2011: A Year in Review, Part I

2011 Person of the Year Mohamed Bouazizi


2011’s Person Of The Year: Mohamed Bouazizi

He didn’t know he would set himself on fire. He didn’t know he would spark revolt from Tunis to Moscow. He didn’t know dictators who never heard of him would curse his name before their own downfall.

All Mohamed Bouazizi knew when he woke up that morning was this: he had to sell fruit. Feed the family. Save up for that pick-up truck they always wanted.

He started early. A little after 8. He got the catcalls, the high fives. The early morning serenades for the Fruit Vendor Guy. Mohamed wasn’t rich. But he had lots of friends in low places. He gave the poorest families apples when he could and plums of wisdom when he couldn’t.

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Ambiance

Smoke Signals by Emancipator off of Soon It Will Be Cold Enough.

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Burma’s New Openness & India

The Article: Burmese Days by Shashi Tharoor in Al Jazeera.

The Text: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Myanmar, noted largely for a memorable photo opportunity with a wan but smiling Aung San Suu Kyi, signalled a significant change in the geopolitics surrounding a land that has faced decades of isolation, sanctions and widespread condemnation for its human-rights violations.

Twenty-one years ago, after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) swept a general election, the results were annulled, the party’s leaders and workers were incarcerated or exiled, and two decades of ruthless – and remarkably opaque – military rule followed. This year has witnessed political opening, the release of several prominent political prisoners, and evidence of self-assertion by the nominally civilian government (headed by a former general, Thien Sein). Suu Kyi’s announcement of her intention to contest a by-election to the new parliament offers a glimmer of hope that democrats could use the fledgling political process to create something resembling genuine representative government.

Myanmar’s military rulers are cynically hoping to use Suu Kyi’s participation in the parliamentary process to bolster the illusion of freedom while continuing to exercise real control. But such exercises in “managed democratisation” – in places as different as Iran, Indonesia and the Soviet Union – have often surprised their would-be manipulators. It is clearly in the interests of both India and the United States to seize this opportunity. While China has always been much more comfortable dealing with a military regime, India’s embrace of the junta has been more reluctant, based on reasons of geography rather than shared ideals.

Guarded optimism for Myanmar reforms

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Freak Out And Give In

Cherub Rock by The Smashing Pumpkins off of Siamese Dream.

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Remembering Christopher Hitchens

The Article: Postscript: Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011 by Christopher Buckley in Vanity Fair.

The Text: We were friends for more than thirty years, which is a long time but, now that he is gone, seems not nearly long enough. I was rather nervous when I first met him, one night in London in 1977, along with his great friend Martin Amis. I had read his journalism and was already in awe of his brilliance and wit and couldn’t think what on earth I could bring to his table. I don’t know if he sensed the diffidence on my part—no, of course he did; he never missed anything—but he set me instantly at ease, and so began one of the great friendships and benisons of my life. It occurs to me that “benison” is a word I first learned from Christopher, along with so much else.

A few years later, we found ourselves living in the same city, Washington. I had come to work in an Administration; he had come to undo that Administration. Thirty years later, I was voting for Obama and Christopher had become one of the most forceful, and persuasive, advocates for George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. How did that happen?

In those days, Christopher was a roaring, if not raving, Balliol Bolshevik. Oh dear, the things he said about Reagan! The things—come to think of it—he said about my father. How did we become such friends? I only once stopped speaking to him, because of a throwaway half-sentence about my father-in-law in one of his Harper’s essays. I missed his company during that six-month froideur (another Christopher mot). It was about this time that he discovered that he was in fact Jewish, which somewhat complicated his fierce anti-Israel stance. When we embraced, at the bar mitzvah of Sidney Blumenthal’s son, the word “Shalom” sprang naturally from my lips.

A few days ago, when I was visiting him at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, for what I knew would be the last time, his wife, Carol, mentioned to me that Sidney had recently written to Christopher. I was surprised but very pleased to hear this. Christopher had caused Sidney great legal and financial grief during the Götterdämmerung of the Clinton impeachment. But now Sidney, a cancer experiencer himself, was reaching out to his old friend with words of tenderness and comfort and implicit forgiveness. This was the act of a mensch. But then Christopher was like that—it was hard, perhaps impossible, to stay mad at him, though I doubt Henry Kissinger or Bill Clinton or any member of the British Royal Family will be among the eulogists at his memorial service.

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