In his weekly video-podcast “What’s Up Africa!” Ikenna Azuike declares zunguzungu his blog of the week and pronounces the living shit out of this humble blog’s name:
The X-Men are Army Strong!
Zeynep Tufekci‘s “Pseudonymity under repressive conditions” is worth relinking.
Women fight to save Appalachia‘s Last Mountain, in Ms. Magazine.
I really like this photo-blog.
On the use and abuse of bar graphs.
“Foucault Effect” conference from a couple weeks ago is fully podcast.
A great interviewwith Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim:
Elliott Colla: Was what happened in January and February a revolution?
Sonallah Ibrahim: It certainly was not a revolution. A revolution has a program and goal—a complete change of reality or the removal of one class by another. What happened was a popular uprising against a standing regime. Its primary demand was “regime change,” though it was not clear what that was supposed to mean, except in the sense of removing the most prominent symbols of the old regime. But as for what its politics were going to be, or who was going to be in charge—these were summed up in a slogan that appeared on the first day of the uprising—“Freedom, social justice, and change.” Later that slogan became “Overthrow the regime”—but it was not clear what else exactly was being demanded. Naturally, this had to do with the fact that the movement had no clear leadership and no defined program.
Words Without Borders, a fantastic and free online translation journal, has you covered:
If you’re compiling a reading list from Roberto Bolaño’s Between Parentheses, you can find many of his recommended authors right here at Words Without Borders. Looking for “the best woman writer in Mexico”? That would be Carmen Boullosa. Is César Aira “mainly just boring,” or “one of the three or four best Spanish-language writers alive today”? Why is Nicaraguan Rubén Darío one of the great poets of Chile? The title story of Juan Villoro‘s “excellent” The House Loses, an interview with Javier Cercas about Soldiers of Salamis (which includes a character named Bolaño “who isn’t me, in the same way that the narrator Cercas isn’t Cercas”), Bolaño’s esteemed Horacio Castellanos Moya, Enrique Vila-Matas and Rodolfo Wilcock—all here, as well as pieces by others cited in passing if not in detail: Álvaro Enrigue, Juan Emar, Silvina Ocampo.
A gypsy named Melquiades who died many years ago in Singapore returned to live with the family of Colonel Aureliano Buendia in Macondo, because he could no longer bear the tedium of death. These are the kinds of characters that populate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magnificent work One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Today they also seem to occupy the tribal badlands of Pakistan’s north-western frontier. On June 3, when Ilyas Kashmiri was killed in a US drone strike, he had already been dead for over a year. In September 2009, the CIA claimed that it killed Kashmiri along with two other senior Taliban leaders in North Waziristan. But the lure of the limelight was seemingly irresistible even in death, because on October 9, Kashmiri returned to give an interview to the late Syed Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times Online. Baitullah Mehsud, the former commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also rose from the dead many times. On at least 16 occasions, Mehsud was in the gun-sights when CIA drones loosed their Hellfire missiles. Yet, until August 2009, he proved unable to settle into the afterlife. Mullah Sangeen also experienced at least two resurrections.
Death is clearly not what it used to be. Or perhaps the people who were killed in the other attacks were not Kashmiri, Sangeen or Mehsud. Indeed, the attack on a funeral procession on June 23, 2009, which killed Sangeen was supposedly aimed at the TTP chief. It killed 83 people who certainly were not who they were supposed to be.
These are not isolated events. At the end of 2009, the Pakistani daily Dawn calculated that, of the 708 people killed in 44 drone attacks that year, only 5 were known militants. Earlier that year, The News, Pakistan’s other major English-language daily, had calculated that between January 14, 2006, and April 8, 2009, 60 drone attacks killed 701 people – of whom only 14 were known militants. The US has come a long way since July 2001 when it rebuked the Israeli government for its policy of “targeted assassination”, which it said were really “extrajudicial killings”. In September of that year, CIA director George Tenet confessed that it would be a “terrible mistake” for someone in his position to fire a weapon such as the predator drone. By 2009, such qualms were obsolete. Indeed, the new CIA director Leon Panetta declared predator drones “the only game in town”. The catalyst was 9/11 – and lifting the ban on extrajudicial killings was just one of the many illegal policies it licensed.
Tendai Marima, on “Our Seas of Dead Africans”:
“Imagine being trapped at sea with no fresh water to drink or food to eat. Fearful of dying from dehydration, you resort to drinking your own pale yellow liquid, carefully rationing each salty sip. As you struggle to survive, a mother and her little baby seated next to you take their last breaths. Days pass before you muster up the courage to say a prayer and release their stiffened bodies into the water.”
Some Libya links:
- Juan Cole’s Top Ten Mistakes of the Libyan War.
- Libyan war-time inventions.
- Sara Bensreiti’s “Women of the Revolution”
- Jeffrey White’s “Toward the Endgame in Libya”
- Obama ignores his own legal counsel in interpreting the law in favor of more executive power.
- On which, see Glenn Greenwald.
The years between 1979 and 1983 were Nigeria’s Second Republic, when democracy finally returned after twenty-three years of uninterrupted military dictatorship. They were also the crest of Nigeria’s oil boom, when surging oil prices made the petroleum-producing country a land of plenty, prosperity and profligacy. The influx of petrodollars meant an expansion in industry and the music industry in particular. Record companies upgraded their technology and cranked out a staggering volume of output to an audience hungry for music to celebrate the country’s prospective rise as global power of the future. While it was a boom time for a wide variety of popular music styles, the predominant commercial sound was a post-afrobeat, slickly modern dance groove that retrofitted the relentless four-on-the-floor bass beat of disco to a more laid back, upbeat-and-downbeat soul shuffle, mixing in jazz-funk, synthesizer pop and afro feeling. At the time, it was still mostly locally referred to as “disco,” but has since been recognized as its own unique genre retrospectively dubbed “Nigerian boogie.”
Amitav Ghosh on why India should not switch to US style education, and other things:
I think what’s happened in America, the reason it made such an impact is that Americans have begun to realise now that there is something problematic about their system of education. For years they’ve been accustomed to thinking their education system is the best in the world; now they realise it has very deep problems. I’ve brought up two children there, they’ve been through the whole American educational system — and I’m happy to say that they’ve done very well in that system. But I certainly realise this system is riddled with terrible problems. I also think the strengths of our system are never properly articulated. The whole world has become so battered and bullied by this constant talk about the excellence of American education by people who have no experience of it, who don’t know what it is to bring up children in different places… people automatically accept there is something magnificent in that system and that our system is horrible… And it’s really not true. I’ve taught at Harvard and at all these places… One of the reasons I really feel relieved not to be teaching any more is that I don’t think in many significant respects that the American system works…From top to bottom, it just doesn’t work. In some ways it’s become like entertainment… When as a college teacher in America you are offering a class, the children “shop” for classes. So which are the classes they’re going to take? The classes that are entertaining, the classes where they are marked very liberally. This is exactly what happens: they put their evaluations on their websites so that the students who are following know exactly who are the strict teachers, who are the not strict teachers, and they can game the system very, very well…
Education is not all fun. Education is difficult, but the idea that you have to make education fun at some point becomes self-defeating. You can’t make certain kinds of mathematics fun. You can’t make difficult things fun. And that’s not why you are doing education. Learning poetry by heart is not fun. But it’s very necessary to have that poetry in your head if you are studying English literature… I sometimes ask my children: Can you recite a poem? — and they’ve been to the top institutions in America — and no, they can’t. They (Americans) think that rote learning is bad… But it is such an idiotic idea — what is learning but rote learning? How can you learn the multiplication tables as though it was fun? There’s nothing fun about multiplication tables… And learning is in fact 90 per cent rote learning. If you constantly attack this idea of rote learning, it’s ridiculous…
The Obama Justice Department recently asserted that it could withhold classified information from a federal judge. Federal judges have security clearances and are permitted to see classified information in cases brought before them. Justice says that only the executive branch has the power to determine what information courts ought to have. The federal judge was so stunned that she described herself as “literally speechless” over the government claim that she ought to be kept in the dark.
I find it strange that the phrase “one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason,” is not a description of Christopher Hitchens, but a description by him. Still true, though. The Economist also rips Mamet a new one.
- Allison Benedikt‘s truly excellent piece, Life after Zionist summer camp.
- Kiera Feldman’s The Romance of Birthright Israel.
- Teaching Arabic in Israel
- Ella Shohat’s “Reflections by an Arab Jew”
- Not new, but worth knowing about: Joel Beinin and Lisa Hajjar’s Primer on Israel, Palestine, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
More literary cultural appropriation hoaxes: Albania’s “Second Greatest Living Writer”
Apparently the Nazi’s loved them some naked male bodies.
Scott Adams: Still stupid when it comes to talking about men and women!
Learn to speak Arabic like a Right-Wing ideologue! Or don’t!
Depressive Realism: An Interview with Lauren Berlant. On “Sentimentality”:
Sentimentality is not just the mawkish, nostalgic, and simpleminded mode with which it’s conventionally associated, where people identify with wounds of saturated longing and suffering, and it’s not just a synonym for a theatre of empathy: it is a mode of relationality in which people take emotions to express something authentic about themselves that they think the world should welcome and respect; a mode constituted by affective and emotional intelligibility and a kind of generosity, recognition, and solidarity among strangers. Another way to say this is that I am interested in a realist account of fantasy, insofar as the political and the social are floated by complex and historically specific affective investments. How do we learn to attach to (to identify the very sinews of our self-continuity with) abstractions like the nation form, the law, sexual identity, capitalism, and so on?
and on “normativity”:
It comes to queer theory through Foucault by way of Georges Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological. Its importance to me and Michael Warner was to think not just about the statistical norm or the moral/conventional norm but the practices on which conventional modes of social intelligibility rest that become naturalized and moralized. Judith Butler calls them regulative norms. They govern by standing for common sense, by providing a tacit or seemingly foundational sense of scale and appropriateness for collective life. We wanted to call the regime of sexuality under which we currently live heteronormativity rather than heterosexuality, in “Sex in Public,” because the point wasn’t to attack people with a particular pattern of object choice but the whole social regime propped on that pattern, which saturates the fantasy of the good life so thoroughly and in so many domains of social existence that its very robustness seemed to atrophy the skills for imagining alternative social and economic relations and institutions of intimacy, let alone what it means when we identify with any pattern of desire. In those days, as now, people tended to see sexuality as cordoned off from the infrastructure of nationality and capitalism; they tended to see its appearance in those contexts as a scandal rather than as a revelation of an ongoing situation. Suturing normativity to heterosexuality was an attempt to remedy that, as well as an attempt to continue integrating radical political critique with a sex positivity that was not pastoral, that did not subtract the dangerousness and strangeness of sex.
Erik Loomis on how American power works in Haiti.
David Bordwell on Julie, Julia, and the House that Talked.
It’s always “Time to Re-write African travel guides”:
Scrappy (Kigoma), spotless (hotels), pleasant-enough, sleepy, semi-colonial, safe, faded charm (Tanga), little-reason-to-come-to (Dodoma).
Felix Salmon on the antiquity of free market philanthropy:
The realization that business has the capacity to create as well as destroy social value is known as “economics,” and goes back at least as far as Adam Smith. There’s nothing new about it, and nor is there anything new about economists using this insight to assuage the guilt of the rich.
Why do Punjabi men like to chillax next to highways? Kind of makes me want to find a rural highway and chill the heck out with my bros next to it, actually.
Churchill and the Bengal Famine:
What Mukerjee shows, however, is that the British weren’t just incompetent and hard-pressed by the war. At the apex of British policy-making stood Churchill and his callous sidekick, the eugenicist Frederick Lindemann, and between them they blocked the food shipments that Bengal so desperately needed. Shiploads of Australian wheat sailed past India on their way to supply a projected British invasion of the Balkans, a Churchill stunt that never came off, while offers of help from Canada and the United States of America were rejected. Why? On the evidence of Mukerjee’s well-sourced narrative, because Churchill had a visceral hatred of Indians and deplored ‘brown people’ in the same way that Hitler disliked his allies, the ‘yellow’ Japanese. In 1945, to give one example, he told his private secretary that the Hindus were a foul race “protected by their mere pullulation [rapid breeding] from the doom that is their due”. As to Lindemann, who became Lord Cherwell, the “abdication of the white man” remained for him the worst calamity of the 20th century, worse in its effects than two world wars and the Holocaust. The behaviour and attitudes of both men contributed to the starvation in Bengal. Theirs were sins of commission and not just unwitting blunders in the turbulence of war.
In India, the land grab is facilitated by the toxic mixture of the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894, the deregulation of investments and commerce through neo-liberal policies – and with it the emergence of the rule of uncontrolled greed and exploitation. It is facilitated by the creation of a police state and the use of colonial sedition laws which define defence of the public interest and national interest as anti-national. The World Bank has worked for many years to commodify land. The 1991 World Bank structural adjustment programme reversed land reform, deregulated mining, roads and ports. While the laws of independent India to keep land in the hands of the tiller were reversed, the 1894 Land Acquisition Act was untouched. Thus the state could forcibly acquire the land from the peasants and tribal peoples and hand it over to private speculators, real estate corporations, mining companies and industry.
Across the length and breadth of India, from Bhatta in Uttar Pradesh (UP) to Jagatsinghpur in Orissa to Jaitapur in Maharashtra, the government has declared war on our farmers, our annadatas, in order to grab their fertile farmland. Their instrument is the colonial Land Acquisition Act – used by foreign rulers against Indian citizens. The government is behaving as the foreign rulers did when the Act was first enforced in 1894, appropriating land through violence for the profit of corporations – JayPee Infratech in Uttar Pradesh for the Yamuna expressway, POSCO in Orissa and AREVA in Jaitapur – grabbing land for private profit and not, by any stretch of the imagination, for any public purpose. This is rampant in the country today.
For anarchists who do know something about anthropology, the arguments are all too familiar. A typical exchange goes something like this:
Skeptic: Well, I might take this whole anarchism idea more seriously if you could give me some reason to think it would work. Can you name me a single viable example of a society which has existed without a government?
Anarchist: Sure. There have been thousands. I could name a dozen just off the top of my head: the Bororo, the Baining, the Onondaga, the Wintu, the Ema, the Tallensi, the Vezo… All without violence or hierarchy.
Skeptic: But those are all a bunch of primitives! I’m talking about anarchism in a modern, technological society.
Anarchist: Okay, then. There have been all sorts of successful experiments: experiments with worker’s self-management, like Mondragon; economic projects based on the idea of the gift economy, like Linux; all sorts of political organizations based on consensus and direct democracy…
Skeptic: Sure, sure, but these are small, isolated examples. I’m talking about whole societies.
Anarchist: Well, it’s not like people haven’t tried. Look at the Paris Commune, the free states in Ukraine and Shimin, the 1936 revolution in Spain…
Skeptic: Yeah, and look what happened to those guys! They all got killed!
The dice are loaded. You can’t win. Because when the skeptic says “society,” what he really means is “state,” even “nation-state.” Since no one is going to produce an example of an anarchist state—that would be a contradiction in terms—what we’re really being asked for is an example of a modern nation-state with the government somehow plucked away: a situation in which the government of Canada, to take a random example, has been overthrown, or for some reason abolished itself, and no new one has taken its place but instead all former Canadian citizens begin to organize themselves into libertarian collectives. Obviously this would never be allowed to happen. In the past, whenever it even looked like it might—here, the Paris commune and Spanish civil war are excellent examples—the politicians running pretty much every state in the vicinity have been willing to put their differences on hold until those trying to bring such a situation about had been rounded up and shot.
There is a way out, which is to accept that anarchist forms of organization would not look anything like a state. That they would involve an endless variety of communities, associations, networks, projects, on every conceivable scale, overlapping and intersecting in any way we could imagine, and possibly many that we can’t. Some would be quite local, others global. Perhaps all they would have in common is that none would involve anyone showing up with weapons and telling everyone else to shut up and do what they were told. And that, since anarchists are not actually trying to seize power within any national territory, the process of one system replacing the other will not take the form of some sudden revolutionary cataclysm—the storming of a Bastille, the seizing of a Winter Palace—but will necessarily be gradual, the creation of alternative forms of organization on a world scale, new forms of communication, new, less alienated ways of organizing life, which will, eventually, make currently existing forms of power seem stupid and beside the point. That in turn would mean that there are endless examples of viable anarchism: pretty much any form of organization would count as one, so long as it was not imposed by some higher authority, from a klezmer band to the international postal service.
Some years ago the Brazilian Department of Health produced a public service announcement urging men to use condoms and practice safe sex. The PSA featured an animated talking penis named Gaetan. The day after it aired, the department was flooded with calls from men named Gaetan who pronounced themselves humiliated and enraged that their government appeared to be calling them a bunch of pricks.
I remember thinking that this could not happen in the Anglophone world, where virtually every male name is synonymous with the penis. It’s called Dick, Willie, John Thomas, Jimmy, Peter, occasionally Lance and Woody, not forgetting the verbs Roger and Jack. It even has a last name: Johnson. I didn’t know about that one until Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced that he was HIV-positive, possibly as a consequence of having unsafe sex with hundreds of women. Before his press conference, I thought his nickname had something to do with basketball. Afterward, I was forced to re-examine my assumptions about Randy Johnson (“The Big Unit”), Walter Johnson (“The Big Train”), and even Lyndon Johnson, who allegedly took out his favorite body part at a White House meeting and proclaimed, “I bet Ho Chi Minh don’t have one that big!” Size notwithstanding, Ho eventually prevailed against both Johnson and “Dick” Nixon. But I digress.
Scott McLemee reviews Athan G. Theoharis’ Abuse of Power: How Cold War Surveillance and Secrecy Policy Shaped the Response to 9/11:
In the mid-1930s, faced with the aggressive pursuit of influence by Germany and the Soviet Union, Roosevelt made “a fundamental shift in the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation … from [being] a law enforcement agency that sought to develop evidence to prosecute violators of federal laws to an intelligence agency that would seek to acquire advance information about the plans and capabilities of suspected spies and saboteurs.”
Rather than propose legislation to that effect, the president “instead opted for secret executive directives, a method that had as its central purpose the foreclosure of a potentially divisive and contentious debate.” And the director of the FBI was hardly going to object if things were done in secret, at least if he were the one doing them. Like the New Deal, “this profound shift was effected not through a well-defined blueprint but through a series of ad hoc responses” — creating their own complex dynamics.
How Mining corporations’ tax avoidance schemes cost African nations billions of dollars each years: “Transparency hides Zambia’s lost billions in tax revenue”:
African nations such as Zambia are often seen as grossly corrupt. Yet it is corporate tax “avoidance” on the part of mining companies that costs the nation hundreds of millions annually, while lining the pockets of middle-men in countries such as Switzerland. And the much-lauded Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) may help – rather than hinder, this reality.
Jay Smooth, on the fan’s suspension of irrelevance:
Kathy Kelly describes how she
“will be a passenger on “The Audacity of Hope,” the USA boat in this summer’s international flotilla to break the illegal and deadly Israeli siege of Gaza. Organizers, supporters and passengers aim to nonviolently end the brutal collective punishment imposed on Gazan residents since 2006 when the Israeli government began a stringent air, naval and land blockade of the Gaza Strip explicitly to punish Gaza’s residents for choosing the Hamas government in a democratic election.”