Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mole...It Isn't Just for Dinner Anymore

Part of my job at the bookstore is to read book reviews. It's a win-win situation in that I get to read the paper over coffee, appear in the know, and build my to-read list to the point of ridiculousness. Usually this is a pleasant enough task, but today I had the last filaments of shreds of hope torn asunder by Nathan Glazer's review in the New York Times of Hugh Wilford's book The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America. Not surprisingly, the CIA was sugar daddy to a number of so-called progressive organizations. Sadly, Gloria Steinem knew and didn't seem to mind:
A youthful Gloria Steinem had just spent a year and half in India, where, we are told, she befriended Indira Gandhi and the widow of the “revolutionary humanist” M. N. Roy, and had met a researcher who seems to have been a C.I.A. agent or contact. Attractive and progressive, Steinem was hired to run the I.S.I.[Independent Service for Information] and to recruit knowledgeable young Americans who could debate effectively with the Communist organizers of the festival, defending the United States against Communist criticism of segregation and other American failings.
The C.I.A.’s connections to the I.S.I. and a host of other organizations and publications was exposed in a storm of magazine and newspaper articles in 1967, and just about everything that had once been secret became public. Steinem stood up bravely: “I was happy to find some liberals in government in those days who were farsighted and cared enough to get Americans of all political views to the festival,” she told The New York Times. And to The Washington Post she said: “In my experience the agency was completely different from its image: it was liberal, nonviolent and honorable.”

Maybe that is naive youth speaking. I'll have to read the book to find out. Was everyone on the bloody take? Oh, and by the way, Gloria thinks we feminists should all vote for Hillary.
From the New York Times:
What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age.

This country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees. It’s time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers. We have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.”

What worries me that someone who thought the CIA was "liberal,non-violent, and honorable," wants us poor deluded non-Boomer women (who can't possibly think for ourselves) to vote for a dynasty. Sigh. I'll stop the rant before it starts.

I wonder how this would pair with Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, which is also on my long list.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Other Oil Crisis

From today's New York Times:
This is the other oil shock. From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food.
In some poor countries, desperation is taking hold. Just in the last week, protests have erupted in Pakistan over wheat shortages, and in Indonesia over soybean shortages. Egypt has banned rice exports to keep food at home, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.
A startling change is unfolding in the world’s food markets. Soaring fuel prices have altered the equation for growing food and transporting it across the globe. Huge demand for biofuels has created tension between using land to produce fuel and using it for food.

So ethanol, biofuel, and hybrids aren't going to save the world, huh? Who knew?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Slum-urban Planning

In his great Reckoning column in the Globe and Mail Doug Saunders discusses how "Slumming it is better than bulldozing it." (Jan. 12, 2008)

From the piece:
This is the crucial flaw in all top-down, slum-clearance plans: They are based on the belief that people are in slums because they have fallen out of mainstream society, but most slums are composed of people who are clawing their way into the mainstream — the new arrivals from the villages, the recent immigrants from overseas.

They know more than anyone does about what it takes to improve their condition. Given the right conditions — planning approval, utilities, accessible loans, proper deeds or leases on their property — they would probably advance to the middle class faster than any government agency could take them there.

Monday, January 14, 2008


About four years ago I had a burning itch to move to New York, launch my publishing career, and vote for Hillary Clinton in ’08. I had it all worked out. I was a woman with a plan. Now, with the US economy going down the shitter, after reading report after report about Americans not reading or buying books, and after seeing Michael Moore’s Sicko, I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things. Even voting for a woman for president.

Ok, don’t get me wrong: I’d love a woman in the White House. In fact (and I know I’ll take heat for this), I think it’s accomplishment to have a black woman not wearing an apron working for the president. Sadly, Condi Rice plays for the wrong side, but baby steps, ladies, baby steps. We had Madeleine Albright and Sandra Day O’Connor and now Nancy Pelosi. Our time will come.

But is Clinton our feminist messiah? Does she have all the answers? She certainly has pedigree, and as she puts it “experience.” She was the unelected ear of the US president for eight years. And if she wins in November the United States of America will have been ruled by two families for more than twenty years.

Yes, she campaigned for universal health care. She was First Lady, not an elected official. She was a the Spouse of the Commander of Chief of the American Armed Forces. Clinton is now the elected Senator for the state of New York…who voted in favour of the war in Iraq.

Clinton is no shrinking violet and she is no doormat, and for those reasons I think she’s great. Her experience in the de facto politics of the white house—elected or no—is undisputed. I just wonder if she’s the right choice for president just because she’s a woman. Is she the right person for the job? Must we women (ok, maybe not me since I’m not an American citizen nor will I ever be) vote for a woman out of some trumped up sisterly love? Just because she has a vagina, does that mean I have to take one for the team? Should I have voted for Margaret Thatcher? Golda Meir? Benazir Bhutto? Kim Campbell? Would that have been the right thing to do?

When pundits flog Clinton’s advocacy for universal health care they forget that that’s an easy motherhood issue…and a change that will not see the light of day even in two terms. Eight years for all the HMOs to roll over and play Red? Not bloody likely! We’d need the next Clinton in office, dear Miss Chelsea, before that gets any traction.

So where does that leave us? Watching the middle: John Edwards. The nice, obliging, rich, white guy in a suit. And that doesn’t leave me with any Hope for Change.

Now for part 2 of my electoral rant. I’ll be brief. Really. This past Sunday, January 13, the New York Times ran a great story "Rights vs. Rights: An Improbable Collision," about the rights issue; specifically enfranchisement for women versus black men. About twenty years ago I wrote an essay for a women’s history class on this very topic about how largely white middle-class women campaigned for the vote before full male suffrage, which would have included not only black men but non-landholding men. Now, if I recall correctly (my typewritten essay is MIA) I probably used the inflammatory term “racist” (I was twenty-something, it was the Eighties). My prof wrote some scathing remarks about scholarship, I believe, but she also took offence at the content. Nevertheless, two decades hence, I feel vindicated. And sad at the same time.