16 February 2011


I just sat across a desk from John Yoo.  A strange experience in itself, he made me realize something over the course of our conversation. 

I’d gone to see him because I have a legal question about a job.  At Boalt he runs a veteran’s legal clinic, and my question fit the nature of both the issues addressed by the clinic.  To my surprise, rather than direct my email to a law student, he asked to meet me in person.  So there I was this morning explaining that the BLM failed to give me veteran’s preference and turned me down for a crap job.  I sent them a snarky email and asked them why they lied about my status.  Yoo said that it’s important I give government agencies every chance to correct their errors.  But as he talked, I couldn’t help but perceive an underlying point in his argument.  The obvious point is that, legally, I need to establish that they denied me my preference deliberately and maliciously, rather than just on accident.  Additionally, though, I think his underlying assumption is that the government really does want to work for our benefit, and if given the opportunity, will correct its mistakes.  It was so strange to hear someone talk like that.  Even in the Army no one talked like that.

In a way it was refreshing.  I haven’t been open to the possibility in a long time that the state may work to do anything other than lie, cheat and kill.  Don’t mean to be too glass-half-empty here, but it honestly never occurred to me to simply address this with the BLM as though it was an honest mistake.  And to be fair, I don’t think Yoo necessarily thinks it was an honest glitch either.  Or maybe he does.  I haven’t talked with anyone recently who would even consider such an optimistic possibility. 

The key question, regarding the BLM, is if I would have been given the job had they granted me 5 additional points.  When I received the rejection I of course wondered that, but never would have emailed to ask, because I assume they would not actually answer.  I still believe that.  But, Yoo instructed me to email them now and ask.  Even their [assumed] failure to answer will be helpful to me at this point, but what a strange exercise for me.  I will pretend the state wants to do the right thing by me.  What a weird assumption for me to indulge in!

I am so entrenched in my distrust of the state, and it was an interesting awakening for me this morning.  This is of course in addition to the fact that I had the strange experience of seeing John Yoo in person, shaking his hand, and receiving sincere and helpful advice from him.  It’s probably the most striking example in my life of a person who does what I see as terrible, indefensible things, being just the nicest guy.  It reminds me that people are complicated.  Really, really complicated.  Sorry if I harp on this, but I can hear Anderson reminding me that, “whatever you can imagine, people are doing that.  Whatever you can’t imagine, people are doing that too.” 

Marx and Engles argued that the “…state was the state of the most powerful (that is, economically dominant class ‘which, though the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class.’”  I believe that because I see abundant evidence of the truth of this.  Last week I heard a poor woman in Oakland declare that, “Poor people don’t get jobs!  They go to the people who need them much less.”  For a variety of complicated reasons, some of which are her fault, she is correct.  Generally, it seems to me, those with the least advantage see this with the most clarity, and those on top are permitted to pretend that these social structures do not exist. 

I want to believe in meritocracy so much.  So, with as much optimism as I can muster, I will contact the BLM and ask them the questions that Yoo recommended I ask.  Care to guess which one of us is correct.  I never thought I’d say this, but I hope John Yoo is right.  Wow, that was weird even to type!

10 February 2011


Dear “Intelligence” community,

I am no expert on Egypt.  I’ve been there one time; I couldn’t wait to leave.  I found the place hostile, and the people even worse.  Not to mention that I never had any decent food in that Allah-forsaken country.  BUT, I can’t help but watch my hair turn gray as you continue to look confused while the obvious happens.

A few reasons for your idiocy:
  1. If I never hear another “Egyptian” with a Canadian passport go on BBC and say, “Well my friend, a professor at AUB told me this morning that…”  Who cares?  The fake Egyptians I’ve heard on all news sources, save very few, are as expert as I am at analyzing that country.  In fact, they probably suck more at this than I do given that so far, I’ve been right about this whole thing, and they continue to wrongly predict everything.

  1. Stop looking at this movement though the lens of Facebook and Twitter.  I believe it’s a grave mistake to assume this is a revolution pushed by young people.  The demographics of Egypt, indeed the Middle East, make young people the likely participants in anything!  I see this as a movement of the impoverished who care more about basic living standards than the currently-lofty and obtuse goals of “democracy.”  If I were hungry I’d be more keen to rectify that than to ensure my right to vote in a transparent election.  Give poor people the credit they deserve.  Keep in mind also that this movement is not necessarily united; people are out there for diverse (and just) reasons, and democracy is only one cause.

  1. Mubarak has never really been vulnerable to public opinion, why should now be any different?  Why would he suddenly care that people have always hated him?

  1. Who in the world thinks that the Arab world runs on western time?!?  That Mubarak was late to his own speech seemed to indicate that there was vigorous “debate.”  Good god people!  He’s on time there! 

  1. Who in the world thinks that rumors in the Arab world are legit and should be heeded?  I don’t even know what to say to this one.  Has anyone commenting on this actually been to the ME?

Now, because people haven’t just become bored and wandered home, it will be time for the army, or one of the various other security agencies, to move in and begin killing people.  America has stood around saying things that make us look awful, and we’re going to continue to stand around and let this happen, as though we don’t know it’s pending.  (Maybe we really don’t know, since we haven’t know anything else so far…)  Good thing Marc Lynch is around to blog about how Obama is dealing well with all of this.  Otherwise I might begin to think that we’re really screwing up here.  It's also worth considering that these regimes didn't become this violently indifferent to its populations without some serious dedication to the direct cause of not giving a crap about people in order to profit financially and in terms of social capital.  Obama coming out now and telling them to use restraint is therefore entirely, 100%, useless.

Me during Eid 2006 in Ta7rer Square: