In a recent interview with Newsweek, President Obama mentioned seeing the
latest Star Trek movie and that everybody was saying he was Spock. In another
interview a while ago, the First Lady said, "The President is a very
This explains a lot. The President's refusal to investigate the Bush
Administration's policies and actions relating to the Iraq War is the
embodiment of Vulcan logic, free from messy human emotions and moral
The President has said he wishes the country to move forward instead of looking
back--a nice mantra for our collective denial. Let's nail that to the wall,
next to Bush Labor secretary, Elaine Chao's call to Iraqi women after their
lives had been reduced to rubble by 'Shock and Awe': "In a democracy, the
most important factor is energy." Taxidriver husband in Abu Ghraib?
Daughter raped in US custody? Teenage son sodomized with a truncheon? Never
mind all that.…
In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag's meditation on images depicting
the atrocities of wartime, she cites Virginia Woolf's lacerating indictment of
war, written in 1936 as the Spanish Civil War was unfolding. Woolf's polemic
was a response to a lawyer who had engaged her on the issue of war.
She opened her argument by declaring that the lawyer as a man and she as a
woman could not possibly see war in the same way. Woolf proposed reconciling
the disparity by looking at some images of war together. "Let's see
whether when we look at the same photographs we feel the same things," she
wrote, for she believed, according to Sontag, "that the shock of the
images could not fail but unite people of good will".
Many people around the world, looking at the same photographs together--of
bloodied, broken, mangled bodies of civilians and children killed by Israeli
forces in Gaza since December 27th--have felt the same…
The Obama administration's decision to reverse the 18-year Pentagon ban on
photography of soldiers' caskets returning to Dover Air Force Base is an
important one for the public. Leaving the decision to military families to
accept, or reject, public recognition of the service of their deceased is a
respectful, Solomon-esque decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Anyone who was not on Mars during Captain Sully's recent heroic aqua landing on
the Hudson knows how exemplary acts of courage, altruism, and heroism touch us
all. In 2005, I wrote an article for Intervention Magazine comparing the way
Italy honored its returning war dead from Iraq to the way America treated its
own fallen military.
I cited the case of Nicola Calipari -- the Italian intelligence officer who
rescued a kidnapped journalist from Iraqi captors, only to be gunned down by
jittery American soldiers at a checkpoint in Ba…
After a dark, cold, and rainy winter, warm weather has finally come to Paris,
brightening its days and turning even the most crabby Parisian's mood sunny.
Daffodils are in bloom and the cafés, parks, and banks of the Seine fill with
people, animating the city. But whatever the weather, the City of Lights has
always inspired writers, and there is a wealth of literature on the subject.
With the euro at a recent low, travel to France is now more affordable than it
has been in recent months. But whether you're planning a visit or you're an
enthusiastic virtual traveler, here's a list of some excellent Paris-related
books, from food-related novels to cookbooks to psychological analysis of the
cultural differences between Americans and the French. Of course, this is a
highly idiosyncratic list, by no means exhaustive--and, fair warning to the
wise, though the most obvious ones (A Mov…
The latest news that a US Government contractor in Afghanistan placed our
soldiers at risk by passing off non-Afghan speakers from the US as Pashto
translators, reiterates the importance of being versatile in a language other
than our own in this interconnected world.
I work as an English communicator for a German organization that must operate
in English in the world outside its borders. I understand rudimentary German,
am comfortable in Germany's corporate culture, am at ease with the technical
language and jargon, but would like to be proficient. Most Germans speak their
native tongue as well as English fluently, and often also speak French or
As one walks by elementary schools in Germany, one hears kindergartners and
first graders singing songs and reciting chants in languages not their own.
This early learning must explain their ease in multiple languages. I envy
Soon after leaving print reporting and before settling into education and
science communications, when people asked me what I did I'd say I was a
"recovering" journalist. I'd usually get a laugh out of that line before
the enquirer invariably launched into a broadside on biased journalism,
sensational reporting, the media's moral bankruptcy, its role as a propagandist
and apologist for those in power, and corporate influence on the news.
It is all true of course; reporters and media somewhere in America are guilty
of one or the other of these sins sometime. I recall a particularly egregious
story from the beginning of the Iraq War. CNN reporter, Kyra Phillips was at a
hospital in Kuwait City interviewing doctors who were caring for a 12-year-old
boy -- the lone survivor of a US aerial attack on his neighborhood. The boy,
Ali Abbas, had lost his father, mother, bothers, sisters, sev…
I recently attended social enterprise and impact investing summits on both
coasts, where social entrepreneurs, impact investors, changemakers and
change-agents gathered to discuss new developments in the field.
In addition to conventional development initiatives addressing a range of
social problems including the building of civil society, there were smart
solutions impressive for their specificity. In parts of rural India, where
people must frequently wait at home all day for trucks to bring clean water, a
social enterprise created by students at Stanford and UC Berkeley, NextDrop.org
sends SMS water alerts to neighborhood residents in advance of the trucks,
based on computational models and predictions. Other interesting initiatives
included the provision of portable housing for slum dwellers in Kenya, the
recycling of jeepneys into classrooms in the Philippines, and the use of pets as
The Literal: Spectacle and Higher Education The death of literacy and the victory of spectacle occurred
a few feet from my house, last week, while I was still reeling from Chris
Hedges' Empire of Illusion - The End of Literacy and the Triumph of
Spectacle. It happened at Northwestern University -- a not for profit,
privately held institution that occupies the most valuable lakefront and prime
real estate in the City of Evanston, IL, charges more than $40,000 a year in
tuition, has a $5.9 billion endowment, and pays no property taxes.
The spectacle in question was a live sex demonstration by two exhibitionists
who, "disappointed" by a video presentation of female orgasm which
they deemed "unrealistic," decided to show the room of a hundred SAT
and ACT score-busting collegians what female orgasm is really like. Enter a
willing female, a male partner with a Home Depot fetish, and a
"reciprocating" saw attached to a sex toy. Also in the room was a
The Guardian ran a story two weeks ago, in which Iraqi chemical engineering
dilettante, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi -- codenamed "Curveball" by
somebody in espionage with an obvious sense of humor -- admitted that
everything he told German interrogators about WMD in Iraq was a fabrication, a
whopper, a stinking lie.
The confabulist from Baghdad, a modern-day Scheherazade, delivered his
technicolor version of One Thousand and One Nights to agents of the BND in
Germany. Convinced that the unemployed chemical engineer was their own
"Deep Throat," the spooks from Berlin plied him with money, asylum
and eventual citizenship, and the epitome of fine German engineering -- a late
model Mercedez Benz.
In his bedtime stories to the BND, Curveball included accounts of a fleet of
bioweapons labs on wheels that could release biotoxins into the air. That was
all it took apparently for Secretary of State Colin Powell, to stand before the
UN and …
Director Sidney Lumet's 1957 classic, 12 Angry Men, a mainstay in law and
business school curriculum, that shows the influence of preconceived notions,
assumptions and prejudice, and deconstructs coalition building, the art of
persuasion, reciprocity, and dealmaking, is a useful film for understanding
politicians involved in the debt ceiling talks.
Starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb and a host of familiar faces from grainy
black and white television shows, the film is both an examination of the
American judicial system (the 12 angry men are jurors who must weigh in on a
murder case) and touches on some of the issues and "isms" that
America was grappling with in the late 50s -- communism, fascism, racism,
In the current talks, politicians on both sides of the aisle hold on to their
positions with white-knuckled ferocity and refuse to deal with the hot mess
that is the debt ceiling, while the rest of us have been rendered mute…
In his essay, "Is Nothing Sacred?" novelist Salman Rushdie examines
the importance of literature in society, laments the state of fiction (he
penned it during the nuclear fallout from his own novel), and recalls his early
relationship with books.
"I grew up kissing books and bread," he begins. An enchanting sentence
that guaranteed my attention.
"In our house," Mr. Rushdie wrote, "whenever anyone dropped a
book or let fall... a 'slice,' which was our word for a triangle of buttered
leavened bread, the fallen object was required not only to be picked up but
also kissed, by way of apology for the act of clumsy disrespect. I was as
careless and butter-fingered as any child and, accordingly, during my childhood
years, I kissed a large number of 'slices' and also my fair share of books.
Devout households in India often contained, and still contain, person…
In the wake of the
Oslo bombing and the massacre on Utoyo island, we have learned so much, too
much, about the protagonist and villain of the whole tragedy. His name, his
face, his life, his writings will live on. He can claim something close to
victory, because the electronic archivist remembers him deeply--completely--and
he is now known to us. But what of those who were at the scene of the explosion
in Oslo, unharmed themselves but who helped those who were? They deserve to be
remembered, they should be known to us, but by some unfortunate accident, they
seem destined for the memory hole.
In George Orwell's 1984, the memory hole is an ugly contraption. It is a
wall with several utilitarian slots for the erasure of truths, housed in a
cubicle at the Ministry of Truth. "In the walls of the cubicle there were
three orifices ... For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one
knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of
First published in Huffington Post
By page 41 of Walter Isaacson's important biography of Steve Jobs, I wanted
immediately to score some LSD to replicate Mr. Jobs experience, which he
called, a profound experience and one of the most important things in his life.
"It reinforced my sense of what was important -- creating great things
instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of
human consciousness as much as I could," he said. Between Jobs' LSD and
Proust's petite madeleines, one could surely achieve sartori and
self-actualization, I felt.
By page 526, after reading Jobs' intention in designing the iPad "I would
love to help quality journalism... we need real reporting and editorial insight
more than ever," I longed (as a former journalist who left print just
before it keeled over and died) for an iPad 3. Who knew the iPad wasn't just a
First published in Huffington Post
The Pew Research Center's latest Global Attitudes Project survey brings
interesting news. Only half of all Americans believe our culture (which I
understand to be an identifier of all the things that resonate with the
majority populace) is superior to others.
The earnest reporting to understand the meaning of it all followed, devoid of
irony: "Is America exceptional among nations? Are we, as a country and a
people and a culture, set apart and better than others? Are we, indeed, the
"shining city upon a hill" that Ronald Reagan described? Are we
"chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the
world" as George W. Bush said? This year, for the first time, most
Americans did not say yes," wrote one.
Let's deconstruct: Half of all Americans believe our culture (as mysterious a
phenomena as that is) is superior to others…
First published in Huffington Post
Gail Vida Hamburg
In 2007, Chicagoan, Nicole Sotelo, a Harvard-trained theologian and author,
read a searing account of Congolese rape victims. The women, young girls and
grandmothers among them, had suffered extreme sexual violence at the hands of
the Inerahanwe and Hutu men responsible for the genocide in neighboring Rwanda,
the Congolese army, armed civilians, and occassionally, U.N peacekeepers.
Sotelo remembers weeping when she read the experience of one woman identified
only as "Nadine," talking to Eve Ensler, writing for Glamour.
"She was fleeing her village after her family had been slaughtered and she
had been raped, when she saw an infant girl lying on the ground next to her
slain parents," Sotelo said. Ensler had written: "Nadine rescued the
girl; now having a child to care for gives her reason to keep going. "I
can't go back to my vi…