Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Lovelines I Like
I was just griping to ToastyKen about how much I can't stand LoveLine, the nationally syndicated call-in question-and-answer show about sex and relationships that's aimed at teenagers. It's gotten all kinds of press for being an effective educational tool, but it strikes me as puerile prank caller heaven, and I just can't see how it helps anyone. That's not what really bothers me about it. What bothers me is that it's on at 10 pm, Sundays through Thursdays, on my main radio station KITS Live 105.3. This is particularly frustrating on the rare times I have to drive on a Sunday night--at least, I think, I can catch SoundCheck, but no! It quickly gets supplanted by the boring LoveLine. I mean, when more do you need to rock out then when you're stuck driving after 10? This is my grudge against LoveLine.
On the other hand Ruchira just sent me a much more elegant Lovelines
--a blogscraper that displays recently blogged lines of the form "i love --." Sarcasm, affection, triviality, passion, overenthusiasm--it's a taste test of the web's emotional spicing. Check it out but don't get hypnotized.
How Did I Miss This?!
Authorities say two separate Pensacola teachers apparently made the big bucks by accepting $1 payoffs from students wanting to get out of gym class. Their names are Terence Braxton
and Tamara Tootle
. I think Ms. Tootle must have been destined to appear in an odd news segment at some point of her life.
You might think that my titular question was an allusion to missing a two-month-old news story. But what I am really confounded at missing is the opportunity to bribe my way out of physical education. Scrupulous child that I was, that would have been awfully tempting. As it is I somehow managed to dance my way out of most P.E. classes.
I actually kind of regret this. I have no fond memories of the enforced Friday mile of seventh grade, but it was regular, and I did eventually get better at it. I've griped often about how adults end up doing less math in real life than they ought to because they did less math in school, but in all honesty that is probably even more true with respect to exercise. How to do a good crunch or sit-up is useful information that you don't want to be looking up every single time you need it.
The P.E.-averse brainiac is a staple of popular culture--if memory serves, genius Kid's avoidance of P.E. was a crucial plot point in Class Act
--and the stereotype is that such children are simply lazy. Well, okay, I'm a tad lazy. But like a lot of other kids who shied away from PE, I've since also really enjoyed rock climbing, hiking, dancing, swimming, martial arts and soccer. It's always struck me as a little bizarre that P.E. is made as boring and routine as possible for younger children, who will have no appreciation of the need to exercise. I'm convinced that the combination of opportunities to look stupid and be made fun of with deathly dullness infected me with needless aversions. Eventually there are going to be Kumons and Sylvan Learning centers for kids who need to get motivated to play ball. It's a business opportunity for someone, but apparently not Tootle & Braxton.
It's almost over, but I feel the need to observe it.* It has become the start of summer, a weekend of shopping, a day for barbecuing and sailing. It is supposed to be the day we remember the battlefield dead. Oddly enough, it doesn't seem to have acquired much more gravitas in the last 4 years when we actually have known battlefield dead again. Here's a little reminder:
Iraq: 2689 Total Coalition Deaths, 2456 Total U.S. Deaths.
Afghanistan: 378 Total Coalition Deaths, 296 Total U.S. Deaths.
It is my belief that any community of large enough size needs a trained and professional group of people, ideally volunteers, who are skilled in the use of force and able to be called on at a moment's notice to deal with that community's defense. It is an ancient lesson of warfare that such a group of people must have some measure of obedience "in the moment" and leave decisions about the wisdom of such a deployment to commanders. It is a fairly modern but brilliant assertion that a community wishing to rule itself, with some combination of democratic and republican ideals, should make such a group submit to the will of the community government as a whole--the civilian command. And so we have an Army and Navy and Air Force and Coast Guard and Marine Corps: people who volunteer and promise to fight and risk death when and where our government asks them to, and to be as obedient as possible. If you believe in the American system of government, and you believe that it is working, and you believe that when your government asks you to risk death and homicide, it must be doing so for the necessary defense of your community as you conceive of it, well then, this pledge of obedience is quite awe-inspiring. So as part of that community, I thank you for it. I may disagree with many of your beliefs, and try hard to dissuade you from them, but let us say, I appreciate the commitment.
Now another set of you may quibble with my basic, underlying belief. Assumptions have to start somewhere, and that is where I choose to start mine. I do not wish to quibble about it now, but to move on and make the next point. If we are going to send people to other lands to die (and more importantly, to kill) it is our duty to make absolutely certain that we understand what we are doing, that we know why we are doing it, and that we have thought and intelligently dismissed every single reason why we should not. The fact is, we do not do this. We citizens spend too little time considering our foreign policy, our military budget and organization, our treatment of veterans, our war crimes, and the repercussions of our opinions on war and peace and international trade. We spend too much time watching TV and shopping. We've been invading countries and overthrowing governments to please a fruit company here and a timber company there for well over a hundred years, spilling perfectly good American blood and, more horribly, staining its honor with the blood of innocent foreign civilians and foreign democracy. The best that can be said of most of us is that sometimes we take the trouble to recognize our absurdity and laugh darkly at our horror while watching the Daily Show, sometimes we take off a busy weekend to go protest an invasion, and sometimes we pat a traumatized soldier on the back.
It is my humble assertion that the best thing you can do to support the troops and honor the dead is carve out some time from your busy schedule to be a better citizen and pay attention to budgets and foreign affairs from an American perspective. It is not enough to know that there is civil unrest in a given country--one must also know how American companies are acting in that country, and what wealthy or otherwise influential Americans have a vested interest in that country, an interest they might be more than willing to let American troops risk dying and killing for. It is not enough to know that we are going to spend this or that percentage more on the defense budget--one must also know to whom we are handing over the money, and how much more they stand to make if someone decides their equipment and their help will be required for American troops risking death and homicide. And it is not enough to know these things, one must make noise if one does not like the way these things are going, if one might, just might, think they are a bad use of resources and perhaps, even, immoral. Make noise or something more forceful, but surely we should not be silent.
In the mean time please remember that the dead lie there in obedience to our command
, even if we give it sleepily and by proxy.
*Especially since I actually went to work today.
Keep your Ayaan her
Recently President Bush and other Republicans have starting sounding the tocsin on "the immigration problem". To hear them put it, a wave of brown, poor, and by implication undesirable illegals are pouring into America and corrupting our essential values. Our brave Prez is responding by sending troops to the border, to Save America From This Threat, which has conveniently only come to his attention, and required a vigorous response, as midterm elections draw nigh and his polls plummet.
Amid this brouhaha, it's useful to take a look at a country where immigration really is threatening the social fabric, or at least raising serious questions about law and culture. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian-born Dutch politican, gained notoriety several years ago for speaking out publically against what she saw as excessively tolerant Dutch attitudes towards Muslim immigrants. Muslims in Holland, she claimed, were being allowed to practice abuse of women, punishment for homosexuality, and other ostensibly Shariah-compliant behaviors counter to Dutch law in the interests of cultural sensitivity. Ali argued that this Eurotolerance had gone too far, and Muslim immigrants to Holland should have to live by Dutch social law. She wrote a film on the subject by the name of Submission
, whose Dutch director Theo van Gogh was killed by a radical Islamist in 2004.
This week news reports revealed that Ali lied on her application for asylum in Holland, which had been an open secret. The immigration minister investigated and has declared Ali's Dutch citizenship will be revoked, leading her to resign from her position as a member of parliament. While the Prime Minister has asked for the decision to be reconsidered, Ali has been offered a position with the conservative American Enterprise Institute in the US, and may well take it. Ali's case
is fascinating in a number of ways. Is liberal cultural sensitivity fundamentally incompatible with liberal social values in a world that contains dramatically different ideas of freedom and equality? Can European societies walk a line between allowing religious expression for Muslims but enforcing Western ideals of human and civil rights? Is Ali's stature in raising these issues diminished by her inaccurate asylum petition? (She claimed she used a false name to prevent family members, enraged at her departure, from pursuing and harming her.) From a political standpoint, what would Ali's presence at the AEI do to and for the American debate about religion, tolerance, and law?
I don't know the answer to any of these questions, other than that I do side with those who feel the ideal of cultural sensitivity has been overapplied in the case of Dutch social law and Muslim immigrants. Leaving aside the question of just how many of the points of conflict are sanctioned by Shariah (it is hard to deny that at least some aspects of Islamic law run counter to Western ideals) I believe it is not incumbent on a society, however tolerant, to permit violations of universal human rights in the name of religion. But whatever the answers to these questions may be, this case, and this issue, is infinitely more important and more interesting than the fear-mongering farce passing for an immigration debate we are having in this country.
I'd be surprised, too
A few days ago the BBC aired a spot that's bound to be an instant classic. Guy Goma, a Congolese man at the studio applying for a technical job, was mistaken at reception for Guy Kewney, an internet music downloading expert. While Guy #2 (who is white and hirsute) sat in a waiting room, Guy #1 (who is black and bald) was taken to Makeup, plunked in a chair with host Karen Bowerman, and asked on live TV what he thought of the May 8 High Court ruling in favor of Apple Computer. But with only a momentary flash of panic on his face, he bravely launched into an answer, starting with "I'm very surprised to see the verdict come on me because I was not expecting that," and wound up sounding almost indistinguishable from a "real" expert. Bravo, Guy!
Of course, this brings up two questions. Number one, why exactly do we need experts to comment on the news again? And number two, when is Mr. Goma going to get his own show?
Check out Guy #2's take on the incident
(with a link to the video). While coverage in the Times
was fairly snooty, the Globe and Mail was more inclined to grin
I have just found out that Cody's Books on Telegraph
is scheduled to close in two months and I am beyond distraught. I went there on my first day in Northern California, years and years ago, visiting with my parents. I can still remember the bright sight of flowers in front of a bookstore. I've probably bought the overwhelming majority of my books there, and certainly almost all of my non textbook hardcovers. Almost every author reading I've been to was there. I've discovered most of my favorite poets there. When I was in college I would, for the sake of grades, avoid bookstores for most of the semester. When I handed in my last final, I would run straight to Cody's, money in hand, and luxuriate there for the rest of the day, carefully choosing and stacking my vacation treasure. I can walk up to the customer service people and babble about some book, neither title nor author in hand, and 95% of the time, they'll find it. When we started bombing Iraq I curled up in a chair upstairs and listened to Pico Iyer's soothing voice and prayed. I really, really don't want to lose it.
If you have any ideas, please let me know. Seriously.UPDATE
: What the hell? Ruchira is telling me she's not seeing my level of alarm anywhere else. The Fourth Street store is staying open, so people are nonchalant. WHAT THE HELL? The Fourth Street store is great if you're looking for stuff on art or textiles, or want hand crafted paper. Fine. I met Oscar the Grouch there and that was cool. I got an education about Nantali Finland by a cashier once. But there is NO COMPARISON with Telegraph. Former Presidents and Senators aren't enticed to Fourth Street. You can't pack a room with people interested in science policy at Fourth Street. The Fourth Street store wasn't bombed for stocking Rushdie. Howl
wasn't written across the street from the Fourth Street store. Dustin Hoffman didn't stop Elaine Robinson on the bus on Fourth Street! You can't buy music at late hours near Fourth Street, or sell records, or rummage through vintage clothes, or get the best damn feta-almond-spinach-fuji salad in California! You can't go to an author reading and then grab take out and eat dinner under the stars in a Redwood grove, or off in a plaza filled with vendors! IT's NOT THE SAME!
I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but Fourth Street is Yuppie central. Now I probably qualify as something of a yuppie--though certainly not because of my wages--but that's the whole point. I don't NEED my whole universe to blandified into a well-designed set of tasteful, pleasant landscapes where everyone is just like me. Cody's on Telegraph is connected to the street. Cody's lets you loiter in the front and talk to people. Cody's lets street poets and homeless guys set up tables in front of the store. How many truly great bookstores--bookstores that great authors from all over the world carefully pen into their tour calendars--are so perfectly at the intersection of art, science, wealth, and poverty? I imagine there are some in Boston and NYC. I've always wanted to visit Powells--seriously, that's like the main reason I want to go to Portland. Well this is ours.Update II
: Non Berkeley-Friends who are trying be sympathetic and comforting have all kinds of sage observations about market forces and the nature of nostalgia. My initial reaction above reached into sentiment and nostalgia, but this is not a sentimental, nostalgic problem. It's not even about saving ambiance. This is a community disaster. Cody's Telegraph is one of a very small number of Bay Area bookstores that regularly hosts authors of new, cutting edge journalism, policy and science-writing. One knocked off the list will make the Bay Area one less plausible stop for a cash-strapped book tour, and non-trivially dents the chances that any given author will visit the area or spend a reasonable amount of time here. That means less opportunities to to be a guest on shows like KQED's Forum, less opportunities to be interviewed by local papers (and relate their writing to local issues), less reasons to speak at the Commonwealth Club or the World affairs Council. Less discussion. Less purchasing. Fewer books. Less journalism. Less democracy.
I really don't mean to dis the Fourth Street Store. I like it a lot and I've been to some very lovely literary readings there. I also like the new San Francisco store a lot. But you can't get to Fourth Street by BART, and San Francisco is very far away from a large portion of the Bay Area. Ten years ago I was a frequently broke, carless teenager who lived in Concord. Get rid of Cody's and you get rid of most of that teenager's opportunities to interact with the wide world of books and authors and adults who like to read about serious topics. I was lucky in that my parents are great lovers of books--if they wanted to treat me, they would take me to Cody's, and I'm sure if it had been necessary, they would have let me go to San Francisco. Not everyone is that lucky.
Cody's also anchors the street. Apparently Telegraph's increasingly unruly crowd is what's driving it out in the first place, but Cody's going will make the problem ten times worse. An abandoned Telegraph avenue is bad for the University--and I don't mean the dry institution that's often mismanaged by the regents, I mean the living community of people who work had to provide the best public higher education.
The owner, Andy Ross, doesn't seem to feel that this incarnation of the store can be saved, and I am sure he hasn't made this decision lightly. Right now I'm wondering about two options--can the store be moved to the Downtown Shattuck area, which has been experiencing a Rennaissance of book culture, and isn't quite as unruly? Or, can someone else buy the Telegraph store and keep it open?
The East Bay really should not lose its premier forum for the discussion of new writing, especially new nonfiction.
Who supports terrorism?
The Washington Post today has two excellent articles related to Islamic terrorism. The first summarizes the findings of a Gallup poll in eight Muslim nations
about support for terrorism. In stark contrast to the comfortable American image of terrorist sympathizers as poor, religious, and ignorant, the poll found that more above-average-income Muslims supported the 9/11 attacks than those with lower wages. Also, support for extremist views was higher among Muslims with high school or college educations than those without. The primary distinguishing factor found by the poll between Muslims who supported terrorism and those who did not? "Extremists were only about half as likely as moderates to believe that the United States would allow people in the Middle East to fashion their own political future."
This cuts to the heart of the story we in the US like to tell ourselves about terrorism, that it is only the atavistic who endorse and participate in it. We need to look beyond that simple analysis if we're going to make progress on fighting extremism politically.
The second article is an oped by Jackson Diehl on apocalyptic thinkers and reformers in Iran
(apropos of a recent post
by Saheli). There's a growing movement in the holy city of Qom that believes the 12th Imam of Shiite Islam is going to appear soon, to usher in the end of the world. President Ahmadinejad has even weighed in, saying that he expects Number 12 within the next two years, and presumably the last dance not long afterwards. This is not the kind of thing you want to hear from a guy developing nukes. But Qom is also home to a lot of liberal religious figures. Two of the Grand Ayatollahs in Qom, Hossein Ali Montazeri and Yusuf Saanei, are outspoken advocates of democracy and opponents of terrorism. Saanei has issued pronouncements condemning discrimination against women and condoning abortion in the first trimester. Their high religious status allows them to not fear reprisals, and they have been speaking out systematically for reform. Although it is overshadowed by the foolish nuclear ambitions of the current government, there is huge potential for reform in Iran that we cannot afford to ignore.
The war in Iraq is more expensive than signing and abiding by the "prohibitively expensive" Kyoto Protocol would have been, according to Cass R. Sunstein of the University of Chicago, writing in the Washington Post
Here's a little serious note about the American way of regarding other countries. Over at Slate's Today's Papers
, Eric Umansky was discussing the coverage of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's unprecedented letter to President Bush and lack of seriousness with which the Administration read it. I haven't fully read the relevant stories, but the lack of seriousness seems not entirely unreasonable, at least in the abstract--the letter apparently rambles. (On the other hand, it seems distinctly less reasonable to deride and dismiss such an unusual overture so quickly and so publicly, even if the letter was totally nonsensical.) This passing line by Umansky caught my eye:
USAT flags what seems to be a bit of little-appreciated history: Three years ago, Iran proposed wide-ranging negotiations, including over the nuclear issue. The Bush administration, according to one national-security official involved at the time, refused to talk.
I can't find the flagging in the three stories USAToday
currently has on their website, but the link from Umansky leads to Council on Foreign Relations Interview
with Brookings Scholar (and CIA and Bush II National Security Council Veteran
) Flynt L. Leverett. The letter referenced was sent over as an unclassified fax (!) via the Swiss government in 2003 from the much more reformist President Khatami, and it seems to have been basically ignored. This chunk from the Leverett interview got me thinking:
Ultimately the president is, on this issue, very, very resistant to the idea of doing a deal, even a deal that would solve the nuclear problem. You don’t do a deal that would effectively legitimate this regime that he considers fundamentally illegitimate. I think that’s the real issue.
And he considers it illegitimate because of what? Because it overthrew the Shah in 1979?
No, in the president’s view you have this unelected set of clerical authorities, epitomized by the supreme leader, who are thwarting the clearly expressed will of the Iranian people for a more open, participatory political system, for more political, social, intellectual, and cultural freedom—all this kind of thing. And so it’s a system that in Bush’s mind is fundamentally illegitimate. It’s a system that needs to change, and he is not going to do a deal that lets this regime off the hook, even if that deal would solve our problem with them over the nuclear issue. [bold emphases mine; italics = interviewer's question.]
Something that a lot of Americans forget is that the Iranians actually have a democracy. It's a theocratic democracy that's missing a lot of what we would consider basic civil rights--it's not a Republic, let us say--but they do vote, and they do get to express their will a little bit. (And, interestingly enough, the women vote and the women even get elected, unlike the case with our dear friend Saudi Arabia.)And they voted for Khatami, and they voted for Ahmadinejad. It seems like a significantly more legitimate goverment than, say, the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, the dictatorships in Pakistan and Egypt, and the "Communist" party dictatorship in China--all governments that Bush deals with quite contentedly. In other words, we go around arbitrarily deciding whether or not a government is legitimate pretty much based on how we feel about it. It doesn't really matter what the facts are. It just matters what Bush's gut tells him. And that totally arbitrary bastardization matters more than anything--even more than solving our apparent national security problems
Fun Stuff Since It's Friday
gives us yet another skating video
, this one simply outrageously fun, and Lizardbreath
gives us pick up lines from Geoffrey Chaucer's blog
, or, I should say, "GALFRIDUS CHAUCERES LYNES OF PICKE-VPPE": "-Yf thou were a latyn tretise ich wolde putte thee in the vernacular
" and "Makstow a pilgrymage heere often
Chris Taylor, one of my editors
at Business 2.0, cites a solution to the Fermi paradox that fascinates ToastyKen
--the aliens haven't found us because they're too busy playing video games
. Since about half of what I know about video games I've learned from ToastyKen, this amuses me greatly.
An interesting blogtale
from the prolific indeterminacy. "Read it three times, carefully," the instructions said, "closing your eyes a few minutes after each reading, to impress the vivid language into your psyche. As time passes, the content will be indistinguishable from an authentic memory.
A fun picture
of the Rock Bottom Remainders playing in LA from Dave Barry's blog.
And finally, Sam Javanrouh's magic eye
A New Thought on Immigration? A Lesson From the Drug War?by Scotto
Remember the war on drugs? That was a good one, because we really kicked *** and now there are no drugs. But there are bigger problems facing us today, like terrorists and immigrants. I was reminded yesterday of all the people who kept trying to frame the drug issue in supply and demand terms. We were always fighting a supply-side battle -- burning crops, arresting users, that sort of thing. Now this approach has served us well enough against drugs, poverty and terrorism, but a recent study
by Professor Robin Naylor
of the University of Warwick in Coventry (UK), suggests an alternative.
Why do people enter this country illegally? My second-hand information is that it has a lot to do with America being the land of opportunity. Professor Naylor's research
suggests that this image, while accurate in its way, is slightly out of date, in the sense of actually describing 19th Century America. Today, the statistics show the opposite to be true: your father's income
is about the biggest predictor of your own.
So if you show up on our doorstep today as a desperately poor migrant worker, the odds are that you will sire (or dam, iyptp) a long line of desperately poor workers of various kinds. Economic mobility, writes Naylor, is very limited,
with a particularly high likelihood [in the U.S.] that sons of the poorest fathers will remain in the lowest earnings quintile.
It's possible that this doesn't surprise you. But I'm not entirely kidding: what might happen if we embraced the truth about opportunity in America? Is it entirely unreasonable to wonder if it would make a difference? Or is the overall wealth gap so severe that being the poorest of American poor is still worth it?
The study only looked at men. Sorry! Maybe we'll find out later that women are blessed with enormous economic opportunity in America.
Assuming you're a son. See 
Day Without Immigrants
I've been known to gripe about the efficacy of modern protests, but I have to say that the recent wave of demonstrations and gatherings protesting the surge in harsh policies and politics regarding immigration has really made me think about the issue. I'm very impressed with the fact that on a Monday, Market street here in San Francisco is filled with a sea of white shirted marchers pounding west and shouting loud. I'm not nearly as liberal about immigration as many of my friends (and readers) are, and I may not agree with many of the marchers on what our policies should be, but I do feel that we, the machine, need to be reminded
that we, the people, can gunk up our machine-gears , and we cannot afford to cannibalize ourselves for mere political expediency.
Telstar Logistics, who works in my office, has just flickrd pictures of the march here
Is my new hero. See ToastyKen's blogpost
on his White House Correspondents' dinner performance, complete with YouTube linkage.
Colbert is not my hero for his political commentary, though I appreciate that unlike most political humorists he kept the hammer almost entirely on the true issues of substance--Why did we invade Iraq? What are we doing about Global Warming? What's up with the degradation of Civil liberties?. What I am in utter awe of his how he managed to hold his performance and character mere feet away from the man he was making ruthless fun of. Who just happens to be the most powerful person in the world. He didn't just stand a few feet away from him. He kept turning to the president and looking at him and addressing him directly while he delivered his sarcastic lines. He didn't once break it up with self-deprecatory let's-be-friends fluff, or lose the focus of his jabbing. I cannot even conceive of how much theatrical nerve that must take. Verily Colbert hath steel wires lining his gut.
I wonder if history's judgement will be that had Colbert emerged at a different time, he would have been a great thespian in the traditions of Olivier and Burton, or a great live-comic like, like the youthful Robin Williams. Perhaps the necessity of political humor was the only stage on which he could have emerged, but such straight up chutzpah indicates a purer talent than I think we have recognized before today.