Friday, August 13, 2004

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Back on the chain gang

This long national nightmare is finally over.

Thank you, Daniel Drezner. You truly are a scholar and a gentleman. Reading this blog has provided me with endless insights. Drezner’s shoes are large, and indeed cavernous; rather than fill them, I’ve been spelunking in them, hoping to find a rich vein of iron ore or, better yet, some precious metal. No luck thus far: just a plush leather interior, which is exactly as one would expect, this being a shoe. Or shoes. I’ve left the left shoe to Siddharth, and he seems to have done a far better job of filling it with secure nuclear stockpiles, purchased from unscrupulous ex-Soviets.

Which leads me to my next point: Thanks also go to Siddharth Mohandas, a prince among men. As most of you know, the South Asian subcontinent has been wracked by Hindu-Muslim tensions; and yet, miraculously, the two of us have managed to get along splendidly, with nary a harsh word exchanged along petty, atavistic communal lines. Dare I say that our alliance stands as an example to the world of the peaceful management of ethnoreligious enmities, and of robust politico-military strength, like NATO. The coalition would be wise to hand over its remaining responsibilities in strife-torn Iraq to this formidable team; yes, we would surely fatten ourselves at the trough of reconstruction spending, directing some considerable sum to the construction of lavish, pharoanic palaces and massive mosaics and tableaux assembled from stray tchotchkes, but we would also bring a lasting peace and the rudiments of civil society and liberal democracy to a country that badly needs all of these things. We would do it through sheer force of will, and also my mutant ability to manipulate and control marmosets, pandas, koalas, and other “lovable” mammals. (As to whether said mammals will be as “lovable” once I’ve molded them into a ferocious, lightning-quick anti-insurgent strike force, I say, “maybe.”)

There are a couple of books I’m very excited about. One is by two of the greatest minds working in economics, and thus two of the greatest minds working, as economists have pretty much cornered the market on UBE (i.e., “ultimate brainpower excellence”), Edward Glaeser and Alberto Alesina. It is called Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference.” As the title suggests, the book describes the ways in which Europe and the US have sought to provide assistance to the very poor. This book is an exceptionally useful guide to policymakers, but also sophisticated readers with an interest in not being terrible, selfish, demented, and, let’s be explicit, singularly loathsome human beings. (Hey, I’m not saying you have to buy it, but …)

The Alesina-Glaeser book is not to be confused with Streetfighting Against Poor People in the US and Europe: A World of Pain, my forthcoming book, co-authored by Siddharth. That book will be a picaresque journey through the slums of two continents. It will be less informative, but hopefully less expensive as well. Having suffered over a thousand beatings in the course of gathering the research (Siddharth “observed” the beatings from a distance while drinking chai), I certainly hope you’ll find it in your heart to buy it. My heart, by now, has been stabbed with so many sharpened kebab skewers in the mean streets of Brussels that I think I’m about to faint from massive blood loss. (I’ll have you know that I wasn’t assaulted by Muslim immigrant youth, but rather elderly churchgoing Flemish ladies; it just so happens that they had kebab skewers handy, thus strengthening the case for a Europe-wide skewer registry, complete with fingerprinting and a biometric identification kit.)

So, I’m moseying for the exit. Provided I can fool Siddharth into joining me, I will start blogging again at Evil Forces, along with a Wu-Tang-esque assemblage of lyrically gifted (and pseudonymous) minor media types. Expect even less in the way of narrative coherence.

P.S.- A note on public health: A few of my friends and I loved the Fat Joe album “Don Cartagena” so much that we went ahead and nicknamed ourselves after the various members of the plump one’s “crew.” Thanks to my then-bald pate (shaved, thank you), I had the privilege and the honor of taking on the Fat Joe role myself, despite being relatively slender at the time. Since then, Fat Joe has ascended to ever-greater heights of hip-pop stardom. Right now, the club “banger” “Lean Back” is taking the nation by storm. It is, I dare say, the biggest thing since J-Kwon’s “Tipsy.” The problem is, it’s advising men to “lean back” and roll up their pant legs in lieu of dancing frenetically (to wit, “my [associates] don’t dance, we just pull up our pants, and do the Roca-way, now lean back, lean back, lean back”). Because Fat Joe is, as the name suggests, an ample fellow—he has yet to approach Big Pun levels of girth, but he’s considerably larger than he had been when Pun was still holding it down (“it” being colorful and kaleidoscopic lyrical flows, not his mammoth proportions)—this seems ill-advised, to say the least. One would think he’d be advising his [fellas] to engage in as much vigorous exercise as possible, executing complex and demanding dance steps included.

P.P.S.- A note on outsourcing: See? You have nothing to worry about, people. Your jobs are safe.

P.P.P.S.- I asked my father a while ago about his experience in settling permanently in the US. Specifically, I was curious as to whether or not he found it difficult to adjust. He had studied here, but returned home in the hopes of helping to develop his native country. Political turmoil and various other considerations led him and my mother to head out in the hopes of getting a fresh start. Anyway, his answer surprised me: he said that he didn’t have a difficult time adjusting at all, as he had an “American” personality all along, which, on reflection, I found very convincing. My father does have an “American” personality in that, like the best Americans I know, he’s very gregarious, open-hearted, distrustful of authority, uncomfortable with rigid hierarchies in general, fairly footloose, always looking for elbow room, inquisitive, generous, and, in the important ways, exceptionally brave. I don’t mean to suggest that these are exclusively American traits—just that this is what I think of when I think of what I like best about the country I grew up in. It occurs to me that there are plenty of people like this in parts of the world that, to put it crudely, hate us, and we should do what we can to win them back to our side. (Not invite them all to move here, of course; the goal is to make the rest of the world as free, and eventually as livable, as our own. The brain drain, whether we like it or not, works against this laudable goal, certainly over the long term.) My guess is that people like this vastly outnumber the bad guys. So at the risk of sounding like a boob, I risk I gleefully take whenever I flap my gums, I think we’re going win this generational struggle to determine the future shape of the world. Know’m sayin’?

P.P.P.P.S.- “We’re back on the chain gang / Ooh, back on the chain gang …”

posted by Suzanne Nossel on 08.13.04 at 07:28 PM


You guys are great; does you blog have an RSS or Atom feed (I didn't see one...)? If not, can you add one (I believe with blogger your just have to click a checkbox or something)

posted by: Ryan Gabbard on 08.13.04 at 07:28 PM [permalink]

“As the title suggests, the book describes the ways in which Europe and the US have sought to provide assistance to the very poor.”

I concede that it may be considered a bit nit-picky (even perhaps a cheap shot), but I do not like the way the above sentence is phrased. It implies, at least to me, that the poor are always passive waiting for others to assist them. A viable society should instead provide the institutional structures which enable the poor to get themselves out of poverty. Many of those who live in poverty in the United States live in broken homes---which has a lot to do we the result of our cultural disintegration. Illegitimacy is rampant and this single factor alone is the cause of much of our poverty.

posted by: David Thomson on 08.13.04 at 07:28 PM [permalink]

Beautifully, meandering, maddeningly and warmly put. Especially the stuff about your Dad! Have to check out ur blog....

posted by: MD on 08.13.04 at 07:28 PM [permalink]

'P.P.S.- A note on outsourcing: See? You have nothing to worry about, people. Your jobs are safe.'

I get your point, cleverly and kindly made. Actually, though, I don't want a safe (i.e., guaranteed) job. If I had that, I hate to think how (not) hard I'd work. :•)

posted by: old maltese on 08.13.04 at 07:28 PM [permalink]

Your father sounds great, but I'll offer mine as a counter-point. My parents moved here from India ~35 yrs ago. My mother believes most Americans are like Jerry Springer's guests; my father is afraid of bees. Though they may not possess the traits you list, they share one trait I've noticed in many successful immigrant stories: they had no Plan B. They had little trouble adjusting to America because they were emotionally committed to succeeding at any cost. My uncle, on the other hand, oozes your "American" personality, but couldn't adjust to the US because he was already very successful in India and didn't want to start over. Nevertheless, I think "the future shape of the world" will be Rubenesque.

posted by: me on 08.13.04 at 07:28 PM [permalink]

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