Read my thoughts on this in the New York Observer, right here.
I met Malala in New York the night before the Nobel Committee decided to give the 2013 Peace Prize to the chemical weapons inspectors. She's young, and no one who hears her speak can doubt that she will make a difference in the world whether she gets a prize or not. But it's hard not to imagine those men sipping Aquavit in Oslo maybe missing the point that that young woman represents countless millions of abused, hopeless girls.
EVEN WITH THE Americans still in Afghanistan, the things happening every day to girls and young women under the Taliban defy belief. I met a an Afghani teacher, Razia Jan, in the audience at the event with Malala. A few weeks ago, Ms. Jan narrowly missed a bomb detonated at a major shopping center in Kabul. She said she never watches television to avoid bad news, but, when she got home, she turned it on to confirm that a friend and her children had died in the blast. Immediately after that report, the broadcast turned to a stoning in a town under Taliban control.
A girl, of age, had refused to marry an older man and married her younger lover instead. As Ms. Jan and the rest of Afghanistan watched, men in white robes stood outside a mosque, a figure draped in white was dragged to the middle of the square, and the men threw stones.
"These were not pebbles," Ms. Jan said, wiping tears. "They were bricks. And the men were laughing."
Here, in The New York Observer, you can read the rest of my thoughts on the future of teen girls under resurgent Taliban.
After the government dragnetted the AP phone records, I started to pay attention to data collection, the state and the press. And, from Barrett Brown in a Texas jail to NYT's James Risen having to lawyer up, things are not looking good. Surveillance of journalists and the breakdown of the shield laws, in the Bombshell.
(CNN) -- Last week, a 22-year-old Dutch journalist was gang-raped in Tahrir Square and had to undergo surgery for severe injuries. The assault reminds us yet again of an often overlooked aspect of the Egyptian revolution.
When Egyptians overthrew their dictator in 2011, one of the first celebratory acts in Tahrir Square included the gang beating and sexual assault of American journalist Lara Logan, who, like the Dutch journalist, landed in the hospital.
The Logan rape has always been portrayed as another unfortunate byproduct of mob violence. In fact, it was much more than that. It was a warning shot fired by men whose political beliefs are founded on a common pillar: Women must stay out of the public square.
Read the rest here.
English: Gordon Ramsay's Sesame Crusted Tuna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The rise of our cultural obsession with the behind-the-scenes intricacies of glamorized food preparation, and the ubiquity of perfectly plated dishes on television, seems to have coincided rather neatly with the national dive into economic disaster and mass hunger. Food pantries can barely keep up with demand, and hungry, down-on-their-luck families wait in dingy public service agency offices across America, filling out forms for unemployment, WIC and welfare, while the screen on the wall is more likely than not instructing them about "drizzling virgin olive oil" on "julienned" peppers.
Musing on men, scorn and fury here.
Here's the full article.
Ever since the Swedes gave Obama the Nobel Prize before he'd actually done anything, I've wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of the secret chambers where they bestow such honors.
And never more than now, with the MacArthur Foundation's baffling decision to deem 43-year-old fiction writer Junot Díaz a "Genius" worthy of the legendary award's half-million-dollar paycheck.
It's not that Mr. Díaz hasn't written a great novel. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao didn't captivate me, but that's because I'm not inclined to care that much about tubby science fiction geeks with girl issues, even when limned in the admirably deft and much-praised brushstrokes of Mr. Díaz's affecting, hip Spanglish prose. In the five years since then, Mr. Díaz has written just one other book, a short story collection called This Is How You Lose Her.
But, in his brief wondrous literary career so far, Mr. Díaz--now a tenured professor at MIT--has collected more medals than Michael Phelps. Starting with his Pulitzer for fiction in 2007, awards have stuck to him like burrs. He's bagged a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Guggenheim, the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Lila Acheson Wallace Readers Digest Award, a PEN/Malamud Award, a US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize and a raft of lesser-known (to me anyway) awards including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the 2008 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction, the 2008 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and the Massachusetts Book Awards Fiction Award in 2007.
Oh, and he now sits on the 20-member Pulitzer Committee himself, perhaps in a newly created job counseling young writers about how to cope when the psychic and emotional weight of all their awards gets too heavy and they find that all their friends hate their guts.
There's something about giant literary awards that attracts other awards, like protons and electrons. But is it possible that one young writer could be deserving of all these prizes? Was there truly not another worthy writer during the last five years to whom the judges at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, say, could have granted a prize, given that their chosen boy had already had bagged a Pulitzer and a Goog?
These are subjective calls, and I reveal my own biases when I admit I would have awarded the Genius grant to Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl and her weird, sickly meditation on mother-daughter resentment, Sharp Objects; or to Lauren Groff for Arcadia, her heartbreakingly beautiful end-of-an-era novel about the generation born of hippie parents. And I'm not being sexist. There are even men who deserve it: Jess Walter, for Beautiful Ruins, and Jonathan Dee, for The Privileges--two writers whose work is brilliant, engrossing and revealing about our times.
This brings to mind a perhaps apocryphal quote I've heard attributed to Hemingway (but cannot find in any Google search this morning): "Literary prizes are like life jackets tossed to men who know how to swim and have already reached the shore."
So far in his brief wondrous life, Mr. Díaz has reached the shore with books exactly three times. He published a well-received collection of short stories first, called Drown, followed by galloping blockbuster Oscar Wao, and then, five years later, his new collection of short stories about love from the point of view of a helplessly philandering male narrator whose wayward urges prevent him from finding lasting love.
The colorful and insular world Mr. Díaz reveals in his writing is particular, but the universal theme is male concupiscence. Oscar Wao's titular antihero moves to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic and comes of age in America. But the book's chief narrator is Oscar's roommate Yunior, a self-described "player" who can't stay true to his girlfriends and is compelled to mess around with all their sisters too.
At one point Yunior shows a touch of self-awareness: "What I should have done was check myself into Bootie-rehab," he writes. "But if you thought I was going to do that, then you don't know Dominican men."
Yunior reappears in This Is How You Lose Her as a professor and writer who cheats on his girlfriends. The key plot point is curiously the same in many of the tales: the girlfriend discovers his infidelities because she cracks open his notebook and reads his diary notes about the encounters. Or, she reads his emails.
Don't you hate when that happens? The reviewers adore it. Calling Yunior "a Latino love rat in New Jersey," The Guardian writes that "the chief pleasure of these stories is the unflinching honesty Díaz brings to the subject of betrayal." Noting that Díaz "writes best about players," The L.A. Times says "it's the voice of male-driven sex and love obsessions that makes Díaz's stories most memorable."
Reading the short stories in the collection, I had a nagging sense of familiarity. At first, I couldn't put my finger on it, then I realized who Yunior reminded me of: Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom.
Yes, the booty-chasing white suburban alter ego of John Updike, one of the great phallocrats of 20th century American letters, a man also constitutionally unable to cross the street with getting a literary award stuck on his shoe. And not just Updike, but Philip Roth and Norman Mailer too.
The demise of such fiction was predicted not so long ago in the pages of this very publication. Sven Birkerts, writing 15 years ago, noted that the postwar male ego in fiction was going the way of the Marlboro Man.
And no less a literary light than the sainted David Foster Wallace, also writing in these pages a decade and a half ago, called Updike "just a penis with a thesaurus" and predicted the end of the primacy of "Great Male Narcissists in American fiction. "Most of the literary readers I know personally are under 40," Wallace wrote, "and a fair number are female, and none of them are big admirers of the postwar G.M.N.'s."
Fifteen years after those declarations, literary awards jurors are irresistibly drawn to this Latino Updike, if you will, younger, hipper, bilingual, less prolific certainly, but still plowing the same field as his predecessors, along with the same sorts of all-too-accommodating women. The heart wants what it wants, right? Like the GMNs of yore, Díaz's alter ego is utterly beholden to his wandering penis, yet never examines his compulsion to bone everyone in sight.
In showering Mr Díaz with prize after prize, literary jurors seem to be saying the post-war GMN isn't dead yet. Is it the wars, the terrorism, the recession, driving the longing for a regenerated machismo that Mr. Díaz's multi-culti cred makes acceptable again? Is it a feminist backlash?
Mr. Díaz's wondrous bewitching of prize committees comes at a time when women writers remain wildly underrepresented in publishing, on both the reviewing and the reviewed side. According to VIDA, which tracks women in the arts, the count in 2011 was dismal as ever. The London Review published work by 117 women and 504 men, The Paris Review published work by 20 women and 46 men, The New York Review published work by 163 women and 627 men. It goes on and on. Interestingly, there is more parity over at Pulitzer, where, since 1982, 18 men and 12 women have won for fiction.
I suspect that there's more to Mr. Díaz's multiple awards than either sheer talent (which he does possess), latent machismo among male awards-granters or even wish fulfillment for a bunch of pointy-headed dweebs. Mr. Díaz has acknowledged being guided in his writing career at Rutgers by two female titans of the post-male, multicultural literary establishment: Sandra Cisneros and Toni Morrison. In the end, Mr. Díaz's crowded awards shelf might have as much to do with wise investments of "Who You Know" currency as anything else.
Last week, Mr. Díaz was on CBS This Morning talking to Charlie Rose about how the windfall will change his life. "It gives you an enormous amount of time and room," he reflected. "I told a friend of mine, it's like finding an extra bedroom to your apartment." Yunior would certainly put that chamber to good use.
Nina Burleigh is the author of The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox among other books. Follow her at @ninaburleigh.
Welcome to The Bombshell, a regular column about the peculiarities of the fairer sex.
It can't be easy to be a man these days, what with the gender's looming end, but thinking about Naomi Wolf's new and much-ridiculed biography of the vagina has reminded me once again of the main reason why I would not want to be a man, or, make that a heterosexual man. Having sex with a woman is a complicated challenge. It exhausts me to think of it.
I feel sorry for the mystified males who have to have sex with us. One friend recently left by his wife wants to write a book for men called Stop, It Tickles. Here is how he explains his title: You meet a woman, she likes you a lot, you get together and maybe get married. But there always comes that night when you are doing the thing you always did, the thing she always liked, and suddenly she says: "Stop, it tickles." And that's the beginning of the end of all of it.
Read the rest at The Observer.
The first is that Baywatch "babe" Donna D'Errico got badly bruised climbing Mount Ararat looking for Noah's Ark. The second is a leaked document of Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's first-strike plan for Iran.
Many people have a hard time seeing the connection between a Hollywood TV bunny looking for proof of God on a hilltop in Turkey and Israeli national security state calmly planning to trigger World War 3.
After a month visiting Biblical sites in the Middle East, the connection between God and conflict in the Middle East becomes inescapable. Israel is filled with sites holy to all three major religions, and religious Jews regard the entire nation as a sacred site. It's not just a country with a flag, and a bureaucracy, and a budget, it's actually God's country. It's the spiritual made real.
This belief illuminates and inspires all manner of odd behavior, from settlers periodically trying to take back the Dome of the Rock from the Muslims in Old Jerusalem, to thousands of amateur archaeologists sifting through rubble cast off from the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa mosque plaza, hoping to find some bits of proof that Solomon's Temple lies beneath that, bits that could be used to take it and all of Jerusalem back for modern-day Israel -- as the Bible commands.
Israel religious-nationalist politicians' sense of entitlement, inherent in plans for unilateral pre-emptive bombing, always provokes an "end of days" resignation among Americans. That passivity is just one end of a spectrum related to belief in the "history" contained in the Bible.
On the other end of the spectrum, one finds people like World of Bible Ministries "archaeologist" Randall Price taking money from donors to search for Noah's Ark, and it's not cheap. One also finds documentary filmmakers and writers cashing in handsomely. One of them was backed by no less a Hollywood patriarch than James Cameron. The producers have claimed to find things like Christ's DNA in a Jerusalem cave, or the actual nails that nailed the Messiah top the cross, or John the Baptist's Cave. They "find" them and then as reliably as the Little Drummer Boy tooting through every Rite Aid on the day after Thanksgiving, they get their "new evidence" in front of millions of Americans around Easter-time on Discovery Channel or National Geographic TV.
For the same reason that James Cameron would back such a documentary -- gulled and moneyed blind American faith in Biblical truth -- our government will tacitly go along with many of Israel's craziest, maddest schemes.
Many of the Bible stories and characters in them -- Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Solomon -- have no historical basis. The more archaeologists dig and the more historians search, the less certain they are of almost every aspect of the Bible, from Exodus to the conquest of the Promised Land to the existence of a grand ancient Israeli empire.
Certainly the real reasons behind Israel's preemptive strike plans have more to do with modern geopolitics than with the Bible. And the production of pseudo-science to sell believers on the historicity of the Bible, what one archaeologist had called "archaeo-porn" -- has more to do with money than faith.
But many among us -- from Christians in America to religious nationalists in Israel -- persist in reading the Bible, a document written in the 7th century BCE by a small group of priests in the desert, as a blueprint for God's plan for the Middle East, giving politicians like Netanyahu cover, and enriching charlatans who hawk proof of the Bible on TV and in print.
On many trips to Israel over the years, I have visited Megiddo, the site of the Biblical Armageddon -- the war to end all wars that will usher in the return of the Messiah. Busloads of Holy Land tourists -- many of them American Christians -- are driven onto this site every day, led by preachers waving the Bible, some pointing in the direction of Iran and quoting scripture about the forces of darkness and the end times, some even calculating the billions of cubic feet in the Biblical reference to rivers of blood filling the plains below at the end of days.
The site is actually one of the most fruitful and important archaeological excavations in the region, with 30 cities dating millennia on top of each other, yielding a wealth of actual information to modernity about the waves of poly-ethnic settlement in the area before and during the Biblical years, as well as the battles between the global powers of antiquity -- Egypt, Babylon, Assyria -- waged on this strategic spot.
The archaeologists who dig at the site every summer sometimes overhear the Holy Land guides spinning their Bible yarns, and they laugh at them, but no one bothers to correct them. Archaeologists and historians unfortunately don't engage much with misguided popular notions. Those who have challenged the very commercially lucrative Biblical versions of history are promptly sued or otherwise cowed into silence.
So a Baywatch beauty climbs the big hill looking for Noah's Ark and falls flat on her pretty face. And Bibi plans a Biblical-style wreaking of vengeance on the ancient force of darkness over God's mountains to the east.
I haven't been to Iran, but we already know the mullahs there are finding their own prophet-stamped encouragement for bellicosity.
Meanwhile, the godless rest of us can only stand and wait.
Or maybe we are supposed to ask God to help us.
Read the comments at Huffingtonpost.
Alawadi was beaten to death with a tire iron inside her home in El Cajon (home to 40,000 Iraqis) last month. For weeks the case has been regarded as a possible hate crime because someone left a note beside her unconscious body that read, "Go back to your own country. You're a terrorist." But Alawadi, 32, belonged to a culture in which families choose husbands for their daughters at a young age, and the daughters have no say in it. She was married by the age of 15. She had produced five children with her husband Kassim Alhimidi, who moved his family to the U.S. 17 years ago. Police executing search warrants on the family's house, cars and phones found documents in Alawadi's car indicating she was planning to get divorced. According to the New York Times, a family friend told police that Alawadi wanted to leave her husband and move to Texas. Her sister, however, denied that.
Read the whole essay at Time.com.
As progressives total up the ways Obama dashed their hopes for the elusive change we can believe in, there is one big, broken change-promise that no one mentions these days.
Three years ago this month, Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and told him that the West Bank settlements had to cease. "The settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward," said Barack Obama, at his first presidential meeting with the Israeli leader. A month later, the new president reiterated the criticism, in a Cairo speech that was supposed to herald a re-boot of U.S.-Muslim relations. "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," Obama said from a podium at Al Azhar. "This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."
But the settlements have not stopped and, rather than rebuking Israel, the U.S. government is preparing to reward it more than ever before. This week, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Appropriations passed a bill handing over the most money ever in one year to Israeli defense: just shy of a billion dollars toward three Israeli missile defense projects, called Iron Dome, David's Shield and Arrow. Last year's appropriation for the same projects was $235 million. "I don't know of any joint defense programs in the last 10 years -- probably no program with any other country - that has approached a billion," said a staffer who works with the subcommittee.
Read the whole story at Salon.
But spectators watching London's 2012 Olympics this summer will not see that extremely rare creature: the Saudi woman athlete. In fact, they are more likely to see camels racing in Piccadilly Circus than a single Saudi women kicking a ball around a London soccer field.
Full article here.
Out on the Corniche, beyond the ruined art deco beachfront high-rises -- lodging rats now, not VIPs -- you can rent a bike. No one seemed to have a map, but the mid-December sun was warm and it seemed a shame not to pedal along the seashore on my free afternoon.
A Christmas story for the LATimes, here it is.
The systematic aborting of female fetuses in India leaves entire towns male-only.
ABC's 20/20 and Elizabeth Vargas have done an amazing piece on this utterly revolting spectacle.
Some of the lessons we can take away from the Amanda Knox story, in the San Francisco Chronicle.
This past week might have been one of the most serendipitous in the history of global reality television programming. MTV announced that Snooki and the rest of the very racy "Jersey Shore" gang are headed to Italy to film their fourth season, just as Italy has been gripped by a torrent of wiretaps and court documents alleging a very racy sex scandal involving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Continue reading at the Washington Post.
Read all Nina's huffposts here.