Spring Training

August 28, 2008 at 2:44 am (Mary McQueary, Soliloquy)

 

Sitting along the first base line, the sky is blue heading into dusk.
Beginning to rise above the stadium the orange moon.
White uniforms crisp against the grassy green blades.
 
Behind me is a man, reminiscent of a World Wrestling Federation defender.
Smooth shaved head, heavy gold chain around neck with pendant of monster truck.
Tanned and excited, a fan of baseball. I wonder what he does for a living.
 
The man in front follows these up-and-coming players heading to the major leagues.
“Jose Reyes, shortstop, 18,” he says, “he won’t be here long, he’s big dollar guaranteed.”
 
Hot dogs and french fries, lemonade, and Cracker Jacks all around.
Peanut shells crunch below my sandaled feet. From where they came I do not know.
 
Hard swings and the sound of the wooden bat. Not out of the park tonight.
The catcher looks so close to the batter. I would hesitate to full out swing.
His throw is hard and fast, the ball smacking hard in the pitcher’s glove.
 
The men toss statistics over me back and forth.
The information filters down upon my head and I become filled with their love of the game and smile.
 
The game ends and the lights go dark. Count down 20 to 1. The explosions begin. Boom, boom.

 

Gold and pink. Purple and blue. Sizzling large green sparks fill the sky. Flowers of fire.
I shrink at the thought of getting burnt, petal embers falling upon my skin.
More flowers. Tiny shocking white ones. Blinding flashes. They appear close. Too close.
 
Every Friday home game they tell me. I am stunned.
Such beauty and yet it feels so utterly horribly sinful.
 
They treat so casually as if everyone in the world saw this on a typical casual weekend.
I am sobbing inside for others who will not remember this tomorrow,
for those who will shrug it off and say when asked what they did for the weekend, “nothin’ much”.

 

– Mary McQueary

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‘Race to the Bottom’: Barack Obama, the Reverend Wright and the 2008 US Elections: Part III

August 24, 2008 at 9:46 am (Politics, Subarno Chattarji)

 

Sebastian Mallaby in ‘Wright and Ridiculous’ dismissed the guilt-by-association criticisms of Obama in the Rev. Wright affair. ‘Of all the strange features of this presidential race, the tarnishing of Barack Obama has got to be the most ridiculous. […] Am I supposed to believe that Obama is a supercilious elitist or a menacing ghetto radical? […]Yes, Jeremiah Wright says some disgraceful things. But can anyone explain how that changes Obama’s qualities as a candidate?’[1] Mallaby’s dismissal may seem too pat and the questions rhetorical but he did take on a media consensus, particularly on the right, that Obama was unfit to be president by dint of his twenty-year association with Rev. Wright. That association was portrayed solely in terms of Obama’s sympathy with the bitterness and anger of Wright’s sermons and condemnations of America. Mallaby tries to unpack some of the bonding between the two: ‘The Wright affair tells us that Obama bonded with someone whose political views are sometimes toxic. But as a young man trying to make sense of his mixed heritage, Obama looked to Wright for spiritual guidance, not political tutorials; as a community organizer, Obama focused on Wright’s admirable social work, not his resentment of the white establishment. Indeed, Obama’s own views on race and politics were diametrically opposed to those of his pastor.’[2] While the gap between ‘spiritual guidance’ and ‘political tutorials’ may not be as binding as Mallaby implies – the political and the spiritual are often intertwined in Wright’s sermons as well as in earlier paradigms such as that of Martin Luther King Jr. – the fact that Wright had done ‘admirable social work’ and that Obama’s views on race are not as ‘toxic’ as his pastor’s, need to be emphasized. The demonization of Wright as well as the tarring of Obama with the Wright brush is emblematic of a desire to create easily comprehensible, monolithic stereotypes that can then be pilloried. Stereotyping and personalization play, as Murray Edelman argues, an essential part in mediated mass politics: ‘It is characteristic of large numbers of people in our society that they see and think in terms of stereotypes, personalization, and oversimplifications, that they cannot recognize or tolerate ambiguous and complex situations, and that they accordingly respond chiefly to symbols that oversimplify and distort.’[3] Written before the age of the internet and blogs Edelman’s analysis may seem patronising and naïve, but the coverage of the Wright controversy bears testimony to the power of distorted and oversimplified symbols. In fact the proliferation of mass and instantaneous media has exacerbated the ease with which caricatures or half-truths may be purveyed.

Fortunately, however, as Mallaby and other analysts were testaments of, the media is not monolithic either.[4] Eugene Robinson extended the idea of difference between Wright and Obama, focusing on Wright’s hubristic homogenization of the black experience: ‘The problem is that Wright insists on being seen as something he’s not: an archetypal representative of the African American church. In fact, he represents one twig of one branch of a very large tree. […] his basic point — that any attack on him is an attack on the African American church and its traditions — is just wrong. In making that argument, he buys into the fraudulent idea of a monolithic, monocultural black America — one with his philosophy and theology at its center.’[5] It is not just the case that the media represented Wright in a stereotypical manner – which it did – but that Wright also colluded in this process by passing himself off as the voice of the black church. The lure of absolute representation of the self and the power inherent in those representations is as irresistible for the good Rev. Wright as it is for the media, and both sides take refuge in their vision of the evil ‘other’.

For conservative media in the US the Wright sermons were manna, effectively pinning Obama to a fundamentalist strain in his community with little chance of explication, communication, or escape. The general media coverage was, as Mallaby pointed out, ‘a revelation about our political culture: About its failure to distinguish the important from the trivial and about the inevitability that the race card will eventually be played against a black candidate.’[6] Obama’s assertions on race may sound rhetorically improbable but there is nothing unreal, no ‘fairy tale’ about the ways in which his candidacy has helped to redefine for both blacks and whites the centrality of race in American polity and imaginative frames. Race is not merely a ‘card [that] will eventually be played against a black candidate’ but it is a way of confronting and re-imaging the politics of race. In that sense Mallaby is right about the dominant media coverage being symptomatic of America’s ‘political culture’, not only in the context of Obama’s race but insinuations of his Muslim background and persuasion. As Betsy Reed points out: ‘[…] questions about his devotion to America carry a special potency, as xenophobia mingles with racism to create a poisonous brew. The toxicity is further heightened in this post-9/11 atmosphere, in which an image of Obama in Somali dress is understood as a slur and e-mails claiming he is a “secret Muslim” schooled in a madrassa spread virally, along with rumors that he took the oath of office on a Koran.’[7] Although the rumors have been debunked they continue to circulate and the Koran – as well as its attendant desecrations – carries a particular symbolic potency in the current climate of fear. The recent case of a US soldier in Iraq being disciplined for using a Koran for target practice followed by a public apology from the US commanding officer is an instance of disrespect and alien distancing, followed by a politically expedient apology.[8] Reed’s excellent essay deals with questions of race and gender in the current primaries election cycle and focuses on the ways in which the former circulates in political and media discourse.

Reed highlights Hillary Clinton’s complicity in making Obama’s race an election issue. ‘[…] what is most troubling – and what has the most serious implications for the feminist movement–is that the Clinton campaign has used her rival’s race against him. In the name of demonstrating her superior “electability,” she and her surrogates have invoked the racist and sexist playbook of the right–in which swaggering macho cowboys are entrusted to defend the country–seeking to define Obama as too black, too foreign, too different to be President at a moment of high anxiety about national security. This subtly but distinctly racialized political strategy did not create the media feeding frenzy around the Rev. Jeremiah Wright that is now weighing Obama down, but it has positioned Clinton to take advantage of the opportunities the controversy has presented.’[9] While Clinton has not gained much leverage from her less than principled positions on Obama’s race and Muslim identity, the fact that she too has played the game shows its potency and attraction within a political field that perceives race as a primary and often negative marker of identity and belonging. In the debate between gender and race Reed argues that while ‘Clinton has’ ‘faced a raw misogyny’ ‘racism, which is often coded, is more insidious and trickier to confront’.[10] Setting up a hierarchy of victimization is both tricky and ludicrous because it creates a competitive victimhood that allows for the Ralph Peters kind of dismissal of Wright’s sermons as belonging to a global victims’ club of dispossessed rant. Such a hierarchy is also demeaning in the way in which it privileges victimhood as the sole quality or value worth considering in a subject. Furthermore the media replication of Wright’s sermons is a not so subtle replay of racial oppositions and fears.

However, Reed is accurate in her summation of the implications of racial codification within a larger context of American identity, a point I emphasized earlier. Reed writes that ‘Wright’s angry invocation of race and nation tapped into a reservoir of doubt about the very Americanness of African-Americans. “American citizenship has always been racialized as white. Who is a true American? Are African-Americans true Americans? That has been the question,” she [Paula Giddings, biographer of Ida B. Wells] says.’[11] The debate over and anxiety about the idea of America is deflected in major media discourse into an attack on the messenger. The virulence of the attack reflects in some ways the depth of the anxieties.

John Nichols in a posting on The Online Beat, a blog on The Nation tapped into the idea that while Wright’s sermons may not be ‘comforting’ they are ‘for the most part’ ‘well within the mainstream of American religious and political discourse’.[12] He went on to observe: ‘In more ways than Republican and now Democratic critics seem prepared to admit, Wright is the embodiment of an American religious and political tradition of challenging the country’s sins while calling it to the higher ground that extends from the founding of the republic.’[13] Nichols is referring to what Sacvan Bercovitch calls the ‘Jeremiad tradition’ in American history and self-conception. Nichols cites Thomas Jefferson: ‘“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other,” wrote Jefferson in 1781’s Notes on the State of Virginia, where he asked, “(Can) the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.”’[14] Jefferson’s fears about the wrath of God are related to the idea that America is a new Eden, established by a special covenant between God and His chosen people. ‘Because New England was God’s country, its inhabitants must expect His lash.’ This ideation created what Bercovitch calls a ‘teleology of tribulation’.[15] That slavery should be the cause of Jefferson’s fears is appropriate in the contemporary context where Wright and Obama in their different ways bring to the fore the troubled histories of racial oppressions. Nichols perceives this tradition as a positive and empowering one concluding that America needs to heed the sayings of Wright rather than caricature or condemn him: ‘America has been blessed from its beginnings by champions of liberty, by abolitionists and civil rights marchers, by suffragists and union organizers, by anti-imperialists like Mark Twain and challengers of the military-industrial complex like Dwight Eisenhower. Necessarily, these patriots have said some tough things about American leaders and policies. They have acknowledged flaws that are self-evident. Yet, they have not done so out of hatred. Rather, they have loved America sufficiently to believe it can be as good and as just as figures so diverse and yet in some very important ways so similar as Thomas Jefferson and Jeremiah Wright have taught us.’[16] Jefferson, Twain, Eisenhower, and Wright represent for Nichols a pantheon of American nay-sayers who were brave enough to stand up to the orthodoxy of their times and their refusal represents a peculiarly American form of patriotism. Bercovitch refers to these ‘prophets of doom’ and their effort to reconcile reality with mythic expectations: ‘In spite of themselves, our prophets of doom [‘God damn America’] also helped persuade the American that the vision he inherited must be made to correspond to the fact. They too helped make him feel, if only out of desperation, that the distance between what is and what ought to be demanded his rededication to the spirit of America.’[17] While Obama has not used the intemperate or negative language of his former pastor it is interesting that he too taps into this national reservoir of prophecy, of the possibility of change that will redeem America and fulfil pledges that were made at its founding moments.

Postscript

In her monthly column for Salon.com Camille Paglia touched upon what Obama’s association with the Rev. Wright meant from a somewhat different, but still hopeful angle. ‘My one nagging question about Obama, given his Kenyan lineage and broad background in Indonesia and Hawaii as well as his Ivy League education, was how well he knew the history, passions and aspirations of African-American culture. But Obama’s 20-year membership in Rev. Wright’s Chicago megachurch completely reassured me on this score. First of all, sermons constitute only one small part of any congregation’s rich religious and social life. Second, not for a moment do I believe — as talk radio shows are tirelessly alleging — that Obama’s political views are secretly identical to Wright’s. On the contrary, it was through listening to Wright, who was reciting a black liberationist theology that has been standard issue for a half-century, that Obama honed his desire to bridge the gap between racial and ethnic communities in the United States. This is one reason I believe Obama is the right person at the right time for the presidency. Where Hillary divides and sows bitterness, Obama wants to unite and heal.’[18] Where many commentators saw naivety, bad-judgment, lack of patriotism and worse, Paglia perceives the Wright sermons period as a transitional one, preparing and honing Obama for a presidency that will transcend the divisions exacerbated by Wright’s sermons and by their airing on You Tube and radio and mass media outlets. Whether her hope is wishful and whether the politics and ideological frameworks of the campaign and possible presidency allow for such a transcendence is debatable. What remains vital and more than interesting are the ways in which all sides to this media fuelled debate participate in their conceptions of America and its future.

– Subarno Chattarji


 

[1] Sebastian Mallaby, ‘Wright and Ridiculous,’ Washington Post, May 5, 2008, p. A 17.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985), p. 31.

[4] An example of alternative analyses was an opinion piece in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune (California) which expressed the dissociation very clearly: ‘If Wright were running for office, he would get the full treatment for his race-baiting and delusional ramblings and for rhetoric that ill serves Chicago’s black community. But as long as Wright is not drafting policy for Obama, he is entitled to his uninformed opinion.’ Debra J. Saunders, ‘With Wright, Obama is not Guilty by Association,’ San Gabriel Valley Tribune, March 18, 2008.

[5] Eugene Robinson, ‘Where Wright Goes Wrong,’ Washington Post, April 29, 2008, p. A 17.

[6] Sebastian Mallaby, ‘Wright and Ridiculous,’ Washington Post, May 5, 2008, p. A 17.

[7] Betsy Reed, ‘Race to the Bottom,’ The Nation, May 19, 2008, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080519/betsyreed

[8] See ‘Soldier uses Quran for target practice: Muslim holy book was found riddled with bullet holes at Baghdad range,’ Reuters, May 18, 2008, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24693647/ Major General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of US troops in Baghdad said, ‘“I am a man of honor, I am a man of character. You have my word this will never happen again.”’

[9] Betsy Reed, ‘Race to the Bottom,’ The Nation, May 19, 2008, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080519/betsyreed

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] John Nichols, ‘Wright, Jefferson and the Wrath of God,’ The Online Beat, Posted 04/29/2008,

http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/316575/wright_jefferson_and_the_wrath_of_god

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1978), p. 57, 59.

[16] John Nichols, ‘Wright, Jefferson and the Wrath of God,’ The Online Beat, Posted 04/29/2008,

http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/316575/wright_jefferson_and_the_wrath_of_god

[17] Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad, p. 197.

[18] Camille Paglia, ‘She won’t go easy,’ Salon.com, May 14, 2008, http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2008/05/14/tarantella/index2.html#

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How China is Plundering the Natural Resources of Tibet

August 22, 2008 at 6:54 pm (Partha Gangopadhyay, Politics)

 

China is incurring huge expenditure in transferring and consolidating the Chinese population in Tibet. Massive investment has been made to build a network of modern highways all over Tibet. China can also boast of having laid the highest railway track in the world that connects Lhasa with Beijing. In fact, China often complains that its “civilizing” mission in Tibet is costing the government and people of China large amounts in terms of subsidies to an under-developed region. According to official Chinese statistics, the level of annual subsidies to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) in the late 1980s was around 1 billion yuan or $270 million. However, all the infrastructure that China has built in Tibet has not made the lives of the native Tibetans any better; it has only taken the exploitative apparatuses of the Chinese government deeper. 

 

China’s Ministry of Land and Resources has announced monumental new resource discoveries all across Tibet. The findings are the culmination of a secret 7-year, $44 million survey project, which began in 1999. More than 1,000 researchers were divided into 24 separate groups and fanned out across the Qinghai-Tibet plateau to geologically map the entire Tibetan region. Their findings have lead to a discovery of 16 major new deposits of copper, iron, lead, zinc and other minerals worth an estimated $128 billion. These discoveries add to Tibet’s proven deposits of 126 minerals, with a significant share of the world’s reserves in lithium, chromite, copper, borax, and iron. “Lack of resources has been a bottleneck for the economy,” Meng Xianlai, director of the China Geological Survey, had once complained in his statements. The discoveries in Tibet “will alleviate the mounting resources pressure China is facing.”  

 

Tibet is now said to hold as much as 40 million tons of copper — one third of China’s total, 40 million tons of lead and zinc, and more than a billion tons of high-grade iron. Among the Tibet discoveries is China’s first substantial rich-iron supply. A seam called Nyixung, is alone expected to contain as much as 500 million tons. That’s enough to reduce Chinese iron import by 20 per cent. The new copper reserves are no less substantial. A 250-mile seam of the metal has been found along Tibet’s environmentally sensitive Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge. One mine there, called Yulong, already described as the second-largest reserve in China, is now estimated to hold as much as 18 million tons, according to the government news site Xinhua and could soon become the largest copper mine in the country, helping to feed China’s increasing demand of the metal used for electrical wiring and power generation. China, which until now has imported much of its copper from Chile, is estimated to hold 5.6 per cent of the world’s copper and is its seventh largest producer. 

 

The riches that China expects to extract from Tibet in the near future, perhaps better explains the money that China annually spends on Tibet than the empty claims of modernizing Tibet. 

 

In fact, an official web site of China has itself disclosed that “Once-quiet, northern Tibet has become a scene of bustle and excitement since a number of inland enterprise marched into the region in response to the government call for speeding up the development of western China. Northern Tibet has more than 200 mining areas with 28 kinds of mineral ores, and is rich in oil and hot springs.”  

 

The China National Star Petroleum Corporation and the China National Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Corporation have recently dug up the first oil well in the Lunpola Basin, which has a proven oil reserve of three million tons. This reserve is in addition to the over one million tons of crude oil that Amdo’s oil fields produce per year. Further, the Chinese have opened two alluvial gold mines in Nagqu and built a gem processing plant in Lhasa. Soinam Dorje, an official of the Nagqu Prefecture, has welcomed inland and foreign investors to exploit the gold, oil and antimony resources on the plateau of northern Tibet. This also goes far to explain the need to invest in infrastructure all over Tibet. Apart from its rich mineral wealth, Tibet has many other resources that may provide China the edge in its race to emerge as the world’s richest economy. 

 

The volume of timber that China has taken away from Tibet itself far exceeds the amount that it has spent to build the infrastructural facilities in Tibet. In 1949, Tibet’s ancient forests covered 221,800 sq km. By 1985 they stood at 134,000 sq km — almost half. Most forests grow on steep, isolated slopes in the river valleys of Tibet’s low-lying south-eastern region. The principal types are tropical montane and subtropical montane coniferous forest, with spruce, fir, pine, larch, cypress, birch, and oak among the main species. The tree line varies from 3,800 mt in the region’s moist south to 4,300 mt in the semi-dry north. Tibet’s forests were primarily old growth, with trees over 200 years old predominating. The average stock density is 272 cubic mt/ha, but U-Tsang’s old growth areas reach 2,300 cubic mt/ha — the world’s highest stock density for conifers. Once pristine forests are reached, the most common method of cutting is clear felling, which has led to the denudation of vast hill sides. Timber extraction until 1985 totaled 2,442 million cubic mt, or 40 per cent of the 1949 forest stock, worth $54 billion. 

 

Deforestation is a major source of employment in Tibet: in the Kongpo area of the TAR alone, over 20,000 Chinese soldiers and Tibetan prisoners are involved in tree felling and transportation of timber. In 1949, Ngapa, in Amdo, had 2.20 million hectares of land under forest cover. Its timber reserve then stood at 340 million cubic mt. In the 1980s, it was reduced to 1.17 million hectares, with a timber reserve of only 180 million cubic mt. Similarly, during 30 years, till 1985 China exploited 6.44 million cubic mt of timber from Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. As new roads increasingly penetrate remote areas of Tibet, China is finding new excuses to increase the rate of deforestation in the region.  

 

China’s primary objective of constructing roads in Tibet is to deploy occupying forces like the People’s Liberation Army, along with defence materials, and immigration of Chinese, as well as to exploit the natural resources of Tibet, which are transported primarily to China. Roads may run through most Tibetan villages, but a public transport system is almost non-existent in the majority of rural Tibet. The Chinese modern means of transport do not benefit the majority of Tibetans. Tibetans in most places continue to use horses, mules, yaks, donkeys and sheep as modes of transportation. Thus, the Chinese claim of investing heavily in “civilizing” the Tibetans is one of the most shameless lies that one can perpetuate. 

 

The Tibetan plateau gives birth to some of the longest rivers of the world; The Machu (Huang Ho, or Yellow River), the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), the Drichu (Yangtze), and the Senge Khabab (Indus).  Tibet also has over 2,000 natural lakes spread over a combined area of more than 35,000 sq km, some of which are sacred and play a special role in local culture. Steep slopes and the abundant water of these rivers and lakes make them extremely valuable as sources of hydroelectric power. Tibet has an exploitable hydropower potential of 250,000 megawatts, the highest of any country in the world and the TAR alone has a potential of 200,000 megawatts. China has built some large hydroelectricity projects all over Tibet. These projects are designed to tap Tibet’s hydro potential to provide power and other benefits to the Chinese population and industries both in Tibet and China.  

 

While the Tibetans are displaced from their homes and lands, tens of thousands of Chinese workers are brought up from China to construct and maintain these dams. Take the case of the Yamdrok Yutso hydropower project. The Chinese claim that this project will greatly benefit the Tibetans. The Tibetan people in general, particularly the late Panchen Lama and Ngapo Ngawang Jigme, opposed and effectively delayed its construction for several years. The Chinese, nevertheless, went ahead with the construction and with the help of more than 1,500-strong PLA troops are guarding the construction area and no civilians are allowed near it. But the environmental, human and cultural toll of these hydroelectricity projects will have to be borne by the Tibetans.  Tibet also possesses high solar energy potential per unit only after the Sahara, an estimated annual average of 200 kilocalorie/cm, as well as significant geothermal resources. Despite such abundant potential from small, environmentally-benign sources, the Chinese have built huge dams, such as Longyang Xia, and are continuing to do so, such as the hydropower station at Yamdrok Yutso. Tibet is made to play a pivotal role in fulfilling the huge demand for power in China at the cost of its own helpless, poor natives. 

 

Furthermore, Tibet has been made a hub of nuclear facilities. This reduces the radioactive risks that China could suffer if an accident takes place in such installations. Again, since such facilities are located in a colonized region, the Chinese authorities do not take the necessary precautions that are mandatory for such facilities. Official Chinese pronouncements have confirmed the existence in Tibet of the biggest uranium reserves in the world. Apart from Amdo, since 1976 uranium has been mined and processed in the Thewo and Zorge regions of Kham also. According to reports, the uranium mining and processing in Tibet is done with unforgivable callousness. The Ninth Academy, China’s Northwest Nuclear Weapons Research and Design Academy in Tibet’s north-eastern area of Amdo, is reported to have dumped an unknown quantity of radioactive waste on the Tibetan plateau, according to a report released by International Campaign for Tibet, a Washington, D.C.-based organization: 

                                                                                          

“Waste disposal methods were reported to be casual in the extreme. Initially, waste was put in shallow, unlined landfills… The nature and quantity of radioactive waste generated by the Ninth Academy is still unknown… During the 1960s and 1970s, nuclear waste from the facility was disposed of in a roughshod and haphazard manner. Nuclear waste from the academy would have taken a variety of forms — liquid slurry, as well as solid and gaseous waste. Liquid or solid waste would have been in adjacent land or water sites.” 

                                                                      

Given the fact that underground water supplies in Amdo have been diminishing at a rapid rate and usable underground water is very limited, the radioactive contamination of groundwater is of great concern in the region. Many local Tibetans have died after drinking contaminated water near a uranium mine in Ngapa, Amdo. They have also reported deformed birth of humans and animals.  

 

The existence of Chinese nuclear bases and nuclear weapon manufacturing centres in Tibet has been reported from time to time. China is reported to have stationed approximately 90 nuclear warheads in Tibet. The Northwest Nuclear Weapons Research and Design Academy or the Ninth Academy, a secret organization involved in China’s  nuclear programme which is also a high security military weapons plant, is based at Dhashu (Chinese: Haiyan) in the Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It was responsible for designing all of China’s nuclear bombs through the mid-70s. It served as a research centre for detonation development, radiochemistry and many other nuclear weapons related activities. It also assembled components of nuclear weapons. Several missile bases are located to the south of Lake Kokonor in Amdo, and Nagchukha. Another nuclear missile site in Tibet is located at Delingha, about 200 km south-east of Larger Tsaidam. It also houses DF-4s, and is the missile regimental headquarters for Amdo, containing four associated launch sites. It has been reported a number of times that China has carried out chemical defence manoeuvres in the high altitude zones of Tibet. There are also reports that China has been conducting nuclear tests in several areas of Tibet in order to determine radiation levels on the human population.  

 

Not only is its economy, China’s military might too is growing because of its colonization of Tibet.

 

China is exploiting far more from Tibet than what it is giving back. While China is proudly hosting the Olympics with its spectacular stadia and dazzling shows, the future of Tibet is turning gloomier. 

 

– Partha Gangopadhyay 

 

[Quote from Nuclear Tibet, Washington, DC, 1993, p.18 

 

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‘Race to the Bottom’: Barack Obama, the Reverend Wright and the 2008 US Elections: Part II

August 20, 2008 at 1:11 pm (Politics, Subarno Chattarji)

  

Barack Obama’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination has triggered anxieties not only about what it means to be American but has also led to a spate of speculations into the nature of blackness and the black community in the United States. Teddy Davis’ ‘Obama: “A Bound Man?”’ is one example and Davis’s article was based largely on a book by Shelby Steele, A Bound Man: Why We’re Excited About Barack Obama and Why He Can’t Win. The title in its combination of hope and inevitable loss encompasses the notion that Obama is a passing phenomenon, that America is not ready to vote a black man yet.

Davis, summarising Steele, makes a distinction between two kinds of black leaders: the ‘challengers’ and the ‘bargainers’. The Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and Jeremiah Wright are the ‘challengers’, because ‘they make whites feel guilty’. Obama is a ‘bargainer’ because ‘he agrees not to shame Americans with the history of slavery and segregation and whites respond with enormous gratitude’.[1] Steele does not perceive Obama’s possible cross-racial bargaining capacity as a positive quality because he thinks Obama has to ‘prove’ his blackness. Steele argues that in order to establish his black credentials Obama advocates a type of black agency which is contingent on whites (and their approval) and if this is so blacks will remain at the bottom forever and they will continue to need government help. ‘Steele thinks Obama’s alleged insecurity about his racial identity explains not only his 20-year relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright but also his continued support for affirmative action’.[2] Steele’s pop-psychological deconstruction of Obama’s racial identity and dilemmas is cited without comment, indeed with approbation, throughout the article, indicating the need for definitive frameworks to understand as well as criticize Obama. In Steele’s formulation it is not so much that America is not ready to vote for a black man but that the black leader is himself flawed and insecure and therefore unworthy of trust and votes. Davis concludes with a quote from an interview of Steele: ‘“What he is really saying is that he’s afraid,” Steele continued. “What Obama is saying is, ‘I’m afraid if I am less than receptive to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, they’re going to call me an Uncle Tom, they’re going to call me a sellout.’ The terror of Barack Obama’s life has been that blacks would reject him. That’s why I call him a bound man.”’[3] Steele was responding to Obama’s comments that he couldn’t selectively distance himself from being African-American in American society. Steele perceives Obama’s capacity for bargaining as a type of ‘sellout’ and it is interesting that the Uncle Tom stereotype is wheeled out to condemn Obama for trying to conceptually and ideologically, if not actually, challenge the idea of a black politician as speaking to an exclusively black constituency. So while it is theoretically possible to postulate the idea of the ‘bound man’ the phrase seems emblematic of community and perhaps national insecurities rather than only the anxieties of Obama.

Part of Obama’s problem with sections of the black electorate is related, as noted in the Shelby Steele/Teddy Davis analysis, to his refusal to take extremist stances and to tap into a wider sense of black nationalism. Thus while Obama has benefited from African-American support, his repudiation of the Rev. Wright as well as his more nuanced responses to matters of race, has made African-Americans unhappy. As Jonathan Tilove observes: ‘To many, [Andra] Gillespie [political scientist at Emory University] among them, Obama’s problem is that he has never made explicit what, beyond symbolism, his election would do for black America. Now, he is rejecting Wright’s racial agenda without having clearly articulated his own. “The whole thing with Barack’s campaign is making all the other black leadership be on mute,” said Kevin Alexander Gray, an activist and writer in South Carolina. “The idea is that black people should just shut up and accept him as the prize of racial advancement with nothing given in return except him being the president.”’[4] Black nationalism, according to Michael Dawson, a political scientist at the University of Chicago ‘refers to a way of thinking that “takes race as the fundamental dividing line in the U.S.” and the “primary determinant for making political judgments”’.[5] The testimony of Obama’s political workers in the field, the persistent focus on his alien background and upbringing are indicative of the racial divide and it would be too much to expect Obama to heal that rift in his person and his campaign. What is interesting in the commentary of Gillespie and Gray, however, is the reinstatement of racial identity and division, this time from a black point of view. For one black commentator ‘So much of the educated white people’s love for Barack depends on educated white people’s complete ignorance of and distance from the rest of us. Barack is the black person they want the rest of us to be–half-white and loving, or “racially transcendent,” as the press loves to call him.’[6] The anger and disillusion is based on Obama’s appeal to a certain class of white people (the ‘latte liberals’ from a Republican perspective), his ability to reach across racial divides, however inadequate that might be. The polarization mediated here is not just between black and white, right and left (the continuance of the culture wars), but within a black communitarian ideal that sees itself as authentic only when it is defined in exclusive terms. Part of this exclusivity is predicated on a memory of slavery, a collective pain and generational trauma and Obama, although his Philadelphia speech referred to the well-springs of communal anger, has largely steered clear of the divisive terrain represented by this memorial and historical landscape.[7] At one level this could be seen as an attempt to escape history, a political sleight of hand whereby race is fore-grounded but not brought to the forefront to upset the idea of racial transcendence. At another level Obama’s soft peddling of race may be connected to the ways in which many black leaders have thrived on constituencies of victimhood, and his desire to move to a more positive frame.

The New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch, is not a liberal newspaper but it carried an analysis of Rev. Wright’s speeches in the context of victimhood that is worth considering. Ralph Peters in ‘The Rev & the Global Victims’ Club’ reduced Wright merely to the level of a demagogue who thrives on a sense of historical dispossession, but he also pointed to certain contradictions and contexts not mentioned by other analysts. Peters wrote: ‘Blame is delicious. And easy. Progress takes work. Nor is it in the interest of demagogues to see their followers graduate from society’s margins toward the center. Social, economic or political success undercuts their fundamental argument that their poor will always be with us.’[8] Parts of this argument are unexceptionable, particularly the ways in which leaders in all parts of the world – and Peters gives examples from the Middle East to Latin America to China – thrive on historical memories of dispossession and the idea of being victims because victimhood seems to erase historical responsibility for the past and especially the present. Within the African-American community this is a point that Bill Cosby and Obama (among others) have stressed in varying ways: that blacks need to take responsibility for their own lives and futures rather than blame the past and the government. While this argument is important, Peters also implies that since blacks have moved to the center and since America is a land of opportunities the blacks have only themselves to blame for their plight. This argument is disingenuous at best given systemic inequities which have led to large numbers of blacks without decent schooling, or the high rates of incarceration among the black community. Thus while there is a need to move beyond the rhetoric of victimhood – as Obama does – there is equally a need to focus on the dispossessed and the angry within the black community. Peters refuses to contextualize Wright’s anger lumping it with the demagoguery of ‘white supremacists, polygamist child molesters, UFO cults and the less scrupulous “advocates” for troubled minorities’.[9] The catalogue deliberately trivialises black issues by association with ‘UFO cults’ and the implication that ‘troubled minorities’ generally have unscrupulous advocates.

Peters then goes on to place his generalizations within the context of America since the battleground in all these debates is the imagining and refashioning of the nation. ‘Fortunately for us, this paralyzing cult of victimhood is the antithesis of the ethic that allowed the United States to achieve the quality of life the vast majority of us enjoy today. What built our country was the get-up-off-your-butt belief that God, by any name, helps those who help themselves.’[10] The reiteration of a founding myth of energy and progress based on a Protestant work ethic is imaginatively powerful but historically problematic in its elision of moments when America has placed itself in the position of the victim. The re-writing of the Vietnam War in popular culture (Hollywood in particular), literature, and political language has created the iconic image of American soldiers as victims of their government, the Viet Cong, the media, the anti-war protestors, or a malevolent combination of all these. Post 9/11 America positioned itself as a victim of terrorism – which indeed it was – but that positioning allowed for an erasure of histories of US violence within and outside its borders. As Suman Gupta observed: ‘In one fell swoop on 11 September those who could be perceived as perpetrators (the West) and their allies had turned into victims, and those who could be conceived of as victims (the objects of Western power politics and self-interest) had turned into perpetrators.’[11] Peters does not deal with these troubled contexts because for him ‘victimhood’ is a minority disease, an affliction from which mainstream America is miraculously immune, and Rev. Wright represents a recrudescence that only bolsters the argument that ‘the global victims’ club’ have nothing really to complain about. Between the explaining away of victimhood through trivialization (Peters) and the fixation on victimhood (Gillespie and Gray) there seems to be little middle ground. Are Obama’s silences on some of these issues evasions or are they indicative of his realization that mere rhetoric will not address the problem? These questions are not within the media matrix under consideration but there are more thoughtful responses to some of the problems raised by Wright and the response to Wright and what he represents.

 Subarno Chattarji.


[1] Teddy Davis, ‘Obama: “A Bound Man”?’ ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Vote2008/Story?id=4524005 March 26, 2008.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jonathan Tilove, ‘Renewed Wright Imbroglio Exposes Fissures Among Black Voters,’ http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/05/renewed_wright_imbroglio_expos.html  Accessed May 2, 2008.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cinque Henderson, ‘Maybe We Can’t: The Black Case for Obama Skepticism,’ The New Republic, May 28, 2008. http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=331c77bb-9591-422c-aa2b-11a741c6ebb9

[7] Obama’s even-handedness does not mean that he has moved beyond the consciousness and travails of race. As Debra J. Saunders wrote: ‘Obama is a viable candidate because he is a black man with a foot in two worlds. Obama appeals to white America as a black success story. But even if Obama has grown beyond grievances, that doesn’t mean Obama has moved beyond recognizing grievances of underclass African Americans, who have fared less well in a world that can look at them with hostility.’ Debra J. Saunders, ‘With Wright, Obama is not Guilty by Association,’ San Gabriel Valley Tribune, March 18, 2008.

[8] Ralph Peters, ‘The Rev & the Global Victims’ Club,’ The New York Post, April 30, 2008. http://www.nypost.com/seven/04302008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/the_rev__the_global_victims_club_108818.htm

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Suman Gupta, The Replication of Violence: Thoughts on International Terrorism After September 11th, (London, Sterling, VA.: Pluto Press, 2002), p. 10.

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A Day to Forget, Remembered

August 18, 2008 at 2:11 am (Dominic Alapat, Short Story)

  

For Noel, that long ago April day was one of those days he never wanted to remember. This far away and when he thought he felt relaxed after a nice, short little break from work. Yet, for Noel, the thought lingered till he was able to see the old house he lived in as a child. The two-storied, lime-washed building with common verandahs.

 

Noel’s father Joseph was a heavy drinker who often got drunk on holidays, turned bitter and angry, beat his mother and created a scene. Suddenly this unhappy April day came to his mind. It came in flash. A flash of light, which when settled, revealed a garden during sunset. A woman and two children are sitting on a bench. All around them people walk, some exercise on the parallel bars nearby. For Noel, who is one of the children, the other his older sister, something is sinking inside him this evening. He breathes in the fresh smell of the grass. He feels the change from the claustrophobic green walls of his house to this freshness and light around. Yet, he feels as though a huge part of himself is not there. In his mind, he can barely see his sister. His mother, who sits between them, is silent, sad and not talking. She is shaken. Noel watches her sad, pale face, the nerves around her neck. He and his sister too are not talking.

 

Then what sinks inside he realizes this far away are the scenes that took place that day in his home. He would have been sitting on the blue sofa in the drawing room, the other blue one his sister’s, they had decided among themselves. And he sees his father, drunken, lunging at his mother, swaying on his feet and shouting. His mother weeping, pale, on the verge of collapse. The scene had gone on for hours, the shouting, the tears, the trembling. He and his sister were barely able to study that day, at least Noel knew he wasn’t. Book in hand, he had watched the screaming unfold, until his father had got drowsy and had fallen asleep.

 

Noel was ashamed of his parents. Of his father’s huge paunch, his mother’s aged face. The pain went coursing in his mind, the same scene played again and again.

He remembered how his father had woken up and had probably started to drink again and shout. His mother kneeling before the picture of Christ or maybe made to kneel. Weeping, praying. How she gathered Noel and his sister and fled to the garden. Noel felt pain. He felt it then and saw how it had a way of being with you, how it could rear its head again in a flash. How they were playing out in his mind while he was sitting in the garden. Why the people there strolling about, exercising, did not give him the joy he usually felt. How he saw his father over and over again. The scenes and the sinking. The nauseous smell of alcohol from his father’s mouth. The scenes played over and over in his mind. His father’s lungi coming off and how he quickly tried to tie it back. His face bloated, his eyes and mind senseless.

 

The scenes played then in the garden as it played now. He wondered what it meant. He knew there was something missing, something gone. What has drowned in me, Noel thought, as he lit a cigarette and waited for an answer.

 

– Dominic Alapat.   

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‘Race to the Bottom’: Barack Obama, the Reverend Wright and the 2008 US Elections: Part I

August 15, 2008 at 9:54 am (Politics, Subarno Chattarji)

 

 

The spectacle of the Democratic Party primaries nomination for the US Presidential elections has occupied media space since January 2008 when Barack Obama created a sensation by winning Iowa. Media reports have dwelt on the epic and interminable contest between the first African-American and first woman candidate for President in United States, emphasising in turn the inspirational, the banal, the personal, the gimmicky, and occasionally, the political aspects of this race. Inevitably race and gender have figured in the debates and commentaries and while the intersection between the two is important – and analysed in at least one media outlet – it is the issue of race that this piece will focus on. This is not to privilege race over gender but to see the ways in which media debates on Obama are refracted through the history and contexts of race relations in the US as well as the conception of America itself.

 

A quantitative analysis of reportage reveals an enormous amount of column space as well as air time spent on the relationship between Obama and his former pastor for twenty years, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. A LexisNexis search indicates that there were more than 3000 entries in US news outlets from 20 February to 20 May 2008 with articles or mentions of Obama and the Wright controversy. When the search is narrowed to headlines over the same three month period the incidence comes down to 322.[1] The print media along with television as well as the internet and World Wide Web coverage are indicative of the obsessive nature of media focus. A qualitative analysis reveals some of the underlying issues inherent in the reportage as well as in the ways in which Obama’s bid for the Presidency brings to the fore overt and latent anxieties and prejudices in the US polity and the imagining of the nation.

 

A significant part of Obama’s appeal seems to lie in his apparent transcendence of race, a ‘post-racial’ paradise where race does not matter. This was, from the beginning, a fiction sustained by Obama himself and by his younger supporters as well as sections of the media. The fictional nature of a colour blind campaign and candidacy was revealed not only in the Wright controversy or in earlier attempts by Bill Clinton to pigeon hole Obama as a black candidate, but also in rare media reports of racism on the ground.

 

Kevin Merida’s ‘Racist Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause’ outlined the extent of the problem. ‘For all the hope and excitement Obama’s candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed – and unreported – this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They’ve been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they’ve endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can’t fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.’[2]

While Merida’s is a mainstream media awakening, racial profiling of Obama has been active in the blogosphere for a while. One set of family photographs emphasises Obama’s alien background highlighting his Muslim identity and apparent links to Luo opposition leader in Kenya, RaRaila Odinga ‘(who signed a Shariah pact with Muslims and claims to be Obama’s cousin)’. A photo of Barack’s father is captioned ‘Muslim, hard-drinker, was married three times, attended Harvard and returned to Kenya.’ A Kenyan family shot focuses on Obama’s brother ‘Abongo “Roy” Obama who is a Luo activist and a militant Muslim who argues that the black man must “liberate himself from the poisoning influences of European culture.”’[3] The photo montage and captions position Obama as a Muslim with dubious family and political connections and place him outside the pale of American identity and patriotism. The notion of ‘Americanness’ harks back to the founding of the country and finds repeated resonance in the American imagination as well as in politics. Hector St John de Crevecoeur travelling in and writing about the United States in the eighteenth century famously asked the question ‘What is an American?’ in his Letters from an American Farmer, and went on to answer it in archetypal terms of plurality, democracy, and hope. More recently Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post analysed the implications of being American in the context of the 2008 elections. Meyerson claims that ‘Obama’s story […] represents a triumph of specifically American identity over racial and religious identity. It was the lure of America, the shining city on a hill, that brought his black Kenyan father here, where he met Obama’s white Kansan mother. It is because America is uniquely the land of immigrants and has moved beyond a racial caste system that Obama exists, has thrived and stands a good chance of being our next president.’[4] This is the idea of the transcendent melting pot, the land where individual self-fashioning opens the way to success and communal acceptance. It is, however, a partial vision and Meyerson characterizes another notion of Americanness, one that is predicated on being white and Christian, a homogenous core that perceives ethnic ‘others’ as outsiders and aliens. In West Virginia, a state that is 95 percent white and recently voted for Hillary Clinton ‘a disproportionate number of people write “American” when answering the census question on ethnic origin. For some, “American” is a race — white — no less than a nationality, and it’s on this equation that Republican prospects depend.’[5] What is at stake in the 2008 elections is not merely the choice of a successor to George W. Bush but the ways in which America and Americans define themselves within the particular cusp of nation and race.

Within these contexts and in the current climate of fear Obama’s supposed Muslim identity coupled with his blackness creates a direct as well as subliminal threat that must be subverted. In fact, his Muslim middle name and connections (such as the ‘endorsement’ from Hamas) have been repeatedly emphasised to underline the absolute ‘otherness’ represented by this candidate. While mainstream media has been largely innocent of this characterization its circulation on the internet is indicative of the profound suspicion of Islam mediated in the US by the media. As Edward Said pointed out in a book written more than a decade prior to 9/11: ‘“Islam” seems to engulf all aspects of the diverse Muslim world, reducing them all to a special malevolent and unthinking essence.’[6] In emphasising Obama’s Muslim identity in a post-9/11 world it is the malevolence of the religious association that is fore-grounded. An example of this was a letter written to a local paper by Tunkhannock Borough Mayor Norm Ball. Mayor Ball explained his support for Hillary Clinton in the following words: ‘Barack Hussein Obama and all his talk will do nothing for our country. There is so much that people don’t know about his upbringing in the Muslim world. His stepfather was a radical Muslim and the ranting of his minister against the white America, you can’t convince me that some that didn’t rub off on him. No, I want a president that will salute our flag, and put their hand on the Bible when they take the oath of office.’[7]

 

The central focus of media coverage and controversy has, however, been Obama’s race and the persistent racism of sections of the American electorate. Kevin Merida quotes a Victoria Switzer who was on phone-bank duty during the Pennsylvania primary campaign. ‘She made 60 calls to prospective voters in Susquehanna County, her home county, which is 98 percent white. The responses were dispiriting. One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn’t possibly vote for Obama and concluded: “Hang that darky from a tree!”’[8] Merida also notes that ‘In Vincennes, the Obama campaign office was vandalized at 2 a.m. on the eve of the primary, according to police. A large plate-glass window was smashed, an American flag stolen. Other windows were spray-painted with references to Obama’s controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and other political messages: “Hamas votes BHO” and “We don’t cling to guns or religion. Goddamn Wright.”’[9] The vandalizing and graffiti are reminiscent of an earlier era when Civil Rights protestors were attacked physically, churches and houses fire-bombed, and lynching a common practice. The reaction to Obama hasn’t reached the same level of violence and intimidation but the incidents cited by Merida are indicative of a strong and under-reported current of racial hatred.

 

A significant part of the media debate about race, loyalty, and patriotism was triggered by the Rev. Wright’s incendiary sermons blaming America for unleashing the HIV virus to decimate blacks, characterising 9/11 as a case of ‘chickens coming home to roost’, and his ‘God damn America’ diatribe. Obama’s response to his pastor’s opinions were outlined in a major speech in Philadelphia on March 18 where he attempted to place the anger and the bitterness expressed by Rev. Wright in contexts ranging from the history of slavery to the memory of the Civil Rights movement. Obama’s speech was followed by a further spate of media attention, some negative and some hailing it as a landmark speech in American politics.

 

Ed Koch, a former Mayor of New York City, weighed in with a piece on ‘Why Obama’s Speech Was Unconvincing’ and asked several questions: ‘Why didn’t Senator Obama stand up in the church and denounce his hateful statements or, at the very least, argue privately with his minister? […] What is it that I and others expected Obama to do? A great leader with a conscience and courage would have stood up and faced down anyone who engages in such conduct. I expect a President of the United States to have the strength of character to denounce and disown enemies of America – foreign and domestic – and yes, even his friends and confidants when they get seriously out of line.’[10] Koch’s argument was emblematic of the guilt-by-association logic whereby Obama was tarred with the same brush of intolerant and excessive rhetoric. In Koch’s and subsequent media articles there was little or no attempt to analyse the contexts and substance of the Rev. Wright’s works and words nor was there any sense that Obama may not agree with all that his former pastor says.

 

The Rev. Wright did not help his or Obama’s case by his series of media appearances in late April wherein he repeated his earlier assertions and forced Obama to formally and forcefully dissociate himself from the pastor’s ideas and iterations. Obama’s denunciations did not, however, alleviate the ‘out-group homogeneity effect’ whereby, as social psychologist David Hamilton puts it ‘on average, people tend to feel that those from other ethnic, cultural and political groups are quite similar to one another, whereas they know that people from their own groups are quite varied’.[11] The need to homogenise and thereby minimise and condemn a person as belonging to the ‘out-group’ was expressed in different forms in media analyses.

George F. Will’s article ‘A Pastor at Center Stage’ was subtitled ‘And a Parishioner with Questions to Answer’ and it raised questions similar to the ones raised by Ed Koch. Will concluded by establishing a close symbiosis between Obama and Wright: ‘He is a demagogue with whom Obama has had a voluntary 20-year relationship. It has involved, if not moral approval, certainly no serious disapproval. Wright also is an ongoing fountain of anti-American and, properly understood, anti-black rubbish. His speech yesterday demonstrated that he wants to be a central figure in this presidential campaign. He should be.’[12] It is interesting that Will ignored nuances within Wright’s arguments classifying them as ‘anti-American’ and ‘anti-black rubbish’ implying that to make such connections – between 9/11 and the conduct of US foreign policy, for example – is to be generically ‘anti-American’ (a not so subtle reminder of the ‘you’re with us or with the terrorists’ adage). Will omitted mention of Obama’s Philadelphia speech but one of his colleagues was quick to dismiss that as a ‘shameful, brilliantly executed, 5,000-word intellectual fraud’.[13] These swift and sarcastic dismissals are emblematic of an anxiety whereby the fissures and often unpleasant contexts revealed by Rev. Wright are sought to be dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic and Obama, by association, is unfit to lead the nation. While bi-culturality, multiculturalism, and the heterogeneity of the United States are justly celebrated, there is a strong resistance to these ideations and constructions of the nation, a resistance reflected in media outrage.

Obama’s Philadelphia speech was interpreted by Robert Tracinski as an attempt ‘to neutralize criticism of Wright by appealing to white racial guilt. Shelby Steele has memorably described “white guilt” as the presumption that whites are guilty of racism until they can prove otherwise, which they do by subjecting themselves to “diversity training,” by embracing “affirmative action” racial preferences–or by patiently taking abuse from the likes of Jeremiah Wright, in order to show how understanding they are of black grievances.’[14] Tracinski and Steele simplify ideas of white responsibility and guilt to the point of caricature and thereby create absolute polarities between the seemingly irrational anger of Wright and the rest of America that is truly American. To be sure this kind of polarization is ably aided by the politics of the liberal left which seems to fetishize ‘white guilt’ and the celebration of an untroubled multicultural country, but Tracinski and Steele and Krauthammer and their ilk are quick to denigrate any criticism of American race-relations, as well as its troubled history and continuities. The Rev. Wright serves as a perfect hate figure in this framework of partisan paranoia and the fear of transition that Obama represents. As Tracinski concluded with some satisfaction: ‘This is the final collapse of the noble promise of the Obama campaign. The man who had once put himself forward as the candidate who would transcend racial politics once and for all has ended up legitimizing a Christian equivalent of Louis Farrakhan–and injecting him into the American political debate.’[15] The construction of Obama’s denunciation of Wright’s extreme views as ‘legitimizing’ them is linked precisely to the idea of ‘out-group homogeneity’ whereby nuances, disagreements, subtleties of context and history are swept aside in favour of a monolithic black ‘other’, the enemy within who refuses to assimilate appropriately to mainstream roles and ideas. Even Obama’s supporters, as The Guardian reported, ‘fear that his denunciation of Wright will not be enough. Stacee Nichols, 33, said: “The state [Indiana, stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan] has a horrible history. There is still racism but it is more subtle now.”’[16] While Obama lost Indiana by a whisker the issue of race and its importance in the defining and re-defining of America and Americanness continues to reverberate in media debate.

– Subarno Chattarji.


[2] Kevin Merida, ‘Racist Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause,’ Washington Post, May 13, 2008, p. A01.

[3] Karel Prinsloo, ‘What do we know about Obama?’ AP

[4] Harold Meyerson, ‘McCain’s America,’ Washington Post, May 14, 2008, p. A19.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Edward W. Said, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, (New York: Vintage Books, 1981), p. 8.

[7] Kevin Merida, p. A01.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ed Koch, ‘Why Obama’s Speech Was Unconvincing,’ http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/03/obamas_unconvincing_speech.html  Accessed March 27, 2008.

[11] Shankar Vedantam, ‘The Candidate, the Preacher and the Unconscious Mind,’ Washington Post, May 5, 2008, p. A02.

[12] George F. Will, ‘A Pastor at Center Stage’ Washington Post, April 29, 2008, p. A17.

[13] Charles Krauthammer, ‘The “Race” Speech Revisited,’ Washington Post, May 2, 2008, p. A21.

[14] Robert Tracinski, ‘Obama’s Chickens Come Home to Roost,’ http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/04/obamas_chickens_come_home_to_r.html  Accessed April 30, 2008.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ewen MacAskill, ‘Fatigue and racism threaten to knock Obama bandwagon off the road,’ The Guardian, May 2, 2008, p. 28.

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On Friendship

August 10, 2008 at 9:17 am (Mary McQueary, Soliloquy)

 

 

Jane English wrote that friendship should not be a favor-debt situation. When we are friends with someone the exchange, the tit for tat, disappears. In the place of reciprocity, there is mutuality. The never-ending obligation to be there for each other, at least while the friendship lasts.

 

 

Too often we forget to see that the person we are intimate with cares for us no matter what, whether or not we give or take. Of course, nobody likes to only give, and if someone is only taking there is something immoral with that also, but to keep an accounting of what we’ve done to others and them to us makes for a short ending to friendships.

 

 
The indebtedness we often times feel can come from many different sources; poor self-esteem, ghost thoughts from the past clouding our present day relationships, perhaps even coming from our religious upbringing. Many have the belief we are forever indebted to God for our creation, though Jane English had something interesting to say about parent-child relationships that I think can also be said of our relationship with our Creator (should one choose to believe there is one).

 

 

Both debt-favor relationships and friendships share the common element, attention, making the two types difficult to distinguish from each other in certain situations. Within friendships, we give each other love, the forwarding of their well-being over our own, thoughts of the other, and subsequent actions that we take making our relationship a priority. We have friendships because we like another person. And they like us. Love tangles with time and often is seen as the same within the attention element but do not be fooled, it is not the same.  

 

Here’s an example:

I worked for a man named Mac Hackett. He supervised 3 managers. My orders were that Mac came first and foremost. He was priority #1. When he was not in need, I could devote my attention and energies to the other 3 managers. They became priority #2. The employees they oversaw became the 3rd priority. 

 

 

I was able to manage all of their needs most of the time quite well. Mac was happy, the managers were happy, their people were happy. All their needs were taken care of. Everyone knew where they came on the list of priority, so that when I said to one of the employees that I couldn’t fulfill a request they made of me they knew it was because I was serving the managers‘, or Mac‘s, needs. No squabbles, no begging, no “I can’t believe you won’t help me out here” type of comments. They gave me so much an hour; I made them happy by being their very effective helper. A debt-favor relationship.

 

 
Can you see how this scenario could easily happen within personal relationships? Our spouse becomes priority #1, our children priority #2, and our friends priority #3. Our friends come to us and say, “Could I have some of your time?” and we reply by saying, “I can’t right now”. They are understanding that we have spouses or children that have needs to be attended, that we love them, but are we are working with the parameters of favor/debt relationships and neglecting the more expansive needs of friendship?

 

 

For many, for their family and friends, they cook them dinner, wash their clothes, give them love. They give food, clothes (although more often than not ones that are dirty), and love in return, making them happy by being their very effective wife/mother/friend (Nina Rosenstand points to the word ‘prostitute’.) 

 

 

The favor-debt relationship is a model that is followed by amazing amounts of people, more than we realize, for it’s a tidy little model that is easy to follow. It doesn’t require much thought. No triage here. The formula is already set and like assembly line workers we follow it precisely so that our lives continue in a happy mode. Never an upset, never a crisis noticed. Except there is a crisis and upsets going on everywhere, deep inside the souls of our family and friends. For we are crushed when we are in need and who we need the most can’t be with us.

 

 
All relationships shift and alter through time and society’s impetus is to keep things from being messy, to keep things flowing easy, to have relationships be cut and dry, black and white, never a shade of gray, but that fact does not release us from our friendships.

 

I admit to being overwhelmed with fear when I am unable to respond to someone when I’m needed and it’s out of the priority sequence that mainstream society has for set up for me. I’ve dropped the ball before at a really crucial moment and nearly had a friendship end. It is a shame that never leaves me. It serves as a reminder to tell you and to show you how much your friendship means to me. So you will know that I am trying to be a human being, and that I want to love you like a human, the messy way, the real and deep way, and not as a robot programmed to love and do by formula. My friend, I love you beyond debt or favor.

 

– Mary McQueary.

 

 

 

 

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The Dark Knight – Obviously

August 5, 2008 at 3:20 am (Cinema, Kiran David)

 

 

Christopher Nolan, as lauded as he is for his various films, is for me a director who, over the years, has mastered obviousness. Being mechanical may be his second, though slightly lesser, virtue.

 

For reasons strange, I seem to have seen most of his films, from Memento to the current film The Dark Knight, none of which seemed to hold any resonance for me. When I mention this to friends who love him, I am told the great work is his first film which I have not seen – The Following. Somehow, as unfair as it seems, I am sceptical.

 

My first foray into Nolan’s work was Memento, the clever but tediously mechanical film that goes backwards because it’s cool. As far as this format is concerned I much prefer Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, however dubious its intentions may or may not be, and the fascinating Peppermint Candy by Lee Chang-Dong which uses the reverse-storytelling technique to evoke a life and a period in Korean history.

 

Insomnia, Nolan’s remake of the very interesting Scandinavian film with the same title directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg, was just awful. While it tells the same story as the original, Nolan’s approach to the film leaves nothing to the imagination. The scene at the end, in which the young female cop gives Al Pacino her reason for not turning him in, is a hoot. It is also a scene that defines Nolan’s sensibility.

 

Next on the list was Batman Begins which I will not waste any time going into.

 

After missing out on Prestige (maybe the film I ‘should’ see) I girded my loins and bought a ticket for The Dark Knight, the latest Nolan opus.

 

To be fair, at a basic level it is quite entertaining and more watchable than his other films, definitely more so than Batman Begins.

 

However, my grouse is the obviousness with which he tells his story. There is no subtlety, the many themes he touches upon are thrust down our throats, things that would have been implied by better directors are verbalized by his characters in absolute terms, leaving no space for the viewer to commune with the film.

 

On the other hand Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, the best film made on the superhero, evokes its themes in a subtle way. The visual scheme explores the darker side, the otherness of the lead character, and the psychological complexities of the supporting characters, or if you prefer, the baddies. Each of them, be it Batman, The Penguin or Catwoman, all seem to have multifaceted and sometimes conflicting natures. There is a kind of reticence that informs their actions, however blatant they may appear to be. Each of Burton’s characters seems to carry within themselves a solitude and maybe even a sort of melancholy. Burton often seems to catch them on the wrong foot, making the film a much richer and more organic experience.

 

Burton seems to have mastered the art of evoking the outsider, a theme that runs through all his work. He has the skill to absorb his source material and create a work that reflects his internality and vision.

 

Nolan’s admirers and fans keep harping that he has succeeded in bringing Batman to the real world, reflecting contemporary global issues, but he is working within an art form, however commercial, and a work without resonance is nothing. In any case, the Burton film, though set in an unreal environment, deals with concerns that interest him personally, some of them mirroring society.

 

The late Heath Ledger works well within the film’s structure, and is often the reason that one stays interested in the film. I suppose there will be endless debates as to whether he or Jack Nicholson plays the definitive Joker. Taken out of their individual filmic contexts, it is a difficult question to answer. However, I feel Ledger’s performance adds to The Dark Knight whereas Nicholson’s somehow takes away, derailing Tim Burton’s Batman in more ways than one.

 

Maggie Gyllenhaal is effective, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Gary Oldman play a regular guy. In fact, I took some time figuring out it was him! Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are, as always, untainted by any project, however banal.

 

Coming to Christian Bale, an actor who normally works well even in awful films like The Machinist, and whose work I’ve admired from the time he was a young boy in Empire of the Sun to Velvet Goldmine and the more recent I’m Not There ; Bale somehow falls flat here both as Bruce Wayne and as Batman. He lacks the complexity and the dark ambiguity that Michael Keaton brings to his interpretation. I believe, Bale has agreed to work on the next instalment only if Nolan directs. I hope he grows up and moves on.

 

As I mentioned earlier, the film is watchable, with the zap of the contemporary Hollywood flick, despite some dubious cross-cutting in the first part of the climax and a rather tiresome extended second climax with the Two-Face character.

 

One hopes that one day Nolan will graduate from being the Auteur of the Obvious to someone who understands the richer textures of cinema even if he continues to work within its popular idiom.

 

– Kiran David.

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A Snail Mail’s Tale

August 4, 2008 at 4:37 am (Mary McQueary, Soliloquy)

There I was, an envelope, addressed correctly, stamps affixed properly. Deposited into a blue metal box I waited in the dark with hundreds of others like me. The wait wasn’t long as the next day a large man in a blue-gray uniform grabbed me and stuffed me into a hot leather sack.

The trip was bumpy and there were lots of stops. I was pressed hard against another envelope. I didn’t mind. She was pretty with barcodes and a clear window so I could see part of her payment coupon. She said her name was Bell. She winked and told me she also contained a check to the phone company. Ooo-la-la! This was going to be a nice trip.

We soon arrived to a large white truck and were rudely dumped out of our dark and cozy spot into a big white plastic box. The light of day struck my return label and I was blinded temporarily but within a minute the door was slammed shut and darkness again returned.

The next part I hardly remember, it went by in such a blur. I was tossed onto a conveyer belt and a large magazine fell on me. I could hardly breathe. But when we hit the metal roller rapids he shifted off of me and I could breathe easier and get a look around. Above and below me were lanes and lanes of postal highway. Depending on where you were headed, you were either lifted to the sky and then slid down a slide or transported horizontally through a portal. I was international mail and assumed that I would be exiting through the portal.

I saw Christmas cards branching away, turning around to blow kisses to each other, promising to write next year and tell each other how things were going. I saw stiff mortgage brokers’ and lawyers’ letters that wouldn’t bend even when the Victoria’s Secret catalog leaned against them. I was amazed at all the lives contained here and I was just in town! What laid beyond was a mystery and I was excited, anticipating the grand adventure of traveling out of the country.

Sure enough, I was sent through the portal and promptly stuffed into a knapsack. Quick transportation was made to the tarmac where I was thrown without a care into a plane’s cargo hold. The jet engines were loud. Above me I could hear the wheels of the stewardess’ beverage cart as it moved up and down the center aisle above us.

 
Our flight was long, giving me time to meet lots of letters. Everyone I met was nice. There was an old woman’s note with a fruit cake headed to Austria. A guy trying to track down an old military buddy. A young girl’s first pen pal correspondence. An older man asked me if I had seen any incoming mail. He was hoping that his message was not too late in getting there and that he wouldn’t cross paths with word of his brother’s death. I told him I had only seen outgoing mail and that I wished him Godspeed.

As soon as we landed the pace picked up once again and things really got hectic. We were transported to a huge building marked with official government seals and scary official signs declaring “No Hazardous Items Allowed”, “No Fireworks”, “No Talcum Powder of Any Kind.” A small cluster of baby announcements had started to cry. A Parenting magazine had stopped to reassure them that they would be alright. I couldn’t move, my envelope flap hung open in awe, it was the most amazing place I had ever seen.

Large florescent lights hung from the ceiling and the building was larger than a plane hanger. Metal roller conveyer belts went on for miles and piles and piles of post reached towards the top roof windows. I was terrified but figured if I was to ever reach my destination I had to be bold and go forth and get on. Hoping to make it into the hands of the person that I was addressed to, I courageously flung myself out flat and laid prone on the belts. The metal felt cool to my face and soon I was lured asleep by the sound of the machines.

It was hours later when I woke up in the dark, the machines stilled. There was a jam in the system and everything had come to a halt. A small bulgy package had come undone. The black lace bra it contained had tried to escape and had gotten entwined in the rollers. Her back hooks had snagged on a metal bracket. She was a goner. The packages around her were mortified. A Fredericks of Hollywood return address label indicated that she was the wrong size, that she had been unwanted.

“Apparent suicide,” the Fraternal Order of Police charity letter said matter-of-factly as he examined the envelope. “It happens sometimes with these kind. Not wanting to return to the manufacturer.”

“Move along, move along!” the novel War and Peace commanded, “There’s nothing to see here.” He began nudging some away from the incident. Everyone was visibly shaken. Many pressed themselves against each other in an effort to make sure their postage stamps and return labels were securely fixed.

 
Soon the machines started up again and though there was a reserved quietness, the feeling of anticipation again grew as letters contemplated their end destinations silently. After what seemed like an eternity I spied the large metal tank at the end of the building. Marked on its side in letters the size of a sequoia read the word, “Radiation”, and the yellow and red hazardous symbols glared at me ominously.

“Radiated? I have to be radiated? I didn’t sign up for this! I didn’t agree to be radiated! No, No!” I tried scrambling over stacks of junk mail. I tripped and slid down, landing on a pile of pizza coupons. “Nooooo!”

A coupon book of direct mail advertisers calmly reassured me that being radiated was painless, that unless you contained something biological and he gave me a questioning look. I was appalled. Biological? In me? They had to be kidding. I was clean. I was just a card.

“Isn’t there anyway I can get out of going through that?, that…” I couldn’t even make myself say the word and just stared at the ever looming silver metal contraption that I was sure would take the life out of me. “It’ll make my ink run!”

“It’s not a liquid“, reassured the direct advertiser. “You won’t even notice. The e-beam only takes about 10 seconds.”

A National Enquirer leaned over and whispered, “I heard that you could get a bit bleached from electron beams.” She glanced around and continued, “I don’t mean to spread rumors but I heard about this February Playboy issue that had her ends bleached and…”, she paused and sucked in her photos causing an effect like the mirror in a funhouse, the world’s largest fat lady turning svelte and curvaceous, “that her centerfold was found brittle!”

A Martha Stewart Living magazine who had been chatting with Rosie and Oprah’s latest issues overheard, stopped and turned to interrupt the tabloid, “That wouldn’t happen if she was properly wrapped in plastic. I will have to send her a card telling her how. I have the perfect method. It’s a good thing.”

“Martha, would you mind sharing that secret with us? as enquiring minds want to know.” Soon newspapers were huddled around for an impromptu press conference. An 8-mm tin containing a NPR news report mouthed to me from behind them, “Don’t worry, it happened in New Jersey!”

“If it would make you feel better, tuck yourself in my pages,” said the advertiser. Feeling very exposed, I figured it wouldn‘t hurt and I slid inside. His pages felt smooth and the ink was comforting. Pretty red words offering carpet cleaning and dog grooming. The dog door flap to the radiation area was approaching. My heart was racing but I was determined to do this. Inside we went. The air was stiff and humid and felt toxic. And that’s when it happened.

At first I felt a slight jerk and then a snap back that would open even a manila envelope with a brass closure. The pages of the direct mailer that I laid between fell between the conveyer belt loops and now I was caught in it too! “Help! Help!” I screamed. Post continued trampling over us. The pages screamed. They had dangled so far down into the machine that they were being shredded. “Please, somebody help!” I couldn’t wedge myself out of their grasp and they were being slowly pulled deeper into the machine. I lifted my envelope flap and attempted to attach myself to someone going by but my stickiness was drying fast. I wildly looked around for anybody, anything, hoping that I could find some way to extract myself. I looked around, frantic, desperate. I saw a sign hung high above. It was the last thing I read. SURE BEAM, Ohio.

– Mary McQueary.

Disclaimer:
No paper products were in any way harmed in the creation of this story. This is a work of the author’s imagination and does not portray an actual event. Any similarity to an actual event of the past or future is purely coincidental.

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Patalghar : A Second Chance

August 1, 2008 at 1:25 pm (Cinema, Kiran David)

 

 

My fear is that Patalghar the Bengali film directed by Abhijit Chaudhuri a.k.a. Dadu  is slipping thorough the cracks of time. That is an unfortunate prospect for a film which is worth discovering and re-discovering by cineastes all over the world.

 

The film seems to defy categorization and exists as many things at once, each battling with the other, a science fiction tale, a children’s fantasy, a comic book film and most importantly, a tale about the loneliness of childhood.

 

Patalghar is based on a sci-fi story by the Bengali novelist Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay. Though I’ve not read Mukhopadhyay’s story in Bengali, I can sense that using the storyline Dadu has created a world that is uniquely his, full of the mysteries of childhood.

 

Released in 2003,  if I’m not mistaken, during school exams and cricket world cup, it lost a large chunk of its potential viewers despite decent to good notices.

 

The film exists in two time zones, one in the past where an eccentric, all-encompassing and enlightened scientist Aghor Sen [Soumitra Chatterjee] invents a device which can put people to sleep for 150 years, and the present where the protagonist, the young boy Kartik [Sourav Banerjee] inherits the property – a place where the two time zones converge – belonging to the scientist which has within its premises the secret of that invention.

 

Thrown into the narrative are a whole bunch of characters who aid and act as deterrents to Kartik’s journey of discovery.

 

More than the story, which I enjoyed, for me Patalghar works as an exploration of the feelings and the world of a child, his love of mechanical devices (a  disappearing trait  among today’s children, thanks to games spawned by virtual reality) his expectations, his yearning and his loneliness.

 

I have always viewed the film as a kind of pilgrim’s progress for Kartik whose journey through the narrative makes him aware of some of life’s lessons.

 

This however does not mean that this is a dour film. On the contrary, it’s a delight and living proof that one can make a rollicking film within the format of the Indian mainstream cinema. Full of oddball characters with comic book sensibilities, delightfully outrageous sequences and marvellous over- the-top performances within parameters that make it work wonderfully and not fall over the precipice. Special mention must be made of Kharaj Mukherjee as Kartik’s uncle Subuddhi and Manu Mukherjee as Gobinda Biswas. Mita Vasisht, the one time art-house favourite, virtually reinvents herself as the Begum. The supporting players too are a treat.

 

Joy Sengupta playing the current day scientist does however seem a bit out of sorts, thankfully Bauddhayan Mukherji’s dubbing with suitable inflection just about keeps him afloat.

 

As for young Sourav, it’s refreshing to see a kid who looks and feels like a kid unlike those synthetically bred cretins that populate the bulk of mainstream Indian cinema.

 

I also like the fact that the film is so deeply rooted in its socio-cultural ethos despite the comic book sensibility that informs it. Though not a Bengali, being married to one and friends with many, I could get some if not all of the nuances which enrich the already pleasurable viewing experience.

 

Some admirers of the writer feel that his story has been given short shrift by the filmmaker, but I never look at directors as slavish cross-media translators, rather as artists who take their inspiration from any source and create a world unique to them, and Dadu does just that. There is much of the filmmaker’s personality invested in the film. Those who know Dadu personally can sense how he has delved into his own life when fleshing out Kartik’s.

                                                                                                            

As much as I love the film, I wish that the opening scene in the film was less stilted, but in the long run that is just a minor quibble.  

 

Mention must be made of the technical crew – Abhik Mukhopadhyay, the cinematographer, who has given the film its unique visual texture. Always a good cinematographer, his partnership with Dadu brings out the best in him; Arjun Gourisaria, who is probably the best editor in the country though he himself may deny this and not believe me. I have had the pleasure of seeing him at work. He brings a rare intelligence to the process that goes beyond the mechanics of editing. Debojyoti Mishra, whose music works wonders for the movie. Great art direction by Indranil Ghosh, especially considering the miniscule budget the production house Black Magic had for the film. Ghosh crafted the décor with whatever scanty resources were at hand and gave it a look and feel that worked.

 

Finally, I tip my hat to Dadu who has directed this delightful work and managed to transform the raw material into a unique vision – a world of his making. He fills us with the hope that one can bring in an artist’s personality even while using popular, mainstream idiom. Besides directing, he has written some of the lyrics and been instrumental in the art direction and visual texture of the film. One eagerly awaits his next work.

 

In conclusion, I hope that Patalghar gets a larger audience, the sooner the better. It saddens me that while soulless, glossy productions like the Harry Potter series become a rage, true gems like Patalghar don’t reach the audience they deserve. I have to say that despite their scale, technical finesse and money power, the Harry Potter series can be likened to dog shit in a pothole, lacking both vitality and imagination. Perhaps, it’s time for a Patalghar re-release?

 

– Kiran David.

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