I love the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, - loved them from the moment they arrived on the scene and shook up our notion of how women's tennis is played ... and much more. Ever since they made their debut on the Grand Slam circuit, I have heard it said, in different grudging ways, that the sisters are ungracious, un-sportsmanlike, arrogant and amazingly enough, too good and too strong for other players to beat! I rarely saw any evidence of the the first three characteristics while the last two were on display again and again. So what is it (or is not) about Venus and Serena that it took so long for sports fans to cheer for them and their extraordinary playing skills, even their fellow Americans? After all, Americans love winners.
All the while that I was watching Serena play and win yesterday's US Open final, I was telling my husband that these two superb athletes have been asked repeatedly to "behave" just so that their presence in the upper class white milieu of professional tennis can become acceptable to an audience who took notorious tennis nasties like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors in their stride with a shrug and awe. While no one will admit it, the Williams sisters faced the same racial barriers to their mainstreaming as did Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis and Tiger Woods in the sports arena and as does Barack Obama in the realm of politics - discomfort with a physically and socially alien person, no matter how good they may be at what they do. Implicit biases are hard to overcome even when excellence is undeniable. This article by Brian Phillps in Grantland examines the Williams Sisters (Serena in particular) phenomenon and the tennis public's discomfort with their larger than life presence on the courts. Excerpted in the article is Tony Hoagland's The Change, a controversial poem that minces few words.
"I liked Venus better. Not that you had to pick one, in a John vs. Paul sort of way. The real question, back when they first appeared on the semi-serious tennis fan's radar screen in the mid- to late '90s, was whether you liked them, period — whether you thought "the Williams sisters," that strange collective being, were something worth rooting for. They were going to overthrow women's tennis; that was clear from the very beginning. They were too big, too powerful, too fast, and too fierce for everyone else. The entire established order of the Hingis-Davenport era was under threat from the moment they arrived. After the 17-year-old Venus reached the final of the U.S. Open on her first try in 1997, the old guard subtly reconfigured itself, became a concerted, doomed effort to stop them from breaking through. It's hard, now that they've been so dominant for so long, to remember the kind of low-grade panic they caused, so let's put it this way: The day before Venus and Serena arrived, the game was a fully functioning system complete with plots and subplots and rivalries. The day after Venus and Serena arrived, all that seemed about as relevant as political squabbles in Constantinople right after the Turks showed up.
And they were controversial. I mean, John Rocker was "controversial"; the Williams sisters were divisive in ways that almost defy analysis. Simply by virtue of being black, confident, from Compton, and physically on a different plane from their competitors, they raised a swarm of issues — about race, class, gender, who was inside, who was outside, what we were supposed to identify with in sports — that society, much less the WTA Tour, barely had the vocabulary to address. Tennis, in its unimportant way, had long since become one of those numb zones in which everyone more or less means well but also tacitly agrees that certain things are nicer not to discuss. Semi-serious tennis fans, as a class, were whiter, richer, and better educated than society overall.2 After the Williams sisters appeared, it was no longer possible for these fans to stay pleasantly unconscious of the fact that their chosen sport trended almost ludicrously white and upper-class, and that most of them, without being in any way self-identifyingly racist, were actually pretty OK with that. A lot of white tennis fans, in other words, suddenly felt besieged by an enemy they hadn't even known they were against."
The media have been all atwitter with the news of congressman Todd Akin's (R-MO) radio interview where he claimed that a woman cannot get pregnant as a result of a "legitimate rape."
"If abortion could be considered in case of, say, a tubal pregnancy [which threatens the mother’s life], what about in the case of rape?" asked KTVI host Charles Jaco, in a clip that was disseminated by Talking Points Memo. "Should it be legal or not?"
"It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare,” Akin said, referring to conception following a rape. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."
I haven't heard the expression before. Most of us know what constitutes rape and so does the law and it is never legitimate. So what was Akin thinking? I have a suspicion that for many men, rape occurs only if the victim is first beaten to a bloody pulp before she submits to non-consensual sex. If she is not brutalized during the process, rape could not have taken place. Why, the woman may have actually enjoyed the encounter or just changed her mind about consent after the fact.
Congressman Akin is among many others on the right who oppose abortion under most circumstances, including rape and incest. Some of them suspect that women seeking to end unwanted pregnancies will cry rape if that constitutes legal grounds for abortion. So in order to leave rape out of the abortion debate it would be convenient if it can be proved "scientifically" that a woman cannot get pregnant as a result of rape. (Incidentally, Akin is a member of the House science commitee. That should give us pause)
The Republican Party (even its Tea Party wing) is sufficiently embarrassed by Akin's "gaffe" to demand that he pull out of his senate race against Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). I wonder why the GOP is acting with such alacrity. After all, it is not the first time that a right wing politician has opposed the exemption for rape when legislating abortion laws or made flippant and ignorant remarks about it. It is widely believed that the Republicans fear that Akin's opinions if aired in the media for long will also shed light on Romney's running mate Paul Ryan's views on rape and abortion. Ryan has worked closely with Akin in the House to co-sponsor an anti-abortion bill. Only in that bill, the expression was "forced rape." Well, I guess we can now legitimatley ask Ryan what the definition of "voluntary rape" is.
Since 9/11/2001, while Muslims have been subjected to official suspicion by governmental agencies, American Sikhs, more than any other group, have faced random violence unleashed by individual patriotic vigilantes. Yesterday's shooting at the Oak Creek Gurudwara near Milwaukee is being treated as domestic terrorism and a hate crime by the FBI. The killer is dead, shot by the police. So we may never know what motivated his rampage. The speculation is that it was a case of mistaken identity and that the gunman may have wished to kill Muslims but mistook the turbaned and bearded Sikh men as co-religionists of the now deceased Osama Bin Laden, the most notorious man with a turban and a beard that many Americans identify as their quintessential enemy. Sikhs of course, are not Muslims and it would still be a heinous hate crime if they were. But do such fine distinctions matter to a rage filled hater? Would he have killed anyway because Sikhs reminded him of Al Qaida and the Taliban and the physical symbols of otherness were enough for him to go berserk? See Amardeep Singh's thoughtful commentary on the matter.
The right wing recklessly charges its opponents of harboring socialist / communist sympathies whenever there is a disagreement on taxes, spending or war. Democrats in congress as also Democratic presidents and presidential candidates since FDR have been targets of such scurrilous attacks. President Obama is no exception. But in his case, the additional suspicion of un-Americanness is repeatedly voiced. It may be meant as a dog whistle aimed at the conservative base but most of us understand that "un-American" here is but a thinly veiled reminder of Obama's skin color. Here is John Sununu, the mostly forgotten White House chief of the first President Bush taking Obama to task for not understanding American capitalism and values. In doing so, he brought up Obama's childhood in Hawaii, smoking pot as a young man and beginning his career in Chicago as sure indicators of alien roots. (Really? Hawaii, Chicago and pot smoking?) He forgot to mention Columbia, Harvard and a pair of white midwestern grandparents who played a major stabilizing role in Obama's upbringing. How soon we forget the brickbats thrown at us when we are hurling them at someone else. Sununu himself was born in a foreign country (Cuba, for heaven's sake!) to foreign born parents (both) and was suspected of having anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian sympathies by some American supporters of Israel.
Then there is the ever despicable Michele Bachmann whose McCarthyist tendencies have been on shameless display for a long time. She sees enemies of America under every table, behind every bush and among her ideological opponents, especially if there is a whiff of "foreignness" about them, be it their skin color or non-Christian religious background. In her latest outburst she accused Huma Abedin, a long time aide of Hillary Clinton of being a possible Muslim Brotherhood plant in the Obama administration. She was appropriately upbraided by Senator John McCain for her ignorant mean hearted campaign. I suspect Bachmann's disgraceful slander against Abedin is a back handed way of suggesting that since Obama is a secret Muslim, he has appointed a Muslim mole in his administration to undermine America's security. Never mind that Abedin became Hillary Clinton's trusted aide as a very young woman, before she was anywhere near Obama. Interestingly, Bachmann's own foreign connections recently came to light. She never considered disclosing the fact while she shrilly paraded as the All American patriot. But the omission is understandable; Switzerland after all, is not Pakistan.
In a comment on my last post on the Higgs boson discovery, Dean asked why scientists are okay with cocktail party and other trivial analogies in describing scientific phenomena, but evoking God is an "allergen." The reason certainly is that most scientists are not in the business of explaining god although the temptation arises whenever a hugely significant finding that sheds light on the workings of the universe excites the scientific community. Take for example, the theories of evolution and relativity, nuclear fission / fusion, the structure of DNA. The enthusiasm to dress up a scientific discovery with a godly label is quickly curbed because scientists know from long experience the complications that arise by going down that path. Similarly it would be advisable for religion to steer clear of science because the results of mixing the two has so far been not just a bit ludicrous but quite dangerous. Here are two reports from Louisina whose ultra conservative religious governor Bobby Jindal has taken it upon himself with help from like minded legislators, to teach school children in private schools that a beguiling Scottish myth may explain the theory of evolution better than Darwin did. But introducing god and religion into science is always a messy enterprise because one never knows what other mythical beasts may demand equal time.
I mean, couldn't this guy have been whisked out beforehand or even during the raid in one of the Blackhawk helicopters? Didn't the US intelligence know that Al Qaida sympathizers in the Pakistani army and government, who were probably harboring bin Laden, were going to punish this guy for embarrassing them?
It's the time of the year for the return of the Mommy wars in the media, with Time magazine's choice of shock-jocking cover leading the fray. What could be more motherly than a mother with her nursing child, after all ? But no, Time's editors chose the worst shot possible out of those that were so carefully taken at the photo session - the one that clobbers you on the head with 'I'm better, prettier, sexier, more shocking than you" and a headline to match: "Are you Mom enough? ", rather than the one with more realism to it,(second one in the photoshoot set ), matching more closely the realities of the mother-child pair who only very rarely, in current culture, continue nursing into and beyond toddlerhood.
Would Elisabeth Badinterthink that the Time cover symbolizes all that is the worst about the image of motherhood that she decries in her book 'The Conflict' '? Isn't it a challenge to her assertion that women ought to maintain economic independence even after motherhood and not be so attached to their children as promoted by 'attachment parenting' advocates?
It was not always so easy to maintain a safe distance from the physicality of the mother-child bond, as Badinter would prefer now, Before the invention of easily digestible formulas, babies who lost mothers or had mothers/wetnurses who did not succeed in breastfeeding, died in infancy. The extremely high neonatal mortality rate isn't a 'good old days' number that we would like to see come back :
"(Powdered milk, jars of baby food, and disposable diapers were created for a reason, says Badinter.) But the less modern women use them, the longer they stay at home, bending over backward for their children, losing a sense of independence—and economic edge—in the process. “We used to talk constantly about ways to reconcile a woman’s maternal responsibilities with her need to retain financial independence,” Badinter tells The Daily Beast by email. “Now we talk exclusively about a mother’s duties and the ‘rights’ of the young child, which increase substantially year after."
Like Ann Romney, whose main claim to fame rests on her definition of the working mother (and yes, all mothers work, it never is paid in money and therefore cannot be quantified by the rules for determining economic worth), Badinter invokes her own credentials as the mother of three, but neglects to mention her own not-so-minor conflict of interest - her company Publicis' links to Nestle, Mead & Johnson and Abbott Laboratories, among the largest infant formula manufacturers in the world.
"Yet, whether Badinter is out of touch as an author likely goes back to whether she’s out of touch as a mother. And while she’s portrayed herself as an ordinary mom—she had three children within three and a half years, all while a full-time student—she also had an au pair to help out. Her family wealth is estimated at $920 million. Her husband, Robert Badinter, is a former French justice minister and a prominent lawyer.
Still, Badinter contends, no mother is perfect, least of all she. “The more time passes, the more I’m convinced that the perfect mother is a myth,” she says. “What woman can boast of having always had the right reactions, made the right decisions? … As for me, I’ll say that it’s for my children to judge.”
Amen to the last line. No mother is perfect. Or rather, every (or most) mothers are perfect to their kids, no matter how they choose to parent, whether 'attached' as Jamie Grumet or 'detached' as Badinter, with all their faults and failings. But perfect or not, there is one thing that all mothers excel at- Being judgmental about other women's mothering abilities.
Apropos of the occasion, here is Ruchira's blast from the past- the intriguing and mysterious 'Unaboober' Gypsy Woman, whose expression reminds me of the 'Judge me if you dare' eyes of Ma Durga .
Given that this pretty little speech was delivered at the NRA convention in front of an audience that already believes it is losing money and freedom to an "enemy" government, does it amount to crying fire in a crowded theater or at the very least, come close? How much vileness can be excused for the sake of the First Amendment and because an aging performer has to live up to his public image of a crazy?
The Dunning-Kruger effect is fascinating, and I've written about it before. In short, people with little knowledge are unable to appreciate their intellectual deficit. Instead they view themselves as very knowledgeable. They overstate their own intellectual competence. On the other hand, people who are very knowledgeable, see themselves as far less accomplished.
Most people will pass through a low knowledge episode or short period of the D-K effect in the course of being educated, growing, and learning. In fact, we may do it multiple times, usually before we get out of high school.
I remember one of my own experiences in 10th grade biology. We had many classes on human blood and the circulatory system. A friend and I agreed that we learned a great deal of the subject matter, compared to our total ignorance at the start of 2nd year biology. We could not imagine that there was more to learn, because it seemed, to us, as comprehensive as we could imagine.
It may sound cliche, but as we learn more and more we appreciate how little we know about the larger subject matter areas. D-K folks never get that far. The D-K effect is evident in just about any subject matter area you can imagine.
What I have found so bothersome, and troubling, is the number of people in positions of power (corporate, military, politics, varied institutions) who cannot imagine that there own knowledge of the world is deficient. The two most obvious examples that come to mind are George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin.
Even when they are brought up to speed on an area where they were deficient, they still cannot see that there could be more to come. To you and I, this is obvious, and we can't get our minds around the fact that they are completely oblivious. Palin was never embarrassed by the fact that she thought Africa was a country, not a continent. However, she was pissed that others made her feel inferior because she was not in the know.
One of the post-hoc giveaways of the D-K effect is that the person who leaves a position of great power is unable to manifest a sense of humility at confronting and dealing with the things that demanded great intellectual effort and new learning. They don't express a sense of awe and respect for what others who preceded them had to deal with, nor any sympathy or compassion for the next person who will occupy the seat of power they just vacated. Again, Bush and Palin are two great examples.
There is another phenomenon that I've observed, and it may be a variation on the D-K effect, except that you find it in otherwise knowledgeable and smart people. This happens when confronted with a problem to be solved, or an area of new knowledge that is important to the present situation. They come to an solution, or an understanding, very quickly and then they hold onto that idea or position with enormous tenacity. One exceptional example was Alexander Haig. He was the former Supreme Commander of NATO forces, Whitehouse aide to President Nixon, and former Secretary of State. I've known a number of these people in executive positions in IBM Corp. This is not a matter of blind adherence to ideology. It's a very different animal.
It is always interesting to try to divine the thought process of political figures. Since this is a Presidential election year, it's a more salient matter. Rick Santorum, in my opinion, formed every significant thought he ever had by the time he was 21. Intellectual life, since that time, has been a process of seeing anything new as a variation on what he already knows. There is a prearranged slot on the shelf for anything that comes along, and no need to create any new slots or reconfigure the old ones.
Mitt Romney, in my opinion, is very much aware of his intellectual limitations and the availability of other view points on just about any issue. Newt Gingrich is harder to read. I am not sure if he displays a thought process that discounts new learning, and overvalues what he knows, or if he is just being confrontational, insulting, and controversial as a strategy, or as a character defect.
I have this mental image of showing the article I referenced, above, to someone who lacks knowledge yet believes they know just about all there is to know. After reading the article they look up at me and ask, "Yeah, so what's your point?"
So much for the concept of Gross National Happiness, a concept developed and promoted as an index of well-being by the Royal Government of Bhutan in 2005. While efforts to quantify it were widely publicized and discussed, nobody seemed to take the Bhutan government to task for its treatment of the ethnically Nepali Lhotshampas and their being forced out of the country. There is an entire population of them resettled or waiting to be resettled in other countries.
"Over 105,000 Bhutanese have spent more than 15 years living in refugee camps established in Nepal by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Thousands more are living outside the camps in Nepal and India, and some in North America, Europe and Australia."
For some refugees, the change of location has led to a hope for a new life, for example, a group settled in Pittsburgh, PA. (Article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
"They arrive, for the most part, at Pittsburgh International Airport with little more than the clothes they are wearing. They must quickly learn to navigate an unfamiliar city, speak English, adjust to American practices and organizations, find work and send their children to school.
Their journey here and the acculturation process after they arrive involve layers of international groups, U.S. government agencies, a resettlement organization and social services."
"He was found dead hanging in a laundry room Friday morning,”Bhanu Phuyel, another refugee resettled in the same city, told ekantipur.com from the US….Six members of the family were sharing a two-bed room apartment along with another family with four people. They had not received any other facility except food card.
[Jit Bahadur Pradhan] was annoyed with the circumstances, and used to complain with his two sons that the situation there was no better than in the camp in Nepal."
Will these dispossessed ever have their questionnaires added to those back home in Bhutan? What will happen to its much-vaunted high GNH quotient then?
Gross National Happiness does equal Gross National Irony, in this case.
Without additional commentary on the nature of the GOP presidential candidates, here is just one "idea" proposed by the current front runner Newt Gingrich whom some are calling the Newtron Bomb.
It's a fact, because he has told us so, that Republican primary candidate Newt Gingrich is first and foremost a historian, so it's no surprise when he buttresses his views with historical precedents. But in his recent plans for lifting poor children out of poverty, we were alarmed that he chose to follow the Dickensian model of child labor practices.
A few weeks ago, at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he talked about his "extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America."
Calling child labor laws "truly stupid," he said that people who became successful in one generation "all started their first job between nine and 14 years of age." He proposed that schools in poor neighborhoods "get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school."
Where does one begin? Child labor laws exist to protect children from just such crackpot ideas. But then he went even further in a campaign speech in Iowa last week: "Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash' unless it's illegal."
We could splutter all day at the offensiveness of these assertions, but our time is better spent in thanking Charles Blow, (link here) the visual Op-Ed columnist of the New York Times, who last Saturday used his gift for information graphics to present a column that succinctly demolished Gingrich's careless, cruel stereotypes, showing them to have no factual basis.
Blow presented an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, which showed that three-quarters of poor adults ages 18 to 64 work - half of them full-time. Most poor children live in a household with at least one employed parent, and among children in extreme poverty, nearly one in three lives with at least one working parent.
And as for the most egregious, irresponsible claim - that poor children have no habit of performing tasks for money "unless it's illegal" - Blow wrote that Gingrich "vastly overreaches by suggesting that a lack of money universally correlates to a lack of morals."
Poverty is indeed a factor in crime increase, but Blow's data show that even though the number of Americans living in poverty has grown recently, the crime rate has dropped overall, specifically among juveniles.
But, given his historical leanings, we can at least be thankful that Gingrich has never been accused of modesty, so odds are that we'll be spared a revival of that famous "Modest Proposal," put forward by Jonathan Swift in 1729, "For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country."
This would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago but Penn State University saw no way out other than to clean house, a house that had been made into a citadel of national repute and a cash cow by some of the same people who have been given the axe. Penn's head football coach Joe Paterno, one of the two people let go this evening by the university is a decent and likable man by all accounts. But focused stubbornly on the tree of football, he failed to see the unruly forest in the real world outside the athletic arena. He had knowledge of a crime committed by a grotesquely opportunist predator who was a valuable associate whereas his helpless victims were inconsequential to the business of college football. Coach Paterno decided to look the other way. I feel no great joy in seeing an eighty four year old man's hard work and successful career come to an inglorious end full of shame. But this is the fitting outcome when in the mistaken judgment of a powerful football fraternity and an administration in its awe, the bottom line, booster clubs and NCAA rules trumped the law of the land.
Since my arrival in the US I have always lived in "football country." So I know a little about football as religion. But as they say, when you live by the sword, you are most likely to die by one. The recent scandal surrounding Penn State's fabled football program is being treated in the media as a shocking development. I wonder why. When athletic programs in colleges and universities are treated with more reverence than academics (purportedly the primary reason why universities exist), it leads to hubris, closely guarded cliques, misplaced priorities and occasionally, criminal negligence. Many like me, are not surprised.
(I am linking to Maureen Dowd after ages. I believe a woman's voice here is apt and she doesn't mince her words.)
.... So I’ve got to wonder how the 84-year-old coach feels when he thinks about all the children who look up to him; innocent, football-crazy boys like the one he was told about in March 2002, a child then Anthony’s age who was sexually assaulted in a shower in the football building by Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s former defensive guru, according to charges leveled by the Pennsylvania attorney general.
Paterno was told about it the day after it happened by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant coach who testified that he went into the locker room one Friday night and heard rhythmic slapping noises. He looked into the showers and saw a naked boy about 10 years old “with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky,” according to the grand jury report.
It would appear to be the rare case of a pedophile caught in the act, and you’d think a graduate student would know enough to stop the rape and call the police. But McQueary, who was 28 years old at the time, was a serf in the powerfully paternal Paternoland. According to the report, he called his dad, went home and then the next day went to the coach’s house to tell him.
“I don’t even have words to talk about the betrayal that I feel,” the mother of one of Sandusky’s alleged victims told The Harrisburg Patriot-News, adding about McQueary: “He ran and called his daddy?”
Paterno, who has cast himself for 46 years as a moral compass teaching his “kids” values, testified that he did not call the police at the time either. The family man who had faced difficult moments at Brown University as a poor Italian with a Brooklyn accent must have decided that his reputation was more important than justice.
Ever since I arrived in the US nearly thirty years ago, I have heard grumblings about immigrants not adhering to American ways. Exotic looks, clothes, foods, languages and religious practices raise many a native eyebrow. Of all these, the sound of a foreign language seems to be the biggest irritant. US immigration laws require all aspiring citizens to have a basic command of the English language. That is understandable and it is for the benefit and convenience of the new comer as well as the host nation.
In the last three decades, despite a proliferation of new immigrants from virtually every corner of the earth and a veritable Tower of Babel of languages within US shores, I see no threat to English being displaced as the official American language any time soon. Some older immigrants ("legal" and "illegal") or those who are employed in ethnically insular occupations never quite learn English. But their children who grow up here, invariably become fluent English speakers. Yet the specter of Americans losing their culture and language due to the influx of foreigners is raised repeatedly by paranoid nationalist fear mongers. The agenda of the right wing Tea Party makes no bones about the America of its dreams.
Not much in the Tea Party manifesto is new. The changes in current day American society are deemed undesirable by many Americans. To the chagrin of the purists, too many other Americans (especially the "libbrals") are too accommodating of the increasing ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity. In their opinion, government organizations, schools and hospitals are bending over backwards to make life easy for the "lazy" foreigners at the cost of our tax dollars. Recently, I had the following exchange with a friend and neighbor whose xenophobic tendencies I was always aware of but that has not interfered so far with our friendship:
She: Have you been to the mall lately?
Me: No, why?
She: You hear all this chatter in foreign languages around you. Sometimes it is hard to believe that we are in America.
Me: Are the speakers talking among themselves or are they trying to conduct business in their native languages?
She: Speaking among themselves.
Me: What's wrong with that?
She: Well, this is America. No one should be speaking a foreign language in public!
I was flabbergasted. It is one thing to expect that everyone in America should have some knowledge of English but quite another to demand that no other language should be used in public even in private conversations. I for one, tend to speak English most of the time, even with my family members. But if I happen to be with someone who speaks Bengali or an older relative, I would more likely than not, use an Indian language in my conversations. I do make sure that an "English only" speaker is not present in the group when I launch into my native tongue(s). I had no idea that the sound of people speaking a non-English language in private conversations can be so upsetting for some Americans. By the way, during my trip to Hawaii a year ago, I discovered that many Hawaiians do not speak English very well, some older ones, not at all. I dare anyone to call them un-American. I normally do not like to remind Euro-Americans that they too were immigrants once upon a time and not all their ancestors spoke English. But expressions of such unwarranted hostility deserve a retort like "Why fret about what America was like once upon a time? I don't see you smoking a peace pipe."
It's always good when a book gets embroiled in a controversy, it makes for more attention and publicity for both the book and the 'libellee'. The book in question is Siddhartha Deb's 'The Beautiful and the Damned : A Portrait of the New India', the title needing a subtitle to differentiate it from F.Scott Fitzgerald's original.
Those who are nostalgic for the unfulfilled promises of the good ole days of Bush-Cheney, must be salivating over the candidacy of Texas governor Rick "Goodhair" Perry. While George W.Bush and Perry have some outwardly common traits and backgrounds - faux cowboy swagger, multi-term governors of Texas, death penalty enthusiasts, tendency to shoot from the mouth about things they don't know, darlings of the right wing etc., the two are not very similar human beings. Also their early enablers, sponsors and handlers belong to somewhat different classes of power-brokers although Bush later became a puppet in the hands of the same kind of people who made Perry. While the far right loved Bush, he did not rise from their ranks. He was an outsider who played their game most of the time but did not always consult them to write his playbook during his early years as a politician. Perry on the other hand, is a local boy and a carefully cultivated product of the far right fundamentalist Christian camp of Texas politics. He is far more insidious, ignorant, corrupt and indebted to his benefactors than Bush was during his pre-White House years. In fact, Perry's mean hearted antics as governor, makes Bush's tenure in Texas look like a fairly decent and compassionate period.
Here are two articles that describe Perry's revival tent preacher style politics and the troubling secrecy with which he has operated during his long stint as the governor of Texas.
Talk about a perfect-storm, composite candidate. Combine Elmer Gantry’s nose for converts, Ronald Reagan’s folksy confidence and Sarah Palin’s disdain for the elites — and that dog hunts.
Perry doesn’t just believe, he evangelizes. He summons prayer meetings. He reads scripture while callers are on hold. Not incidentally, he’s a successful governor. Perhaps most important, he’s a wall-scaling fundraiser whose instincts make him a force of nature in the political landscape...
If we are descended of some blend of apes, then we can’t have been created in God’s image. If we establish Earth’s age at 4.5 billion years, then we contradict the biblical view that God created the world just 6,500 years ago. And finally, if we say that climate change is partly the result of man’s actions, then God can’t be the One who punishes man’s sins with floods, droughts, earthquakes and hurricanes. If He wants the climate to change, then He will so ordain, and we’ll pray more.
Perry knows he has to make clear that God is his wingman. And this conviction seems not only to be sincere, but also to be relatively noncontroversial in the GOP’s church — and perhaps beyond. He understands that his base cares more that the president is clear on his ranking in the planetary order than whether he can schmooze with European leaders or, heaven forbid, the media. And this is why Perry could easily steal the nomination from Romney.
When then-Gov. George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, his office released a treasure trove of information relating to his years as Texas’ chief executive.
Some 3,125 pages detailing Bush’s appointments during 1995-1998 allowed news organizations to remark on the exact number of lobbyists and campaign donors with whom he met. The records showed which state lawmakers Bush conferred with – and on what subject – and detailed how much time he spent reviewing capital punishment cases prior to executions. The records showed when he arrived at the office, when he took time off for the gym and when he went home. In short, the documents provided a portrait of the leadership style of a candidate for president of the United States.
Now, as Gov. Rick Perryembarks on a presidential campaign, it is unlikely the public will access records that provide many revealing details about his decade-long tenure as governor. While Perry extols open government – most recently challenging Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to “open the books” of the nation’s central bank – he has adopted policies that shroud his own office in a purposeful opaqueness that confounds prying reporters – or any member of the public questioning his policies.
He has been governor longer than anyone in Texas history, but there is a lot the public does not know about Rick Perry. Where does he go each day, and with whom does he talk? What is discussed when he meets with top state agency executives? How does he evaluate a clemency request from a death row inmate? Or an application for a grant from his Emerging Technology Fund? What opinions are expressed to him through email and how does he respond?
Missed legal deadlines
Those are just some of the questions left largely unanswered by Perry’s decisions to bar the public from viewing details of his travel, his daily schedule and most of his emails.
Over the past decade, the Perry administration has withheld information in response to some 100 open-records requests, instead seeking review by the Texas Attorney General’s Office. In two cases in the past year, Perry’s office acknowledged it failed to meet legal deadlines for responding to the requests, or otherwise delayed in violation of well-established procedures outlined in the Texas Public Information Act.
Most of the withheld documents involved contracts, bidding and oversight of programs in which state money flows to entrepreneurs, privately held companies and universities from Perry’s two economic development funds, the Emerging Technology Fund and the Texas Enterprise Fund. In some cases, the requests involve entities headed by Perry campaign donors and political appointees. Perry also chose to withhold information when third parties complained they would release proprietary information or violate trade secrets.
I don't know which quality bodes more ill if a man like Perry were to become the president of America. Perhaps his college transcript was an early and accurate indicator of the danger that an ignoramus Perry leadership spells for the nation.
Rolling Stone magazine recently had a four page article describing in some detail the craziness ("batshit," Matt Taibbi said), hypocrisy, ignorance, religious zealotry and ruthlessness of the newest GOP presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Not much is new there for those who have followed the antics of Bachmann, another sweetheart of the Tea Party wing of the Republican party.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and, as you consider the career and future presidential prospects of an incredible American phenomenon named Michele Bachmann, do one more thing. Don't laugh.
It may be the hardest thing you ever do, for Michele Bachmann is almost certainly the funniest thing that has ever happened to American presidential politics. Fans of obscure 1970s television may remember a short-lived children's show called Far Out Space Nuts, in which a pair of dimwitted NASA repairmen, one of whom is played by Bob (Gilligan) Denver, accidentally send themselves into space by pressing "launch" instead of "lunch" inside a capsule they were fixing at Cape Canaveral. This plot device roughly approximates the political and cultural mechanism that is sending Michele Bachmann hurtling in the direction of the Oval Office.
Bachmann is a religious zealot whose brain is a raging electrical storm of divine visions and paranoid delusions. She believes that the Chinese are plotting to replace the dollar bill, that light bulbs are killing our dogs and cats, and that God personally chose her to become both an IRS attorney who would spend years hounding taxpayers and a raging anti-tax Tea Party crusader against big government. She kicked off her unofficial presidential campaign in New Hampshire, by mistakenly declaring it the birthplace of the American Revolution. "It's your state that fired the shot that was heard around the world!" she gushed. "You are the state of Lexington and Concord, you started the battle for liberty right here in your backyard."
I said lunch, not launch! But don't laugh. Don't do it. And don't look her in the eyes; don't let her smile at you. Michele Bachmann, when she turns her head toward the cameras and brandishes her pearls and her ageless, unblemished neckline and her perfect suburban orthodontics in an attempt to reassure the unbeliever of her non-threateningness, is one of the scariest sights in the entire American cultural tableau. She's trying to look like June Cleaver, but she actually looks like the T2 skeleton posing for a passport photo. You will want to laugh, but don't, because the secret of Bachmann's success is that every time you laugh at her, she gets stronger.
And there is more. The colorful language notwithstanding, Taibbi's facts on Bachmann are mostly accurate. But the most important part of the cautionary diatribe comes at the end of the article when he warns that given the sentiments of a large part of the electorate, a Bachmann presidency is not unthinkable in the current political climate.
It could happen. Michele Bachmann has found the flaw in the American Death Star. She is a television camera's dream, a threat to do or say something insane at any time, the ultimate reality-show protagonist. She has brilliantly piloted a media system that is incapable of averting its eyes from a story, riding that attention to an easy conquest of an overeducated cultural elite from both parties that is far too full of itself to understand the price of its contemptuous laughter. All of those people out there aren't voting for Michele Bachmann. They're voting against us. And to them, it turns out, we suck enough to make anyone a contender.
The Dunning-Kruger effect has been evoked in reference to Sara Palin who has been making a fool of herself before half the nation, while at the same time dazzling the other half with her charm and down-to-earthliness since her debut on the national political theater in 2008. Taibbi rightly points out that Bachmann is a more earnest, determined and likely-to-succeed version of the Palin phenomenon.
Here's the difference between Bachmann and Palin: While Palin is clearly bored by the dreary, laborious aspects of campaigning and seems far more interested in gobbling up the ancillary benefits of reality-show celebrity, Bachmann is ruthlessly goal-oriented, a relentless worker who has the attention span to stay on message at all times. With a little imagination, you can even see a clear path for her to the nomination.
Palin may be intellectually lazy and no longer interested in being president or vice president. But her searing ambitions and love of the limelight have not dimmed. She may not wish to be the queen but I doubt that she is ready to relinquish her perceived role as the kingmaker. I don't think Palin is going to fade into the sunset just because another right wing Tea Party glam girl is the rising star, at least not before she demonstrates her adroitness with a sharp elbow. For example, Bachmann announced her presidential plans on Monday in her home state of Iowa. Coincidentally or not, Palin lands in Iowa on Tuesday ostensibly to promote her film biography. The fact that she may be there for more than a cinematic interlude is apparent from this report. Just as Palin had headed for New Hampshire on the same day as Mitt Romney (the front runner in NH) announced his candidacy there, she is following Bachmann to Iowa where the latter has just emerged as the winner of a straw poll of Iowa caucus goers and is tied with Romney among GOP voters. Get ready for Republican roller derby!
There's been plenty of rainbows and peaceful green fields juxtaposed with happy faces and natural gas logos and clip art on the TV ads from the Marcellus Shale Coalition. But some companies have been taking this a step further. Catch 'em young is the motto, so here comes the Fracosaurus, or actually Talisman Terry .
"Community outreach efforts in shale communities target adults first, then high school students and finally the elementary set, said Larry Michael, the executive director for workforce and economic development at the Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport.
When the Marcellus Shale industry arrived, "The initial priority was to put in programs to get people off the unemployment rolls," he said.
Now, his team is working at the high school level, offering curriculum and training to teachers over the summer. It will begin the elementary-education rollout sometime after the summer."
As far as coloring books go, the literary content never outweighs the need to provide a scribbling surface for your toddler, while infusing them with a healthy, subconscious dose of whatever propaganda you are agreable to dishing out. Maybe this is aimed more at the parents than the crayon-wielding demographic. If they are old enough to read the words, they are past the 'color within the lines' simplicity of accepting whatever they are told without question. A kid-friendly coloring book might help convince them that it is not all about profit and environmental pollution, but about energy independence and 'conservation'.
Most countries that exist above the banana-republic level of existence have an identifiable (even if always contested and malleable) national narrative that most (though not all) members of the ruling elite share and to which they contribute. Pakistan is clearly not a banana-republic; it is a populous country with a deep (if not very competent) administration, a very lively political scene, a very large army, the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal and a very significant, even if underdeveloped, economy. But when it comes to the national narrative, Pakistan is sui-generis. The “deep state” has promoted a narrative of Muslim separatism, India-hatred and Islamic revival that has gradually grown into such a dangerous concoction that even BFFs China and Saudi Arabia are quietly suggesting that we take another look at things.
The official “story of Pakistan” may not appear to be more superficial or contradictory than the propaganda narratives of many other nations, but a unique element is the fact that it is not a superficial distillation of a more nuanced and deeper narrative, it is ONLY superficial ; when you look behind the school textbook level, there is no there there. What you see is what you get. The two-nation theory and the creation of Pakistan in 712 AD by the Arab invader Mohammed Bin Qasim and its completion by the intrepid team of Allama Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the face of British and Hindu connivance is the story in middle school textbooks and it turns out that it is also the story in universities and think tanks (this is not imply that no serious work is done in universities; of course it is, but the story of Pakistan does not seem to have a logical relationship with this serious work).
''The expressions in the letter are very objectionable,'' the bench said, noting, ''Even when you are writing to someone senior in age you have to be respectful.
Unless you have learned a different language.''
The bench asked, ''Is the minister (Raja) saying that the Prime Minister’s suggestions are arbitrary, unfair and capricious.''
The bench said, ''It is expected that the language used in the letter should be a little more dignified while addressing the Prime Minister. The use of adjectives like this should be avoided.
The language in the letter (by Raja) is a matter of concern. It is not addressed to any ordinary person but a person senior who is a Prime Minister,'' the bench said, adding that he was responding to a ''decision of the Prime Minister.''
The Supreme Court says Manmohan Singh is fair, consistent and rational, so naturally in a constitutional democracy that's good enough for everyone. I do have a certain suspicion Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly would devastate constitutional rights in India if given a chance.
Incidentally, is it is objectionable for me to wonder how they ever acquired law degrees? I think the question is a dignified one, but the dudes look pretty senior in age, so I'm not sure.
A simple, almost off-hand comment in this article (via 3QD), describing an interview with the estimable William Dalrymple:
"It was during the writing of White Mughals that Dalrymple discovered something about his own family: His maternal great-great-grandmother Sophia Pattle was the daughter of "a Hindu Bengali woman . . . who converted to Catholicism and married a French officer in Pondicherry in the 1780s." Like Virginia Woolf, who is descended from Pattle's sister, Dalrymple is part Indian by blood. "If you look at photographs, Woolf looks almost Punjabi," he laughs. "Indians haven't yet caught on to it."