Sunday Reading

by zunguzungu

Jane Hu on “airmindedness.” And, well, Airminded on the subject. And, of course, the history of aerial bombing, advertising, and laxatives:

Click to continue!

On how we’re never leaving Iraq.

Mirza Shahzad Akbar, on the rule of law:

I am a Pakistani lawyer who is suing the CIA for killing innocent civilians through drone strikes in my home country. This month, the US state department prevented me from travelling to the United States to participate in a conference hosted by the human rights programme at Columbia University law school in New York City. I have been granted US visas before and no reason was given by the state department for refusal on this occasion: despite repeated enquiries, we were merely told there was a “problem” with my application. If seeking justice through the law – instead of violence – is the reason for banning my travel, then mine is another story of how government measures in the name of “national security” have gone too far…

To avenge [the deaths of his son and brother], Khan could have joined the Taliban insurgency against the United States. Instead, he put his trust in the legal system. In November 2010, we initiated legal notices against the CIA and the US secretary of defence for their wrongful deaths. Since then, more than 35 families from Pakistan have come forward and joined us in our legal proceedings.

So, why would the US government want to prevent me from discussing these cases at Columbia law school? Perhaps, it is because our legal challenge disrupts the narrative of “precision strikes” against “high-value targets” as an unqualified success against terrorism, at minimal cost to civilian life.

As famine sweeps across the horn of Africa, thank you climate change:

Across much of Somalia and Ethiopia, the last two rains have failed – something which, says SCF’s Andrew Wander, used to occur every 10 to 12 years, but now happens almost every other year. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) says: “In June, the famine early-warning systems network said it had compared rainfall data for Kenya and Ethiopia and concluded that 2010-11 was the driest or second driest year since 1950-51 in 11 of 15 analysed pastoral zones. This does not, however, mean that this is yet the worst drought in the Horn of Africa. The 2007-09 drought, for instance, peaked in September 2009 with 22 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.”

The July issue of Words Without Borders is devoted to the Arab Spring.

Shoe fashion, 1939.

I want this book of Dar Sketches a lot:

David Prosser is just all kinds of anger management problems.

Having a speech impediment could get you tasered.

This N+1 article on Mike Tyson is kind of amazing. “I’m proud of myself and everyone likes me.”

Professional sports as a window into political economy.

Gender and Race in So You Think You Can Dance.

The Mumpsimus reviews a recent documentary about folk singer Phil Ochs.

Did you know pregnant students had rights? The feminist breeder has you covered.

You Are More Likely to Survive a Plane Crash than Click a Banner Ad

Lapata on Osama’s funny face.

On the possible strategies behind the possible recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN.

John Gruber on linking, attribution, and credit. And speaking of which, Matt Taibbi, get your act together (fixed the link).

Kerim has some thoughts on google+ and its circles.

What is creepiness?

U.S. has spent $20,000,000,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan on air conditioning. Oh, goody.

On racism and the Mexico-U.S. soccer rivalry. Also this, both via Laurent Dubois.

Organizational Charts, via:

In a piece that’s otherwise about Tina Brown’s fan-fiction to Princess Diana, Michelle Dean knocks out this metaphor:

I agree that the monarchy is an irrational and silly institution. But, speaking from the outside, the holy-text status you all assign to your “Founding Fathers” and your Constitution is just as confusing. Ditto the rallies and the crying over the flag and the inexplicable devotion to unearthing photos of your President holding babies. (And don’t tell me that doesn’t cost you a thing. Tea Party types, who feed on this crap, are a far greater threat to progressive politics than Kate Middleton.) National myths are, after all, something like old fixtures in the run-down Victorian you’ve just bought because you loved the gabled roof. The wall sconces are ornate in a way that obviates their value for you, they certainly aren’t up to your modern tastes, but if you want to take them out you’re going to have to gut the entire interior of the house. And at some point that gets too expensive, either materially or psychologically.

Adam Kotsko’s rule for how to be applauded as a radical contemporary theologian:

Anything modern must be rejected because it can be destructive, while anything Christian must be preserved because it can be construed as good.

It’s kind of embarrassing for the New York Times – or should be — that this documentary shows the newsroom to be filled with nothing but white men:

And lots of people benefit from the government!

The Global Sociology blog gives us this visual of comparative surveillance states:

This reading of Midnight in Paris feels right to me. I enjoyed the movie, but was a bit confused as to why the movie decided to invest so much time and energy in the Rodin garden lady and then also the nostalgia shop lady, the latter of which becomes the love interest and the former of which becomes.. nothing. This article suggests that the two were originally one character, and that they had to re-shoot the scenes with the second character (who was invented for that reason) because Carla Bruni is not a good actress (though, worth noting that she’s not an actress at all).

Justin Erik Halldór Smith begins to write about The Tree of Life with this promising opening:

Among the most reliable signs that one is regarding Hollywood schlock is that well-known narrative set-up whereby macrohistory functions as a mere backdrop to the unfolding of middle-class American lives…

Robert Reich on why the economy is in the toilet, in two minutes, with drawings:

I happened to catch this interview with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf — the founder of the Cordoba initiative, and the face of the proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan — and I was really struck by what a soothing voice he has. That’s all. But seriously, if the man has recorded any audiobooks, I want them, because they’ll help me get back to sleep at 3 in the morning.

Zeynep Tufekci responds to Bill Keller:

Kellers says that #TwitterMakesYouStupid was a way of testing whether Twitter lends itself to “deep, rich conversation, with context and persuasion.” He then bemoans the fact that his one word, one hashtag tweet generated, in his words, “an awful lot of nyah-nyah-nyah (‘Um, wrong.” “Nuh-uh!!’).” However, instead of realizing that there really could not be any other kind of reaction to such a provocative statement, he chides people for missing the fact that his hashtag was, in his words, “followed, please note, by the word ‘discuss.’” Perhaps the key characteristic of the emerging public sphere on social media is that people now have an opportunity to talk back, rather than just being talked at. A dismissive statement, predictably, generates dismissal.

The rapidly-receding iron grasp of the elite on public conversations, however, is both an opportunity and a threat to the health of democracies — and this trajectory partly depends on whether gate-keeper institutions incorporate some of these new dynamics while preserving some of their crucial and, in my opinion, irreplaceable functions.

But, first, we must move away from the land of trivial generalizations. What kind of a response would Keller expect from his staff if someone walked into the New York Times newsroom, waving a stack of Judith Miller’s infamous “weapons of mass destruction” articles and shouted “New York Times reporters are a bunch of cowardly liars! Discuss”? Surely, that would not generate a healthy discussion…

I get irritated with how in love The Last Psychiatrist is with demonstrating how everybody is wrong but him — physician, cure thyself! — but I did find this distinction helpful:

[Scott] Adams seems to be believe that men are naturally sexually aggressive, and women/society put limits on their natural impulses.  This is what Jezebel got wrong: he doesn’t believe this. He wishes this.

And when he says society is a “prison” for men’s natural urges to penetrate random women like in caveman days, he is not really complaining about this prison.  That’s what he wants.  He wants it to be true that society is cockblocking him.

Because if that is true, then it isn’t his own inability to score chicks that’s limiting him.  “I’d love to just walk up to some hot chick in a bar and just take her home and bang her,” he might think, “but society doesn’t let me.”  Really?  Dude, you need to switch bars.

Not being able to easily and fluidly pick up women is maddeningly destructive to many men,  not tempered by other successes in their lives.  We hear the refrain that media images create unrealistic expectations of women to be hot, etc, but the flip side is that some men can’t understand why everyone else seems to be able to hook up easily, freely, fun-ly, while they’re in the corner all boiling rage.  Confronted with this, they have two choices: I’m inadequate, or the Matrix is against me.  Men who don’t want to kill themselves choose b.

As always, Sahelbog has your Africa news roundup, and Africa blog roundup (and another!). And an Al-Jazeera English stream on “The African Spring”

Libyan rebels capture a munitions dump and what’s on their wish list. Minesweeping with pool cues. No, not the computer game. And on the defection of the Libyan Soccer team. Libya casts a shadow over African Union summit.

On the fiftieth anniversary of Congolese independence, Jason Stearns remembers a sword thief:

Instead of remembering Patrice Lumumba, Pierre Mulele or Simon Kimbangu, I’ll choose Ambroise Boimbo this time. His claim to fame? Stealing King Baudouin’s sword when the Belgian monarch arrived for independence celebrations in 1960. What was he thinking? Was he caught up in the delirium of independence, annoyed that he hadn’t been able to fight his way to freedom? Was he egged on by friends?

In my imaginary reconstruction of the event, I see Boimbo as a frustrated hero, a brave man posing a futile act of rebellion, who was robbed – like all Congolese – of a fair fight, who had to accept a fake independence on a silver platter.

The first film made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a while, Viva Riva!:


Rachel Strohm’s review:

…tightly plotted and disturbing – an eerie portrait of a society where the state monopoly on violence has almost completely broken down, and where the promise of money in sufficient amounts can induce almost anyone to betrayal.  The constellation of gangsters, army officials, sex workers, priests, street children and bystanders who are drawn into interaction with each other around the central character of Riva, an audacious gasoline smuggler, is well-drawn, and watching their various twisting plotlines slowly converge on the same place was one of the central pleasures of the film.  Along the way, there’s some ridiculous sex, quite a lot of alcohol, many reversals of fortune, and some apt commentary on the old “Kin la (pou)belle” saw.  The final scene is pitch perfect, as well.

From an interview with the director:

Crime, corruption and hypocritical devoutness are addressed with irony and humour in the film. Was this a safe way to tackle these subject matters?

DTWM: The reason why I chose to do a genre film – in this case a thriller – is because there are certain codes you have to follow. It is easier for the audience to get into the vehicle: you drive and along the way they can recognise the good guy, the bad guy, the money, the women, all that. From that point, I wanted to add some more complex issues. For example, the scene when Riva waits for Nora outside the mansion is normal for the way houses are built in Kinshasa, with bars at the windows. So Riva can’t really sing a song or do much there, but the passion is alive. Essentially, it is just two people who have a strong desire for one another, trying to find a way to make it happen. My point of view was to show how people interact within the city’s limitations; how they fantasize about love, offering themselves to each other like gifts. As for the humoristic part – I think with thrillers you must keep a certain distance from reality. The tensions occurring in the film require moments of relief. It is also the way I see things as well, because for me, a priest for example is a priest but a human being too…

And if you happen to be in Pittsburgh, check out “The Reel Congo”

“Digital Tongues,” part one and two, puts Tendai Marima, Sophia Azeb, Tolu Ogunlesi, Khadija Patel, and Sonja S Uwimana on a skype together.

Item: The fact that Clarence Thomas cites Cotton Mather for support of his reading of original intent is the best argument you could need against his brand of “originalism.” Also among the Cotton Mather oeuvre, “The Negro Christianized.” The early puritans gave slaves to each other as Christmas presents. But, by all means, invest them with constitutional authority.

Batya reads Alice Munroe:

I suppose everyone has that author who they turn to when things get rough, an author who gives voice to a world that soothes the sores of living in this world with flawed characters, perhaps as a flawed character. I can’t imagine visiting my family without The Beggar Maid. I can’t imagine moving without Runaway. And when things get especially difficult, I often find myself reading through the entire oeuvre without realizing I have done so until all the books are stacked by my bedside and I can’t understand why there’s no Munro on my bookshelf. Such a thing has recently occurred, and so I find myself in a position to speak to you about what she does for me.

Mark Ames has a theory on why the American right never liked V.S. Naipaul (which is actually just an essay about Naipaul and Eldridge Cleaver).

Another installment by the New York Times in its series of illuminating articles on the Arab people and their customs:

SOMEWHERE ARAB: Frustrated at having to be in the vicinity of a New York Times writer, the young man, fatigued, was leaning on the horn of his picturesquely war-damaged but sturdy American car in an attempt to drown out the shrillness of the drone being emitted from the mouth of the journalist next to him.

The horn made a foreigner in the car next to him wince, because first world-ers have a superiorly-developed, delicate, inner ear structure, the product of centuries of listening to chamber music by gentle streams. Denizens of the Mohamedian countries lack this. Up until colonialism rescued them with pizza and espresso, they spent their time being centuries ahead of the west in the fields of medicine and mathematics, and thus had no time to develop a refined appreciation of silence which is why now they like to bang saucepans together just for fun and are not bothered by cacophony.

Then came one of those NYT moments.

“America no. 1. White man very good,” said a man with fresh dramatic injuries on a motorbike, providing excellent copy.

The Random Black Girl with the big voice: (via)

It’s an example, by the way, of how you can include “race” without troubling the underlying normality of whiteness: make it an individual characteristic (the thing that makes that person special) and thus, anything but a marker of historical implication in grand political injustice. The random black girl is white like everybody else, but she’s also special, because she’s black too.

In response to Dan Savage, someone on facebook lets fly on what pisses her off:

The “let’s face it” version of “realism” that claims men are better at separating sex and love (not true, in my experience). That then, without batting an eye, Savage continues to say “The cultural expectation should be if there’s infidelity, the marriage is more important than fidelity.” Those two statements added up create a situation that privileges what they’re claiming as a “male” tendency in which the party that will need to overcome the infidelity is the woman. (Not that I accept any of those premises, but that’s where the logic goes.) The arguments that date back to “history” wherein men had concubines and mistresses–these are meant to function as instances of male nonmonogamy. To equate concubines with mistresses is spectacularly obtuse–the former was frequently coerced, the latter was by definition FINE with nonmonogamy. That grouping usefully and weirdly overwrites the nonmonogamous women who mathematically MUST be part of a heterosexual extramarital relationship. Nor does the article account for the fact that the people who historically have quite successfully separated sex from love (prostitutes) are mostly women. PLUS the article sloppily attributes a high divorce rate to infidelity, when I suspect there are a number of other causes, without establishing the parameters for what a failure rate for nonmonogamy would look like. Those are just the first things that come to mind.

Art from Guantanamo. About forty inmates are taking painting classes. Some paintings were excluded because they were deemed “aggressive.” See also, Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak .

Also, the rule of law:

Of all the torture cases in the past 10 years, of all the detainee deaths, the DOJ has found a grand total of two torture cases that merit further investigation.  Not even a prosecution, at this point.  Investigation.  And, by all accounts, the investigations will be limited to people who went even further than Jay Bybee and John Yoo could sign off on.  This presumably means the guys who went beyond “just following orders” but not the guys who “just gave orders.”

See also. And also.

Stratfor’s Aerial Arab Unrest photo-essay. On the protests in Tahrir square on Friday, Joel Beinin, “The Struggle Continues.”

The 100 most beautiful words in the English language. Ailurophile, Assemblage, Becoming, Beleaguer, Brood, Bucolic, Bungalow, Chatoyant…

Zygmunt Bauman on the end of anonymity.

Amitava Kumar on news from India and Pakistan:

India and Pakistan are like two drunks stumbling out of a bar on a dimly-lit street. They part ways, going in opposite directions, but frequently stop to look back in the dark. “Bloody drunk,” each mutters at the sight of the other. On both sides of the border, grief or outrage felt when news comes of an atrocity or a massacre on the other side is always mixed with a degree of satisfaction. “What else can you expect from them!” “We’ve been saying this all along. You should have listened to us.” “Let me tell you one thing…” The

Internet is a huge portal to this shared reality: just read the comments where Indians or Pakistanis offer their opinions on the role of the state as well as citizenry across the border. “State-sponsored terrorism!” “Occupation in Kashmir!“

The remarkable truth is that it is not only the responses—complacency mixed with contempt—that mirror each other. Often, the news from both sides also appears to be identical.