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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Article on

Hey, looky here. asked me to write something for their feature called “Last Line.” They ask writers to go look at the last line that they’ve written—a journal entry, a work in progress, whatever—and talk about it, and about whatever occurs to them in so doing. It’s an interesting idea, because it gets people to talk about stuff they’re still in the middle of writing—a lot of “last lines” will get edited out further down the road—as opposed to stuff they have finished. I don’t usually like to talk about stuff while it’s still half-formed, but what the heck. So I did it. It was a multi-step process, as I wrote my initial response, and then the editor asked me to expand on something I mentioned in passing, about living outside the US. I did that, and then did some more, and she liked it all and wanted to keep it. In fact that’s the slant they ended up giving to the whole piece.

You can read the article here:

The other articles in the series are also interesting.

In entirely unrelated news, here is Musharraf’s response to Sky News when they asked him, a couple days back, if he had thought of resigning:

“But should it be given up now and we will have better Pakistan, a stabler Pakistan and we could have very good elections, without me? Very good, maybe I take that decision, okay?”

I think the guy’s starting to have a breakdown. (Starting?)

Imran Khan is still in jail; Asma Jehangir and Benazir are still free. Some prisoners have been released, while others remain in jail, and most of the TV stations are back. But, those which have refused to agree to the new broadcasting rules are still off the air, and a number of protests at this are taking place around the country.

Coming soon: My new book cover. And don’t forget to take the poll at the bottom of this page!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Newsweek can go to Hell

The other day, UK-based Sky News surveyed people in Pakistan, asking which political party or political leader would be the best to lead the country out of the current mess. They asked thousands of people from all over the country. The answers:

36% Nawaz Sharif (PML)
28% Benazir Bhutto (PPP)
17% General Musharraf
5% Imran Khan
3% JI (religious fundos)
3% JUI (more religious fundos)
1% MQM (Karachi-based ethnic party)
8% undecided

From what I can gather, just talking to ordinary people, and from having contacts with literally thousands of students, colleagues and parents over the years, these numbers seem about right.

This pretty neatly gives the lie to those smug bastards at Newsweek and their screeching that Pakistan is “the most dangerous country in the world.” That claim, which was splashed on the cover of the rag a couple weeks ago along with a photo of three crazed, bearded fanatics howling at the camera, would lead you to believe that Pakistan is a country full of crazed, bearded, howling fanatics who want the country to become a haven for the same. While I don’t deny that there are some of those here, mainly centered in the northwest of the country--and nor will I deny, as some Americans would, that the actions of the US have lent the fundos credibility and support--I strongly protest against the idea that they are this nation’s defining group. They’re not. They have overplayed their hand, targeting ordinary people, mosques, even kids and schools, and many of their borderline sympathizers/supporters have shunned them. Thursday’s arrest of Imran Khan, turned over to the cops by a bunch of student militants allied with JUI, will put off even more people.

Take a look at those numbers again: Six percent of Pakistanis back the religious parties. That’s a much smaller percentage than in the USA, I’m willing to bet. The Republicans have relied on hardcore Christian vote for years, for something like 20% of its core support, and drum up a lot of phony “issues” (gay marriage, anybody?) to mobilize them. If an evangelical party ran in an election with a proper organzation and a chance of gaining some Congressional seats, you can bet it would get more than 6% of the vote. I read somewhere that 40% of Americans don’t believe in evolution, for God’s sake.

So screw Newsweek. I’d love to see them run a cover with a photo of a swastika-tattooed skinhead, the latest high-school shooter, and one of the guards at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, with the caption: “The the most dangerous country in the world is the United States.” But then, some people might object that that representation isn’t fair.

If you think I’m biased, try this article by a BBC reporter who was in Pakistan on vacation at the time of the article:

Now on to other news.

Mush has promised to step down as Army chief by the end of the month. To which I say: so what? He has amended the Constitution (y’know, the one he suspended) so that it is the President, not the army chief, who cam impose or rescind a state of emergency. In other words, he imposed emergency while army chief, then changed the law giving the power to the president, now he’s going to resign as army chief but stay president, with the same powers he had before. This is what’s known as a “cosmetic change.” The guy makes Harry Houdini look like an amateur. In the meantime, Benazir has been released from house arrest as has Asma Jehangir (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan), but Imran Khan (head of a rival political party) has gotten thrown in jail. Some of the news channels are still off the air while others have been allowed back, and I’m having trouble accessing this blog (hmm, coincidence?) while Pakistan got hosed by India yet again in cricket on Sunday, thus icing the series for good. Oy!

Oh and, hey, I have a book coming out in three months or so. I’ll run the cover in a few days. If I can get into this site.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Check out Uzee's blog!

Hey kids, the lovely and talented Uzma Aslam Khan has now got her very own blog up and running. Unlike mine, hers is less of an ongoing conversation full of smart-alecky comments, and more of a central point to links about her books, her online nonfiction articles, and various other items of interest such as interviews. Info can be found there about her new novel, The Geometry of God, which is forthcoming from Rupa & Co., India, within a few weeks, as well as numerous articles she has written, including a prescient one on Pakistan's judicial crisis, written way back in March. Also of particular interest (to me anyway) is her most recent article, written for Drawbridge magazine in the UK, about a trend in literature that is problematic, and encapsulated in novels like The Kite Runner and Brick Lane, and non-fiction about oppressed Muslim women and the men who treat them so bad. So if you've read any of that stuff (and even if you haven't), take a look.

All this and more can be found at

I'll put a permanent link on the sidebar here so it'll be easy to find in the future.

In other news, for those of you who are keeping track of such things, Benazir is still under house arrest, we still don't have independent news channels, and the latest promise is that elections will be held by January 9. Which would mean a couple more months of martial law/emergency rule. John Negroponte is on his way to Islamabad to lean on Mush, which is nice. Shame it didn't happen last year, three years ago, five years ago, seven years ago, but whatever. You can't have everything.

We watched Before Sunrise a couple nights ago. It was sweet, worth a look. We also watched The Usual Suspects and were underwhelmed, despite the great cast (Kevin Spacey, Benicio del Toro, Chazz Palmentieri, Gabriel Byrne). Somewhere along the line, somebody decided that crime thrillers would be a lot better if the chronology was all messed up (21 Grams, etc), and sometimes, okay, it works. But sometimes it doesn't really do much except seem confusing while trying to cover up what is, after all, a pretty thin plot. Oh well.

Hey! The Coen Brothers' adaptation of No Country For Old Men by Cormac Mccarthy--a great book--is coming our Friday. I won't see it here in Pakistan, but somebody, go watch and tell me how it is. If you dare. Fargo remains one of the great movies of all time and I've been waiting for the Coens to match those heights. This might be the one.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cooking Tips for Bachelors (2): Russian Tea Cakes

So, the Mush government has decreed that civilians can be court-martialed. I always thought a court-martial was a military trial for a serving member of the armed forces, but not so. According to Sunday's paper: "The Army can now try civilians on charges ranging from treason, sedition and attack on Army personnel to 'assaulting the president with intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power' and 'giving statements conducive to public mischief.'"

Please read that last one again. You can be arrested and tried for saying something that contributes to "public mischief." Presumably, saying something like, "We think the Constitution should be restored," would fall into this category. Presumably, this blog--and many, many others--would fall into this category.

The farce goes on.

Meanwhile, in the same paper: "Bush made it clear on Saturday that his government still wants to work with Musharraf." Well sure! After all, the court-martial law is nothing more than a slightly watered-down version of the Patriot Act, and I bet Bush wishes he could roll that one through, too.

Bush also said that Mush "understands the dangers of Al-Qaeda," that Benazir "understands the dangers of Al-Qaeda," and that the Pakistani people "understand the dangers of Al-Qaeda." Although from my experience, most people here are far more cognizant of the dangers of the US Air Force (650,000 dead in Iraq, according to Human Rights Watch) and rather less concerned with a bunch a bearded fundos in the hills. But presumably, "the dangers of Al-Qaeda" are a convenient way of shutting down the dangers of, oh, free speech, free assembly, access to information, and political representation.

Fuck it. Let's make cookies:

My sister Eleanor sent me this recipe last week and I made them Saturday, for the first time in years. They rule.

1. Cream together 1/2 cup butter and 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar (or "icing sugar," as they call it here), and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

2. Mix 2 cups flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

3. Mix together [1.] and [2.]

4. Finely chop 3/4 cup of walnuts and mix them in too. Wash your hands and really mash the dough. The heat from your hands will soften it and turn it into a big smooth lump. But you have to do this or the mix will just remain crumbs.

5. When you have a big smooth lump, put it in the fridge for an hour or two.

6. Preheat the oven to 400. Scoop out teaspoonfuls of the dough and roll them between your palms till they are smooth little balls. Put them on an ungreased cookie sheet. You can pack them in: they won't spread or melt. A big sheet can hold 3 dozen cookies, the whole batch.

7. Bake 10-12 minutes till they're slightly golden. Don't burn the bottoms.

8. Let them cool a little and roll in confectioner's sugar. This will melt and form a glaze. When they're completely cool, roll them again. Oh man! They're good. They have that melt-in-your-mouth thing going on.

9. They're even better the next day, in my opinion, once they're firmed up a little.

10. Then when you're in the car with someone and you're passing a market, you can say, "Oh, can you stop a minute? I need to get confectioner's suger and walnuts for my next batch of Russian cookies." Enjoy the look of bewilderment on his/her/their face(s).


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Slouching Toward Islamabad

So, today we are again without independent TV news channels, which were blocked several days back, only to be restored roughly 36 hours ago, only to be blocked again.

However, Benazir was released from house arrest. Or so we hear from the Internet. We had to read about this online because we couldn't watch it on the TV news that wasn't being shown for fear that it would report when Benazir was arrested and so make the government look bad. Instead the government looks much better by not allowing any news at all while it arrests people and also beats lawyers with heavy sticks and locks up judges.

Mush has promised an election in, what, three and a half months? The US, of course, "welcomes this development." Sure it does. I would expect nothing less.

We are, I believe, rapidly approaching the point at which tragedy becomes farce. If we haven't already passed it.

Coming soon: Esquire magazine wants me! No kidding.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Good times, bad times

A piece of good news: as of yesterday, most of the independent news channels were back on the air. Not Al-Jazeera English (the best of the bunch, in my view), but CNN and BBC and, most importantly, the local independents. So that's good. Whether they're under pressure to adopt this line or that, I don't know.

Some bad news: Benazir is under house arrest now, according to AP. I'm no fan of BB--she's an opportunist whose alliance with Mush at least helped him stay in power that much longer--but it's always a bad thing in my book to lock up your political opponents.

That's all for this update. Stay tuned.

In the meantime this plant on my balcony is starting to bloom after 8 years. Must be the political climate, ha ha. Here are some pictures. I have no idea what it is, other than some type of succulent, but its flowers are wonky and yellow. No smell alas. This is just another thing I love about living in Lahore--the plant life veers between tropical and just plain warped.

And yes, that's an enormous rubber tree in the background.

Don't forget to vote in the poll at the bottom of this page!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Well all else is uncertain...

...there will remain my favorite site, The Onion.

Another day of demos and house arrests, tear-gassed lawyers and detained judges and plenty of people who would like things to change, now. Amid the fury, here are a couple of fun, book-related links. First, a short funny article:

And second, a longer article discussing the book-movie nexus (which is so often a black hole):

Have fun, and try not to get arrested.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Well, there's always sports

So, as Uzee and I were driving around today, the city seemed pretty calm. If anything there was a bit less traffic than expected on a Monday afternoon. No demos that we could see, an no more police/army presence than usual. Of course, we weren;t driving up on the Mall, which is where most of the activists have been getting rounded up and arrested.

So far, just about anyone who has ever resisted military rult has been locked up--opposition politicians, human rights activists, judges, lawyers. The TV stations are still off the air, but so far the papers are still being pretty critical. Knock on wood.

In the meantime, than God for sports, the true opiate of the people. Then again, maybe "Thank God" is the wrong phrase, since India hosed Pakistan in today's cricket match by 5 wickets--that's a fair bit, if you don't know the game. There are four more matches to the series in the next few weeks, but Pakistan needs to turn itself around in a hurry or they're doomed.

On a happier note, the New England Patriots football team squeaked by the Indianapolis Colts, 24-20, to remain undefeated on the season. This is a happy, happy thing. Maybe that 16-0 season really is possible. I hadn't thought much about it as a serious proposition, but...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Bought and Paid for by the USA

Here in Pakistan, where I live, the general who runs things, Musharraf, declared a state of emergency yesterday. He sacked the head of the Supreme Court, suspended the Constitution, suspended a whole slew of local private TV channels, and cut phone lines to & from Islamabad. The emergency grants him powers to do pretty much whatever he wants; for example, he can have anyone arrested without charge, and held indefinitely--just like his friends the Americans do in Guantanamo. Opposition politicians like Imran Khan are under house arrest; so is Asma Jehangir, the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Others, like Nawaz Sharif, are in forced exile.

This will probably not affect me a great deal. There may be a curfew imposed, or some other inconvenience. But I'm unlikely to be stopped by police, or arrested, or deported.

How it will affect the country at large is another question. There is plenty of alienation among the population as whole, mainly due to three things: economic policy, military action the northwest, and most of all, American hegemony.

The economy is booming--if you're lucky. After 9/11, a lot of expat money came flooding back into the country, and a lot of development and investment came along with it. People who already had money found themselves in a position to make a lot more. But along with this came outrageous inflation. My rent has multiplied in the past eight years; my electric bill has risen by 400% since 2001. Uzee and I feel the squeeze but we're not desperate; but the huge proportion of the country living on $1-$2 dollars per day is getting desperate. Last month, tomatoes hit $2.50 a kilo; they normally sell for about 35 cents. Onions, carrots, sugar, all the basic staples have shot up. This may not sound like a lot to you, but for a guy who earns a buck or two a day to feed his whole family, it's a big bloody fookin' deal. Meanwhile, imported cars are getting bigger and bigger for the few super-rich who are getting super-richer: a Mercedes dealership has opened in Lahore (!) for the first time, and I actually saw a snazzy little Jaguar a few streets from my house. So there's a lot of anxiety on the part of the common citizen, and a growing amount of resentment as well.

The second part of the dissatisfaction stems from the government's civil war in the northwest. Please understand, I'm no fan of the Taliban, I think they're wackos who need to be stopped. Nothing would make me sadder than to see a Taliban-style regime in this country. BUT, I don't think the best way to quell "militancy" is by indiscriminate military action. The US tried that in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Vietnam. It has failed in all three arenas. Not surprisingly, when people are faced with two unpalatable options, they will choose the less immediately unpalatable. So when the US (or the Pakistan Air Force) is dropping bombs on their villages, and the Taliban is saying, "Help us fight them," many people will think something like: "Well, the Taliban are scary, but at least they're not trying to murder my family." As a result, militancy grown more powerful with every industrial-strength western military offensive. I have no idea why this simple idea is so mysterious to the governments Bush et al.

And to their puppets. Which brings us to the third part of the equation: Musharraf has received $9 billion from the US since 2002. Make no mistake, he is doing the bidding of the States, and people here are tired of that. Thousands of people have been rounded up and "disappeared," held indefinitely without charge, at the behest of the US and its "war on terror." Investigation of these disappearances was the reason why the Chief Justice was sacked the first time around. (What, you say never read about this in The New York Times or heard it on CNN? I'm so surprised.) Pakistanis are being tortured and killed to satisfy the Americans, or killing one another in military strikes. When the (Democrat-led) Congress responds by demanding that Pakistan "do more" or when idiots like Obama try to rustle up a few more votes by threatening to bomb the country, people are naturally furious that their countrymen's lives (private citizens, rebels and soldiers) are being sacrificed for an "ally" who talks to & about them in such terms.

All of which undermines Condi's petulant little comment that the US wants "a smooth transition to democracy" and won't tolerate anything else. What a joke: the US has been paying for "anything else" for the past six years. (And a good deal longer, in places like Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Latin America... make a list.) Tell anybody in this country that the States is keen to promote democracy, and they will fall down on the ground, helpless with laughter. Until they stop laughing and start getting pissed off. Because democracy is what they want, and the United States of America is devoting enormous resources to preventing it.

Let me say again: people here do NOT want an Iranian-style revolution or a Taliban-type takeover. But they think they have been co-opted into fighting someone else's war. Suicide bombings are a common occurrance here; before Mush's US-funded attacks, they had never taken place. Sunni-Shia attacks are more frequent than ever before, and so on. So are attacks on Christians and other minorities, previously rare. Violence begets violence, remember?

All of this has been bought and paid for by the United States. Musharraf is there because of the US. The war is taking place because of the US. People are being rounded up and "disappeared" because of the US.

So where all this will head, I can't say. Has Mush made a mistake by imposing the emergency? Probably. According to some reports, the Supreme Court was on the verge of overturning his election last month (elected by the provincial assemblies, not the population at large), so this is his way of retaining office. But has he made a mistake that will result in severe negative consequences for him? That's harder to say. The last time the Chief Justice got sacked, in March, people did protest and people did turn out on the streets, and the government did reinstate him after several months. Now there's even more bad feeling out there. So maybe something like that will happen again.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cooking Tips for Bachelors (1): Fried Eggplant Sandwiches

All right, kids, a lot of you may not realize that eggplant, in addition to being large, cheap, readily available, and purple, can also be quite tasty when prepared into this faux-burger type sandwich. Just follow these easy steps and you'll be chowing in half an hour, with plenty left over for 2 or 3 more lunches.

1. Cut eggplant into thin (1/4 inch or so) slices.
2. Sprinkle with plenty of salt and let sit for 20 minutes. This takes away the bitterness. Rinse well. They'll be plenty salty, so really scrub 'em.
3. Beat an egg or two and put some flour on a plate. If you're feeling really gourmet, you can add some black pepper or dried basil to the egg. (But no salt! There's enough already.
4. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan. You can use any kind of oil, but I like to use olive oil so I can fool myself into thinking, "It's not really fried food, it's actually good for me."
5. Dunk the eggplant slices in the egg, one at a time. Flip them around the flour too so they're nicely coated.
6. Fry them about 5 minutes on a side, till they're golden brown. Drain them on newspaper.
7. Toast some bread, or a burger bun, or whatever you want to use as a bread-like product.
8. Slap 3 or 4 fried eggplant slices on the bread along with some sliced tomato, raw onion, cilantro if you have it, lettuce if you want, and whatever wetting substance you like (mayo, ketchup, mustard--ughh--or whatever suits you).
9. Devour with gusto.

And there you have it. One decent-sized eggplant is likely to deliver 15 to 20 slices, so you have plenty for the days ahead. And the next time you're riding in a car with someone you want to impress, you can say, "Hey, can we stop at the market? I've just run out of eggplant, and I need to get more." Then you can enjoy their bewildered silence.

PS: Don't forget to take the poll at the bottom of this page!

All Souls' Day

Welcome to November here at The Party Never Stops.

Okay, so, I guess I should mention that the Boston Red Sox won the World Series a few days ago. Not that I care, but I am a New England native through and through, and so these things matter in some tangential way. So okay, a moment of jubilation. Go ahead... okay, that's enough. Stop please. Thank you.

I'm frankly far more interested in Sunday's upcoming NFL clash between the 7-0 New England Guys Who Love Their Country And Want to Stick It to King George and the 6-0 Indianapolis Sickly Little Ponies Who Can Barely Stand Up, Let Alone Walk. This is the first time in the 88-year history of the NFL that two teams have met with both having records of better than 5-0. Should be a great game, and a high scoring one. Alas, being here in sunny Lahore, land of chirping hoopoes and swooping fruit bats--both of which I see on a regular basis--I will not in fact be able to watch the game. I might stay up and follow it on my computer, but then again, it starts 2:15am Lahore time. So the alternative plan is to sleep, and read the recap later.

In other news, I just finished a great book, The Inquisitor by Catherine Jinks. Probably you've never heard of this person. I hadn't, till I came across her book by chance at one of the massive remaindered-book bazaars they have dotting this city. Jinks is Australian, and unless you live in Australia you may not realize what a lively and thriving literary scene they have, one which barely ripples against the US or UK. This is a shame, since there are some good books out there, more than just Peter Carey. Who is, admittedly, great.

The Inquisitor is set in 14th-century France and concerns the murder of, yes, an inquisitor of heretical depravity, whose body is found chopped into pieces and scattered, along with his bodyguards. Good-natured Father Bernard, himself an inquisitor but also a nice guy who shuns things like the rack and misogyny, is called upon to investigate the case, and winds up risking his neck in the process. It's a lively story with a good, rich historical setting and plenty of twists. It strikes me as a kind of low-rent Name of the Rose, but I can't be sure, since I never read The Name of the Rose. (Somebody told me the last line was in Latin; I checked, and sure enough it was. I was like, "Oy.")

Oh and The Book of Samson is out in paperback. Sorry about the relentless sales pitch, but it is after all what I do: