- MacKenzie Scott Gives $436 Million to Habitat for Humanity.
- World No. 1 Ash Barty, 25, Announces Retirement from Tennis.
- Afghanistan’s last finance minister, now a D.C. Uber driver, ponders what went wrong. Semi-related, no prime minister of Pakistan — a country that has swung between democracy and dictatorship — has ever completed a full term in office (The Financial Times).
I just returned from Pakistan. Well, sorta.
Wikipedia describes Moshin Hamid’s first novel, Moth Smoke as. . .
“. . . the story of a marijuana-smoking ex-banker in post-nuclear-test Lahore who falls in love with his best friend’s wife and becomes a heroin addict. It was published in 2000, and quickly became a cult hit in Pakistan and India. It was also a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award given to the best first novel in the US. . .”
“Moth Smoke had an innovative structure, using multiple voices, second person trial scenes, and essays on such topics as the role of air-conditioning in the lives of its main characters. Pioneering a hip, contemporary approach to English language South Asian fiction, it was considered by some critics to be ‘the most interesting novel that came out of [its] generation of subcontinent (English) writing.”
One subtext of Moth Smoke is Pakistan’s endemic corruption. Corruption in the (dis)United States is relatively subtle and nuanced. I learned this three decades ago when friends, and The Good Wife and I, hired a van and driver to take us from Nairobi, Kenya to one of its national parks. Once outside the city, as we innocently cruised down a two lane highway, our uber-friendly driver got pulled over by Kenyan police. After talking to them awhile, I asked why he was stopped. Smiling, he said, “Speeding.” Cash payments from random drivers for faux “speeding” was how police supplemented their civil servant salaries. Immediately paying the fine was the path of least resistance. Just a part of doing business, like paying a toll to cross a bridge.
In Moth Smoke, Hamid explains how entire nations can become corrupt:
“Some say my dad’s corrupt and I’m his money launderer. Well, it’s true enough. People are robbing the country blind, and if the choice is between being held up at gunpoint or holding the gun, only a madman would choose to hand over his wallet rather than fill it with someone else’s cash. . . .
What’s the alternative? You have to have money these days. The roads are falling apart, so you need a Pajero or a Land Cruiser. The phone lines are erratic, so you need a mobile. The colleges are overrun with fundos* who have no interest in getting an education, so you have to go abroad. And that’s ten lakhs a year, mind you. Thanks to electricity theft there will always be shortages, so you have to have a generator. The police are corrupt and ineffective, so you need private security guards. It goes on and on. People are pulling their pieces out of the pie, and the pie is getting smaller, so if you love your family, you’d better take your piece now, while there’s still some left. That’s what I’m doing. And if anyone isn’t doing it, it’s because they’re locked out of the kitchen.
Guilt isn’t a problem by the way. Once you’ve started, there’s no way to stop, so there’s nothing to be guilty about. As yourself this: If you’re me, what do you do now? Turn yourself in to the police, so some sadistic, bare-chested Neanderthal can beat you to a pulp while you await trial? Publish a full-page apology in the newspapers? Take the Karakoram Highway up to Tibet and become a monk, never to be heard from again? Right: you accept that you can’t change the system, shrug, create lots of little shell companies, and open dollar accounts on sunny islands, far, far away.”
1. Silent book clubs? Introverts of the world unite.
“Locations dot the globe, with congregants meeting monthly in Pakistan, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and many other cities and countries.”
“Many educators and policymakers across the country have been pushing for instructional materials that confront race in America, citing instances of racist violence and the divisive and inflammatory language ricocheting in politics, on social media and beyond. California is one of the first three states, alongside Oregon and Vermont, to forge ahead this year with creating K-12 materials in ethnic studies.
The debate in California highlights some of the difficult questions that educators will face: Which groups, and whose histories, should be included? Is the purpose to create young, left-leaning activists, or to give students access to a broad range of opinions? And are teachers, the majority of whom are white, ready to teach a discipline that is unfamiliar to many of them?”
My “Multicultural Perspectives in the Classroom” students will be required to resolve this dilemma at the semester’s end.*
3. We Have Ruined Childhood. Related, School lunchtime too short Washington State’s Auditor says. My “Schools and Society” students will read and discuss this one.*
“. . . childhood, one long unpaid internship meant to secure a spot in a dwindling middle class.”
4. Tehran Orders Crackdown as Wealthy Use Ambulances to Beat Traffic. The growing divide between rich and poor is not limited to the (dis)United States.
“When the phone rang at a private ambulance center in Tehran, a famous Iranian soccer player was on the line. The operator recognized him instantly and expressed sympathy for the presumed medical emergency in his family.
The soccer star laughed and said nobody was sick. He was requesting a reservation for an ambulance for a day to run errands around the city. He wanted to avoid the choking traffic that can turn a 10-minute ride into a two-hour trek. The money he was offering was equivalent to a teacher’s monthly salary.”
“. . . there was only a trophy for the overall winner, which was predicted to be a man.”
6. The highest paid player per second in NBA history. What a redemption story.
* sadly, the sabbatical ends
Post title most likely to drive away traffic?
Despite following global politics closely, a bachelors degree in history, doctoral coursework in international studies, and extended experience in developing countries, I’m relatively uninformed about the “stans”. Lately though, I’ve begun to educate myself. I found the recent PBS Frontline documentary titled “Obama’s War” an interesting introduction that nicely outlined the complexities. Last night I finished David Rohde’s five-part series on being kidnapped by the Taliban and held hostage for seven months. I found his story utterly riveting and am completely baffled by the commenter on the Times website that wrote of his story, “I’ve learned nothing.”
Next, I’m turning to Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article on drones titled “The Predator War”.
I still don’t know nearly enough for you to justify continuing to read, but then again, every U.S. citizen should be thinking it through since it’s our military (and tax dollars) at work. So here are my initial thoughts.
First, like in Iraq, the military campaign is too much of an American enterprise and not enough of an international coalition. If the premise is that the West’s security could be threatened by a victorious Taliban that empowers Al Qaeda, then Western countries should work in concert to defeat the Taliban. Going it mostly alone guarantees that with each civilian death antipathy towards the U.S., instead of the West more generally, intensifies.
Second, we should make a commitment to additional troops dependent upon other western countries contributing more. If other western countries refuse to commit more troops, we should adjust our plans downward.
Third, we could gain the upper hand against the Taliban in the next few years (win the military battle), but still compromise our medium-long term security if collateral death and destruction leads to even greater anti-Americanism (lose the hearts and mind war). Sons will avenge their fathers’ deaths.
Fourth, if Pakistan’s top intelligence agency props up Taliban commanders and if Afghanistan’s national election was rigged, what are the odds that any of our efforts to stabilize the countries, let alone improve their “medieval” infrastructure will pay dividends?
Fifth, in our efforts to avert another 9/11 terrorist attack, we must not add to Afghan and Pakistani civilians’ suffering. On that note, here’s a particularly disturbing excerpt from Rohdes story:
A stalemate between the United States and the Taliban seemed to unfold before me. The drones killed many senior commanders and hindered their operations. Yet the Taliban were able to garner recruits in their aftermath by exaggerating the number of civilian casualties. The strikes also created a paranoia among the Taliban. They believed that a network of local informants guided the missiles. Innocent civilians were rounded up, accused of working as American spies and then executed. Several days after the drone strike near our house in Makeen, we heard that foreign militants had arrested a local man. He confessed to being a spy after they disemboweled him and chopped off his leg. Then they decapitated him and hung his body in the local bazaar as a warning.
At present, I can’t support committing more troops or money to the war effort because the military campaign is too much of an American enterprise, we risk even greater anti-Americanism in the medium-long term, we don’t have dependable political partners, and the plight of Afghan and Pakistani civilians will most likely worsen.