Just Wanna Know

Revolutionary Propaganda Organ

Friday, March 24, 2006


I want to use this word to describe Anne Lamott. I could use lots of other words, of course. Like funny, smart, quirky, irreverent, and wise. Or even paranoid, narcissistic, vulgar, imbalanced, and preachy--but always funny as hell.

When I teach, I rely on her writing process from Bird By Bird. I tell the students that all first drafts are very bad. Rough first drafts are always only the beginning of something better, and everything has to begin somewhere, so why not start with, as Lamott calls it, a "shitty first draft"?

But as I read her latest book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, which my mother got for us, I’m struck most by Lamott’s honest writing voice.

Now, anthropologists are always talking about authenticity and genuineness. We like to learn about the cultural economy of authenticity, how this sacred substance is reverently bought and sold in the most "inauthentic" global culture markets.

But writing with an authentic, honest voice is much harder to put one’s finger on. I remember Groucho Marx (and his student Bill Clinton): "The most important quality of political success is sincerity. When you can fake that, you've got it made.."

I’m always getting in trouble, being misunderstood in my writing voice. It’s a painstaking process, when I take the time to do it—a choice of just the right words, before I can approach a tone, a style, a readable representation of the voice of a speaker who’s much more real than me, funnier, wiser, smarter—someone that I’m always looking to make myself into, on paper. Like Coca-Cola, an identity that’s even better than the real thing. I don’t know Anne Lamott, so I can’t gauge the extent to which the authorial persona and the writer coincide. But I like the persona a lot.

So definitely read the book. Even if you don’t agree with her as much as I do, Anne Lamott is at least funny, with about a dozen laugh-out-loud moments for me, which is really high. There’s a lot of wisdom, too. Here’s a quotation that sums up what I think she’s trying to say throughout most of the book. She has taken a friend who’s dying of cancer out for a weekend ski trip:

"Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit that anyone can throw at us."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

1,001 Muslim Inventions

The title is from a touring museum exhibit. In the story from the London Independent here, you can read about such things as Idrisi's Round Earth (pictured):

"By the 9th century, many Muslim scholars took it for granted that the Earth was a sphere. The proof, said astronomer Ibn Hazm, "is that the Sun is always vertical to a particular spot on Earth". It was 500 years before that realisation dawned on Galileo. The calculations of Muslim astronomers were so accurate that in the 9th century they reckoned the Earth's circumference to be 40,253.4km - less than 200km out. The scholar al-Idrisi took a globe depicting the world to the court of King Roger of Sicily in 1139."

(Someone else thinks Columbus knew about this calculation, but was trying to convince Ferd and Izzy to back him and so he played down the distance from Portugal to China...)

My favorite, though, is Personal Hygeine:

"Washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which is perhaps why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans who used it more as a pomade. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. One of the Crusaders' most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they did not wash. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV."

Civil War Confirmed

Thanks to Juan Cole, we have a definition of civil war and can describe Iraq as such:

"Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter's ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain."

(Errol A. Henderson and J. David Singer, "Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 3, May 2000.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Jellaba in Camo!

The latest rage in women's clothing, in Tangier at least, is the camoflage women's jellaba. They're fronted in shop windows, and one can spot them on fashionable young women all the time in the streets. Rachel sees them more often than I do, and she finally pointed one out to me today. Here, I found that they've been around since 1996 in Morocco, apparently at the very elite level. Perhaps now they're filtering down to a popular level...

(Upon retrospect, perhaps "caftan" is the more precise term here--I dunno. And I have even less of a sense whether there's any significance at all to all this.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Red City Revealed

Marrakech is quickly becoming one of those ultra cool places, where you can see Sandra Bullock or Sting walking through the souks, with "spas, cocktail lounges, fashionable boutiques and the occasional Italian-owned showroom of gorgeous kitsch. Western-style nightclubs rise like reeds from the dust. Once-dilapidated riads - grand traditional houses built around patios - are being reborn as luxurious B & B's with fit-for-a-sultan furnishings." (NY Times)

There's another side to the city, though. A 2004 study conducted by the Moroccan government has assessed the quality of life in Morocco. Tel Quel, my favorite Moroccan mag, has run a story comparing the quality of life in ten cities of Morocco--the first two are Casablanca and Rabat, of course, and Tangier doesn't fair too badly, at No. 6 (this prior to the massive investment that started late last year).

But Marrakech is dead last, even poorer than Fes (Meknes and Oujda are not mentioned). Here's the short paragraph roughly translated:

The Ochre Lantern
Without contest, the nasty surprise of this classification. The ochre city has'nt escaped last place. Moreover, this falls at the time that the city's taken on an international label, as well as become a model for communal management at the local level. Is the Marrakech boom only an illusion? "Perhaps. In any case, this has no great repercussions for the lives of Marrakchis," says a local town planner. Judge for yourself: a 35.6 percent illiteracy rate. Only Khouribga and Skhirat are higher. The poverty rate is alarming. Close to 8 percent of this city of palaces and the global jet-set are poor, with 16 percent close to poverty. If the employment rate is reasonably average, the standard of living for households is rather poor. More than 24 percent of occupied living quarters are more than 50 years old, and 17 percent have neither water nor electricity. That seriously revises the image we get from the Palmerie (luxury hotel) and Gueliz (the affluent suburb).

Sunday, March 19, 2006

In Our Name

It is any wonder why things have turned out the way they have? When US troops removed Saddam and replaced him almost exactly, using the same prisons and a brutality that turned the stomach of even the CIA? Read the full report in the New York Times. (Thanks to Juan Cole for the link.)


As the Iraqi insurgency intensified in early 2004, an elite Special Operations forces unit converted one of Saddam Hussein's former military bases near Baghdad into a top-secret detention center. There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room.

In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball. Their intention was to extract information to help hunt down Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to Defense Department personnel who served with the unit or were briefed on its operations.

The Black Room was part of a temporary detention site at Camp Nama, the secret headquarters of a shadowy military unit known as Task Force 6-26. Located at Baghdad International Airport, the camp was the first stop for many insurgents on their way to the Abu Ghraib prison a few miles away.

Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, "NO BLOOD, NO FOUL."

"The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.


The new account reveals the extent to which the unit members mistreated prisoners months before and after the photographs of abuse from Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, and it helps belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib.

The abuses at Camp Nama continued despite warnings beginning in August 2003 from an Army investigator and American intelligence and law enforcement officials in Iraq. The C.I.A. was concerned enough to bar its personnel from Camp Nama that August.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Coca-Cola (USA) Inc.

Back in the day, some in the "Western world" (especially the USA) could poke fun at all these silly foreign practices of making Western businesses form a partnership with a local company. Even if the subsidiary was wholly owned by Coca-Cola, for example, it was still required to register as a corporation in Ghana, and have a Ghanaian board of directors.

I assume that soon Dubai Ports World (USA) Inc. will open shop (or whatever the "unnamed company" turns out to be called; I propose "Baseball and Apple Pie Ports World (USA) Inc."). When this happens, no one will laugh anymore at the silly anti-free trade locals, because they will be us.

I am so proud of my congress.

Yahya Abu Miskin at-Tanjawi

Yahya: An Arabic equivalent of John. Another common equivalent is Hanna, usually a Lebanese Christian name, but Yahya is better known outside of Christian Arab circles (like in Morocco) because it's mentioned in the Qur'an as the name of John the Baptist.

Abu Miskin: Abu means "father of," but it can also be roughly equivalent to "the dude with all the..." Miskin (miskeen) is something you say to someone who's really pitiful: "poor thing!" Abu Miskin thus means, in John's tortured mind, the pitifullest guy ever.

at-Tanjawi: Tangier's Arabic name is Tanja; a male from Tanja is a Tanjawi (fem: Tanjawiyya).

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ali Farka Toure has passed on

I had already heard that Ali Farka Toure, the legendary Malian guitarist, had suffered paralysis a couple of months ago. Last night I learned that he has died at the age of 66. What a tragic loss to the world! Please try to read Jon Pareles' obit in the New York Times:

"Mr. Touré forged connections between the hypnotic modal riffs of Malian songs and the driving one-chord boogie of American bluesmen like John Lee Hooker; he mingled the plucked patterns of traditional songs with the aggressive lead-guitar lines of rock. He sang in various West African languages — his own Sonrai as well as Songhai, Bambara, Peul, Tamasheck and others — reflecting the traditional foundations of the songs he wrote. His lyrics, in West African style, represented the conscience of a community, urging listeners to work hard, honor the past and act virtuously."

Here's a shorter obit from Radio Canada: (rough translation)

"Tuesday, March 7

"Ali Farka Touré, born in 1939 in Timbuktu, discovered music at 10 when he learned to play the gurkel, a kind of single-stringed guitar. In 1956, however, at a concert by the Guinean guitarist Ketita Fodeba, the young man understood how much music would mean to the core of his existence. He became one of the truly great guitarists.

"With Ry Cooder

"Very quickly, he opened up to the outside world and discovered Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and especially John Lee Hooker, who influenced him the most. In 1995 Toure won a Grammy Award, the highest musical honor in the United States (the first time an African had won), for his collaboration with Ry Cooder on the album Talking Timbuktu.

"He repeated in 2005 and took a second Grammy for his album In the Heart of the Mood, recorded with noted kora player Toumani Diabaté.

"The artist had suffered from cancer for many years and was paralyzed several months ago, said Ali Guindo, coordinator of the Ali Farka Touré foundation.

"In Bamako, the musical world is in mourning. Nearly all the radios of the capital have suspended their usual programming. The artist will be buried Wednesday."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Fowls, Feathers, and Flu

Here’s a little translation exercise I did to get back into the Arabic language (mainly hustling to remember words and phrases). The story comes the newspaper al-Ittihad al-Ishtiraki (“socialist union”; the paper of the USFP party), Wednesday, 1 March 2006.

(It looks like avian influenza is the latest globalized anti-commodity, or commodity that no one wants to trade in. Here we can see ways the local articulations play out. We can also see market forces at work, where avian influenza becomes an excuse to shut down smaller competitors; at least, perhaps we can say that, due to their openness and vulnerability to the disease, small-scale markets are seen a threat to the large companies producing chicken for export.)

Authorities Clear the Casablanca Chicken Market of Retail Sellers and “Featherers”
Jalal Kanadali

Yesterday morning (Tuesday), local authorities ordered hundreds of featherers and retail chicken sellers, in Casablanca’s “al-Batwar” poultry market, to leave the market. They did not justify the order. Those who considered themselves injured organized a disputative position, in that an officer, with a company composed of support forces, stormed the chicken market and confiscated a number of poultry birds, as confirmed to al-Ittihad al-Ishtiraki by ‘Abd al-Wahab Iradi (ID number): “The officer, who was accompanied by components of the support services, confiscated a number of BB birds and threatened that they were ‘going to burn them.’”

In the same markets, Mustafa Farhi, who works as a featherer, confirmed that the officer unlawfully seized a quantity of chickens from him. The same thing happened to Ahmad Manani (ID number), who confirmed to al-Ittihad that the officer took a number of birds from him, including turkey cocks. Muhammad Bita, who’s over 70 and has been working in the profession of featherer for 54 years, explained that components subordinate to the authorities violated him. He showed injury marks from the violation in the middle of his head. He added that these men wanted to hinder him in his vocation, which he has practiced for a long period. On that day up until the attack, he had made only 7 centimes from feathering a single chicken. The injured parties added that there wasn’t any reason or justification for hindering them from pursuing the profession of featherer, especially since the prime minister had just confirmed that Morocco is free from avian influenza. But they find it strange that the Casablanca authorities should have another opinion, and it only increases their astonishment when an entire group of birds and poultry is seized, along with a threat to “burn them all.” This act (they say) will lead to immediate panic and fear among customers and damage chicken sales, whether retail or wholesale. Similarly, “feathering” stands to see big losses.

The injured parties say that the authorities had already made the decision to close the poultry market at 1 p.m. each day, and now they have broadened (their acts) to include huge injuries. Bu’azza Hasid, general superintendent of the poultry market under the governorate of ‘Ain Sebaa (Muhammadi quarter) and a wholesale merchant himself, tied the subject to his explanation that the poultry market has big problems and deficiencies. Thieves roam in the market in broad daylight, selling their (stolen) chickens easily and communicating (with each other). This makes the concerned authorities unable to fight these sorts of behaviors. Hasid requested that the concerned regional authorities clean up the poultry market. He also confirmed that the decision to prohibit “feathering” and retail sale (comes from) the view of the authorities that the market is deceitful, which hurts all of the groups that have a relationship with the poultry market. The situation has worsened especially during the current falling trend in prices. In his view, this PR war over the chicken market has come about because this seizure (took place) in a volatile sector, from the view of some companies that will benefit.

And in a communication to us from the office of the Casablanca city council, one of the its officials explained to us that the enforcement of the removal of the featherers and retailers from the market was a preventative enforcement, decided upon especially after the emergence of avian influenza, which continues to threaten food security worldwide. He added that the chicken market isn’t controlled in an arbitrary way, but rather this decision was made in a well-planned way, in the expectation that the solutions will be radical.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Extreme Laundry

Here's Rachel hanging the laundry. We're on the "third" floor (4th storey American).