Monthly Archives: December 2008

Gone Fishing


In the meantime, have a Merry Christmas.


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Trying Too Hard

During my first year in Spain there was a song called “Bomba” by King Africa that played incessantly in every nightclub and bar across the country. A dance craze had formed around the song, similar to that of “La Macarena“, and whenever King Africa sang the words “un movimiento sexy” all the women on the floor would move their hips back and forth feigning sexiness. This forced attempt at sex appeal was almost always painful to watch because, as you can guess, there is nothing more ridiculous, unnatural and unappealing than someone trying to be sexy.

I had almost forgotten about “Bomba” and its “movimiento sexy” until recently. I was at a bar in Madrid and a girl in her early mid 20s standing close to me was telling the gentleman next to her, in what I can only assume was an attempt to impress him, that in bed she “always has to be the one in control”. From that moment on, I spent the evening giving this woman imaginary answers to her contrived attempt at sex appeal — for example, how I wouldn’t be interested in someone who was closed minded, self-centered,  inflexible, incapable of adapting or varying her repertoire, “my way or no way”, lacking in spontaneity, and an overall control freak. But I thought the best response would have been, “what a shame that we’re so incompatible. I too always have to be the one in control”.

Coincidentally and much to my surprise, a few days later I turned on the television and guess who I saw starring in a low-budget Spanish soap opera? None other than the girl who was trying too hard.


Filed under Digressions, Living la vida española

Krugman, Right On


A few months ago during the presidential election, I criticized John McCain’s call to fire SEC chairman Cox; I didn’t think that it gave the right signal. Nevertheless, now after the Madoff scandal where it appears that the SEC failed to act, someone at the Commission must pay the political price and that person should be its chairman.

What I find so interesting about the financial crisis is how “professionals” who are rewarded for generating so much wealth on Wall Street have in reality destroyed so much of the economy elsewhere. In an excellent article in the New York Times, recent Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman writes,

The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of the nation’s income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it. And it’s not just a matter of money: the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people’s money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.

Let’s start with those paychecks. Last year, the average salary of employees in “securities, commodity contracts, and investments” was more than four times the average salary in the rest of the economy. Earning a million dollars was nothing special, and even incomes of $20 million or more were fairly common. The incomes of the richest Americans have exploded over the past generation, even as wages of ordinary workers have stagnated; high pay on Wall Street was a major cause of that divergence.

But surely those financial superstars must have been earning their millions, right? No, not necessarily. The pay system on Wall Street lavishly rewards the appearance of profit, even if that appearance later turns out to have been an illusion.

Meanwhile, as I have mentioned previously, we have a double standard when it comes to the auto industry with its blue collar workers and the suits in Wall Street. The former is highly educated and qualified, and the latter is antiquated and pre-disposed to fail due to its own decadence and mismanagement. Haven’t both industries both failed? One of the biggest problems is how we reward people and then celebrate those people for having rewarded them, regardless of whether or they actually no what they are doing. As Krugman puts it,

there’s an innate tendency on the part of even the elite to idolize men who are making a lot of money, and assume that they know what they’re doing.

And as I have witnessed too often, the idolized tend to be the least capable, the least knowledgeable and yet the most free to express their unqualified opinions. Welcome to Ortega y Gasset’s Revolt of the Masses.

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Donations: The Revelations of Revelations


As an American living abroad, one thing that never ceases to amaze me are the all too commonplace, self-assured anti-Semitic cries about the Jewish black hand controlling American economic and foreign policy and thus dominating the world. Yes, the U.S. is unwilling to even second-guess Israeli actions and is all too often blindly and unreasonably pro-Israel even against its own interests (ironically Israeli citizens are more openly critical of Israel than Americans are).

Nevertheless, after a cursory review of the list of donors – finally made transparent – to the William J. Clinton Foundation, it is interesting to see that some of the heftiest donors populating the list were Arab state actors and individuals from Muslim countries, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia topping the list. Of course, a little further down there were also Jewish and Israeli donors, as well as plenty of people from other nationalities, religions and ethnicities.

In today’s Washington Post, Eugene Robinson comments that despite the transparency, there will be those who use the list to draw up new conspiracy theories about the new Hillary State Department. But what is most revealing about the donations may not be how much certain individuals gave, but how little. As Robinson writes, “times are tough”.

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A Big Misconception?


Either the Obama Transition team read my mind or they read Grave Error questioning whether the ongoing post-election, donation-seeking emails were spam. Was it a coincidence that I just received this nice email from Joe Biden entitled “The Big Misconception”:

Eric —

A lot of people think the work of a campaign ends when the election is over.

Well, not if you win.

In fact, folks are working around the clock to prepare our team to hit the ground running on January 20th. At the same time, supporters all across the country are busy defining the role this grassroots movement will play in the administration.

It’s a new and unprecedented set of challenges, and Barack and I still need your support. I know we’ve asked a lot of you recently — but that’s because we’re continuing to do things differently.

Past transition teams have taken donations from corporations and lobbyists. Our team will not accept any donations from Washington lobbyists, and individual contributions will be limited to $5,000.

So while half of our funding comes from a government grant, the second half is in your hands.

Will you make a donation of $100 or more to support the presidential transition team?

It’s crucial that our presidential transition reflects the same values as the campaign — transparency and accountability to the American people.

One month from now — on January 20th, 2009 — Barack Obama will be sworn into office.

Between now and then, he needs to carefully assess agencies and build a strong team to take on the challenges our country faces.

With the enormous tasks of restoring our economy, meeting our national security challenges, broadening access to health care, and solving our energy crisis, we can’t afford to wait until Barack takes office to get started.

The most important thing you can do right now is make sure the transition team has the resources it needs to find the right people and prepare them for their work in the White House.

Make a donation to the transition team now and support a strong start in January:



That is exactly what I was thinking, Joe. And while I see your point and am happy that normal Americans and not lobbiests are donating to fund the transition, I was just wondering whether all that money we donated earlier was already gone?

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Same Sex Marriage and Christmas Music


Today I was listening to Talk of the Nation and the discussion was about the Bible and Gay Marriage. One of the guests, Lisa Miller (religion editor at Newsweek), made the interesting argument that contemporary Christianity has already turned its back on and rejected the Bible’s depiction of marriage and marital practices — polygamist, sexist and procreation-centric. She also uses the fact that throughout the Bible slavery is nowhere condemned to argue that modern religion has already evolved with the changing morals of society. As a result, she argues that we can similarly reconcile the Bible with gay marriage, just as we can uphold the Bible and denounce slavery and polygamy.

On the other hand, guest Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made that absurd slippery slope argument that if same sex marriages were permitted the flood gates would open and we’d end up with polygamy (ironically sanctioned by his Bible) incest, and people marrying their pets and furniture. Nevertheless, he did say that he wanted to see gays and lesbians, as well as criminals and drug addicts in his church on Sundays because God loved all sinners. So I suppose that the sins of gays and lesbians naturally fit into a sentence ending with criminals and substance abusers.

Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is. We already know from the uglier part of our history that separate is not equal, so if the law is going to confer certain rights on one class of people, it has to do the same for others. Call it all marriage. You can still render unto God that which is God’s, and give Caesar his gay weddings at city hall. No one is telling Mr. Mohler or any other clergy-person that they have to marry gay people in their churches. It’s not like same sex civil marriage is going to suddenly force American churches to desegregate.

Furthermore, for those who think that somehow same sex marriage is bad for marriage, well, I don’t see how gay people could do much worse than us heterosexuals who have a 50% failure rate. What about gay people adopting and raising children? Would civilization come to its dramatic end? It’s time to face the facts, some of which Dan Savage pointed out last month in the New York Times,

Right now, there are 3,700 other children across Arkansas in state custody; 1,000 of them are available for adoption. The overwhelming majority of these children have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their heterosexual parents.

In other words, children are put up for adoption because their biological parents, by definition heterosexual, weren’t up to the task (or, as my bro explains, were taken away from them by the state).

But the real issue that I want to bring up here is Christmas. If the Bible is against gay marriage, then why is Christmas music trying to out everyone during the Holiday season? I was just listening to some of my Christmas favorites, and I could have sworn I heard Nat King Cole in “O Tannenbaum” sing something about a gay fräulein. And in “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” we’re promised that our troubles will be left behind upon making our Yuletide gay. I don’t really know what a Yuletide is, but I am almost certain that “Deck the halls with boughs of holly” is homoerotic code. Then again, I’m not one to judge — judging is not supposed to be very Christian, at least not at Christmas.


Filed under Digressions, Essays

Say What?


I just received this email from the Obama campaign:

You must order your limited edition Obama fleece scarf before midnight tonight for it to reach you or a loved one before December 25th.

We encourage you to act quickly as supplies are likely to run out today.

Your Obama scarf will be a statement of your ongoing support for change — and it will help the Democratic National Committee retire the considerable debt it took on during the push for victory.

Make a donation of $25 or more before midnight tonight and get a limited edition Obama scarf for yourself or a loved one.

Get your Obama scarf

In the weeks and months ahead, it’s going to take all of us working together to bring change. Show your support by giving the gift of change this holiday season.

Thank you for everything you’ve done to build this movement.

Happy holidays,

Obama for America

Obama raised more than any other presidential candidate in the history of the United States, more than George W. Bush and John Kerry spent in 2004 combined. I did receive an email a few months ago from the campaign asking for a donation to help Hillary pay off the debt she incurred trashing Obama. So what exactly is the money for this time? And I don’t mean the scarf. I thought the campaign was over, we won didn’t we? So why the campaign emails?

Look, I supported Obama and continue to give him my support (as long as still has my resume in its database). Obama has the potential for being a truly transformational president, but it’s way past the time for the campaign to close shop. The emails were once cool, now they are spam.

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Arabia Felix


Last night I finished Thorkild Hansen’s Arabia Felix, about the fateful 1761-1767 Danish Expedition to Yemen. Although the book is very well-regarded in Denmark, Arabia Felix and his Slave Trilogy are all often out of print, difficult to find, or expensive in English. Nevertheless, I definitely recommend Arabia Felix. It is a fast-paced page turner (I finished it in three sittings) and reads more like a novel than non-fiction. Furthermore, the real life cast of characters is great with the rivaling personalities and heroic lone survivor.

Originally published in 1962, some of the terminology may appear out-dated, and Hansen also tends to embellish the story with his own interpretation of events. Nonetheless, Arabia Felix is such a good read that I am surprised it is almost unknown in the English reading public, especially at a time when the Middle East is very much on the radar.

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The Subprime Super Power


I know it’s not news and I have alluded to it before, but this whole talk about toxic loans and bailouts is a just one laughable joke. Everyone complained about how the auto executives flew into Washington on their private jets, but no one gave the Wall Street bankers the same scrutiny when they flew into town. How much worse was the auto industry’s management than that of Wall Street? Yes, American cars suck and nobody wants to buy them, but our investment banks weren’t that much better — otherwise they wouldn’t have crumbled.

What continues to shock me, though, is that our government is the most toxic of all the players. Recognize that we have been fighting two wars that have cost billions of dollars while the American people got a massive Bush tax cut. We talk about the costs to the American tax-payer of the trillion dollar bailouts, but the tax payers will not have their taxes increased. We simply borrow the money abroad, mainly from China. Our wars and our bailouts are being bankrolled by the Chinese. We are the world’s greatest toxic borrower; we are the Subprime Super Power.

It’s just like the private security forces that we outsourced to fight the war in Iraq because it would have been devastatingly unpopular to enlist a higher number of troops. We don’t mind fighting wars, as long as they don’t affect our bottom line: our taxes aren’t increased, and the wars are fought by minorities, poor white people, or military families. We pretend we care about the bailouts, but as long as our taxes aren’t increased to pay for them, we’re game.

Meanwhile, the right wing has blamed the toxic mortgages on the left wing’s liberal policies that forced banks to make loans to the poor and minorities who had bad credit. And most have agreed that a huge culprit has been the American public’s consumptive appetite to live beyond its means on credit. How different is that from our government paying for wars and corporate bailouts with borrowed money? Eventually someone’s taxes will be increased to pay the bill. Our politicians are betting that that time will come on someone else’s watch. As we’ve learned from Wall Street this year, the day of reckoning can come sooner than thought.

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Collective Innocence Part II

After having written Collective Innocence, I grew worried that I was becoming a touch radical in my views about how as a nation, we Americans allow ourselves to view the world in black and white, good and evil, and thereby justify, rationalize or overlook our own dubious acts both at home and abroad. Then I read the news about how the U.S. was purposefully silent after our Afghan ally hid its own war crimes. But is that so surprising?

After European colonization throughout the Middle East, the U.S. consistently supported repressive regimes (or the continuation of European dominance) in subversion of local grass roots democratic and social liberalization (including womens’ rights) for the sole purpose of hindering the spread of Soviet communism. Ironically, we now criticize that which we promoted — essentially dictatorships and theocracies — without ever acknowledging our share of the responsibility. We contrast Israel’s democracy with the tyranny in Syria, Iran and Sadam’s Iraq, yet we poured millions of dollars into Musharraf’s Pakistan since 9/11. We are huge financiers of Egypt and are best buddies with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

We have a serious case of cognitive dissonance. Glen Greenwald does an excellent job of pointing this out in this week’s edition of the Bill Moyers Journal: Continue reading

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