Saturday, January 31, 2004


Today I went to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin to moderate in the Wayland Academy High School Quiz Bowl Tournament. It was a lot of fun - at the UW tournaments I tend to work in tournament central, and don't get to see actual matches. Wisconsin quiz bowl has really taken off. There were two teams there I'd never seen before, Wild Rose and Wausau West, and the level of interest from the existing schools was much greater, as most rooms had parental spectators. The winner was Conserve School A, which defeated Wayland Academy A in a match I got to moderate.

I did get there a bit later than I had wanted, as I forgot just how long it takes to get out of Madison heading out on US-151. On the way back, though, I finally did an experiment I've been meaning to, and determined that to reach my apartment on the west side taking the US-151 exit into Madison makes for about a 5-10 minute longer trip than driving down to the beltline and exiting later.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Pet Peeve

People who use the weather of a particular time and place as evidence for their preferred views of global climate change

Sanctions vs. War

Abu Aardvark notes a Charles Krauthammer column in which he invokes ending sanctions as part of the justification for war in Iraq. Aside from the hypocrisy, that was actually one element of my thinking, as well. At the time, I felt that even if Saddam were contained it was only because of the sanctions, which I regarded as worse than open war. I didn't place much faith in adjusting the sanctions, either, because as Juan Cole has noted before, the Ba'ath manipulation of the sanctions was much worse than the sanctions themselves, and they probably could have manipulated whatever we did. This was part of a complex of thought in which the U.S. had botched Iraq policy long ago, and the only thing we could really do was get rid of the existing order entirely as quickly as possible and before our position in Saudi Arabia deteriorated due to a possible new government there, even if that meant a war. However, now I feel I should say that if the David Kay is right and Saddam's rule was badly frayed, then there were probably better options and I was wrong.


When I awoke this morning, the temperature was -13. My apartment has a door in my bedroom that opens directly onto the outside, and is not in any way insulated. Which means that even with the heat on, at today's expected high of 2, I am a bit chilly. The decision made over the summer to move the mailboxes from inside the door of each building to a central place outside is also not one I'm presently admiring. Still, it has a cozy feel to it. If only it were snowing.

Engaging Iran

This Washington Post editorial addresses some of the thorny issue currently facing the American relationship with Iran. On one level, freedom and democracy are good things, and if an American involvement with Iranian hard-liners hurts democratic movements, then we should avoid them. On the other hand, the U.S. has an interest in eliminating the Iranian nuclear program and fighting terrorism. For that, the U.S. needs to talk to the people who can get it done, and right now that means the hard-liners. (A reformist-dominated government would probably seek nuclear weapons with the same alacrity, but cooperate more against terrorists.)

However, I'm not convinced that simply engaging Iran really hurts reformist efforts that much. It strikes me as highly possible to find ways to aiding the regime economically without giving the government new tools of oppression, and when you develop relationships with governments, you also gain tools to use if you want to pressure them for something else. At the same time, I'm not sure whether the student movement favored by the Bush administration is capable of changing the country. They have manpower, but lack leadership and a clear program for change. The reformists, by contrast, have a program and are in leadership positions. Their greatest failure is probably not acting like the students are really on their side, forming a tight alliance against the hardliners.

Presidential Primaries

I think the 2004 Presidential election has validated the much-maligned system of state primaries in that it demonstrated that candidates low in resources with which to compete nationally - specifically, John Kerry and John Edwards - can gain momentum by proving their candidacy sells in a single state. If we did have a national primary system, chances are either Howard Dean or Wesley Clark would be the nominee as others simply lacked the funding base with which to compete. However, the latest Zogby poll results show that the system probably does need some sort of major reform. Winning Iowa and/or New Hampshire should be a mechanism for launching a candidacy, not choosing the nominee outright. Yet for whatever reason - media spin, the compressed schedule, a nation of bandwagon-jumpers, something - huge numbers of Democratic voters are changing into his column. Just last week, Kerry was winning hardly any February 3 states; now, it looks like Wesley Clark's Oklahoma campaign is the best if not the only hope for slowing him down. If New Mexico, Delaware, and North Dakota look the same as these four states, we'll have a nominee selected by a small, unrepresentative sample of Democrats - a huge percentage of whom work in his home state - that was merely ratified by another small sample of voters elsewhere based partly on self-fulfilling perceptions of his inevitability.

UPDATE: By the way, in case you were wondering, I'm still for Dean.

Qatar is Rich

Qatar has the highest per capita income of any Arab nation at $29,948. Next come the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, though the drop-off is pretty steep, as the Saudis check in at $8,053.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004


"La France est une grande nation occidentale. La capitale de la France est Paris. La France est une republique. La France est membre des Nations unies. Elle joue un role important dans l'alliance atlantique."

And they call this language "foreign." Though I must say, some people need to learn to fake things better. Yesterday in class we went over articles and cognates. Our homework was to translate a bunch of them. And when we went over it in class, some people actually couldn't answer because they said they hadn't done the work. I mean, assuming you've picked up that the "l" stuff is definite and the "u" stuff indefinite, it shouldn't be hard to just guess a translation of "les ocean" or "la correction."

I should admit, however, that my mind continues to function oddly. An example under guessing unknown words from context read, "The planets revolve around une etiole called the Sun." "Naturally," though I, "'etiole' means 'object.'" Obviously, it meant star. I did the same thing in Arabic, where the book had these pictures next to Arabic words rather than just the English equivalent. I thought "bayt" (house) meant "laundry" for a couple of weeks. I mean, there was laundry hanging in front of it! All well.

Khalil Shikaki

For those of you in Madison, Khalil Shikaki will be coming as part of our Middle East Studies Program Spring Lecture Series. The tentative date is March 25, and the topic is "The Future of Palestinian-Israeli Peacemaking Between the Roadmap and Unilateral Steps." Once everything is finally confirmed, I'll post it here. You can find more on the significance of some of Dr. Shikaki's recent work here. The series will also include Ali Ansari on April 12 on "Iran after the 2004 Parliamentary Elections" (title still tentative) and Dale Eickelmann on March 1 at noon on a topic I've forgotten. There may be one additional speaker in late April.

Problems in Afghanistan

RFE-RL is reporting the death of a British soldier in Kabul the day after a Canadian soldier also died, both at the hands of suicide bombers. Meanwhile, Melanie reports on a possible major offensive this spring. I wonder if this offensive would in any way relate to this.

Oh, yes, and near the bottom of the RFE-RL report Brigadier General Mark Kimmett admits that "disenfranchised youth" form part of the insurgency in Iraq. Given the state of the Iraqi economy, that number will probably get larger rather than smaller.

On to Pakistan?

The Chicago Tribune is reporting administration plans for massive military operations in Pakistan during the coming year aimed at rooting out Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. Someone more familiar with Pakistan than I will have to give analysis of this. I worry some about spreading our military too thin - trying to do too much, and thus not doing anything well. I'm a little intrigued that the administration still seems to view Iran as a potential tactical ally, despite the rhetoric. Given that and the reports of forthcoming military action in Lebanon, it may be that 2004 will see a large-scale resumption of military activity against Islamic militants.

More Politics

Some more analysis on where things stand:

John Kerry has to be considered the front-runner, after winning convincingly in both Iowa and New Hampshire. However, it seems to me he's a sort of accidental front-runner, and that his tenure in that position may turn out to be as stormy as Dean's. The main issue this week will be whether he starts to come under attack and how he handles it. There's also the money aspect - I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that he doesn't have the resources to compete in all seven February 3 states, which opens the door for others. However, if he gets a huge bounce in the polls, that may not matter. Still, I feel there is a chapter in this campaign which has yet to be written, and probably several. (Granted that despite liking him on paper, I could never quite get on board an relished finally getting a defendible excuse to remove him from consideration, so I might be reading my own attitude into the general public.)

John Edwards has said he needs to win South Carolina, and he probably will. He might also be competitive in Missouri, Delaware, and Oklahoma. After that, it depends on his further fundraising, what happens if Kerry comes under attack, and what happens with Clark, with whom he seems to be splitting the southern/moderate vote.

The wisdom that says Edwards is the most likely "anti-Kerry" ignores Oklahoma. Wesley Clark should and must win here to remain a viable candidate, and if he does, I don't see how the media can give all their attention to Edwards for winning his southern neighbor. (Oklahoma, of course, borders Arkansas, but I have trouble seeing Oklahoma as a cultural neighbor of anything but Texas, and Clark hasn't built a reputation in Arkansas politics.) In addition, he should be competitive almost everywhere, simply because he has organization and fundraising on almost Deanish levels. (We're getting Clark ads here in Wisconsin three weeks before the primary.) Considering Edwards has to push hard in South Carolina at the expense of other states, Clark could easily be the big surprise of the day.

What to make of Howard Dean? I was amused to see just now that Dean's New Hampshire finish got its own postive yahoo headline. Dean has the money and organization to come back with, but the problem is he has to get more positive press to create momentum. If he finishes at least second in the majority of February 3 states, I think he looks good for the weekend states of Maine, Washington, and Michigan, especially if Kerry gets knocked around. But it's hard for a one-time front-runner to climb back to the top, and that's what he's trying to do.

Joe Lieberman, you did not finish in a three-way tie for third. But thank you for playing.

Bottom Line: Last summer many thought we'd see a nothern competition and a southern one before getting the final two candidates, and we may be back to that model. And the southern primary is just beginning.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

John Kerry

It looks like the voters of New Hampshire have, on grounds of electability, decided to give another boost to John Kerry. I sure hope they've thought this through.

UPDATE: See this Dean Nation post for an admittedly biased view of Kerry's flaws as a candidate.

Iraqi Break-Up

I have to date been quite vehement in my opposition to the idea that Iraq will break up after the fashion of Yugoslavia, though I do feel a civil war is possible. However, this al-Jazeera article raises some interesting spectres as it goes into plans to have elections for Shi'ite areas only while leaving the Sunni center under occupation. This could lead to a situation where you have three independent governments in Iraq, or rather independent governments for Kurdish and Shi'ite areas and puppet occupation control of the Sunni center. If the center remains turbulent, it becomes more plausible that other areas of the country may simply decide to strike out on their own, though at present there is no internal constituency advocating that. A lot would depend on whether the Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders cooperated with the occupation authorities or sought to advance the interests of Sunni insurgents.

Trying Bin Laden

Over the weekend, I posted this on why attacking Dean for his comments referencing the importance of trying Osama Bin Laden are ridiculous. To be honest, I'm a little horrified that they are even controversial. Conservative rhetoric has made "fair trials" into a sort of unfortunate gift to criminals. In reality, it is in a fair and open trial that people become answerable to society. The purpose of a transparent jury-based judicial system is to ensure that criminals are answerable to the people, not the government.

Frequently in the modern world, trials of major figures have been a moment of pride for the ones doing the trying. That is why putting Saddam Hussein on trial in Iraq has such emotional resonance, and why the trial of Milosevic in The Hague a moment of international celebration. To use an extreme example, one of the key events of modern Israeli history was when they put Adolf Eichmann on trial for his role in the Holocaust. If they can handle and take pride in trying a Nazi, we certainly can a terrorist who, in the grand sweep of human history, is small change. Fortunately there's still a candidate in the race who understands these basic principles and will see that terrorists answer to the American people and not an executive order.

Monday, January 26, 2004

States Visited Map

create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide

The only awkward situation in whether to count a state is with New York, which I drove through once without stopping and stayed overnight in once between flights. Still, I think this gives me a landslide in the electoral college, though I definitely don't have nationwide appeal! Found via Rob Groves.

Iraq War Politics

Calpundit has an analysis of Bush and the Iraq situation that I think pretty much nails it.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Saudi Peace Plan

The Saudis have offered a comprehensive peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Several things to notice:

1.) It is almost identical to Crown Prince Abdullah's Spring 2002 plan that fell by the wayside after the Seder bombing and subsequent Israeli response. (In other words, I don't think the fall of Saddam Hussein had anything to do with it.)
2.) The components of the plan may be standard, but by internationalizing the situation you change the balance involved. The Israelis may not trust the PA, but they could find a modus vivendi with the Arab states collectively. This also sweetens the deal.
3.) Given the story just out about possible plans for the U.S. to confront Hizbullah, I'm wondering how and if the pieces fit together. I've already said that on paper, confronting Hizbullah dampens militant attacks on Israel, thus creating a possible environment for peace.
4.) The Middle East players are all definitely moving, as Sharon talks about withdrawing from the Golan, Arafat warns that time may be running out on the two-state solution, and Syria also presses for negotiations. Something may actually happen within a year or two.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq

The U.S. has captured two al-Qaeda figures in Iraq, apparently organizing operations in that country. As the Ba'athist leadership is captured, watch for more al-Qaeda-related attacks from the insurgents. The fact Saddam had to write orders forbidding his loyalists to cooperate with al-Qaeda shows that some are willing to do this.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Saudi Women: Some Good News

From the February 2004 issue of World Press Review:

The female literacy rate is 70%.
70% of all bank accounts are held by women.
40% of all private wealth is in the hands of women.
55% of all college graduates are women.
25% of businesses are owned by women.

There is, of course, plenty of bad news, as well, but you probably know most of it. Still, give credit for people who achieve despite the odds.

Draft Deferments

From at-Tabari, SUNY Translation:

"One day, while the Messenger of God was making preparations for this expedition, he said to Jadd b. Qays, brother of the Banu Salimah: 'Would you like, O Jadd, to fight the Banu Asfar this year?' He said: 'O, Messenger of God, please excuse me and do not tempt me. By God, my folk know there is no better admirer of women than I. I fear that if I see the women of the Banu Asfar I shall not be able to control myself.' The Messenger of God turned away from him saying: 'I excuse you.'"

Abd ar-Rahman Munif

Abd ar-Rahman Munif, one of today's greatest Arab writers, has died. He is best know for his trilogy Cities of Salt, chronicling the fortunes of the fictional sultanate of Mooran, which sounds suspiciously like Saudi Arabia in the 20th century.


Over at A Dervish's Du'a, Maryam is posting about aqiqah, a Muslim birth celebration. Also, here is a picture of a baby, for those of you who are really into such things.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Something on Electability

Current Democratic frontrunner John Kerry likes to go around saying that he's more electable than other Democrats because of his war record. I'm not so sure...avoided military service didn't seem to keep Clinton and the current Bush out of office. Max Cleland wasn't helped by it in Georgia. But the perception is there nonetheless, and when electability is such an important issue to voters, it's worth examining in full.

Which is why I point out this Oklahoma Presidential poll from Daily Kos, where we see Kerry at a whopping 17%. Now the leader in this poll is Wesley Clark, and the conventional blog wisdom is that Oklahoma is Clark territory all the way, so I'm not saying the military theme is irrelevant. I'm just saying that being a veteran isn't enough to tap into it. I haven't seen any South Carolina polls lately, but I'd imagine the position there is similar, though with Edwards probably in the lead instead. In recent Presidential primaries, southern voters gave Bill Clinton the nod over Bob Kerrey in 1992 and opted for George Bush instead of John McCain in 2000. Any "veteran effect" will be especially muted in Kerry's case because he followed his military service with antiwar activism, which does not go over well in some quarters.

What I'm saying here is that I don't think the path to victory is to hope some cultural infatuation with the military causes southerners to dump a popular wartime Commander-in-Chief in favor of a liberal Massachusetts Senator who happens to be a veteran. A career military officer like Clark might do better, but realistically if any Democrat wins in states like South Carolina and Oklahoma, we're seeing a landslide of historic proportions and any major Democrat probably could have won. If electability is to be the theme, I think you need to assume a close election in which the Democrats try to dominate swing areas like the midwest and southwest. Personally, I think Clark and Dean are the most electable candidates simply because they actually disagree with the President and explain why forcefully, though Edwards also might be creeping in there.

More on Hizbullah

My thoughts on the alleged administration plan to confront Syria and Hizbullah remained jumbled, but Oxblog's Patrick Belton points toward this MEIB report on the organization which is worth reading. A key point that comes through in the piece is that Syria has been as much a hinderance to Hizbullah in Lebanon as a supporter. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard also plays a role, and I've blogged before about how weapons for Palestinian terror groups are probably being laundered through Hizbullah and the IRG. This article is also a good profile of the group and its role in keeping the border hot so as to pressure Israel on Syria's behalf, and predicts an American move against Syria in Lebanon. (It was written in May 2003.)

One thing I take from all this is that fears of an Iraq-style invasion of Syria are alarmist. I think it more likely the U.S. wants to boot Syria out of Lebanon and end Hizbullah's role in terrorism. If that is the case, they might actually take a complete Syrian crackdown on Hizbullah's terrorist-related activities. What I don't get, though, is the overall strategic reasoning. The two things we're hearing is that Hizbullah has al-Qaeda connections and that the famous Iraqi WMD may be in Syria. However, Hizbullah actually condemned the September 11 attacks, and would appear to have little interest in a grand war against Western civilization. Their interests lie primarily in Lebanese politics, and attacks on Israel are mainly to keep up support from Syria and Iran which they parlay into grassroots political support among Lebanese Shi'ites. Syria is actually helping us torture people in the war against al-Qaeda.

I'm also uncertain what the consequences would be if Syria suddenly withdrew from Lebanon. One school of thought is that Lebanon would become a stable democracy. The other is that you would shortly see a resumption of the civil war which the Syrian occupation helped end. Bear in mind again that Syria may boost Hizbullah militarily, but it curtails them politically. Seeking to rid the world of all terrorism is a fine thing, but needs to be done carefully and with an understanding of all the different local situations. Based on what happened in Iraq, I really don't trust neoconservative thinkers to think these things through on the level necessary to guarantee success. But, of course, for all I know they could be sitting on a pile of intelligence that Hizbullah has formed links with al-Qaeda and is planning to do evil things.

A final possibility is that this relates to the Middle East peace process. Reining in Hizbullah would help both the Syrian and Palestinian tracks by reducing terrorism and aiding the rise of pro-peace sentiment in Israel, as well as cutting a channel of outside support to militant elements of the Palestinian Authority. If the administration is making that a priority, this move would almost certainly boost Israel's security.

Lord of the Rings Quiz

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Plagues of Ants and Nosebleeds

According to al-Tabari, the first tribe to have custody of the Ka'aba was the Jurhum, a daughter of which married Ishmael son of Abraham who was its builder. When the Jurhum eventually fell into evil, God destroyed them by sending plagues of ants and nosebleeds. The ants pursued them, crawled into their ears, and destroyed them from within. No further detail was provided about the nosebleeds.

Attacking Hizbullah

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the United States is considering attacking Hizbullah bases in Lebanon so as to provoke a military confrontation with Syria. My thoughts on this are sort of jumbled at the moment, though I thought I post the news blip to get it out there. Also in the news today, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts claims evidence that the Iraqi WMD are in Syria.

5 Million Terrorists???


I started "French for Reading Knowledge" this morning. The professor looked like the quintessential French professor. I was a little surprised that almost everyone else seemed to have a couple of years of French already, but figure any language where the word for "longevity" is "longevite" can't be that bad. As an undergrad, I taught myself Latin to the end of the old "Gray and Jenkins" textbooks in the QU library, and as a grad student I learned to handle Arabic. I refuse to wimp out in the face of French. Bring it on, monsieurs!

Veep Speculation

Why does everyone keep talking as though the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democrats will automatically be one of the Presidential field? Has that happened since 1980? Joseph Biden. Bill Richardson. John Glenn. Blanche Lincoln. Tom Vilsack. Ben Nelson. These are all potential Vice Presidential nominees, too.

I Stand Corrected

In my recent post on hijab, I suggested that no one was talking about banning beards. I was apparently wrong.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Dostum Wants a Promotion

Abd ar-Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord form northern Afghanistan who apparently has some support from Uzbekistan, is seeking a senior position in Karzai's government. Dostum is also one of the warlords who helped create a new political party to challenge Karzai in the upcoming Presidential elections. Don't believe anything happening today in Afghanistan is really democratic. What we're seeing is warlords leveraging for personal advantage sometimes backed by foreign powers who will manipulate the semblance of a democratic process to suit their own interests. You might get stability out of it, and it'll probably be better than the Taliban, but these are not great leaders of the people.

UPDATE: Something else I just noticed: Three U.S. soldiers were injured in an attack on a base in central Afghanistan. The continual mantra is that there are only attacks in the south.

As Saudi Arabia Turns

Al-Jazeera is reporting that a reformist member of the royal family was kidnapped from Geneva and is now under house arrest in Riyadh. Some blame is being attached to the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs. Meanwhile, terrorist training camps have been found in the Saudi desert.

Two Dean Nation Links

Anna Topia talks about her experience with the media in Iowa. It's unverifiable, but the people here are hardly professional spin doctors, so it's definitely worth reading.

Also, I have a post with Middle East relevance.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Child Slavery and Prostitution

I just found two really depressing articles, one on child slavery in Pakistan, the other on prostitution in Central Asia.

More on Tribal Shaykhs

Some thoughts on this tribal shaykh stuff...

Buried in this article, one finds information that the two chief duties of tribal leaders in today's Iraq are intervention with central authorities and keeping the peace. There's nothing new about that whatsoever. There's another side to the coin, too: The central authorities have historically chosen the tribal leaders they want to work with.

I've been reading some pre-Islamic Arabian stuff for my dissertation, and the Sassanids basically appointed tribal leaders to serve their own interests - keeping the Bedouin from raiding their territory and serving as proxies in warfare. This was done by a combination of prestige by association, gifts of money to be distributed and weapons to be used to fighting, and not dealing with lesser shaykhs. The early caliphate also promoted certain shaykhs in the same manner. During the Crusades the Mamluks had an office called the Amir al-Arab, or "Commander of the Bedouin," which basically went to one or more tribal chiefs through whom they worked. Even in the 20th century, you find the same patterns. In Lawrence of Arabia, Auda brags about how the Ottomans pay him for peace along the frontier, while the British are quite obviously taking a hand with Sharif Husayn. Many of the tribal chiefs in Iraq are called "Shaykhs of the '90's" because that is when Saddam brought them to prominence hoping for more influence with the Shi'ites.

So what the coalition is doing is simply continuing the millennia-old pattern of interaction between tribally organized rural areas and city-based state structures. However, I can't help but wonder how it plays into our overall plans for Iraq. Because if these shaykhs base their importance on serving as a bridge to the government and resolvers of conflict, I'm not sure they'd want to see an open democracy and state legal system giving individuals direct access to government and eliminating the need for their influence. Yemen, which while not a democracy has certain elements of one, might be an interesting case study of this issue. If we're basing our understanding off colonial British studies, though, we're off on the wrong track just because colonial British anthropologists tended to get stuff wrong in their explanations of how tribes actually functioned socio-politically.

This, of course, does not negate the fact that I simply don't think tribal leaders have that much influence these days. Both Peter Sluglett and Juan Cole, who know far more about modern Iraq than I do, have suggested as much. The population is too urbanized and organized into occupational and religious groups as the main channels of political participation. My pet idea to build democratic institutions in Iraq is actually to legalize labor unions. The Bush administration is taking the corporate-friendly route of assuming foreign investment will bring stability with economic prosperity, but I can't help but think that societies are built off people rather than money, and in any event without labor you have often fundamentalist religious groups as the only noteworthy organizations headed into some hypothetical caucuses or elections, which is something we allegedly don't want.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Dean the Game

Now you can waste time with the Dean for America Video Game. Via Ed Cohn.

Patrick Belton on Pakistan

Oxblog's Patrick Belton has a round-up and analysis of some recent developments in Pakistan. Since his analysis is good for the United States, I hope he's right, but I can't help but think that the single largest factor in Musharraf's decision to crack down on Islamic militants might be the fact they keep trying to kill him. If Osama bin Laden really is in the tribal regions of Pakistan, this crackdown increases the odds he will be captured. That would have more impact in the fight against al-Qaeda that capturing Saddam did in the fight against Islamic militants, but given the ways in which al-Qaeda is believed to have morphed the past two years still wouldn't be the sort of final victory the press may perceive it as.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Sources of Iraq Knowledge

From Lupin's Daily Kos diary, I see that the U.S. is using British reports from 1918 as its sources of information on Iraqi tribal politics. Do have have any idea how much any nation in the developing world has changed in the past 85 years? I watched some of Lawrence of Arabia last week. I guarantee you the Middle East is different today. Little things like the development of the nation-state, the spread of new technology, the coming of Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism, and so on have all taken their toll. And of course the British occupation of Iraq was such a smashing success...

UPDATE: New blogger Daniel Stein has a bit more commentary.

UPDATE: Jason in comments recommends this article, which covers in more depth Lieutenant-Colonel Alan King's outreach among the Iraqi tribes. I'm not sure it contradicts the above, though, as he seems to be acting a lot like a Lawrence of Arabia wannabee. I think what it comes down to is that the influence of these tribal shaykhs might be overrated. Only time will tell.

Iowa Caucuses

If you're interested in following the Iowa Caucuses, the absolute best place to go is Daily Kos. This is a partisan Democratic site, but the people posting know politics, and have been following the details of the primaries closely from a variety of perspectives. You'll get information here that is far more in depth than anything you hear on the networks. And now, for a better reading experience, it has been cleaned.

Saturday, January 17, 2004


Jonathan Edelstein has a post on the Jewish tradition regarding Amalek, which he considers potentially similar to the Muslim jihad. In the book of Exodus, the Amalek were a group who attacked the Hebrews as they fled Egypt, leading to a commandment to the Hebrews to exterminate the Amalek. When I was a freshman I became rather obsessed with the Amalek, though my professors didn't really know anything about them. I found a bit of irony in his post because the Amalek also turn up in the medieval Islamic historical tradition, though not with religious implications.

I don't know anything about this site, but it does remind me of the basic story. The Amalek were among the greatest of th Arab tribes in the ancient world, and were custodians of the Ka'aba in Mecca. Following some rather elaborate natural upheavels, they left and went to Egypt, where they ruled as pharaohs. (The linked site, which melds together Hebrew and Arab sources, also gets from somewhere that the Amalek later converted to Judaism, which would probably really screw with the minds of certain Jewish militants.)

The identity of the Amalek has always intrigued me because it is unclear from the existing sources why they get to be Public Enemy #1 for ancient Israel. I remember Immanuel Velikovsky (whose theories I am not here touting) equated them with the Hyksos, partly on the basis of the Arab traditions mentioned above. Both Arab and Hebrew traditions tout them as extremely powerful - in the book of Numbers, they are called the greatest of nations, a designation that in that time better seems to fit Egypt. However, I don't see any easy way to learn more.

Ultimately, the identity of the Amalek lies in the historical issues surrounding the Exodus itself, where I am rather unorthodox, though Biblical scholarship is in no way my field. I think the Pentateuch should be regarded as oral tradition, and in oral tradition it is the specifics which are usually late additions, not the generalities. Most scholars place the historical Exodus in the reign of Ramses II on the basis of the Pi-thom and Ramses mentions and the fact that the first historical mention of Israel is on a stele of Ramses's son Merneptah. However, I've been reading al-Tabari, and for remote periods he reports traditions about stuff happening in cities that didn't exist at the time, like Nebuchadnezzar's connections to al-Hira. I can easily see Pi-thom and Ramses getting tacked onto an existing tradition about Hebrew slavery in Egypt.

What I believe is that the Exodus story functions kind of like the bursting of the Ma'rib dam in Arab tradition - a period of great upheavel in which various tribes found in convenient to postulate genealogical links. Viewing it as oral tradition, I'm more inclined to believe in the plagues than the exact cities. There may have been a tribe working at Pi-thom and Ramses. There may have been a tribe that fought the Amalek. These need not have been the same. The Biblical story of the Exodus is then a theologically interpreted editing of the oral traditions of different tribal groups which made links in very ancient Israel. And that would mean that the historical Amalek could eventually be found at any time over a several-century period.

Dean's Internet Policy

Joe Gratz has written a study of Howard Dean's Internet policy that is worth reading. As he notes at the end, it's important that we elect a candidate who can get these issues right, because today's decisions on the future of cyberspace will have repercussions for our lifetimes and beyond.

Incidentally, blogging has been light recently because I've been busy either here, here or here.

PA vs. al-Arabiyah

The al-Arabiyah TV network is apparently in trouble with the PA for refusing to call all dead Palestinians "martyred." The analysis sounds simplistic, but the events are interesting. Via Chris Blanchard.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Daily Kos

I see one of my occasional on-line haunts has made the news.

Saudi Public Opinion

Gulf News reports on a survey of social attitudes among male secondary school students in Saudi Arabia. It sounds more like a focus group study than an actual survey, but the results aren't terribly encouraging, as respondents expressed concern over the possibility women might gain more freedoms.

Turkmenbashi's Army

Saparmurat Niyazov, the ruthless dictator of Turkmenistan, has been engaged in a military build-up. He apparently fears diplomatic and economic isolation resulting from criticism of his human rights record, and is hoping for some sort of security guarantees. His moves seem mostly defensive, such as strengthening coastal defenses. I don't think anyone actually plans to invade Turkmenistan in the near future, so this may indicate he's falling further into the "paranoid dictator" mindset.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Saddam and the Jihadists

I have too much dissertation momentum to do much substantive posting today, but I can't resist asking if this news that Saddam warned his loyalists not to trust the jihadists means he was unlikely to give jihadist terrorists weapons of mass destruction, supposedly the major reason we deposed him. Also, if he was really the main obstacle to cooperation between Iraqis and terrorists, has deposing him, however noble in humanitarian terms and a decent thing to do under other circumstances, really helped us against the immediate threat of al-Qaeda terrorism?

Enterprise Quiz

This doesn't seem right, somehow. Via Procrastination:

You're Lt. Malcolm Reed. Your philosophy is that it's better to be safe than sorry. You love your job and are a bit of a perfectionist. When it comes to the opposite sex (or the same sex, depending) you become shy. You get cranky if you don't have something to blow up every once and a while.

Take the Enterprise Quiz!

Brought to you by redanubis.

Islamic Law in Iraq

An important story I just found via Juan Cole:

"As reported here earlier, the IGC took a decision recently to abolish Iraq's civil personal status law, which was uniform for all Iraqis under the Baath. In its place, the IGC called for religious law to govern personal status, to be administered by the clerics of each of Iraq's major religious communities for members of their religion. Thus, Shiites would be under Shiite law and Chaldeans under Catholic canon law for these purposes...The IGC has ceded to the religious codes jurisdiction over marriage, engagement, suitability to marry, the marriage contract, proof of marriage, dowry, financial support, divorce, the 3-month "severance payments" owed to divorced wives in lieu of alimony, inheritance, and all other personal status matters."

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Indonesians in Africa

Ed Cohn afficionados will have seen this piece in The Guardian about a theory that Indonesians were primarily responsible for the creation of African culture. I basically agree with Ed that this is more a media-friendly surprise theory than serious history, but also want to note that there is evidence of an Indonesian presence in the western Indian Ocean for very early periods, and that Malagasy is actually the westernmost Polynesian language. I vaguely remember reading an essay in this book that went into these issues, but don't recall the details.


In an otherwise decent Washington Post article about the state of Middle East Studies, Michael Dobbs says something that is simply wrong: "A favorite target for Campus Watch is the late Edward Said, a Columbia University professor best known for his book "Orientalism," which denounced the "neo-colonialist" policies of successive U.S. administrations." Excuse me? Does Orientalism even mention a single American President? He's trying to write a historical critique of the field of orientalism using the Foucauldian concept of discourse. Since Orientalism's influence is at the center of the critique of Middle East Studies made by people like Martin Kramer, you'd think a reporter could at least get a key fact straight.

The Iranian Situation

Abu Aardvark reads that Iranian leader Ali Khamene'i may permit the banned reformists to run in the election after all. The major weakness of the reformists has long been their refusal to work outside the system - Khatami has more resembled a Gorbachev in the late 1980's than a Yeltsin during the coup. Now, however, they are taking some serious stands, such as the threat of resignation from all the provincial governors. Developing...

Monday, January 12, 2004

Sunni Islamic Law

A lot of people ask me about Islamic law, how it works, and what I mean when I talk about the different schools. So I thought I'd write this post on Sunni Islamic law, to be followed later by one on Shi'ism.

"Islamic law" is a translation of the Arabic term "shari'a," which literally refers to a path. In this case, it is the path of a believing Muslim in doing God's will, and encompasses all aspects of Muslim life both public and private. The people the media refer to as clerics are better thought of as scholars (ulama), for they do not adminster sacraments, but instead study shari'a and show the people the proper way to live. Although all Muslims are supposed to gain some knowledge of shari'a, in practical terms most simply choose a famous scholar and follow his example.

Islamic law derives from four sources: the Qur'an, the Sunna (tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, based on the Hadith, which are individual accounts of his words and deeds), analogy from the Qur'an and Sunna (qiyas), and the consensus of the Muslim community (ijma). Using these sources, religious scholars perform ijtihad, which means to strive for correct judgement and is used to refer to the practice of independent reasoning on legal questions using the four sources of Islamic law. Over time, scholars divided into schools of thought, or in Arabic madhhab, meaning "path." These differ on the basis of methodology - how one comes to a conclusion is more important that the actual conclusion. Of these, four had lasting importance, and in the middle ages most cities had judges in each of the four so everyone could follow their own way. These are:

1.) Hanafi: Accepts local custom as another possible source of law, allows great liberty to individual scholars, as the favored school of the Turkish peoples it became prevalent throughout the old Ottoman Empire, as well as South and Central Asia and is today followed by the majority of Muslims
2.) Maliki: Places emphasis on the practice of Medina as the community founded by Muhammad, prevalent in North Africa, West Africa and in days of yore Muslim Spain
3.) Shafi'i: Believes the both Qur'an and Sunna are infallible, and tries to reconcile contradictions while placing little emphasis on analogy and consensus, it is followed today in Egypt, southern Arabia, Southeast Asia, East Africa and Chechnya and is considered the most lenient
4.) Hanbali: Elevates the Qur'an and Sunna above all else, considered the strictest, significant in the Arabian peninsula

Now in order to understand how this works in the modern world, we need to keep in mind a concept known as "The Closing of the Gates of Ijtihad." At some point, the belief grew up among Muslims that around the year 1000, all the questions of life had been settled and independent reasoning was no longer useful. This was never actually a universal belief, but was common enough that the study of shari'a gradually became more and more tied to the past. This has interesting effects for our impression of the madhhabs. For example, based on procedure, the Hanafi looks fairly liberal. After all, a Hanafi scholar in California could very easily include Californian customs as one of his sources, and produce some rather liberal views. If the gates of ijtihad are closed, however, we're left with rulings based on the customs of 10th-century Turkestan, which were somewhat different, and in some areas, such as women's rights, the Hanafi is actually the most conservative school.

In reality, however, the "gates of ijtihad" were never quite latched, and by the 18th century, Muslim reformers had emerged to challenge the status quo. The most influential was Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who sought to "purify" the Hanbali branch of what he thought were pagan influences. A group of scholars called the Deobandis did the same thing with the Hanafi, leading to the brand of Islam practiced by the Taliban. The obvious thing to regret here, of course, is that these influential reformers have been coming at things from the wrong end, so to speak. More liberal voices are out there, too, but generally don't make headlines or take over countries, so most liberal Muslims find themselves looking at secularism as the main alternative to Islamic law as handed down through the centuries.

So the key points: Islamic law at its core is not a set code of conduct, but a diverse field of inquiry with many differences of opinion. Nonetheless, the conservative trends that cropped up during the past millennium have left it with a very conservative stamp. When Islamic law is adopted, the theoretical potential exists for a sort of "rethinking" if the community to which it is applied considers ijtihad legitimate in the modern world. Whether or not such development actually takes place is a subject for another time, and perhaps someone who specializes more on the 20th century. Individuals, of course, follow shari'a all the time, each according to their own conscience. Because many acts are classified as either "praiseworthy" or "reprehensible" instead of just "obligatory" or "forbidden," and because even with prohibited stuff penalties often involve God's judgement rather than a government's, this is very much within the historical mainstream of Islamic spirituality.

UPDATE: JB suggests a couple of resources for the 20th century.

In a Time of Shortage...

Last fall, I was annoyed that I couldn't find a source for how Democrats had tried to make undergraduates eligible for FLAS funding, only to be blocked by the GOP despite the shortage of Arabic speakers currently hindering our national security efforts. Now, I have found one. Ron Kind and Chris Van Hollen proposed the unsuccessful amendment.

Feminists and Hijab

Ikram Saeed has a post on the hijab controversy in France and a link to this Globe and Mail article by Sheema Khan on the same subject. A common point they share is that with regards to Islam, the recent French measures against personal religious displays fall disproportionately upon Muslim women.

My comment here is on Western attitudes toward Muslim dress in general rather than the French law under discussion. For many Westerners, especially feminists, hijab is seen as the physical expression of a Muslim misogyny that also includes everything from honor killings to forced marriages. In doing so, they unconsciously fall into a mindset where Islam is a religion which needs to be reformed with the help of a supposedly superior West. Because they make these links, they object strenuously to a religious choice made by many women, while ignoring the choices made by men who choose to wear beards, for example.

When I was in the Arab world, I found that standards of modesty were higher for both men and women. You could not wear shorts, for example, and nice jeans was the lower limit of public acceptability. Behavior patterns were also different. Above and beyond that, everyone finds their own level at which they are comfortable. Questions of cultural conflict arise when these informal dress codes are transferred to a different milieu. In the West, we have people who wear nice slacks to class even in summer, choose to grow beards and avoid profanity, but we do not have women who choose to wear headscarves unless it's cold out. Well-meaning feminists pick up on this difference as dangerous, a sign that women are being hidden from view (note the passive voice) as a means of disempowering them. Yet in reality, every hijabi student I have had in class has been an active student leader, and not just in the Muslim Students Association.

It is true that some men may force their wives or daughters to dress a certain way against their will. But if you're going to crack down on domestic abuse, mental cruelty, and that sort of thing, let's do it on those grounds for all citizens, regardless of their religion. Forcing women to choose between their religious convictions and their opportunities for a public life is not a policy for a progressive society.


Have any of my readers ever been to Spain? In thinking about my planned Morocco travels, I've discovered that flying into Madrid is substantially cheaper than heading directly anywhere in Morocco, and so was considering that option. However, if it costs a few hundred dollars to get from Madrid to Fez, there would be no point. I'm assuming it won't, but I'm trying to get a better sense of the overall landscape.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Dean Supporters

Over at the Dean campaign blog, Deaniacs are coming up with ads to refute the laugh-inducing Club for Growth spot. Some of the results are rather amusing.

Iraqis of African Origin

The Washington Post today has an article on Iraqis of African descent which I found an okay read. It was focused mainly on southern Iraq, where during the Middle Ages many slaves known as the Zanj were brought from East Africa and forced to work clearing land. The Zanj Revolt of the late 9th century played a key role in the decline of the Abbasids, throwing the Indian Ocean trade from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea and having shockwaves felt as far as India and Southeast Asia. (Alexander Popovic wrote a book about it.) The Post article falls a bit short, though, in its historical presentation: It claims to deal primarily with the Zanj, yet it takes its descriptions of slavery from a broad spectrum of the Middle East, where conditions were much better. Still, I found the accounts of how African traditions survived very interesting. A couple of years ago, I considered African influences on Middle Eastern society a possible area from which to draw a dissertation topic. I even applied for an SSRC fellowship on the subject, but got turned down and moved on to other things. It's still an interesting field, and one where a lot of work could be done.

Iranian Politics

The Council of Guardians is banning huge numbers of reformist candidates from standing in the upcoming elections for Parliament. If they succeed, the elections will be a complete sham. I have never before been so pessimistic on the chances for a peaceful political transformation of that country.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Iraqi WMD

Via Calpundit, I see that Kenneth Pollack, whose book The Threatening Storm was a major text for the pro-war movement, has an article in the Atlantic Monthly examining the question of why no WMD were found in Iraq. There's some interesting stuff in it, though I've realized my thoughts can be turned into an appropriate Dean Nation post, which I hope to produce in the near future. Here, though, I'll just say again that the lack of WMD was a surprise to pretty much everyone, as before the war the consensus was that they were there and the main debate was over whether inspections could find them.

And incidentally, I've seen the reports of blister gas discovered in Iraq. My initial reaction is that with so many false alarms, we should all just wait and see. However, a quick glance at Josh Marshall suggests another possibility. These were old weapons left over from the Iran-Iraq War. According to the information floating around, there were only 36 warheads, and many were actually leaking. In short, what we're looking at is probably more like the unexploded ammunition lying around Bosnia than a secret stockpile for future military operations.

The Return

I am now back in Madison, after a trip back the main theme of which was that people should always remember to check their blind spots before changing lanes, especially when I am in the lane into which they are changing. Upon my arrival, I quickly discovered that Wisconsin is currently cold, and that my mail didn't get delivered, which means I won't be using tomorrow to catch up on all my business matters after all. Unfortunately, the campus mail is probably delivering the same as always, which means I'll have a nice pile in my office Monday morning. At least I got some research-related stuff done over break.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Ethnic Divisions in Afghanistan

The new RFE-RL Afghan Report contains some interesting discussion on the role of ethnic differences in Afghanistan today. Experts quoted are concerned that these divisions may become a means for warlords to mobilize popular support for their personal ambitions. And at least one fears international policies may be making the situation worse and not better:

"My concern really has been that the process of creating the constitution, and most particularly the Constitutional Loya Jirga, has been one that instead of bridging divisions between people -- especially the ethnic divisions, which have been the most polarizing in Afghanistan -- in some ways, it has actually exacerbated these divisions by throwing the major debates on the constitution, by casting these almost entirely on ethnic lines."

This is the same phenomenon that bothers me in Iraq, where too many analysts seem inclined to unintentionally promote a divisive Sunni-Shi'ite split when Iraqi nationalism is itself a strong factor and when people I who know Iraq have told me their Iraqi friends are bothered by having to start identifying themselves as members of a religious group for political purposes. There are a lot of notions floating around policy circles about how people who are "different" are likely to interact based mainly off what happened in the Balkans after the fall of communism. The underlying social concepts in southeastern Europe are, however, not the same as those in Central Asia or the Middle East, and everyone needs to remain vigilant lest they apply the wrong lessons.

The Last Migration of the Falashas

Israel has announced plans to bring in the last 18,000 Ethiopian Jews, perhaps beginning as soon as next week. The Ethiopian Jewish community, known as Falashas, has been around for centuries. Its origins are uncertain, and it could have originated in anything from conversion during one of Judaism's missionary phases to some element of the Diaspora that simply wound up in Ethiopia. Israel has previously airlifted thousands of Falashas to the Jewish state in Operations Moses, Joshua, and Solomon. This time, however, Ethiopia is saying they don't see the need for such a mass migration when they can just emigrate normally.

I should also add here that Ethiopian Jews face a lot of discrimination within Israel. In addition to racism, many practices of Ethiopian Jews are unacceptable to the orthodox rabbinate that dominates Israel's official religious life. Stuff I've read in print, for example, discusses a number of humiliating procedures they must go through to get their marriages recognized. So these people might be escaping poverty, but there's still a hard road ahead.

Afghan Shi'ites' Rights

Via IWPR, I see that the new Afghan constitution recognizes the right of Shi'ites to use their own school of Islamic law. Some reports had suggested that everyone might be required to use Hanafi jurisprudence, one of the four schools of Sunni Islamic law.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Bush's Labor Policies

In case you haven't heard, President Bush's Labor Department is now advising companies on How to get out of paying their workers overtime. Tim Young has some good commentary on the subject:

"One unfortunate consequence of the failure of John Edwards' presidential campaign to catch on is that less attention is being given to a major campaign theme of his - that the Bush administration has embarked on a series of policies that are singularly harmful to the vast majority of Americans who have to work for a living.

"Whether it's trying to undo the 40-hour work week, gutting workplace safety protections, or - most notably - transforming federal tax and economic policy to disadvantage those who rely on the fruits of their labor vis-a-vis those who derive income from sitting on the accumulation of capital, there is a War on Workers afoot. "

I also blogged about this yesterday on Dean Nation, where I recommended (of course) Howard Dean's labor policies as the antidote. And while I know I have a few strongly anti-labor readers, consider: How else do we fight for fair working conditions in this country without simply relying on government to impose solutions from above? The union system may be imperfect, but at root it's about workers getting together to fight for a fair piece of the unprecedented American prosperity, a result of their labor which is all too easily monopolized by corporate bigwigs. And in today's new economy we need that almost as much as we did 100 years ago, or a two-class society is right around the corner.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Problems in Kirkuk

Back in June, I noted that deals reached in Kirkuk were good for about a year only, with the implication that complications lay in the future for this city where Saddam Hussein booted out Kurds and brought in Arab families as part of an "Arabization" program. Now before there is an agreement on the social situation, we have to deal with the issue of the oil-rich area's political future as Kurds clamor for greater autonomy ahead of the planned June 30 handover. Unfortunately, this makes recent outbreaks of violence somewhat predictable. The Iraqi nationalism which means Arab Sunnis and Shi'ites will likely hold together in a single state could mean trouble on the question of the Kurds, who as non-Arabs are left out of the Iraqi discourse as traditionally conceived. Arabs and Turkmen living in the north oppose any Kurdish autonomy, as do neighboring Syria and Turkey who have large Kurdish minorities of their own. Kirkuk is a sub-issue of this, and no decision has been made on whether it will be included in any established Kurdish region. There are no easy answers here, and unfortunately the signs are that the Bush administration will base its decisions on what looks best for the fall elections rather than long-term stability.

Iranian Women's Party

Today's RFE-RL Newsline reports that Iran is getting its first political party devoted specifically to women's issues, the Iranian Women's Party. Right after the revolution, Iran had almost no political parties, as under the Shah they had been simply an instrument of state control. The regime has continually promoted them, however, and now there are dozens, with the system seeming like it's gradually evolving into something along the Israeli model than that in Canada or the UK. Parliament actually matters, too, for while the top-tier systemic reforms advocated by President Khatami get stone-walled by the hard-liners, smaller social reforms have fared better. It remains to be seen, of course, whether this party will become a force in its own right or simply support candidates offered by other reformist parties.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Afghanistan's Constitution

Afghanistan's new constitution has been approved. According to the New York Times, everyone is happy. I'm going through a cynical phase right now, so I'll just say we should wait and see what happens. The document sounds like a good deal, if it can be implemented effectively.

Video Games in Iraq

IWPR reports on the video game craze in post-Saddam Iraq. It's causing a few social problems.

Faculty-Student Sex

This is the topic under discussion here, here, here, here and here. Frankly I'm surprised this idea is so controversial. Sleeping with one's students seems like such a prelude to colossal disaster that that I can never quite believe reports of it, even though I myself am 90% sure I've seen at least one case. There are also two Quincy University professors that married students, one right before I got there and one after I left. When I think of myself in that position, I can never quite get my mind around it - I simply can't see students in my class as anything other than my students, and I think I'm better off that way. I can socialize with them in my office, or if by chance I see them at a hockey game or something talk to them, but that's about it. I feel I have a duty to my students as a teacher - already a kind of personal relationship - and I have no place bringing other agendas.

That said, there are probably fringes of this issue where it becomes interesting. Students in my class are definitely out. By extension, I'd say students in the department are, as well - the entire notion just seems wrong to me for reasons I can't quite articulate. I guess my self-image is as someone developing into the consummate professional, and that just sort of interferes. However, at a school the size of UW, extending that to the entire undergraduate student body seems extreme. When I first came to campus, I was 22, and when I first taught, 23. If I were to take up with, say, a chemistry major, would it matter at all? True, at some point she would have to take a history class, but assuming the relationship worked in a healthy manner, it should be possible for us to arrange to simply not conflict with each other. Then there are forums like language classes where you find both graduate students and undergraduates - do I limit my social circle on the basis of people's course level? The notion seems preposterous. Admittedly, though, as I get older this seems like less and less of a relevant issue. In quiz bowl, for example, where I continue to hang around as a sort of organizational assistant, I did not look upon the freshman girls this year with the same level of interest as when I first arrived - at some point age gaps do start to show themselves.

I haven't thought my way through what sort of policies universities should adopt on this, if any. The need to defend against lawsuits is, of course, legitimate, but realistic policies seem difficult to write. One semester I became a lecturer, which gave me the classification of part-time faculty. Had I been dating another grad student, would I under the most draconian codes have been required to break it off for a few months? With the issues usually cited against faculty/student relationships, would such artificial non-dating even be meaningful? I mean, relationships are much harder to regulate than actions. Since I'm a rather chaste kind of guy, a ban on sex wouldn't impact me in the slightest, and from a legal standpoint who's is to decide if a "friendship" is really something more? At the other end of the spectrum, let's say the hypothetical undergraduate chemistry major met one of my students whom she also liked and was trying to decide between us. If the two have something planned for a weekend I'm inclined to give a large assignment, do I open myself to career-threatening evaluation comments by giving it, or hurt the class by holding off?

The mere fact someone would have to think about that shows the problems that can arise in these sorts of situations that are difficult to catch under anything but a draconian policy. The best thing to do is simply to use common sense and a dose of caution. If you and a student really do become desparate for each other, at the very least wait until he/she is no longer your student. Other than that, everyone will presumably find their own set of guidelines articulated or otherwise based on the experiences they've had and their knowledge of individual people and situations. Hopefully their emotional intelligence will be enough to keep them out of trouble.