Tuesday, August 31

God Bless Pakistan!

Sometime in my post-911 existence (whenever you hear the expression "post-9/11 reality" or "post-9/11 world," you know that a fool, or a crook, is speaking, so please taste the irony of my words here)... sometime early on in my post-9/11 existence, I had the desire to purchase, make, or somehow obtain a big bumper sticker (and perhaps a car on which to place it) proclaiming "God Bless Pakistan!"
I thought, too, that a bumper sticker placed next to it proclaiming "Mess with America, and we will kill you!" might add a little confusion to the irony. The irony I dreamt of was more than just a consequence of the fact that Pakistan is a massively Islamic nation (although Bush has co-opted Allah in public statements wherein he declares that everyone's deity is the same deity and so, in a sign of things to come, this smaller irony suffered an unexpected reversal before it could see the light of day). At the time (my early post-9/11 life), still suffering from a bit of pre-9/11 naivety, I thought that such a declaration, or blessing, or command, was the perfect antidote to all the mindless "God Bless America!" signs that seemed to be cropping up like rogue weeds across the nation. "Pak-i" (pure) "stan" (country) seemed like a good choice for reasons other than etymological. Although news from this year concerning the proliferation of nuclear technology to "axis of evil" nations by one of Pakistan's national heroes and Pervez Musharraf's limp efforts at assailing Al-Qaeda operatives within Pakistan do confirm my general image of Pakistan as existing outside the pale of international lawfulness and respectability (assuming such a pale exists somewhere), little did I realize at the time that the two countries appear, within the post-9/11 geopolitical horizon opened up by the Bush "war on terror," to be remarkably in step with one another and that, therefore, the ironic effect I hoped to achieve by means of a stealthy substitution was rendered void. Still, in light of this surprising allegiance to Musharraf's regime, is it not just a little unsettling when one thinks of how mutually self-serving the Bush Administration and Al-Qaeda have become? Without Al-Qaeda, where would the Republicans be today? And what in the world would they beat their chests over in their convention speeches? Health care? Prescription drugs for seniors? Can anyone even fathom such speeches today?

Returning to the folly of my bumper sticker idea, today, in my post-9/11 enlightenment, I see that the confusion was entirely mine insofar as I thought of Pakistan as exemplifying what American politicians alone give themselves the privilege to designate (when speaking of other nations, of course), namely, a "rogue state." One cannot fight a "war on terror" and be a rogue state at the same time (the Bush Administration constantly reminds us of this, almost to the point where its insistence appears compensatory or at the very least suspicious). Of course, the argument has been made that Pakistan is very much a rogue state, almost as much as the United States itself. Pakistan needs a token victory over this or that terrorist "cell" from time to time to maintain the lush influx of Washington millions, and the Bush administration needs a flash of victory against "Al-Qaeda" or at least an occasional declaration that such victories are being had somewhere in the world, to maintain good standing in the eyes of their ill-informed, terror-threat-dazed supporters. And we have seen the window-dressing, back-door deals that these two regimes have struck with one another for purely political purposes, as Pakistan, for instance, arrests a few characters for the sixth or seventh time in the span of a few years, and the news is hailed Stateside as a major breakthrough in the "war on terror."

To put a point to this whole hair-brained scheme of mine, if I were to show off such a bumper sticker today, rather than crinkle eyebrows in confusion, or ruffle the feathers on a few right wings, I might just find others nodding in go-get-'em approval with the sound of Bush's simplisms ringing righteously in their ears.

So much for the history of a once-hoped-for irony. Today, in my post-9/11 epiphany, I raise my arms with my fellow citizens and proclaim across the globe, in the United Nations, and in mosques and churches everywhere: God Bless Pakistan!

Thursday, August 12

A Grope-free Train

I am not sure what commentary to place between these photos.
Visitors to certain Japanese cities will recognize this women-only train, certainly a phenomenon missing in other parts of the world. I could always take the condescending New York Times attitude towards Japanese society and use this public measure against groping to imply that life is decidedly better for women in the U.S., but I know too well that Japanese women have a far better quality of life than their U.S. counterparts in many respects, not the least of which is their greater access to quality education and universal health care. I will say, however, that my Japanese friend told me that she once took this train and found that she was overwhelmed by the the stench of perfume. So, between the occasional groping by an unscrupulous and enterprising man, and the intake of hefty perfumes in the morning, women taking rush-hour trains before 9:00 a.m. in Osaka apparently have a choice.

Women Only (side of train) 

Monday, August 2

Banks of Poverty and Plenty

The light-blue hut-like shapes in the foreground are makeshift homes, a common site in the cities and suburbs of Japan. The cheaply bought tarps Japanese call "blue vinyl" are symbols of indigence in a bubble-burst economy.

Slogan Think and Cave Dwelling

On July 30, the Jim Lehrer News Hour assembled "likely voters" [video link] after they had watched John Kerry deliver his nomination acceptance speech, to discuss their reactions to the speech and the Democratic Convention as a whole.
What disturbed me to the point of making me want to crawl into a cave and remain there till November 2nd, biding my time by praying that some sense might be visited upon my fellow citizens, was the tendency among these "likely voters" to "reason" by means of slogans. Two examples:
Lu Ryden said: "I keep thinking of him as the number one liberal in Congress." And, "as you know, he's the number one liberal... and... Edwards, the number four liberal."
The interviewer did not ask Miss Ryden what "number one liberal" is supposed to mean, let alone "number four liberal," nor who established this order and by what criteria. This phrase is supposed to evoke something ominous, if I understand Miss Ryden's use of it. But why? The whole "ordering of liberals" reminds me of the playing cards passed around in Iraq by the U.S. military as a demeaning and cynical way of identifying members of the Hussein regime. It betrays an arrogant "gotcha" mentality that is even less welcome in domestic politics, since it seems tailored to dispense with argument and fact-checking in favor of demonizing labels.
Jim Zemlin, an "undecided" Republican, self-described as one who has "started businesses and taken risks," said this: "My concern was a sort of class warfare theme that I got. You know, tax the rich, give to the poor."
I recognize this phrase as one that has been belched out of radios by the likes of Rush Limbaugh for years. The curious distortion wrought by this charge of "class warfare" is that it is applied not to the Republican policies that strangle the middle class and choke off opportunity for middle-class entrepreneurs such as Jim Zemlin by raising their share of the tax burden, but only to those who take the Republicans to task for such measures. So, tell me, why does the Democrats' saying they are for giving the middle class a chance constitue "class warfare"? Why does the struggle for the middle class constitute class warfare, whereas the struggle for the wealthy few does not?

If such slogan think is widespread, I can understand how it is that Kerry and Bush are still running neck 'n' neck, but that doesn't leave me feeling any less saddened at the spectacle of citizens who, seduced by a label, vote against their own interests.

Any speliologists out there who would kindly suggest a place I might settle?