This blog is defunct! Check out my new music blog at Sonicrampage.org.
Sometimes you just hit the buffers, and that's how I've been recently. So, here's some links:
"Young Patriotic Fervour" - On the rise of ethnic nationalism (ivoirité) in the southern sections of the Ivory Coast. Via Randy. (An aside: the Ivory Coast, like much else of West Africa, has a lot of problems between its mostly-Muslim north and its mostly-Christian south...why in God's name can't anyone with any power admit that the continuation of the utterly irrational national boundaries first drawn up by European hands plays a huge role in the region's problems?)
"Rape triggers a night of violence — but did it really happen?" - There was some rioting between black and Pakistani youths this weekend in Birmingham, ostensibly stemming from an alleged rape of a teenage black girl by a group of Asian merchants. It's not clear whether or not the rape actually took place, but what is clear is that a 24-year old black guy was stabbed to death by a group of Asian men in the mayhem (a totally unconnected 5ft 4in computer analyst - why go after the nerds you bastards?)
"Troubled season for Gaza's greenhouses" - On the Gaza greenhouses that the Israeli settlers left behind - a microcosm of the economic difficulties of post-settlement Gaza.
"Project Migration" - An interesting article on a fascinating-sounding exhibit currently showing in Cologne, tracing all sorts of different themes on the subject of migration.
"Dossier: Jeff Fort" - Lengthy profile of the long-time leader of Chicago's infamous Black P. Stone Nation street gang.
"Kazakhstan - Horsemeat and Two Veg" - On travel and eating horses in Kazakhstan.
"Upstate And Downstate – Differing Demographics, Continuing Conflicts" - New York City is a totally different world from the rest of the state.
Yesterday the Guardian had a very sad article looking back at the great Armenian earthquake of 1988:
A generation of children unborn when the earthquake happened are growing up unaware of what their parents went through. Even among the adult survivors there are fissures between those with memories of the disaster and those with none. "My husband was a conscript in the Soviet army and away in Georgia when it struck. When I start talking about it, I can see from his eyes that he doesn't understand," says Ribsime Bichakhchyan, a local paediatrician. "I was 16 at the time and I still remember the screaming when our school shook and fell around us. I begin to cry when I think about it. You can never forget."
Whether they were on the spot on the fateful day or not, everyone in Giumri lost at least one relative. Stories of bereavement are never far from the surface. "My sister was at school and my father was at work in a factory. It took nine days to find their bodies," says Fatima Vartanyan, who attends a clinic four times a week to relieve the stress she still suffers.
Ashot Simonyan, the taxi driver who took us to the hillside where thousands of Giumri residents are buried, many in unmarked graves because their bodies were too broken to be identified, suddenly announced: "That's my brother and his family." We followed his finger to a headstone on which were etched the faces of a handsome dark-haired man, his wife, and a little girl.
"Officially, 20,000 people in Giumri died, but the real figure was probably closer to 30,000," says David Sarkisyan, the local chief prosecutor, as he drove us round the town. Almost as an aside, he added: "My sister was buried on what was meant to be her wedding day. The restaurant and everything had been ordered."
At the time of the earthquake, Sarkisyan was a young police detective. "Many people didn't report the deaths of relatives. Compensation was 500 roubles for loss of a life and 1,500 for each surviving family member who lost their home. Can you blame them?"
Newcomers to Giumri will see a town largely rebuilt. But adult residents know the invisible sites of mass death. Pointing to the new courthouse, built from pink tufa, the local stone, Sarkisyan says two three-storey schools once shared this corner of the town's main square. Eight hundred children died.
Yeah, after months of slacking on my secondary music blog (ok, well not writing anything at all) I'm back with a monster of a post, including a new downloadable jungle mix. Check it out.
Here's an excerpt from Simon Kuper's superb Football Against the Enemy, describing the football stadium's role as the one refuge for dissent in the Soviet Union, in this case specifically in Armenia:
Kuper, Simon. Football Against the Enemy
Armenian women did not go to the stadium, so it was a place for male rituals. 'When you go to the stadium,' said Levon, 'you can do some free things.' For instance, only in the stadium was it acceptable to curse. There, it was even considered an art to invent terrible curses. Levon told me of the fan who shouted, 'Referee, fuck your wife in front of the Lenin Mausoleum!' The point here was that to the provinces of the USSR, Lenin's Mausoleum seemed the centre of the world, a place which all could see. The crowd would laugh: they appreciated good curses. 'But there was a debate,' Levon said, 'between those who wanted to invent new curses and those who preferred traditional curses. Once, a man shouted, "Referee, I piss on you!" Another man turned round and asked, "Why 'piss'?" For this was not a traditional curse. But the other man replied, "Why not? It's what I feel like doing."'
The cursing stopped when a bigger ground was built. Now the fans were spread out and their curses could not be heard, and, as Levon told me, 'people need to be heard, not only to cry. In the old stadium you could make a policeman look up shocked at a particularly awful curse.'
In the stadium you were free, to curse, to chant, to be with your own. The normal psychological state of a Soviet citizen was one of frustration. 'Now', Levon said, 'Spartak fans can go anywhere to express themselves: to a political meeting, to a church, to a rock concert. OK, they don't go to political meetings, but you know that they can. Once you know you are free to express yourself as you like, you don't need actually to do it.' So attendances dropped. (p.47)
These pictures were taken when I was about 17/18. Moody. Click on the pics to be taken to larger versions.
Looking out over the crowd at Highbury. Not long after we moved to London in 1991 I decided to start supporting Arsenal. Why? Well, one of the first kids my age that I met when we moved over was a big-time Spurs supporter, and he hated Arsenal. He was also a total dick, so I decided to go for Arsenal. I started to learn about the history, get my dad to take me to matches, and we both fell deep into it. My dad and I have now been season ticket-holders at Highbury for twelve seasons, and it's pretty astonishing how much has changed (ok this season is not so good so far) since we took up our seats in the appalling 1994-1995 season.
Paddington Green Estate, Edgware Road. For those outside Britain, these buildings are pretty typical examples of a council estate (aka housing project) - cheap, working-class housing rented out by local councils (although now a lot of the stock has been sold off or is privately managed).
From Gustavo Arellano's September 30th "Ask a Mexican" column in the OC Weekly, I learned about this interesting article by Valeria Godines on how indigenous migrants from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas have moved to Arandas, Jalisco, to take the place of workers who have migrated north to California.
Chiapan Indians stoop in the red-dirt fields in central Mexico to tug at weeds surrounding the ice-blue agave plants used to produce tequila.
Nearly 1,600 miles away, Arandas migrants in Orange County, Calif., stoop to pound nails and lay bricks, erecting houses.
In the chain reaction of migration, one group's departure paved the way for the other's arrival. When the workers from Arandas migrated, they left a job market that is increasingly attracting displaced Indians from the war-torn forests of Chiapas. The Chiapans can earn twice as much in the agave fields as they can at home...
Hernandez suspects that the Chiapans, who until now have not migrated in mass numbers to the United States, eventually will move north. And there will always be workers to replace them.
Who replaces the Chiapans in southern Mexico when they come to Arandas to work?
"Their wives. And the Guatemalans," he says.
There's much of interest in both editions, but there are several particularly fascinating articles, particularly Carlos Suarez de Jesus's "Cocaine and Me: A Memoir", a reminiscence of his time hanging around the edge of the action at the notorious Mutiny Hotel, ground zero for Miami's coked-up decadence, and at the nearby clubs that made up the scene:
On a slightly different tip, Rebecca Wakefield's "Awash in a Sea of Money", about the sheer volume of cash the cocaine industry injected into Miami in the 1980's, is also essential reading:
Honey, on SW 27th Avenue a few blocks south of U.S. 1 in the Grove, was always jumping and stayed as frosted as an Aspen ski slope, everyone brazenly tooting away. Barry White, Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, and Al Green kept the dance floor packed. People did lines on tables and shared a hit from their little coke bottles while waiting for drinks at the bar. Wherever you turned, someone offered you a spoonful of cariño (love) out of politeness. It was the new etiquette, and few declined. Mirrored disco balls, a blaring sound system, and kaleidoscopic lights made your head twirl.
In the bathrooms, men and women mingled, passing around joints. It was considered rude to smoke outside since the place could get raided if you lit up in the parking lot. If you didn't have blow, you could often score un gramito from industrious restroom attendants. But most of us were aware that if you sprung for some rounds at the bar, you could end up snorting for free.
It was common at such nightclubs in those days for a group of swaggering cocaine cowboys and their side chicks to walk in, flash wads of cash, order the bar closed for the rest of the night, and cover the tab for everyone inside. It was also common to see a loaded, hotheaded jerk whip out a pistol from under his jacket and yell to a rival dealer: "I'm going to plant you right here!" Cries of terror would clear out the joint faster than a raid.
The rest of the articles are well worth reading, too, and you might be interested, as well, in my review of We Own This Game: A Season In The Adult World Of Youth Football, about the strange world of youth (American) football leagues in South Florida's black community.
A Florida International University economist estimated in 1981 that Greater Miami's underground economic activity was worth $11 billion a year, about one-third of the area's total output. Most of that was probably drug-related, he surmised. In 1989 then-U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen told the New York Times that from 1986 to 1989, $220 million in cash was spent on cars in Miami. That compared to $24 million in Jacksonville and Tampa in the same period. As much as twenty percent of local real estate was being purchased in cash, the paper reported. This slowed down after bank-reporting laws were finally enforced. (In 1970 Congress passed regulations requiring banks to provide the Treasury Department with information about the depositor for cash transactions of $10,000 or more. A court challenge delayed implementation of the law by four years, and when it did take effect, it was rarely followed by banks or enforced by the government.)
Only when Miami's image began to suffer major damage, such as the infamous 1981 Time magazine cover story "Paradise Lost," did civic boosters, led by then-Knight Ridder CEO Alvah Chapman, begin to lobby for more federal law enforcement. Vice President George Bush's South Florida Task Force on drugs arrived in 1982. That same year Operation Greenback netted its first big local bank, though money laundering wasn't declared a federal crime until 1986.
In the meantime, an astounding amount of money flowed through Miami. "In 1980 we had twelve people depositing between $250 and $500 million a year [each] in the Miami banks," McDonald recounts. "In 1979 there was a $7 billion [cash] surplus from the Miami banks. Absolutely unconscionable levels of money were pouring in here."
Update, October 17th, 2005 6:34 pm: As Scott points out in the comments, I would be seriously remiss in not mentioning the Miami cocaine age's impact on the wider culture, from video games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (great fun, but why did the Haitians all have Jamaican accents? Maybe I'm too pedantic for my own good) to Miami Bass music (which later morphed into Rio's baile funk) to the pastel sport-coated glory of Miami Vice to Al Pacino's scenery-chewing epic Scarface. Phew!
The past several weeks have seen dramatic scenes in Morocco, as hundreds of sub-Saharan African immigrants have stormed Ceuta and Melilla, the two Spanish enclaves in North Africa (with reports of tens of thousands more waiting to join them, according to the most alarmist articles).
These events have obviously received a certain amount of coverage in the press, but I'm not so interested in them in and of themselves. The story is a typical one; a sizeable number of Africans want to go to Europe, visas are hard to come by, so they try to get in illegally etc etc etc. What I am more interested in is the question of what is happening on the ground in Morocco. I'm curious about the social/cultural impact on Arab/Berber Morocco of having so many black Africans passing through, with a certain number inevitably staying. It is somewhat difficult to find much information on this topic, but this piece from Migration Information has some useful background info:
Although most migrants consider Morocco a country of transit, an increasing number of migrants who fail to enter Europe prefer to settle in Morocco on a more long-term basis rather than return to their more unstable and substantially poorer home countries. Probably several tens of thousands have settled in cities like Tangiers, Casablanca, and Rabat on a semi-permanent basis, where they sometimes find jobs in the informal service sector, petty trade, and construction. Others try to pursue studies in Morocco.
Yet sub-Saharan migrants face substantial xenophobia and aggressive Moroccan and particularly Spanish border authorities. Since most of them have no legal status, they are vulnerable to social and economic marginalization.
In September 2005, a Moroccan newspaper compared sub-Saharan African migrants to "black locusts" invading northern Morocco. Frequent round-ups have occurred in immigrant neighborhoods and in improvised ad-hoc camps close to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and larger cities, and unauthorized migrants are regularly deported to the Algerian border.
There is evidence that a substantial minority of immigrants to Morocco have migrated for reasons that fall under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. However, the Moroccan government assumes that virtually all sub-Saharan immigrants in Morocco are "economic migrants" on their way to Europe.
This means asylum seekers are rejected at the border or deported as "illegal economic immigrants" even though Morocco is party to the 1951 Geneva Convention, has a formal system for adjudicating asylum applications, and has an Office of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Bureau des Réfugies et Apatrides - BRA) to assist and protect refugees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Morocco has recognized about 2,100 people in Morocco today as refugees, but the BRA generally does not grant them status. Therefore, they lack rights to employment, education, and health care.
One of the hassles of moving back in with your parents as an adult (besides it being pretty pathetic, all things being equal) is that you end up having to go through all of your old stuff, all the things that were left over from when you left, and all the stuff you've dropped off on visits back over the years. Still, though, there are moments of joy, like today, when, pawing through an old box of papers, I came across this letter. In the summer of 2002 I spent the summer working for Parade Magazine in New York, and one of my responsibilities was sorting through the mail. Needless to say, when you work for a magazine like Parade you get to read quite a lot of loony stuff, like the following (click for a full-size version):
Fun fact of the day: in 1963 my great-grandfather, Colonel Abbot Boone, wrote a book entitled Our hypocritical new national motto: In god we trust;: A study of the congressional substitution for E pluribus unum and its theological implications.
It's my 25th birthday, so, er, no new stuff.
Saturday's bombings have put Indonesia back in the spotlight, as well as the question of minority faiths (in Bali's case, Hinduism) in the country with the world's largest Muslim population. Some of you might not know about the violence between Christians and Muslims that has flared in recent years in the Moluccan Islands, but, fortunately, Globalsecurity has a long and detailed article on the subject that is of great interest. Here's a taster:
Other stuff of interest:
By the early 1990's, Christians became a minority for the first time in some areas of the Moluccas. Some Christians believe that the Government intentionally sought to alter the demographic balance of the eastern part of the country by resettling Muslims in the area and providing various subsidies for those who settled spontaneously. While government-sponsored transmigration of citizens from heavily populated Java, Madura and Bali to more sparsely populated areas of the country contributed to the increase in the Muslim population in the areas of resettlement, there is no evidence to suggest that creating a Muslim majority in Christian areas was the objective of this policy, and most Muslim migration was spontaneous.
In the Moluccas, over half a million people were internally displaced, and thousands forced to convert to another faith, largely because of their religious affiliation. While the underlying causes of the conflict were attributable largely to unresolved grievances and resentment over the distribution of economic and political power between local residents and more recently arrived migrants, the competition quickly took on religious overtones and resulted in the segregation and displacement along religious lines of the population in both provinces. A major factor contributing to the continuation of violence in these two provinces was the failure of the Government and security forces to bring the perpetrators to justice, and to prevent the influx of or deport several thousand armed Muslim militants (Laskar Jihad) from Java who joined forces with Muslims in various parts of the two provinces. The presence of these outside forces hindered local reconciliation efforts and peaceful resolution of the conflict.
In January 1999, serious fighting erupted between the Christian and Muslim communities on the Islands. Though there were occasional lulls in the fighting, over the next two years 5,000-8,000 people were killed and 500,000 people displaced from their homes. The conflict divided Moluccans along religious lines, though its origins involve ethnic, economic, and political rivalries also. Houses of worship were pointedly targeted and more than 100 mosques and churches have been destroyed or damaged. During the first 15 months of the crisis, the fighting between the two groups, largely cyclical reprisals, resulted in more or less equal numbers killed on each side.
The apparent spark that led to the outbreak of fighting is reported to have been an argument in Ambon city between a Christian public transport driver and at least one Muslim passenger. The argument soon deteriorated into a brawl and then spiraled into several days of mob violence.28 The fighting then spread to other islands, thus beginning the cyclical pattern. Much of the initial anger on the Christian side was directed at the Bugi, Butonese, and Makassari immigrants rather than Moluccan Muslims. In North Maluku, the fighting was not initially along religious lines at all but was between rival supporters of the two leading sultans in the region.
In the Moluccas, early December 1999 saw a continuation of the sporadic violence that began in late November. One incident that reportedly encouraged the involvement of the Jihad was a particularly bloody battle in December 1999 on the island of Halmahera in the north in which 500 Muslims were killed and the district "cleansed" of 10,000 others who were forced to flee. This incident, as one report notes, "was pivotal in galvanizing national Muslim calls for Jihad." In addition, attacks on the islands of Kesui and Teor brought with them reports of forced conversions to Islam. These forced conversions are reported to have continued through the end of the month. Meanwhile, Ambon Island and other parts of Maluku became much calmer as the month progressed. Initial fears of reprisal attacks during the Christmas and Idul Fitri holidays gave way to a cautious calm as people of both religions celebrated their holidays quietly and in relative peace.
Religious intolerance, especially on the part of extreme Muslims towards religious minorities, including Christians, increasingly was evident and became a matter of growing concern to many religious minority members and Muslim moderates. The lack of religious tolerance continued to manifest itself in scores of violent incidents in the Moluccas, including forced conversions and killings of individuals because of their religious affiliations. There were credible reports that several hundred Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity in North Maluku in early 2000 and thousands of Christians were forced to convert to Islam in North Maluku and Maluku provinces during 2000. Religious intolerance also manifested itself in numerous attacks on churches in various locations, ranging from minor damage to total destruction. Mosques also were attacked in Maluku Province. While in the past the victims in the Moluccas conflict were equally divided between Christians and Muslims, most of the estimated 1,200 victims during 2000 were Christian.
Recently, The New York Review of Books has published two fascinating articles by Alma Guillermoprieto on Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. Here's a taster of "The Gambler":
And here's a taster from "Don't Cry for Me, Venezuela":
Strongmen or caudillos like Chávez, and dictators, too, have always depended on fervent popular support to consolidate their hold on power. How else could they push through the measures that deny their opponents access to a fair hearing or fair trial, or fair elections, and cripple the press? They profit as well from the weird joy many people take in watching a strongman exert his power. In Caracas these days it is dispiriting to hear intellectuals who back Chávez defend him with arguments that have been used too frequently before: el hombre might act like a clown but he is auténtico; he wears designer suits because poor people enjoy seeing him dress up; Chávez is right to repress his opponents because they are reactionary, or corrupt, or dislikable or inept or insignificant; the worst excesses are committed without the President's knowledge and, in any event, his predecessors were just as bad, and at least Chávez is doing something for the poor. And, of course, there is always the question of el imperialismo, a threat universally perceived and all too real: nothing played so magically into a grateful Chávez's hands as Pat Robertson's recent call for the United States to assassinate the elected president of Venezuela, along with the State Department's mealymouthed response.
More Venezuela info:
The instrument most frequently used by Hugo Chávez against his opponents, however, is not a law but something known everywhere simply as la lista—the list of signatures submitted in 2004 to demand a referendum on Chávez's recall. People on the list cannot get government jobs, or qualify for many of Chávez's public welfare programs, or obtain government contracts. Its use was once surreptitious; officials asked for one's cédula, or ID/voter registration card, and the number was checked against la lista. But since December, when the list was put on the Internet by a chavista member of the National Assembly, it is used openly. "The...list doubtless fulfilled an important role at a given moment, but that's over now," Chávez told his party's elected officials in April, possibly with a wink. A young doctoral candidate I met in July, who had gone to the National Library the previous week to do research, was asked for her cédula by the woman signing passes. Annoyed, my acquaintance asked why. Ay, mi amor, the woman replied. Para la lista.
It is too soon to judge how well the many ambitious social welfare and education programs launched by Chávez —they are known as misiones—have succeeded in redressing Venezuela's deep inequalities, but they suffer already from an essential flaw: as with everything else Chávez creates, their existence depends on him. This would seem to be a reflection of the President's apparent sense that everything that happens, that has happened—in Venezuela, and in this hemisphere as well—in some way relates to him. At a meeting with Uruguayan investors last July he noted that their national independence day was approaching. What a coincidence, he noted: in July also—on July 26, 1953—Fidel led his assault on the Moncada barracks. And on another July 26—in 1952—Evita, Evita Perón, died. "And just two days later," he said, "on July 28th , I was born! Imagine!" There is the melodramatic flair, the flamboyant clothes, the generic love for the poor and the authoritarianism: one could actually think that he is Evita reincarnate, and Perón, too, if it weren't for the fact that Perón died rather late (1975) for a proper transmigration of souls to take place.
Such are the hallucinatory terms in which one can easily find oneself discussing the state of Venezuelan politics. In Caracas today it often seems as if there were no issues, only bilious anger or unconditional devotion—or gasping bafflement—all provoked by the President, who takes up so much oxygen that there is no breathing room left for a discussion of, say, the merits of his neighborhood health policy, his relations with Cuba, or whether the chronically overflowing currency reserves should be used merely to guarantee the rate of exchange or to finance, as Chávez has, the multiplying misiones. How can one reasonably discuss whether the upper management of the oil company was involved in plotting a coup when the President is busy firing seven of those managers on Aló Presidente, saying "You're out!" and giving a blast of an umpire's whistle? And how can an interviewer, in this case Jorge Gestoso of CNN en Español, possibly discuss the merits of such an approach with Chávez when Gestoso must begin by insisting to Chávez that this event actually did take place? The official use of lies, the opposition's terrified rantings, the abandonment of civility by the press and television take place outside the realm of politics, and do away with reason.