Just Wanna Know

Revolutionary Propaganda Organ

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Good Old Fashioned Greed

Why am I reassured by greed? Jack Welch--called "Neutron Jack" for his skill at firing workers--retired from GE but retained ludicrous rights to GE corporate jets, apartments, and Red Sox tickets (which he gave up only when the SEC investigated). In a similar way, Rep. Duke Cunningham--former Top Gun ace fighter pilot and instructor--accepted over $2 million in bribes, including a Rolls Royce, a yacht, and a mansion largely financed by his nefarious defense-industry backers.

So why am I reassured? Both of these supposed capitalists show that, down deep, they really are just in it for the stuff. On The Pinocchio Theory, Shaviro reviews Kojin Karatani's Transcritique, a reconciliation of sorts between Kant and Marx. I haven't read the book (yet), but Shaviro argues that:

"Karatani even sees the central role of money in the capitalist world economy as a kind of return of the repressed. The classical economics of Smith and Ricardo was a reaction against the mercantilists, who “naively” imagined that money itself, in the form of of gold and silver bullion, was the source of national prosperity. But Marx, in his transcritique, plays off the mercantilists against the classicists. Karatani notes that Marx begins his discussion of money with the figure of the miser, who hoards monetary wealth instead of spending or investing it. The miser is the equivalent on an individual level of mercantilism on a national level. But the opposition between mercantilism and classicism returns at the heart of capitalism itself, in the difference between Marx’s two formulas of circulation: C-M-C (commodities are sold for money, which in turn is expended to acquire other commodities) and M-C-M’ (money is expended for commodities, which in turn are used to acquire more money). The first formula corresponds to the experience of individuals as workers, selling their labor-power as a commodity in order to obtain (through the mediation of money) those commodities that they need to survive, subsist, and reproduce."

I don't think Jack and Duke would argue that they need the yacht or the Sox tickets to survive, subsist, or reproduce. Why do they then throw everything away (in Jack's case, just his pride and legacy) just to get more stuff? In other words, in everyday work, both are capitalists who follow the M-C-M' model for their companies--they want to see money return more money on its investment. However, in their private lives, they're just workers: Jack sold to GE his valuable labor skills at firing people and cutting costs, while Duke sold to the defense contractors his valuable labor skills at lobbying other members of Congress to back his backers' contracts. These "commodities" of (mis)management and (bribed) lobbying were converted into "money" (in the form of bargaining chips for Jack and actual cash in some cases for Duke), and then in turn converted back into commodities of Rolls and Sox tickets. C-M-C!

I'm strangely comforted by this greed, because it suggests that, however much capitalism wants to force people into the box of M-C-M', the repressed desire for stuff--appreciation for the materiality of the world--is always there. Something about even the most "successful" of capitalists leads them to be enthralled by the commodity, to desire excess because it's "unnecessary." In a twisted way (as the cell phone company ad puts it), it's The Man's way of sticking it to himself.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Intellect of the Intellectuals

Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058-1111) started his career as a philosopher and university professor. When he was nearly 40, however, he had a spiritual crisis that led to a change in his life:

"Were the intellect of the intellectuals and the learning of the learned and the scholarship of the scholars, who are versed in the profundities of revealed truth, brought together in the attempt to improve the life and character of the mystics, they would find no way of doing so.

"For to the mystics all movement and all rest, whether external or internal, brings illumination from the light of the lamp of prophetic revelation. And behind the light of prophetic revelation there is no other light on the face of the earth from which illumination may be received."

(Watt, The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali, p. 63)

Mystery Solved

Some readers might have been wondering where the phrase "Just Wanna Know" came from. When I was thinking too hard about a title for the blog, the phrase just popped into my head. It's supposed to reflect my 'satiable curtiosity about the world, reflected in the range (not yet wide enough!) of topics covered in the blog. Although I find such blogs extremely useful, I did not want to produce an "experts blog" like Juan Cole's, which has an exclusive focus. Neither did I want to produce something interesting only to people who know me, although that might change when I'm out of the country and needing to keep friends and family up-to-date.

The actually phrase comes from a song by Steve Taylor, the one-time recording artist best known for being frontman of Chagall Guevara and for producing the excellent band Sixpence None the Richer. "I Just Wanna Know" is the final track on his 1985 album On The Fritz. The lyrics, which actually are a meditation on the lure of fame and the dangers of success, are as follows:

Life's too short for small talk
So don't be talking trivia now
Excess baggage fills this plane
There's more than we should ever allow
There's engines stalling and good men falling
But I ain't crawling away

I just wanna know--
Am I pulling people closer?
I just wanna be pulling them to You
I just wanna stay angry at the evil
I just wanna be hungry for the true

Folks play follow the leader
But who's the leader gonna obey?
Will his head get big when the toes get tapping?
I just wanna know are they catching what I say?
I'm a little too young to introspect
And I surely haven't paid all my dues
But there's bear traps lying in those woods
Most of 'em already been used


Search me, Father, and know my heart
Try me and know my mind
And if there be any wicked way in me
Pull me to the rock that is higher than I


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Lion of the Desert

After we learned that Mustapha Akkad, the Syrian-American Hollywood director, was killed in the Amman bombings, the class I direct and I decided we wanted to learn more about him by watching some of his films.

We're reading The Road to Mecca by Muhammad Asad. In the last section of the book, Asad recalls a daring and heroic mission in 1931 to speak with Omar Mukhtar, 73-year-old schoolteacher, member of the Sanusi religious order, and for 20 years a tireless armed resister of the Italian conquest of Libya. Asad has to get through Egypt and cross the desert before he can meet with Omar, who's holed up in a mountain hideout.

It was with real pleasure that we watched Lion of the Desert, Akkad's 1981 film starring Anthony Quinn as Sidi Omar and Oliver Reed as his nemesis, General Graziani. The film shows how a determined, well organized group of guerillas can hold off a powerful army for years. Those who consider IED's (improvized explosive devices, AKA "roadside bombs") to be a recent innovation should see the film.

Favorite quotation by the overacting Reed:
"Sometimes when you're strong, peace takes on the nature of conquest."

Favorite Quinn quotations:
"They destroy our homes and you call it peace. I will not be corrupted by that man's peace."
"We will never surrender. We will win, or we will die."

Check out Juan Cole's brilliant synthesis of (1) Akkad's career as director of grand Muslim epics and (2) producer of the Halloween horror series, and (3) the life of his ultimate killer, al-Zarqawi and (4) the war guerilla war/media spin in Iraq.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Riots Came Late

In an interesting report, Paul Silverstein and Chantal Tetreault argue that, by all rights, the riots in France should have come years ago. Indeed, in 1995-96 a French movement started to redress the poverty, crime, and unemployment of the banlieus. When the programs began being cut a few years ago, the problems started again. As the authors note, it's a terrible irony that after the French government cut programs in education and social services, it used the money saved to pay for more security personnel and equipment.

The venerable French rap group Supreme NTM made the original prediction in 1995. Their words are eerily prophetic:

In English translation:

From now on the street will not forgive
We have nothing to lose for we have nothing
In your place I would not sleep well
The bourgeoisie should tremble, the gangstas are in town
Not to party, but to burn the place down...

Where are our roots? Who are our models?
You've burned the wings of a whole generation
Shattered dreams, soiled the seed of hope.
Oh! When I think about it
It's time to think; it's time that France
Deigns to take account of its crimes
But in any event, the cup is full
History teaches that our chances are nil
So stop before it gets out of hand
Or creates even more hatred
Let's unite and incinerate the system.

But why, why are we waiting to set the fire?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Woodward Still Foggy

Bob Woodward still doesn't get it. CNN.com reports that:

In October [Woodward] was dismissive of the outing of Plame, telling CNN's Larry King that the damage from her exposure was "quite minimal."

Bob appears to think that the government and people are concerned with the personal safety of the spook. This concern mirrors a recent two-episode story in E-Ring, the excellent Benjamin Bratt/Dennis Hopper NBC drama. In that story, a CIA agent's identity was leaked and she was killed as a result.

In the real world, however, there are two concerns:

1. National security: When an agent is compromised, all of her contacts are also compromised. Current agents who are "handling" her contacts can be identified and deported; those contacts can then be mined by foreign governments to see what the CIA knows.

2. Humanistic concerns: When a former foreign resident is identified as a spy, all the people who used to know her fall under suspicion. This can include the gardener, the cook, the night watchman, but also the neighbor she used to have coffee with, the newspaper-stand salesman she bought her papers from, the shoe-shiner who would come by once a week--all of these innocents now fall under suspicion and could be taken in for questioning, detention, and in the worst cases torture, imprisonment, death.

Bob, get a grip.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Intelligent design

It occurs to me that conservative Christian activists might be surprised to find unlikely allies in the fight against neo-Darwinian evolution in anarcho-syndicalists, anti-Communists who reject the idea that classes, like animals, are involved in a struggle to the death over resources and that survival in this struggle defines who is fittest to succeed.

Such "social Darwinism" is of course not the essential political point of the debate. Rather, that point should be over whether school children who don't understand how changes occur in allele frequencies over generations--where they come from, what they do--will ever be successful when the students (hopefully) graduate, go to college, and receive further training in the natural sciences. (There's a corollary argument about striving for accuracy--even truth--in our representations of those allele-frequency changes, but I'll stop today at the pragmatic argument about the success of public-school students.)

Nevertheless, I think it's useful to think about this topic in terms of cosmological questions. What kind of world do we live in? How does it affect us? What sorts of utopias are we looking for?

In this sense, the Christians are betrayed by their own sacred text. Genesis clearly states that when Adam and Eve fell from grace, all of creation did as well. We can assume that God had to give them animal skins to cover themselves because, before that time, no animals had died. Thus nature "red in tooth and claw" is a consequence of sin, not an entirely "natural" one in the sense of being unintended by the Creator, but nonetheless conforming to the post-Fall rules of the game.

The Hobbes quotation is apt, because it looks like many Christian activists are supporting a Rousseauean alternative of a nature that does not change but remains static and basically good. This Deist, Romantic notion is totally at odds with the Bible. It says that God is a divine watchmaker (or "intelligent designer") who set up this system with all its parts to work normally. There is no need for competition, because success in obtaining food does not reward the fittest with comparative advantage in subsequent generations.

Similarly, in the anarcho-syndicalist argument, the natural urges of humans lead them not to compete in order for individuals to survive, but rather to cooperate in order that whole communities can coexist. I'm pretty confident that conservative Christian activists will not share such strong aversions to capitalist competition, even though Jesus himself probably would have. Nevertheless, it's clear to me that the "intelligent design" argument owe a much greater debt to secular humanism than to the Bible, and Christians who believe in the Bible's accuracy should be considering the "intelligent design" arguments much more critically.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Gnawa music

Working on my dissertation prospectus (which will be here eventually) has kept me from publishing on the blog as much as I would like.

In the meantime, go to hawgblawg and learn more about how, even as Bush says "We do not torture," Cheney confirms that the US does and will reserve the right to torture if it wants to. Can CIA interrogators torture and kill a suspect and get away with it? Find out in this New Yorker article.

Otherwise, just go listen to some Gnawa stories...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ghana in World Cup

Ghana has competed on the international level in soccer for nearly 50 years. Incredibly, they never qualified for the World Cup Finals until now.

Ghana joins neighbors Cote D'Ivoire and Togo, as well as Angola, as African first-timers in the final tournament. The fifth African team, Tunisia, are old hands at this level.

The question remains, what happened to South Africa? Nigeria? Cameroun, Senegal, Morocco, Egypt?

None of these perennial powerhouses made it, but don't blame the Moroccans--the never lost a match but lost out to the Tunisians, who had won one. As for South Africa, they lost both qualifying matches to the Black Stars, 2-0 and 3-0.

Best of luck to Ghana next year in Germany 06!

Don't Just Sit There, Go to Citgo

I learned over the summer that Citgo's a good place to buy your fuel. The wholly owned subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company has been trying to alleviate US poverty and step in to offset high oil prices by offering discounted fuel to poor communities and nonprofits. Some have called for a "buy-cott" of Citgo gas.

I commute 75 miles a day, so I burn a lot of the petrol. Due to construction, I have been passing by a Citgo more often than in the past 2 years, and they're usually cheaper than other stations, so I've been buying. (Like all good wanna-bes, I like to publicize boycotts but when it comes down to it, I buy whatever's cheapest or most convenient.)

I can tell you, that Citgo gas is good stuff!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Uncivil War

Farther Along also recalls his Tennessee family past and the Civil War. JWK's ancestors came from exclusively from Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas. Some venerable old geezers on his (paternal) German half were pro-Kaiser during WWI, but they had come to America as draft-dodgers largely after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), so they missed out on the horrible mess that was the Kansas-Missouri "front" during the Civil War. (When they got to southern Missouri, they tended to keep to themselves and practice endogamy, although they stopped speaking German after 1917.)

JWK's "American" side, however, was thoroughly enmeshed in the war. The evidence of this involvement is conspicuous in the absence of any family history in its Kansas branch before 1870 (and the fact that a name spelling change occurred, and we don't know which side ended up with our spelling, and whether "ours" or "theirs" was the right one). It probably was both meaner and far more complicated than I can grasp in the region where Kansas and Oklahoma meet Missouri and Arkansas. Probably Farther Along can elucidate more, but my grampa, who was anti-racist in the 1950s, also loved to tell the story of Stan Watie, a Cherokee Confederate general who remains the only Native American to rise to that rank in an army in what is now the United States.

Dog-Headed Saints and Sufi Cats

Thanks to Farther Along I know a ton more about dog-headed saints now than I did before. I don't want to get into the relative value of Muslim cats versus Christian dogs, a la Meet the Parents, in which Robert De Niro questions the self-assuredness of dog-lovers:

"The dog is an emotionally shallow animal. See, Greg, if you yell at a dog, his ears will go down and his tail will cover his genitals even if he's done nothing wrong. It's very easy to break a dog. But cats make you work for their affection. Cats don't sell out like dogs do."

I do want to say that I have loved both cats and dogs. I have respect for dogs and cats both. However, cats in Islam are particularly important, with many stories of great cats of the faith.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Hand of God slams Bush

Check out Argentine soccer god Diego Maradona's t-shirt!

Fans of World Cup football will recall his former antics. In 1986, just four years after the Falklands war, England and Argentina met in the quarterfinals in host Mexico's Aztec stadium. In a tussle with English keeper Peter Shilton, captain Maradona used his hand to punch the ball into the net. His body hid the foul from the referee, who accepted the goal. Maradona told reporters later that the "hand of God" put the ball in the goal.

Maradona went on later in the same game to score the greatest goal in World Cup history. Argentina defeated England 2-1 and went on to win the World Cup. Maradona and Brazilian Pele are widely considered the greatest football players ever.

How to Become a Saint

If JWK wanted to become a saint (however unlikely), he could worse than follow the plan presented in 1453 by Abu Abdallah Muhammad Al-Jazuli Al-Simlali, known as al-Jazuli (from Cornell):

(The image of Mecca is taken from a 1718 manuscript of Jazuli's Signs of Blessings.)

1. Follow spiritual masters who are knowledgeable in both the exoteric and esoteric aspects of religion. This rule sets the epistemological parameters of the faqir’s knowledge.
2. Avoid places where prohibited things are done. This lessens the urge to sin.
3. Practice self-discipline. This combats the laziness of the soul.
4. Avoid the immoral, love the good, follow the Sunna of the Prophet, befriend the friends of God, and be an enemy to the enemies of God. This defines salah, socially conscious virtue.
5. Practice constant remembrance of God and prayers on behalf of the Prophet. This takes the faqir outside of the individual self.
6. Never hate those with faith. This fosters unity by encouraging love for all Muslims.
7. Perform the five daily prayers at their proper times. This upholds the Shari'a.
8. Never sully spiritual practice with egoism, arrogance, tyranny, or self-love in act, word, or deed. This builds character.
9. Make your speech wisdom, your silence contemplation, and your vision deliberation. This fosters spiritual maturity.
10. Know that salvation is in God, His saints, and the prophets of God, and that perdition is in the ego and what arises from it. This establishes the hierarchy of spiritual authority.
11. Avoid backbiting, gossip, and slander. This eliminates dissension and disharmony in the Muslim community.
12. Do not love the mighty, but love the doers of good and be their companion. This combats elitism and worldly ambition.
13. Avoid evildoers and love the poor and the Sufis and be one of them. This maintains the link between spiritual poverty and social consciousness.
14. Learn the knowledge that brings one closer to God. This reinforces the understanding that the only true ambition for the Sufi is himma, the ambition to find God.

After mastering all these Rules of Repentance, acquire the 10 attributes of the dog—the example of the dog is to get rid of any feelings of self-importance:

In the dog are ten praiseworthy attributes that are found in the sincere disciple:
1. He sleeps only a little at night; this is a sign of the lovers of God.
2. He complains of neither heat nor cold; this is a sign of the patient.
3. When he dies, he leaves nothing behind which can be inherited from him; this is a sign of the ascetics.
4. He is neither angry nor hateful; this is a sign of the faithful.
5. He is not sorrowful at the loss of a close relative, nor does he accept assistance; this is a sign of the secure.
6. If he is given something, he consumes it and is content; this is a sign of the contented.
7. He has no known place of refuge; this is a sign of the wanderers.
8. He sleeps in any place that he finds; this is a sign of the satisfied.
9. Once he knows his master, he never hates him, even if he beats or starves him; this is a sign of the knowers.
10. He is always hungry; this is a sign of the virtuous.

My Favorite Black Moroccan Saint

Farther Along's interest in history has inspired me! Here's my favorite 12th century Moroccan Sufi black saint: Abu Yi'zza, AKA Moulay Bouazza, who died in 1177.

“Moulay Bouazza” is an enigma—his genealogy and even the pronunciation of his name are in dispute. According to Vincent Cornell (Realm of the Saint, pp. 68 ff.), Abu Yi'zza was an “illiterate and monolingual Masmuda Berber from the mountainous region of Haskura." He was also “Shaykh of the Shaykhs of the Magrib” to his fellow Sufis and a miracle worker to the masses across Morocco, to whom he had become famous at the time of his death in an epidemic in 1177, aged over 100 years. His grave is still an important pilgrimage site.

During a tax revolt that resulted in an Almohad inquisition, Abu Yi'zza was also implicated and put on trial, because he was aligned with his Sufi master Abu Shu'ayb, who in turn was identified with his master, Ibn Wayhlan. Living in Marrakesh, Ibn Wayhlan had resisted the Almohad siege of the city (which was still in the hands of the remnants of the Almoravid dynasty). After the Almohads took Marrakesh in 1147, they imprisoned Abu Yi'zza in the minaret of the Kutubiyya mosque (pictured) and questioned him. Like Abu Shu'ayb, he answered all questions with Qur'anic quotations and was released.

Abu Yi'zza practiced strict vegetarianism, the result of observing a systematic ascetism. To deny his selfish nature, Abu Yi'zza would laboriously prepare simple meals and then refuse all but a tiny portion of them. He wandered about the wilderness eating wild plants for 25 years. For another 20 years he lived in the mountains above Tın Mal, the fortress headquarters of Ibn Tumart, the founder of Almohadism. During this time he wore only a woven reed mat to cover himself. Later, Abu Yi'zza lived for 18 years along the coast, known during this time as “Abu Wanalgut” for eating only wanalgut, a certain plant that grew in trash heaps. For another length of time, he ate only “the edible hearts of oleanders and wild acorn mash, which he would make into flat breads and carry in a small pouch on his belt." It was during this time that Abu Yi'zza became the disciple of Abu Shu'ayb. Abu Yi'zza practiced malamatiyya-inspired devotion, the “path of shame,” which means he intentionally broke specific religious codes when he felt he was being held in too high esteem:

"One of the companions of Abu Yi'zza got married. His wife asked him for a female slave, but he did not have one. So Abu Yi'zza said to him, “I will substitute myself for the female slave,” for he was black and had no hair on his face. He dressed himself in the clothes of a female slave and served the man and his wife for an entire year. He ground wheat, kneaded dough, made bread, and poured the water—all at night—while in the day he performed his devotions in the mosque. After a year had gone by, the wife said to her husband, “I have never seen anyone like this slave! She does all that is [normally] done during the day at night, and never appears in the daytime.” Her husband turned away from her and neglected to answer, but she continued to ask him until he said, “No one works for you but Abu Wanalgut, and he is no female slave!” Then she knew it was Abu Yi'zza and said, “By God, this one will never work for me again, and I swear that I will do my work myself!” From that time on, she did her work herself."

According to Cornell, Abu Yi'zza is associated with wildness, identified as “a wild creature of the mountain (Berber adrar) and forest (Berber lghabt)—a liminal being, impervious to domestication, whose potency is accentuated by the fact that his abode lies beyond the bounds of civilization."

Abu Yi'zza’s miracles chiefly involved the healing of both people and animals and the knowledge ('ilm or ma'rifa) sent by God of future events. Cornell notes that healing was associated with black skin; since sub-Saharan Africans were at the time held low status in the eyes of the Berbers, one of the few honorable occupations open to them prior to the Almohad revolution was healing. Abu Yi'zza was criticized for his method of healing of women, which involved his touching their bare breasts. When told of the criticism of the ulama, however, Abu Yi'zza responded, “Do they not allow a doctor to look at that place and touch it out of necessity? Has even one of their doctors become my enemy? I touch only diseased bodies in order to heal them."

Abu Yi'zza also was privy to the knowledge of future events, firasa or clairvoyance. Once, when a critic said outside of his presence that Abu Yi'zza was ignorant and the critic was struck dumb, Abu Yi'zza healed him and conceded, “You have spoken the truth … I am ignorant. I know nothing but what my Lord has made known to me.” Cornell notes that this paraphrase of the Qur'an identifies Abu Yi'zza with the Prophet Muhammad, who was also illiterate and knew only what God revealed to him.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Rove and Libby and perjury and Niger

Perjury and obstruction of justice--the focus now is not whether or not they did something illegal originally, but rather whether or not they lied when they were asked about it directly by a formal investigating body. I think much of the direct opposition to these guys is motivated by those insulted (the special prosecutor and Congress). Of course, if you directly insult a judge, he or she will come down on you like a ton of bricks.

But the original offense relates back to 2003. In 1997 the IAEA ruled that Iraq was free of nuclear weapons. In 2001, the British passed on a report that they had gotten from the Italians (who had in turn got from the Vatican) that covered a 1999 visit by an Iraqi government official to Niger. One little piece of paper indicated that someone at the time had said that, on the visit, the Iraqi delegation had tried to get some uranium.

The pro-war forces were overjoyed to find this, because it could be taken as proof that Saddam was trying to go nuclear after 1997. Bush's State of the Union address in Jan. 2003 mentioned this tidbit.

The problem is that that bit of information was a forgery. This was determined by the CIA and the State Department in 2002 but kept under wraps. The IAEA also announced that the report was false, but the US government said that the IAEA's copy was not the real one.

Joe Wilson had already made a trip to Niger in 2002 and found no evidence of the attempt to purchase; in February 2003, the IAEA finally got a correct copy of the report and, with the help of a Google search, determined by March that the Nigerien minister mentioned in the report as being in office in 1999 was wrong. In short, the report was a poorly written plant.

The war began in March anyway, but in July Wilson wrote his famous editorial and spilled the beans. Nine days later, Robert Novak wrote:

"Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report."

Critics charge that (1) the "two senior administration officials" are Karl Rove and Lewis Libby and that (2) they blew Plame's cover to discredit Wilson as nothing more than a CIA pawn in its attempt to further undermine the Pentagon.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Karl Rove Cast to the Lions?

Informed Comment tells us that Trent Lott appeared on Hardball to question whether Karl Rove should really continue to serve in the administration.

Just Wanna Know remembers that Lott was forced out of his position as Senate Majority Leader after he acted racist, but we know the real reason was because Lott wouldn't play ball with the White House. Bill Frist would, and that relative neophyte was catapulted to the top where he's been struggling ever since to lead the Senate toward Bush's goals.

So it's unclear to JWK whether there's real impetus for Rove to leave, or whether Republicans on the Hill are just continuing to flex their muscles as Bush's approval rating continues to slip.

Rioting Spreads to Nine Suburbs

(I left the subject off the last email, which I hope is why the last posting doesn't have a heading. This email has the subject, "Rioting Spreads to Nine Suburbs"--we'll see if it comes through. I've tried once already to insert a picture into the email and have it come out in the posting. Blogger rejected that attempt. My hope is that I can make this blog less labor-intensive when I'm in Morocco next year, where connections are slow and time in Internet cafes expensive.)

The riots have now spread to nine suburbs of Paris. See CNN.com.

In his day job, hawgblawg has written about youth culture in France. See his article on Franco-Maghribi identity and popular music, co-authored with Joan Gross and David McMurray: "Arab Noise and Ramadan Nights: Rai, Rap and Franco-Maghrebi Identity." DIASPORA 3(1): 3- 39, 1994.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

OK, so I have a few entries concerning a variety of topics. Am I a blogger yet?

(If I am, I'm definitely not one of the cool kids who have already dismissed blogging as either desperate pleading for attention or irrelevant commentary on overdetermined topics. The great Chun would probably diss me hard.)

But Chun is dead and will never be replaced. In the meantime, I'm going to send this email off in the hopes that it will be automatically posted to the blog...

Riots in Clichy-sous-Bois

It appears that, last Thursday, three boys in this suburb of Paris felt threatened enough by police that they hid in an electrical sub-station. They were electrocuted--two died and one was critically injured--and riots immediately erupted.

This article from the BBC gives a good background to the situation in the Paris suburbs. In Paris (and other European cities), the urban-suburban split is the opposite of what it is in the US: The closer to downtown Paris one gets, the more expensive and exclusive the neighborhoods, while the poorest (usually of Arab and African descent) are relegated to the banlieus, the suburban public-housing neighborhoods outside of Paris.

The reports are already ambiguous as to what happened, with some articles reporting that the boys were playing inside the sub-station and got hurt. Police spokesmen denied that they were chasing the boys. This article in the Times of London Online, interestingly, contains a more complete account of what specifically happened on Thursday. According to a state prosecutor, the three boys were not being chased by police but instead ran when the police moved in on another group of youth. Yeah, right...

It looks to me like the police would have to be pretty confident to be able to claim that, while they were chasing one group of poor, black, Muslim youth through the slums, they could reasonably expect that their reasons for chasing this group would be clear to bystanders and that, moreover, bystanders who also happened to be poor, black, Muslim youth would understand these reasons clearly and would not themselves run.

Further, the police, upon seeing these bystanders run, would be able to identify them as such and--feeling confident enough in public trust in this heightened ability to distinguish poor, black, Muslim criminals from poor, black, Muslim innocent bystanders--could expect that when they told the bystanders to stop running, the bystanders would do so expecting not to be detained, searched and arrested, the level of love and mutual respect between police and banlieu resident being as high as it is... Yeah, I'm buying that right after the deed for oceanfront property in Tennessee is in my name.