Monthly Archives: May 2012

Coincidence or Irony?

Three days ago I retweeted the above from @BorowitzReport.

It got me to thinking: why is it that, after all of the years I have lived in and gone home to visit my native Washington, DC, of all of the lobbyists I have known on Capitol Hill, I have never once met a straight Republican lobbyist?

To the same extent, why is it that all of the Arabs I have ever met with the first name “Jihad” are always Christian?

Would you call this irony or is it simple coincidence?

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Filed under Digressions

Belkhayat Fusion

Last November I was in Morocco and discovered this performance of Abdelhadi Belkhayat playing the traditional Arab oud with a full Arabic orchestra (in the classic Egyptian style). What was interesting was that he was also accompanied by musicians playing purely local instruments in the African, Berber and gnawa tradition. I immediately asked my wife who it was and learned that it was Adelhadi Belkhayat, a famous Moroccan oud player and singer.

In Morocco, you have a variety of different styles of music mirroring the various cultural and religious influences on the country: traditional Arab music (ouds and orchestras a la Egypt), Andaloussi and Gharnati music (arriving from the Muslims and Jews exiled from Spain), Berber music (with banjos), Dakka Marrakchia and Gnawa. This particular video is a perfect example of the fusion of all of them.

Since then, I have picked up some Belkhayat CDs, most of which is more Arabic than purely Moroccan, with one of my favorite songs being Ya Dak al Insan. In general, though, I prefer Hamid Zahir whose music has more examples of the combinations of traditional Moroccan sounds with the Arab oud.

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Filed under Married to a Moroccan

What We Now Know About Torture

Over the weekend, I watched the extremely engaging Bill Moyers Show on “Reckoning with Torture“. While the issue of the use of “Torture” by the U.S. government post-9/11 has been controversial and one could accuse Bill Moyers and his two guests as having a “liberal” bias, the interview and what it exposes are nonetheless compelling. And while torture-deniers/apologists will argue that there is “nothing new” to learn about what the government did in fact do, I believe the video very much highlights the undeniable facts of what did occur, facts that are not fully understood by the general public at large and which, once omitted, watered-downed, or spun, aid in the public’s misconception that what was done was done as an absolutely necessary defensive action in the face an extreme and imminent threat:

  1. Worst of the worst: As early as by the end of 2002, the U.S. government was fully aware and apprised of the fact that the vast majority of the Guantanamo detainees (some 80%) were not — let me repeat that, were NOT — guilty of the alleged crimes for which they were being detained. The U.S. government continued (and in some cases continues) to hold these detainees in cages, with no rights or recourse of any kind, for over a half a decade even after knowing they were not guilty.
  2. A few bad apples: When we think of the most extreme cases of torture, we think of it as having been perpetrated by a few bad apples. Nevertheless, all of the documentation — both the internal memos down the “chain of command” and the evidence from interviews by the Red Cross with the detainees — reveal perfectly well that all actions taken towards the detainees were perfectly scripted and followed very clear guidelines. Torture was not a result of “bad apples” but of clear policy coming from the highest echelons of power. Continue reading

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Filed under Essays, Obama 44, We The People

Dakka Marrakchia

No Moroccan wedding is ever complete without a Dakka Marrakchia possé. This group of musicians and showmen play a type of Moroccan music that hails from Marrakech (hence, the name) with African, Berber and Arab roots, and serve several different functions at the wedding. At the beginning of the wedding, they gather at the entrance and welcome the invitees with song and dance. Next, the accompany the bride and groom as they make their first and second entrances, and finally, they serve has entertainment at various points during the wedding playing their music, dancing, improving and engaging in other general showmanship.

The above video features a group as they are just getting warmed up at my sister-in-law’s wedding earlier this month in Rabat. The same group also played at my wedding. Believe it or not, I often replay the part of my own wedding video where they perform. I have even extracted the audio from the video so that I can listen to them on my iPad and stereo.

I was only able to film just a quick portion of them warming up, but they are truly great. I spoke with them briefly (in my broken French and non-existent Moroccan Arabic) to give the “tabarkalah alik” they deserved, and it was nice to see that they remembered me.

I hope you will enjoy!

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Filed under Married to a Moroccan

First Book List in the World of Virtual Reading

I have recently acquired a Kindle and since my last book list update, I have read the following – possibly some of my last – physical books:

But now on my Kindle, with a little generosity of peers, I have built up the following e-book reading list:

I hope to write further about the differences between reading e-books as opposed to the “ real thing”, but for now will only say that the biggest disadvantage of the e-book in terms of  “user experience” is that you have to close your book (ie, shut off all electronic devices) during take-off and landing.

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Filed under Literature

The Myth of Personality: Some of my Best friends are Corporations

Mitt Romney has taken a lot of slack for his “I have some friends who are Nascar team owners” comment but much less pain for his even sillier “Corporations are people” remark. All we needed him to say was “Some of my best friends are corporations” to paint the perfect picture of his world of make-believe.

After the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court has reinforced the notion that corporations enjoy certain “human” protections under the law, specifically those related to the First Amendment right to free expression. In constitutional and practical terms that translates to mean that corporations have the unbridled right to express their political opinions by providing cash to politicians, political parties and political interest groups that, of course, any human – including Mr. 14% — could only dream of forking out.

But the entire issue of how campaigns can be financed is besides the point (though, as of the time of this post apparently Romney’s SuperPAC has raised +$100 million to Obama’s $9million). Mr. Romney was trying to say something – I can only imagine – about corporations, capitalism and the freedom from regulation that corporations must enjoy in a free society. So, if corporations are people, then they too should be free. That a corporation is in fact a person and should not be regulated is absurd. A guy who earned both a Harvard MBA and JD should know this.

As a matter of fact, a corporation is not the product of the free market, but of government intervention and regulation. Yes, that’s correct: corporations only exist because of convoluted state action and regulation that allow them to incorporate. Government is the mother of all corporations and regulation their father. Continue reading

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Filed under Elections 2012, Essays

The Hunger Games and Cognitive Dissonance

Earlier this year I fell into the great Hunger Games trap. Out of pure curiosity and as result of witnessing my nephews and (my own) mother literally consume the books, I decided to give the story a try. And the first one was great.

Not great as a literary achievement but as pure entertainment that also touched at the heart of the American fiber: our passionate, ingrained belief that we stand up for the underdog and up against tyranny. In a sense, The Hunger Games has the perfect formula to pull on the All American heartstrings. The main character is a young woman, fatherless and coming of age in a simple miners’ town, subject to the cruelties of a brutal elitist despot class that is reminiscent of both the nation’s past subjugation at the hands of King George and the contemporary shallowness of “ reality TV”.  Add an element of a love story and how could an American not fall head over heels for Kantiss? It is the kind of tale that has the Declaration of Independence in its DNA.

Yet the irony is that just as we think we love the guy who fights the power, who stands up against the Elite-run media, the State, the For-and-By-the-Leader, isn’t that what we have become? Can’t The Hunger Games be read not as a tale of how the American people won independence from the British Crown but of how that independence is being lost?

In reading an article written today by Glenn Greenwald on the mainstream media’s government stenography (specifically, how Brian William’s recent story on the Bin Laden killing was nothing more than pure pro-White House propaganda), I was immediately reminded of Caesar Flickerman, the Capitol’s reporter-in-chief. We are more like the Capitol than like the Thirteen Colonies.

So do we love or hate authority? Here’s Greenwald from at the time I was reading The Hunger Games:

As Digby recently observed, after posting a great Tom Tomorrow cartoon on the willingness of progressives like this to accept and defend these absues from Obama: “The fact is that deep down, many Americans really want to be subjects.” They just want their benevolent tyrant to be a sophisticated, East Coast-sounding, eloquent orator — just like conservatives wanted theirs to be a swaggering, evangelical Christian cowboy — because those tribal familiarities ensure that your leader will be exempt from the universal corruption of vast emperor-like powers exercised in the dark (I want this person assassinated; I want this person imprisoned; I will not account to anyone for my decrees, etc.). I can’t tell you how many times during the Bush years I heard this from conservatives: you’re paranoid if you think Bush would do evil things because he’s a good man. As Scahill summarized this mindset last night: “Trust But Don’t Verify. Don’t Question Authority. Speak Power to Truth.”

We love to think of ourselves one way while we are secretly the opposite, like the homophobes’ latent homosexuality. No where else in the world are people so “distrusting of government” yet constantly worshiping the police, capital punishment, the military and their president as the warrior chief.

And that is the inherent irony of The Hunger Games and the American mind. We love the hero who defies power in fiction and history, because in the here and now, in our real lives, we are glued to our televisions cheering our leaders on, no questions asked lest you be the villain.

And if you’re asking: read the first one, but leave it there. Installments two and three go from disappointing to a waste of time.

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Filed under Essays, Literature