Category Archives: Current Events

An American Ex-Pat’s Thoughts on Egypt

Pawn recently reached out to friend and ex-patriot T, now living in Mozambique, for her opinion on the current events in Egypt.  T is an international teacher, and has taught in Los Angeles and Thailand, before living and teaching in Cairo for some time.  This was her response:

Great to hear from you.  Yes, J and I are glued to the news everyday.  I think it is absolutely necessary for the people to fight against Mubarak.  He has been a tyrant and a merciless dictator for too long.  It is a shame that some people will get hurt, but I agree with the revolt and think that Hosni should resign.

I think it is amazing that social networking can possibly be the unifying factor for many people throughout Africa.  Here in Mozambique when we had the riots last fall, people were being organized by text messages, until the government cut off all cell phone service.  That was the only way to squelch it.

Many Africans in countries with corrupt governments have needed a way to organize and join together to fight and be heard, now facebook, text messages, have reached the common man, the economies have been increaing and the technology has become available to the masses.  Just last month there were protests in Tanzania for the first time in twenty years and it was all organized through texts.

Again I don’t want to see people get hurt and looting and destroying property is horrible but If you mistreat people for long periods of time, you can’t help but expect them to fight back violently.  I just hope that the international community puts enough pressure on Mubarak so that he will actually step down.  I’m worried about  my Egyptian friends of course, and concerned for their safety, but I know they are ready for the regime to be toppled.

New Mediator for Egyptian Crisis

This just in:

Controversial graffiti artist and Mobarak’s friend Banksy to act as mediator.”The embattled president of Egypt has confirmed through a Facebook entry and through the state-run Nile TV that he is willing to open his door to negotiations with the leaders of the rival parties under two conditions.

“First is for the immediate halt of the street protests in the city of Cairo and Alexandria and second is for President Mubarak’s friend and a popular graffiti artists, Banksy”… to mediate between the parties.

Egypt’s Mubarak Opens Door to Negotiations, Requests Banksy | Newsflavor

Appropriated Fables

Tonton Macoute c1976 by Gèrard Bruny

Here’s an interesting thing Pawn heard on the BBC last night on an episode of The Strand, the arts and culture show of the World Service.  The first story was about a new anthology of Haitian fiction called Haiti Noir.  The interview, with the editor, was quite interesting.  The episode is here:
The segment in question is the first one.

One thing I found interesting was the editor, Edwidge Danticat’s, explanation of the title.  In Creole, “noir” in addition to meaning “black” as in traditional French, also means native, familiar, one of us, as opposed to “blanc” which is taken to mean a foreigner.  But it also, in fiction, has the meaning with which we associate it.

But the other thing which really got my attention was her explanation about historical appropriation of traditional stories, such as the Tonton Macoute, by the state.  In traditional Haitian Creole lore, the Tonton Macoute (Uncle Gunnysack) is a form of boogeyman, who walks the streets after dark and kidnaps children who stay out too late.  After disbanding the Hatian army and police forces, upon gaining power, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier organized his own, ruthless, security force.  The citizens quickly named it the Tonton Macoute due to their habit of disappearing those who ran afoul of the regime.

Anyway, this whole idea just struck such a chord with me, the idea of a frightening instrument of the state getting named after a fairy tale character.  This immediately made me think, what does Janjaweed mean? To me the Janjaweed militia, known for their effortlessly ruthless attacks on innocents in Sudan represent the very worst of thugish behavior.  To what, I wondered, does that name owe its legacy?  I looked it up, and it means, literally, “ghostly riders,” fro Jin “spirit” jawad “horse.”  Or, more popularly, “Genie on a horse.”  Again, a perhaps childish visage, a genie, who rents the fabric of a displaced community.

Perhaps most striking to me is that the implication of the fairy tale is that a well behaved child need not worry, it is only if you stray that the Tonton Macoute, the Janjaweed will swoop in, throw you in his gunnysack or across his horse, and spirit you away to someplace far away from your family and your comfort and your warm bed.  You bad, bad child!

So, that is what I was left to ponder as I tried to return to my own warm, comfortable slumber.

This morning I went to the book seller and bought the book.

Contrast and Compare

The Times has an article on their news blog, The Lede about Private First Class Bradley Manning, he who took a  Wikileak on the Department of State.  At the end of the post is included his current reading list.  I thought you might want to read up:

“Decision Points,” by George W. Bush
“The Critique of Practical Reason” and “The Critique of Pure Reason,” by Immanuel Kant
“Propaganda,” by Edward Bernays
“The Selfish Gene,” by Richard Dawkins
“A People’s History of the United States,” by Howard Zinn
“The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu
“The Good Soldiers,” by David Finkel
“On War,” by Carl von Clausewitz.

In “The Good Soldiers,” Mr. Finkel, a Washington Post reporter who was embedded with an Army unit in Iraq in 2007, described in detail the killing of two Reuters employees by fire from American helicopters. The same episode was shown in graphic video shot from the helicopters posted on YouTube in April by WikiLeaks.

Not for the faint of heart

Politico tells us that Former UN Ambassador John Bolton is mulling a Presidential run.  Here’s his rational:

“As I survey the situation, I think the Republican field is wide open,” Bolton told POLITICO. “I don’t think the party’s anywhere close to a decision. And stranger things have happened.”

John Bolton eyes 2012 presidential run – Molly Ball –

Now that’s a stirring fund raising platform, “Stranger things have happened!”

Bolton, who has the reputation of being the most bellicose member of an over testoseroned, über-bellicose Bush foreign policy team, Politico claims, “whose reputation, at least on the right, is as a speaker of unfiltered truth to power.”  On the right, perhaps, but everywhere else he’s known more as as a speaker of power to truth.  Part of that whole Might-Make-Right American Exceptionalism thing.

Want to lose a little sleep?  How about a Palin/Bolton team for 2012?  She can see Russia from her porch, and he has a nuke aimed at it.

Sleep tight…

The Madoff/Kohn Doppleganger

Bernie Madoff (left) and Sonja Kohn (right)

Bernie Madoff (left) and Sonja Kohn (right)

Irving L. Picard, the trustee seeking redress for victims of the Madoff financial collapse has just filed suit seeking over $19 billion from Sonja Kohn, an Austrian banker he accuses of conspiring with Madoff in the whole house of cards.  Looking at their photos, Pawn posits that this is an understatement.  I believe they are, in fact, either fraternal twins or clones!

“In Sonja Kohn, Madoff found a criminal soul mate, whose greed and dishonest inventiveness equaled his own,” the trustee, Irving L. Picard, said.  Soul mate indeed!  Have they ever been seen in the same place at once?

“In Sonja Kohn, Madoff found a criminal soul mate, whose greed and dishonest inventiveness equaled his own,” the trustee, Irving L. Picard, said.

Literary Ambassadors

This from the Times today makes one proud of our Foreign Service.  An excerpt:

Cables about Kazakhstan’s high-living leaders are written in a satirical tone worthy of Borat, the fictional (and wild) Kazakh played in the movie by Sacha Baron Cohen.

One described Kazakhstan’s defense minister turning up drunk for a meeting with an American official, “slouching back in his chair and slurring all kinds of Russian participles.” He explained that he had just been at a cadet graduation reception, “toasting Kazakhstan’s newly-commissioned officers.”

The memo concluded: “Who was toasted more — the defense minister or the cadets — is a matter of pure speculation.”

From WikiLemons, Clinton Tries to Make Lemonade | The New York Times

Pawn compliments Secretary Of State Clinton on her so far masterful handling of the whole leak situation.

Far less palatable is the performance of Sen. Joseph “Useful Idiot” Lieberman, whose harassment of Internet and other businesses has led to the eviction of WikiLeaks from Amazon’s servers, PayPal’s payment processing, and a host of other services.  These firms seem suddenly to have decided that reporting from purloined documents is now against their terms of service, although they gladly provide the same services for their media partners, such as the Times, the Washington Post, and others, whose content they host, payment they process, or electronic editions are provided on their Kindles.

Shame of these big businesses of the Internet for revealing how unfree it really is.


How Fair Is That?

The New York Times is reporting:

The Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to override vetoes of two highly restrictive abortion measures, one making it a law that women undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before having an abortion.

Strict Abortion Measures Enacted in Oklahoma | New York TImes

In the interest of fairness, Pawn feels we should have similar requirements for prescribing certain erectile dysfunction treatments.  Perhaps mandate that all men be required to listen to tapes of crying babies and change a few diapers before getting those little blue pills…

New York – 14 April 2010

New York – 14 April 2010

“New York, I love it. New York and me.  I was born here, you know.  I left, moved away, when I was in high school.  But I came back, man, four years later.  You can leave New York, you know, but you can’t really.  There’s that thing, that bond.  You can’t leave that.

“New York, you love it and it loves you right back.  It’ll hold you tight and be all nice to you, treat you real good.  Then one day; you are down on your luck; you’re layin’ in the street, and New York?  New York’ll come up and kick you when you are down.  Kick you right in the balls.  It’ll taunt you and shit.

“Man!  New York; it can be like a woman.  All cuddly and close one minute and then all up in your face about shit the next.  It be all lovin’ you and helpful and accepting and then, BAM!, it’s kicking you in the ding-dong again.  Yellin’ and screamin’ and all down on you like you’re some piece of trash the dog dragged in.


“But you know, like that woman, you just can’t leave it.  You just can’t let it go even though you both know it would be for the best.  No, like the sick, poor, lovesick fool that you are you just keep trying and you keep getting back up after each indignity and you try to pretend.  The next time it shows you some lovin’, you just try to begin again.  Begin anew and…

“Yeah, you start all over.  Each time; each time you think that this time the city, it won’t let you down.  You’ll do what you set out for:  You’ll make that next audition, you’ll pass that interview, you’ll win that bet and you’ll win that woman back, and… You know what?  You know what?  I… Well, what can I say man.  I’ve had a rough ride with this bitch, but I’m not done yet.  Neither of us is done.”

James was our bartender at Clem’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and he had just explained his relationship to the city, and we did the only thing we could; we looked down at the bar, took a sip of our cocktails, and tried desperately to change the subject.

Actually, we sat back in awe, congratulated James on his flow, and recommended he reconsider the stage.

Ah, to be back in New York City again.  Pawn was last here almost exactly five years ago, and that is just too long.  Why are we, X and I, in Brooklyn?  Pawn has a well known predisposition towards Manhattan, so why Brooklyn?  Simple, we were waiting, killing time, between our inbound flight and our key pick up for the flat we’ve rented in Greenwich Village.  We had 3 hours to kill, so we started out with a prime rib lunch at Peter Luger’s.  Then came a long meandering through the Esplanade, the Lubavitcher realm, etc.  We were frankly getting a little parched when we crossed over into the more hipster zone, and finally to this innocent looking corner with an innocent looking corner bar, and we saw this nice young gentleman bring out chairs to place on the sidewalk.

“Are you open yet?” queried X.  “Yeah, go right on in, I’ll be right with you.” he replied.  “Hold on!” I exclaimed, spotting a familiar looking drawing on a chalkboard propped up in the window.  It was a chalkboard sketch titled “drunk girl has to pee” signed by one Carri Skoczek, 2009.  I know Carri Skoczek, I worked with Carri Skoczek, and this is indeed a genuine Carri Skoczek!


drunk girl has to pee

drunk girl has to pee - carri skoczek 2009

Carri did costumes and props for various shows Pawn lit, back in the olden days of doing lighting design in Milwaukee’s theatre scene.  She moved to Brooklyn about 10 or 15 years back, but what are the odds that the first bar we walk into is her old haunt.  “We all love her here.  We don’t see her so much anymore, but yeah, she used to come in here a lot.” James tells us.

Before the visit is over, James has bought us a drink and we have absorbed countless interesting bon-mot from Thomas, a visiting artist who just needs to take a little of the edge off before returning to his commission for the last few strokes of work.

We finally drag ourselves out of Clem’s and head back to the management office for our keys, and a black car ride into the city, into Greenwich Village, to commence our visit to Manhattan.  To our “Greenwich Village Love Nest” as the hosts chose to promote this two bedroom flat on Macdougal Street.

[X chimes in]
Our “love nest” is quite cozy – the beds divided by a new age frosted glass ‘bundling board’ and the toilet divided from the shower and sink in two separate rooms.  Accouterments carefully accounted for…i.e. 2 forks per bed; 2 wine glasses per bed.  How do they KNOW???  Went out to pick up the basics – fat, sugar and salt for me; wholesome items for Nic and booze for the both of us, then off to Kettle of Fish, Nic’s local here.  Met up with MKE Library colleague for drinks and 3-D movies of the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island, the Blessing of the Animals at Cathedral of St. John the Devine and ‘Return to the World’s Fair’ all dutifully watched with goofy glasses and full glasses of libations of choice.  The owner, Patrick, is from MKE and his wife Adrian indulges his foibles regarding the Packers, Brewers, and, apparently, thirsty visitors from the Heartland. Back to Macdougal abode and soon to bed – big day tomorrow!
[X drops back out]

It’s hard to believe, sometimes, that James Dean and Jack Kerouac used to drown their sorrows at the same bar where we bent many an elbow this evening past.  We met new friends tonight, and introduced old friends to even older ones.  The films were a blast, and a very studious audience was very glad that a venue exists which will show the New York Stereoscopic Society productions, all made by Messrs. Meredith and Smith, a careful duo with a canny eye and a dry editorial sensibility.  We all appreciated their efforts, and their keen eye for pathos in the otherwise banal events they covered.

Oh, and nudity, adds X.