 to McConaughey’s hair colorist for 90 days’ work. Yes, those numbers are correct.

Department of WTF

Friday, August 11th, 2006

Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass has revealed that he served in the Waffen-SS during World War II.

The author, best known for his first novel “The Tin Drum” and an active supporter of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), said his wartime secret had been weighing on his mind and was one of the reasons he wrote a book of recollections which details his war service. The book is out in September.

“My silence through all these years is one of the reasons why I wrote this book,” the paper quoted Grass as saying in a preview of its Saturday edition. “It had to come out finally.”

You can read the Reuters release here.

Department of WTF

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Feminist scholar Germaine Greer (The Female Eunuch) has jumped into the row over the film adaptation of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. As you may recall, the novel stirred some strong feelings within the Bangladeshi community back in 2003, and now that a production company has started work on a film adaptation, some people want the filming to be taken elsewhere. (There are, it should be said, other people from the community who think filming on location would be great for business and should be encouraged. Not that this makes for great newspaper copy. But, moving on.)

Greer’s stance, or however much of it I can decode, seems to be that a) Monica Ali is not really Bengali, because she has “allowed herself to forget” her mother tongue; b) she is British, and has a British point of view ; c) she is not ostracized because she went to Oxford and lives in a nice neighborhood; therefore d) she doesn’t really have what it takes to write about poor Bengalis from Brick Lane; and, as a corollary, e) Bangladeshi Britons are better off not reading the book or seeing the movie.

This Ali-bashing is getting really tiresome. Yes, she made a poor stylistic choice with Hasina’s voice, and no, Brick Lane is not without fault. But to claim to know what Monica Ali’s intentions are when she wrote the novel is just plain ridiculous. Is Greer a mind reader? And to condemn Ali because she dared—dared!—to go to Oxford is even more stupid. Since when has education been an impediment to writing? What gives Greer the right to decide whether Monica Ali is Bangladeshi enough? And what gives her the right to tell Bangladeshi Britons whether they should see the movie or not?

In other developments, Salman Rushdie fired off a response to the editors, in which he took issue with Greer’s characterization of Ali, and added

At the height of the assault against my novel The Satanic Verses, Germaine Greer stated: “I refuse to sign petitions for that book of his, which was about his own troubles.” She went on to describe me as “a megalomaniac, an Englishman with dark skin”. Now it’s Monica Ali’s turn to be deracinated: “She writes in English and her point of view is, whether she allows herself to impersonate a village Bangladeshi woman or not, British.” There is a kind of double racism in this argument. To suit Greer, the British-Bangladeshi Ali is denied her heritage and belittled for her Britishness, while her British-Bangladeshi critics are denied that same Britishness, which most of them would certainly insist was theirs by right. “Writers are treacherous,” Greer says, and she should know.


Department of WTF

Monday, June 12th, 2006

Just when it seems that the administration makes a step forward, like getting that fucker Zarqawi (not that it will change the situation in Iraq or return the hostages he’s taken, but hey, I’ll take comfort wherever I can get it at this point), it takes two steps back. This past weekend, when two Saudis and a Yemeni committed suicide at the prison that shame forgot, a Gitmo camp commander declared that the men “committed an act of war” against the U.S. How monumentally arrogant and soulless do you have to be to say something like that? I mean, seriously?

Department of WTF

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

John Malkovich will play David Lurie in the film adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. Why, oh why? He will completely ruin it.


Department of WTF

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

A survey of publishers, booksellers, agents and librarians has found there is fear of pursuing books that appeal to readers of color. According to the survey:

While 7.9% of the UK’s population is of ethnic minority origin, only 50 (1%) of this year’s top 5,000 bestsellers are by BME writers, despite the high profile of award-winners Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy and Monica Ali.

Wait, it takes a survey to know that?

Department of WTF

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

Well, color me surprised: The BBC reports that when George Clooney’s Syriana was screened in the UAE, two minutes of film were removed by government censors: They dealt with mistreatment of Asian workers in an unnamed Gulf country.

Department of WTF

Monday, November 28th, 2005

The AP reports that 22 Emirati men have been arrested at a “mass homosexual wedding” in the UAE. The men face jail time as well as government-mandated “hormone treatments.”

Department of WTF

Friday, November 11th, 2005

As I’m sure has been reported elsewhere, someone’s trying to patent a fictional storyline on zombies. Watch out, Hollywood.

Thanks to reader Edward E. for the link.

Department of WTF

Friday, October 7th, 2005

Zadie Smith was in town yesterday to read from On Beauty. There were about 300 people at the event, which was held at the First Unitarian Church in downtown Portland. Smith chose a scene from early on in the novel, when Jerome drags the entire Belsey family to a Mozart concert, and they run into two of Howard’s colleagues: Jack French, the Dean of Humanities, and Erskine Jegede, the chair of the Black Studies Department.

The Q&A proceeded in a rather textbook fashion (“How do you write?” “What are you reading at the moment?” “Which writers have influenced you?” etc.) Then a gentleman sitting in the balcony asked her how she felt about “normalizing black people.”

(I am not making this up.)

Though Smith appeared to be bewildered by the question, she remained gracious, and calmly responded that she doesn’t see what would be wrong with that, because she herself feels very normal [a round of applause].

Department of WTF

Thursday, July 14th, 2005

An exhibit of Botero’s paintings, inspired by the torture of Iraqi prisoner by U.S. troops at the Abu-Ghraib prison, opened in Rome last month. Another show of the artist’s works opened in Barranquilla, this time displaying pieces inspired by car bombings and kidnappings in Colombia. The L.A. Times has a review of the shows, and of what drew Botero to the events.

These aren’t the sorts of scenes most people associate with Fernando Botero. For decades, the 73-year-old Colombian painter and sculptor has been best known for his seemingly innocuous images of plump priests, chunky children and still lifes of gargantuan fruits and flowers.

But this perception of Botero’s work was always overly simplistic and incomplete. Encoded, or perhaps hidden in plain sight, in many of his paintings are multilayered cultural symbols, covert allusions to current events and winking art-historical references to works by Velazquez, Vermeer and other Old Masters. Some of his most enigmatic images birds perched in lollipop trees, faces anxiously peering out of windows, a pile of dead bishops resting peacefully hint at darker forces roiling beneath the colorful, pleasing surfaces.

Read more here.

Department of WTF

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

Norman Mailer’s racist, misogynistic rant against NY Times critic Michiko Kakutani has been getting quite a bit of press, but it’s distressing to note how much of it is being related without even a dash of condemnation. Nor have those who’ve claimed Mailer’s ire to be “understandable” bothered to look at Kakutani’s record. (Michael Cader, of Publishers’ Marketplace, looked at 150 reviews by Kakutani and found books by white men to be “as well represented as any.”)

Department of WTF

Monday, June 27th, 2005

A controversial biography of the Prophet, written by one George Bush (distant, distant relation, says the White House), in the last century, has been authorized for distribution by the powerful and often belligerent Al-Azhar in Egypt. Al-Azhar is a religious university that has the power to censor particular books in the republic, so I was a little surprised that they gave the book a pass. (The book describes the Prophet as an “imposter” and Muslims as “locusts.”) Are the ulamas of Al-Azhar becoming more respectful of freedom of speech? Sure would be good news for novelists like Haydar Haydar. (But I remain skeptical.)

WH link from Lit Saloon.

Department of WTF

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Add this to the list of “must-do” things for a hot, young author: Marry another hot, young author. Then the media can file useless pieces about your relationship, other famous literary pairings, and what it all means for literature. Ugh.

Department of WTF

Thursday, April 14th, 2005

Just when Morocco is liberalizing its press and making democratic reforms there comes a bit of sobering news that makes you wonder whether the clock isn’t turning back. Ali Lamrabet, the editor of Demain Magazine, who’s had previous entanglements with the law in Morocco has now been banned from working as a journalist for 10 years. Although the lawsuit was brought by an association of civilians, it’s pretty clear that his real crime was voicing an opinion about territorial disputes in the Sahara that ran contrary to the standard. The Reuters dispatch has a couple of worthwhile quotes.

“This is a major blunder by our judiciary system. The judge did not even let us plead our client’s case,” said Abderrahim Jamai, Lmrabet’s lawyer and a prominent human rights activist.

A Communication Ministry spokeswoman said she could not comment because the justice system was independent. But Morocco’s national union of journalists criticised the use of the criminal law in this particular case.

“It is the first time in the history of the Moroccan press that a journalist has been given such a heavy sentence in a defamation case,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. “This ruling…is a serious blot on freedom of opinion and the press in Morocco.”

An absolute outrage. I suspect that another pardon may be in the works, especially if the pressure continues to mount, but it pisses me off when the courts don’t do their job.

Department of WTF

Thursday, March 3rd, 2005

I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read this:

A Muslim woman breaks the taboos of her culture: using a pseudonym, she publishes an erotic tale divulging the secret sexual lives and cravings of Muslim women. The book was a phenomenon in France, but conservative Muslims have attacked it as trash. If her identity were revealed, she fears she would be stoned in her native Morocco.

Stoning? In Morocco?? For crying out loud, if you’re going to trade in cliches, it might be a good idea to stick to the ones most appropriate for the country where your story is set.

The book this Spiegel article is raving about is the much-hyped autobiographical novel The Almond, written by a pseudonymous author named Nedjma. It has been described as a Muslim Vagina Monologues and touted as the first erotic novel by an Arab woman. It recounts the life of a Moroccan farm girl named Badira, who is sexually assaulted by her husband on her wedding night, and who puts up with the violence for three years before moving to Tangiers, where she takes a lover and rediscovers her sexuality.

But the details that we have about the author suggest that she’s not even Moroccan. For instance, her name is spelled in the Algerian vernacular (in Moroccan Arabic, it’s a different ‘j’ sound.) And Nedjma also happens to be the title of the famous novel by the Algerian Kateb Yacine. Indeed, the Telegraph identified this Nedjma as Algerian, while Spiegel Online says she’d be stoned “in her native Morocco,” so which the fuck is it, people?

I guess the reason I’m annoyed with this whole hoopla is that it completely trades on the sales bonanza enjoyed by Salman Rushdie in 1989. But it’s one thing for a novelist like Salman Rushdie (whom I respect and admire) to have the courage to put his name on a work of fiction, and to put up with a fatwa by a bunch of lunatic goons, and it’s quite another to write a pseudonymous novel and hide behind the idea that there are risks of “stoning,” when, as far as we know, no threats have been made.

And the idea that Nedjma is the “first Arab woman” to deal with erotica is completely absurd. How about Al Khansaa who wrote in the 7th century? Or, more recently, Alifa Rifaat? Or Ahdaf Soueif? Or Assia Djebbar?

But of course, it’s this “I’m an oppressed Arab woman who tells the West about her plight” that sells books, and I guess her U.S. publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press, will soon cash in as well. And the NY Times profile (with the author hiding behind a hat and dark sunglasses) can’t be far behind.

A few months ago, I wrote a 1,000-word piece about these types of books and how they work, and I never got around to sending it out. Maybe I should.

Update: Fellow writer Randa Jarrar sends this note with even more names of women writers who’ve written erotica.

Latifa El-Zayyat wrote about sex; Nawal Al-Saadawi has erotic scenes in most of her novellas; sexual content was one of the reasons Assia Djebbar changed her name; Ahlam Mostaghanmi, the author of Memory of the Body, wrote many sex scenes. Speaking of Mostaghanmi: when her book first came out, her publisher claimed she was the first Algerian woman to have written a novel in Arabic. This turned out to be false. A schoolteacher had written a novel in Arabic 20 years earlier.

I’d be willing to bet that this Nedjma does not even exist.

Department of WTF

Tuesday, October 26th, 2004

David Plotz thinks he’s so effing funny, he cracks himself up: Who’s Worse: The French or The Saudis?

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