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Best of Blogs Round-Up: Friday, March 3

Today's special: India's Bush seasonings. Non-disclaimer: We're liberal to the core, but we include in this daily blog review the political, the social, the cultural and the undefinable from the left, the right, the in-between from all over the globe. And we're suckers for good writing regardless of ideology. Clicking the link will take you to the original post.

Our sympathies go to Accordion Guy

 

Featured Blog I: Peretzophilia
Apologia Pro Vita Republica

Look, I don't want to get backed into a defence of Martin Peretz, besides saying that he's an enormously important figure, more so than I expect we realize right now. Every time a column appears under his byline in TNR I devour it with fascination, faced once again with the simple but profound truth that Peretz -- breathtakingly racist, facile, pretentious, obsessive, obtuse, windy, totally devoid of irony -- has no redeeming qualities whatsoever as a columnist. (I can't think of another writer for whom that's true -- at least Victor Davis Hanson is occasionally hilarious, if unintentionally so). And yet, here he is, heading the only magazine of political commentary I really couldn't do without, and maintaining a stable, year after year, of the smartest political writers in America. Could the magazine exist as it does without him? I don't know, but I worry about the answer. Insofar as The New Republic is significant, it makes Peretz significant.

Anyway, just hacking at Peretz is easy. (Really easy.) And it doesn't provide much of a backbone to Jack Shafer's problematic (in my view) take on Franklin Foer's assumption of TNR's editorship from Peter Beinart. First, a point of pendantry, but my specialty field of pedantry: TNR isn't really "neoliberal". It's much better described as "liberal-neocon". Neoliberalism as I understand it, is better characterized by its charter publication, The Washington Monthly, build on founder Charles Peter's gentle, insidery, reformist-establishment focus on the workings and tendencies of bureaucracy and power-arrangements and on how to improve them. Neoliberalism, so defined, is largely the celebration of moderation and good government for it's own sake, as an ideological goal, as part of a grander vision for functional society. At it's best, it's profoundly noble, inclusive, wonky in the best sense. At its worst, it's detached, complacent, obvious, dull. Peretz' TNR, driven by its owner's fierce and bitter falling out with the New Left in the late-sixties and early seventies, is something quite different: openly polemic, pulled and sometimes buffeted between the siren song of New Politics radicalism, the moderate populism that paves the road to power in the US and, of course -- it is Marty's rag, afterall -- an unblinking, occasionally wildly inappropriate zionism. New Republic liberalism, like the neoconservatism with which it flirts, has always been about power. And that's what makes it so much fun (and, by the way, the real reason their endorsement of the politically pathetic Joe Lieberman in the 2004 primary was so stupid, so totally against character).

It also, in my view, undermines Shafer's complaint, after praising the masthead for its solid journalism, that I don't visit the New Republic as often as I do, say, the Weekly Standard, because too many of its pieces taste of medicine that's supposed to be good for me. (See John Powers' brilliant LA Weekly piece about how the right-wingers swiped fun from liberals.) The New Republic's young staff, for some perverse reason, has been encouraged to write like old farts when they're completely capable of having fun while saving the world if their editor will only let them.


Good God. If I had to limit myself to one single criticism of the TNR approach it would be the magazine's over-reliance on irreverance. Also, accusing the self-consciously provocative T.A. Frank of writing like an "old fart" strikes me as just weird. But it's at least an original criticism, unlike the conventional wisdome Shafer rolls out next:

...[U]nder outgoing editor Peter Beinart, the magazine invested inordinate energy to navigate to an island inhabited by only the couple of dozen Democrats who were as devoted as it was to the defense of Israel and a pro-Iraq war policy that was also anti-Bush. Unable to move left and having shifted as far right on foreign policy as physically possible, Beinart's magazine became in its final months a sort of Joe Lieberman Weekly: daring in its audacity but of more interest to Republicans than Democrats, the magazine's traditional constituency...It doesn't make much sense for a neoliberal publication to savage Democrats repeatedly, as Beinart's magazine has, when Republicans run all three branches of government.


I'd say that Shafer assumes a level of moderation and intellectual openness among conservative and Republican intellectuals that simply does not exist, at least not outside The Corner or Belgravia Dispatch. (How many TNR citations does one encounter on the "conservatarian" Instapundit? Very few, despite TNR's fairly libertarian bent.) I agree with Eric Alterman that TNR in the Beinart years is actually quite a bit further, and more coherently, to the left of where it was in the Lane years, let alone the Sullivan or Kelly years. (The shift has certainly made its hardline Likudnik editorial stance more jarring, but that's a biproduct of TNR's renewed liberalism, not evidence of its further deterioration.)

In declaring TNR to be more rightwing than ever, Shafer, and others, generally mean the Iraq war, which remains, with justification, the sore spot for liberals. But here, again, it's worth keeping in mind that, politically at least, the doves aren't always right (though it's never ignoble to oppose a war on the demerits). The Washington Monthly, for instance, recanted its rather fierce opposition to the first Gulf War later on in the 1990s. TNR's profound wrongness on the current Iraq War was confounded for sure by its weasely "Were We Wrong?" issue in 2004. But what difference does it make whether The Editors collectively repent? If anything, Operation Iraqi Freedom (gag) has butressed the argument that, when it comes to war, the only thing that matters is the initial decision to support or oppose a military move. Once the invasion and occupation took place, everything that followed has been more or less inevitable, including the sanctimony of the war's original opponents (myself included) and the ass-covering and sophistry of its original supporters. That plenty of liberal hawks (including Peter Beinart, the only contributor to "Were We Wrong" to suggest that he was, in fact, wrong) later came to the conclusion that supporting the invasion was a bad idea is fairly irrelevant. Liberals probably couldn't have stopped the war from happening, but that they didn't try is a big problem. It just can't be laid at the feet of The New Republic any more than at those of (off the top of my head) Kevin Drum, Josh Marshall, the Washington Post editors, most of the columnists at Slate, Ken Pollack, Richard Holbrooke and on, and on, and on.

It's this passage, though, that makes me wonder if Shafer reads TNR enough to really have a valid opinion, beyond his disdain for Peretz and the repetition of conventional wisdom:

It's not Beinart's fault that he was editor during the interval when long-time owner and editor-in-chief Martin Peretz winnowed his three obsessions—Israel, race, and Al Gore—to one: Israel. Had Beinart piloted the New Republic in an earlier era, when Michael Kinsley, Hendrik Hertzberg, Andrew Sullivan, and Michael Kelly thrived, his magazine might not have sounded so one-note. Had Peretz still been working through three obsessions instead of one, Beinart might have found the breathing room to put a more interesting brand of unorthodox into his unorthodoxy. It doesn't make much sense for a neoliberal publication to savage Democrats repeatedly, as Beinart's magazine has, when Republicans run all three branches of government.


First, that Peretz has stopped writing about race in TNR's pages strikes me as basically a blessing. Also, as a general rule, political magazines should concern themselves with politicians who are actually, like, active politically. Second, compared to either Mother Jones or The Nation or, for that matter, The Daily Kos, TNR can hardly be accused of "savag[ing] the Democrats repeatedly." The difference -- and one the determinedly libertarian Shafer might not be sensitive to -- is that TNR bashes from a highly partisan perspective, frustrated on one hand with the Democrats' failure to regain the power that is TNR liberalism's lifeblood, and on the other, that the Democratic doves supposedly have the upper hand again in intraparty battles (an extremely debatable point). The result is a bit schitzophrenic, sure, but it's fundamentally far more big-D Democratic than what you find in most of the journals to its left (The American Prospect and most of the frustrated liberal blogs excepted). Third, TNR is not at all a one-note magazine unless you only read Peretz' column and take it as representative. It's not. The editorials rarely concern Isreal. I usually skip their zionist commnentary since it's so predictable and I don't learn much from it. Yet the magazine manages to keep me highly entertained.

My own take on the Foer editorship is mild disappointment. That's because Beinart was, in my view and based on my zealous reading of the mag over the past few years, a damn fine editor but a generally lousy columnist (currently turning this lousy column into a book). I have a soft spot for Foer since the first political essay I ever wrote, thrashing a hatchet-job he wrote on the Deaniacs, is presumably still floating out there somewhere on the internet. But he's generally an excellent, genuinely provocative writer, far less predictable than Beinart in his idiocyncrasies (though I've yet to read his book). Becoming editor might cut down his writing time, while freeing up Beinart, after his own book tour, to write more columns. Unless you agree with Shafer that TNR needs "revival", which I obviously don't, this seems a lousy tradeoff. Not that there's any chance I'll stop reading.

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Featured Blogger II: A Girl's Cross
Anatomy of Harrassment

I had my doubts about blogging this - writing about street harrassment.
After all, it's as common-place as paan stains, as ubiquitous as spit.... Will my saying 'NO' to harrassment prevent it? How does telling my stories serve any purpose?

But while discussing the Blank Noise Project with a male friend (who has never maaro-ed seeti, never chhedo-fied, never sung lewd songs, never felt up, pinched, grabbed any part of any woman), he told me - "How do you know? Some teenaged boy somewhere reads this and decides not to molest women... you never know."

For men like him, I write this post.

(I have no patience for blogging dates, nor this women's day brouhaha, nor a fixed schedule that will guarantee internet access on March 7. So, I'm just going to put it up now and let it be a sticky post.)


Some things, you learn to expect, growing up a girl.

You expect to confront harrassment as surely as the sun in May and the fog in a Delhi December.

When you leave the house, an invisible snake of alert suspicion will wind down from your shoulders down your back and become a clenched fist in all public spaces, through all journeys.

How optimistic you're feeling about man-kind, on any given day, determines whether you take a bus home, or just hop into an auto, or a cab, knowing you cannot really afford it. If you really cannot afford an auto some day, you will not take the bus at rush-hour.
You'll let bus after bus after bus go past. Waiting is tiresome. But w
aiting is easier than bristling.

You didn't always expect to do this, of course. One learns these things, by and by.


I began learning in Bombay. Yes, that delightfully sprawling city that is so kind to its women.
My first lesson was delivered atop the railway bridge at Andheri station when I was 13 years old. My first visit to this city by the sea. The first brush with the overspilling local trains. The first time someone grabbed my 13-year old breast.

After all these years, I cannot forget - his face pudgy, more fair than dark, moustache, white shirt, briefcase in hand, big belly, must have been about 40. Old enough to be my father. I remember he had walked into me - or pretended to - and while I struggled with the shock of what he'd been doing under the guise of walking into me, he calmly walked past... just a regular uncle-ji hurrying home after a hard day at work.

What did I do?
Nothing. I kept walking on, beside my brother.... My 17-year old brother who might have picked a fight if I'd told him.... What could I have told him?... It was too late anyway. The crowds had swallowed all of us up so completely.


Some things, you learn to expect (relief is always unexpected).

Therefore, you will be very pleasantly surprised when a man takes the seat next to you, and actually leaves two inches breathing space between you, instead of pushing so close that the windowpane leaves marks on your forearm.... All the same, old habits die hard, and you will spend the journey with a clenched fist balled up somewhere in your shoulderblades, because, you never know when he'll start acting up, do you?

You will also feel miserable when the well-behaved one gets down two stops before yours - it's too much to expect two well-behaved men sitting next to you on a single trip.

But no matter how much you steel yourself to it, sometimes, you will still get reduced to tears.


Seven years later, again in Bombay, after swearing to travel only in the ladies compartment of the local train, I learnt yet another lesson : some 'ladies' compartments turn into a free-for-all feel-up-jam-session after nine o'clock at night.

Suddenly, there were men's crotches pressing into my face, my knees and my shoulders. I stood up and fought my way to the door. Only to be surrounded by half a dozen men offering to 'get me out safely'. As the train stopped, half a dozen men got on, half a dozen got off. Trapped between them for a few seconds, I lost count of how many hands felt me up.

I cried tears of rage - if only that train hadn't moved away... I wanted badly to drag at least one of them off that train and smash his skull on the nearest railway track.


Some things, you get used to. Like rage.

Your ears will be whispered into, your behind will be touched. Songs will be sung...

You will learn to laugh. Humour is a great self-defence tool.

For instance, when a boy calls out 'good morning, madam' on a busy street crossing, I laugh it off.
When a boy follows me from my office everyday, offering to marry me, I laugh it off.
When silly men accost me on the streets and demand to 'make friendship', refusing to take 'no' for an answer, offer me lifts, I laugh it off.
When somebody calls me 'taazaa malaai', 'mirchi', 'badhiya maal', 'chhammak-chhallo', 'lassun-pyaaz' (yes, even that!), I shake my head and laugh it off.

Over the years, I even learnt to focus on the merits of the songs being sung/whistled, thinking about the musical tastes of the modern roadside romeo, instead of the intent behind the singing or whistling.

But when I am walking home at night and a car full of drunk men slows down, I cannot laugh. I can only seek relief in the other car coming down the road; when that car also turns out to be full of drunk men who also slow down near me...
it is hard to keep up a sense of humour all the time.



Five years ago, once again in Bombay, I lost my humour, and learnt not to NOT do anything. At Andheri station, again, for the first time, I used violence.

A man asked me 'how much?'.
I tried to walk past quickly.
He asked me a second time. 'How much?'
I took a step forward, then stepped backward, swung around, and threw a punch.
He looked very surprised and asked 'what did I do?'
I didn't stay to explain. That night, my fist was swollen. I'd never seriously hit anyone before.

The next time two times I punched men, it was at railway stations in Bombay. In both instances, I didn't hit out immediately. It was only when they persisted a second or third time, despite my obvious disinterest.

The third time was in Kathmandu, outside a movie hall. The man touched me three times before I finally lost it.
He began by protesting - 'I didn't do anything' - and ended by saying 'sorry, sister'.
(Bless his poor sister, if he has one; I wouldn't want to be in her shoes.)


-----

Some things, you learn. Some things are shaken and scolded into you.
For example -

When walking, don't think. If you get lost in your own internal world, somebody or the other might misinterpret this as an invitation to grab some piece of you.

You stay alert. Not glaring at every passerby suspiciously can be interpreated as an invitation.

When walking, don't take quieter, narrower lanes which are more picturesque and less polluted. Those are pretty much reserved for the goonda-types and 'eve-teasers' of the city.

When walking past a parked car with the engine idling and man/men sitting inside it, step aside and put at least four feet between you and the car's doors ... don't you read the newspapers?

When lost, don't roll down the car windows all the way while asking for directions. Ask women and chowkidaars for directions, preferably.

Try not to park in basement parkings zone, if alone.

When in public - don't sing, don't smile, don't swing your arms, or your hips. It is better to wear a frown on the streets, along with mouth that looks like it can chew your head off, spewing some rather choice invective, if bothered.

Learn filthy abuse; use it.

When something is lost/stolen, don't go to the police station alone.

If propositioned in a dark, lonely spot, do not slap or insult. In a low, pleasant voice, say you're already engaged. If cornered in a really dark, really lonely spot, give him a fake name, fake phone number.

When accosted by a cop, tell him your dad/grandad/uncle is a senior cop.

If there are less than six people in a bus, don't get on. From Churchgate, at night, don't travel in Ladies first class. From Andheri, early in the morning, don't take the Ladies first class.

Don't hitchhike.

Don't sit alone by the sea for more than ten minutes.

Stop thinking about watching the sun rise over a field, all by yourself.

Stop thinking about long, leafy walks that lead nowhere.

Stop wondering how the streets looks at midnight, after a drizzle.

Stop...


I don't know where, if, and how, this will stop. But I hope it does.

---

There is another aspect to this that I can't help thinking about: it creates a never-ending trap of dependence that many men resent equally.

We women depend - are taught to depend, are left with no option but to depend - on men for our safety and survival.

We can go out, but with 'ghar ke ladke' to take care of us. The brother, husband, father, cousin or boys known to the family will escort us - to a movie, to a mall, to a party. At best, you might be able to manage if you're a big group of girls. But how many times can you walk around as girl-gangs?

We learn, consciously and sub-consciously, that we cannot do anything alone. And if we do, we're going to have wage war every inch of the way.

That lesson is etched in so deep that conceiving of 'life' alone is...

No wonder you need men. No wonder you need marriage. No wonder you cling to the man, because how will you manage alone?

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