Monthly Archives: May 2009

Paris, Clichés and New Books


I am in Paris again and as I have said before, just a little bit of sun turns this city into, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places in the world. And I love Pont Neuf, which for some reason is my image of the city. Yes, I know this all sounds pretty cliché, but let me add another cliché into the mix: the bread really is that good.


Another common cliché about Paris is the poor quality of service. Nevertheless, in my interactions so far with the French bureaucracy, I have experienced the opposite. In one instance, a public functionary was even suspiciously pleasant. Taxi drivers and waiters are another question. While I would much rather eat food prepared in Paris, I would much rather eat it physically in Madrid where I don’t have to share the table with complete strangers while being barely attended to by someone who doesn’t like me.

Finally, Parisians are known for being pseudo-intellectual snobs. I can’t really attest to that, but the city definitely has an excellent cultural offering that simply wouldn’t exist without a demand for it. More importantly for me, Paris has a few excellent English language book stores, and now whenever I come to town, I refresh my reading list.

At the end of April I purchased three books all of which I have since finished and enjoyed: The Cosmic War by Reza Aslan, Drown by Junot Diaz and The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa. Yesterday I went back again and got copies of Olive Kitteridge, this year’s Pulitzer Prize winning book by Elizabeth Strout, Kazuo Ishiguro’s new Nocturnes, and Amos Oz’s latest novel, Rhyming Life and Death.



Filed under Digressions, Literature

Who will Stand Up To America and Israel?


The other day a friend of mine sent me this article denouncing the hypocrisy of the U.S. positions on North Korea, Iran and Israel. While it might sound like the mad rage of an anti-American foreign propagandist (a la Hugo Chavez), it is not. It is written by Paul Craig Roberts, an American economist and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration. I am not necessarily buying into his arguments, but I do think it is worthwhile to at least take them into consideration. Continue reading


Filed under Essays

The Right to Exist


One of the catch phrases of conservative Israeli politicians is that the Palestinians refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist. Netanyahu in his recent trip to Washington, DC to meet with President Obama was saying the same thing, while at the same time talking about the “Jewish State” (as opposed to a multi-cultural democratic state) and refusing to even address a possible two state solution. And as we all know, without a two state solution, Israel is left with the options of ethnic cleansing or apartheid.

So where is the Israeli government’s acknowledgment of the Palestinians’ right to exits? Just look at the basic statistics: In 1920 in the British Mandate over Palestine, the population of the area was 78% Muslim, 11% Jewish and 10% Christian. At the end of the Mandate in 1945 in Jerusalem, for example, land ownership was 84% Arab (Christian and Muslim) and 2% Jewish. Flash forward to 2006 and of Israel’s 7 million people, 77% were Jews, but only 18.5% were Arabs. I don’t think these numbers are perfect, but you get the picture.

Clearly, Netanyahu and the Israeli state as reflected in the numbers, like Hamas, does not respect the other side’s right to exist.


Filed under Essays

Dressed to Kill


Back in the 80s, I was into Break-dancing but not skating. Us break-dancers, if I recall, wore Chucks while skaters wore Vans. There were a few posers out there — as opposed to me — who tried to break-dance in their checkered Vans. I suppose as, a consequence, I was not the biggest fan of Vans.

Now a few years earlier, back in the late 70s, I was a big KISS fan. I had (and still have) eleven KISS albums on vinyl. My poor father even took me and a few friends to see KISS live in 1979 on their Dynasty tour, leaving him completely deaf for three days.


That all brings me to today when I was meandering through Paris and strolled into the local Vans store for absolutely no reason whatsoever because, as I have just mentioned, I was not Van-friendly. Then, to my great surprise, I saw these amazing special KISS edition Vans. They even have the Solo Albums model. Of course, there is absolutely no reason in the world for me to purchase a pair or even wear them, but I feel tempted. Tempted, just like a school kid who wants that KISS lunch box or ridiculous Japanese rising sun bandana break-dance accessory.


Filed under Digressions

Learned it from you

My college roommate, Dave, and I used to get the biggest laugh out of this anti-drug commercial from the early 90s. And we weren’t even high.

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Filed under Digressions, Friends / Family

Obama’s Propaganda

Rachel Maddow deconstructs Obama’s prolonged detention policy. Obama now owns the propaganda.

At least it is refreshing to see that some serious criticism is finally aired on a mainstream news outlet.


Filed under Essays, Obama 44

U.S. Congress to finally stand up against torture?

Another great Glen Greenwald piece from late last week exposing our national hypocrisy:

U.S. Congress to finally stand up against torture?

Yesterday, President Obama approved a proposed civilian nuclear technology-sharing agreement between the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates and requested its execution, but CNN — in one of the all-time most unintentionally hilarious articles ever written — reports that its ratification is in doubt:

    WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Obama on Thursday sent a civil nuclear agreement with the United Arab Emirates to the Senate for ratification, but its passage remains uncertain, thanks to a recently disclosed video.

Senior U.S. officials said lawmakers critical of the deal could use the video, which shows a member of the UAE government’s royal family torturing a man, to argue the United States should not have such nuclear cooperation with a country where the rule of law is not respected and human rights violations are tolerated.

How anyone could write or even read that last sentence without succumbing to painful, prolonged cackling is genuinely mystifying.

The videos in questions involve torture by a single individual citizen of the UAE, not an entire government.  The individual torturer isn’t even part of the UAE’s government:  he never worked in its Justice Department, doesn’t currently sit as a judge on a high-level court, doesn’t teach law in a prestigious university, doesn’t have his torture-defending speeches broadcast on national television by UAE news networks, isn’t constantly defended by admiring journalists any time he’s criticized, and doesn’t have hordes of TV pundits demanding that nothing be done to him.  Also, the UAE legislature never passed any laws on a bipartisan basis retroactively immunizing him from the consequences of his torture.

And one other thing:  the torturer in question — in the UAE — has been arrested while a criminal investigation takes placeMore here.  Nonetheless, entering into an agreement with a country like that — one that is so tolerant of “human rights violations” and “where the rule of law is not respected” — would degrade our lofty moral standing and betray our steadfast commitment to the rule of law.

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Filed under Essays

The Tree in the Woods


I don’t really want to get into the whole “being is perception” debate about the proverbial tree falling in the woods. Nevertheless, I keep finding myself wanting to leave my music playing (at a modest volume) during brief absences from home. Here’s why: Continue reading


Filed under Digressions, Jazz

Cheney vs. Bush

Liberal voices, especially Glen Grenwald, have criticized Obama for maintaining the majority of Bush’s anti-terrorism policies. Now on the other side of the spectrum, conservative columnist David Brooks is making very much the same argument. According to the recent Brooks’ article in the New York Times, Cheney is actually continuing the internal debate he had within the Bush White House — and lost — during Bush’s second term, and Obama is now only continuing, with some added rhetorical improvements, the Bush second term dismantling of Guantanamo, rendition, and torture.

In other words, both Obama and Cheney are both hoping to define the entire Bush administration as belonging to its first term, and not the second one where more moderate influences reigned in on Cheney. Obama does so because he only gains points by reminding people of the unpopular Bush. Cheney, on the other hand, has a much more concrete personal interest in the matter. To stay out of jail. Cheney’s speech about the threats of a nuclear armed terrorist on U.S. soil if we close Guantanamo are offensive to our intelligence — how does transferring the unarmed Guantanamo detainees to U.S. supermax prisons create the threat those same prisoners will access nuclear weapons along the way? And his claim that Obama, not the repeated conservative dominated Supreme Court decisions and the final Bush years, is the one making us unsafe is contrary to the record. Finally, were those measures necessary, wouldn’t it have been better to legalize them instead of creating an extra-judicial detention facility and secret interrogation policy with the specific purpose of circumventing the law?


Filed under Essays, Obama 44

Finally Some Reason


The last few days I have been very critical of Obama’s waffling on issues of national security. I have also allowed myself to become incredibly frustrated by the ridiculous, absurd, preposterous and shameful arguments that have come out of the some members of the press, some Republicans, and especially Dick Cheney (who is doing everything in his power to stay out of jail). So with a great sigh of relief, I just finished reading the transcript of Obama’s national security speech. His speech was not perfect (he did everything possible not to admit that both Guantanamo and enhanced interrogation were, above all else, illegal), and there were some moments of pure political spin (in particular on Afghanistan and Pakistan). Nevertheless, his words do reinforce our supposed self-image as a national of the rule of law.

Here are two excerpts from Obama’s speech that serve as additional arguments on why the problem is Guantanamo, not Obama’s policy to close it.

For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During that time, the system of Military Commissions at Guantanamo succeeded in convicting a grand total of three suspected terrorists. Let me repeat that: three convictions in over seven years. Instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setbacks, cases lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system. Meanwhile, over five hundred and twenty-five detainees were released from Guantanamo under the Bush Administration. Let me repeat that: two-thirds of the detainees were released before I took office and ordered the closure of Guantanamo.

. . . Indeed, the legal challenges that have sparked so much debate in recent weeks in Washington would be taking place whether or not I decided to close Guantanamo. For example, the court order to release seventeen Uighur detainees took place last fall – when George Bush was President. The Supreme Court that invalidated the system of prosecution at Guantanamo in 2006 was overwhelmingly appointed by Republican Presidents. In other words, the problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees was not caused by my decision to close the facility; the problem exists because of the decision to open Guantanamo in the first place.

The president is definitely more articulate than I am on the issue.


Filed under Essays, Obama 44