Sunday Reading

by zunguzungu

Nir Rosen on the ways and whys journalists misrepresent the middle East:

…since they don’t know Arabic, they literally cannot read the writing on the wall – the graffiti on the wall -whether it is for the mujahedin, for Muqtada Sadr, or for the football teams of Madrid or Barcelona. It means that if they talk to one man, the translator only tells them what he said and not what everybody around him was saying, they don’t hear the Sadrist songs supporting the Shia of Bahrain, or hear the taxi driver complaining about how things were better under Saddam, or discussing the attacks he saw in the morning, or the soldiers joking at a checkpoint, or the shopkeeper cursing the soldiers. In fact they don’t even take taxis or buses, so they miss a key opportunity to interact naturally with people. It means they can’t just relax in people’s homes and hear families discuss their concerns. They are never able to develop what Germans call fingerspitzengefuhl – that finger tip feeling, an intuitive sense of what is happening, what the trends and sentiments are, which one can only get by running one’s own fingers through the social fabric.

A student of the Arab world once commented that any self-appointed terrorism expert must first pass the Um Kulthum test – meaning, has he heard of Um Kulthum, the iconic Egyptian diva of Arab nationalism whose music and lyrics still resonate throughout the Middle East? If they hadn’t heard of her, then they obviously were not familiar with Arab culture. In Iraq an equivalent might be the Hawasim test. Saddam called the 1991 war on Iraq “Um al-Maarik“, or the mother of all battles. And he called the 2003 war on Iraq “Um al-Hawasim“, or the mother of all decisive moments. Soon, the looting that followed the invasion was called Hawasim by Iraqis, and the word became a common phrase, applied to cheap markets, to stolen goods, to cheap products. If you drive your car recklessly like you don’t care about it, another driver might shout at you, “what, is it hawasim?” If you don’t make an effort to familiarise yourself with these cultural phenomena, then just go back home.

Spectacular street photography from Vivian Maier:


Greatest hits from the Conan the Barbarian commentary track.

On our sick and ailing Fourth Amendment.

Louis CK is a one man Louie:

The show is based on his life. Louis is the director. He’s also the only writer, the sole editor (he no longer shares duties with the co-editor he had last season), not to mention the person who oversees music (when the music guy’s budget ran out, he decided to do it himself). He also hired his own casting team: Last season, he turned down FX’s offer to help out and doesn’t inform them about casting in advance. But perhaps the most unusual aspect of the show is that Louis C.K. gets no notes from the network during filming, no script approval—an ­unheard-of “Louis C.K. deal” that has made him the envy of comics and TV writers alike.

This is why we can’t have nice things:




Some gorgeous pictures of the Congo River.

Subashini on Beyonce and Sucker Punch.

On enjoying one’s symptoms:

In response to a deranged billboard campaign by professional rapture predictor Harold Camping, a whole host of people have assumed the position of exuberant snark, creating a minor cultural phenomenon of apocalypse mocking.  The facebook event ‘post rapture looting,’ for example, has about 500,000 attendees.  Various atheist groups are using the hubbub for an excuse to throw a party.  Last night, Stephen Colbert ended his show with jokes about how it would be the last one ever.

Some of this can be chalked up to liberal atheist snottiness and an attempt to make ‘the fundies’ look silly (as if they needed any help on that front).  But I think the resonance this very predictable routine has found bespeaks a deeper mooring in mass consciousness.  To me at least, people seem to be laughing a bit too hard.  It is as if those participating in the fun are a little too eager to convince themselves that it actually is all fun and games.  In other words, the disproportionate enjoyment people are getting out of this joke stems from the fact that it provides reassurance that it is, in fact, all just a joke.  The world is not really ending.  Life will go on as usual after May 21st.

But it is precisely because the world will keep going on as it is that people are so desperate for reassurance that the whole thing won’t be ending.  Environmental destruction is only the most obvious way in which the future is dissolving.  Hitting closer to home in the key demographic of the apocalypse humor (college educated white twenty-somethings) is an economy which provides them, quite simply, no future.  Ben Davis has perspicaciously argued that a similar anxiety explains many of the key aspects of hipster culture.

Student mobilizations in Spain, from D:

What makes a body obscene?

Peter gives us the depressing academic statistic of the day: teaching assistants at the University of Auckland are better paid than adjunct professors in New York.

The Bay Reporter visits Family Radio:

  • The place was filthy. If you really believed the end was near, would you waste time vacuuming?
  • Camping’s prophecy has no wiggle room. He spoke in such great detail of earthquakes and Armageddon, there will be no way to fudge it after the fact in a way that will let ardent followers down easily.
  • Employees were still using a punch clock on Monday, taking note of the hours they worked. At first I thought, “Ah ha, that proves they don’t really believe.” Why punch the clock for a paycheck that will never come? But staffers explained to me that they were sticking to their routines as a way to pass the time until the end.

What the New York Times now says about Israel in 1948 is contradicted by what it said about Israel in 1948. And this column in the NYT, by the deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset, is what ethnic cleansing looks like.

The copyright infringement case currently pending against Georgia State University could have really nightmarish consequences.

A Book Xylophone. via if:book

Robot Artists in Africa!

In Stupidest Racism of the week (with bonus misogyny!), I give you the ways that Satoshi “Why are Black Women So Ugly?” Kanazawa is a bad scientist:

Kanazawa didn’t base his baseless invective on the thousands of survey responses. Instead, he looked at how researchers rated the appearance of the adolescents and later the adults taking the survey. Here’s how he explains the data he used:

“At the end of each interview, the interviewer rates the physical attractiveness of the respondent objectively on the following five-point scale: 1=very unattractive, 2= unattractive, 3=about average, 4=attractive, 5=very attractive. The physical attractiveness of each Add Health respondent is measured three times by three different interviewers over seven years.”

I’m confused about how these data are objective. Did some bias-free robots from the utopian ether descend upon each testing site to perform this portion of the evaluation? Or were the interviewers human beings, subject to the same racism, sexism, ablelism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, fat phobia and whateverthehellelsephobia that undergirds beauty standards?

Also, Lindsay Beyerstein at BigThink tears him a new one. Gabriele Contessa too. And Anna North at Jezebel.

New blogger’s flowchart goes viral, and her post about the experience.

You’ve all read Jane Mayer’s “Secret Sharer” right? Seriously, you have, right?

Death of the novel? No, argues Jess Row in the Boston Review:

“there is no crisis of realism in contemporary fiction; there is only, among certain literary critics, a crisis of ownership…”

If you need to read something about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, try Laila Lalami and Moe Tkacik. Also, as Jon Cogburn points out:

One of the ironies in this situation is that if BHL and others had not succeeded in protecting Polanski from justice, Dominique Strauss-Kahn might have been given bail. The American judge rightfully had no confidence that European governments would extradite accused rapists who are rich, famous, and have friends like BHL.

Oh, and also, you could read the top ten dumb-ass things Ben Stein said about DSK, collected for you by Felix Salmon:

  • If he is such a womanizer and violent guy with women, why didn’t he ever get charged until now?
  • This is a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, and that’s what it’s all about.
  • So far, he’s innocent, and he’s being treated shamefully. If he’s found guilty, there will be plenty of time to criticize him.
  • Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes?
  • Maybe Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty but if so, he is one of a kind, and criminals are not usually one of a kind.
  • He is one of the most recognizable people on the planet. Did he really have to be put in Riker’s Island?
  • A man pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room? He’s got to be guilty of something. Bring out the guillotine.
  • Was Riker’s Island really the place to put him on the allegations of one human being? Hadn’t he earned slightly better treatment than that?
  • Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes?
  • People accuse other people of crimes all of the time. What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid?

Also, Robert Paul Wolff:

…say what you will about American socialists, a tiny and feeble band as we are. Presented with a confrontation between a white man and a black woman, between a rich, powerful person and a poor, powerless person, between a famous, prominent person and an insignificant person, between someone who earns a salary of half a million dollars a year and someone who probably is lucky to make thirteen dollars an hour, our instinct would be to take the side of the poor, black, powerless woman against the rich, powerful white man. We might be wrong to do so, of course, but that would, I think, be our instinct. Not so in France, apparently, for all their sophisticated invocations of the latest versions of Marxism. I have to tell you, this thought has generated a little feeling of chauvinist pride in my breast.

Eman al-Obeidy attracted worldwide attention when she walked into a hotel lobby packed with international journalists to accuse the regime of being behind the attack. She told CNN what it’s like to have left Libya, how she has changed since the incident and what she feels about her alleged attackers. “My soul is liberated.”

Read Maria Bustillos’ Wikipedia and the Death of the Expert:

Experts, geniuses, authorities, “authors”—we were taught to believe that these should be questioned, but until now have not often been given a way to do so, to seek out and test for ourselves the exact means by which they reached their conclusions. So long as we believe that there is such a thing as an expert rather than a fellow-investigator, then that person’s views just by magic will be worth more than our own, no matter how much or how often actual events have shown this not to be the case. For us to have this magic thinking about “individualism” then is pernicious politically, intellectually, in every way…

“Learning” no longer means sitting passively in a lecture hall or on in front of a television or in a library and waiting to receive the “authoritative” version of what the experts think is up as if it were a Communion wafer. For nearly 20 years we have had the Internet, now grown into a medium of almost infinite paths, where “learning” means that you can Twitter directly to people in Egypt to ask them what they really think about ElBaradei (and get answers), ask an author or critic to address a point you feel he may have missed (ditto), or share your own insights in countless forums where they will be read and admired (and/or savaged.) Knowledge is growing more broadly and immediately participatory and collaborative by the moment. The results of these collaborations, like Wikipedia, represent not just new methods of packaging knowledge, but a new vision of what might come to be meant by “knowledge”: something more like what Marshall McLuhan called “a galaxy for insight.”

A Nigerian 419 genius:

As I sat in a hotel lobby in Lagos listening to his story, I couldn’t help being reminded of Max Levchin of PayPal and Slide fame. Levchin grew up in Soviet Russia and had the same knack, that same innate ability to understand how machines worked. He learned to code on whatever he could find– calculators, pen and paper, old Soviet microcomputers. When his family moved to America, he rebuilt things he found in dumpsters too. Watching the nightly news on a old black-and-white TV helped teach him English.

But there’s a big difference between the two. Levchin immigrated to the US at 16, went to University of Illinois and was inspired by the example of Marc Andreessen. He moved to Silicon Valley at the best possible time for an aggressive, insanely-competitive coder to move to Silicon Valley. A company as complex and lasting as PayPal was hardly all luck and timing, but Levchin took advantage of being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right people, most notably PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

By contrast, Boakye grew up in a poor section of Lagos.

Kickboxing Kenyan Grannies.

In response to the latest “nauseatingly self-congratulatory description of how the travel industry is accommodating the Boomers’ intention to spend all of the money bequeathed to them by the WWII generation before they die” from the NY Times, Ed at Gin and Tacos offers his own bucket list:

Before we die, we’d like to:

  • Ÿ         Have a job with health insurance
  • Ÿ         Have a job that won’t be outsourced as soon as technology allows
  • Ÿ         Have a job with paid vacation time
  • Ÿ         Make $30,000 in a single year
  • Ÿ         Be able to afford a home, and maybe a new compact car every 15 or 20 years
  • Ÿ         Go to a museum to learn about “pensions” and subsidized public education
  • Ÿ         Be legally classified as a full-time employee at least once

ŸBoy, that would be sweet. Be sure to tell us all about your Napa Valley wine tours; take plenty of pictures from the summit of Kilimanjaro.

Of course, since India is apparently outsourcing cheap jobs to the US, now we can finally start to get some of those hot globalism tables scraps!

Hobbes and Bacon. And Hobbes and Bacon part two.

At ladypoverty, sometimes it’s hard to be in touch with the proles:

Needless to say, I’ve been using public transportation ever since I first got interested in the common man. And, rest assured, most bus drivers uphold every romantic preconception I have for the public transit operator. But let’s face it. Ever since my last bus driver retired, his replacement hasn’t done jack shit to uphold my philosophical faith in the common man.

If you’re anything like me, you may not feel especially communistical at the ass-crack of dawn, when you’re freezing your nuts off waiting for the bus to go to work. That’s why I always appreciated the curb-side manner of bus operator Ignatius Sizemore, who on arrival would always ask, “Hey, buddy. How’s it hanging?” By this I always assumed he meant the low-hanging fruit of the means of production, to which I would respond, “Ripe and juicy, my fellow wage slave,” for a collective chuckle. But this new guy. I tell you it would kill him just to say hello…

One area where my bus driver consistently applies himself is in the thorough examination of each and every female posterior which crosses his path. He has even been known to shake his head and exclaim, “Damn,” in his deepest contemplations. But wouldn’t it be better if this exploited soul put all that thoughtfulness toward a worldwide worker’s revolution? I can assure you that, if he did, it would help reaffirm my faith in the common man — the same philosophical faith in the common man, we must recall, which I have come to hold so dear. But I have to tell you, as things stand now, I just don’t know what to think when it comes to having faith in the common man.

For more in this vein, see “Other people pose biggest obstacle to the dissemination of my views,” “Exhaust fumes are something that I breathe a lot of, and the shit is beginning to get on my nervous system,” and, of course, “Good friend still prefers Cosmo to reading this blog, despite its revolutionary potential

The Economist:

For many years now, we’ve heard American commentators bemoan the violence of the Palestinian national movement. If only Palestinians had learned the lessons of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, we hear, they’d have had their state long ago. Surely no Israeli government would have violently suppressed a non-violent Palestinian movement of national liberation seeking only the universally recognised right of self-determination…

As my colleague writes, what happened on Nakba Day was Israel’s “nightmare scenario: masses of Palestinians marching, unarmed, towards the borders of the Jewish state, demanding the redress of their decades-old national grievance.” Peter Beinart writes that this represents “Israel’s Palestinian Arab Spring”: the tactics of mass non-violent protest that brought down the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, and are threatening to bring down those of Libya, Yemen and Syria, are now being used in the Palestinian cause.

So now we have an opportunity to see how Americans will react. We’ve asked the Palestinians to lay down their arms. We’ve told them their lack of a state is their own fault; if only they would embrace non-violence, a reasonable and unprejudiced world would see the merit of their claims. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of them did just that, and it seems likely to continue. If crowds of tens of thousands of non-violent Palestinian protestors continue to march, and if Israel continues to shoot at them, what will we do? Will we make good on our rhetoric, and press Israel to give them their state? Or will it turn out that our paeans to non-violence were just cynical tactics in an amoral international power contest staged by militaristic Israeli and American right-wing groups whose elective affinities lead them to shape a common narrative of the alien Arab/Muslim threat? Will we even bother to acknowledge that the Palestinians are protesting non-violently? Or will we soldier on with the same empty decades-old rhetoric, now drained of any truth or meaning, because it protects established relationships of power? What will it take to make Americans recognise that the real Martin Luther King-style non-violent Palestinian protestors have arrived, and that Israeli soldiers are shooting them with real bullets?

Jews for Justice with Palestine:

[N]o educated person seriously accepts the proposition today that the Palestinian refugee problem was created when Arab states declared war on the State of Israel in 1948. That is because it is common and uncontroversial knowledge that half of the Palestinians left in months before the war was declared, when both sides were engaged in riots and skirmishes against each other. No historian, not even Ephraim Karsh, to my knowledge, denies that. But still you will read folks like, say, the Prime Minister of Israel, or, Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who repeat this narrishkeit about the Arab invasion of Israel being the cause of the refugee problem. I am not talking about who is responsible for the exodus. I am simply talking about the fact of the exodus.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote today a particularly scurrilous piece in response to Acting President Mahmoud Abbas’s op-ed in the New York Times. Abbas had written

Sixty-three years ago, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was forced to leave his home in the Galilean city of Safed and flee with his family to Syria.

Goldberg called that a “falsification” because one could understand Abbas to be claiming that he was forced to leave by Israeli soldiers pointing a gun at him, or that Israeli soldiers had it in for 13-year old Palestinian boys. But Mahmoud Abbas himself had said that his family left with many others because they feared reprisals from the Zionists. Goldberg calls this “self-exile”, rather than being forced to leave home. To drive the point home, his piece asks the question, “Was Mahmoud Abbas’ Family Expelled from Palestine?” (Since Abbas never claimed that it was, that is the quintessential straw man.)

So my question for Goldberg is simple: When Jews emigrated from Germany after Kristallnacht, was that “self-exile”? When Jews fled Poland during the Holocaust weeks in advance of the German arriving, was that “self-exile”? When Jews left Palestine in 1947 because they were afraid of Arab reprisals, was that “self-exile”? Or would he say they were forced to leave because of the circumstances?

Via the Abstemiast, the midst of the Mississippi:

Photos from Golden Gate BART and other failed rapid transit dreams.

On Animal Ethics:

Ms. Kheiriddin more or less correctly points out that most dogs will not survive long outside of human care. What she does not recognize is that this point (“dogs are not wolves and cannot survive without human assistance”) directly contradicts her previous point (“dogs are wolves and need to be treated like wolves”). Such schizophrenic thought patterns are common when we talk about animals. That dogs do not have a general ability to survive in the absence of active human care only indicates the greater burden of care that humans have towards dogs: after all, these dogs only exist for human vanity; we are the direct cause of their existence and we are responsible for what we bring into existence. In this regard, it is appropriate to claim that humans owe a duty of care akin to that of adult to child and not one based upon the tyrannical whims of a psychotic “master” who strangely imagines themselves to be a wolf…

[W]hat animal ethicists claim is that we need to ask why we breed animals for food or use them in experiments at all. That is, to reflect upon our practices and to justify them and, when doing so, apply the standard of equal consideration of interests: the principle in ethics that equal interests should be treated equally and without consideration of arbitrary characteristics such as age (“age-ism”), race (“racism”), gender (“sexism”), sexual orientation (“homophobia”), or, indeed, species (“speciesism”). Second, no animal ethicist claims that animals should “be put on the same plane as human beings.” What Ms. Kheiriddin is suggesting is that animal ethicists hold the views that animals merit identical rights as humans. (Again we run into a contradiction: first Ms. Kheiriddin claims that animal ethicists are only interested in language and not in law; next she claims that ethicists want donkeys to have the right to drive cars–which is it?) This is not the case. It is absurd to suggest that an animal merits, for instance, the right to vote. But then, it is also absurd to suggest that a two year old human merits the right to vote–no children’s rights advocate holds such a silly view. The reason for this is obvious: the interests of children and animals are not harmed when they are not allowed to vote or drive a car and, besides, neither have the capacity to do either act. In its strongest form, animal ethicists claim that animals possess one basic, fundamental right: not to be treated as the property of human beings. Nothing more and nothing less.

On land grabs in Africa (via Rohit):

Large land acquisitions of this kind often depend upon the massive displacement of rural populations. Last year, the Ethiopian government relocated 150,000 inhabitants of the country’s eastern Somali region. Plans calls for the relocation of more than 100,000 households in the next year, including 45,000 in the Gambella region alone, as part of the government’s Villigization Program Action Plan. The government claims those relocated will benefit from access to arable land in areas where schools, roads, and basic infrastructure are to be built.