11.17.17

Friday links, mid-November edition

Posted in History, Links, السياسة at 5:00 pm by

  • The Biggest Story Nobody’s Talking About: The Recall Of Brian Kemp [Huffington Post, via Jill]

    Our Secretary of State here in Georgia has been terrible—at best incompetent, at worst, criminal—on his watch, state elections data has been hacked twice, and his office has also leaked voter data twice. We’re still using the same voting machines that were introduced after electronic voting was made mandatory, they’re easily hackable, and his office has refused to ask for funds to replace them. Key evidence in a lawsuit to force him to replace the voting infrastructure was wiped 4 days after the lawsuit was filed, and the Attorney General recently announced he was not going to defend the Secretary/the State in the lawsuit.

    The non-partisan A Voice for All Georgia has begun a recall effort; it needs to obtain signatures of nearly 800,000 Georgians who were eligible to vote in 2016 before December 15 in order for the recall to proceed.

  • I, Claudius (TV series) [Wikipedia]

    Noted blogger/software developer Dave Winer recently started a new project to list “bingeworthy” television programs; in a report Wednesday on the early ratings, which included the the classic BBC program, he notes he has never heard of it (it also aired on PBS here in America). I found that a little shocking (we watched parts of it in Latin class in high school, though it was one of the signature public television drama series I was aware of even though I had, until then, never seen it), given the fame and critical acclaim achieved by I, Claudius. One of the interesting tidbits I learned from the Wikipedia article is that the creators of the popular 1980s evening soap opera Dynasty intended their show to be a modern-day version of the series. (And Dynasty itself has now been remade in a more modern version, airing this fall on The CW.)

  • Chinua Achebe’s 87th Birthday [Google]

    On Thursday, Google ran a doodle in honor of what would have been the 87th birthday of famed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, considered the father of modern African literature. His 1958 novel Things Fall Apart is one of the first examinations of colonialism from the point-of-view of the colonized, the people of Africa, and is widely read worldwide. The book portrays, as the title alludes to, how African lives and societies fall apart with the arrival of Christian missionaries and white/European colonial governments. (It is one of the most significant books I read as an undergraduate.)

10.27.17

Friday links, late October edition

Posted in Links, السياسة at 5:00 pm by

  • Local vandal caught “red-headed” [WSB Radio]

    There is a pileated woodpecker that lives around here, too; he once spent some time on the screen on my bedroom window, but thankfully he didn’t start attacking it!

  • Lego Announces Women of NASA Legos Set [Fortune]

    Very cool! Way to go, Lego. (I think I still have my late 80s or early 90s era Space Shuttle Lego set down in the basement somewhere, just waiting for Sally Ride and Mae Jemison to take a spin.)

  • Republicans Have Stockholm Syndrome, and It’s Getting Worse [Foreign Policy]

    While there are a few reasonably-high profile Republicans who are publicly “waking up” to what is happening to our democracy (Sens. McCain, Corker, and now Flake), the author argues the rest of the Republican Party is doubling down on accepting—and even asking for!—more abuse from a president who is using them for his own ends.

Also, in case you missed it, I have some (many!) thoughts on last Sunday’s Pittsburgh episode of “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown.”

10.26.17

On “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown” in Pittsburgh

Posted in History, Links, السياسة at 12:18 am by

I originally had this piece set to be one item in the weekly “links” post on Friday, but as I continued writing it, the piece took on a life of its own and became far too long for a simple links list—and important enough to live in a post of its own.

Last Sunday, CNN aired Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown visit to Pittsburgh1, which was required viewing at the Ardisson household. As a child of a family whose roots in the Pittsburgh exurbs (today probably considered suburbs) and the city itself run back four generations on one side and generations, even to the dawn of our Republic, on others, who made annual trips back there for many years to visit grandparents and cousins, and who still has family there, but who was born and grew up in the South, a product of rising education among the Baby Boomers and of the Steel City diaspora, the program was both personal and fascinating. Though Pittsburgh (and the surrounding area) is not part of my identity, it nevertheless is part of who I am, so I watched as someone who had some familiarity with the city and its general narrative, yet who is still an outsider to the situation, watching from a distance—not impartial, but also not intimately connected.

Although not universally popular in the ’Burgh, the episode raises a number of important issues that are generalizable to our entire country and, as The University of Pittsburgh’s student newspaper The Pitt News argues, challenges the established narrative. I wish my grandparents—especially my grandfather, in this case—were still alive so I could discuss the episode with them. Still, here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. The episode begins with a local historian mentioning that Pittsburgh was the city that made the steel that defeated the Confederacy, built the railroads west and the skyscrapers up, defeated the Kaiser, and defeated the Nazis—and the episode ends with a couple of people (just a couple among many people in a reasonable-sized crowd) wearing Confederate Battle Flag headscarves and blankets at a demolition derby in New Alexandria (pronounced “New Aleck” in Pittsburghese, by the way), a small town 30 miles east of Pittsburgh and about 15 miles east of where my dad grew up and my grandparents lived nearly their entire lives. This is one of those contradictions that are part of America—and, specifically, white, working-class America—today, the adoption of symbols of racism and hate that their ancestors would have taken up arms to defeat.

  2. Bourdain also obliquely points out the often-racial undertones of mid- and late-twentieth century urban renewal: bulldoze an economically depressed area of a city—often one that is predominantly African-American and with little political clout—displacing the current residents, and build something new, perhaps (as in the Pittsburgh case, with the old Civic Arena hockey stadium) something that brings people from other areas of the city or outside of the city in for a few hours on weekends or evenings. The parts of the neighborhood that were not demolished find themselves fragmented due to population displacement and perhaps cut off from each other or the rest of the city due to the new development, but that new development does not bring real economic revitalization or opportunity to the area, just more traffic and parking lots. Look in any major American city and you will likely see something similar—I don’t know all of the specifics, but I’ve seen some of it in both Washington, DC and Atlanta.

  3. The flip side of that is that revitalization often takes the form of gentrification, where new, more-well-off residents come into a neighborhood and begin buying up homes and storefronts and begin to price the long-time (working-class) residents out of the area. New, trendy restaurants and boutiques replace the former bread-and-butter businesses, and fancy cars from outside the neighborhood begin taking up the neighborhood’s parking spots when their owners come to shop and eat. In Pittsburgh, this process has been facilitated by the boom in high-tech and medical research that has replaced the steel industry as the cornerstone of the region’s economy. Somewhere there is a fine line that produces a balance between revitalizing a neighborhood and gentrifying it, but the program implies that many people in Pittsburgh think that balance has not been achieved.

  4. When I was young, I remember seeing all of the derelict (and probably closed) mills and buildings of J & L (roughly “jay-nell” in Pittsburghese) and other steelmakers along the Parkway (I-376) as we drove through Pittsburgh on our way home. When I came back around the turn of the century for the first time after about a decade away, those old mills had been replaced by gleaming buildings of glass and steel, housing offices and research centers of the new Pittsburgh. The bust from the collapse of the American steel industry was over, and Pittsburgh was experiencing a renaissance—new, well-paying tech and research jobs, new (re)development, and the like. I remember being so thrilled seeing viable economic opportunity in the city again and replacing the derelict buildings of the steel industry (though of course also a little nostalgic for the loss of the Pittsburgh I knew growing up, because, after all, I am me).

    What I had overlooked then, and what Bourdain and several of his interviewees pointed out, however, is that while these new industries brought new tax dollars, new jobs, and better economic conditions to the city—the political entity—the people filling those buildings are largely newcomers. They’re not from Pittsburgh (although certainly many of them have studied at Carnegie Mellon University—by the way, that’s pronounced “Car-neigh-ghee”, not “Car-nuh-ghee”), not the children of the millworkers and mine workers and life-long residents of Pittsburgh. They’re not the (mostly white, but in Pittsburgh certainly African-American, too, according to Bourdain interviewee Sala Udin, whose father dropped out of high school but still found good work that allowed him to support a family of 12(!) children) working-class Americans who saw the loss of their livelihoods with the collapse of the steel industry, endured the bust and stayed in the city and neighboring towns, cheering on the Steelers and Penguins and Pirates through it all, and then saw an economic recovery that had no place for them, or their children, in it. Politically, these long-time residents of Pittsburgh and the surrounding towns made possible by the steel industry would have voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the last election. If you had lived through an economic recovery that had no place for you in it, the jobs in the Hillary Clinton/Democratic Party platform would seem like more of the same, jobs for outsiders from wealthier, urbane coastal cities, and no help—or hope—for you.

  5. I agree with the criticism offered by many Pittsburghers that Bourdain did give short shrift to the economic recovery in technology and related fields, and I think that by almost glossing over that accomplishment, it weakens the critiques (implied or otherwise) of that recovery (e.g., gentrification and the lack of opportunity for the working-class Pittsburghers that did not leave during or after the steel bust—see particularly the penultimate segment on Braddock) that encompassed the majority of the episode. But it is food for thought for those of us thinking about the future of our country (and especially the so-called “urban liberal elites”)—we must have a real plan to address the plight of our working-class neighbors and friends; promising more new jobs in technology and research isn’t a viable solution (certainly not in the short and intermediate term), even if those jobs can be made to appear.

    This backbone of society, the men and women who made the steel that built America and saved the free world, can’t just drop into those jobs. In the Ardisson family, it took four generations to get a college degree and make the move: from the mine (and farm), to the factory (and later a family business), to the military and civil service, to, finally, a college degree and a middle-class office job at the dawn of the computerization of the field. I’m sure it is possible to accelerate that timeline in the twenty-first century, but there is still a generation or two that needs opportunity now, and workable ideas aimed at providing that opportunity seem few and far between (and not at all guaranteed, as seen by the failure of Braddock mayor John Fetterman and Steelers great Franco Harris to obtain the medical marijuana cultivation permit they hoped to use to provide jobs in Braddock). I don’t have the answers (and neither does Bourdain), but it is critical that we have good, compassionate minds working on this problem2 so that we can move our country forward again.

If you care about this country and its future—even if you have no interest in Pittsburgh itself—I urge you to check your CNN listings and catch the episode whenever it airs again. It’s solid and thought-provoking, even with its flaws, and important for understanding today’s America and for figuring out a path forward.

        

1 Having never seen an episode of the program before, I had no idea what to expect and have no idea whether this episode was typical or not. I only knew of Bourdain as one of the “celebrity chefs,” but food, while present, was a background element. ↩︎

2 Coincidentally, on Wednesday morning I got an email from the Obama Foundation about one of the “speakers” at the Foundation’s upcoming summit: Paul Green from eastern Kentucky, whose son wanted to learn to program but had no educational resources available to him. So Green created a program to provide advanced STEM educational opportunities for his area of Appalachia. Programs like his won’t be a silver bullet and solve all of the problems of economic opportunity for working-class Americans, but they are a step in the right direction towards that goal, at the very least providing new outlets for the young, rising generations. ↩︎

10.13.17

Friday links, mid-October edition

Posted in History, Links, السياسة at 5:09 pm by

Once again, just link singular.

  • “On Being White….And Other Lies” (1984) by James Baldwin

    My friend Michael posted this on Facebook earlier this week, and it’s the only thing I’ve read all week that is still bouncing around inside my head. In part that’s because Baldwin briefly touches on the Middle East (with which there are many parallels that scholars in the field are quick to see), but mainly because he offers a compelling argument that what we over a dozen or so generations have constructed is not an American society or identity, but a white one. Sitting here in 2017, in some ways it seems superficially, culturally, less true, but certainly politically and socially more true than in 1984. I wish I would have read this in AP US History, or in American Literature, in high school; it is a mind-opening perspective that was sorely lacking.

09.26.17

Poem 2017-09-25 at 9:15 PM

Posted in Life, السياسة at 2:22 am by

You kicked a pebble,
A speck of metamorphic force,
Off the top
Of a mountain.
It hit a stone,
Jarred it loose,
And they fell.
Soon,
A tiny band
Of pebbles and stones
Fell.
They hit a rock
And broke it free.
Tumbling
Together,
They built up strength.
Now a slab,
Then a boulder,
Then a rock face.
Rumbling
To a crescendo,
Pebbles, stones
Rocks, boulders,
An entire mountainside,
A torrent
Together,
Building,
Rumbling,
Building,
Rumbling,
Building,
Rumbling,
Crashing.
You are buried
Underneath an entire mountain,
A cataclysm of stone
Changing the face of the planet,
Wiping away
Your foolish falsehoods,
All because of your flippant kick
Of a tiny
Pebble.

06.22.17

Thoughts on the Names of the Clooney Twins

Posted in History, Life, السياسة at 2:21 am by

Apparently, the children of noted Lebanese-British international law and human rights barrister Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin) and her world-famous American actor and activist husband George arrived earlier this month. According to the Internet (aka a statement provided by the family to various media outlets), the twins, a girl and a boy, are named Ella and Alexander. (These are, I think, lovely names—in particular, my cousin and his wife named their daughter Ella earlier this year—and I never expected anything “strange”, like “Moonbeam” or “Apple”, from George Clooney.)

I learned of these things via a poignant and thought-provoking article from Duana, one of the writers at the Canadian celebrity gossip website LaineyGossip. The article is a great exploration of the naming (please, read the entire thing—it’s relatively short, and excellent), but the main point really resonated with me:

When all is said and done, this is what breaks my heart a little bit. The babies are half-Lebanese-British by birth and will be citizens of the world. Their names could have been anything, and people would have accepted them because George Clooney said so. […]

But the reason they’re worthy of comment, to me, is because I can’t shake the feeling that choosing such well-trodden ‘normal’ names sends an implicit message that Middle Eastern or Arabic names are not as desirable. That the name their mother has is not something to be emulated. […]

But in a time when we have such a massive lack of understanding of Middle Eastern and Arabic culture, I can’t help but wish there’d been a greater attempt to find the beauty in names from another culture.

[…]

It’s because representation matters. It’s because choosing Anglo names when one parent has a name that is “other” can be interpreted as feeling like there’s something to hide or be ashamed of. Names matter. And they continue to send a message long after the birth certificates have been signed.

(We do not know what, if any, middle names these children have; it’s certainly possible that they’re named “Ella Fairuz” and “Alexander Adil” or something along those lines, names that do mix their parents’ heritages. All we know at the moment is that the children have “normal”/“classic” English first names. Still, Duana’s point stands; the middle names, even if present and known, will not have the same prominence as the children’s first names.)

I will echo Duana from LaineyGossip in saying that it’s none of my business what the Clooneys choose to name their children, that these are lovely names, and that we have no idea what their thought-process might have been. But to someone who spent the bulk of his academic career focused on the Middle East, who is living in 2017, it does feel like a missed opportunity for two extremely high-profile, politically-aware and -active parents to make a quiet but lasting, positive statement about issues close to them.

Moving on, I have two additional thoughts to add to what Duana has already presented. The first is that when Amal Alamuddin married George Clooney, she took his surname. (In addition, she did not keep her birth surname as a post-marriage middle name, as is sometimes done in the Anglophone world.) Again, her choice and none of my business. But (not knowing her, or anything about her beyond what appears in standard short-form biographies of her), it still surprised me when it happened—I had, for no real reason, expected her to emulate 1990s-era Hillary Rodham Clinton and become “Amal Alamuddin Clooney” (as she was very briefly called in the media once her marriage became known but before it became known she was going by “Amal Clooney” instead). She had a reasonably high-profile and established career under her birth surname. Further, on occasion in the Middle East I’d been told that traditionally women did not take their husbands’ surnames on marriage, since the name represented his ancestry and one could not suddenly inherit that ancestry (how common this practice really is/was, I have no idea). It has been interesting—I’m not sure that is the right word—though definitely fruitless to wonder why she made that choice. It certainly was one of the things that popped into my mind, though, when I read the piece about the children’s names.

The second item is a story that my great-aunt Dorothy told during one of our family reunions years ago, about the thought and behavior patterns of immigrants (at least of her grandparents’ era). She said that the immigrants insisted that their children (her parents, in this case) were/be Americans; the immigrants did not teach their children (nor let them speak) Italian, and many things from the “old country” disappeared in favor of assimilation. Indeed, in our family, Stefano Serafino became “Steve S.” upon arrival in the United States, and his and Maria’s children were Katherine, Jennie, John, Clement, James, Marie, Adam, and Steve, “abandoning” family names like Domenica, Theresa, Giovanni, and Stefano. (Then, Aunt Dorothy continued, in the next generation, there was a reaction against that suppression of ancestry and culture; she and her siblings and cousins sought to learn about their heritage, where they were from, and so on, though by this time some things—including the ability to speak Italian [Piedmontese]—were lost altogether.)

The Alamuddin family were immigrants to the United Kingdom, fleeing the Lebanese Civil War when Amal was very young. I wonder if her immigrant experiences—whether like my great-great-grandparents’ or something unique to her time and place—came into play when thinking about naming the children? At the end of the day, all we can do is speculate—and waste our time writing about our thoughts and speculations—until one of the Clooneys one day (if ever) addresses the subject directly. Still, though, in today’s world, representation matters, and for billions of non-Anglo-European or part-Anglo-European adults and children (and the hundreds of millions of them living in traditionally-Anglo-European societies), the Shireens and Hishams and Laylas and Iskanders, it may feel like still “there’s no one on TV like me” when this month there easily could have been.

01.29.17

Reply of the New Colossus

Posted in Life, التصوير, السياسة at 11:55 pm by

Reply of the New Colossus

Your fear has made you tiny,
Your hate has made you weak;
Our love has made us stronger,
Our hope stands tall and defends the meek.

Your days are cloaked in darkness,
But in your nights, you will not sleep;
Our light shines the brightest;
It penetrates the deepest ratholes of your keep.

You have betrayed our birthright,
Sold our future to meet the mortgage on your debts.
We will not be silent;
We will rise with the truth to meet your threats.

Your lies are become baldfaced,
Your crimes recorded to be reaped;
The deluge of History is coming,
And in triumph, Justice will sweep.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Venus and the crescent moon at sunset, Lawrenceville, GA, January 29, 2017
Venus and the crescent moon at sunset, Lawrenceville, GA, January 29, 2017

01.16.13

جامية حلب

Posted in Life, السياسة at 5:16 pm by

If you look at my undergraduate transcript, you will see from the summer of 1997 two course credits from the University of Aleppo. While in Aleppo (as part of the since-discontinued “Summer in Syria” program of the National Council on US-Arab Relations), we resided on campus and lived in the university dorms.

My anger is seething at those responsible for the cowardly act of targeting a university, and, worse, doing so during final exams yesterday.

My heart is weeping for the students and people of Aleppo and their families.

07.23.12

Reasonable People

Posted in Life, السياسة at 1:45 am by

But this is not the time for reasonable people, on both sides of this issue, to be silent.
          —Jason Alexander

(via John Gruber)