Monday, February 27, 2006

American Nightmare

My desis are letting me down:

People who know Mr. Bush say he has an interest in [India] through little-known personal and political connections in Texas. While he was governor, Mr. Bush befriended a number of prosperous Indian doctors and businessmen, all Republicans, who captivated him as embodiments of the American dream and contributed handsomely to his campaigns.
Well, what can you expect from Texans? The Hindu ones probably all eat big steaks every night, too.

Attention non (naan?)- Injuns: We are not all like this. I, like many second-generation Indians, much prefer Fellow Tribal Members like Prime Minister Singh's daughter, who is at the ACLU, battling Bush on torture and detainees.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Vast Left-Wing, Islamo-Pacifist Conspiracy

Recently published on the Atlasphere:

"...September 11 electrified the Left. More than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was once again someone whose thinking about the West and capitalism agreed with its own. Most importantly, Islamists possessed the will and capability to destabilize or perhaps even bring down the object of their hate.

"Sensing the opportunity, the Left immediately sprang to action. The first order of business was to dampen the retaliatory wrath of the United States. The effort was already underway on September 12 when a missive appeared on a popular leftist website urging restraint in responding to the attack.

"Since then the Left has done everything it could to undermine our efforts in the War on Terror. Because of its crucial importance, opposition to the American military is once again their rallying cry. Portraying it as an instrument of domination and our troops as reprobates, they try to discredit it in the public’s eyes. Complaining of its bad image, they themselves do all they can to blacken it. "

How did I happen upon this fount of wisdom and vitriol, you ask? Well, Jonathan bought me a copy of "Atlas Shrugged" for my birthday, and at his request I read most of it. I never finished it--- Dagny's superhuman efficiency and productivity was starting to make me feel worthless-- and Googled it to see what happens at the end. (Sorry, J.) What I found was the Atlasphere, a community of Ayn Rand admirers. The site publishes libertarian-esque opinion pieces, but more interestingly, has an internet dating feature!!!

I registered immediately. In the few days since, I've already received a smile from a fellow traveler-- one "AJ Saraf" from Houston, Tex. I won't smile back, of course, becasue I already have a libertarian lover to deal with. Sorry, AJ!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Statistics You Probably Won't See in the Papers

A reader wonders whether Human Rights First's report on the treatment of detainees held by the US will make the front page of a U.S. newspaper. What a wonderful world that would be! Sadly but unsuprisingly, it hasn't seem to have made any of today's papers: Google News has no hits for "Human Rights First" today.

I'll monitor the news and keep you updated. Meanwhile, some tasty tidbits from the report.
  • 98 detainee deaths in U.S. custody
  • 45 suspected or confirmed homicides. Thirty-four deaths were homicides under the U.S. military’s definition; Human Rights First found 11 additional cases where the facts suggest death as a result of physical abuse or harsh conditions of detention.
  • In 48 cases – close to half of all the cases – the cause of death remains officially undetermined or unannounced.
  • Certainly 8, as many as 12, people were tortured to death.
  • Only 12 deaths have resulted in any kind of punishment.
  • The highest punishment for a torture-related death: 5 months confinement.

Return of Titid

I am not sure what to make of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's planned return to Haiti. I empathize with the man and with his supporters, whose democratic rights have been trampled on for years, but something tells me this return cannot be good. If Aristide treats Preval as a puppet, as he has in the past, Preval will lose any shred of support with the ruling elite that he may have. Without the elite's support-- or at least, toleration-- a Haitian ruler has no chance. Even worse, Aristide's move would confirm to his detractors that he is the powerlusting, dictator-in-the-making they say he is.

Maybe, Patrice, you don't need to replace the Aristide sticker on your Nalgene with a Preval one, after all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Haven't They Been Feeding You at Prison Camp?

The United States has now admitted that hunger strikers at Guantanamo have been force fed, usually by strapping the prisoners to restraining chairs, and, at regular intervals, shoving tubes down their throats and up their noses and pumping liquid nourishment in at belly-bursting velocities and volumes.

Not only is this treatment considered by many American gourmands too inhumane for geese; it's also absurdly hypocritical: Guantanamo officials are torturing detainees to prevent them from dying.

Maybe I am being too unsympathetic-- after all, what's wrong with a little torture to preserve peace and quiet? According to military official, the hunger strikes had to be stopped "because they were having a disruptive effect and causing stress for the medical staff."

Summers's Fall and a Newsie's Revenge

The Wall Street Journal breaks the news that Harvard President Larry Summers is set to resign this week. To me, though, the story is less interesting than its precocious co-author. Zachary Steward was until earlier this month the managing editor of Harvard's newspaper, the Crimson. He resigned because the college's disciplinary board forced him to take a leave of absence from school and from the paper; his grades were suffering.

Bet those administrators are regretting that move now that Zach has a national forum in which to air their dirty laundry.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sympathy for a Jew-Hater

An Austrian court today sentenced David Irving to three years in prison for "denying" the Holocaust. Perverse! No doubt all the publicity that has attended Irving's trial has fanned the embers of anti-Semitism 'round the world and given his book (and theories) a jump in sales and influence.

I'm neither free-speech absolutist nor, G-d forbid, anti-Semite (I LOVE the Jews, one in particular)-- but I think this sentence is disproportionate and self-defeating. Thoughts?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Preval Prevails, But Questions Lurk

Really, what the hell happened? A friend sends this account from the Miami Herald, which offers this chronology of events and points up the leverage that France, Canada and the U.S. had in resolving the electoral crisis.

I don't doubt that "irregularities" marred the election-- Preval was expected to win in a landslide, according to observers and poll-watchers, and all those blank ballots were suspicious. But I worry that Preval's government will be shadowed by illegitimacy and, indeed, even more dependent on fair-weather friends (France, the US, Canada) that usually leave the Haitian left in the lurch. Consider, for instance, yesterday's barely-veiled threat from my nemesis, Roger Noriega:

"Haitians have suffered the consequences when, not too long ago, they were denied legitimate government because outsiders pronounced slip-shod elections as ''good enough'' for Haiti. Now, violent mobs may be trying to convince those tallying the ballots that 49 percent is ``good enough."... Préval's opponents--roughly half the population--will have every reason to reject the legitimacy of a leader who counted on a mob to seal his victory."

So much for power to the people. Like his predecesor, Preval is under our thumbs.

Lawyers are Whores

Cheney's unintended target expressed sympathy for him today, in the lawyer's first public appearance since the shooting. Said Mr. Whittington:

"I'm deeply sorry for all that the vice president has gone through this week, especially because getting shot felt so damn good. Almost as good as the heart attack that followed it. I love Dick and the way his bullets fill me."

Okay, not really. But he did a very smooth job of making the vice president the victim here.

Chronically Depressed Democrats and Ignorantly Blissful Republicans

The Pew Research Center reports that 45 percent of Republicans say they're "very happy," compared with only 30 percent of Democrats. Is it because the GOP controls all three branches of government? Unlikely: Republicans have polled happier than Democrats ever since 1972. Yes, even during those Golden Clinton years. And yes, even when controlled for income (the rich are likelier to report being happy than are the poor).

So, there's an inverse relationship between leftiness and happiness. Well, the Pew Center should next investigate the correlation between partisan preferences and IQ. I hypothesize they'll find a direct relationship between conservativeness and stupidity.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My J-Date

One more thing: I have been summoned to jury service in Lowell, Mass., tomorrow at 8:30am sharp. Wish me luck--I'd rather not be a chosen one.

Will Preval Prevail?

A reader sends this email:

"There is something that I have been wondering about that you touched on in your blog. Perhaps you can clarify the matter for me. Preval appears to have won 48% of the vote in as orderly an election as Haiti could possibly conduct. He will win the second ballot. Shouldn't his supporters be celebrating instead of rioting?"

It's a good question. I have a few theories.

First, most of the electorate is frustrated and deeply
disenchanted with democracy. In a sense, the masses voted 16 years ago for their leader, but they never really got him. In Haiti, electoral power has rarely translated into political power.

Second, I'd wager that a runoff or any other delay would jeopardize Preval's chances. The leading opposition candidate-- Leslie Maginat, with 12% of the vote--would have more time to get his vote machines churning. Indeed, one of the right-wing justifications for the numerous delays of the Haitian elections was that with more time, candidates besides Preval would have a better chance.

Third, and perhaps most important, the elections may not have been as orderly as the reader imagines. Preval's supporters claim fraud, apparently not without merit: Upwards of 200,000 ballots have been voided or were blank.

Those are my theories. Please share yours.

Recherche du Chapeau Perdu

Tis the season of loss.

You know about my computer. (And by the way, I've already replaced it with a sleek, bargain-basement iBook, which I shall keep dustcloth covered and far from food and drink and grimies for its life.) Two pairs of cheap sunglasses. One credit card. But last night I sustained the most devastating loss yet: my hat.

That conspicuous white sheepskin number always made me feel a bit like Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago. I donned it whenever the thermostat dipped below 40 degrees. I engaged in pre-wedding bhangra in a parking lot in December, clad only in a sari and my hat. Construction workers whistled at me when I wore it.

When Jonathan picked me up from school last night, I had it on. When we left The Best Pizza Place in the World last night, I didn't. Four big slices inside my belly, I mustered as much alacrity as I could and waddled back to the restaurant. Bob the Waiter said he'd not seen it. It was not in Jonathan's car, nor was it on the sidewalk where he picked me up.

Questionable motives lurk all around: Bob the Waiter, for one, is bald as a pin.
All my coolest girlfriends coveted the hat. Jonathan despised it. But I don't believe any of them would lack the sense of humanity required take Zhivago from me. I believe the Hat Demon done snatched it.

He has struck before. Once, with my first white sheepskin hat (whose loss caused me to buy Zhivago from eBay last year); then, with an black wool gizmo tricked out with under-chin-ties and a pom-pom.

Poor me, bereft and bareheaded.


An Australian television station has aired new Abu Ghraib images, taken in 2003. The United States' reaction?

"US defence department spokesman Bryan Whitman said the images 'could only further inflame and possibly incite unnecessary violence in the world.' He said: '[The images] would endanger our military men and women.'"

The U.S. has taken that old saw, "The best defense is an offense" way too far.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Hope Extinguished

To recap:

Haiti held presidential and legislative elections on Feb. 7. Preliminary results indicated that Rene Preval, the candidate of the masses, had a sizeable lead, and the soothsayers portended that he would easily gain the 50 percent plus one vote required to become Haiti's next president.

The masses rejoiced, and no wonder: 65 percent of Haitians live below the poverty line, and their will has been repeatedly and systematically
undermined by the United States. Preval's apparent sweep seemed like a new start. A few days after the election, a very qualified calm swept Port-au-Prince.

"David Wimhurst, a spokesman for the United Nations Stabilization Mission, offered some statistics. Troops posted in and around Cité Soleil, a violent slum here in the capital, fired fewer than 700 rounds this week, compared with 4,000 rounds the week before, he said. There were only four kidnappings this week, he said, half the daily average just two weeks ago."

Twas not to last. With 90 percent of the vote tabulated, Preval looks to have received around only 48 percent.
Tires are burning again, the masses are crying foul, and one might predict that the "peacekeepers" will fire at least 4,000 rounds this week.

We shouldn't be surprised. After all, any election that resulted in the victory of a candidate of the masses could not have been legitimate, at least not to the puppetmasters.

Falling Apart

HELP!!!! The folks at IBM called to say that all the damage to my computer was MY FAULT (!) and that they will not pay the $895 required to fix it. I am devastated. Will I be able to retrieve the songs and pictures and poetry (and school stuff, too) from my hard drive? And what shall I do in the interim? My blog is, as you well know, pallid and peaked of late, and my procrastinative urges are building up intolerably. I could barely even write my papers, were I inclined to do so. And when I get a new computer (the only silver lining here...truthfully, I had abused my laptop to no end), which one should it be?

Alas, too, for the news is getting ahead of us all. Aside from the shit going down in Haiti, Dick's hunting accident and Saddam's hunger strike, all of which, inshallah, I will get to this evening, I have a rather more poignant story.

I spent the weekend in New York, and though the mammoth snowstorm delayed my return to Cambridge, I was determined to make it back in time for my 4:30 class on Monday. (Grading is discretionary in classes of fewer than 40 people, as I discovered recently and in a most unfortunate manner.) I flagged down a cab from Back Bay station. Most cab drivers in Boston are immigrants, so I guess it makes sense that most of them ask me where I'm from. I answered as usual ("Iowa, but my parents came from India") and asked my driver, Salah, where he was from.

"Hahahaha!!!" he said with a nervous little laugh. "I'm from the land of the Arabian Nights!"

"Like, from where? Which country?"

"Ahem. The Arabian peninsula."

Salah's hedging made me suspect he was from Iraq. He was, as it turns out. He came to the States after the Iran-Iraq war-- in which he fought-- and just before the start of the first Iraqi invasion. I told him that I was so, so sorry for what the United States has done to his country and then I lost my words. I couldn't find words-- and still can't-- to express the mix of anger and grief and sorryness and shame that I felt. I asked if he still had family there. "Everyone," Salah said. "But I don't know who remains, because it is too hard to talk with them."

By then I was at school. Salah said, "God be with you" and held his hands as if in prayer. He tried to refuse to take my fare.

At the risk of belaboring the story, let me point out two things that break my heart: First, Salah's reluctance to tell me where he was from. Such shame and fear from a former soldier! Second, his reaction to my totally inadequate and bumbling expression of condolences.

God be with you, Salah.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Way Ahead of My Time

I pitched this story at the Journal THREE FUCKING YEARS AGO!!!

The lesson: Lifestyle journalism sucks.

Lousiana Refund

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is soliciting foreign aid to help reconstruct his city. King Abdullah of Jordan gets the Lower Ninth Ward!!! The French get Treme!!! Should Ireland get the Irish Channel?

Speaking of New Orleans, my former supervisor at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, a death penalty advocacy outfit, sent round this notice: They're looking for lawyers to deal with the yukky aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in which loads of (mostly black and all poor) people have been unconstitutionally imprisoned.

Mohammed, Pat Robertson and Sartre Walk into a Bar

Two days without a working computer is tough. My poor little laptop kept fritzing-- including, once, during one of my fall exams-- and I have sent it off to IBM headquarters in Memphis for some fixing. I know that my absence has been rough on my devoted readership, all two of you, but hang tight: I should get the computer back on Friday. Meanwhile, I'm working in the hallowed, halogen lighted halls of Harvard's law library.

My marvelous, charming cousin Manu (whose lovely wife is dancing alongside him in this photo) sends a link to this wacked-out screed against fundamentalist Muslims. The writer seems to think they have too-big a chip on their shoulders. [Don't worry, M-- I quite understand you by no means endorse it.] Well, as my marvelous, charming cousin Bobby (whose lovely wife is standing beside him here) points out out, that chip just resembles the one that Jews and others have about the Holocaust.

Blah, blah, blah. The situation is too absurd, sad and seemingly intractable to deal with constructively and you know, we are Too Small to Make a Difference, so we're moving on. To...Pat Robertson, who most usefully reminds us that if Muslims are taking over the world, it's all Sartre's fault. Apparently, Europeans are committing autocide by reading too much existentialism. (I can see his point: someone like Bourdieu is much sexier.)

Monday, February 06, 2006

An Arab, a Christian and a Jew Walk into a Bar

The Lampoon war has begun!

The Guardian reports that the Danish newspaper that published the incendiary cartoons of Mohammed passed on cartoons of Jesus three years ago, worrying that they'd inflame the readership. Fucking imbeciles. It's Islam, not Christianity, that has the major icon taboo!

In response to cartoons, Iran's best-selling newspaper has announced a Holocaust-cartoon contest. Fucking imbeciles. The Jews had nothing to do with this!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Marching Saints

On my must read list: Taylor Branch's At Cannan's Edge. Anthony Lewis has a super review of the MLK biography in the Times this week. If the book sounds hagiography, all the better-- we need a modern-day saint.

You've Got to Hide Your Love Away

I saw Brokeback Mountain a month or so ago, and though I genuinely appreciated the fact that it broke new ground, I was hardly as enraptured as the critics. To be sure, it was beautifully shot, well acted and faithful to the brilliant Annie Proulx story on which it was based. But the reviews rang false in a very politically correct kind of way. I thought of Brokeback Mountain as the "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" for the civil rights issue of our time-- an attempt to bring gay love into the mainstream and make it palatable for middle-class audiences.

Therefore, Daniel Mendelsohn's appraisal in the New York Review of Books was a revelation. In it, he writes that Brokeback Mountain is not a "universal love story," as critics would have it. Rather, it is specifically about the tragedy of being closeted: the self-loathing and shame that result from and in the denial of erotic attachment. It shows, as he writes, how the tragedy of the closet can lay waste to whole families. Heath Ledger's portrayal of Ennis Del Mar-- mumbling, shuffling, stooped, inarticulate-- thorougly reveals his inability to be fully human. His last line in the movie--"Jack, I swear...."-- remains incomplete, just like his life. The cinematography, meanwhile, is full of motifs on the theme of confinement, Mendelsohn writes. The lovers are truly happy only in the brief time they're in the open, playing in expansive fields under a wide blue sky. The rest of the movie shows them in small places-- stuck in a tiny house, a too-small chair, framed against a tiny window or reflected in a small mirror. It is telling that the movie's climaxes occur in two closets.

Thanks, Mr. Mendelsohn, for a truly enlightening piece of criticsm.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Maths for the Weekend

Since September 2001, the Bush administration has spent or plans to spend more than $450 billion-- nearly half a trillion dollars-- on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

How to fathom this number?
  • 400 times larger than the amount the US has spent or plans to spend on aid to Haiti in the twelve years since 1995.
  • More than 100 times Haiti's GDP.
  • Equivalent to the annual starting salaries of 10 million WSJ reporters
  • $75 a person in the world
  • Almost 9 times Bill Gates' net worth
  • $15 million per dead Iraqi civilian, per W's only public estimate
  • $4.5 million per dead Iraqi civilian, per the Lancet's estimate
  • $150 million per US civilian killed in the Sept 2001 attacks
  • $450 billion times too much

Thursday, February 02, 2006

One of These Hoodlums Could Be President

Specifically, the one in the ski mask.

Bastard Indians

The Times today reviews a book about the history of curry. It confirms, as postcolonial writers from G.V. Desani to Salman Rushdie have told us for years, that Indian food, language and, hell, nation is a just a sublime mishmash. To wit: The Portugese brought to Goa a meat dish with vinegar and garlic, or "vinho e alhos." Indian cooks, lacking wine vinegar, substituted tamarind sauce and peppers and rechristened the dish "vindaloo." Whoo-hoo, vin-da-LOOOOO!!!!!

The book also discloses that ketchup was originally made with MUSHROOMS!

For more on the mating of Indian and Western tongues, this etymologically delicious Anglo-Indian dictionary, and find out where words like juggernaut, pajamas, junk and bungalow come from.