Saturday, February 25, 2006

Can't we all just get along?

Go Gooch! Go Gooch! USA! USA!

Hope you guys aren't getting used to erudition.

This post was supposed to be about 'What We're Actually Lobbying For', but let me leave that for next time, if there is a next time!

Today, I'd like to reflect on Abdisa's comments about the ineffectiveness of existing Ethiopian-American organizations when it comes to mobilization and lobbying.

It's just my nature, but rather than start looking to create new and better organizations, I tend to first ask why things are the way they are. After all, what if these new organizations end up succumbing to the same problems?

Let me start with a few observations from my personal experience, and you tell me if this resonates with yours. In my time in the diaspora, I have seen few functioning and enduring Ethiopian organizations or collectives of any kind, let alone political organizations. Among those organizations that exist, I always hear the leadership complain about a 'lack of participation'. On the other hand, I hear those outside the organization complain that it is unwelcoming or inaccessible. I have seen people of good character, whose frames of reference and views on the subject matter at hand are virtually identical, end up getting in such a fight that it ends the life of their organization. I have seen whole organizations torn to shreds just because of one single 'troublemaker', leaving me to wonder how one person could break the collective spirit of many like-minded people. And I have seen these episodes repeated in various different contexts with different people.

This has led me to two conclusions, simplified as follows:

1. We have problems getting along.
2. We have problems expressing our collective will in a constructive and effective way. This explains much of the 'lack of participation'.

Though these problems are related, I'll only talk abut the second for now.

The second problem fascinates me. I like to relate it to teamwork in sports. Phil Jackson talks about something most of us who have been involved in sports intuitively know, and that is that the best teams are the ones with the best teamwork.

For good teamwork to occur, players must first fully understand that teamwork is the best way to maximize their individual returns: in sports, that would be winning, notoriety, money. Though this is a tautology, few players actually understand it. It usually takes an authoritative figure, armed with a history of success to serve as examples, to convince them.

Then, they have to understand that teamwork requires sacrifice in the form of becoming unselfish and other things. Short-term sacrifice, for long-term gain. But players are reluctant to sacrifice anything for three reasons: 1) they just want to be selfish! 2) they are still not convinced teamwork will pay off in the end, and 3) they are not sure if their teammates will make sacrifices.

Most of the time, we deal with reasons 2) and 3). And these occur most often because of the environment the players come from. They have never seen teamwork (except teamwork motivated by the most primal instincts of family and survival), let alone be part of it, so they find it hard to believe in it. Especially when it calls for immediate sacrifice, which, to them, is definitely a bad thing! And the players assume that their teammates are just like them and think in the same way, so they won't trust their teammates to carry their end of the bargain.

And so what happens is that the team never ends up running efficiently and achieving its full potential. The team remains vulnerable to other teams with much less individual talent but more teamwork. This frustrates the players, as they can't recognize why they are losing to less talented players. And even if they somehow become cognizant of this, they still have a hard time trusting each other.

So how does all this apply to Ethiopian civic groups or political organizations? Well, just as in the example above, people are reluctant to participate because participation means work - sacrifice. How can they sacrifice their time and energy when they are unsure whether the whole thing will pay off, and more importantly, when they don't trust their fellow countrymen, who have the same interests, to do the same?

This may seem like an intractable problem - the kind that requires one to pull oneself up by the bootstraps, but it is not. People do slowly learn from exposure, even people who have grown up in an environment devoid of teamwork. Various circumstances, such as the appearance of great leaders, or situations that force the issue and make it a matter of survival, can speed along this process. Like anything else, eventually, the population as a whole eventually passes some threshold of awareness.

So in the context of Ethiopian political organizations today, I think the key for those of us who have some awareness of these issues is to put our knowledge into practice and participate. I think it is obvious - it is obvious to me, at least - that a strong collective Ethiopian-American lobby would make a huge difference. Knowing this, the next step is to trust that fellow Ethiopians will make the necessary sacrifices to make this work. Even if, in the back of your mind, you don't think they will, you must go ahead anyway. That's the bootstrapping part of the solution. If everyone does the same, we'll have results.

Now, what will all this participation do to the inefficient nature of these organizations? The sheer number of committed stakeholders will automatically increase their efficiency.

Imagine if one of you joined
Kinijit DC. You think you'd be swamped with bickering and inefficiency, partially because not enough people like you have joined. But imagine if ten of you joined Kinijit DC. There you would have a critical mass of people with the awareness of the various issues I have talked about and the capability to make a change.

Now, what about forming new organizations? Well, let's look at it this way. Let's assume that when it comes to lobbying on the national stage, bigger is better, and so something like the Cuban-American National Foundation would be best. Once we have accepted that this is the best route, that is, once we have accepted that teamwork is the best route, then what we have to do is participate and trust that everyone else will.

I know I haven't discussed many of the variables that should be considered here, such as whether a small, quicker group may be more effective in the short term, or whether there are significant differences between our values and goals and those of existing organizations. Nevertheless, when it comes to Ethiopian civic and political movements, I favour working with existing organizations. From what I've seen, that's the best way to go.

Catching up

Been trying to catch up on some reading.

Ethiopundit addresses the untenable Meles-China (or as Lou Dobbs insists on calling them, Communist China) alliance in one of helluva brilliant piece in How About Chinese? That Ethiopundit should be put in a museum and worshipped from afar. “please do not look directly at His Punditressness’ halo. Step away from the halo.”

Prophet of Change at Egoportal is one of his best posts. The frustration of wanting to do a good job crashing so spectacularly with what’s unavailable to be.. a prophet of change. God made him young enough not to want to be a prophet of change in 1993-6, at the height of Ato Meles’ and Ato Isayas’ gluttonous union. Remember those days?

I thought the venerable Seleda (nefusn yimarew) definition of “shaffada” was a breakthrough until my husband made it a point of reading me the poems posted on Aqumada. Twice. Can’t you just hear the collective screeches of over-fermented indignation from the intellectually constipated?

I was just about to order me a few hundred “Free Andrew Heavens” bumper stickers when he resurfaced on Mesqel Square. Phew. In an amazing coincidence, the admirably incompetent Ethiopian Telecom had cut off his phone line after he posted how ‘spensive innernetz connection is in Ethiopia. Ahhh. ET Telecom. Is there an outfit more appallingly worthless? Anyway. Mesqel Square takes an interesting look into “The White Man’s Burden,” William Easterly’s book on the failure of international aid. You know, when we bash Jeffrey Sachs and his economista posse we are labeled ungrateful and uppity. So thank God a qelqala ferenje is doing it for us. Yes, please. (Mesqel Square argues that there have been some great results… baby with bathwater, etc.)

I am really, really digging this guy at Things We Should Have Written Down. Really digging him.

All the energy I have. Still wracked with flu/cold whatever the hell it is that is making me highly, highly irascible.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"Those who wonder what just happened"

I thought I’d better pop in and check in just in case someone reports my untimely death. With most profound thanks to Gooch for keeping Wonqville alive, here is another entry from him. Gooch, I’ve asked so many people to help with this blog… you being the only one who took me up on it. You’ve walked the talk.

Briefly…., managed to self medicate enough to see some medal ceremonies… Shani Davis taking the gold. It was almost surreal… snowy night, a black man in the middle podium, the American national anthem. For several complicated reasons, I wanted to cry. Congrats to Robel!! Representin’! I saw on TV that he had some ET fans waving him in. “Robel with a cause”… hmmm… wonder if he’s heard that one before. Turin… yes, it is Turin. If we don’t say Roma or Florenzia, then why is it Torino? Coz the marketing people thought it sounded better. It does. Anyway, when the Italians won the relay the town went almost nuts. I saw it from my hotel room… the revelry. The only thing I could think of was how I don’t even know the Ethiopian national anthem. Sad.

Qirb new ye Ityopiya Tnsae.

A group of fur-coated Italian women who were daintily sipping on espresso decided to strike up a conversation with us by asking us if we knew Oprah. Of course we did. For those of you here and who like vodka, the Russia House serves it all night long… free. Back to being sick.

Thanks again Gooch!


At a Kinijit seminar that I recently attended, the (superb) speaker, urging his audience to actually do something, remarked that there are three types of people:

Those who take action.
Those who watch while the action takes place.
Those who wonder what just happened.

Well, it was funny in Amharic.

In the last comments section, Kuchiye asked if we, the readers of ETW, I assume, should take action in the form of creating a lobby group, the W-ET organization.

From my experience, I'd like to share some of the considerations that go into building successful lobby efforts. Nothing systematic, I'm just throwing out a bunch of suggestions.

1. You need like-minded people who trust each other. This means people have to get together, talk, perhaps socialize, get to know each other, and establish a relationship. So you can't quite do this over the Internet, or at least not exclusively over the Internet..

2. Generally, the fewer and bigger the organizations, the better. If there are twenty 'pro-democracy' or 'human rights advocacy' Ethiopian organizations in the
US, and a dozen political party support groups, they won't be taken very seriously. But one or two large organizations would be taken seriously. So there is a benefit to getting involved in existing organizations and putting one's own stamp on them.

3. On the other hand, the existing organizations could be far away, non-functioning, or too cumbersome and ineffective. In this case, it is better to work individually or in a small group, but on a small scale. A particularly effective strategy is to target your local congressman or senator and one potentially influential member of the media, and build a relationship as a constituent or member of the local public. Sensitize them about the situation in
Ethiopia and how American taxpayers' money is going to a dictatorship that will probably, in the long run, lead Ethiopia to failed-state status and ruin American interests in the area. And show them that there are hundreds or thousands of others in your area who are just as concerned.

4. I think it is helpful to think of two types of participation - light and heavy. Light is just sending money to a lobby organization, calling or sending form letters to your congressman, once in a while attending events where a show of numbers is important, such as ones attended by the local congressman, donating to your local congressman's campaign. Volunteering for your congressman's campaign starts getting on the heavy side. Heavy is actual direct lobbying - building relationships with and lobbying congressmen and media members, administering lobby efforts, writing press releases and policy statements, etc.

5. Most people have other things to do, of course, and want to keep things as simple as possible and participate lightly. To these, I would suggest sending money to Kinijit Support -
USA, phoning or writing your congressman once in a while, and giving him a largish cheque for his campaign. Simple and easy, but quite effective, especially if done by a bunch of people.

6. Heavy involvement requires that one invests time to acquire the skills and knowledge, especially knowledge about the situation in
Ethiopia, US government policy, policy trends, ... Not many people want to do this, but not many people need to.

7. We must understand that the Ethiopian lobby groups and opposition party support groups in the
USA are still very much at the infancy stage. They are not at all well-organized, publicity and outreach are poor, accountability is not transparent, ... I think we must learn to accept this reality and move forward, hoping to slowly improve things from the inside. In other words, I would rather send an opposition party support group $50 a month, knowing that there is a probability that the money will just sit there or even that it may be misused, than not send any money at all. If we all reach the level of dedication required to do this, then we will reach the level of dedication required to demand and successfully obtain accountability and efficiency. That's the way to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.

8. The most effective lobbying is done by non-partisan 'pro-democracy and human rights' groups, rather than political party support groups, as the former are seen as unbiased and more credible, and they can embrace people from various political parties. However, from what I know, in the
US, as a matter of momentum and practicability, it seems that it may be better to hitch one's wagon on Kinijit rather than invest in a new or current pro-democracy group. I stand to be corrected, but that's what I see.

9. In
Canada, a situation I'm quite familiar with, lobbying by non-partisan groups was effective enough to get the Conservative Party, which incidentally has won the recent elections, to officially take a tough stance on the Ethiopia issue back in the summer of 2005. This stance was re-iterated in the recent elections, and now it's a matter of time before this is translated into concrete action. Many Ethiopians throughout the country campaigned and contributed funds to various candidates in these elections, and this is slowly bearing fruit.

10. An underlying concern for many is their want of privacy out of fear of what will happen to them if they want to travel to
Ethiopia or what will happen to their families. This, I think legitimate, concern, is easily dealt with by participating at arm's length. Money can and is probably best sent anonymously. Letters sent to local politicians are private. No problem!

11. Solidarity with like-minded folks and a spirit of 'tolerance' and inclusion is absolutely crucial. Kinijit and Hibret supporters should reach out one another and to OLF supporters, too. The bottom line for all is democracy. On other issues, one can agree to disagree, but by actually engaging in dialogue, you may be surprised at how much you have in common and how much you can learn.

12. Do not fear the 'knuckleheads' - those poor politicos who seem to dictatorial and hardheaded and unwelcoming. Treat them nicely, be empathetic, try and understand what makes them so edgy, and you will soon be best pals, or at least be able to work together.

To summarize, here's what you can (easily) do:

1. Contact your congressman once a month or so, preferably by phone or letter mail.

2. Spread you message to any influential people you know, such us members of the media, but others as well.

3. Give money to a Kinijit or Hibret support group, and once in a while, ask what they did with it. As you can see from their web sites, it's easy to send money anonymously if you like.

4. Get five other people to do the above.

If you manage to do this, I guarantee your efforts will be felt in Congress.

Next time, I'll talk about what we're actually

Friday, February 17, 2006

Delusions of grandeur

"Passion lives here" they tell us! HA! Been sick as a dog, people. A very ominous start to a long-planned vacation ... um. But here come The Gooch, The Goochmeister, The Goochinator to save the day. Sorry it took me a bit to put it up. Send more, Gooch. Really appreciate, etc, etc. p.s. A couple of people asked what "Ato" means.... means "Mr." in Amharic. That's all the energy I have. Take it away, Gooch.


The other day, I was talking with my father, as usual, about politics, when he, as usual, brought up the issue of how 'the Americans' have it in for Ethiopia.

I'm sure many of you have experienced endless discussions on this topic. I don't know how many dinner occasions I've been to where this theme has dominated the conversation. Ethiopians love to talk about being victims of big, powerful, America.

I must admit - I hate it! I can't stand it. The reason I hate it is that combined with our sense of fatalism, it makes for a deadly combination. Faced with as formidable an enemy as the USA, what can you do? Nothing. Just sit and complain. It justifies our inaction. And I hate inaction.

What is it with Ethiopians and their 'America complex'?

Well, I figure part of it is scapegoating, Ethiopian-style. I mean, it feels good to blame our problems on someone else. And who better to blame them on than the greatest power in the world. After all, only the great America could stop proud Ethiopia from achieving its potential. Not the slimy Egyptians or tiny Britain, but it has to be the biggest of them all - the USA. This is the only way we can hang on to our empty pride. Emasculated in every other sense, it is the only thing some of us think we have left.

You know whom I blame for all this - those Tigrean monks who gave us the Kibre Negest! Telling us that Ethiopians are the real 'chosen people'! Well, obviously it didn't start with them - but you can see our penchant for delusions of grandeur even way back then.

What's funny is that today, while Ethiopians blame America joining with Eritrea to persecute Ethiopia, the Eritreans moan and complain the same way. We're all the same, really, full of empty pride.

Anyway, you may have surmised that the idea of the 'Great Satan' as the source of all evil just does not quite resonate with me.

Don't get me wrong now, I read Chomsky way back in the 1980's, when getting one's hands on his material was extremely difficult. I understand that real US foreign policy is nothing like the principled, ethical policy the government and, to a large extent, media, make it out to be.

Yes, the US does look out for its own interests, as does every other nation. But outside of that, it does not run around trying to especially persecute certain nations for no good reason. And no, being a 'nationalist' government does not make one a US 'target', as evidenced by the plentitude of nationalist governments, from Japan to Chile, who get on very well with or without the US.

Now, it's true, there is a lot of anti-Americanism throughout the world. Much of it deserved. But I find that the most radical anti-Americanism occurs in countries where the population has the ability, if harnessed, to stand up for itself.

Consider the Arab countries, where people are in a fit because of one, tiny, American-supported country planted amongst them. Can this be an excuse for having oppressive dictatorships all the way from Morocco through, until recently, Iraq? Surely not!

What these Arab countries have been unable to do, unlike Japan and Chile, for example, is develop democratic societies with accountable leadership that could stand up to whatever foreign interference may exist. So the US just props up the leading tyrant/traitor to his people, and life goes on.

You see, small-d democracy is, among other things, inoculation against foreign interference. Any foreign interference. In a country where there is accountability and people have a sense of collective consciousness, there will be no traitor available to be manipulated into a dictator.

Unfortunately, in Ethiopia, we have no such inoculation. Our society has been good at producing traitors, and it continues to be. You see, our dictators, finding themselves stretched at the seams in trying to maintain power at home, look for support from abroad.

Emperor Yohannes, in his quest to maneuver power away from Emperor Tewodros, solicited and got British support. Emperor Menelik, in competition with Tewodros and the Yohannes, had his little tryst with the Italians, until he didn't need them any more. The genius Emperor Haile Sellasie performed brilliantly in the foreign diplomatic arena, unlike his pre-predecessor, the hapless Emperor Iyasu.

Mengistu, of course, had the Soviets, and now we have Meles being backed, to some extent, by the US and the West in general. And by China, Iran, and India.

You see, all these foreigners do what is best for themselves. That is a constant. Like the sun and the rain, as surely as the earth rotates around the sun, nations will continue to look after their own interests.

The variable that Ethiopians can manipulate is themselves. If we are able to evolve and cultivate the behaviours and discipline necessary for developing a strong collective consciousness, we will, like many of the nations in this world, become more immune to external manipulations. We will also be able to generate some development and growth for a change.

So what about the 'Great Satan'. Like the real Satan, he cannot gain control of us unless we let him!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Table for One, Please: Meles at the Progressive Leaders Summit.

Hate to blog and run but…

Hopefully, Ato Meles has not sent in his RSVP for next year's "Progressive Leaders" summit.

Who knows what truly happened between Prime Ministers Meles and Blair in South Africa this past weekend? First though, a little quiz:

Which of the following does not belong at a “progressive leaders” summit?

a. Ultra utopian, self-aggrandizing rhetoric

b. Empty promises, patronizing hyperbole and mind numbing boredom

c. A sumptuous buffet

d. Meles Zenawi

BBC covered the story in its usual tone… supremely disinterested.

But at a news conference, Mr Blair found himself sitting alongside his Ethiopian counterpart, Mr Zenawi, who has been facing strong international criticism over his handling of the political unrest and violence that followed disputed elections.

Okkkay. This is the first time I think I have read a BBC reporter referring to the elections as ‘disputed.’ Usually it goes something like, “The ruling party won the election that were generally deemed fair, but the opposition triple quadrupled its seats in the parliament…blah blah.” But, don’t worry, Mr. Blair will set that straight.

On Sunday, Mr Blair said he had been concerned about what he called "real issues".

"The government won the election, there was then a reaction to it, there was then, perhaps, if I can say this without being too undiplomatic, an over reaction to that, which often happens," said Mr Blair.

Saying that perhaps there was an ‘over reaction’ is deemed too undiplomatic these days? Mmm. Just how beautiful is Blair's deliberately understated, backhanded castration? "Perhaps an over reaction." Exquisite. Let's pretend to go along with it.

Er… your buddy there, the progressive one sitting next to you, yes, that one, shot live ammunition into an unarmed crowd, is terrorizing the countryside, has set up detention camps all over the country, has criminalized dissent and… I ain’t too much of a diplomat, but on this side of the Pacific we call that more than an “over reaction.” We call it thuggary. An over reaction is when sugar is half price at Costco and you buy 20 pounds.

Interestingly, not only was there an “over reaction”… perhaps, but, according to Mr. Blair, it “often happens.” Really? Do many “progressive leaders” um, “over react” and often gun down unarmed citizens in disputed elections? Let’s ask the other progressive leaders. Brazil? South Africa? Sweden? South Korea? New Zealand? Any of you afflicted with over reaction? No? Oh well.

Makes you wonder what Blair would say if he were trying to be undiplomatic.

In case we need a reminder, December 4, 2005 fellow Brit Tim Clarke, head of the EU delegation in Addis, had this to say about Ato Meles’ “over reaction” which some have called ... gross human rights abuses:

We've been hearing from Dedesa camp about atrocities taking place. It's extremely worrying. We have not witnessed anything like this in Ethiopia before.

But I don’t want to over react. It’s undiplomatic.

Then there is the coverage of The Times (of London):

To both men’s evident distaste, Mr Blair found himself seated next to Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, at the final press conference of a weekend summit of “progressive” world leaders.

Note the quotation marks around progressive. The Times actually makes mention of a trivial fact: that there were people who were actually shot and killed by Ato Meles’ gunmen (“scores of unarmed demonstrators, mainly students, were shot dead in June and November in the capital), as opposed to the BBC which prefers the more genteel “political unrest and violence.”

Detailing the fact that the ‘progressive’ Ato Meles was anointed by Mr. Blair, the Times article continues,

Now, with a stony-faced Mr Meles alongside, Mr Blair, on his first visit to Africa since the G8, used very different language. He told reporters that although the elections had been the freest in Ethiopia’s history, the Government had “overreacted” to the ensuing protests. He dodged questions, however, as to Mr Meles’s suitability to attend a “progressive governance” summit along with leaders from Brazil, South Africa, Sweden, South Korea and New Zealand.

The actual transcript of the press conference will make for an interesting read, and if I was not clamoring to go on vacation, I’d have researched it. Good thing I have my priorities straight. But it appears that there was an awwwwwkkkwaaard question and answer session as to why Ato Meles was even in South Africa… with him sitting right there. Ouch! (“Shhh,” said Mr. Blair. “He’s right here. He can hear youuuuuu.”)

If Ato Meles were a better man, or even a thinking man, he would understand the depth with which he was just royally dissed in front of the world. Anyone else would have made an excuse (read: Clinton) and stayed home. Say what you want about Clinton, but he sure is a political genius. He was not going to be put in a position of having to explain something like Ato Meles. So he skipped the very summit he helped create.

That left Mr. Blair, who in a very British way, emasculated and coddled his protégée.

And Ato Meles? Poor Ato Meles. Only he could have deluded himself into going to a ‘progressive leaders’ meeting. He ended up looking ridiculous, sulky and trite. He ended up having to explain his very ‘suitability’, and I have no sympathy for the man, but that hurts even in bucolic settings. Worse of all… he ended up being talked about in the third person by a jittery ferenje. Few things are more humiliating.

Thank God Ato Meles has the kind of warlord-in-a-polyester-leisure suit mentality that inoculates him from knowing when he’s been insulted. He probably thinks this was a coup, another feather in his trucker cap. Rock on.

The Times article includes all the salacious details fit to print.

Behind the icy diplomatic exchange, however, the body language told a different story. Whereas the other leaders’ chairs were placed in such a way that they almost rubbed shoulders, a large gap opened up behind the place names of the UK and Ethiopia.

[see picture from Ethiomedia]

Oooooh. You see? Typical. They invite you, and then they treat you like shit. For Christ’s sake, Mr. Blair, you still give the man millions of pounds, you’ve had high tea with him, hell, you even invited him to the G8! So he kills a few people? Who hasn't over reacted? Move your place card closer to your boy and smile for the camera. Ato Meles is part of your legacy, and we will make sure to remind you of it as often as possible. Making sure there is a physical gap between you on the dais doesn't make up for your silence. Besides, if you didn’t want to sit next to Meles, you should have swapped places before the press conference. Talk about over reaction. What’s with acting like a four-year-old?

And then as if to hammer in the point:

Afterwards, Mr Blair warmly shook the hands of Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Göran Persson from Sweden, hugged Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and kissed Helen Clark from New Zealand.

All contact with Mr Meles, though, was avoided.

Oh snap! Well, hopefully Ato Meles was so pleased with himself about rubbing shoulders at the progressives club that he didn’t notice his own unhuggablness. Coz that’ll piss him off. And when Ato Meles is pissed off, he becomes petty and vindictive… which means more Ethiopians will have to die.

So instead of telling the world all the ‘progressive leader-y’ stuff they did over the weekend, Mr. Blair had to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining Ato Meles. The headlines coming out of this summit were not supposed to be about Ethiopia and human rights. But no matter how hard he tried, Mr. Blair could not escape the baggage that comes with befriending Ato Meles. It’s called the Meles-Blair Witch Hunt. And that, my friends, must have pissed off Blair.

Please, Mr. Blair… please retroactively hug Ato Meles. Of course, if you do, and it is caught on camera, we will remind you of it ad nauseum… but, whachoogonna do? It’s a bitch being friends with people who over react.


Off to vacation! It’ll be the Gooch forum if/when he decides to impart his wisdom.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Grammy 2006

Pop culture before politics, if you don’t mind.

I had stopped watching the Grammy Awards because, well, I like music. And I like not being irritated. And I like liking music. No serious music connoisseur watches the Grammy Awards and I always realize that after watching the Grammy Awards. It’s a sick cycle. But if you are gung-ho about it, the best way to watch the Grammy Awards is with a bunch of old college buddies and with battle hardened, flagrantly snobbish NYLA (New York-Los Angeles) record industry A & R people on their fifth cocktail. Shheeesh.

Okay, so this year I had a stake: ABM- Anyone But Mariah. The total Skankification of Mariah has been the bane of my existence for sometime now. Don’t… please… don’t ask.

Anyway, not that you asked, but here is my review of the 48th Annual Grammy Awards.

My son knows Madonna. And I used to dance to Madonna in high school. What’s wrong with that picture? It’s like the touching scene at a Rolling Stones concert where father and son share a roach. The show started with Ms. M strutting her stuff. The woman looks amazing. You can’t pay me listen to her music, but shout-owwwt to the womenz in their 40s.

The obligatory chitchat with presenters started with a very awwwwkkkkward back and forth between Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder. “Doesn’t she look beautiful?” asked Stevie. Hmm. Liked that joke when Ray Charles told it umpteen years ago. Mercifully, their acapella saved us furthur discomfiture. By the way, Alicia’s Armani Privé dress--- the way God meant fabulous to be.

Braced for my first ABM moment: Best female vocal performance… Phew! Some pipsqueak I’ve never heard of won. She squealed out a thank you. Camera swung to Nicole Kidman and Lord strike me dead if she didn’t have the best “whatever!” look of the century.

Coldplay. Coldplay. Coldplay. What can you say about Coldplay? (Besides that it made up for what Creed did to us?) Amazing band. Johnny Buckland, the guitarist... on par with The Edge. Yes. There, I said it. Coldplay has made listening to music in the 2000’s almost bearable.

Had to fast forward through some dude called John Legend. Never heard of him… and if there is any justice in the world, won’t hear him again. Is muzak back in fashion? Bee-bee-bop-be-wee… fast forward through country music.

U2… Bono saves the world and saves us from numbing boredom. We discussed how no act can fill stadiums anymore. Have you noticed that? Remember the Zoo TV tour? These are sad times. U2 did a phenomenal rendition of Vertigo and then hooked up with Mary J. Blige for One. I love Mary J. Blige. I love U2. Blige and U2? I was stirred but not shaken. But it’s better than a poke in the eye.

Best Rap Album: “Late Registration” … the one, the only, Kanye West, whom I like. I really like. He was the first winner to thank God. No mention of Jesus Christ. Kanye usually looks spiffy and I was getting used to his iconoclastic ‘preppy rapper’ look. Alas, he looked like what a pimp would look like on Star Trek if they had pimps on Planet Zorksbish. Collectively now, ewwww.

Hey. Pipsqueak who beat Mariah is back singing/squealing. Hm. Moving on.

By the way, a surprising fashionista: Gwen Stefani. I totally expected her to wear some her god-awful creations (because everyone who sings thinks there is a designer in him/her yearning to be free), instead she had a tasteful animal print gown, although the green at the bottom looks like someone threw up on her—but flawless hair and makeup, and minimum jewelry. Exquisite.

I hate it when rock stars get giddy. Remember when Eddie Vedder said “I don’t know what this means. Probably nothing” when Pearl Jam won a Grammy? Well, someone tell Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day to stop grinning like a little nitwit! We like our rock stars, especially our punk rock stars, depressed and moribund. Hello? Keith Richards? Or, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi… if Ato Meles was a lyin’, cheatin’, phony, irrelevant demagogue… Ohhhhh. (You see where that went?)

Billie Joe and Gwen gave the Best Rock Album award to… U2. I was secretly hoping for Coldplay, but I’m a nihilist like that. Bono gave a thoroughly incomprehensible thank you speech… circus… rock band… shoveling elephant shit. You see? That’s how rock starts do it. The Edge swept in to save the day. He thanked us… the fans.

I’m not being unnecessarily insolent here, but… can someone put down Paul McCartney? Beqa. Y’bqa. Icon, trailblazer yeah.. yeah… just please someone make him stop singing. By the time he waded through Helter Skelter I wanted to pass him an oxygen mask. And a lozenge. His back up band though was the bomb!

Okay. Scankville alert. A puffy Mariah in a taped interview burbles about music and spirituality and dreams coming true. Pass the tequila. Then she is allowed to sing. Can Mariah please put on a friggin’ dress once more before she dies? Will she ever look classy again or is she terminably destined to perish in Skank Land? A little less bronzer and a few less miles of hair weave and ta-da! The Mariah we used to love and be loved to. And enough with the Gospel choir people accompanying her! So www dot last-century dot com. And the screaming. Oh God, the screaming.

Oh, by the way, I know now why Jon Stewart called Fiona Apple “an unwashed bag of sticks.” That’s all I’m saying.

I am all for saluting hot-bod women in their 40s but… Cheryl Crow… yeeawza. Where’s my gramma’s gabi? Teri Hatcher… no. No. Stop it. Someone shoot Jean Paul Gaultier with a tweed gun.

The pipsqueak won again. Found out her name. Kelly Clarkston. She is massively annoying.

I miss Santana.

Jay-Z was the best dressed man alive on February 8, 2005. He collaborated with one of my favorite bands, Linkin Park … and hooray for unusual collaborations, they won Best Rap Collaboration for Numb/Encore. Believe Me from the Meteora album still rocks to high heaven, as do all the tracks on Hybrid Theory. Mercy.

Hey. Dave Chappelle is alive. And he doesn’t look crazy. Huh? He was in Africa, w’nnt he? Everybody goes crazy in Africa. Good thing he was not in Ethiopia. He would have come back sporting a “certified lunatic” toe tag.

Everybody is talking about the tribute to Sly Stone. Listen. He came out of a 19-year exile and then walked out of his own tribute. What does tell you about the tribute? And by the way, if you wondered what death looks like when it’s wearing a gold lamé coat and a soaring bleached blonde mohawk, click here. Thanks, Grammy people. Now we won’t be seeing the dude for another 19 years. No, seriously. Thank you.

Jay-Z and Linkin Park- awesome performance. Awe-some! Numb/Encore never sounded better … and then… but then! I knew something un-Christian like would unfold when Chester suddenly started crooning… Yesterday. Yes! Yesterday! Sweet Mother of Everything Sacred. Yep. Paul McCartney materializes out of thin air and savagely snuffs out the little ray of sunshine God afforded us lowly Grammy watchers. Aren’t there whales that need saving?

Paul needs to be put down.

Quick question: Why is Tom Hanks at the Grammys? Better yet, why is he still alive?

Best performance of the evening: Bruce Springsteen singing Devils and Dust, sounding and, more importantly, looking like Dylan. Mannnnnnn! All acoustic, all raw. How did John Kerry lose the election with Bruce on his side? Bruce was mesmerizing.

Got my finger on the trigger
But I don't know who to trust
I look into your eyes
There's just devils and dust

I got God on my side
I'm just trying to survive
But if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love

Fear is a powerful thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It'll take your God-filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust

Bruce also made the only political statement of the night, “Bring them home.” No one wanted to Free Tibet this year.

We interrupt this review for another Skank “ABM” Alert… Mariah is nominated for Song of the Year… Phew! U2 wins for Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own. This time Bono delivers a decent speech. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was all about his dad. “Actually I was talking about my father, Bob. He was the atomic bomb in question and when he died set off kind of a chain reaction in me and I’ve been shouting about him, and giving off about him, and complaining about him and screaming about him for the last few years and maybe, maybe tonight is the time to stop.”

Next best performance of the night: Kanye West and the insufferable Jamie Foxx singing Gold Digger minus the racialist (as Ali G. would say) words. The marching band accompanying them was in-crredible! It was liquid fire. A moment in music.

Best Record of the Year: Boulevard of Broken Dreams- Green Day. Billie Joe was still smiling like the village idiot. His acceptance speech sounded more like a debutante at her coming out party and definitely lacking that certain rock star impudence. I think the days of sulky rock stars are officially over. How can this change to this? I mourn.

The room groaned when Herbie Hancock and Christina Aguilera paired up for A Song for You. I thought it was a great performance. But then again, you can mesh-up Herbie with anyone and magic happens. Who thought the Christina chick could pull off heartfelt jazz? Flawless.

Best New Artist went to that John Legend person. Hm. They shouldn’t have given the same award to Millie Vanilli. It sullied it.

It pains me to say this, but abzol-lewtly one of the worst dressed people of the evening… Queen Latifa . C’mo! Who hasn’t raised a fist to Who You Callin’ a Bitch? but… someone needs to fire their stylist, pronto. Somewhere out there a dominatrix is missing her garb. Shush!

Finally… finally the end arrived. Album of the year… Bonnie Raitt, who I will have you know is on “walks-on-water” status with me, came out with James Taylor. Now why couldn’t they have let them two sing?

Uh… uh… final skank “ABM” alert…

Nominees: Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney, Gwen Stefani, U2 and Kanye West.

Drumroll… oh, please. It’s three hours later… enough already…

Album of the Year goes to… U2.

There you go. A skank shut out.

Some music industry goober told us to go to Mardi Gras and the jazz festival in New Orleans. Yeah. Right.

But it ended with a bang: Bonnie Raitt, The Edge, Elvis Costello, Yolanda Adams, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint backed by a kick azz, no holds barred, sweat it like you mean it, levitate like you want it performance of Yes We Can and In the Midnight Hour that was out of this world!

G’night, everyone.

I was going to talk about politics… I was, too. Heh. Whachoo gonna do?


Check out Revolutions Per Beat for band/music/live performance review in Addis from the same brilliant mind that brought you Satisfy My Soul (Ego).

Monday, February 06, 2006

Un-Super Sunday

There are times when life just grabs you by the neck and forces your over-inflated, garrulous self in front of the mirror; and woe are us who can’t look back at our reflection without cringing.

Sunday was a hard day.

It’s been about a year since I first met Ato Debebe (name changed). He used to work at the parking lot in my office building. I had to pass his booth on the way to the building entrance from my parking space and we often exchanged pleasantries. Ato Debebe, who I guess is in his mid-fifties, possessed the dignity of a seasoned Ethiopian man; he was understated and his eyes… his eyes had that layer of sadness that his polite, bright smile couldn’t hide. He always shook my hand with both hands and thought it was so gracious of me to give him a Christmas gift. He reciprocated.

On cold mornings Ato Debebe would wear a thick coat and gloves and shiver subtly in his heatless booth. We never talked about personal stuff until I finally noticed pictures of his two sons propped on the side of the cash machine.

His sons had just come to the States from Ethiopia, minus their mother who couldn’t come because of bad health. I would occasionally politely inquire about Ato Debebe’s kids after that, but never really delved into his personal life. I did perfunctorily give him my business card, telling him to call me any time, but he never called. I didn’t take his number.

One day Ato Debebe disappeared. I didn’t see him for two weeks. When he finally showed up he looked frail and worn out. One of his sons had been ill, and since he didn’t have close family or insurance, he had to stay home to take care of his kid. He took the two weeks without pay and had to work double time to make up for the missed time.

I was terribly saddened by his story and tried to help, but he wouldn’t take any money. I gave him my home phone number and assured him I would contact Human Resources at the office to see if they had a job opening (he used to work as a civil servant in Ethiopia). His eyes lit up at the prospect a job and thanked me profusely. I took his home phone number.

I went on a business trip the next day for a week and forgot to call HR. The next time I saw Ato Debebe he looked even gaunter. He smiled broadly when he saw me. I told him I was out of town and promised to look into a job for him.

Weeks passed. I called HR, but never really followed up. Ato Debebe’s shift changed and I began to see less and less of him. One bitterly cold morning he told me that his hours were being cut, and for the first time he asked me about the job I had promised to look into. “Ahunis mereregN” (“I have had enough”) he said, and even though he smiled when he said it, I knew it took a lot out of him to ask for help.

I went on another business trip, came back and never followed up. He never mentioned it again, but I kept paying him lip service.

A few months back he disappeared again and this time he never came back. I allowed myself to be wracked with guilt and then moved on with life. I think I called him at home once but he never called me back.

This past Sunday, while I was stocking up on ridiculously overpriced snacks for a Superbowl party, I saw Ato Debebe cleaning and stocking one of the shelves in the grocery store. He was wearing the store’s apron. He wore glasses now. His hands shook a little as he placed cans of peas on the spotless shelf. I froze. An awful, awful feeling of guilt, shame and profound sadness washed over me. How could I have been so reckless?

I eventually summoned up the guts to walk sheepishly up to him. I tapped him on his shoulders. He turned around. He had aged. A lot. It took him a few moments for him to recognize me, and when he did, he smiled. I noticed his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. He shook my hands with both hands, and I pulled him in to kiss him on the cheeks. He said hello to my son and we proceeded to engage in small talk.

I finally broke down. I stumbled all over my ornate apology. He listened to me politely, nodding occasionally. “Aymechim eko ye’zih hager neger.” I asked him why he never called me back, hoping maybe that would absolve me. He was even gracious enough to disentangle me from that web of self indulgent hypocrisy. “When you left your number you didn’t leave all the digits,” he said. We both knew it was not true and I felt humiliated that I was asking him to bail me out from my own awkward ruse.

I asked why he had left his parking lot job. His kid had to have surgery. Ato Debebe missed so many days at work that he was let go.

I gave Ato Debebe my business card again and I took his home number. Again. I left with a grocery cart full of crap and a good dose of humility. It didn’t help when my son commented that Ato Debebe reminded him of his grandfather.

What’s the use of raging against the machine when I don’t practice the kind of justice and fairness I so readily demand of others? I don’t even know why I was so careless about following up on a job for Ato Debebe. I have no excuse. I wasn’t being mean. I was just careless, and I think that’s worse. Indifference is worse.

My mother used to say, “If you don’t care about your neighbors, you are not going to care about your country.” I thought I was generally a kind person, but I didn’t know I had this depth of unkindness in me.

How do we get rid of these every day carelessness', because until we do, we can’t demand kindness from those who want to lead us. We can’t keep wishing for a better Ethiopia unless we will ourselves to become better Ethiopians.

It was an awful, awful Sunday. I called HR on Monday, but what an awful Sunday.


On a brighter note, Gooch, thanks for volunteering to blog while I am on vacation. Send me your stuff and I'll post.

Friday, February 03, 2006

How much is “not that much in the thousands”?

Just when you thought it was safe for celebrities to dibble dabble their fabulous selves in politics, there goes Bono musing about Ato Meles’ psychological defects- of which, admittedly, there are plenty. Ethiopundit stitches up Bono’s tattered reasoning very succinctly in a beautiful piece, Earth to Bono. Just in case you want to refer DATA to the article, you can use their online form, here. And in case Bono is reading this, I ain’t no psychologist but I think what Ato Meles is suffering from is what you call your… schizophrenia. If I may:

December 5, 2005

International communities have now warned that they are considering suspending aid if their concerns are not addressed. This does not seem to disturb the prime minister.

And… wait for it… wait…

I believe we deserve… assistance from our friends but if our friends feel otherwise I respect their decision. After all, it’s their money.

And then the medication must have run out because…

February 1, 2006

Ethiopia's prime minister on Wednesday accused donors of "a breach of trust" for stopping direct budget aid over a crackdown on opposition supporters, saying his government had held up its end of the bargain.

Meles Zenawi told Reuters Ethiopia's arrest and trial of opposition leaders on treason and genocide was strictly following principles of law and democracy which his nation was trying to nurture.

Could our prime minister please, please, please stop nurturing us so much? Shoot! And no, I don’t mean that literally.


Budget support to Ethiopia was conditioned on a number of terms the country had to meet in 2004 and 2005, he said, referring to economic and other criteria.

"We've taken those steps and the donors have agreed in good time that we did take those steps ... but as far as the current budget is concerned there was a breach of trust and that, in my view, was committed by our development partners," Meles said.

Hm. Here’s the latest from Human Rights Watch:

The Ethiopian government is using intimidation, arbitrary detentions and excessive force in rural areas of Ethiopia to suppress post-election protests and all potential dissent, Human Rights Watch said today after a research trip to Addis Ababa and the Oromia and Amhara regions.

“The Ethiopian government is violently suppressing any form of protest and punishing suspected opposition supporters,” said Peter Takirambudde, director of Human Rights Watch's Africa Division. “Donor governments should insist on an independent, credible investigation into abuses by federal police and local officials in rural as well as urban areas.”

Did Prime Minister Meles misunderstand the terms of the deal? It was: do NOT violently suppress people, torture them and arbitrarily detain them, and we’ll throw money your way. Note the “not”.

You’ve probably been saying to yourself, “Boy, we haven’t heard too much from the new Information Minister, one Birhan Hailu, these days. Wonder how’s he’s handling the pressure of defending EPRDF policies?” Fear not. Like herpes, Ato Birhanu might disappear on occasions, but just when you think he’s gone for good, there he is majorly cramping your style.

Everyone, please. Silence while an Ethiopian government official utters copyrighted absurdities.

Ethiopia Denies Protesters Are Wrongly Detained

“Those people have the right to protest but protest under the rule of law. They are under [sic] jail because they were acting unlawfully. They were trying to topple the government using unlawful means, which was against the constitution. So the case is now out of the hand of government, and it is [being] handled by the court. The case should be finalized through the due process of law, and based on the decision of the court, those detainees may be released or they may be sentenced.”

Yes. They are under jail because they were acting unlawfully. That’s all you need to know. What constitutes unlawful behavior in Ethiopia these days? Whatever the hell the EPRDF thinks is unlawful behavior, that’s what. Now that is a pretty lawful state of mind.

On the latest Amnesty International report that the Ethiopian government has unlawfully detained Ethiopian students of Oromo descent, Ato Birhan demonstrated the standard Ethiopian government issued berserkville posturing:

“Well, those reports are very much exaggerated. There are people we have in jail but the number is small, not that much in thousands.

Does any part of an Information Minister’s job actually include furnishing information? And seriously? We have a government that says “There are people we have in jail but the number is small, not that much in thousands”!! I ain’t no mathematician, but how much is “not that much in the thousands”? And speaking of math, for those of you wondering if there is a minimum IQ requirement to join the Ethiopian government, you now have your answer: No there is not a minimum. But there is a maximum. And the number is small.

Speaking of schizophrenia:

“The situation in the country is stable, and both the political and economic situation is in good condition.”

You see? No problem. So the Prime Minister shouldn’t be indignant about supposed breached trusts? Birhan, draft a memo. “Your Excellency: The situation in the country is stable, and both the political and economic situation is in good condition. Please don’t worry. If you need me, I will be at the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia—withdrawing the little savings, not that much in the thousands, that I have been able to amass. Yours truly… etc.”

No interview with an Ethiopian official is complete without the requisite Diaspora bashing. Asked about the demonstration in Washington DC, Ato Birhan left no cliché unturned. Speak, oh ye of little vocabulary:

Those people in the Diaspora should to have [sic] understand the reality here in Ethiopia and the situation in Ethiopia is very calm and stable. Their concern over there does not bring any change in the country. In fact, those who are against the government and… do not understand the real situation of the country so they don’t being any significant impact on the country.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: why does the Diaspora refuse to understand that random killings, arrests, torture and beating are signs of a stable and calm government? What part of shooting a mother in front of her children is does not scream “democracy” to you? Nitpick, pick-pick-pick!

Does anyone else miss Bereket Simon because the new guy seems unmotivated to me.


Ambassador Jendayi Frazer is back from Addis. She was on ‘Straight Talk Africa.’ I wish I could say there was something new there… U.S ‘pressuring’ Prime Meles to release “some” of those in jail, and giving the rest due process of law. Hm. I don’t think our fearless leader quite knows how to do that. Can people who put thousands of people in jail without due process in the first place learn about due process of law and fair and speedy trials ex post facto? I guess Ato Meles is being asked to start practicing democracy on those who were undemocratically arrested? Let us know how that turns out, willya? I wonder what the State Department will say if after the ‘trials’ Ato Meles sends the jailed opposition leaders and journalists to death. “We are pressuring Prime Minister Meles to use humane methods to end the lives of people who have gone through due process of law.”


The Ambassador said she met with members of the opposition during her trip to Addis who told her that their supporters in the Diaspora didn’t want them to join the parliament. A clearly agitated caller, Tedla from New York, called in to remind Ms. Frazer that it was the Ethiopian people who didn’t want their representatives to join the parliament, not the Diaspora… especially since Ato Meles, in one of his famously infamous hissy fits, changed the parliament rules which now state that only the party that has a 51% majority can put forward bills. So, Tedla from New York wanted to know, why is the US financing the Meles government? He finished by asking that the US give Ato Meles asylum.

Hel-lo! Sweet Jesus, no. Imagine running into Ato Meles in a DC restaurant just as you are about to bite into a piping hot piece of godin tbs! No, thank youuuu. There are a few spots open in Harare.

Speaking of the Diaspora, … didja see the pictures from the February 1 protest? Yaaaaawzah! In a true sign that the Ethiopian case is getting traction in Washington, Donald Yamamoto, Chris Smith, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher , Congressman Chris Smith (all hail!) and Reverend Joseph Lowery spoke to the crowd. Ethiopia Media Forum kept posting live updates of the march and even loaded some of the speeches the same day. Loving the technology, and thank you very much. doesn’t have pictures posted yet, but I’m sure a video snippet or two will soon surface. And this time the Washington Times decided that thousands of people marching in DC was worth investigating. Does anyone know if the local TV stations covered it? (By the way, where were representatives and senators from Maryland and Virginia?)

This was huge for the Diaspora. Huge! The Diaspora has found its voice. And man, it is loud. Now I know Ato Birhan thinks this is ineffective, but this is how civilized people petition their governments… And look, no arrests! More importantly, no killings of demonstrators.

Think about it. Draft a memo.

Have a great weekend everbody.