Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looming across the World War I "Centennial:" The death of the World War II generation

Before it even commences, the year 2014 is guaranteed to offer at least one landmark moment, the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.
Looking back, the rise and fall of "modern" trench warfare, of the nation-state of Marxist-Leninism and Arab nationalism (to name a few of the conflict's most important progeny) remind me of the tremendous dynamism of this mere hundred-year period.
But as I look forward, the centennial portends more meaningful, drastic change.
In five years, my great-uncle, a US Air Force veteran of D-Day, will reach 100 (if he survives his current frail state and life-threatening cancer). Within the following ten years the vast majority of persons capable of fighting in World War II will have broached the limit of the human lifespan.
Just as a mere twenty years separated the Treaty of Versailles from the invasion of Poland, so will the next two-decades witness the vanishing of the generation that fought in World War II.
The loss of living witnesses to one of humanity's deadliest endeavours is bound to have consequences on international politics, as the war's shadow continues to loom large in both the arenas of international politics and regional politics across the world.
Internationally, the indiscriminate murder of civilians and soldiers in this conflict, whose deathtoll approaches the 70-million mark (including such acts of mass civilian murder as the Holocaust and the "Rape of Nanking") spurred the formation of the United Nations (whose charter's opening preamble explicitly defines the organization as a reaction to the "scourges of war"), which established the first toothful mechanisms of International collective security and the first comprehensive legal definition of universal "human rights."
As a result, any world leader who now engages in non-preemptive offensive combat (e.g. Saddam Hussein in Kuwait)-once a routine part of Realpolitik based on loosely-defined "national interests"-risks being subject to sanctions or military action by the UN Security Council (albeit allocating a permanent veto to shield the Five "Great Powers").
Moreover, the traditional immunity of states and their sovereigns from foreign compulsion even for the worst of atrocities has been challenged in the postwar era by UN-affiliated International Criminal Tribunals, which have indicted of leaders from Milosevic of Yugoslavia to Bashir of Sudan-for committing "crimes against humanity" against their populations.
Perhaps the gravest of these "crimes" (as listed by the ICC), "genocide" was first coined by a Polish Jew named Rapheal Lemkin, who after suffering the death of his entire family in the Holocaust (from which he barely escaped himself) lobbied successfully for the first international convention on mass civilian murder, implemented in 1950.
Even those sovereigns whose power or connections safely shield them from any effective prosecution for either genocidal crimes or aggressive warfare (e.g. President Bush) risk the appellation of "war criminal," "fascist" (or, most egregiously) "Nazi." The latter label, unfortunately, has been put into overdrive in its usage, being applied (for instance) by left-wing student protestors to University administrators or American Conservative groups to environmentalists.
Additionally the War's truly global geography has left powerful but distinct legacies on the politics of disparate regions of the globe.
For Western Europe, the economic and physical ruin wrought by interstate conflict based on aggressive nationalism have stood behind the since-continuous process of European Integration, effectively tying a revived Germany into supranational political and economic structures that make cooperation, rather than competition, the norm.
Across the ocean, the sole unscathed victor, the United States saw in the war a moral precedent for the "just" use of force, with the specter of Totalitarianism serving as a moral baton for the "world's policeman" from Vietnam to Iraq to Libya.
In East Asia, the wartime atrocities of the Japanese Occupation forces add fuel to a potential conflagration with the rising Chinese dragon, especially when right-wing Japanese governments display unrepentant atttitudes.
 And in the Middle East, the ghost of the Holocaust and the legacy of appeasement-a la Munich-provides a powerful analogy for Israeli hawks seeking to stymie Western overtures to Iran and, previously, the Palestinian Authority. (On the flip side, Hitler's Mein Kampf and Holocaust denial serve as popular outlets in the Islamic World as expressions of antagonism towards Israel).                  Now, the loss of eyewitnesses does not mean the loss of memory.
World War II remains a popular subject in film, television and video games and institutions as well as the focal point of entire museums, towering monuments(1, 2) and national holidays (i.e. in Russia and some other post-Soviet states).
Indeed, the increasing distance from the war may enable for commentators in different countries to develop more nuanced portrayals of the conflict (e.g. the 2004 German film, Der Untergang ("Downfall") which gained notoriety, domestically and abroad, for its portrayal of Adolf Hitler as a human being).
Alternatively, the passage of time may allow for simplified nationalist cliches to grow stronger, where the war's history serves as a focal point of conflict (notably in regards to the Arab-Israeli and Chinese-Japanese scenarios).
Scarier still stands the possibility-at some eventual point in time-for global public to lose its acuity to the horrors of militarism and of genocidal disregard for life. (an apathy that, as I pointed nearly a year ago, has already started to creep into America)
The other day, while browsing a leftist blog, I stumbled across a quote by Malcolm X: "History is a people's memory and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals."
As the last of the generations to have experienced World War II fades from the planet, the memory of our generation-our parents and our offspring-will shape the history of the past and the politics of the present across the planet.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My troubles with the word "anti-Zionist"

A few days ago, scanning around on the facebook wall of a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, I came across the following: something to the effect of, "a journey from liberal zionism" to Palestine Solidarity.

Its always a pleasure to see fellow Jews coming to grips with the circumstances of the Palestinian struggle (and not from a "pro-Israeli" perspective). But the author's framing of Palestinian solidarity as being in an oppositional dichotomy with Zionism, troubles me just as much as does Phil Weiss's (of Palestinian-activist news website, Mondoweiss) emphatic confession that he is an "anti-Zionist." or the frequent derision of Zionism that I encounter on online forums and Facebook pages of Palestinian solidarity groups.

It is totally understandable that those aware of how the state of Israel was founded (and itsdependence upon a certain degree of ethnic population transfer through expulsion and stymieing any attempts at repatriation of refugees) and the parallels to this Nakba evident in the post-1967 Occupied Territories, wish to place themselves in opposition to the ideology on which the state of Israel (and indeed the Jewish colonization project in Palestine) was predicated.

However the anti-Zionist label comes across to me not merely as problematic but self-defeating for genuine supporters of Palestinian Liberation for two reasons:

Firstly, regardless what many Israelis (and their American supporters) may claim, Zionism-as an abstract ideology (or group of ideologies) advocating Jewish resettlement in the land of Palestine-should by no means be regarded as coterminus with support for a Jewish state in Palestine, much less the one that was established in 1948.

In Zionism's early days, state-oriented "political Zionism," anchored by Theodore Herzl (which only gained true ascendancy following the Biltmore Conference), clashed with the "cultural Zionism" of figures such as Aha Ha'am, who-acknowledging the Arab opposition to state-based colonization efforts in Palestine-supported a more vague ideal of "cultural" renewal. Rabbi Judah Magnes, one of the first Zionists in the American Reform Movement, was the first to propose a "binational state" in the (then-) Palestine Mandate and went so far as to oppose the 1948 partition plan.

As Jerry Haber, in a 2007 blog post entitled "Zionism without a Jewish state" put it, " I don't see what is wrong about trying to preserve what is good about zionism, and, for that matter, the state of Israel, while pushing towards a more liberal and equitable regime," e.g. one that renounces its military occupation and accords equal citizenship rights for its arab citizens while continuing to serve as a center for Jewish culture.

Indeed, equating one's critiques of the apartheid situation evident in the occupied territories and Israel state with opposition to "Zionism" turns a social justice struggle into an ideological one whose message detracts from the substantive goal of equality. 

Secondly, the very term "anti-zionist" will always invoke connotations of anti-semitism due to its historical use (particularly in countries of the former Soviet Union) as a cover for legitimately anti-semitic acts. The most notorious example of this was Poland's "anti-Zionist campaign" of 1968, in which the accusation of treachery by "Zionist" (i.e. Jewish) elements in the population-masked in elements of traditional Eastern European anti-semitic conspiracy theories-was used to purge Jewish members of the Communist Party, resulting in the swift exodus of most of Poland's remaining Jewish population.

Indeed, I speculate that "anti-Zionism" touches such a raw nerve amongst members of the American Jewish Establishment (the controversy surounding Swarthmore Hillel providing the latest proof of this) because of their memory of the anti-antisemitism once carried out in its name.

I mention these points not to draw dishonest comparisons between Palestine solidarity activists and Polish anti-semites nor to accuse the former of ignorance but to inform those who (like myself) are critical of the governing ethnocracy in Israel-Palestine to tread carefully in their use of a heated and not necessarily accurate term.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Planet Israel vs. Planet Palestine

My diplomacy seminar always offers such great reading opportunities. Last week, it was Getting to Yes, a work of Harvard University's "Conflict Resolution Project" that acts as a sort of a "how-to" manual for successful negotiations. (i.e. fairly conducted and producing a mutually-accepted outcome) The secret, according to the authors, is for the two sides to avoid positional bargaining, negotiating on the basis of substantive "interests" rather than rhetorical stances and fostering an atmosphere of mutual understanding  to work out a solution acceptable to both  .
As I read, I could not help being reminded of perhaps the world's longest-running ongoing conflicts (and one that is particularly close to home for me), the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Much of the passion that sustains and aggravates the "conflict" stems not from concrete concerns of land rights or religious divergence but from the total misalignment of Israeli and Palestinian narratives.
For Israelis and (most) members of the Jewish diaspora (a group that I situate on "Planet Israel"), the conflict is exactly what the word implies, a dispute sparked by real estate and aggravated by religious differences. Both sides have equally valid and longstanding claims to the land (based on religious and historical ties) and therefore, a "peace process" that aims at negotiating territorial "sovereignty" with "mutual" concessions (over both laic and religious property (i.e. "borders" and "Jerusalem")), is the way to go.
Of course, some Likudniks might interject that "security concerns" or Palestinian deceitfulness necessitate a more defensible Jewish claim. But since the 1990's Oslo negotiations, the principle of "two states for two peoples" has gradually acquired consensus support, to the point where even Benjamin Netanyahu, formerly the peace process's most ardent opponent, has given lip service..
On the other hand, according to most Palestinians (and Palestinian sympathizers), the root grievance goes back to the founding of the state of Israel, with the so-called "Nakba" of 1948. Under the duress of war, more than 700,000 Arabs fled from the territory of present-day Israel proper, only to be prevented from returning by a newfound "Jewish" state, desiring a majority-Jewish demographic.
The ensuing narrative stresses a continual process of "ethnic cleansing," colonization and a "struggle" against Israeli oppression (both through Israel's Occupation of the Palestinian territories and prevention of the refugees' return).
On planet Israel, the Palestinian demand for a right of return and refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state are perceived as scraps thrown to hardcore irredentists and fundamentalists, who must eventually come around (like the Likud) to pursuing peace on the basis of sovereignty.
Such comparisons send shock waves through Planet Palestine, which perceives the rhetoric of reconciliation and sovereignty as conceitedly ignorant of the need for justice if not a conscious attempt at pedagogical "oppression," a la Freire. Palestinians, it is often said, have no grievance against Jews or even Israel so much as against a "dispossessing" Zionist state-building project.
It is frustrating to see a sixty-five year cycle of antagonism spawn ever more hatred and daily violence when truly constructive steps could be undertaken if only each side were to change its perceptive framework.
Reading Ury and Fisher's book gives me a refreshing reminder, "follow these steps!"
Unfortunately the repeated refusal of the opposing parties to even passively listen to the other's narrative, as evidenced, for instance, by Jewish student organization's attempts to uphold guidelines excluding "anti-" or "non-" zionist, makes the implementation of the Fisher and Ury's strategy remote to even be reassuring.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Wenn die Sonne auf "Sunset" erscheint

Keine Männer
Keine Fräulein
Keine Farbe
Keine Luft

In der Ruhe
Alle klingeln
Im Kopf
Im Herz

Meine Wünsche
sind verschwunden
auf dem Barhocker
wo sie erfunden
hat, eine andere

aber wenn ich steige,
kann ich doch sehen
von Meer bis zentrum
wo sie läuft sicher weg

Denn Himmel ist schwarz aber klar
darüber, in meinem Kopf
aber ich laufe noch
und setze mich fort

Ich hab keine zweifeln
Dass Liebe und Leben
(und Trinkgeld)
quatsch werden,
auf Sunset.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Changing course

So far, this blog has-relatively speaking- bleibt sauber as the Germans might say.

I have posted some poetry, that captures those moments where I sense the profound, and spilled some of my thoughts.

But I have not touched upon that issue that brings out the most of my vital juices, both my pain and my wrath, schadenfreude and shortsighted passion.
That "thing" is politics. Furthermore, no political issue troubles me more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The dilemma I face seems rather clear-cut. I am a Jew by birth and faith and am nevertheless skeptical of the Jewish state (Israel).

By skeptical, I don't just mean that I am an anti-occupation peacenik. Rather I mean that I sincerely doubt the wisdom or viability of maintaining a Jewish ethnic state whose existence as such has depended from the start on population transfer and militarization.

This doesn't mean that I am opposed to Zionism, per say, nor that I support a single binational state in the Holy Land. I understand (and cherish) Judaism's attachment to Eretz Yisrael as a religion and consider that distinct from the national claim to the land made by the modern state of Israel.

Unfortunately, the naysayers never care for niceties. Jews whose express far milder criticisms, even those confined to mere policy, receive a shrill outburst our community's pro-Zionist establishment. (e.g. the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League)

With that said, I am coming forward with my opinions for the first time ever on paper. I look forward, for my sake and others, to raising inquiries and fostering debates.

Monday, September 30, 2013

J Street

"President Obama convinced Putin to give up his nuclear weapons by getting him (Putin) to see that it was in his interest to do so." Thus said vice president Joe Biden at the J Street Conference's keynote giving credence to my own comments two weeks ago about Putin's Machiavellian behavior.

In any case, the J Street Conference of September 2013 is definitely a different place from the one that I attended in March 2012 or in February 2011. For one thing, more people, over 3000 of them. The ballroom that held the student session in 2012 could now barely hold a western"regional breakout." With a total of 3000 participants and almost 900 students, the J Street conference has transformed to one of the largest events in organized American Jewish life.

Furthermore, the event had become much more serious. A snaking security checkpoint preceded an appearance by the vice-president, but even before then-an army of staff (many of whom I no longer know) displayed an attitude of "professional" stiffness towards the crowds which they directed. Of course, the coincidence of the conference with the Iran talks and Middle East peace process injected a chilling sense of power politics into conference sessions on this issue.

Most importantly, the conference's focus on J Street's "pro-Israel" credentials, which shared the stage at previous conferences with a steadfast emphasis on concern for human rights and the occupation, clearly trumpeted in this latest meeting, whether in the militaristic opening speech of Tzipi Livni or the pandering keynote address by the Vice President. It is sad for me, as a Jew who has long sought a Jewish arena that could expand the conversation beyond the steadfast pro-Israel bind. Though expecting to relive a dashing quest of youthful activism, I ended  watching from the sidelines as a hardened cynic.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Structural "racism": an analysis (in the American context)

Like any college student at a prestigious research or liberal arts institution, my Freshman year introduced me to new political and sociological vocabulary terms of a heated nature.
"Gender." "Construct." "Imperialism" all rang from the posters of left-wing campus groups and sounded from the lecture halls of the Freshman humanities' "cluster" course. But perhaps none struck me more than "structural racism."
The theory? That America remains (40 years after the Civil Rights movement), a society stratified between those who are "black" and those who are "white," with the former continuing to face de facto stigmatization as a crime-associated, dangerous or intellectually-lacking element (and lacking the opportunity outside the inner-city ghetto). "Brown-" or "yellow-" skinned immigrants face similar ostracism unless they conform to the white standards, behaviorally, culturally and socially.
Maybe it is the fact that having grown up in a multicultural city as the son of an Asian mother and Chinese father, I thought that the "r-word" belonged to a different time and place. Maybe it was my social scientist urge to reject (for meaningful politics) any conceptualization that could not be quantified or neutralized.
Generally, I shunned this usage "racism" as a hyperbolic foil for any slights or aggrevations experienced by minority groups.
Of course, having an Indian-American acting student as my roommate my junior year made me realize the prevailing standard of "whiteness" in the film industry. Moreover, my trip to France last summer exposed me to slurs not against "Americans" but "Chinamen."
Simultaneously, the trial of Trayvon Martin and instances such as the shooting of Jordan Davis (CNNarticle) have exposed me to the dominant society's unease with the black male as courses covering work such as John Hagedorn's A World of Gangs.
But as argued by critical race theorists, I find the theory of "structural racism" problematically not because it is not true or relevant per say but because it conflates (one might say confuses) racial prejudice towards non-white Americans with the unique socioeconomic disadvantages experienced by America's African-American community.
To specify the trend at which I'm gettingat, I instance RaceFiles' Scott Nakagawa, who describes "blackness" as a "fulcrum" around which white racism against all "people of color" (read Asians and Hispanics) evolves. (read Nakagawa racefiles
And yet there is a distinction.
On the one hand, prejudice against physically "yellow" or "dark-skinned" people can be seen as reflecting a majority self-distancing from those who appear phenotypically distinct. (e.g. a national news' Asian-American news anchor had to change her facial appearance to be more relatable to her audience) That "whiteness" should be regarded the phenotypical standard in America reflects that white-skinned individuals constitute not merely the most economically established but numerically-dominant group in American society.
However,  immigrants from Asia (and even some from Latin America) who climb the economic ladder and settle in the suburbs (with the car) manage to gain a certain "American" middle-class status deemed proper acceptability by white Americans perceiving of America as a "land" of immigrants.
In contrast, as many critical race theorists point out, certain racial groups (particularly African-Americans) face a clearly lower-status position compared to whites based on figures such as average income (lower for the minority group than for whites) and incarceration rates (higher for the minority group). Speaking African American Vernacular English or behaving in a stereotypically "African-American" fashion casts even the lightest-slommed individual in a negative light. (Carbado, Acting White 48)
 Critical Race adherents point to a history of institutionalized discrimination, with the white majority denying-if not depriving-these minority groups of basic civil and economic rights well into the twentieth century (e.g. through the slavery and sharecropping systems in the former case and the reservation system in the latter).
That over 300 years of marginalization by white society might be responsible for modern-day "racial" stratification should not be seen as surprising. The more reasonable question should be what should the majority-white society do to rectify such a racial divide.
Historical discrimination against African-Americans (and to a lesser extent native Americans in the West and hispanics in the Southwest) has consisted of political disenfranchisement, social exclusion (e.g. segregated schooling) and economic deprivation. (namely through systems of slavery or sharecopping that denied workers payment for their labor).
Political disenfranchisement effectively ended in the 1960s, when (first) the Voting Rights Act and then the 24th Amendment outlawed tactics (such as the poll tax) used to hinder minority voting.
Around the same time, the actvism of the Civil Rights movement brought attention to the social exclusion of non-white minorities, spurring legislation that outlawed segregation (e.g. Brown vs. Board and the Civil Rights Act) as well as cautious anti-discriminatory measures. (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the first affirmative action programs).
Much of the debate over Civil Rights in recent years has focused on the supposedly more-intrusive aspects of social legislation (most notably affirmative action), affirming a portrait of racism as a social ill (e.g. based on exclusion or prejudice) rather than a political or economic one.
And yet, the truly unresolved component of historical "racism" is the economic one.
Following the Civil War, radical abolitionists supported granting each freed (male) slave "forty acres and a mule" (See source) but such plans faded with the rollback of southern Reconstruction. Later, during the (Lyndon) Johnson administration, War on Poverty programs such as HeadStart and the Food Stamp program targeted minority income disparities under a more generalistic "color-blind" umbrella, but the effects were minimized in the wake of Reagan-era government cutbacks (see source) and the withering away of America's blue-collar sector.
Prior to the Civil Rights Era (and the northward Great Migration), the African-American community did not "lag" within a capitalistic economy but was bound by law (through slave "purchases" or sharecropping "contracts) within a feudalistic one. The lack of compensation for the (fair, market) wage or land ownership "lost" through slavery or even sharecropping puts the US in a backwards light compared to other industrialized nations (which mostly initiated measures of land reform upon the "end of serfdom").
The ultimate "fulcrum" of America's race hierarchy thus is the result of "racism" but rather essentially defined not by race but by a situation of serfdom.
Another name will have to apply.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Restless night

Its 4 in the morning,
the night runs still.
But under the covers,
a vibration.

A second ticks,
a neuron throbs.
my heart beats expectantly,
waiting to slow.

My legs want to spring,
My eyes want to see,
my body wants life
but I want nothing.

These stupid flashbacks,
a classmate's comments,
a chicken dinner-
all delay
the onset of a dream

Tomorrow has come
tonight still bides
the conscience shudders
before the flight of time.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Russia and the Kerry-Lavrov agreement: the desire for stability

Since John Kerry reached an agreement to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons stockpile with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov last week, an extensive debate has emerged over whether the United States conceded its interests to those of a rival state.
  While some accuse Kerry of conceding to Moscow a decisive role in the dismantling process and sparing its ally of a US-led military intervention(http://world.time.com/2013/09/12/taking-lead-in-syria-talks-russia-works-to-preserve-assad-regime/) others have praised him for sparing the United States of a costly and unpopular conflict and fulfilling humanitarian commitments.

Less widely discussed, however is an indication that Russia's is willing to reign in the ambitions of its Syrian ally (and the use of the latter's most potent weapon)  out of a interest for a durable settlement
In an interview with TIME magazine, Andrei Klimov, the chairman of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, noted that the Syrian government had to be "pushed hard" a deal that would eliminate one of the most potent weapons in its cache. (http://world.time.com/2013/09/10/russias-syria-calculus-behind-moscows-plan-to-avert-u-s-missile-strikes/)
In describing the Russian rationale for forwarding the negotiation process, Klimov downplayed the benefits to the Assad regime , instead emphasizing Russia's desire to resolve a conflict which is "right near our (Russia's) borders2."
Though Russia's role as a primary arms supplier of the Assad regime3 seemingly undermines such assertion, the concerns expressed by Klimov are logical, given that Syria lies a mere 500 miles from Russia's volatile Caucasian frontier.
For one thing, the trajectory of events in Syria so far has seen the strengthening of Islamist groups-such as the Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra front (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britain-and-us-fear-syrian-chemial-weapons-could-fall-into-the-hands-of-extreme-islamist-groups-8443222.html) -at the expense of genuine pro-democracy activists. This is a  result both of support for the former faction by Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar 5, eager for an opportunity to "check" an ally of rival Iran, and the increased polarization along sectarian divisions between the Alawi Shiites, like the Assad family, and Syria's Sunni majority (which had been carefully cultivated by Al-Assad when in power for the purpose of staving off the prospect of a unified opposition) .6
Since bearing witness to bitter separatist rebellions in the 1990s, Russian Federal Republics such as Chechnya and Dagestan have seen a growth of fundamentalist Salafism amongst their indigenous populations.4  Not surprisingly, polls by the Pew organization show that ordinary Russians worry more about radical Islam than any other major political concern (Pew facttank) and Vladimir Putin played lip service to this fear in his now-infamous New York Times op-ed from last week, in which he noted that Russian nationals have been present amongst the jihadist forces in Syria. (washington post)
 Even more worrying to the Kremlin, strategic allies of Russia such as Turkey (a crucial link in the supply line of Russian petroleum8) and Azerbaijan (a Commonwealth of Independent state member and major exporter of natural gas to Russia (worldpolreview)) stand in the frontline of the Syrian crisis and face the potential for greater destabilization from the conflict-through sectarian polarization(e.g. both Turkey and Azerbaijan have long been beset by tensions between Sunni- and Shia-aligned sects (see NYT , 10)) or an unmanageable influx of refugees (Al-monitor). And one can't forget troubled Egypt, the second most-popular destination for Russian tourists. (Tourismreview)
Though fear of Islamism may reinforce Russian support for Assad (brookings) it also negatively disposes Russia to grandstanding actions (e.g. Assad's chemical weapons use) that may escalate and radicalize the conflict-encouraging the spread of Sunni-Shia sectarianism and fundamentalism far beyond Syria's borders (e.g. through Saudi or Iranian military intervention or Islamic hijacking of chemical weapons' stockpiles). 

It should be added that one of the strongest motives underlying Russia's support of Syria is a desire-a core pillar of Putin era foreign policy-to restore Russia's status as a great power on the international stage11: upon reaching the negotiation table, Russia gains enough to give (more) than a little in working towards a constructive permanent settlement. Indeed, recent concerns about a faltering economy and corruption at home only give Putin a greater incentive as a man who can "get things done." http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/09/vladimir-putin-global-problem-solver/279700/

This is not to ignore the very tangible stake that Russia has in preserving the Assad regime (which include over 20 billion dollars worth of Russian business investments and a military alliance dating back to Soviet times). 11
But this does not make it any less willing to negotiate-even with its geopolitical rival such as the US- to reign in Assad where his actions threaten instability.
It should be added that the United States shares Russia's concerns about Islamist involvement in the Syrian opposition (e.g. Washington has labeled the Al-Nusra Front a "terrorist organization12"). A complete removal of Assad, moreover, would likely impair the security of Israel and ultimately America by resulting in an anarchic (Afghan/Lebanese style) fragmentation of the country along sectarian or political lines of the type that is conducive to breeding to terrorism.  (a means Daily Beast).
Contrary to typical American perception, diplomacy with Russia on the Syrian crisis offers a potential for a win-win situation. Should the Kerry-Lavrov plan proceed according to schedule, it provides a model for negotiation that could be applied to the conflict itself.   http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/15/us-syria-crisis-idUSBRE98A15720130915

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The past week, or week and two

Ive been busy, busy, busy.
The day after my final farewell to Paris, I departed for Amsterdam on the 1225pm Thalys (this after showing my mother around the city).
We had a pleasant, if hurried, stay on the outskirts of Amsterdam at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Two nights left time for some canals, five museums and the scattered house or palace to enter in the schedule.
I did sightseeing during the day with my mom and visited the red-light district on my own, late in the first night.
On Monday the 22nd, after leaving the Rijksmuseum, mom and I embarked on a 7 hour train ride from Amsterdam-Zuid (by our hotel) to Lubeck, Germany, by way of Schiphol, Amsterdam Centraal, Osnabruck and Frankfurt.
A hurried night in a cramped motel was followed by soaking in the awe-inspiring medieval sites for four hours. Day four ends with another long-distance train ride, to Copenhagen.
What I can say but that Scandinavia's famed social welfare system could not have surprised me more.
I had the most horrid hotel stay in my life, in a crumbling, bug-infested haunt named after Henrik Ibsen's Nora. It lay in a poorly-maintained, multi-ethnic neighborhood.
The taxation rates in Denmark are so high that they force those visitors (looking for affordable hotel accommodation) to sacrifice decency. (much less non-citizen immigrants)
Destitute and nearly homeless, the bastion of internet-era capitalism, Booking,com, finally came through with a comfortable but cramped space-age dwelling, "WakeUp Copenhagen.com".
More on this later.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Last day in Paris

Yes, C'est vrai.
Within 48 hours, I will be on a Thalys train bound for Amsterdam Centraal,
abandoning the city of life for (first) the city of herring (and weed)
and then a bunch of other metropolises (Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague, Munich) with more copious beer but cooler weather.
I will miss:
-The crisp gooey sweetness of the boulangerie's morning Pain aux Viennois and the soft, warm freshness of its afternoon baguette.
-The narrow, sloping streets of the Latin quarter, each winding to reveal another quaint café or brasserie or neoclassical Sorbonne building
-Being reminded daily (in the skyline or panoramic view) of my proximity to the "great monuments" of western civilization*
-Cheap, decent-tasting wine
-Parks crowded with picnickers, couples, old people relaxing-i.e. that serve as social spaces

I will not miss:
-The predominance of a neoclassical style of architecture: grandiose but boring (and merely a predecessor to cities like DC)
-Jam-packed subways at rush hour (though I wonder if Berlin might be the same)
-Aloof mentality of Parisian people (a stereotype that is frequently true:()
-Cliques that have started to form within the program (from which I, being awkward as I am, have felt largely excluded).

Plus, this article on the Egyptian Revolution reminds me of the class I took last fall (on the Arab Spring):

Oh well, I am rambling off into idleness again.

So long until Amsterdam.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Looking west from the Grand Arche of La Defense, 19:00

Westward to the pulsing mother star
Partially covered but radiating...
Caught in windows scintillating
On corporate perches
Ticks* are pinching
It burns

so beautifully reddening and waxing
Nanterre, Saint-Germain and beyond the Seine,
So striking of an impression
beyond the Parisian horizon.
Million-dollar Mitterand's arch
meets Infiniti...

On the Bordeaux coast, I can grow
Or up the Loire I can buy,
With better grades next year...
two floors I climb, or thirty
But all the way up to there ?
Perhaps la President?

Make no mistake,
we are all just scrawny earthlings
Building 10s of thousands of tiles
Against hundreds of thousands of light years?

What do we learn from challenging gravity
except for how much humans are lacking?

Bastille Day and before

I've been out late for the past three nights (Friday through Sunday) my time being preoccupied by my Friday visit to Versailles, nightly bar-hopping and Bastille Day.
The French national holiday was an interesting experience. No backyard barbeques but plenty of picnics in the park and (as is the holiday custom here) the shutdown of virtually all commerce (except the neighborhood boulangerie, which took off Friday and Saturday instead).
Most strangely of all, perhaps, the crowds at the morning military parade along the Champs-Elysee and the evening fireworks spectacle at Trocadero (the two defining events of the holiday) were heavily populated by curious foreign tourists (like moi).
Also, unlike the custom in the United States, the French members of the crowd did little in the way of visible displays of patriotism, waving French flags or even chanting "France, France." Some chanting in support of the various military divisions (French, Belgian and German) was evident, but failed to impress as much as the raucous at the appearance of President Francoise Hollande: unlike in the US it seems, disapproval of tepid economic policy can justify (or enable) genuine disrespect. One could argue for the weakened strength of the French presidency (in the fifth democratic republic to succeed the French revolution), as an institution, compared with that of the United States, though I am tempted to also assign a role to France's more boisterous political culture (though might not the general political instability simply be an outgrowth of that factor?)
Anyway, at the same time-waiting two hours together before the parade and five hours before the fireworks show (both necessitated by the need to reserve a spot)-both enabled for greater bonding with pps from the Travel-study group, shy as I can be.
I also, shortly before heading over to the Champ du Mars, heard about the George Zimmerman's acquittal via the hotel lobby's TV screen.
Let me say that, regardless of who started fighting whom, the fact remains that George Zimmermann shot and killed Trayvon Martin after having stalked him solely based on rudimentary suspicion (i.e. "looking" like the majority of folk who end up in prison). According to the state of Florida's Stand Your Ground Laws, killing in the name of self-defense is entitled without a traditional "obligation to retreat" (sorry for the Wikipedia ): however, it is completely unclear as to whether Zimmermann (in shooting) or Martin (in fighting Zimmermann) was engaging in self-defense. It seems most probable that Zimmermann's pursuit of Martin prior to the police dispatch (and against common sense) set off the conundrum. (perhaps provoking Martin to fight) The taking of Martin's life rests ultimately on Zimmermann's shoulders at the very least necessitating a conviction for manslaughter.
All in all, looking at America from afar, the very controversy of the crime reflects how much of an issue race remains (regardless of proposed solutions) for my homeland.

Au Revoir and A Bientot.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What did I do today

Went to class,
rode the tram
bought baguettes
and ate them
Did the laundry
reading German
while I digested

Eating bread everyday
makes you prone to indigestion
even when it tastes like heaven.

Laptop pixels make your eyes sore
while searching begins to bore
when you've roughed up each tabloid whore

Being in Paris can be a blast,
but only if your fast
enough to leave the comforts behind
and Seize the day
before you're gone

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Vendredi et Samedi en Paris

The last two days have been interesting.
I've been wandering about various Parisian neighborhoods with little ultimate purpose
Yesterday, I traipsed from Sacre-Cour, through Montmartre, down to Pigalle and across to the Goutte de la'Or district, spanning the chasm between tourist trap and slum.
From streets filled with Caucasoids of various nationalities to those with none.
My tourbook recommended that I "stay away" from the "seedy" neighborhood around Barbes station,
but the scent of harisa and ghee, the vivid chattering of Amazigh and  Wolof, and the spray-paint décor of the cobblestones and hospital, drew my attention.
Pardon the orientalist-speak. For a middle-class Caucasoid first-world youth, these were genuine reactions...giving way to a "France" of Algerians, Tamils and Senegalese
neglected by the state, the nation, and the tourist industry.
I think, I will be back for three-euro Samosas,
if I do not let an evening subway ride get the better of me.

Today, I kept to the fourth and fifth.
Nearly entered the Grand Mosque of Paris (but I had to pay)
But viewed Muslim prayer shawls at the Institut de Monde du Arabe.
Tired of the museum scene, I got a ninth-floor view of Paris
Then drenched myself in sweat (and ice-cream)
passing Ile-St. Louis, Place des Vosges and the Bastille.
Back at home now, I write
partly because I'm tired
partly evading my reading for class
How will I start working on the two 10-page research papers when I'm just starting to get ideas?
for now I say good-evening
and A Bientot

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Nowhere to hide for Mr. Snowden (a break from my travel blog)

Stuck in a Moscow airport.
Rejected by Russia and China
Bolivia says persona non grata
Of course the Europeans won't give.
It's not like Obama gives crap.

America is not a superpower
but a really big and important country
China got strong through dressing us
Venezuela through fueling our SUVs
Even a principaled Morales
must, our money and power

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pantheon and other museums

Saw Voltaire, saw Rousseau
Chateaubriand and Diderot
Then Mona Lisa, De Milo
Pissaro, Picasso
Robespierre Figaro
The last a newspaper, these figures I see
What are these Greek statues doing in Paris?
How all this architecture, beautiful to eye
within only ______ km squared space?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Question-Parisian food business model?

For the typical American, Parisian-and by extension French- food is distinguishable for its refinement.
The Michelin restaurants, the ripe-aged cheeses and wines the picture-perfect sunsets...
More than anything else, however, "French food", from the vantage point of elite-minded/Francophile Americans trumps lamericanisme for its supposed intimacy, the custom-ordered, freshly-made, mom-and-pop structure that characterizes the boulangerie, brasserie and charcuterie.
Thus, one of California's Michelin-ranked restaurants styles itself Chez Pannise (Pannise's place) and prides itself on its "natural" ingredients.
The Belgian-owned Le Pain Quotidien ("the daily bread") charges the price of a sit-down meal for whole-grain bread loaves baked biologique and for sandwiches that can be enjoyed on the hard-wooden chairs that mimic a streetside café.
Numerous bistros, galleries and other places similarly seek to evoke a "Frenchness" that is wholesome in cuisine, intimate in character and conducive to a neighborly Joie de Vivre.
Contrast with a place like Costco or McDonalds. Mass-produced, artificial, cold and corporate.
As a liberal, upper-middle-class Angelino, I once bought into the hope of a food industry reconstructed on the Parisian corner store.
That was, until I visited Paris.
Even the most ordinary of residential streets in the outermost arroindossment (like the one which I'm staying on) has its boulangeries churning out fresh baugettes at 3pm, pharmacies with the flashing "green cross," a tabac for cigarettes and lottery tickets, and a family-owned café.
 Fromageries sell cheese, boucheries (often halal) for meat, charcuteries for smoked meat (usually pork)...
For anything else, one can go to the supermarket, but with the exception of certain department stores (e.g. Champs-Elysee, Galeries Lafayette), these are small enough to fit into a neighborhood storefront as well.
Family ownership means some good things. Though baguettes here vary in quality but none that I have tried so far has the gumminess that one finds all too commonly in their American counterparts.
Pharmacists attempt to give all of their customers the most precise prescription. Butchers and even grocery store owners make a point to walk you through their "laid-out" wares.
Unfortunately, they also expect you to buy something, to the point where you are supposed to look in a store's window to determine product's worthiness before deciding whether or not to shop.
More problematically, all of these small shop owners (and store managers) cannot engage in their task 24/7. Within the city of Paris, 95% of stores close before 9pm (no late dinners) and nearly all close in Monday. ( for more on French shopping hours see:  http://www.francethisway.com/wp/shopping/2006/03/)
And in July, they must take turns doing vacation (so one of my favorite ones closes :( )
The flaw of the French model of small business, however may be exhibited on the outskirts of Paris, where Carrefour hypermarkets do limited consolidation a la Americaine.
In short, maybe we need big business in a world of economic modernity.

Friday, June 28, 2013

China People

If I remember correctly, toward the end of the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and Company journey southward to visit Glinda, "the good witch," they run into trouble in the "China country."
Stumbling across a society of beings composed wholly of delicate porcelainware, Dorothy and her companions quickly lose goodwill when they cause the delicately made China cow to break under the shock of their careful entrance. Berated by the "China princess," the leader of the China people-for not only harming the cow but causing deformity- the gang discovers a society that is not merely physically vulnerable but mentally obsessed with maintaining the "perfection" of their form.
Sadly, this story seems a telling analogy for my own encounters with Parisians.
I have gotten lectured at by a bartender for requesting to use the bathroom without paying for a drink.
I have been refused service at a coffeeshop for approaching the waiter about ordering rather than taking a seat beforehand.
I have learned that in restaurants, bars and even shops, one does not ask something, one requests it (and that if you walk in, you consent)
A whole system of etiquette governs public affairs here that I still have yet to fully understand. Its especially troubling that the Parisians try to share with you by example, i.e. expecting that you should "know better," American Philistines be damned.
Going out the past few days has opened up my eyes to the importance of image and manner to Parisians such as to make me rethink my conception of French (and European) culture(s) as increasingly "Americanized," one which I had developed around the young English-speaking students on my study program in Iceland.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 3 and 4-settling in

So the wifi at my new hotel did not start working until late last night, hence the delay in my third journal entry.
That's right, I am at a new hotel, the Citadines Porte de Versailles, to be precise. I am being put up here for a month as a part and parcel of the 6000 "program fee" for my Travel-study program.
Since I'm in an "extended stay hotel," designed for travelers spending at least 4 to 5 nights, I enjoy the luxury of a kitchenette, complete with pots, pans, and utensils in my room.
The hotel is in the 14th arroindessment, near the Blvd. Periphique and within a mile of the Cite Universitaire, where the course component of my program meets.
The program is relatively relaxed and looks like it will be an enjoyable experience. Classes only meet two times a week (three times in the week of 8 July) for three-hour sessions, ending at 12pm each day. That gives ample time to explore the city, have lunch and what not.
On Sunday, I went to the Champ du Mars (by myself: the program hadn't started yet) and got a great view of the Eiffel Tower. Yesterday I strolled on the Rue di Rivoli with some friends, visited the Ile de Cite (but stupidly did not enter the Notre Dame Cathedral) and had a picnic with wine on the Champs de Mars with buddies from the program.
Today, after I finish this, I want to get out and explore some more, although I hear that many of the museums are closed today or Wednesday (they alternate).
Anyway, I think I've taken up enough of my own (and your own) time on this for today. Good-bye for now!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Day 2 or Day 1 (or Day 1 in Paris)

Today was a long day. A really long day.

I got up at 9am Friday morning (Pacific Time) and will be going to bed at around 11:30pm Saturday, Paris time.
I had breakfast in Los Angeles, "Dinner" (on the plane) over Cody Wyoming, a snack over Belfast Ireland and Dinner in Paris.
I traveled for an entire night and yet, because the plane flew by the North pole, the sun never set. (and still hasn't here in Paris)

It was my first time flying the Airbus A-380. Smooth plane ride, but some turbulence near Hudson Bay. The Air France Economy seats however are too narrow to permit me to sleep. Plus, I had to wear an uncomfortable eyecap to keep the light out. (ugh)

So, in my spare time, on the plane, I got to looking at the maps.

The "route maps" consist of several alternating pictures of the airlines route: large-scale, close-up, speed and distance stats, and one page depicting the airline's direction , relative to that of the destination (Paris) and some nearby reference city.

While, during the "night", while crossing the Greenland Strait, my eyes became particularly fixated on the locality of Pangnirtung, Baffin Bay. It was indicated as being "nearby," even where we were only three hundred miles away, I assume due to our being over water and the generally sparse population of the region.

How many flights-carrying middle-class American and Canadian kids (as well as European and American honey-mooners, French businessmen, some Africans and Middle Easterners)  on their way to Europe-pass over this city everyday I thought. Do the inhabitants of this city have the privilege to take pride in their location or do they have to deal with the alcoholism, poverty and the like endemic to Canada's first nations communities.

I continued with my observation after landing in Paris.

I had been expecting that romantic city of tree-lined boulevards, grand monuments and well-kept public spaces.

But the autoroute to the city, from CDG, passes through Seine St.-Denis, the working-class suburban district made famous by the October 2005 riots.

For 10 miles, on E15 from Roissy to the City Limits, the highway barriers were covered by graffiti. Dilapidated, modernist apartment blocks-assumedly public housing- dominated the skyline and the streetscapes, though somewhat less so than in comparably-sized American cities were filled with aging, vacant buildings.

The additional array of "big-box" strip malls (though with IKEA-style Bauhaus instead of Kitschy mission-themed designs), snaking lines of cars and the very "freeway-like" autoroute itself affirmed my belief that France, as a first-world and Western European country, is not so different from America as often perceived (in the context of the world  at large).

Oh, one big difference though. Unlike in other Western European countries, they expect you to speak French here. (I started learning on the plane, so I'm proud of having been able to survive even that 50-second "Bien, merci" type parley at the Pizza restaurant).

These thoughts are especially valued for my record because they deal with the sorts of questions and concerns that I will be grappling over the next month here as part of my study-abroad course. "Global Challenges in Post-colonial France."

Anyway, as a inter-"northern" (in a global context) traveler, I think I'm going to go to rest right now. The "fragmegration" of the world into two "globalized spheres," the politics of immigration in a "unitary" political entity or the snaking complexity that is Charles DeGaulle airport Terminal 2 are additional thoughts that have grazed my mind, but I think I will save that for class...
or when I've had a little too much wine.

Good-bye for now.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Eurotrip-Day 0

Im packing and grabbing
and hustling and stuffing
and screaming and running...

and madly dashing to get as much  as I can in my suitcase before 12:45 in the afternoon.

All the plans and probabilities,
the moonlight chill on the Champs-Elysee,
the UV rays in the Austrian Oberland
and two 1.5 inch binders...
Must all fit within a space of 28 inches by 15

My "Eurotrip" is about to begin
A travel fanatic's lifelong dream
54 minutes into the day of departure

And yet I still scurry and quibble with my mother,
Gangly and young in my Los Angeles apartment
Passing the time with errands

Soon I will be off in Paris. And then studying.
And then the Netherlands, Denmark, Prague, and Germany.

I do not merely wish to travel as a tourist, snapping pictures and grabbing up Chinese tschochtkes
but make sense of my encounters with Europeans, their governance of society and everyday life, and how I respond...
I want to write something down at least once every three days, frequently enough to prevent time from sweeping underneath the trip of my life.

Its not going to all be as poetic or jarring (based on your perspective) as this past soliloquy. I'm just trying to get myself in the mood and my thoughts off my chest.

Well, I'm another 50 minutes closer and I've gotta get some sleep before the flight.

For now, Bon voyage!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why do I....stay at the party, wasting my liver away?

I slouch awkwardly along the rail
My eyes scan cautiously
The scene's alive,
the party's on
And its all fun.

The buxom babe's a beaming
in shining blizzard gloss
Dancing, head a-swaying to
Don Juan's enchanting

The throbbing melody,
an amorphous muse of rage
In hollowed drumbeats,
sets the world aflame.

Case after case
is emptied and strewn
Prudence and conscience
flow freely
in frolic.

Above, lie the stars
blocked out by lights
Below, aimless energy
the night.

And I just watch
and quiver
and slouch
and take a swig
and let it go...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

April sunset

The beauty of the sunset
on an April, after 6

rose and crystal, stain-glass hues
streak like watercolors
mad fits of big city rage..

A never-ending ocean canvas...

The world turns
while I stand still
scratching my head...

Atop a hill, I see...

Tight-edged tanks, Tau Delta
tinting pink...

The voluptuous, slender, curving...
stalks of grass

Gentle tides are ebbing with the moon

And ten e-mails, articles, prospectae,
stuck inside

A day and a poem have come

To pass.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Expo Line

                                   A Sunday on the Expo Line

It was Sunday April 4th at 12 noon. I was on my way back from LAMUN, the college Model United Nations conference (basically a "mock congress" but with UN committees) hosted by the UCLA Model United Nations Club, of which I am a member. It was the tail end of a work-filled weekend and I had the moderate hangover that only a mass gathering of college students lasting for three nights can induce. Since I had a few hours to kill until my night job began, I decided to ditch the direct 720 bus to Westwood and try out the Expo Line. From Downtown, I could ride the most recently-built (and hitherto unridden)  line in the Metro Rail system to its Culver City terminus and then connect to a number 12 Big Blue Bus that would take me straight to UCLA. Being the transit geek that I am, I would not merely pass my time but savor it: unfortunately, the palate soured somewhat upon the first taste.

For one thing, the ride certainly did the job when it came to killing spare time. After having to wait ten minutes for the train to leave its hub (at Metro Center), my ride became bogged down in the sparse Sunday morning traffic waiting for traffic-lights, of all irony. Running most of the way at street grade-level, first along Flower St. and then Exposition Blvd., the Expo Line-like its counterpart, the Gold line- has not installed crossing gates at many intersections, leaving trains to the whim of the same traffic patterns that tie up automobiles. This comes on top of the fact that light rail vehicles run more slowly than conventional rapid transit (e.g. subway, rail) to begin with. The scheduled 25-minute ride took about 40 minutes, definitely slower than  bus .

Another issue I had was the way Metro integrated the line with the landscape. Of course the median divider of Exposition was built to handle (heavy) rail: however, does that justify a light rail line along a street that (west of Exposition Park) lacks any commercial activity? (And that, indeed, falls conspicuously between the main arteries of Jefferson and MLK Blvds.?) More problematic is the preceding stretch along Flower, whose warehouses and storage marts give a drab bookend vibe south of Pico Station. Paralleling the freeway when it enters University Park, the train passes behind the Galen Center, out-of-sight of both USC and the Figueroa Corridor.  Hey Metro! I know you had to adhere to a right-of-way agreement, but why not fight for a Figueroa or Grand Avenue route-any alternative to Flower.

Then, when I got off the train at Culver City, I found myself situated in a massive parking lot bounded by yet more uninviting, functionalist buildings (which could have comprised warehouses, the back-end of strip malls or a combination of the two). The GPS surely backs up Metro's claim of this station being in the proximity of Culver's "downtown" but there was nothing visual to back it up. The one sign that I encountered at the bottom of the platform pointed vaguely in the directions of "Venice" and "National." Winding my way across the lot and around a construction detour, I stepped out onto the narrow right-bank of the seven-lane torrent of automobiles that is Venice Blvd. The few imposing strip malls that stretched across the horizon gave little indication (without additional signage) that a center of dining and nightlife existed blocks away.

Metro does its best to bring us rail but doesn't understand that its as much of a psychological process as it is a physical. Marketing Metro Rail involves not merely radio and air-wave advertising but a visible if not bearing physical presence in the LA communities to which it extends. The more convenient the rail line is to commercial institutions, the more it will be used by commuters, all the better if it disrupts the existing traffic patterns so that it becomes easier for Angelenos to ride the Metro rather than to drive.

Fortunately, the Expo Line has not seemed to suffer the exact sorry fate of the Gold or Green Lines. I had trouble finding a seat in my car on my Sunday afternoon ride, an indication of how the Expo Line has been surprising critics by meeting ridership targets since it opened.
However, the comment section of the article I put in the hyperlink only underscores the complaints that I made: readers suggested greater "advertising from the freeway" and increased visibility for the line.

Personally, I can only wait for the day when LA planners will become bold enough or brave enough to construct something like this .

Monday, April 1, 2013

Today in the life

Der mauer,
der bauer,
"In Rothenburg an der Tauber"
In der Shower
The tower
Zoom by at 50 an hour

All on time,
all at once
definitions,work and lunch

Then I must,
fill out a sheet,
with the hours and days and weeks...

The surplus just
breaks even at:
"Now, I know.."

"Now I've got..(a check)"
Now I live..(a human)
Now I can do
another problem...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hipster America

By means of that strange force called fate...invisibly lurking behind my use of google maps to program the most efficient bus route to a job interview...I took a walk along Fairfax Ave., right around my old Elementary school, Hancock Park, today.
 It had been seven years since I moved out of the neighborhood (which was five years after I stopped attending the school), so getting a sense for the changes that have occurred provided the impetus for a broader reflection.

A "wine and sandwich" now stands on the old Christmas tree lot. Two blocks down, the corner barbershop (that I never stepped inside) still boasts its colorful, traditional wheel but with a suspicious Arial lettering...

Next, a Jack-in-the-box. Then, A hallowed out modernist box structure with the poster Office Space-FOR SALE (the graffiti indicating a condition carried over from the recession). Emerging from an arbor of trees brings me face to face with a vaguely-memorable "Frank's": breakfast all-day" accompanied by an unfamiliar (also-boldfaced) Espresso shop featuring "cozy roasts" and "cats allowed." The block huddles beneath a billboard for a suburban nude strip joint and just to the right, a homeless man (oh how terrified I used to be!) bears a cardboard sign.

And all of sudden, out of nowhere, the catchy "whistle" of Florida breaks in to accompany the gait of quaint coolness

In more than one sense of the word, I was walking through "hipster America", a society of twenty-something starving college graduates (or dropouts), middle-age book-club holding "fitness moms," and any other urbanites who can pull off the gambit, striving to conform towards risqué non-conformity, supporting the bourgeois system by rebelliously parodying its "dandy" aesthethic, giving prime weight to an image-based façade while explicitly denying its importance with a stereotypically prominent "sense of irony."

Usually the image of the "hipster" is confined to specific locales-Williamsburg, Brooklyn or Portland, Oregon for instance- but as an article in today's Atlantic indicates, Center-city "gentrification" the weathervane for the process of succumbing to hipsterism, has taken place throughout the past decade in a diverse array of locales ( http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2012/06/are-these-fastest-gentrifying-neighborhoods-us/2249/ ) at an astonishingly swift pace. Even in those neighborhoods that aren't on the list (or lack the initial economic impoverishment that defines gentrification's transformative nature), a good deal of businesses-from the long time coffee shop to the newly-opened Starbucks or Target (the "CityTarget" in Westwood boasts a Starbucks inside!) have refurbished their lettering and added organic items to capitalize on the latest faze of cool.

The result is that I sense a briskly catchy tune as I walk past the dressed-up dogs while sipping my handcrafted latte, a pervading sense that big-city, liberal, trendy, youthful urban America has achieved a perfect consumer society: until, upon arriving at the bus stop I encounter starving homeless, a 60-something Mexican woman resting on the bench between her day and night jobs... I just keep sipping my latte though and meddle with the plastic "made-in-China" tag on my I-pod touch.

You want to know why liberal Democrats can be so obstinate on legislation for the (white) working-class, why young liberal arts students aspire towards being baristas, living off pell grants as the fight for welfare goes on elsewhere, and why organic food has done nothing to solve the fate of climate change? I feel I have an answer...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

0 dark thirty, the cult of violence, and America's fin de siecle

As a full-time politico, whose Facebook feeds routinely flare with threads on the legality of waterboarding, drone strikes, and the presidential appointment process, the first thing I did when my evening dinner plans were canceled last Friday was to walk to the Bruin theater in Westwood to see what all the fuss over Zero Dark Thirty was about.

Following a mandatory 2 minute tribute sequence of 9/11 voiceovers (okay, we get why the CIA is dead-set on capturing this bin Laden guy), I get my first pangs in my gut: within the rundown confines of a Pakistani prison, a group of operatives ominously clad in Ninja-like masks watch Jason Clarke's character (named Dan) physically jostle a Saudi detainee named Ammar, his (Ammar's) hands and legs are chained to the walls like a rabid dog

 I definitely felt a reactionary wince, but the incomplete context of the scene on its own made for no more than a primary impression, an acrid psychological backdrop. Next, Dan, with a hooded companion at his side, proceeds to step out into the harsh Pakistani sunlight, but at the insistence of the now-exposed female partner (the will-be protagonist, Maya), he returns to the prison cell to enact a considerably lengthier demonstration of CIA "enhanced interrogation techniques" (complete with a sickly play "Good Cop, Bad Cop" routine by Dan and a riveting chaining-up of Ammar).

Eventually, over a platter of meze*, Ammar will provide the crucial lead of Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, bin Laden's supposed courier, but before Bigelow reaches that point she must throw in another prolonged, unproductive grill session, in which Clarke's character-again playing the good cop, bad cop routine- gives Ammar some food, only to lock him up in a wooden box when he refuses to speak. Later, still, Maya's pursuit of the "Abu Ahmed" lead is accompanied by a series of videotapes of confessions being coerced from detainees by kindly Saudi intelligence.

 Attributing a definitive perspective on a political issue like torture to Zero Dark Thirty (e.g. http://msnbc-msn-com.newsvine.com/_news/2012/12/22/16090622-hayes-zero-dark-thirty-is-objectively-pro-torture), or any movie for that matter, is always a shaky proposition, influenced as much by one's gut reaction to the work (dependent on personal experience, origin, etc.) as by the structure of the work itself. One can more objectively discuss the aesthethic form of the work, and my biggest concern with the movie is that it wallows in profuse display of dehumanizing acts of violence that are not entirely necessary for advancing the plot.

If the film's first hour lingers on the sickening intricacies of the Bush-era intelligence efforts, the film concludes with a sequence depicting a US Navy Special Forces team shooting down (two at a time) most all of the adult male inhabitants of the Bin Laden compound. (following which, they blow the house-with women and children inside-to pieces).

In between, even in a less memorable scene such as where Maya's car gets ambushed outside the US embassy in Islamabad, the violence-militants shoot at Maya's car with semi-automatic assault rifles- is drawn out (as the car waits for Embassy's slow-moving bulletproof gate to open-and then close behind her) in a matter that is suspenseful but gratuitous.
Bigelow's decision to draw out violence may very well reflect an artistic choice for "journalistic" realism (https://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/18-0)   and yet, vetted by a large Hollywood production company, Bigelow's film had to have passed the test of the consumer market. That Bigelow's film can be successful focusing so intensely on the deathly acts of torture, shooting or bombardment reflects on the parameters accepted by American society at large.

 This is, after all, a population that not only readily consumes "kill-em-all" video games like Call of duty and Grand Theft Auto but that casually patronizes the blood-drenched works of Quentin Tarantino(e.g. Django Unchained) and the bluntly grotesque Saw franchise.
In an age in which military action has been placed (through use of a volunteer army, special forces units or even remote control "drone warfare") safely beyond the social realm of the American public, a lack of active awareness desensitizes violence -if not giving it a romantic appeal. Ironically, the very aloof yet decisive relationship of Chastain's character to the battleground in Zero Dark Thirty mirrors that of the American public towards violence.

 Maya discerns an attack on her CIA colleague-attempting to meet with Al-Qaeda spies at an Afghan air force base- through a cut-off aim thread from Washington. She tracks Abu Ahmad's phone calls along Rwalpindi and Peshawar streets on a diorama from Google Maps (also, safe in the capital) and, even the climactic final operation plays out for her (with camera cutting back and forth of course) from the control room of an Afghan air force base.
Maybe Maya is on a terrorist "kill list" (for her anti-Al Qaeda activity). But her access to internet and remote technology, as well as the protection she enjoys from one of the largest armies on earth, cushion her "battle"-outside of Pakistan- in a office-cubicle backdrop of scribbled "countdowns," frenzied typing and bureaucratic maneuvering. In contrast, the security guards, hotel staff and  ordinary civilians in Pakistan get caught up in the cross fire of terrorists and US operatives on a day-to-day basis.

Most (white, middle-class) Americans are similarly blessed to go through day-to-day life in an almost monotonous state of stability. They can dispense petitions and march in rallies  favoring or opposing another drone campaign without going exercising more than the vaguest theoretical or emotional capacities. Even for the most liberal soul, violence-whether at Abbottabad or Newtown- is marketable as an invigorating entertainment-arousing lethargic endorphins over a morning pastry or a Friday evening.

I point to America's banalization of a largely absent variety of free-flowing violence with worry because it reflects social trends occurring in Europe exactly a century ago. From around the 1880s to 1914, the period of the so-called fin de siècle witnessed a previously  unparalleled standard of living in Western Europe, whose growing middle-classes (thanks to advances in technology made by the Second Industrial Revolution and political reforms) encompassed an increasingly wider share of the population, accompanied by peaceful relations amongst all of Europe's "Great powers."
But, in such a tranquil milieu, tension simmered. A brute interpretation of Darwinism that embedded the principle of "natural selection" in the struggle for power between nation-states complemented a romantic nostalgia for masculine military expansion, labeled as  "hygiene" in the manifesto of the Italian futurist painters.  These sentiments at first played out at a safe "distance," as European powers vied in the depths of Africa and Central Asia for the establishment of colonies and spheres of influence. Ultimately, in the balmy summer of 1914, an act of terrorism by a no-name Serbian nationalist group would enabled the war-thirst in each European country to drag Europe into the bloodiest  conflagration history had ever seen.

I do not doubt that Zero Dark Thirty spiced and diced its story so as to maximize its market appeal. What I can say is that by simultaneously marketing to and portraying a society numbingly immune to from the warfare it craves, the movie inadvertently made me question the sustainabilityconcerning the continuation of the current pax Americana.

Now why do I worry about America's desensitization to violence in the year 2013, in an age when the a majority of the American public stood behind president Obama's withdrawal from Iraq and now supports a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/19/AR2009081903066.html) so strongly (see that even the republican presidential candidate (Romneyhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/29/mitt-romney-afghanistan_n_1716669.html?utm_hp_ref=elections-2012) was compelled to agree.

I worry because America still boasts military bases in more than thirty countries across the world (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/sep/14/ron-paul/ron-paul-says-us-has-military-personnel-130-nation/ ), the largest stockpile of Nuclear warheads possessed by any nation in history  (http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweapons) and largely unchallenged supremacy on the UN Security Council (which enables America's first-strike capacity).
I am almost certain that our drawdown from Afghanistan, like that from Vietnam, will not impede one bit the US ability to keep violence as far away from its borders as possible. Shrouded in blissful ignorance, Americans' memories of the "economic ramifications to taxpayers" incurred by the Afghan war will be replaced by hysteria should (once the economy recovers) the bubble be punctured by say,a bomb blast in some downtown square...

For better or for worse, warfare has changed since 1914.  New remote-controlled technologies such as the Predator drone (e.g.  http://science.howstuffworks.com/predator1.htm), and use of a select volunteer army (along with elite divisions such as the "Naval Special Warfare Development Group"-responsible for executing the bin Laden raid) for fighting make unlikely the recurrence of a mass-based "total war." If an era of violence dawns on America's shores it will be of the embedded, insiduous variety such as shatters Maya's dinner at the Islamabad Marriot, an erratic sequence of Israeli-style bus bombings, Newton style murders, or computer hackings by hostile non-state actors or state-affliliated guerillas.

 I am not trying to predict the future but point out (a very-plausible) violent scenario that has the appeal to be drawn out over a three-hour story and marketed. If critics like the New Yorker's David Denby praise Zero Dark Thirty for its "radical realism," they do so bluntly accepting the film's immersion in gore and harassment as representing phenomena that are logically imminent but psychologically in the realm of fetish.

 Returning to the film's final scene, when Maya gazes at Bin Laden's mangled corpse- her life's "dream"-in silent reverence, I advise viewers to take note of the the inherent metaphor: the dichotomy that juxtaposes the career objective of a nail-biting American civil servant, and the earthy bloodshed that America exerts afar in order to mainten of the insulating tranquility of this fin de siecle lifestyle.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


I've been sick the past few days.
Fever, cold, and all that haze.
Sitting up here in my loft.
Just got back from the doctor
 he prescribed that I take a shot.

The aches and pains won't dissipate
Aspirin gives stomachaches
The cold compress I place will freeze to my heart
Without that warm one he used to rub in my gut
Now he's under cordon now, shrouded in white.
No one to make chicken soup.
Or clean up after Lizzie

It's awful tough just gettin' up.
But when in bed I imagine
That same sort of passion
Companionship's the antidote
It can start out erratic
But ends up estatic..

That chemistry that makes us better
Walking down the stream forever
on and on and on and on
til the edge of dawn.
Get me out of quarantine!
wa ah wa ah
Get me a vaccine
wa ah wa ah wa
Save me from quarantine

It started out in the throat
On the evening that I wrote
Your leather jacket reeked of Old spice (Yeah)
The mountain forestry looked too goddamn nice (?)
By the second chapter, the tears filled my eyes
and then I coughed and the pain metastasized 
Some ghosts kept me up all night...

And a shiver runs down my spine
To fall for storybook personas
When you're contagious for the real ones.
Create a new dimension of time:
When you start to imagine,
you can feel such a passion.

That chemistry we'll have together
Walking down the stream forever
on and on and on and on
til the edge of dawn.
Get me out of quarantine!
wa ah wa ah wa ah
Get me a vaccine
wa ah wa ah wa ah
Save me from quarantine.
Save me from quarantine.

My morning's been dark, it is filled with hate.
But that is something I try not to contemplate.
Focus on love, focus on you.

Poem for Sandy

Some days, I bawl hysterically
Some days, I hardly talk.
Some days I run for hour times
Some days I just eat up

Twelve hours, life doles out:
What conference, what ceremony
What class to attend...
and sleep through?
A new news article, the equation?=
the least time writing and the most polished resume.
In the peak of the sun,
I ruffle my ear
with loud but constant beats
and play a few rounds.
Then I check my mail.
responses to answer,
and people to meet.

Real people, my family
hanging on the wall by my bedside.
The years tick off,
 the inbox grows,
and a new modell
But,...what about the guy?
Who helped out at Pesach?
Or brought bedtime stories.
Will we see Next Year?
She then gave him three weeks.
The guarantee of the schedule of life,
hijacked by a tumor.

Oh cousin Sandy!
If only I could see you now
With the smile, you could always put on our faces
The gentle love, concern for all
The years have gone by,
I've brought life up to pace
But those like you
who always stood by.
Now leave me to cry
and cause all to awe
of how much earth means
to appreciate it,
and others
so that they realize what fun they had,
while mourning your loss.

the way he used to
What to do

Monday, January 21, 2013

Blog post

My nasal canal, oral cavity, cerebellum and the rest of my anterior skull are almost universally swathed in that intolerable plaster known as mucus. My forehead, although no longer throbbing like a rebounding spring, still shoots a discomforting chill down my spine and my body reacts accordingly with the slightest change in temperature.
Despite my meddlesome fever-turned-cold, I have been convinced by my roommate to go ahead and help him write a song. Go figure. Anyhow so we goofed around dicked off what not for about thirty minutes with lyrics and then he had to go to sleep. And that leaves me here, my nose as clogged as a tenement's plumbing and no one to care but my whiny little self.
Anyway, being sick makes you realize how precious each day is, as an increment of time. Monday night, I returned from class feeling fatigued and headachy, and felt the full-on chills as I lay down to rest. Tuesday, I had a recurring headache and chills most of the day and managed to get through my classes and do some homework barely enduring the rhythm of aching, tingling, shuttering (I conked out earlier than usual). Wednesday's early-morning queasiness confined my schedule to attending a single discussion which culminated in my dashing out of the Public Affairs building to-not vomit, but-poop diaherretically on the grass. I quenched a modicum of vitamin water, broth and a Tylenol tablet and napped (with occasional breaks) for the remaining duration. Now it is Friday by the calendar (though I conceive of it more as a "late night" Thursday) and I realize that, aside from that previous "drowsy" rant that I wrote when first descending into illness, have gotten little if anything accomplished. No office hour visits to impress. No language clubs to practice. No drawn-out sessions of article writing for the Generation. The day-to-day routine of my existence hollowed, I realized what little value I had given to the increments of time that I utilized.

Now I conclude this piece three days later, in the wee hours of Monday January the 21st. It has been a decent weekend. I participated in a mock "Model UN" competition that is a prerequisite for joining the travel  team that will compete in the actual Model UN competition in Berkeley to be held this March. I then went home for the weekend, found (after eating yogurt without harm) that I had finally kicked the last vestiges of my cold, and have since boded time working writing pieces such as this. Ah, life runs so smoothly to the pace of words. Next time, folks!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Drowsy morning

Today, January 15th '13, what did I do?
I woke up yesterday morning with water in my eyes,
and the sensation of a brick over the front of my head,
that seemed to communicate that I was not meeting the necessary quota of snooze.

I mechanically propped my spine up-my spine conjoins with my thigh at an unnatural angle (this being the result of a decade of sitting at the computer with bad posture and improper workout routine factors that give me an unpleasant jolt when the dream ends and I awkwardly slouch on the mattress), requiring that my hands exert a vital thrust upwards to get me out of bed- and I, my spine unnaturally arched and my feet teetering (both as usual) propelled myself towards the cell phone. Using only my thumb, I unlocked the setting and pressed the "alarm clock" icon: 10:35. I sensed instinctively, at that moment, that I must bolt towards the stair, down the stairs, and escape under the yellow "EXIT" sign. But Deutsch with Sanaz's elegant chrome-colored gradebook (and suave Persian figure)  notwithstanding, the gravitational pull on my cavernous eyes and on the forehead-bound brick served to pull me back to the bedside, but not under it, halt lethargically above my center of mass in the manner of an obtuse angle, and stare mindlessly through the cascading waterfall for five minutes before painful acceleration by the ticking in my mind...dragged yesterday's jeans, the nearest suitable plaid shirt and a checkered vest over my body... Teetering down the stairs and beneath the EXIT, I rambled through a blistering wind and chapping sun until 11:01, I tiptoed cautiously around the edge of a filled classroom...

The open seat in the corner, the one with a newspaper on it, reeked of smoke and I soon found myself redden mit a lanky fellow named Yonaton, who sported six crayon tattoos. Yonaton and I hit it up with a vorstellungsgesprach, getting to know about place of origin (Washington D.C.) favorite movie (blade runner) and the like, via pedagogy of language. My voice drooped continuously due to m(g), naturally synthesizing with his Seattlesque cool, only to, within moments, sense the closing hausaufgabe Ankündigungen. I bid the obligatory "so long" to my new friend, "Tschuss" to Sanaz before teetering off once again, with less velocity, towards that white-rimmed, tessellated edifice that reads "Charles Young Research Library."

Drag impeded the advance of my feet and body, made painfully evident my deformed spinal anatomy and the icy northwest wind snarked at my dry face. I had no lunch plans, no afternoon courses and certainly no desire to exchange a cup of cocoa by the fireplace for a barely air-conditioned study chamber. All that compelled my reeboks, inch by shaky inch, forward was a vague sense of urgency to write an analysis, Middle Eastern politics, so by an affixed date of 01/29, I would have some concrete magazine publication worth mentioning at a graduate school interview two to three years down the road. Trapped by instinct, I, incrementally, let envious imagery, a ticking clock and space carry me to the workstation.

The problem is that the scheming of the mind can never prevail against an obstinate heart or soul. I sat down on the wooden bench, took out and turned on my laptop but one the window appeared, I could not even open the “word document” that bore my assignment. Catching a link to The Atlantic on my toolbar, I clicked on one article about urban fare structures, another about “minority gentrification” or “Hagel’s relationship to Israel:” such crisply-written commentary should have motivated me but instead, I diverted my own creative abilities to the fawning consumption of those of others. There are few adjectives sufficient to describe the sheer angst one feels, watching others seamlessly execute an act that one is under deadline to accomplish. Perusing through samplings of world-class journalism only reminded me of the odds I fced in my writing, making me more consigned to let the effortgo undone. When I finally managed (with two hours left in the day) to begin, I was not only demoralized but grasping for the original strand of inspiration, biding my time on an already-flawed project…

In the three hours that I spent in that library, the baggy eyes, head pain, and slouching set in only more vigorously.. During the following round of sleep under my belt, my headache-of monstrous proportion-had me tossing and turning. I woke up this morning under the weight of a fever. However, my mind acting as it does, I ended up-for the sake of personal fulfillment- to chain myself again to the laptop, my shameless desire to appear the dilettante resulting in this abstruse blabber that you have been (hopefully) reading so far.
When I wake up with drowsy eyes again, I think that I will just go with gravity…and get back to sleep.