Snap Year Apostrophes: 2004

You have some nerve. You couldn’t be one of those years in the late 70s or mid 80s who all blend into each other. You couldn’t be like the late 80s when status quo dictated solid pacing, good character development and adversity that is conquered through hard work and dedication. I didn’t expect you to be like 1993 or 1995, the best years ever. You could at least have been like 1998 or 1999 – filled with intense experiences. But no. You had to lay claim as one of those “sigh” year, the “shorthand for misery” year, the “well-at-least-it-isn’t-as-bad-as-THAT-year” year.

You had a nice start. The research trip in Pakistan, the rolling around looking for engravings in graveyards like some academic Indiana Jones. But, by the time spring bloomed, you started to show your true colors. First, you took away Dean. Then, you took away any hope for the future by letting them win. Then, you took away the loves and lives of hundreds of thousands and knocked the fucking earth off it’s axis. I would ask you why? But I know you are just made up of those inexorable ticks of a clock chasing the tocks. Someone else knows. Someone else better have an explanation.

Still you had your moments. The academic conferences, the Vegas madness, the GOTV in Milwaukee, the Halloween party. At the very least, you kept me, my family and my friends in good health. For that, I am grateful to you. And I know, I know, that the next year will be monumental. [with apologies to moacir]

Free Bajaj

Been a bit slow here lately. ‘Tis the holiday season after all. There are some exciting things happening lately in India though. This whole MMS [multi media service – trans. sending and storing video clips on your cell phone] mess, for example.

Some Delhi school kid recorded a tryst with his girlfriend back in November and passed the clip on to his friends – via his cell. It spread like, uh, wild fire through Delhi and beyond, eventually, ending up on Baazee.com – the Indian eBay. The authorities tracked the kid and arrested him, arrested the kid who sold it on Baazee.com but also arrested the CEO of Baazee.com for allowing the listing.

Two things are of immediate interest to me: the cultural impact of surreptitious video-recordings and the tensions between the IT elite and traditional bureaucratic/political elite in India.

The internet cafe scandals in Pakistan, as covered on CM here and here, show that salacious footage finds a mass market in a heartbeat. This is not purely a technological issue, in my view, but the rapidity of exposure makes it at least partly that. Like I said earlier, such materials and tapes have always existed but now they are accessible quickly and cheaply to every pimple-ridden teenager in South Asia. Anecdotal evidence suggests that such clips are becoming increasingly common. I have heard similair stories from other friends in Pakistan. I hesitate to say that it is a class issue but that may very well be how the press eventually spins it – the rich immoral kids with their toys. At least, a few editorials in India already point that way with phrases about the “posh New Friends Colony” where the boy lives.

Now about that poor Avnish Bajaj, the Harvard-returned CEO of Baazee.com. This guy is an American citizen and eBay has protested his arrest. Why arrest the CEO of an ebiz company? He wasn’t diligent enough in checking each listing? Many have said that this arrest will curtail IT development while the press is enthusiastically noting that he will now eat 4 rotis and a sabzi a day. Some are miffed that the Condi Rice (I need a nic for her) is getting involved. The Indians, it appears, are getting testy with the Americans. More anecdotal evidence about that. Anyways, I find it curious that the police jumped so quickly to arrest the CEO of a tech company when the guy responsible for yet another train tragedy goes free. Obviously, the IT elite have no real purchase in the Indian bureaucracy. With the foreign press focused and the State Dept. watching, it will be interesting to see how the Indian government handles all this extra attention. Just let the guy out.

This case might prove to be one of those media-circus cases that have a cultural and legal impact in India.

In related news: Pakistan Cricket team can call this guy. 491 runs. Unbelievable.

Sunday Reading for The Writer

It is absolutely freezing outside but we went to get a xmas tree. What is with the tree? Really. This pagan wants to know. Maybe I should put in a request to the great Sharon Howard.

  • In the NYT, Curtis Sittenfeld wonders aloud about the sexual magnetism of writers and their prose. Jhumpa Lahiri is namechecked. Is there a gender bias in public perception of a writer’s hotness? I dunno but there are authors with whom I have fallen in love based on their ideas and their texts – they are predominantly male. That either proves Sittenfeld’s thesis or disproves my heterosexuality. But, I also know a few Iowa Writers and I can vouch for their intense sex appeals – male and female. I predict groupies galore for them.
  • In the Telegraph, Noel Malcolm gives a warm reading to Bernard Potter’s book about the curiously missing Empire. I eagerly await my copy of the book as I have taken to heart his admonishment to not review something one hasn’t actually read.
  • In TLS, Ali Smith reviews the reviews of reviewer Rosemary Dinnage – a personal favorite of mine. “Part of her art,” Ali Smith writes, “has always been an instinct for when and where to impress the presence of her own personality on both her readers and her subjects”. Words of wisdom for all of us who write – blogs or dissertations or bestsellers.
  • Richard Taruskin is a renowned historian of music [particularly his Stravinsky work] who decided to write a single volume history textbook for college kids and ended up with a 13 year long-in-the-making, 4,000 page, six volume history of Western Music. Don’t you just hate when that happens? The interview in NYT is quite fascinating and has elevated him to new heights in my estimation. Some notables in the interview: his answer to how a historian tackles objectivity [non-partisanly]; his conception of a historian [Yes, I feel very strongly that historians are storytellers]; and his short-term plans for the future [But first, I’m going to take a nice long nap]. So, it should be after the deed is done. And done well.

On Telling Stories

I have not read any of the Series of Unfortunate Events books but there are certain members in the sepoy household that hold them very near and dear. I have been toiling away in hopes to buy winter solstice presents for those individuals and not having much luck. Graphic novels? Why can’t Neil Gaiman be more productive, huh? Any of you have a recommendation for an incredibly literate 10 year old?

Anyways, during my “research”, I came across an interview with Lemony Snicket, the author of the Series books, in the Independent. A very nice answer:

Q: Are your stories based on real-life things?
Matthew Shuttleworth, aged 10, by e-mail

A: All stories are based on two things: real-life things, and other stories, but these “other stories”, of course, are also based on the same two things – real-life things or other stories, and these “other stories” are also based on the same two things, and so on, and so on, and this complicated arrangement is further complicated by the tendency for real-life things to become stories as time passes, and the difference between real-life things and stories becomes complicated, so real-life things tend to get lost inside stories that are based on real-life things and on other stories, or perhaps it’s the other way round, with stories based on real-life things and other stories getting lost inside real-life things, which might explain why, in real life, we often feel so very lost that even answering a simple question becomes so exhausting and confusing that we want to lie down with our eyes closed and listen closely to the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich and certain 12-in singles by New Order.

That about sums it up, don’t it?

update:Woh! This is entry # 250 at the CM. That sounds like a milestone to me. Or at least the half way point. How long is one supposed to blog? 1 year sound about right? 500 entries sound better. That could be the published book: 500 Things I Had To Say When I Should Have Been Working On The Dissertation And Now I Adjunct At The Naval Academy. Hmmm…, quickly, I nominate this as my favorite post out of 250 because it captures so brilliantly what goes around at CM day in, day out.

The Oracle of Mountain View

Via Cliopatria I learned of Google’s partnership with libraries at Stanford, Harvard & c. to digitize their entire holdings. Copyrighted materials will only be available in selections and out-of-copyright texts (manuscripts!?) in their entirety. Here is the NYT piece and here is more information about Google Print (beta). Rob has a good post on similair efforts elsewhere.

This advances my hopes/fears of an Artificial Historian. In the earlier post, I speculated with Amazon’s A9 technology. One can easily substitute Google Print here. Anyone using Gmail knows that Google does contextual analysis of your email (keywords leading to targeted ads). So, let’s assume that Google has 4 or 5 research libraries scanned, how does that give us an academic text? By treating bibliographies as out-going and in-coming links in the PageRank technology, Google can easily consolidate existing scholarship into the consensus view. Combine that with a wiki-type ability for users to weed out any incongruities. Summation, images, simple verb structure and you have your Brief History of Summara in less than a second. Obviously, it won’t use any primary Arabic sources since I doubt that Arabic will scan as text rather as image [regardless, I will be a happy happy man if I don’t have to go to England every time I need to see one lousy manuscript for my diss].

In related news, is this the right moment to start wondering about Google? I love them but who will own these archives? This knowledge free of walls and librarians? Probably no need to worry just yet. They ain’t evil like someone else. But I would still prefer that our govt. would take more initiative.

In unrelated news, I got a CFP that is noteworthy, “* Sexuality.‚Ć If the nation is structured by discourses of sexuality, how might transnationalism “queer” the discourses of nation or of “home”?‚Ć In the borderlands or transnational sites, how do sexuality and displacement articulate one another?” HUH!?

Operation Next

Iraq is not over yet but with the Jan 30 election approaching, the administration can bolt with a straight face. But, where to go? I mean, we have half-a million soldiers waiting to kick some ass, general.

Let us revisit Jan 29, 2002’s SOTU address:

Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. But we know their true nature. North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens. Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom.

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens — leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections — then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic. [emphasis mine]

In May 2002, John Bolton, the UnderSecretary of State, added Cuba, Libya and Syria to the Axis. Libya knocked itself off the list by proving, once and for all, its irrelevance. Cuba, with the election over, is worthless for the next 3 years.

I projected that Iran will be next in the crosshairs. If you remember a few months ago (in Aug/Sep), there was some talk of al-Qaeda regrouping in Iran and that Iranians were sending massive aid to insurgents in Baghdad and were even hosting al-Qaeda [forget the whole rabid anti-Shi’ism professed by UBL]. Ironically, Iran was also recently accused by King Abdullah of sending in a million voters to subvert the Iraqi elections [doesn’t that prove that democracy has a foothold in Iran!]. Mansoor Ijaz, my favorite Terrorism Expert at Fox News, has been yelling “Osama is in Iran” for a long while. See this from Nov 2003 or this from Jan 2004.

Add the Chalabi factor – the Mujahedin Khalq (MEK). As Reza Aslan wrote in LAT a few days back:

Ever since the invasion of Iraq, the MEK (and its Paris-based political front, the National Council of Resistance in Iran) has tried to establish itself as the Iranian equivalent of Ahmad Chalabi’s “government in exile,” the Iraqi National Congres and not without success. Like the INC before the war, the MEK has advocates in the highest levels of government. And like the INC, the MEK has been inundating the U.S. intelligence community with uncorroborated and, according to some intelligence officials, highly suspect information meant to encourage the White House to carry out the same policy of regime change in Iran that it did in Iraq. But the United States will probably discover that the MEK – just like the INC- can’t be trusted.

All this led me to conclude that Iran would indeed be the next target and I have been teaching Persian cuss words to my draftable friends in prepration. But, a surprise development just threw off my prognostication powers.

US and Iraq have started mentioning Syria and the Ba’athists lately. Today Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol finally revealed Operation Next:

By Bush Doctrine standards, Syria is a hostile regime. It is permitting and encouraging activities that are killing not just our Iraqi friends but also, and quite directly, American troops. So we have a real Syria problem.

Of course we also have–the world also has–an Iran problem, and a Saudi problem, and lots of other problems. The Iran and Saudi problems may ultimately be more serious than the Syria problem. But the Syria problem is urgent: It is Bashar Assad’s regime that seems to be doing more than any other, right now, to help Baathists and terrorists kill Americans in the central front of the war on terror. […]We could bomb Syrian military facilities; we could go across the border in force to stop infiltration; we could occupy the town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, a few miles from the border, which seems to be the planning and organizing center for Syrian activities in Iraq

Here comes 2005.