Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Beautiful Literature of the Indian Subcontinent, Part II

5. I'm sure I don't need to remind anybody about the existence of the inimitable Salman Rushdie. Sadly, more people know about the fatwah against him than have actually read his beautiful The Satanic Verses: A Novel.

If you were told that this novel is filled with hatred against Islam, don't believe that. No book has taught me to respect Islam more than this one. The rage that informs this novel is not directed at Islam. It is rather addressed to the British Imperialism.

Rushdie possesses a sense of humor that is absolutely unique and this is what makes his books so great.

Other great books by this author inlcude Midnight's Children: A Novel and Shame: A Novel.

6. Arundhati Roy is not only a fantastic writer but also a political activist. She is an author of a great novel The God of Small Things: A Novel but she has also written important political treatises, such as The Cost of Living, An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire and Power Politics (Second Edition).

7. Sara Suleri was born in Pakistan and now lives in the US. This talented author of Meatless Days was my professor at Yale. She is the main reason why I know so much about the literature of the Indian Subcontinent and why I love it so much.

As a scholar of lierature in English, she also wrote The Rhetoric of English India and Boys Will Be Boys: A Daughter's Elegy.

Many of the very few pleasurable moments I experienced at Yale had to do with Professor Suleri and her great class on the Literature of the Empire.

8. I'm sure most of my readers have heard of Aravind Adiga, whose novel The White Tiger (Fifth Impression) has sold an incredible number of copies all over the world.

Adiga is a cosmopolitan in the true sense of the world. Born in Madras, he later emigrated to Sydney, Australia. Then, he went to Columbia University to get a degree in English literature. He also studied at Magdalen College in Oxford. Now, Aravind Adiga is living in Mumbai where he writes his beautiful novels.

His novel The White Tiger: A Novel (Man Booker Prize) won the Booker Prize in 2008 and became an international sensation. Adiga is an author of an unassailable integrity. His portrayal of India doesn't shirk away from presenting his readers with the harsh realities of this country.

Adiga also published Between the Assassinations, a collection of interlinked short stories.
9. Shaila Abdullah is originally from Pakistan. Her novel has a lot in common with Moshin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist that I reviewed recently (Part I is here and Part II is here.) It deals with the painful consequences of the tragedy of 9/11 for the New York based Muslims. The novel is beuatifully nuanced and very powerful.

Friday, July 30, 2010

StarCraft II: A Free Guest Pass

Gamers all over the world have been eagerly awaiting the release of StarCraft II. For ten years, fans of the game have been speculating as to whether the hype will be worth it. Now, Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is finally out.

I have a free guest pass that allows you to play the game for free for 7 hours or 14 days from activation, whichever comes first (those who don't know what will come first have never met a gamer.) So if you are interested in checking out what the game is like through the use of this guest pass, let me know.

Just leave an e-mail address where I can send you the Guest Pass Key in the comments or send it to me by e-mail. I promise that nobody will find out your e-mail from me. If there are several people who are interested, I'll put their names in a hat and see who gets the guest pass.

For the sake of all gamers, I sincerely hope that StarCraft II lives up to the expectations and turns out to be worth the wait.

Let the Protoss win!

The Beautiful Literature of the Indian Subcontinent, Part I

In one of my recent posts, I mentioned my opinion that the best literature in the English language today comes out of the Indian subcontinent. Now I want to introduce you to some (just some for now, and maybe more later, because there are just so many of them) of my favorite authors who are Indian or Pakistani by origin. They live all over the world and create literature of unimaginable beauty and power. When I had to complete a Minor in English literature as part of my PhD program, I, of course, chose the literature of the subcontinent. Formerly, Great Britain had to rely on the colonies for its riches, its food, its clothes, its very subsistence and its economic hegemony. Today, the English-speaking world has to rely on the former colonies to provide it with culture and literature.  
1. The amazing Bapsi Sidhwa was probably one of the first writers from India that I ever read. Cracking India: A Novel is a very powerful story of the Partition of India that took place after the Independence in 1947. The story is narrated by a Parsee girl Lenny in a way that is both touching and profound. Lenny is probably one of the most memorable characters of young girls that one encounters in literature. And I say this as somebody who sepecializes in the female Bildungsroman and has read many novels narrated by a similar narrative voice.

The movie Earth by Deepa Mehta is based on this book, and both the movie and the book are definitely worthy of attention.

If you are interested in the Partition and want to learn more about it, I definitely recommend this book.

2. Rohinton Mistry is a writer I love passionately. He was born in Mumbai but now lives in Toronto (a fellow Canadian, no less!). His A Fine Balance (Oprah's Book Club) is a book a reread on a regular basis even though it is over 600 pages long. It is so beautifully written and the characters are so endearing that even if you never considered travelling to India, after this book, you absolutely will. If you are put off by this book being part of Oprah's Book Club, don't be. This writer is simply fantastic.

Even now as I'm writing this post, I have to fight off the temptation to leave it and go read Rohinton Mistry yet again. :-)

3 Amitav Ghosh is an Indian-Bengali author who, in my opinion, writes in the most lyrical voice of all the writers I have mentioned so far. I absolutely love his Sea of Poppies,set in 1838 against the backdrop of the Opium Wars, and his equally great The Shadow Lines that takes place in the 60ies and deals with issues of national and cultural identity.

Amitav Ghosh seems to be able to write pretty much in any genre he approaches with equal success. Be it a Bildungsroman, a historic novel, an epic, he always creates works of literature that capture your imagination for years to come.

4. Of course, I know that the Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad, and not in the Indian Subcontinent. I also know that he is rumored to be a very condescending, mean individual and a total male chauvinist. However, nobody writes about the post-colonial experience better than this writer. He is a descendant of Indian immigrants to Trinidad, and that's why I feel he belongs on this list.

When I first read Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas and his biographical The Enigma of Arrival: A Novel, I could not believe that this writer from Trinidad described my Ukrainian post-colonial experiences so well. It was from Naipaul that I learned how post-colonial experience transcends ethnic, national, religious, and linguistic borders.

Unlike so many of the contemporary writers who simply butcher the English language with no compunction, Naipaul cultivates an inimitable style that is incredibly beautiful. If you are looking to improve your writing style in English, look no further than this great writer.

(To be continued. . . I'm only just getting started here, my friends.)

Mystery Fiction of Summer 2010

As I mentioned before, I'm a huge fan of the mystery genre. This summer, several of my favorite mystery authors released their new books. In this post, I will share my impressions of these new mysteries.

1. Tess Gerritsen writes very hardcore detective mysteries. For some reason that I haven't yet been able to identfy, American female mystery authors write books filled with scenes of unimaginable cruelty, torture and all kinds of horrors in a way that no male writer has been able to equal. You often encounter the following type of sentence in Gerritsen's work:
Entrails glistened in her gaping abdomen, and her freshly thawed flesh dripped pink icemelt into the table drain.
Or the following:
THE MAN’S LEGS were splayed apart, exposing ruptured testicles and the seared skin of buttocks and perineum. The morgue photo had flashed onto the screen without any advance warning from the lecturer, yet no one sitting in the darkened hotel conference room gave so much as a murmur of dismay. This audience was inured to the sight of ruined and broken bodies.
If you are not bothered by these quotes and like really suspenseful mysteries about serial killers, check out Gerritsen's The Apprentice (Jane Rizzoli, Book 2)or The Keepsake: A Novel. This summer, Gerritsen released her new Ice Cold: A Rizzoli & Isles Novel. In my opinion, this is maybe her most suspenseful novel so far. The ending, however, is a bit disappointing. There is also a lot less gore in this novel, probably because of the new TV series based on Gerritsen's books.
2. Lisa Gardner is another mystery author who writes really hardcore stuff about serial killers,
child abusers, and scary stuff like that.

Her new Live to Tell: A Detective D. D. Warren Novel is probably her best novel so far. Many people say that they find the setting of this new novel (a pediatric psych ward for psychotic and sociopathic children) too disturbing. So beware: this book, as well as any book by Tess Gerritsen are not for the squeamish.

If you don't feel disturbed too easily, though, this is a great mystery that is suspenseful, engrossing, and makes you want to gulp it down in one sitting.

3. This is a new author I only just discovered. The Dark Vineyard: A mystery of the French countryside is only the 2nd novel in Martin Walker's mystery series featuring Bruno, a police officer from a small French village of St. Denis.

The Dark Vineyard: A mystery of the French countryside is as unlike the hardcore mysteries of Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Gardner as anything you can imagine. Even though it is a novel about a crome being investigated, it's a lot more centered on the very French joie de vivre (enjoyment of life). Characters in this novel share endless bottles of wine, engage in the wine-making and wine-selling process with glee, prepare delicious meals, and start numerous love affairs.

This is a really calm, relaxed and fun mystery novel that will make you desperate to travel to France as soon as possible.

4. I already wrote about the incomparable Tana French here and here. I'm still hoping that one day she will dare to abandon the pretense of writing mysteries and start writing novels.

In her most recent book Faithful Place: A Novel, she more or less does just that. Only the most innocent of readers will not be able to guess who the murderer is very early in the book. But the identity of the killer is completely secondary here. What mattters is the author's beautiful command of the English language and her talent for creating unique and engrossing characters. Tana French is masterful at creating a character who is a total jerk and making the readers cares what happens to him anyways.

5. Richard North Patterson became famous for writing really great courtroom dramas, such as Degree of Guilt, Eyes of a Child, Caroline Masters, The Outside Man, and others. Then, something happened  and he started writing incredibly boring and convoluted political thrillers. As

a result, he lost a huge chunk of his fan base (including me).

Now, Richard North Patterson is trying to return to the courtroom drama genre that made him famous. In the Name of Honor would be good if only it weren't so similar to a host of other books dealing with the same topic. Of course, if you never read another courtroom drama that has to do with soldiers who fought in Iraq, are suffering from PTSD, and are killing each other as a result, you might enjoy In the Name of Honor. However, after I read John Lescroart's much better Betrayal (Dismas Hardy), I was pretty bored with Patterson's book on the same topic.

Still, I'm glad this author is finally making his way back from the horrible political thrillers he kept writing for a while.

Follow @Clarissasblog on Twitter

I have finally figured out how to use Twitter. (Better late than never, I guess.)

So make sure you follow @Clarissasblog on Twitter. Also, leave your twitter name in the comments if you want me or other visitors to the blog to follow you.

If you want to share some interesting people you follow or some crucial information about Twitter that a technologically challenged doofus like me might not know, please do so.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid: A Review, Part II

In the aftermath of 9/11, the worst side of the US that Changez tried so hard not to see for so long starts coming out:

It seemed to me that America, too, was increasingly giving itself over to a dangerous nostalgia at that time. There was something undeniably retro about the flags and uniforms, about generals addressing cameras in war rooms and newspaper headlines featuring such words as duty and honor. I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its determination to look back. Living in New York was suddenly like living in a film about the Second World War; I, a foreigner, found myself staring out at a set that ought to be viewed not in Technicolor but in grainy black and white. What your fellow countrymen longed for was unclear to me—a time of unquestioned dominance? of safety? of moral certainty? I did not know—but that they were scrambling to don the costumes of another era was apparent.
As Changez learns to see the truth about America, he starts questioning his own role in the imperialist domination that this country strives to exercise over the entire planet. He realizes that he is complicit in every crime that he blames on the United States:
I was a modern-day janissary, a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with a kinship to mine and was perhaps even colluding to ensure that my own country faced the threat of war. Of course I was struggling! Of course I felt torn! I had thrown in my lot with the men of Underwood Samson, with the officers of the empire, when all along I was predisposed to feel compassion for those, like Juan-Bautista, whose lives the empire thought nothing of overturning for its own gain.
As this realization dawns on him, Changez begins to see the entire structure of the American society in an completely new way. His job at a prestigious Wall Street firm that has been such a source of pride (and an impressive income) for him takes on an entirely new dimension in Changez's eyes:
I was struck by how traditional your empire appeared. Armed sentries manned the check post at which I sought entry; being of a suspect race I was quarantined and subjected to additional inspection; once admitted I hired a charioteer who belonged to a serf class lacking the requisite permissions to abide legally and forced therefore to accept work at lower pay; I myself was a form of indentured servant whose right to remain was dependent upon the continued benevolence of my employer. . . As a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums.
Once he has arrived at this painful insight, Changez is compelled to reexamine and eventually change everything about his life.

Hamid is just beginning as a writer and this is only his second novel. There is a certain heavy-handedness that sometimes comes through in his writing. From time to time, he fails to recognize the moment when the writer should stop explaining himself and let the readers draw their own conclusions. He is also still searching for his own voice, and that's why there is quite a lot of V.S. Naipaul in the way he constructs his sentences and builds his plot. Still, these little flaws can be forgiven to an author who can create a book as beautiful as The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

In the recent decades, the writers from India and Pakistan have produced the best literature in the English language of anybody on the planet. Moshin Hamid is a wonderful addition to the pantheon of great writers from the region who keep literature in English alive.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid: A Review, Part I

Moshin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a really good book. I can't imagine I have gone so long without discovering this great writer. When the book came out in 2007, it apparently awakened a lot of strong emotions in the readers. In many cases, this strong emotional response obscured the beauty and the importance of this book.

The plot of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is quite simple. Changez, a young Pakistani who was educated at Princeton and worked on Wall Street, is telling his story to a nameless American he meets in a restaurant in Lahore. Changez is both fascinated and repelled by America that offered him an education and a lucrative job but at the same time, made his life intolerable in a multitude of ways. Changez's uneasy relationship with America is mirrored by his equally painful involvement with a woman called Erica. (As you can see, Hamid is quite heavy-handed with the way he names his characters. He makes his Erica-America parallel so obvious that it becomes annoying.)

When Changez first arrives in the US, he discovers that the opulence that surrounds him in his Ivy League school and his Wall Street job makes it difficult to maintain the same vision of national identity that he brought with him from home:
For we were not always burdened by debt, dependent on foreign aid and handouts; in the stories we tell of ourselves we were not the crazed and destitute radicals you see on your television channels but rather saints and poets and—yes—conquering kings. We built the Royal Mosque and the Shalimar Gardens in this city, and we built the Lahore Fort with its mighty walls and wide ramp for our battle-elephants. And we did these things when your country was still a collection of thirteen small colonies, gnawing away at the edge of a continent.
As much as Changez prides himself on his people's glorious past and enjoys contrasting it with the recent historical origins of America, he has to rely on his American success to gain access to a social class his family was expelled from in Pakistan. For a while, Changez manages to swallow all the instances of discrimination he experiences. He also studiously avoids noticing the suffering of people who lose their jobs as a result of his professional activities. The reward for being an obedient little cog in the Wall Street machine is too high.

But then 9/11 comes and Changez cannot maintain his state of obliviousness any longer. His initial reaction to the events of 9/11 is complex, ranging from contentment to shame, and he explores it honestly. In the US, everything that has to do with 9/11 has been transformed into a holy cow of sorts. Any attempt to analyze what happened and how one reacted is branded as anti-American. Hamid's book received a lot of criticism for daring to discuss 9/11 in a way that is a little more profound than the official narrative. Unfortunately, those who insist that the only valid narrative of 9/11 is the simplistic one sold to us by George W. Bush don't realize that they are not doing us all any service by denying this hugely traumatic event the right to be explored in all its facets.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The BP Oil Spill Is Harmless

According to Ed Owens, a former Exxon adviser that worked with the clean-up teams during the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the BP oil spill is quite harmless:
It's a very, tiny, tiny fraction of what's spilled has actually reached any of the shorelines in the area, which means that the environmental impact in terms of ton he coastal side of it is quite small. Because of the nature of the oil, we expect that the recovery will be very much in a matter of months to a year at the most. We're not talking about years or decades here as has been the case for other spills in the United States.
Of course, what Owens says is contradicted by the opinions of leading environmentalists:
Doug Inkley, a senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation, warned recently that the more than 2,600 dead birds, mammals and turtles found by BP and the US government could be just the tip of the iceberg. "You could have a (population) crash later because of the failure of many of the young to survive this year," said Inkley. "The impacts on wildlife I expect will last for years, if not decades."
The reason for Owen's optimism in his assessment of the oil spill is that he is on BPs payroll. The BP people apparently think we are so stupid that we will accept any kind of egregious lies that this high-paid hack wants to sell us as his "expert opinion." Every day we get new evidence that BP is not even remorely interested in figuring out how much damage they have done to the planet with their unacceptably irresponsible practices. All they do is doctor photographs and hire liars who will soon start trying to convince us that the spill was actually beneficial to all of us. Of course, nobody is making them pay for the damage they have done, so why not? They will just keep bamboozling the long-suffering public some more.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Irresponsible Advertisement

After this silly commercial, history professors across the country will have a tough job convincing their students that Lincoln was never really filmed.

I wonder if the people who made the commercial realize that they are messing with the minds of citizens whose knowledge of history is fantastically low as it is.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Rejection as a Staple of the Academic Lifestyle

One thing nobody prepares you for in grad school is that rejection will be an inevitable part of your life as an academic. You first discover it when you go on the job market where for every 30 job application packages you send out there are 27 rejections, at least 10 of which are worded in a very hurtful way. There is no reason or logic behind those rejections, of course. You get offers from places that were searching for somebody with a completely different area of specialization and then get rejected by departments who claimed to want somebody exactly like you. Still, those rejections hurt.

Then, the campus interview stage offers you yet another experience of being arbitrarily and often offensively rejected. You will perform brilliantly at a campus visit, only to discover that nobody was planning to hire you all along. The spot was reserved for somebody's spouse or best friend and your campus visit was nothing other than a formality aimed at keeping up the appearance of fairness.

And then there is publishing and applying for grants. You will be constantly rejected for the most bizzare reasons imaginable: somebody didn't like your last name, they have a conflict with the Chair of your department or your former thesis advisor, they don't think your research area is relevant, your sentences are too long, your sentences are too short, they are tired of hearing the word 'gender,' your findings undermine the research they did 30 years ago, etc. And, once again, there is the ubiquitous spouse, best buddy, or an important acquaintance who will always be chosen over you. As somebody with almost 40 years of experience in academia said to me recently, "You are trying to get published by a university press where you have no connections? Are you really that naive?"

As a result, young academics often start self-sabotaging. They apply for fewer academic positions because it's not the same when 100 universities reject you as when only 7 do. They stop filling out grant applications because reading yet another rant from a biology professor on why research in Spanish literature should not be funded is beyond what they can endure*. They submit less articles for publication because of the increasing tendency of journal editors to respond in a very offensive manner.

So if you are starting out your career in academia, I suggest that you prepare yourself for these constant and arbitrary rejections. The first thing to do is to remember that they are, indeed, arbitrary and you will gain nothing by trying to analyze them logically. Why does a brilliant campus visit result in a nasty rejection letter while a campus visit that was one huge failure from the first minute to the last result in an offer of employment? Why is an article rejected by a second-rate journal but is accepted by the leading publication in your field? Why is a university press that insists on being the opposite of all those vanity presses reject books whose authors can't or won't pay to be published? You just have to accept that there is no reason or logic behind all this. All we can do is accept that many aspects of an academic's life are completely arbitrary.

In order to counteract the effects of this constant and arbitrary rejection, one needs to work out mechanisms of psychological self-defense. One thing to do is to find some area where you receive regular and frequent confirmations that you are not stupid or crazy. Starting a blog will bring you into contact with many people who will want to hear what you have to say and will respond far more intelligently than most of your journal reviewers and university press editors. Write reviews on Amazon and see how many people find your input helpful. Start an electronic journal with your friends and use it as a place of a genuine intellectual exchange, unburdened by the considerations of spouses, buddies, and helpful individuals that have perverted most of the so-called peer-reviewed journals. Create a network of circulating research papers among friends and colleagues where you will get honest and helpful input from people who actually know something on the subjects that interest you.

There are many things in academia that lead to burn-out an disillusionment. We often accept them as a given and don't try to counteract them. There are strategies, however, that we can implement in order to counteract them. If you have your own methods of dealing with academic rejection, feel free to post them in the comments.

* All of the examples of academic arbitrariness in this post come from my own experience.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Publishers Fight Tooth and Nail for Their Right to Rip Off Readers

Andrew Wiley, a literary agent, got sick and tired of fighting with the huge publishing houses over the insanely high percentage of profits they insist on getting from the electronic editions of their titles. So he brokered a direct deal with Amazon to publish these titles at more affordable prices. Of course, the publishers immediately went nuts because their greatest fear right now is that readers will refuse to pay the crazy prices they are trying to charge for digital content. Random House, in particular, went total apeshit on Wiley, alleging (but failing to offer any proof) that the independent literary agent infringed on copyright restrictions:
' Random House responded with sheer thuggery, blacklisting Wylie in a clear attempt to scare other authors and their reps from trying the same thing. Other publishers also expressed outrage in different ways, like Macmillan CEO John Sargent, who railed about how Wylie’s exclusive deals excluded other e-devices like the Sony Reader (like Macmillan really cares about anything other than its own fortunes). What neither of these houses addressed is the $64,000 question: do they control e-book rights in contracts signed before anyone imagined that e-books might surpass print titles? Many feel the answer is no. '
The gall of these huge publishing houses is breath-taking. They have no proof whatsoever that they own the rights to these books but are fighting to death everybody who dares to publish them at less crazy prices. They got used to the inordinately high prices of hardcovers and want to cling to them at any cost. Since Amazon announced last week that its electronic books now outsell hardcovers, they are doing all they can to impose the same insane prices on digital content. That, of course, is daylight robbery.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Middle East Primer

By Guest Blogger Geo.

While I find plenty of disagreements related to Israel and the Palestinians, I find myself clearly "highly prejudiced" and not fully understanding "the other side" in many ways. While I can understand the fears many Jews have of another Holocaust, my sense is that the real, major dangers are long-term continuing with the status quo.

I'd like to state a number of "facts" and try to talk separately about issues relating to them:

1. Jews were a tiny minority in Palestine, which began growing after World War I.

2. Palestinians were a diverse vast majority of the population in Palestine after World War I.

3. Turkey lost its control of Palestine after World War I

4. Conflicting promises were made promising both Palestinian and Jewish States beginning in 1918.

5. Increasingly after World War I the Jewish residents of Palestine gained in numbers and power which met increasing resistance from some Palestinians particularly in the riots of the late 1930's.

6. Palestinians in the period 1918-1948 - were not a single, unified group. The strongest Palestinian leader was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, however he had significant opposition amongst Palestinians.

7. The United Nations proposed the creation of separate Jewish and Palestinian States as hostilities increased in 1947 which was rejected by various Arab States and Palestinian leadership.

8. Israel declared its independence in May, 1948 and was invaded by several Arab armies.

9. There was no "Palestinian Army" and significant numbers of Palestinians did not fight against the new Israeli Army and State.

10. Significant numbers of Palestinians fled their homes often under pressure from the neighboring Israeli forces.

11. Other Palestinians remained within Israel and became Israeli citizens.

12. After the 1967 War, Israel took control of East Jerusalem, the West Bank (both of which had been in Jordan prior to the War), the Golan Heights (which had been in Syria previously) as well as a significant part of Sinai and the Gaza Strip (which had both been within Egypt previously).

13. Israel later negotiated peace treaties with Egypt and later Jordan. The peace treaty with Egypt resulted in a return of significant land in Sinai to Egypt. Jordan basically regained no substantive land.

14. Israel has unsuccessfully (to date) negotiated with Syria regarding making peace related in part to the proposed return of the Golan Heights to Syria.

15. Since the 1973 War the only serious military actions have been Israel's incursions into Lebanon and most recently in Gaza.

16. No country neighboring upon Israel poses a military threat to Israel. Israel's military strength is substantially greater than its neighbor's military forces.

17. Various efforts have been made to make a permanent, comprehensive peace between the Palestinians and Israel.

18. The Palestinians under the leadership of Yasir Arafat and his Fatah Party increasingly sought peace with Israel eventually recognizing Israel's right to exist.

19. The Oslo Accords of 1993 and the Camp David Summit of 2000 both did not lead to a permanent peace agreement. One major area of disagreement from Wikipedia was explained as: "Barak offered to form a Palestinian State initially on 73% of the West Bank (that is 27% less than the Green Line borders) and 100% of the Gaza Strip. In 10 to 25 years the West Bank area would expand to 90-91% (94% excluding greater Jerusalem).[1][2][3] As a result, "Israel would have withdrawn from 63 settlements."[4] The West Bank would be separated by a road from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, with free passage for Palestinians although Israel reserved the right to close the road for passage in case of emergency. The Palestinian position was that the annexations would block existing road networks between major Palestinian populations. In return, the Israelis would cede 1% of their territory in the Negev Desert to Palestine. The Palestinians rejected this proposal."

( )

20. In the United States criticism has been leveled at Arafat and the Palestinians for rejecting the Israeli proposals at Camp David in 2000. IF - Arafat had accepted the terms proposed by Israel he almost certainly would have lost power, most probably being assassinated because of how much the Palestinian leadership would have conceded to Israel - related to The West Bank, Jerusalem and the rights of refugees.

21. Towards the end of Arafat's life and since his death Hamas, a much more radical group, has increasingly gained power as the more moderate Fatah Party has failed to bring an independent Palestinian State into existence.

22. Free and fair elections were held in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006 at the urging of the United States and others.

23. Hamas won a significant victory in the 2006 elections.

24. The United States (in particular) has significantly Not recognized the leadership of Hamas because of its failure to fully recognize the existence of The State of Israel.

25. Violence in the West Bank and around Jerusalem has been minimal in recent years.

26. Problems have persisted in Gaza despite its supposed "independence" when Israel required its Jewish residents (who had occupied a huge amount of its land despite being a tiny minority of its population) to leave it.

27. Shelling of Israel coming from Hamas ceased after a ceasefire was established between Hamas and Israel. This ceasefire was broken by Israel, not Hamas in November, 2008.

28. Israeli's invasion of Gaza in December, 2008 was intended to stop the shelling and weaken the power of Hamas as well as ending the smuggling of arms from Egypt into Gaza.

29. Despite the killing of many in Gaza and a clear "military victory" the power of Hamas in Gaza has increased, not decreased as a result of the invasion.

I would argue that prior to 1973 there were serious threats to Israel coming from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, but that the Israeli military was stronger than the combined armies of those three countries. Since 1973 the only potentially serious threats to Israel from Middle Eastern countries have been from Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) and Iran at various times. Iraq and Iran are the only major Middle Eastern States where the Shia (as opposed to Sunni) Moslems are the majority population.

Hamas is no friend to the leadership of all the Middle Eastern countries currently with the possible exception of Iran.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank have grown substantially and continue to grow. Palestinian resentment and violence, where there has been violence, has often related to the expansion of these settlements as well as the expansions within the Jerusalem Area in formerly Palestinian dominated areas.
Peace is possible for Israel. Israel has long not wanted to make peace absent a serious expansion of its pre-1967 borders within the West Bank. Initially it had military concerns related in part to how narrow Israel is in the middle of its country. More recently the concerns are largely not military. The concerns now relate to the desires of some Jews, mostly highly religious, to keep control of: "Judea and Samaria" where an ancient Jewish history certainly exists. These desires inevitably conflict with Palestinian desires for their own country in the West Bank.

Peace is possible IF Israel will accept an independent state primarily of nearly all of the West Bank (with possible "land swaps" in small areas) and Gaza. The negotiations in these areas could result in peace within a relatively short period of time.

The more difficult negotiations will occur related to Jerusalem. Even there, there are certainly possible compromises which can result in peace.

It would seem highly logical to me for The United States - to pressure Israel to make peace with the Palestinians related to: 1.) Settling permanent boundaries in the West Bank and ceding Gaza and 2.) Creating a framework for negotiating related to Jerusalem.

Negotiating related to the rights of refugees won't be simple, but is also resolvable.

A Palestinian State would presumably be demilitarized and thereby not any military threat to Israel.

While I don't want to overly simplify things in my descriptions above, it really is not that complicated. The big issues are: 1.) The Radical Right forces that control much of Israel's political base, 2.) The powers that radicals in Israel (and to a lesser extent within the Palestinians) that sabotage the few honest efforts that are made, 3.) The necessity of negotiating with Hamas and holding them accountable with Serious Negotiations, 4.) The totally crazy - control that the U.S. has pushed in both letting Israel do what it wants and in rare instances doing things against Israeli interests to prevent peace.

We in the U.S. could force Israel to negotiate seriously and probably help bring about peace. Logically we would do this by listening to the moderate forces that exist elsewhere in Europe, Turkey and other places who would work with us if we genuinely sought peace.

Certainly, there are risks to trying to make peace as I've proposed above. I would argue though that the risks of Not Having Peace - are much greater both in the short-term and long-term. Israel will likely eventually lose its strategic importance as oil reserves run out in the Middle East in coming decades. It will likely gradually lose its strategic importance and support from the United States then (if not sooner). It is best to negotiate from a position of strength, not weakness.

The U.S. should focus its energy on making peace and dealing with Iran, which certainly potentially is much more dangerous (as well as Pakistan - which is far more dangerous).

The post originally appeared here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Noam Chomsky's Hopes and Prospects: A Review, Part II

The fact that the two main candidates in the 2008 Democratic primary were a woman and an African American were a welcome sign, Chomsky acknowledges, that the country has managed to get at least somewhat civilized. Still, we cannot expect the joy from this reality to keep us perennially blind to the numerous ways in which Obama has not been living up to his promise. Chomsky reminds us that "Obama's message of 'hope' and 'change' offered a virtual blank slate on which supporters could write their wishes." And write we did, only to be disappointed in most of our expectations.

Chomsky points out that we do not elect politicians based on what policies they will promote. Rather, we vote for whomever presents us with the best PR campaign. Of course, we conveniently forget that after our candidate gets elected s/he will have to pay for the expensive campaign by servicing corporate interests and screwing us, the hardworking folks who put them in power. This is precisely why politicians have been working so hard to destroy the education system in the US. If you keep people in a state of permanent ignorance, you can feed them soap operish melodrama instead of real political discussion. Gossiping about Bristol Palin's engagement and gushing ver the puppy Obama bought for his daughters is much easier than educating oneself on what it is that the Congress does and what the Supreme Court is responsible for. (As I discovered to my complete horror last semester, none of my 80 students had the slightest suspicion of what the role of SCOTUS might be).

The biggest disappointment of the Obama's presidency has been, of course, his Economic Advisory Board. As Chomsky points out, it was packed by the poeple who engineered the economic crisis and then bled the government dry to compensate themselves for that. Chomsky is right, of course. I remember this sinking feeling I experienced as soon as Obama surrounded himself by criminals like Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers (a vile prick, if there ever was one), Timothy Geithner, Alan Greenspan, etc. It was the best indication we could have received that the only change we could expect would be for the worst. Of course, even Obama's feeble attempts to rein in the robber bankers immediately resulted in threats to withdraw funds from his future campaigns. Ultimately, the responsibility rests with us, the voters, to educate ourselves about what the candidates actually stand for and insist that they carry out the will of the people. As good as this plan sounds, something tells me we have neither a hope or a prospect of it working out any time soon.

Chomsky offers a very bleak but an undoubtedly correct vision of Obama's position on warfare and torture. As we all remember, a lot of Obama's supporters preferred him to Hillary Clinton because of his opposition to the Iraq war. Understandably, we also believed that his position on torture would be in opposition to the barbaric practices adopted by the US starting in the 80ies. Chomsky departs from this hopeful attitude that has blinded many of the American progressives to the sad realities of Obama's real position on these issues. What Chomsky says in this part of this book is something that no one wants to hear. However, his analysis in this part of the book is unassailable. After all his anti-war and anti-torture rhetoric, Obama has failed to deliver any actual change in these areas.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

University of Toronto Kills Comparative Literature. Action Needed!

The University of Toronto has announced the "disestablishment" of the Centre for Comparative Literature as of July 1, 2011. The Centre, founded in 1969 by Northrop Frye and the premier site for the study of comparative literature in Canada, will no longer be able to admit students to the PhD or MA degrees. It will be reduced to a collaborative, non-degree-granting program in a School for Languages and Literatures.

The reasons given have to do with budget and a feeling that Comparative Literature is no longer needed because other departments now teach theory. The latter argument-that the Humanities have caught up to Comparative Literature as it were-ignores the many ways that Comparative Literature as a discipline and the Centre at Toronto have developed new methodologies for exploring the exchange and cross-border circulation of arts, thoughts, writings and cultural practices. The students that the Centre has attracted are some of the most intellectually engaged, creative, and committed students in the university. They work on genuinely transnational and interdisciplinary projects that would not be possible in any of the language departments.

This disastrous course must be averted for the sake of literary studies and interdisciplinary studies in Canada. I am writing to ask if you would be willing to sign the petition:

and to circulate this request. Please check out the website:

Would you also be willing to write a letter to President David Naylor of the University of Toronto, registering your concern at these proposed events. If you could speak briefly to the importance of Comparative Literature as a discipline, that would be very valuable.

If you do send a letter, please send a hard copy as well as an e-mail. Hard copy to:

President David Naylor,
University of Toronto
Simcoe Hall, room 206
27 King's College Circle Toronto M5S 1A1.

E-mail to

Please copy the e-mail to the provost Cheryl Misak ( and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, Meric Gertler ( and to the Centre for Comparative Literature (

Please circulate this request.

Thank you very much

Neil ten Kortenaar, director, Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Noam Chomsky's Hopes and Prospects: A Review, Part I

I'm not usually a huge fan of Chomsky but his new collection of essays Hopes and Prospects is really good. The first part of the book deals with Latin America. Chomsky outlines the colonial past and present of Latin American countries and their valiant efforts to rid themselves of neo-imperialist domination by the United States. He states correctly that today's struggles of Latin American countries (Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela) to oppose the depredations of the US-inspired version of globalization offer hope for the rest of the world.  He is also absolutely right in pointing out that "Latin America is not merely the victim of foreign forces. The region is notorious for the rapacity of its wealthy classes and their freedom from social responsibility." Here, Chomsky echoes Eduardo Galeano's classic work Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent that decades ago offered a brilliant analysis of how Latin American power elites sold out their own countries to the predatory forces of the US neo-liberalism. Chomsky states that the drive to imitate their Northern neighbors in ostensible consumption of Westernized goods and services has been the main cause of Latin American failure to achieve real as opposed to formal independence from colonial domination. Today, Chomsky points out "Latin America has real choices, for the first time in its history." And this is great news for the entire planet.

In the second part of the book, Chomsky analyzes the influence that the imperialist mentality in the US exercises over the discussions of the US military presence in Iraq. I was particularly pleased to see that Chomsky decided not to follow in the footsteps of most liberal commentators in their refusal to see that Russian imperialism is in no way "better" or more justified than the US imperialism. Chomsky qualifies Putin's actions in Chechnya as "murderous", which they most definitely are. I only wish that more progressive analysts dared to depart from the tendency to praise everybody who opposes the US regardless of the atrocities they perpetrate. It is definitely right that the US imperialism and Russian imperialism should be discussed together since there are glaring similarities between them.

Chomsky then segues into what I consider the weakest part of the book: the discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As usual, Chomsky's analysis of the issue is one-sided and biased. Israelis are all villainous nationalists and religious fanatics, while the Palestinians are without an exception languishing and tolerant victims. While Chomsky is right in suggesting that the Israelis do everything they can to make sure the conflict continues, he forgets to say that so do the Palestinians. When he describes the Israeli "information campaigns to instruct the world on its errors and misunderstanding, arrogant self-righteousness, circling the wagons, defiance . . .  and paranoia," he avoids mentioning that this exactly the pattern adopted by every single nation-state with a very weak and diluted national identity (Russia is a great example of precisely this kind of paranoid nation building. Closer to home, so is the US.)

Chomsky's discussion of nuclear proliferation is powerful and convincing, and I believe everybody should read it because it touches on some of the most important issues we confront today. The only objection I have to this part of his discussion is Chomsky's insistence that there is no need to fear a nuclear attack from Iran because that would be suicidal and self-destructive. Chomsky forgets that these same statements were made about Germany 70 years ago: "Germany would not start a war, that would be suicidal and self-destructive." And then a few years later: "Germany will not open up a second front, that would be suicidal and self-destructive." We all know how those predictions went. Countries often act in completely self-destructive ways, which should be well-known  to Chomsky.

Starting from Chapter 9 of Part II, Chomsky offers a brilliant analysis of the 2008 presidential elections and the job Obama's presidency has done since then. He points out correctly that both Democrats and Republicans are considerably to the right of the American population on many major issues, both international and domestic. Hence, it is not surprising that Obama's tepid efforts to defend his intentions to introduce some kind of change don't convince Americans any longer. Chomsky talks about how the American people have been brilliantly manipulated into being suspicious of public welfare programs that would be of invaluable use to themselves while supporting the "nanny state for the rich."

What Global Warming?

"Soaring temperatures across large swathes of Russia have destroyed nearly 10 million hectares of crops and prompted a state of emergency to be declared in 17 regions."

"Germany and most of the Western Europe is experiencing a blistering heat wave. I read that meteorologists are predicting 38 degree Celsius in parts of Germany for tomorrow as the hottest day in the year and this month as the hottest July in a century. Both the temperature and the humidity are expected to go up.

There have been several deaths reported in Netherlands and France. Italy is experiencing one of its worst droughts and I fear we might again see those wild forest fires of the likes we had in Portugal. London underground was sweltering at around 47 and some city buses recorded temperatures over and around 50 degrees."

The temperature hit 103 degrees in New York City and 102 in Philadelphia, breaking records for the day, both set in 1999. The temperature also soared past the century mark in Boston, Washington and Newark, N.J., and broke records in Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn."

But, of course, there is no global warming. That's all a nasty liberal fabrication, you know.

Feliz Dia del Amigo!

Today Latin America is celebrating Dia del Amigo, the Friendship Day. Happy Friendship Day, everybody!

Enough with the Myth that Americans Are Profoundly Libertarian

Because it's simply not true as the following poll shows clearly:

 As for me, the more I make, the more I believe it is fair that I should pay more in taxes than people who make less. Of course, I also prefer that my taxes should go towards making the lives of regular people better instead of funding warfare and enriching Wall Street crooks.

What I Learned from My Talks with Conservatives

For a while now I have been on a search mission to find a conservative who would be able to argue in favor of a conservative worldview in a reasonable, logical and intelligent way. It's great to talk to people who think the way you do and believe in all the same things, but it would be equally great to hear what the other side has to say. At the beginning of my search, I almost thought I struck gold very close to home: my father proclaimed that he was a conservative and damn proud of it! As soon as we started talking, though, it turned out that he is fiercely in favor of a woman's right to choose, believes people are entitled to healthcare and higher education, thinks that the right to bear arms is silly, and considers any attempt to bring religion to bear on politics a profanation of that very religion. Oh, and he is appalled at the military presence of North America in Iraq and Afghanistan. So much for our family conservatives.

My place of work is a university, so understandably it did not produce many conservatives for me to observe and study. As a result of this woeful lack of conservatives among my acquaintances, I proceeded to search online. Of course, self-identified conservatives abound on the Internet. Reasonable and logical conservatives, though? Not so much.

Here are some things I discovered from my discussions with conservatives:
  • Somehow, they manage to combine a strong opposition to abortion with an equally strong opposition to Obama's healthcare plan that is going to give health insurance to millions of kids. Until now, I have not been able to get a straightforward answer as to why they want to save the babies before they are born but are more than willing to let the babies die of treatable diseases after the babies are born.
  • They believe in fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget but go into fits at the mere suggestion that some Pentagon costs could be cut to save money and reduce the national debt.
  • They think that Obama is trying to impose "Big Government" on the US. They do not think, however, that Bush's Patriot Act and the way he unashamedly pushed the corporate bailouts through Congress can be qualified as authoritarian and as having anything to do with the "Big Government."
  • They think that the Affirmative Action marginalizes white blue collar people but at the same time believe that the unions - which help those blue collar people fight for better working conditions - are evil. They are also opposed to unemployment benefits that in the current recession are desperately needed by blue collar workers.
  • And my most recent discovery of conservative stupidity: they believe that a PhD (incidentally, translated as 'Doctor of Philosophy') in Humanities is not a "real" PhD. According to their logic, people who wrote a doctoral dissertation in philosophy should not be awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree.
Gosh, how did we end up with such crappy conservatives? They are no use for anything, not even for a nice discussion.

Feel free to add your own discoveries of conservative lack of logic.

Monday, July 19, 2010


A neighbor has approached me to ask what is this game that we play on a regular basis in front of our building.

It's badminton, people. It's fun, it's easy to play, it's great exercise, and it requires very little in terms of space and equipment. It's very popular in my part of the world, and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Tana French's Faithful Place: A Review

If you haven't read Tana French's  In the Woods and The Likeness: A Novel, then now is definitely the time to start acquainting yourself with this great author. With every new novel (and this is her third one) Tana French is showing signs of a creative growth that are nothing short of remarkable. I have been eagerly awaiting the release of her Faithful Place: A Novel and I'm happy to report that this novel will not disappoint either French's fans or her new readers who are only now discovering her work.

Tana French is one of those really gifted female writers who seems self-conscious of her literary talent. As a result, she hides her capacity to write good novels behindsthe mask of a detective novel writer. Sure enough, there is always a murder in her novels, and the main chracter is some sort of a plice officer. However, people who come to her novels in search of a straightforward murder mystery often leave disappointed. French's gift lies in writing about life, about the daily trials of being human. So if you want a murder mystery that will keep you guessing ntil the last page who the killer is, French is not your writer.

Tana French's writing is beautiful. She has a way of describing modern-day Ireland that will leave you completely enamored of this fascinating country. In my opinion, nobody creates more powerful descriptions of today's Dublin than this writer. French's sentences are always beautifully constructed, the characters are incredibly well-crafted, and the plot lines are engrossing.

The best thing about Tana French for me is her capacity to create a very unique first-person perspective in every one of her novels. Each book is narrated in a voice that is very unique and absolutely unforgettable. Faithful Place: A Novel is very different in terms of its first-person narrator from French's previous two novels. Her fans are used to this author creating very endearing, complex characters whom you cannot fail to admire. In this new novel, however, we encounter a very different kind of character. Francis Mackey is not an extremely attractive character, to say the least. He is self-involved, selfish, and often very mean. He tortures his ex-wife to punish her for moving on after their divorce, he is mean to his aging mother, and he thinks nothing of hurting his little daughter's feelings just to run off and investigate an old girlfriend's disappearance, he is a pretty lousy father, and a horrible brother to his siblings. He thinks nothing of intimidating and ssaulting witnesses, even when the witness in question is an overworked mother of three. He has been obsessed with his former girlfriend Rosie for twenty years and has never been able to get over her apparent desertion. In short, Frank is a character one is hard pressed to like.

It's is a mark of a very good writer, however, to be able to make one's readers care about the main character who is as difficult to admire as Frank Mackey. Tana French achieves that and more. The book is an absolute pleasure to read. As much as you might want to get to the solution of the mystery of Rosie's disappearance and Frank's painful relationship with his family, you will still want to linger over each beautifully written sentence.