Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Kerry's Iraq Speech

Last year, I got a lot of links from conservative blogs. Over the past year, these have largely dried up. If I have any remaining Republican readers, however, could they please explain how this speech constitutes "retreat and surrender" in Iraq?

In addition, I'm seeing Kerry's statements about bringing troops home in six months taken out of context, both in TV news clips and Republican comments on the subject. Can I please have a clear explanation of what is wrong with them in context? That context, as I see it, is this:

"If the President would move in this direction … if he would bring in more help from other countries to provide resources and forces … train the Iraqis to provide their own security …develop a reconstruction plan that brings real benefits to the Iraqi people … and take the steps necessary to hold credible elections next year … we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years."

Troops for Afghanistan

The Bush administration is sending an additional 1000 troops to Afghanistan in order to maintain order in the south during the election. This is good, and I would like to see more support for our Afghan reconstruction efforts, as they are in a region where the people who attacked us on September 11 are known to operate. Sadly, two more American troops were killed Monday in Paktika province.

Wolf in the Fold

Throughout the centuries, a fascinated abhorrence with serial killers has led to their becoming famous. The following report is nestled among those of civil war and intrigue in Tabari's History under 257 A.H. (870-871 C.E.), and was transated by David Waines for the SUNY edition:

"In the same year, at a place called Birkat Zalzal, a strangler from Baghdad was apprehended. He had murdered a number of women and buried them in the house where he was living. He was brought to al-Mu'tamid, and I learned that he had ordered the prisoner whipped. He was given two thousand lashes and four hundred strokes with a bastinado, yet he continued to live. Only when the executioners beat his testicles with two wooden flogging posts did he finally expire. His body was then returned to Baghdad, where it was strung up in public view; the corpse was later burned."

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Gibraltar

This is a view of Gibraltar as you walk from the airport/Spanish border into the city. In the background on the south end of the Rock is the "Moorish Castle," now a prison.

More Herat

IWPR has a good overview of recent events in Herat. That and this BBC story leave the impression of a successful change in governors, but an unstable city. One issue in the background here is the fact Afghanistan has never had a strong central government for any length of time, and people in the provinces value their independence. Furthermore, Ismail Khan retains influence - he is remaining in the city, and was responsible for the order being restored. Without the governorship, however, his influence will start to wane.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

William Olson in Madison

The text of an e-mail I just sent that might be of interest to area readers:

Dr. William Olson, formerly Chief of the Information Management Unit for the CPA in Baghdad, Iraq and now with National Defense University, will give a talk entitled "Transnational Threats to the U.S. National Interest" at 4 p.m. on September 27 as part of the Middle East Studies Program's Fall Lecture Series "Change in the Middle East." The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the Pyle Center Auditorium.

The Middle East Studies Program is fortunate to have as its guest Dr. Olson, who in Iraq was responsible for the collection, analysis, and publication of CPA-related information on Iraq reconstruction. Before this, he served in several different capacities with both the Department of Defense and the Department of State, and has done work related to international peacekeeping, counter-narcotics operations, and counter-insurgency operations through the world. In addition he has been a Senior Fellow at the National Strategy Information Center, a Washington think tank. While at the Center, Dr. Olson worked on projects on global ungovernability, on international organized crime, and on bank security issues. He has also served as a participant in and contributor to working groups at CSIS and the Heritage Foundation on homeland security, as well as the Consortium on Intelligence's Working Group on Intelligence Reform.

Dr. Olson's published works include over 50 articles and books on light forces, US strategic interests in the Persian Gulf, the Iran-Iraq war, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, the war on drugs, conflict management, and most recently on studies on international organized crime and homeland security. He is the editor of a book series on regional conflict through Harper-Collins, founded the Journal of Small Wars and Insurgencies, edited a special volume for the Annals of Political Science on small wars, served on the editorial board of Parameters, and is co-author and co-editor of Trends in Organized Crime.

Signs of the Day

While on the bus into campus this morning, I realized that in my tired rush to leave, I had put my shirt on inside out. That was pretty impressive.

As you might have guessed, I've been a tad busy lately.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Russian Star Wars

I've been looking for something clever to say about the latest "anti-terrorism" moves by the man President Bush considers a good friend, but don't think I can top Kevin Drum on this one.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Iranian Baha'is

I knew that Baha'is faced persecution in Iran, but hadn't realized quite how severe things had become:

"The advertisement cites the destruction in June of the historic Tehran home of Mirza Abbas Nuri, father of the founder of the Baha'i faith, Mirza Hussein Ali Nuri or Bahaullah, as the Iranian government's most recent action against the minority. A 13 September press release from the Baha'i community notes that earlier this year the Iranian authorities destroyed the gravesite in Babol of Mullah Mohammad-Ali Barfurushi, a prominent Baha'i known as Quddus. Bani Dugal, a Bahai representative, described these developments as 'part of a concerted plan on the part of the Iranian government to gradually extinguish the Baha'i faith as a cultural force and cohesive entity.'"

Muslim fundamentalists classify the Baha'is as Muslim heretics rather than People of the Book, so they have none of the protections of the latter.

September 11 Blogging

Imshin takes American bloggers to task for not doing more on September 11. As someone who did exactly nothing, my reason is that thanks to the Presidential election, I've been thinking about terrorism and related issues rather steadily for months. In fact, in this context, the event seems more like a campaign issue, and even more than last year it seems like anything non-standard I had to say would have been seen as divisive rather than commemorative. In emotional terms, I haven't had any new revelations or feelings related to the attacks during the past year, anyway. For me, it's become part of the general problem of global terrorism, and as regular readers know, I talk about that all the time. Maybe Imshin's right and I should have put up some simple memorial post or something, but there you have it.

UPDATE: This is an example of what I mean. I agree with it, but is this really what people have in mind when they say commemorate September 11?

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Body Image

One complaint I hear from people that I can never fully relate to is dissatisfaction with one's body image. The most common form of this I run into is women who are obsessed with the idea that they're fat. I occasionally have to stop myself from laughing when certain people say this. But this is really something I see across a broad spectrum of society, and seems to affect people's overall opinion of themselves in extraordinary ways.

While aware I could probably be more physically attractive than I am, how I appear is just part of me, and I can't imagine looking any other way. By the same token, I've noticed that while looks factors into my attraction for members of the opposite gender, it's a highly malleable trait. There are lots of people whom I found attractive only after I got to know them and started liking them despite there being no discernable change in appearance.

This may suggest that looks are like clothing - how you wear them matters far more than anything else. I think, too, with me there is another issue, one from the same vein as the post immediately below this one. On a very deep level I cannot explain, I perceive each person as a unique and special part of Creation, and quite easily get frustrated when they don't see themselves the same way. This isn't just a "God made you that way, are you questioning his judgement?" sort of thing. Looks seem so superfluous, yet for so many people they are a burden which drains the spirit and therefore hurts the quality of their lives. And because the major reason for this is the way body image is played up by the media, if I ever meet the person responsible for that, I'm going to give them a very serious piece of my mind. I grew up Baptist, so there's a fair amount of Zell Miller-ish fire and brimstone lurking in me =)

History and My Religious Choices

For years I've been most attracted to Christian denominations which have about them an aura of tradition and history. This I attributed to the fact that I'm a historian, and assumed it was nothing more than aesthetic preference. Recently, however, I've realized there's more to it than that. It sounds like a cliche, but who you've been really is part of who you are. What's more, how we understand our own past says something about us. Given the diversity in the Christian tradition to which I belong, it's not enough to just say you're going to follow the Bible and not worry about anything else. I grew up Baptist, the sola Scriptura denomination par excellence, and almost all the key tenets are based off highly contestable interpretations of scripture. Admitting that tradition counts for something feels to me more honesty than heresy.

If I'm going to join your faith, what I want is to know what you make of the past 2000 years of Christian history, generally involving people with beliefs as pure as your own and whose experiences represent a valuable spiritual resource. I also want to know what's important to you, as seen in what you've fought for over the years and what you're likely to hold dear when the tide of history alters everything else. I don't care so much about the details of your worship service, though for purely aesthetic reasons I avoid those with modern music and such, but I do want to know why you do the things you do, and what is commemorated in all the small rituals and services scattered throughout the year. Issues like these play a large role in where we situate ourselves in Creation, and ideally in a universe of religious experience that includes billions who are not Christian at all.

For reasons I won't go into here, this year I've resolved to finally select a denomination. In a few short months, I hope to have formally hooked up with either this outfit or this one, two churches very different from each other and yet each attractive to me in its own way. I honestly have no idea which way this will break, and of course given the fact that I spent most of 2003 explaining why I wasn't a Deaniac but then wrote this, it's entirely possible that I could wind up a convinced Catholic or something. To be continued...

Crisis in Herat

In a moment of truth which will go a long way toward determining Afghanistan's future, Hamid Karzai has fired Herat governor Ismail Khan and appointed in his place one Muhammad Khair Khuwa. Many Heratis are opposed to this, however, which is now causing rioting in the streets. With American military backing, Karzai is seizing a moment of weakness for Khan, who just went through a major battle with another warlord. Getting control of the relatively prosperous Herat region would be a major victory for the central government, but many Heratis are undoubtedly unwilling to give in to a central government of any kind. Another factor in the background of this is that Ismail Khan was Iran's major ally among the Afghan warlords. They gave him arms, money, and provided development aid to his territory. Whether they will do anything to openly help in now is doubtful, but clandestine support is likely.

Boom

This is enough to make me a regular churchgoer.

UPDATE: Never mind. The North Koreans were just getting rid of an inconvenient mountain.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Abd ar-Rashid Dostum

If the major players in Afghanistan's political scene all run together for you, this profile might help flesh out Uzbek warlord Abd ar-Rashid Dostum.

Al-Houthi Killed

The Yemeni government claims it has killed Shaykh Husayn al-Houthi, who was leading an anti-government insurrection in the country's north. Let's hope this doesn't simply make him into a martyr whose movement will spread.

Springs in Jordan

This picture is from Jordan, in the hot springs area near the Dead Sea:

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Morocco's Family Law

The CEIP Arab Reform Bulletin has a piece on the challenges of implementing Morocco's family law. This perspective conflicts with what I heard in the country, where people I talked to thought the reforms were a major step forward and were extremely happy about them. However, that was a tiny sample and not really representative of anything, especially across the urban/rural and rich/poor divides.

Votergasm

This is weird.

Via Daily Kos.

Kazoo Records

As a Quincy, Illinois native, all I can say is that La Crosse, Wisconsin needs to get a grip.

Genocide in Sudan

Colin Powell has said that the abuses by the Janjaweed in Sudan are genocide. The Persian article drove home to me exactly what that means. Persian, despite its poetic beauty, has a surprisingly small vocabulary, and so much is built off combining words. That article says Powell called it "race killing." That is obviously what genocide means, but in an age in which the English can sound technical and overused, seeing the Persian adds a special force.

Iran and Sadr

According to Juan Cole, a spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has accused the Mahdi Army of accepting aid from a neighboring country, which Cole takes to mean Iran. I suspect Iran is willing to support people resisting American influence in a neighboring country, though Cole is right that Sadr is in no way the Iranian proxy many conservatives claim. In fact, the conservative focus on states as the root of all problems is, I think, a key reason why I trust others more to fight terrorism.

Shadid on Iraqi Sectarianism

For what its worth, Anthony Shadid said at this afternoon's lecture that during his time in Iraq, he found that most Iraqis resented the fact that their religious group was becoming such an important means of identification. This supports what Peter Sluglett, North America's leading historian of modern Iraq, said on the same subject last year. Sectarianism is becoming important in Iraq politics, but only because some religiously oriented parties have lots of weapons and influence. The fact Ayatollah Sistani has shown occasional ability to reach beyond the Shi'ites is, in this context, unsurprising, and perhaps bodes well for the future of the country.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Daniel Pipes on Beslan

Chris Bertam destroys a Daniel Pipes column. When I choose to ignore or reject a claim because Daniel Pipes makes it, people sometimes accuse me of not taking something seriously just because I don't like the source. The reason I don't like using Daniel Pipes as a source, however, is because he is unreliable. These sorts of easily refutable claims color my impression of Pipes's work when he discusses issues on which I have no knowledge, simply because I assume them to be equally specious until proven otherwise. This is the price of hackery.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

A Great Letter

This letter from a victim of this hateful display is absolutely amazing.

Palestinian Elections

At some point when I wasn't paying attention, the Palestinians schedule elections, and now key militant groups are participating. I guess it's time to try out Khalil Shikaki's theory:

"What Shikaki is calling for at the moment, and what he said he lobbied for in Washington, was for Palestinian elections prior to a Gaza withdrawal. Based on his research/perceptions, he said that Fatah would likely win such elections, as the opinions of the disengaged 40% match them most closely. Hamas and IJ would likely not get more than the 35% or so which forms their core support, and would not join a coalition with Fatah. He said the benefits of this would be 1.) Creating a Palestinian leadership with renewed legitimacy that can act on crucial issues, 2.) Integrate Hamas and IJ into the system, thus making them less likely to use violence outside the formal PA framework while forcing Fatah to reform or risk losing support, and 3.) Reflect the above opinions about the two-state solution, helping bring to popular consciousness where people really stand."

Anthony Shadid in Madison

Madison readers looking for something to do tomorrow should check this out.

Arrival Day: Israel's Missionary Future?

Jonathan Edelstein is today marking the 350th anniversary of the Jewish arrival in America by sponsoring a blogburst, with links to a number of thoughtful posts dealing with the future of Judaism. In putting together my own thoughts on the subject, I found it appropriate that Ha'aretz would today have an article on the Inca Jews, Peruvians who converted to Judaism and immigrated to a West Bank settlement.

I say this because I think it possible that the future of Judaism could involve a return to the missionary faith that it was during the first millennium of the common era. Edelstein himself has speculated on this possibility. The key for me is Israel's existence and the need felt especially by the more conservative elements of society to keep the population growing in relation to that of the Muslims in the area. At the same time, as I noted in my Morocco travels, many people in the developing world sacrifice everything to move to industrialized nations for economic reasons, and in the case of Moroccan Jews, Israel is part of the developing world.

So let's just say that, since history has seen people convert to a new religion for economic reasons, you have a potential solution to Israel's population issues, one which is especially likely to be pursued if the Arab-Israeli conflict continues unabated and the settler movement finds itself in need of more recruits. I suspect that such missionary work would be undertaken largely by the orthodox, who have in the case of the Inca Jews, also known as the B'Nai Moshe, shown a willingness to accept converts. (Article like this actually cause me to suspect the orthodox leaders had thought of exactly the points I am making here.

Such converts could easily tip Israel toward a more conservative path even as they face likely social discrimination and carry with them certain traditional practices from their homelands. If western Judaism tilts in a Reform direction, that could have serious implications for the identification between Israeli Jews and the Diaspora, which of course affects American policy towards Israel, as well. In addition, the migrants would probably compete with Palestinians and Israeli Arabs on the low-wage job market, making the economic situation in the Occupied Territories even worse than it already is.

How likely is this path? Historians can be terrible at predicting the future. This future, however, is in the interests of several parties with the power to make it happen. If so, it will be the greatest change to overcome Judaism in centuries.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Worst Dictators

Jonathan Edelstein highlights Parade's list of ten worst dictators. Like all such lists, there is room for controversy. Edelstein notes Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov as a significant omission. I'd also suggest Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Libya's Moammar Qadhafi as worthy of consideration. At the same time, however, it's unclear whether Crown Prince Abdullah should get pegged for all the repression done under the House of Saud, or whether Mugabe, while undoubtedly not a nice fellow, is really top ten worthy considering that in Zimbabwe, unlike Syria, you have an opposition press to silence.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Fissile Material (Possibly Retracted)

Matthew Yglesias highlights another reason why Bush doesn't have the edge with me when it comes to national security:

"Readers may recall that about a month ago I was dumbfounded by reports that the Bush administration was scuttling the verification component of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. The Treaty would, if properly enforced, damage US interests not at all while making it harder for terrorists and rogue states to acquire nuclear weapons. The administration's official line on why they'd done this -- that it was too expensive -- seemed to seriously call into question their sanity. Verification may be expensive, but it could hardly be too expensive to reduce the single greatest security threat facing the nation.

"The current issue of the Economist has a seriously buried lede explaining that the main motivation was, in fact, 'the worries of Israel and Pakistan, two allies that want to keep the option of adding to their stockpiles.' We scuttled a treaty that will keep bombs out of the hands of terrorists so that Israel and Pakistan (!) can build bigger arsenals? Israel and Pakistan! The same Pakistan whose chief nuclear scientist was operating a global proliferation market. The same Pakistan whose intelligence services built the Taliban and nurtured al-Qaeda in its early days. The same Pakistan whose military runs terrorist training camps. That Pakistan? Apparently so."

The actual Economist article lists other factors behind the decision, as well, but the fact Israel's and Pakistan's interests would even come up is ridiculous.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias retracts the above post.

UPDATE: Or maybe he doesn't.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf al-Thaqafi

Sepoy has found an editorial cartoon suggesting the U.S. clone al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf al-Thaqafi, who served the Umayyad caliphs Abd al-Malik and al-Walid I as governor in Iraq. Al-Hajjaj arrived on the scene following a civil war in which the tribes of the garrison towns Basra and Kufa had exercised a great deal of independence, and his reputation for harshness stems in large part from his trampling over tribal independence. At some point I need to post some excerpts from the speech he gave when he took over the governorship. I'll let you click on through for the rest, with the minor correction that al-Hajjaj was beseiging Abdullah b. az-Zubayr in Mecca, not Kharijites.

Trolls Win

Regretably but understandably, Matthew Yglesias has shut down comments on his blog. Some of the most interesting exchanges of ideas I've participated in have been on his threads, and I hope he finds a way to bring them back soon. Al-Muhajabah has also been afflicted by foul on-line miscreants.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Tangier Waterfront

Allawi and the Shi'ites

Did anyone else notice this:

"On Tuesday, the same day that Dr. Allawi abruptly canceled a peace deal struck with the Mahdi Army, he met with a group of more than 300 prominent leaders from Sadr City and asked them to withdrawal their support from the militia. As an inducement, he offered some $300 million in reconstruction projects for the neighborhood.

"The meeting ended inconclusively, according to tribal sheiks who were there, but the prospect of millions of dollars in aid set off excited discussions throughout the area. Sadr City, a vast and impoverished area of Baghdad, has as many as three million people."

The fact that a peace deal struck in such spectacular fashion has now been cancelled would seem newsworthy, even during a political party's national convention. Also interesting to me, however, is that Allawi is apparently doing here what he is doing in Falluja. The Sadr City leaders, however, seem pessimistic about his overall strategy toward the Sadrists, and felt like a settled issue has now been reopened without cause.

There are several ways of looking at this. One, of course, is that Muqtada Sadr simply cannot be trusted, so working to undermine him is the only option. If you think he is serious about participating in the democratic process, then you might want to just have some faith in the ballot box when the alternative is possibly reigniting a rebellion against you. However, we also need to look ahead to the manner in which an Iraqi election might be conducted. Tribal leaders maintain influence through mediating among their followers and between their followers and political powers outside the tribe, and by distributing wealth in shows of generosity. Allawi is probably trying to buy their loyalty, knowing what has happened in places like Oman where people often look to tribal shaykhs to tell them how to vote. Whether such a strategy would even be appropriate in the urban shantytown setting of Sadr City I have no idea.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Bush's Speech

Well, I've met a few Palestinians, and all seemed to feel that democracy was within their reach regardless of who ruled Iraq. And as for women seeing that they can have equal rights, they can see that from Syria, and earlier could in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Stuff like that aside, I agree with the core of President Bush's vision for a Democratic Middle East, I just have grave doubts he can bring it about.

UPDATE: Just to clarify the above, I don't think Syria and Ba'athist Iraq represent free societies. That would be totally ridiculous. However, President Bush is again using clever rhetoric to conflate secular dictatorships with Islamic radicalism. On issues like women's rights, such systems are polar opposites, and Iraq and Syria were both home to equal opportunity for women long before Bush showed up.

The Israel Issue

One theme of the Republican National Convention, being advanced by Rudi Giuliani right now on my TV and Tom DeLay in these comments, is that the American and Israeli wars on terror are identical. If they actually meant this, the policy shift would be quite remarkable - you'd presumably see us invading Syria, Lebanon, and the Occupied Territories or something. The fact no one believes such action is imminent highlights the fact the administration doesn't believe that and is just playing for the votes of pro-Likud Jews in midwestern swing states like Wisconsin. (Milwaukee has a large Jewish population, for example.)

Peace in Falluja?

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has reached an agreement with Falluja notables for governing and rebuilding the city. The subtext here is buying certain leaders with cash, which as I have suggested is something we should really consider in Iraq, since that's worked to an extent in the much more difficult terrain of Afghanistan. Here, Allawi has promised $50 million in development aid. Political power in Arab tribes is based off distributing wealth, and governments have historically manipulated the situation by choosing who gets the wealth to distribute. I don't know the details of how this agreement will operate, but I suspect the tribal leaders Allawi negotiated with will play a key role in distributing the aid.

UPDATE: Of course I would dearly like to know how this air strike plays into the above situation.

Religious Rule in Afghanistan

Two interesting stories are found in today's RFE-RL report. The head of Afghanistan's Supreme Court has called for the disqualification and arrest of Presidential candidate Abd al-Latif Pedram for allegedly insulting Islam. Meanwhile, an American citizen could face up to 15 years in prison for homosexuality. Somehow Laura Bush forgot to mention these sorts of things when she mentioned the country.

Job Opportunity

The University of Wisconsin - Madison Middle East Studies Program Project Assistant is currently looking for a Jedi Knight to assist with the administration of a Title VI-A grant. Primary duties will include waving your hand in front of various staff and administration from the UW-Madison campus and U.S. Department of Education, planting suggestions like "You don't need to see any more documentation" and "Everything here seems to be in order." Telekinetic ablities are not necessary, but would be useful for setting up rooms for certain activities. Please e-mail me to apply.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Al-Khansa

Women looking for a magazine to read might want to check out al-Khansa. Or maybe they won't. I guess it depends on your ideal lifestyle.

Arabs for Bush

Abu Aardvark has some interesting evidence that many Arabs see Kerry as potentially worse than Bush from their perspective:

"Kerry's decision to wage a hawkish campaign emphasizing a better, smarter, tougher war on terror worries a lot of Arabs and Muslims. Arab and Muslim moderates worry that Kerry will end up being tougher than Bush, and just haven't seen very much from him to reassure them. Michael Moore's Saudi-bashing (and Kerry's 'tough on Saudi' position) can sound like more general Arab bashing to many Arab ears. And radicals are pretty happy with Bush's policies, which have inflamed anti-American sentiment and bogged US forces down in Iraq."

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Good and Bad

That describes my day. I spent my morning contemplating a particularly thorny knot in the paperwork to activate our Title VI-A grant, then in the afternoon sat outside on this amazingly pleasant day reading Abu Zakaria Yazid b. Muhammad al-Azdi's History of Mosul. During all this, however, I thought of an interesting question:





Free polls from Pollhost.com
Which is more annoying?

University bureaucracy
People who think "Abu" and "Abdul" are separable name components

  



Central Asian Islam

This post on religion and the state in Central Asia during the 20th century is vintage Edelstein. Be sure to check it out.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Random Analogies

While reading this Unmedia post about the semi-retirement of Steven den Beste, it occurred to me that the Reichenbach Falls analogy might also apply to another reluctantly famous blogger who, despite her dreams of killing off her valuable web site, has posted a new open thread.

Barry Bonds

Ken Rosenthal explains why Barry Bonds should be this year's NL MVP. From the few times when I've seen the Giants play, I have to agree. Even aside from the stats, there's the effect he has on the game and the way other teams pull themselves way out of whack trying to account for him. One can only imagine his numbers he he were handled the same way as Albert Pujols or Scott Rolen.

Inevitably, of course, Rosenthal also mentions the possible BALCO connection, and how accusations of steroid use might taint his legacy. I have a question, however. How much can a player really be helped by that? My understanding is that steroids mainly enhance strength. Do they really have that much impact on hand-eye coordination and other key aspects of Bonds's game?

This is not to say that such steroid use, if real, should be tolerated. I just don't think what we're seeing could be nothing more than the creation of a few chemicals.

UPDATE: In the game I saw last night, Bonds hit the second and third longest home runs in Turner Field history in the same night. Steroids could make the ball go farther, but do they help him actually hit it?

Afghanistan's Voter Registration

Pak Tribune has an article on how messed up Afghanistan's voter registration situation is. Apparently registration cards are now considered an investment worth at least $100. In one area, the number of people registered to vote is about 250% of the population. This is not a promising situation.

Lebanese Presidency

As Jonathan Edelstein notes in comments, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri has decided to support another term for Lahoud after "being summoned" to Damascus. One should not expect Lebanon to break free of Syria on its own at this stage - Syria is too powerful and has too many ways to pull strings in the country. Still, I sense the tide of Lebanese national feeling may be slowly simmering.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

More Fox

FOX News military analyst Bill Cowan (sp?) just gave an analysis of Afghanistan which is almost exactly what I've been saying for weeks.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Watching FOXNews.

I watched some FOXNews earlier today, and it was rather distressing. The topic was Najaf. I didn't catch the name of the guest, but he kept claiming just matter-of-factly that all Muqtada Sadr's actions were dictated by Iran, a perspective radical enough that the host should have at least enquired about it rather than treat him the same way networks treat their designated experts. Since it was a conservative talk show, however, you can defend it as an opinion piece. However, while he was speaking, the little information blips at the bottom of the screen talked about the Najaf fighting, and said things like the U.S. was fighting several thousand "terrorists" in Najaf. Huh? Granted, Muqtada Sadr isn't a nice guy, but can't we at least distinguish between "terrorists" and "armed militias?" That's just downright misleading. Those who don't see the extend to which this network promotes propaganda from a certain political perspective need to have their heads examined.

Evil

I hate evil.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Chellah Mosque

This, good readers, is the ruined mosque in the Chellah of Rabat, as originally described here. The white buildings in the background of the mausoleums of three walis, or "friends of God." Not visible in this picture is the pool with the sacred eels, which is right outside the largest of the three mausoleums.

Failure's Price?

Al-Jazeera has some disturbing coverage from the site of Muqtada Sadr's court of justice:

"Police on Friday took reporters to a room that had been used as a courthouse, about 200 metres from the Imam Ali shrine, where at least 15 bloated, blackened corpses lay covered in flies.

"'We entered the building which was being used as Muqtada al-Sadr's court and we discovered in the basement a large number of bodies of police and ordinary civilians,' said the deputy head of the Najaf police, General Amr Hamza al-Daami.

"'Some were executed, others were mutilated and others were burned.'"

Building Democracy

In the aftermath of the Najaf peace deal, Matthew Yglesias is feeling rather helpless in looking at Iraq and Iran. What we may be seeing here is the sheer difficulty of trying to build democracy by force of arms. Military power can create situations in which democracy can grow, but that alone is not enough to do the job, even in cases like Iraq where I'm sure most people would like a true democracy to develop. This is why I'm less concerned about our possible pulling out of the country than I used to be. There are other armed groups that can create stability, though terrorism will likely be a problem for some time. The trick is to get as many of these groups on the same page as possible so that they will be working primarily to promote stability in areas where they are strong rather than fighting each other for control. Not all such groups are reachable - Muqtada Sadr may not be - but places like Colombia manage to pull off democratic elections despite an ongoing civil war. Furthermore, while we may not like all the groups who would participate in the process, sometimes we need to suck it up and have faith in the ballot box as an intrument of human governance. As Odo said in a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, "One of the dangers of giving people freedom of choice is that sometimes they make the wrong choice." All of this, however, depends more on diplomatic skill - including "diplomatic skill" of the rather unsavory kind we used to hold together the Afghan warlords in the run-up to our war against the Taliban. However, we have little room to manuever diplomatically given our current force posture in the country and our unpopularity with much of the population. This wouldn't matter so much if we could just forcibly control all Iraq, but we can't do that either. And this is the root of our present quandary.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Texts

Continuing my break from dissertation work, I've been flipping around to random sections in al-Masudi's Meadows of Gold. One short paragraph clearly dealt with the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, placing him between "Qlaudis" and "Titish" and saying that in his days many Christians were killed in Rome, including Paulus and Petrus. The thing was, the text kept calling the emperor "Tezun." I couldn't figure out how they got that until I glanced at a footnote and saw that in some texts it was written as "Nerun." Yeah, I like those texts better.

R & R

As the academic year starts, I want to suggest that everyone remember to relax!

Religious Leaders Oppose Lahoud

Christian, Druze and Muslim religious leaders in Lebanon are putting up an united front against plans to allow Emile Lahoud, Lebanon's Syria-backed President, to seek a second term. Such shows of unity are all too rare in Lebanon's troubled history, and may indicate that if Syria were to pull out, the country would not descend back into civil war as some fear.

Sistani's Return

A long time ago, I read something about Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani reading up on Gandhi in case it should become necessary during the course of the occupation. I wonder if what we're seeing now in Najaf is the result. Juan Cole is, naturally, covering these developments very well. I am shocked, however, that our allies the Iraqi police are shooting peaceful protestors. This may be a blip to American audiences, but will loom large in Iraqi memories of the events and darken the memory of all those institutions which Americans have died to erect in that country.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Science and History

At Cliopatra, Oscar Chamberlain asks why we don't teach more scientific history. I think there are two main reasons for this. One is that for historians, the application of a scientific principle is generally more important than the science itself, and there is usually a lag time while the new scientific discovery is applied in new technology that affects people's everyday lives. It is more important that students know when the TV became a household object and how that effected our culture and politics than they learn about all the technology that went into it.

The other issue is that to do a really solid job of showing scientific history, you actually have to understand the scientific principles people are working with. The semester I got to teach my own class, I did a lecture on Islamic science, and it was the most intellectually challenging to put together simply because of all the complexity in explaining a scientific principle even in general terms, and then providing historical significane in terms of what changed as a result of that discovery. Few of us want to say that Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity and then have students not know anything about it any more than we would want them to memorize which general won which battle in a random war.

Despite these issues, I think the integration of an awareness of science and technology into our understanding of history is a crucial development in the field, and I try to include it whenever possible. Chamberlain is right that this stuff often has a greater impact on a greater number than wars or political movements. One reason my dream job would allow me to teach a world history survey is that I see that as the best way to examine these developments in a professional context. Today I took a day off from my dissertation to pore over the volume of The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life dealing with the ancient world. This work is arranged not by region, but by category, so instead of having stuff like marriage and food as subheadings under Greece, you have a broad category called "Family Life" that talks about all these ancient civilizations. While this approach does have weaknesses, it does bring out some interesting points, and in fact, most of the key developments one can see across regions, such as the gradual replacement of water with overland shipping, are the result of scientific progress.

Al-Jazeera on Bush

Angry Arab notes that al-Jazeera has aired over 500 hours of Bush speeches since September 11. When I was in Morocco, I saw one, and it was just Bush speaking, dubbed into Modern Standard Arabic with no commentary. So do Arabs oppose American foreign policy because of the Arab media, or because they can hear for themselves what President Bush says and decide that it rings hollow?

Incidentally, the image of President Bush speaking fluent formal Arabic is really weird.

Of Mice and Movies

"But there are no cats in America
And the streets are paved with cheese
Oh there are no cats in America
So set your mind at ease"

This song has been running through my head all morning. In tracking it down, I discovered I had melded together memories of two great films from the 1980's, An American Tail and The Great Mouse Detective. The latter was my favorite, and I actually purchased the novelization, which I see is now out of print, as is the Eve Titus novel which introduced the character. Truly our culture is in serious decline when people can no longer appreciate the adventures of the great Basil of Baker Street!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

al-Huthi's Rebellion

You might not have heard about the revolt of Hussein Badreddine al-Huthi, and Zaydi Shi'ite preacher who for over two months has been engaged in a military conflict against the Yemeni government. Aside from the daily body count, details are hard to come by, but he apparently has support in the mountainous north of Yemen, which only recently was governed as a Zaydi Imamate. The Lebanon Daily Star has one write-up of the situation, which carries the warning that if Yemen becomes a failed state, it will become a significant base for al-Qaeda.

Although al-Jazeera reports that the government controls his major bases, as in other guerrilla conflicts attacks and ambushes drag on. In fact, al-Huthi's anti-American message may be drawing more support, as the Yemen Times reports that many tribal leaders have renounced their commitment to fight him and Yemen's President, Ali Abdullah Saleh is distancing himself rhetorically from the United States.

Developing...

Butler's Column

Lots of conservatives are recommending this column by an officer in Iraq. Mr. Butler sounds like a good, thoughtful, heroic patriot, and I suspect we'd probably get along in real life. Furthermore, his voice is important - unlike the vast majority of people who comment on this stuff, he's actually risking his life for the cause at hand.

At the same time, however, I don't see how he has any special qualifications for the overall strategic situation, and in fact he admits he doesn't. And that, to me, is where the problem with the Iraq war currently lies. He invokes the line about "no attacks on American soil since 9-11," which ignores the fact there were no attacks on American soil before 9-11 either, and that threats requiring terror alerts continue just as before. Meanwhile, our enemies are striking from Madrid to Bali, regardless of what's happening in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I do not dispute that removing Saddam from power was a good thing, nor do I dispute what Butler says about the danger of losing the fight against the forces which have risen in Saddam's wake. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that these issues are more complicated than just "finishing the job." War, however profoundly terrible, is a tool to achieve policy options. It was the proper tool for eliminating Saddam. Whether it is the best tool for dealing with all these militias is a question I don't think has been seriously debated. And until that debate happens, while I may support the missions of soldiers like Butler, I also worry that many of them may not be the best tool to serve the cause for which they fight. And that is why we have the right to criticize the President during wartime.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Boycott Threatened in Afghanistan

More Afghanistan news as Pak Tribune reports that the 17 opposition candidates in Afghanistan's Presidential election are threatening to boycott the vote if Hamid Karzai does not resign. This is to prevent him from abusing his position to advance his own campaign. I'm not sure who takes over if Karzai were to step down, but in a society such as that of Afghanistan where personal ties count for more than formal institutions, I doubt it will have much impact on Karzai's ability to rig whatever he wants.

Ahmad Zia Mas'ud

Hamid Karzai's choice to replace Muhammad Fahim on his Presidential ticket has mastered the art of not answering questions. Incidentally, has anyone else noticed that when people raise issues like warlords forcing people to vote a certain way, figures connected with the Afghan Transitional Administration begin casting the issue as one of perfection vs. imperfection?

Incidentally, I don't want to suggest that a thoroughly corrupt election is not an improvement over civil war. It is, however, a long way from the democracy that President Bush is campaigning on.

Crucial Harry Potter News

Kabul Olympians

Far be it from me to interrupt the glee that there is now an Afghan Olympic team, but check out these athlete profiles. This article basically exemplified the whole reconstruction project as seen through the lens of the media, right down to where the reporter is based.