Monthly Archives: March 2009

Always On the Side of the Egg

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Haruki Murakami, one of my literally idols (see #7, “25 Things About Me“), won this year’s Jerusalem Prize for literature, and my friend Sorin just sent me the link at Haaretz to Murakami’s acceptance speech, entitled “Always on the Side of the Egg”. Check it out: Continue reading

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When the Shoe is on the Other Territory

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In 2007, the Spanish King and Queen traveled for the first time during their entire reign to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, located in Morocco. When Morocco officially expressed its discomfort with the visit, temporarily suspending diplomatic relations with Spain, the Spanish government and press fully and unapologetically defended the trip.

The Spanish press pulled out every argument in the book: Ceuta and Melilla were Spanish prior to the establishment of the modern Moroccan state and before the Alouite reign, were there a referendum in the two cities the citizens would overwhelming vote in favor of Spanish rule, etc. The government argued that as the cities were Spanish territories the royal family had every right and the obligation to visit their land and subjects; thus totally ignoring local sensitivities, as these lands have been regularly contested, sometimes violently, since the 15th Century. In yet another classic example of the Zapatero government’s verbal ineptitude (see the most recent), Spanish foreign minister Moratinos, against his government’s fundamental argument, repeatedly referred to King Juan Carlos’ trip to Morocco, not Spain.

Flash forward to today, and the shoe is on the other foot. This time it is Gibraltar and a member of the British royal family has traveled to that British rock in Spain. And guess who’s crying now? That’s right, the Spanish government has expressed its official discomfort with the visit, claiming that it was both unfortunate and offensive to the sensitivities of Spaniards. Sound familiar?

That is precisely the argument that the Moroccan government made to Spain — essentially a diplomatic appeal rather than a legal claim. Even though the Spanish press made it seem like Moroccans were protesting in mass numbers – which they were not — by permitting the Spanish King and Queen to travel to Ceuta and Melilla, the Moroccan government was put in a difficult domestic political bind, obliging it make a gesture that would at least mitigate any sense of injured nationalism. Nevertheless, the Spanish government completely ignored Morocco’s petition against the visit. So, should the British government be held to a different diplomatic standard in Gibraltar than the Spanish government in Ceuta and Melilla?

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Trial Lawyers, Health Care, and Conservative Schizophrenia

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Yesterday I was listening to a conservative pundit rant against the Obama administration’s health care ambitions, what he called a return to “big government”, and then, out of the blue, he whined about trial lawyers. Later in the day, I read about how the conservative, Republican nominated Supreme Court justices dissented, arguing against state rights; in other words in favor of federal preemption and federal regulation. Sounds like a major bout of conservative schizophrenia to me. Continue reading

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Lurch Meets Charleston Heston

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Last night I saw Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. The movie did have a few touching (a.k.a cheesy) pro-immigration moments, but overall I would sum it up as Lurch meeting Charleton Heston. Eastwood spends the movie either sounding like Lurch from the Addam’s Family — errrrrrrr — or campaigning to take Charleton Heston’s role as the aging Hollywood face of the N.R.A. Was Eastwood purposely making the argument that the only way to protect one’s self, family and home from crime was to build up a personal weapon’s arsenal? Having found the only two minorities in the entire Republican Party (Michael Steele and Bobby Jindal) and promoting them as its new face, maybe the Grand Old Party hopes that Gran Torino will fool immigrants into believing that the Second Amendment alone can protect them from gangs.

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The White Tiger

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Other than having a beautiful yet unknown actress, I couldn’t really grasp all of the hoopla surrounding Slumdog Millionaire, this year’s Oscar winner for best film. Slumdog does give a few insights and images into the extreme poverty and precarious conditions of India’s impoverished (see “Slumdog Millionaire: Best Fiction Ever Set in India“) but is ultimately nothing more than a feel good Hollywood film with an improbable ending. Most of the time while watching the film, I kept thinking of the much more powerful novel A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Then last night I finished Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger.

Slumdog and White Tiger have a lot in common. They both won major award (White Tiger won the 2008 Booker Man Prize). They are also both set in India and portray the class struggle, corruption, and hopes of the India’s underclass. But between the two of them, there is a world of difference. The White Tiger is a gritty, angry tale of a poor man’s rags to riches climb, unrepentant — though struggling to come to terms with the means — of what it takes to become and stay rich. On the other hand, Slumdog’s protagonist happily — thanks to Hollywood honestly, a little help of police good will and good fortune — achieve millionaire status; in other words, good trumps evil through goodness. So if you want to see great images of India and a pretty girl, then watch Slumdog. But if you want less picture perfect version of how the poor live in India, try The White Tiger or A Fine Balance.

Now on the cover of my edition of The White Tiger, the USA Today is cited as calling the novel “one of the most powerful books I’ve read in decades. No hyperbole. This debut novel hit me like a kick to the head — the same effect Richard Wright’s Native Son and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.” Personally, though, while The White Tiger is definitely like a revolutionary’s quick to the head, for overall power and ever-lasting effect, I would probably rather go with A Fine Balance.

My cover also quotes John Burdett, author of Bangkok B. (I am not familiar with either the author or his book): “Adiga is a global Gorky, a modern Kipling who grew up mad. The future of the novel lies here.” Interestingly, I didn’t perceive the future but was reminded of previous novels. My first thought after just the first page was of Rashid Al Daif’s Dear Mr. Kawabata, about a dying Lebanese soldier at the end of the Civil War writing a letter to the famous Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. The White Tiger is written in the form of a letter to the Chinese premier, recounting the narrator’s life as a poor servant and ending as a wealthy entrepreneur.

Writing from a servant’s perspective is nothing new and immediately recalls Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day. Ishiguro’s butler is the epitome of British well-manneredness, of knowing one’s place and never breaking the code of class and its corresponding responsibilities. Adiga’s White Tiger is almost the same exact character except that Adiga’s servant eventually takes charge, forcing his way out of servitude and revolting. The White Tiger is, in a sense, the Indian revolutionary’s Remains of the Day.

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