Saheli*: Musings and Observations
CIVIC's New Director En Route to Iraq
Many of you have read about CIVIC--The Campaign for Innocent Victim's In Conflict
. Founded by Bay Area woman Marla Ruzicka, CIVIC espouses her simple yet revolutionary belief that if we--the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the world, and one that constantly blows a moral and idealistic trumpet--are going to be going around the world with bombs and guns racking up civilian "collateral damage" for whatever
purposes, the least we can do is say we're sorry and help people out when we accidentally injure or kill them. Personally, I feel that it's a mission you can get behind
no matter what your opinion is on the way we choose wars. Even if you are fully behind the invasion of Iraq I think you can agree with the CIVIC ideal.
It's the logical extension of any notion that war can even try to be honorable and ethical.
Marla was, very sadly, killed in Iraq by a bomb in April of last year, along with her colleague and translator. Faiz Ali Salim. Here's an obituary by Chris Albritton
. For a while it seemed like CIVIC might not do to well without its one-woman dynamo. But they've gotten a new executive director, Sarah , and she's en route to Iraq and blogging
. I really admire her courage in going while the country seems to be exploding with violence. I am also pleased to find out that Columbia University has a conflict resolution program that actually gets out into the field. Nice to feel like saying Go Lions for once.
American racism on the silver screen
Since the comments in my previous posts have gotten into the subject of American racism and attitudes towards the rest of the world, I thought I'd tell you about two recent films I've seen that deal with the subject.
The first is Why We Fight
by director Eugene Jarecki, a sort of less-shrill Farenheit 911
that digs into the question of what makes America go to war. The tagline, "It is nowhere written that the American empire goes on forever," is provocative if clumsy. Jarecki makes really good use of footage of Dwight Eisenhower's valedictory Presidential address, in which the former General of the Army identified America's growing military-industrial complex (he coined the term) and its increasing influence on foreign policy as a major threat. One of the most powerful moments in the film is the footage of Eisenhower toting up the cost in human terms of each piece of the American arsenal:
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
Jarecki's basic point is that when American Imperialism is exercised with as clumsy and arrogant a hand as Bush's neocons have used, it has consequences. Empires fall, he reminds us, and America is no exception to history. Go see this film.
The second is The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
, Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut. It's set on the Texas-Mexico border, and is clearly an expression of what Jones thinks of Americans and their attitudes towards their southern neighbors. To put it bluntly, there are some bastard gringos in the film, and they get what's coming to them (and then some) although there is a measure of redemption by the end. I think Jones, who stars as a bilingual white rancher who honestly cares about the Mexicans who work for him (including Melquiades) makes some good points about just how viciously the Border Patrol treats the "wetbacks" who look to America for opportunity and self-improvement. But despite the film's good intentions, there's a subtle form of racism running through it. While the white American characters run the gamut from decent and honest to stupid and hateful, the Mexicans are universally good. Even the coyote Jones meets in the desert smuggling would-be immigrants to the north is friendly, helpful and surprisingly unavaricious. In fact, the Mexicans wind up being drawn with the crayola colors of a well-intentioned but somewhat ignorant, rich (and yes, liberal) American who fails to see that foreigners also have complex and subtle personalities that aren't all goodness and innocence. Don't get me wrong: you should see this film (unless you don't like violence, since it's pretty rough) and you'll enjoy the gorgeous cinematography along with the surprisingly complicated story. But when you do, ask yourself what Jones really
thinks about those brown people his patron
character treats so well by speaking their language (and taking them whoring).
P.S. on Ports
Two more items that I didn't mention about this ports brouhaha:
One, several people have made the point that if our strategic goal in the Middle East is to tie Muslim states more closely into the political, economic and cultural network of the modern world, we should be delighted that the UAE wants in on US ports, not fearful. We can't very well say "Hey Arabs, stop being medieval atavists and get with the global program" and then slap them on the wrist when they do just that.
Two, The New Republic has a fascinating piece this week
(subscription required) on a recent $9.7 billion deal by the UAE's Emirates airlines to buy 42 Boeing 777s, a desperately needed deal for the US aerospace industry. The Bush Administration probably lobbied the UAE fairly hard to buy American (rather than from Airbus) and as TNR's John Judis puts it, that should be kept in mind as the White House continues to defend Dubai Ports World in the face of such raucous criticism.
I can't remember the last time such a complete non-issue went from total obscurity to screaming headlines in three days flat, for entirely political reasons. Even my Hill staffer friends were left breathless by how fast this came out of left field. It's not like the purchase of Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation
by Dubai Ports World
was a secret; the BBC reported on the deal
almost three months ago. This also isn't the first time DPW has gotten involved with US shipping -- last year it purchased the international port assets of CSX
, an American rail corporation, although admitedly none of those ports are in the US. To my mind, this is a tempest in a teapot that is really the opening shot of the 2008 US Presidential election. Many members of Congress would love to find a way to either distance themselves from GWB (if they're Republicans) or bolster their homeland security credentials (if they're Democrats). Thus we are treated to the bizarre spectacle of bipartisan Bush-bashing from the Hill and a White House arguing that Arabs are our friends and not crazed terrorists whose jihadi intentions make the Patriot Act indispensible. Ain't politics fun?
What nobody seems to have noticed is that the Emir of Dubai, who is essentially the entire Dubai government and thus the owner of DPW, is a Rashidi. In 1890 the House of Rashid captured the hereditary Nejd lands of the House of Saud, forcing the clan into exile in Kuwait. In 1902 Abd al-Aziz al-Saud
(a.k.a. Ibn Saud) recaptured Riyadh from the Rashidis in a daring midnight raid with 20 men, and began the reconquest of what is now the modern state of Saudi Arabia. The two great clans continued to fight for much of the early 20th century. Today's House of Saud are direct descendants of Ibn Saud, and are on extremely friendly terms with the House of Bush. No doubt they recall this history quite well. One wonders what they think of the scion of their American friends loudly defending a company owned by one of their hereditary enemies.
And while we are on points pelagic, let us not forget the international fiasco involving the French aircraft carrier FS Clemenceau
, whose asbestos-laden hull was apparently too dangerous for European workers to dismantle but not for Indians. Fortunately the Indian and French Supreme Courts stepped in
, and this ugly environmental racism was stopped. The toxic tonnage is now headed back to France and an uncertain future.
Oh, and hi. It's fun to be blogging here. :)
So I have a few things occupying my mind these days, and they're not really bloggable. I also have a few major rehauls of my web presence in mind, and some computer issues to take care of. So while I regroup and catch my breath, I thought I'd bring the guest bloggers back, in as much as they have time. But I wanted to specifically pass on some edifying entertainment in the form of one of my best friends, who expressed some jealousy the last time I had guest bloggers.
It's a bit difficult to introduce Colin. He was the head teaching assistant for modern physics when I was a sophomore at Berkeley, and quickly made himself indispensable as a source of help for homework problems and exam study sessions. Being a good conversationalist and a generally nice guy, he soon became indispensable as a friend as well. He's quite the Renaissance man. I was trying to think of a short way of listing his interests, decided it's easier to say what he's not interested in, and realized I didn't know what that is either. He's also responsible for my friendship with two of the previous guestbloggers--Emily went to college with him, and Scott is his brother. In general his treasury of fascinating people has proven an excellent raiding grounds for me, and I suspect that it will provide some good reading material for you as well. Enjoy!
Mr. Roger's MemeFrom Dark Days Ahead
--a look at my zip code via the US Census. Look up your zipcode
, report five facts about it.
First of all, I have to say, this reminds me of the Congressional district big board on The Colbert Show
Uh, so here are five facts about my hood
1) There are (or were at the time of the 2000 census) 1050 more Seniors (65 and older) than children (younger than 18) in the neighborhood.
2) There are around 5,544 unmarried females over the age of 15, compared to 5092 unmarried males. No word on respective orientations, but assuming equal proportions of gay and straight, happy Valentine's Day straight guys!
3) 58.1% of the population identifies itself as White alone, compared to a national figure of 75.1%. 8.4% of the population identifies itself as Black or African-American alone, compared to a national proportion of 12.3%. .5% fully self-identifies as Native, compared to the national .9%, while .2% self-identifies as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, twice the natioanal fraction. At 24.3% Asian, my zip code is a whopping 6.75 times more Asian than the nation as a whole. No wonder my Albertson's makes it a point to stock bitter melon. 5.5% of the population identifies as a mix of two or more races, more than twice the national percentage of 2.4%.
4) Our average households and families are each smaller than the respective national averages by about a third of a person. I'm not sure which that third that is--feet? hands? Excess poundage
5) 56.6% percent of those who've passed their 25th birthday have a bachelors degree in these parts, compared to 24.4% in the country as a whole. Yet a slightly smaller percentage of us are in the labor force (63.7% compared to 63.9%), and the $14,9111 excess of median household income needs to be measured against 182.4 on the Cost of Living Index
compared to a national average of 99.52.
And that's my neighborhood. Unrelatedly, I almost wore a zippered sweater to work today, but changed my mind for something softer. Shoes unchanged.
Um, I tag brimful
CharmingZwichenzug at The Bellman
spells out a charming little sequence of events:
The only drawback -- and this is why the FDA has only approved Accutane for the most extreme cases -- is that pregnancies which begin while a woman is using Accutane display a disturbing tendency toward miscarriages and birth defects.
But did I mention that Accutane is a miracle cure? Miracles being in high demand, American dermatologists write about 170,000 prescriptions a month for Accutane even though there are only about 6,000 cases for which the drug is approved.
Let's pause a moment to suss out the causal chain here. Step one: each month, some number of women have severe enough acne to warrant seeking medical advice. Step two: 85,000 of those women are given prescriptions for the miracle cure Accutane. Step three: 85,000 clear skinned women look out on a bright new day. Step four: sex! Step five: pregnancy. Step six: side effects.
Now, obviously, it would be unreasonable to expect dermatologists to refrain from prescribing Accutane for dangerous, unapproved uses. Not only would that make it tough for the dermatologists to attract repeat business, but it would also cut into drug industry profits.(Links and emphasis mine.)
The 170,000 prescription for a 6,000-strong problem link is an August 2005 New York Times article
which detailed a new FDA program that attempts to use an electronic database to keep track of the prescriptions and certified pregnancy tests. As far as I could tell the program does not attempt to do anything about 79,000+ excess prescriptions dermatologists seem to be writing to women--not to mention all the excess men! Note that this Accutane stuff also seems to have high risks for causing mental health problems, according to the FDA site. (first link
) Even if this particular FDA program solves this particular problem, handing out prescriptions at an excess of 10-fold too much, despite such dangerous risks, seems to indicate a medical profession gone rather awry. From the NYT article:
Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization, said the F.D.A. was recognizing that patients needed protection from irresponsible physicians and pharmacists. Dr. Wolfe added that drug companies were largely to blame, though, saying their huge marketing efforts often encouraged doctors to prescribe drugs excessively.
But Dr. Mark Naylor, an Oklahoma dermatologist, said with regret that many doctors would stop prescribing Accutane because of the F.D.A.'s new restrictions. While it is unfortunate that some doctors may have failed to follow earlier, voluntary guidelines on Accutane, Dr. Naylor said, "it's up to physicians and patients to decide how the drug gets used, not the F.D.A."
Despite the fact that the D in FDA stands for Drug. Granted, it's always a little zing to be reminded that the prescription drug industry spent $2.5 Billion in 2000 on direct-to-consumer advertising alone (page8). That year's $16 Billion total expenditure on promotional activity would be quite a sad waste of money if it didn't influence any doctors at all. Still it seems to me that a group of professionals with a four-year rigorous scientific education should be just a little more immune to the marionette-hooks of a marketing department--and would not, as a group, overprescribe by almost a factor of 30. Unless at least some of them were being, um, a little greedy or negligent. Good thing Bush wants to make it harder to sue them.
Memes Four and Five
While I was gone Kevin Powell tagged me with a meme, and yesterday Cyrus Farivar got me again. Time to get out of arrears.
First the Meme of Four, from Cyrus
Four jobs I’ve had:
Way to start with the hard stuff.
Four movies I can watch over and over:
Brother Sun and Sister Moon (Italy/UK 1972)
Superman I & II (UK, 1978 & 1980)
Billy Elliott (UK, 2000)
Sita Swayamvar (India, 1976)
Four Places I’ve Lived:
Laguna Beach, CA
Four TV Shows I Love:
The Daily Show
The Muppet Show
Four Places I’ve Vacationed:
Four of my favorite dishes:
Paysh, otherwise known as Kheer, otherwise known as Indian rice pudding.
Begun Bhaja, or deep fried eggplant, with Luchi, or deepfried flat bread. (Mmm. Ghee. Mmm.)
Crazy-Mixed-Up-Chocolate Cake with Fresh Whipped Cream for Icing
Gazpacho with a lot
of lime juice.
Four sites I visit daily
My Haloscan Comments Page. (Cuz I love you guys so much. . . :-) )
Four places I would rather be right now:
Actually, right now I am really freakin' happy to be sitting on my bed. But that aside--
Four bloggers I am tagging:Robert StribleyRenee
And from Kevin
, Meme Five:
Five weird things about myself--everything? Uh, no, seriously, it's hard to know what's weird and what's normal. But here goes--
1) I like to cover my face when I go to sleep, and apparently have done so since I was old enough to grab the covers.
2) I refer to cottage cheese, tomatillo salsa, and toaster hash browns as the breakfast of champions.
3) Once every few years I embroider something.
4) I really like to suck on the stems of Oxalis
, and they generally make me happy when I see them.
5) I'm inexplicably fond of the song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again
," and used to play it on the piano an awful lot. I think I like the hurrah bits and the rhythm.
And for this I tag Cyrus
, Atanu Dey
, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson (each)
, and Saurabh
. I figure this one is so freestyle, it can turn into just about anything.
I've been riding BART--Bay Area Rapid Transit, the commuting-oriented metro system that connects the East Bay and San Francisco, for you out-of-towners--since I was 11, and since it took me all of, oh, two days to absorb most of the subtleties of BARTiquette (who gets on a train system for the first time and doesn't
read all the signage and look around carefully to figure out what the rules are?), I'm always a little shocked when people are uterly oblivious to the most basic courtesies. Exhibit A: A train has become standing room only, and four health-looking people, all clearly below the age of forty, stay in their by-the-door seats when a blind man
and a petite, frail white-haired woman with a cane
get on the train and flail about as it lurches forward because, amazingly, no one has offered them a seat. A senior-looking person on the other side gives the blind man a seat, but the elderly lady is left standing and looking very afraid. I did my best and offered her my hand grip. I'm still mad at myself for not telling someone seated to offer them seats. In addition to having to overcome my usual mild-mannered-Saheli mode, I was so shocked and suprised it sort of paralyzed my speaking abilities, and my station was next. I need to learn to be less reflexively polite.
Oh, and parents of small children? It's not funny when your child grabs my phone out of my hand. I'd appreciate it if you'd be a little faster in making them give it back to me so I don't have to contemplate the indignities of wrestling a kid for it. And not laugh as much while doing it.
Oh. My. God.
This website is like . . .I dunno, imagine some psychic mixture of the essence of dark chocolate, hot people, night-jasmine and really good rock-and-roll. That's how my brain lit up when Ruchira sent me visualcomplexity.com
BUNNY RABBIT!Meet Herman
. He's HUGE.
That Was Random
I'm at the San Francisco Public Library doing some research. I've never come here before, and find it quite pleasant. Odd moment getting in the elevator though. Getting in in front of me, was a middle-aged African-American man in a wheelchair, and behind me a very tall (significantly greater tahn 6 feet, which is sort of the upper limit on what I feel I can accurately gauge) dark haired white man and a petite middle-aged or senior Asian woman. The latter two were talking to each other with a level of engagement that seemed to imply they knew each other and were perhaps working on a project together. We all get in, the elevator shuts, I ask the tall white guy to hit the button for the fourth floor for me. He does, pausing his conversation. Then he looks at me.
"Are you Indian?"
"Uh, my parents are. . ."
"Cool!" and the he and his friend get off at floor#3.
Somehow the elevator at the San Francisco Public library is one of the last places in America I would have expected to have that oh-so-familiar not-quite-conversation.
Radio, Memory, War, Mind, Fear.
Who knows why, but last night I dreamt of soldiers. I know a few, not too many, less than most Americans probably, more than some others. My dream was one of those nonsensical dreams when dozens of classmates from four or five different places who've never met step out of the shadows out onto sleep-stage to make an absurd comment on a melodramatic situation, the exact conflict of which you've already forgotten. This time, it was soldiers, acting as if they all knew each other, opining on some twist on the classic nightmare of facing exams after not going to class for a year. I've long believed that the main purpose of these dreams is for the brain to shuffle and reorganize its rolodex of faces. How many alarm bells and associations start ringing when the girl who loaned you a pencil on a late night quantum mechanical hustle makes her declaration? Not many? Her face gets downgraded a few neural notches. The guy who used to go rock climbing with you? Ooh lots, better start maintaining those memories. More potassium. Mmm. Time for a breakfast Banana.
Unless NPR wakes you up and takes away your appetite. The other day at Rhinocrisy hedgehog
was complaining about its even tone in discussing the prospects of war with Iran: "But what horrified me was NPR's treating agressive war as just another news story. The tone was identical to the one they use when reporting on toad races." I don't need any more caustic tone though. I was just shaken awake from the dream-soldier-powwow by the California Report
, profiling the funeral of Lance Cpl. Brandon Dewey
, the 5th Tracy, CA soldier to die in Iraq. Tones of AAAAIEEEE would not have thrown any greater a wrench into the neural-maintenance works. What baffling funeral--the activist mother of the first soldier to die said, with a sad laugh, that when people ask her to start a peace movement in Tracy she says, with whom
? An Eagle Scout leader notes that the death of so many of the town's Eagle Scouts only firms the resolve of the current crop Eagle Scouts to defend their country. I think about how much work it takes to become an Eagle Scout--how much work it takes to raise
an Eagle Scout. No resolve to change their country? Make it choose wars more carefully? Who goes around telling young men in Tracy, young men talented enough to become Eagle Scouts, that the best way they can serve their country is going off to die? Dewey's friends gather to memorialize him, and one friend mourns that he never knew another man who could so easily throw a party on a Tuesday morning. I remember the Party Tuesday of my senior year in college. No college for Dewey. Memories go crashing around again, and I lose all desire for a banana.
And of course all of this is followed by Morning Edition and more on the IAEA and Iran. I'm tired, and I can't remember what I once knew about enriched uranium and bombs and powerplant operations. Part of me wants to get up and start reading, desperately wants to map out what's going on, start analyzing what's dangerous and what people perceive is dangerous. Most of me wants to bury my head in my pillow and never remember uranium again. AAAAAIEEEEE.Update
: In case it wasn't totally obvious from the timestamp and the intro, this was a bit of SSR stream of consciousness, and meant to be an honestly inchoate reflection of what went through my mind as I battled with my alarm clock. There's slightly more awake discussion in the comments. Slightly. I've decided that I'm going back to music on the alarm clock. Too much politics too suddenly in the morning seems to leave me with a lack of REM-closure.
So I went through all the trouble of getting you guest bloggers when I was travelling, without knowing that I'd be WAY busier when I came back. Sorry, gentle readers. Some quick notes:
1) I've started an internship at Business 2.0 magazine
, based in San Francisco. If you have any tips or story ideas for me, please let me know at Saheli AT gmail dot COM. Please also note that this blog is in no way affiliated with Business 2.0 or Time Inc., and is solely my fault, as usual.
2) State of the Union address--Anup at TechPolicy
has a nifty table. I hope to dig up more data later.
of Sepia Mutiny
has a new paper
out about analyzing microscopic 650 Million-year-old fossils. I thought it looked kinda cool.