Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gilda Radner delivers it straight

I’ve been running around a lot for the past few days, and I’m still not done. But, I’ve been thinking about female comics, particularly standup comics, for the past few days…mostly because I watched Date Night and Tina Fey was AWESOME. She’s the only female comic I can remember since I started to have some memory of these things, who manages to be a comic and a female without that ending up in some bizarre overly-sexualized carcicature. Most female standup comics seem to be fighting that one way or the other: either they embrace it and play a sexpot with a sense of humour or they reject it or they go out of their way to tell dumb sex-related jokes to show they can be just as raunchy as the men. This is the conundrum of feminism in America these days generally, I think.

Anyway, a long way of saying, I ran across a commencement speech that Gilda Radner gave in 1980 at yes, the Columbia Journalism School, one of the places I’ve passed through. So here it is. Enjoy!

Tagged , , ,

Noted: News & Views Roundup

  1. Pakistan’s Parliament has passed the 18th Amendment. Woohoo!
  2. “The journalist enjoys good standing in his community. He is even likely to be held in awe.” —Studies in Crap
  3. Why is the Active Liberty Institute, a partner of Clinton’s Global Initiative, hosting former Pakistan overlord Pervez Musharraf to talk about curbing extremism and for that matter, why are they charging $50 for students?
  4. The UN has released its report on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. There were 47 suicide attacks in 2007 with 35 of them taking place after Musharraf’s Red Mosque fiasco.
  5. My friend and reporter, Fahad, has an excellent post about his experiences covering war-torn Swat and surrounding regions. It’s a must read.
  6. Matti Tabbi tears David Brooks a new one after Brooks uses the recent Duke basketball win to explain why he roots for the rich and against the poor.  An excerpt:

If I had to do even five hours of that work today I’d bawl my fucking eyes out for a month straight. I’m not complaining about my current good luck at all, but I would wet myself with shame if I ever heard it said that I work even half as hard as the average diner waitress.

Read it.

Tagged , , , ,

WTF. Seriously unfunny.

225px-MindOfMenciaI made the mistake of having Comedy Central on in the background a couple of days ago while I worked only to be assaulted by the unfunny and racist utterances of Carlos Mencia. The dim-witted comic had his own hour-long show on cable 2005-2008. This particular sketch involved him demanding that the Americans stop patrolling the Mexican border. The Mexicans, already know, according to Mencia, that should one of those crazed Arabs/ Muslims (he’s not too clear on it but that’s how racism works folks), cross into the US from Mexico, that the US-Mexican border will be closed. Mexicans don’t want to see that happen so they’d be the first to tip-off the US border guard. “Senor, senor,” Mencia mimes a Mexican tapping a US security official on his shoulder and pointing out the suspects, “those people they don’t speak Spanish.” Oh, it gets better:

Mencia says that his friend told him, Carlos, you should stop making fun of the Middle Easterners. They’re crazy. A “middle eastern” man who’s standing next to the two friends advises Mencia to listen to his friend pointing out that they are indeed crazy. Mencia responds by saying, no “my people” are crazy! “My people” here has suddenly somehow switched from Mexican to American. Then he treats the audience to the following sketch. These aren’t exact quotations, but pretty close:

Crazy Middle Easterner: We blew up two of your buildings.
Mencia’s punchline: Oh yeah, bitch, we blew up two of your countries! [applause]

Crazy Middle Easterner: We killed thousands.
Mencia’s punchline: I was like, bitch, we killed millions! [applause]

Crazy Middle Easterner: We’re looking for the atomic bomb.
Mencia’s punchline: ooh, you’re looking for one atomic bomb. We already got those. And, guess what bitch we already used it and if you dont believe it, call Japan and talk to the man with 3 penises and 5 balls. That’s how we roll baby!…And we named it Enola Gay, because we wanted them to know they were about to get boned in the ass. That’s how we play the game! [applause. Camera pans to a wide shot and there are some audience members actually standing and applauding Mencia.]

Now, in case, I actually need to explain what’s wrong with this: it’s not satire when you make unclever jokes that dump on those who are already oppressed.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Food for Thought

organic-farmingI’ve asked S. to write a blog about the politics of food in Pakistan as he’s starting an organic farm here. But, while we wait for that, I thought I’d share photos of the greenhouse he’s set up here to test organic seeds. So here it is:

Tagged , , , ,

Overeducated and Underpaid

As part of the class of the over-educated and underpaid, I’d say it’s not just academia that the myth of academic meritocracy affects, but nonetheless, a thought-provoking piece about the ‘Life of the Mind’:

The myth of the academic meritocracy powerfully affects students from families that believe in education, that may or may not have attained a few undergraduate degrees, but do not have a lot of experience with how access to the professions is controlled. Their daughter goes to graduate school, earns a doctorate in comparative literature from an Ivy League university, everyone is proud of her, and then they are shocked when she struggles for years to earn more than the minimum wage. (Meanwhile, her brother—who was never very good at school—makes a decent living fixing HVAC systems with a six-month certificate from a for-profit school near the Interstate.)

Unable even to consider that something might be wrong with higher education, mom and dad begin to think there is something wrong with their daughter, and she begins to internalize that feeling.

Everyone has told her that “there are always places for good people in academe.” She begins to obsess about the possibility of some kind of fatal personal shortcoming. She goes through multiple mock interviews, and takes business classes, learning to present herself for nonacademic positions. But again and again, she is passed over in favor of undergraduates who are no different from people she has taught for years. Maybe, she wonders, there’s something about me that makes me unfit for any kind of job.

This goes on for years: sleepless nights, anxiety, escalating and increasingly paralyzing self-doubt, and a host of stress-induced ailments. She has even removed the Ph.D. from her résumé, with some pain, but she lives in dread that interviewers will ask what she has been doing for the last 12 years. (All her old friends are well established by now, some with families, some with what seem to be high-powered careers. She lives in a tiny apartment and struggles to pay off her student loans.) What’s left now but entry-level clerical work with her immediate supervisor just three years out of high school?

Find the whole article here. Speaking of, watch out for my friend Shamus Khan’s forthcoming book on schools and the production of the elite. Very eye-opening.

Tagged , , ,

What’s Balochistan Got To Do With It?

It’s not the Pakistani Army but the Baloch nationalists it suppresses that may be the most effective counter to politically motivated religious extremism.

Balochistan is largely a stunningly beautiful desert.

Balochistan is largely a stunningly beautiful desert.

Obama’s publicised 30,000 troop increase for Afghanistan has come with latest round of deliberations for a second “surge”: the expansion of drone attacks into Balochistan. But while the US seems to only view Balochistan, and particularly, its capital, Quetta, as a hotbed of Taliban extremism, it is far better known to the Pakistani Army as home to a politically secular, sometimes Marxist insurgency that has already been at war with the state, in its latest round, since 2004.

The largest of Pakistan’s four provinces–it’s nearly half of the country’s landmass–Balochistan was forcibly annexed in 1947, has fostered four insurgencies with a fifth currently underway and is entirely occupied by the Pakistani Army, its vast natural resources including natural gas, oil, coal, gold and copper siphoned away from the local Baloch towards the rest of Pakistan. Meanwhile, the province remains gut-wrenchingly poor, and it’s that inequality, between what Balochistan provides and what it gets, that has fuelled a stubbornly secular ethnic Baloch nationalism.

The Great Game

Rough translation: "You will have to give us freedom."

Rough translation: "You will have to give us freedom."

America too, has its own obsessions with Balochistan. Rich in energy reserves and strategically situated along the borders of Iran and Afghanistan the province is central to the energy politics of the region. The US fears that China’s involvement in building Pakistan’s critical warm water port of Gwadar on the southern edge of Balochistan may mean that the US will lose out on all that energy wealth. And with Washington’s wars expanding, it may look to Balochistan as a critical base for US forces wanting to stage attacks into Afghanistan or Iran. American drones already fly from bases in Balochistan, particularly Shamsi air base.

The Pakistani government blames India for meddling in Balochistan and fomenting an insurgency there, and Tehran is worried about what the Baloch national movement inside Pakistan may mean for Iranian Balochistan, an underdeveloped region where the Baloch have been brutally suppressed.

The state, or the “center” as the Baloch call it, has always sought military solutions to the Balochistan question, staging its worst confrontation in the 1970s during which some 55,000 Baloch fought against an 80,000 strong Pakistani Army. It has also tried to ideologically neutralize Baloch nationalism by pursuing Islamization polices. Many argue that as with the NWFP, the state has been involved in behind-the-scenes manipulation such that parties with Taliban sympathies such as the Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) hold critical seats in the Balochistan Provincial Assembly. And, JUI members introduced a resolution against drone attacks into the Assembly two months ago. Although, it’s unanimous passage does not signify support for the Taliban but rather concern for the casualties that must follow when bombs drop on a crowded city of nearly two million by current local estimates, the origins of the resolution are telling.

The fanning of sectarian flames has had international consequences: Tehran accuses Islamabad for providing support to religiously sectarian Baloch outfits like the anti-Shia Jundallah, responsible for attacks inside Iranian-Balochistan this past October killing many including senior members of the Revolutionary Guard.

Additionally, the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which are deployed inside Balochistan along with the Army allegedly have links with Islamist militants, the logical outcome of the FC’s involvement in training and equipping the mujahideen in the 70s and 80s.

Baloch Nationalism

The consequence of the Army’s and central government’s policies is an increasingly radicalized population, especially among the young. While the leaders of mainstream nationalist parties send mixed messages about whether they want maximum provincial autonomy within a federated Pakistan or outright independence, their base is far more clear. At a rally organized by the BNP-M (Balochistan National Party -Mengal faction) two weeks ago in Quetta, protestors shouted “Pakistan murdabad!” (“Die Pakistan!”) slogans. Having spent much of the past month travelling through Balochistan, that sentiment is not limited to the extremes. It’s everywhere, daubed on school walls, on road signs, hospitals and on the lips of the young. Pakistanis seriously underestimate the level of anger and discontent of the Baloch.

Protestors demand justice for the killing of Baloch in Lyari, Karachi at a BNP-M rally.

Protestors demand justice for the killing of Baloch in Lyari, Karachi at a BNP-M rally in Quetta.

That’s what made the Balochistan package a foregone failure. Termed a historic offer by the current civilian Pakistani government, the Agaz-e-Haqooq deal was rejected by even the most moderate Baloch national parties as a sham because it does not fundamentally deal with budget or resource issues and simply offers to replace regular Army troops with the FC -which many Baloch describe as worse than the regulars.

The government has also claimed that it released twenty of the enforced disappeared, but Chairman of the Voice for Missing Baloch, Nasrullah Baloch says that several of those freed were in fact known to be in a jail in Sui, Dera Bugti. In other words, their whereabouts were always known and they don’t belong the group of the disappeared. Anywhere between 1,500 to 4,000 Baloch remain disappeared. Eyewitness reports as well as fact-gathering missions by groups like the HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) confirm that they have been forcibly disappeared by the intelligence agencies. Local police also regularly refuse to register FIRs (first information reports) or charges on behalf of families of the disappeared. The amazingly untenable responses of the government compound the issue. Echoing Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani recently remarked at a press conference that the missing were in fact not missing at all. Rather, they had “deliberately gone underground to malign the country’s intelligence agencies.”

Baloch Militancy

The intransigence of the federal government coupled with the brutality of the Army has given rise to an armed Baloch movement. The Pakistani government blames India for fomenting an insurgency in the area. It’s hard to know, with any certainty whether that’s the case, but it’s clear that groups like the BLA (Baloch Liberation Army) and BRA (Baloch Republican Army) enjoy widespread support among the Baloch as they launch attacks on the Army and FC. Thus, even if funding may come from international players, the genuineness of the insurgency cannot be doubted.

BLA and BSO graffiti in Pasni. Chalkings like this were common everywhere.

BLA and BSO graffiti in Pasni. Chalkings like this were common everywhere I went in Balochistan.

There is however one troubling aspect to the militancy as well as to Baloch nationalist rhetoric. The Baloch often define the issue in terms of Punjabi domination over Balochistan, and regard Punjabis living in the area as “settlers,” sometimes attacking them in retaliation for attacks on the Baloch. The most recent case has been the cycle of violence initiated in Khuzdar where the FC cold-bloodedly opened fire on a student protest killing two and injuring several including one 20-year old student Liaquat Kurd whose left leg has had to be amputated as a result. In return, four Punjabis were killed in various parts of Balochistan.

Pressed on this issue, Baloch nationalists give varying responses: some claim that those killed have links to the intelligence agencies; others argue that intelligence agencies are killing Punjabis in order to give a bad name to the Baloch struggle, a claim difficult to swallow as the BLA has accepted responsibility for three of the four killings. Other non-Baloch communities such as the Hazara have also come under attack.

Following this model of organic nationalism appears to be dangerous on two grounds. First, unlike Israel’s direct funding of Israeli settlers on Palestinian territory, the non-Baloch population inside Balochistan has not, by-in-large, been systematically placed there by the government. It thus smacks of a disregard for human rights which is not helpful to the the movement. One wonders what kind of havoc this kind of ethno-nationalism will wreak should Balochistan gain independence. Secondly, it’s simply not strategically useful because it alienates potential supporters of the Baloch struggle. While the movement appears to be gaining strength and momentum in the wake of Akbar Bugti’s murder, it now remains to be seen whether it can ground itself in more sophisticated rhetoric. None of this however, takes away from the central fact that Balochistan–like Swat of late (which I also visited)–is under occupation by Pakistan’s own Army, and that Army and its government (for the Army owns the country), have dealt with the Baloch cruelly.

The End Game

Now, Obama’s war is likely to further destabilise the region with the Army using the chaos as a cover to crack-down on Baloch nationalists rather than the Taliban once again. The end game may be that—as with Egypt and the Middle East generally in the 1970s—the repression of secular Baloch nationalists compounded by possible drone attacks may actually pave the way for the very Islamists Washington so fears.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Why Revolutions Don’t Get Televised

ABC 7 happened to be at the local bar where I watched Obama deliver his drivel about continuing the occupation of Afghanistan. The channel was interviewing ex-marines who had gathered there about their reactions to Obama’s plan. This is the usual displacement of politics into the military domain that the American media, particularly television, carries out so dutifully. We don’t have debates about the politics of the issue at hand, but discussions about military tactics that foreclose any discussion of the occupation itself. All that’s left to argue about apparently is whether 30,000 troops is enough.

In an excellent report, NYT reporter David Barstow covered the Pentagon’s domestic propaganda program in his 2008 series. Today, a key figure from that program continues his post as Defense Department spokesperson in the Obama administration, according to Media Bloodhound.

The American media thus, turns, Clausewitz on his head: politics is simply war by other means.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Waziristan: What We Knew

I’ve been in Pakistan for about two months now, and the chasm between what is reported and what we know but goes unreported is deep and wide. But, here’s some stuff we knew about Waziristan:

Tagged , , , , , ,

Iran Election Predictions

As the protests head into the second week, Mousavi has made his most daring statement yet, but questions abound about what’s happening on the ground. The protests began at the suspicion of election fraud, but is that what drives them? Are protesters fighting for their vote to be counted, or are they –as sometimes happens in repressive regimes –using the occasion as a pretext for a more revolutionary fight? It’s entirely possible also that what began as protests against election fraud are becoming more radicalized (in a good way). It’s difficult to know, and I do not want to conflate the actions of the the political elite with the aspirations and demands of the Iranians who are now demonstrating on the streets. Mousavi’s speech, which confronted Khamanei on several levels, could be an effect of a more revolutionary sentiment taking hold among protesters. His speech however, was still within the bounds of the Islamic regime.

Some analysis –before the election began:

Iran Protests Continue; 13 dead

Thirteen people are dead in Iran today after protests continued despite government restrictions causing the Obama administration to issue a statement this afternoon to the Iranian govenment. Borrowing verbiage from the left, Obama told the Iranian regime that “the world is watching.”  TPM has more. A useful news video from al-Jazeera English about the political battle within the Iranian clergy:

This is a very graphic video of a protester being shot by the Basiji. The footage remains unverified, but has found its way on Twitter and other blogs. The woman is being named as Nada. An anonymous dispatch from Iran here, and an excellent view from the streets of Tehran by the NYT’s Roger Cohen here. Cohen is one of the few western reporters still on the ground, and his past columns have also been enlightening. Thank you, Mr. Cohen.

Tagged , , , , ,