Monthly Archives: July 2010

On On Beauty, Summertime, and Dangerous Pursuits


During the last two weeks (and after abandoned the dreadfully monotonous Desert), I have dug into my roster of books by finishing Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, Coetzee’s Summertime, and Laila Lalami’s Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. I enjoyed them in the reverse order. Here are my brief thoughts: Continue reading



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MO: Metro, Plane and Train


I have a developed a system, a pattern of behavior, an M.O. for my habitual weekend trips to visit my wife in Paris. Delays notwithstanding, the voyage takes me roughly five hours from door to door. Here is my story: Continue reading


Filed under Digressions

Comfort Food


It may not be Jif Extra Crunchy, but Peter Pan Creamy will do the trick. The other day, out of sheer coincidence, I came across a nice stash of Peter Pan peanut butter in a local neighborhood shop that I almost never go into. I was so delighted that I gave the shop owner a gratuitous and boring monologue on why I was buying blueberry jelly to go along with the peanut butter. When I got home and ate toast after toast covered with the stuff, I realized that besides its power to transport me to my childhood, the PB&J combination has a quality very similar to the mixture of sweat and salty flavors in Moroccan cuisine. Maybe that is why I horde my mother-in-law’s homemade chebakia (fried cookie dough drenched in honey and covered with sesame seeds) as if they were Nutter Butters.

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Filed under Digressions, Friends / Family

A Decade and a Half

Today Raul Gonzalez announced that he was leaving Real Madrid after sixteen years with the first team. I have never been a big Raul fan, mainly because during the last decade (since I have lived in Madrid), Raul’s performance was consistently discrete, having lost his unique spark of the 90s. Nevertheless, I fully recognize that his lack of protagonism on the field was made up for by his stellar leadership role. Without a doubt, Raul — as far back as I can remember — has been the local emblem of his team.

What struck me most today when I read the news was not that Raul was leaving (I have been waiting for that for a few years) but the date in which he first debuted with Real Madrid: October 29, 1994. At first glance, 1994 doesn’t seem so far in the past, but sixteen years is in fact a long time. Just looks at the second video to see how much Raul as changed since his debut. It is a good measuring stick of how much time has changed in the past decade and a half.

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Filed under Digressions, Football/Soccer, Living la vida española

RIP to Politics


It’s like a drug. I keep promising to quit, and then I go ahead and write almost exclusively about politics. But if you have noticed, I have been fairly silent over the past few weeks, and one of the main reasons is that I am simply exhausted by the total lack of seriousness and intellectual rigor in our political dialogue.

From bogus and doctored outrage on things like racism, the environment, socialism, and the urgency of immigration reform (no one has yet to articulate that there actually is an immigration problem), I have grown less interested in weighing in. We elect a change president who turns around and does everything possible to maintain the corporate and political status quos: with each celebrated/hated (watered down) reform pushed by the White House, the regulated industry in question has seen its share prices skyrocket; and with each opportunity for transparency and the rule of law and with the Nobel Peace Prize in his belt, the President repeatedly argues in court for and puts into practice more expansive and less transparent executive powers and has bloated the military budget to historic records. Not to mention the ever increasing dependency on non-uniformed military contractors and the arguably illegal use of the CIA as a paramilitary force in Afghanistan and Pakistan (if not also elsewhere) to take care of business.

And then you turn on any serious news outlet and listen to the serious commentators (like the serious and moderate sounding David Brooks) with their delusional punditry and we are told that “the people are very suspicious of the increase in spending and the increase in the role of government”. Not because we have spent the last nine years building a radically clandestine, billion dollar/year shadow government, but because of Obama’s weak health care and tepid banking reforms? It is always the deficit that keeps us from spending on the people, but there is no shortage of resources to fight interminable and unwinnable wars. Next stop Iran. It all borders on the psychotic. I used to enjoy watching This Week and listening to Left, Right and Center, but now I dread the mere anticipation of how they are going to fabricate the irrelevant and skim past the real issues. For example, is it any shock none of them even alluded to last week’s story on “Top Secret America“? Of course not.

It is almost as if the more important the story, the less likely it will be discussed with any scrutiny. As NYU professor Jay Rosen writes in relation to the Post exposé and the Wikileaks Afghanistan leak,

I’ve been trying to write about this observation for a while, but haven’t found the means to express it. So I am just going to state it, in what I admit is speculative form. Here’s what I said on Twitter Sunday: “We tend to think: big revelations mean big reactions. But if the story is too big and crashes too many illusions, the exact opposite occurs.” My fear is that this will happen with the Afghanistan logs. Reaction will be unbearably lighter than we have a right to expect— not because the story isn’t sensational or troubling enough, but because it’s too troubling, a mess we cannot fix and therefore prefer to forget.

Last week, it was the Washington Post’s big series, Top Secret America, two years in the making. It reported on the massive security shadowland that has arisen since 09/11. The Post basically showed that there is no accountability, no knowledge at the center of what the system as a whole is doing, and too much “product” to make intelligent use of. We’re wasting billions upon billions of dollars on an intelligence system that does not work. It’s an explosive finding but the explosive reactions haven’t followed, not because the series didn’t do its job, but rather: the job of fixing what is broken would break the system responsible for such fixes.

The mental model on which most investigative journalism is based states that explosive revelations lead to public outcry; elites get the message and reform the system. But what if elites believe that reform is impossible because the problems are too big, the sacrifices too great, the public too distractible? What if cognitive dissonance has been insufficiently accounted for in our theories of how great journalism works… and often fails to work?

So let’s leave politics there. At least for a while. Yes, I may still write about a few topics that may be arguably “political”, but I am going to give the pundits and presidents and war-mongers a rest. Let’s call it a summer vacation. On the wagon.

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Filed under Essays, Obama 44

Top Secret America

I have pretty much had it with out political discourse. After eight years of policies where we did just about everything wrong, leaving the country in ridiculous shambles, two futile wars, and bending over the corporate and military complex, it is embarrassing to witness how the 2008 movement for change has dissipated completely and been replaced by a compromising president who allows 2008’s losers set the tone. How can a Republican who supported the Bush tax cuts or the wars or deregulation be given airtime to preach about reducing the size of government? How can President Obama be criticized for being anti-business when each time he passes his faux regulations, the regulated industry in questions gets a huge bump in the stock market?

And in the midst of the panic that Obama is radically expanding the size of government, the Washington Post has just published an extensive investigative report on how over the last nine years, the U.S. has created an immense, secretive shadow government that lacks any transparency or accountability whatsoever, costs billions of dollars and employs some 800,000 people.

And guess what the role of this shadow government is? To spy at home and abroad. A couple of loonies in a cave, and we throw the house out the window.

As is always the case, the Republicans are only concerned about the government when it affects corporations and not unarmed citizens.

If this does not create bipartisan uproar, what ever will?


Filed under Essays, Obama 44

What If the Tea Party Was Black?

I have already written about our hypocritical, romantic vision of the Second Amendment. Now imagine the Tea Party was Black.

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San Iker

After one of the tensest finals in recent memory, Iker Casillas gives us the best play of the entire World Cup.

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Filed under Football/Soccer, Living la vida española


I am re-posting this most remarkable poem entitled “Revenge” by Taha Muhammad Ali:


At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!


But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.


Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.


But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

April 15, 2006
Poem copyright 2006 by Taha Muhammad Ali. English translation and copyright 2006 by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin.

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