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.


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


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.


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.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Out of Town

I'm out of town for the weekend. Don't expect much from me until Sunday night.

Scene from Ceuta

I never blogged about my day in the Spanish North African enclave of Ceuta, but sometimes a picture can do more than words:

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Technological Progress

I believe, at long last, this new service will allow for the dramatic photographic evidence of this episode in my Moroccan travelogue:

The Qur'an

Sepoy of Chapati Mystery has a post about the Qur'an which in the context of a discussion about a new translation addresses a lot of key points about understanding Islam's holy text. One of these is the importance of context. It is significant that when people like me who teach Islamic history are introducing the basics of Islam to students, we often have them read a biography of Muhammad rather than the Qur'an. It would be like reading the Old Testament prophets without knowing what Egypt, Moab, Israel, and other terms actually refer to, or perhaps listening to John Kerry's acceptance speech with no knowledge of current events whatsoever. In Muslim tradition, study of the Qur'an has always begun with context, and for someone to open it up and start reading it like you would the U.S. Constitution is a sure path to error.

The other thing he mentions is orality. I don't have as much to say on this point, but I can testify to how much the Qur'an forms an audio presence in places I've been. In Jordan, the Qur'an would frequently be playing on intercity busses. Frederick Denny in his Islam and the Muslim Community talked about the importance of Qur'an reading, with stories of a competition in Indonesia. Muslim tradition contains stories of people - most notably Umar Ibn al-Khattab, I think - who were converted to Islam by the beauty and majesty of its words heard aloud, and today reading the Qur'an orally remains an important sacred art in the Islamic world.

Prejudice Against Islam

From a bunch of different sources, including Matt Bruce and Eugene Volokh, I've discovered Bjorn Staerk's essay against anti-Islamic bigotry. This is all stuff that's worth repeating.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Travels in Afghanistan

Oxblog has some good stuff from the area around Mazar-e Sharif. Those interested in either the situation in Afghanistan or remote parts of the world in general will definitely want to check it out. Here's a cut:

"As we drove up toward the gleaming peaks, we had to stop a couple times to remove the dust filters from our straining vehicles and have them blown out by a roadside vendor with a compressed air canister. The air grew cold, and patches of snow began to appear at the roadside. At the top of a series of steep switchbacks, we drove into our first avalanche gallery -- a length of road roofed over so it won't be blocked by falling snow. These long galleries are dark to begin with, and the dust kicked up inside them swirls around without ever quite settling... except in the flooded ones, where the snowmelt pours in overhead like a carwash and fills the deep gouges in the road surface. Our drivers sped blindly through the dust clouds and subterranean rivers, dodging the sluggish, wheezing oil trucks and passenger-packed Toyota Corollas, sending up great plumes of muddy water as our vehicles plowed through flooded nine-inch potholes. It was like a particularly manic amusement park ride, with the amusement somewhat tempered by mortal fear."

The U.S. and Uzbekistan

Just a few weeks ago, liberals lauded the State Department's decision to freeze $18 million of aid to Uzbekistan. However, it now looks like that was just a radar blip in overall administration policy. At least one senior analyst believes that Uzbekistan will host some of the American forces being redeployed under President Bush's new plans. At the same time, Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced we would be giving Uzbekistan an additional $21 million in military aid. We can talk about whether this is the right policy, but at least in Central Asia, democracy promotion is clearly not the Bush administration's top priority.

Babylon 5 News

While trying to lure a friend into Babylon 5 fandom, I discovered that they are making a movie called Babylon 5: The Memory of Shadows. Sadly, I also discovered that Richard Biggs (Dr. Franklin) passed away last May.

Monday, August 16, 2004

The Price of Canada

According to this, the British gave John Cabot 10 pounds sterling for "discovering" Canada.

Turkmenbashi's Lake

Via The Argus, I find that Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov might be causing major damage to regional water systems by his plans for a giant artificial lake. Water for this project would come from the Amu Darya River, which must serve the water needs of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan as well as Turkmenistan. Nathan Hamm is quite right that water represents a significant security issue for Central Asia. You can read more here.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Scott Peterson

Ideofact attempts to defend the newsworthyness of the Scott Peterson trial. In doing so, however, he leaves out the most important mystery of the whole affair:

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Why Fight Sadr?

Matthew Yglesias raises an interesting question:

"Is there any conceivable reason to believe that Muqtada al-Sadr is the greatest threat to the United States at the present moment? Is it not the case that his connections to America's primary enemies are, at best, tertiary (i.e., he gets some support from some elements in the Iranian government and some elements [possibly the same ones, possibly others] have sometimes turned a blind eye to al-Qaeda activities), and more likely provoked by the US campaign against him, than forestalled by it? If the answers are, as I think they are, "no," and "yes" respectively than why is the plurality of American national security resources currently dedicated to fighting him?"

I really haven't understood why we're going after Muqtada Sadr right now. He wasn't doing much except inciting opposition to the Allawi government, and the best way to counter that, I think, would be simply to make the Allawi government as effective as possible. When Sadr's charges against Allawi are that he's a puppet for the Americans who still rule the country, then sending the American military against him seems counter-productive. The general consensus seems to be that Sadr wouldn't win an election, so why not just keep trying to push the country toward that and then let him lose?

End of VOA Uzbekistan

In a widely criticized move, Voice of America has ended Uzbek radio broadcasts. Officials cite technical and financial constraints for this, but it definitely fits into the broader picture frequently painted by Abu Aardvark about how the Bush administration is shiftng our foreign broadcasting services in a rather problematic direction. One point made in the article is the use of information about the size of the listening audience and how that consideration shouldn't be as relevant in Central Asia. That made me wonder if there's a level of analysis here that people aren't pursuing? What sort of people has Bush appointed to head these efforts? Are they perhaps drawn from an American business background, and this unfamiliar with the issues related to American broadcasting efforts in other regions of the world? I don't know, but stories like this make me wonder.

Kunyas, etc.

Ralph Luker wants to know what a kunya is. In the Arabic naming system, a kunya is an honorific which takes the form "father of," though it need not refer to a literal son. "Father" in Arabic is "Ab," which with the nominative case ending gives you "Abu." In addition to Abu Aardvark, famoud kunyas today include Abu Ala for Ahmed Qurei, Abu Mazen for Mahmud Abbas, and the "Abu Musab" of Abu Musab Zarqawi. This means that, contrary to popular perception, "Abu" is not a first name, and should never be used in isolation. In fact, in Arabic, the "u" would change according to case. "I love Abu Aardvark" would be "Uhibb Aba Aardvark," while "Son of Abu Aardvark" would be "Ibn Abi Aardvark."You can find more here.

As I may have mentioned before, the other common error people make regarding the Arabic onomasticon is their understand of compound names involving "Abd." "Abd" in Arabic means slave or servant. "Abdullah" is technically written "Abd Allah" and means "Servant of God." Because God has 99 names, there are a lot of ways to say that, such as "Abd al-Haqq" (Servant of Truth) or "Abd al-Rahman" (Servant of the Merciful). With the nominative case ending, you get "Abdu 'l-Rahman," which people hear as "Abdul Rahman," thus giving rise to the belief that "Abdul" is a common Arabic name. It isn't, being merely the word for servant followed by the definite article, a really odd thing to call someone.

UPDATE: Abu Aardvark recommends pronouncing his name in Jordanian dialect.

Arab Hospitality

I was going to include this anecdote in the post below, but my connection was really slow for some reason and I decided to just get it done. It is quoted from Volume XXVIII of the SUNY translation of at-Tabari's History, entitled "Abbasid Authority Affirmed," translated by Jane Dammen McAuliffe:

"According to...Ibn Jashib al-Lihbi, 'I stayed with the Banu Rasib in the days of Ibn Mu'awiyah, and one day a young man from there asked me my name. One of the elders slapped him saying, 'What business is it of yours?' Then he looked at an old man who was sitting in front of him and said, 'Do you see this old man? His father settled with us in the days of al-Hajjaj and remained until this son of his was born. That young man has now matured and reached this age, and, by God, to this day we know neither his name, nor his father's name, nor who his people are."

Friday, August 13, 2004

Totten in Tunisia

Those of you who liked my Morocco blogging may want to check out Michael Totten on Tunisia. Here is his account of the Sahara. You can find his other travel posts by following the previous/next links at the top. I would, however, be cautious about making broad conclusions about Arab views of the U.S. from Arab hospitality, as Arabs generally distinguish between individuals and government policies much better than Americans do. I'm also not convinced he was asked to tea specifically because he was an American as opposed to a guest, despite what the Germans told him. The same thing would probably have happened had he been Russian, though American girls are especially a target of young males seeking a bit of action. Another possibility is that Americans were rare enough to be a subject of curiosity, as tourism in North Africa is overwhelmingly from Europe.

Iraqi Soccer Victory

Politics aside, we can all be happy about this, unless of course you happen to be a Portugal fan. But why were there only 200 fans?

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Random Thoughts of a Dissertator

Does the early Abbasid leader Abu Muslim remind anyone else of Morden from Babylon 5? "And what do you want, Ali b. Juday? Nasr killed your father you know. Let us help you get revenge."

Incidentally, you know you're a grad student in history when you set your books down to check out and a visible cloud of dust emerges from one of them.


Due to the wonder of the Internet, we can all benefit from the wisdom of Saparmurat Niyazov by reading his Ruhnama. (Via Turkmenbashi.)

Najaf and Basra

The news from Basra during this Najaf crisis shows why we can't simply regard the problems of Iraq as an insurgency by a fixed number of fighters. This story, for example, mentions that some soldiers currently serving with the official Iraqi forces may go over to Muqtada Sadr if the Americans in Najaf aren't replaced with Iraqis.

Vote Early, Vote Often

Hamid Karzai has spoken out about the possibility some people could vote multiple times in Afghanistan's Presidential election:

"If Afghans have two registration cards and if they would like to vote twice, well, welcome. This is an exercise in democracy. Let them exercise it twice. But it will not have an impact on the elections. If somebody gives me three cards, I will take it and will go and vote. But my choice in voting will be the same. We are beginning an exercise. We cannot be perfect."

Umm, ok. He did sort of back off those sentiments later.

Islamic Art

Anyone interested in seeing Islamic art? The BBC has some pictures from an exhibit in London. Angry Arab has been posting some as well, usually at the end of every day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Women's Work

Israel generally does better than the U.S. at issues related to women in the military, but isn't assigning laundry duties to "female recruits" just a bit old-fasioned?

Separatism in Basra

For ages, I have been speaking out strongly against the idea that Iraq would break into three countries. I still think this unlikely. However, for the first time, there are reports of a separatist movement in the south:

"Basra Deputy Governor Salam Uda al-Maliki has said he is to announce the separation of some Iraqi southern governorates from the central Baghdad government.

"Informed sources told Aljazeera that al-Maliki said the breakaway province would include Basra, Misan and Dhi Qar governorates. He also wants to shut Basra's port and in effect stop oil exports.

"Al-Maliki said the decision was taken because the Iraqi interim government was 'responsible for the Najaf clashes.'"

This is clearly not, however, the "ethnic" nationalism many feared. It actually seems to stem from the desire of local politicians to augment their own power and that of their regions. However, if it proceeds, it could still be bloody.

UPDATE: Salam Uda al-Maliki has just survived an assassination attempt.

Dahlan's Deadline

Some of you may remember Muhammad Dahlan's August 10 deadline for Arafat to implement reforms in the Palestinian Authority. The deadline has now passed without the massive protests promised. Scattered media reports indicated Dahlan and Arafat talked on the phone and agreed to settle their differences. Palestinian politics at work...

Iraqi Civil War?

Actually, the final comment in the post below might be too optimistic. Stories like this one make me wonder if we might already be seeing a civil war bewteen Iraqis based on their attitude toward the American presence. Violence in the country increasingly seems to be between anti-occupation and pro-occupation forces, and even episodes such as the terrorist attack last summer that killed Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim in Najaf seem to fit the same mold.

UPDATE: Incidentally, this article provides a solid perspective of why many Iraqis don't but into the idea of the transfer of sovereignty.

Mahdi Army Training

I haven't commented much on the current Sadrist uprising in southern Iraq because it feels like a re-run. However, this article may highlight at least one new development, as the Army of the Mahdi receives training from former Republican Guard types from Falluja. This shows the further development of the collaboration between various insurgent elements first noted last spring. In addition, it's clearly happening right under the nose of the intermin Iraqi government, which shows just how much they can control what's going on. The silver lining is that this may create grounds for political cooperation between the groups and lessen the chances of an Iraqi civil war.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Brewers TV

You can tell the Milwaukee Brewers are not one of the signature franchises for major league baseball. Their announcers are terrible. Saying their pitcher would be better if he walked more batters. Showing a flashback near the end of an at-bat with runners on base. Claiming John Smoltz had proven himself a great closer year after year. And we're still in the 1st inning.

Time Travel

If this headline is accurate, then the Greeks have access to time travel technology.

Captain Kirk Returns

It looks like William Shatner will definitely reprise his role as Kirk on Star Trek: Enterprise this season. As usual, I'm withholding judgement, as the powers that be convinced me last season that sometimes they actually know what they are doing. Still, this is not the sort of crutch a truly vigorous TV show would lean on in early-season advertisements.

Taliban Split

RFE-RL reports that some fighters have broken away from the leadership of Mullah Omar and formed a new jihadist group based in the area of Qandahar. This is probably true, as a Taliban source admitted the group existed, but denied it was connected to the Taliban, and claimed in fact that they welcomed its formation. The new group is led by Mullah Sayyid Muhammad Akbar Agha, and says they believe that the Taliban have suffered from poor leadership.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Voter Education in Saudi Arabia

Gulf News reports that Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Rural and Municipal Affairs is preparing a voter education campaign leading up to the local elections scheduled to begin in November. This is a positive development showing someone at least is taking these seriously. Still, as a step toward democracy this is so insignificant it boggles the mind.

Speaking of Afghanistan

Over the weekend, two marines and their interpreter were killed in Ghazni province, while fighting broke out between two regional leaders in the west. The Kabul government has sent in some troops to quell the situation, but they are failing. Just another day in Afghanistan, which you can read about here.

Bush the Regular Guy

Near the end of an interesting post about his feelings for President Bush, Tim Young addresses an issue that has long frustrated me when arguing with Bush supporters:

"I've also heard a lot of people, mostly conservatives, claim that they'd affirmatively rather have a "ordinary man" in power. I happen to be of the view that just as I'd bristle at the thought that my surgeon didn't know any more about surgery than I or any ordinary person would, or that my mechanic wouldn't know any more about fixing cars than I or any ordinary person would, I wouldn't want someone in charge of government policy who neither knows nor cares to know about the workings of government than I do. Of course, a Bush supporter pushing this reason would have believe that Bush were 'just one of the guys,' which is a silly notion when one thinks about it at all. Regular guys aren't put on the boards of large corporations or given multiple companies to run into the ground."

Why this point is even controversial is beyond me. But then, I don't see Bush as a "straight shooter," either.

Al-Qaeda's Conflict Diamonds

New reports say al-Qaeda operatives made significant conflict diamond purchases before the September 11 attacks in order to have funding after a feared American assault on their financing. In doing so, they dealt directly with then-President Charles Taylor, who met with Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and others at his home in Monrovia. I've been watching this story for a long time, and was highly confused (1, 2) when President Bush didn't mention the War on Terror when he finally confronted Liberia last summer. During the summer of 2003, I did see part of a Senate hearing on Liberia, and only Russ Feingold seemed interested in the al-Qaeda connection. In a sense, this is a dead issue, as the Taylor regime has been removed, but it remains a curious episode in Bush's foreign policy.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Whither Afghanistan?

This article is the best analysis of Afghanistan's current political situation I have read in at least the last six months. It places the current situation in the context of Afghan society as a whole, rather than just the relatively westernized Kabul, and raises key questions like whether the high voter registration is a sign of true democracy taking root or regional leaders trying to maximize their own influence on the election. After all, does anyone really believe that warlords who suppress dissent in their own territories are willing to allow people to put whomever they want in charge of the country?

The issue of centralization vs. regionalism is also crucial. I had a bad feeling when it was decided to give Afghanistan a strong central government, something that has never worked there. The country Afghanistan most resembles is probably early Saudi Arabia, and for decades that kingdom was held together largely by forcibly cultivated relationships between the Saudis and regional tribal leaders. In Afghanistan, Karzai can barely muster the threat of military force, as the warlords have militias of their own. As near as I can tell, the country is held together only by corruption, as everyone wants a piece of the tax revenues and smuggling trade. Simply holding an election won't even begin to change that political dynamic - it will simply add another arena for conflict.

Iraqi Shi'ite Leadership

In another interesting post about Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's health, Juan Cole mentions that his likely successor would be Grand Ayatollah Ishaq Fayyad. Fayyad, like Sistani, opposed the doctrine of velayat-i faqih, or "rule of the jurist," as developed by Ayatollah Khomeini and followed by Iran, so that is good news. According to Cole, Fayyad was also the secretary to Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qasim al-Musawi al-Khoe'i, who was the chief Shi'ite leader from 1980-1992 and the father of the alim with the same surname whom Muqtada Sadr probably had assassinated in April 2003. A biography of al-Khoe'i is here. I can't find anything on Fayyad.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Sudan Stuff

TAPPED's Sam Rosenberg is looking at the quality of American media coverage of Sudan, in the middle of which he links to Ripple of Hope, a blog focused on the conflict. I think this crisis needs more attention than it's getting, even if there are no perfect options for stopping it. Americans know almost nothing about Africa, and that whole continent suffers a lot from the stereotype that its conflicts are all impossible to understand or rooted in some sort of ethnic animosity. If the media were more willing to talk about actual issues, it could create an environment in which people react more strongly to atrocities which take place there.

IWPR Goes to Africa

The excellent Institute for War and Peace Reporting is all set to open a bureau covering Angola, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. I rarely post on Africa, but it's an interesting place.

Sistani's Health and Sadr's Army

In the middle of a strong post discussing the fighting in Najaf and elsewhere, Juan Cole mentions that Sistani's alleged heart trouble was merely a ruse to get him out of Najaf:

"Al-Hayat reports that Sistani's reason for leaving at this juncture was to remove himself from the scene of the fighting and to lift the mantle of his authority from the Sadrist movement. It was alleged that his distance from Muqtada, always substantial, had widened further in recent weeks. Al-Hayat suspects that if Sistani has ceased trying to protect Muqtada, it could mean that a decision has been made to put an end to him.

"So, I think al-Zurufi and the Americans sat down and planned the crackdown on the Mahdi Army. (It may be that the caretaker government of Iyad Allawi and especially hardline Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib spurred al-Zurufi on.) I also think Muqtada sat down and planned out how to keep the Mahdi Army ensconced in Najaf (which is not their natural territory) despite the truce. Neither side had realistic expectations of the truce, or was sincerely committed to any sort of compromise that would be acceptable to the other side."

Friday, August 06, 2004

Climbing Mt. Fuji

My friend Rob Groves has climbed Mt. Fuji. Unlike me, he posts pictures. I may get around to that, but for right now things are busy as I work feverishly on my dissertation and learn the fine art of federal grant management.

UPDATE: Here's more.

Saudi Elections Delayed

Saudi Arabia, you may remember, is planning to have elections for half the seats in municipal councils. Originally these were scheduled for next month, but now they have been delayed until November so as not to conflict with Ramadan, which begins in October. Someone else will have to figure out that logic for me. The first question might be whether they would have realized when Ramadan was when they laid the original plans.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Sistani's Health

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is being treated for heart trouble. I doubt this is anything to worry about right away, but given his importance to Iraqi stability, it does make me a little nervous.

Saharawi Divorce

BBC has a report on the effects of Morocco's new family law in Western Sahara. I found it a fascinating read.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

No Surrender, No Retreat

This is great news. Kudos to Bulgaria for proposing it, the Bush administration for orchestrating it, and everyone who signed on.

Muqtada Sadr Update

According to Juan Cole, American military forces denied they were trying to arrest Muqtada Sadr on Monday, and said they just didn't know where they were. Like Cole, I find that plausible, and a little depressing.

Satloff on Morocco

Via Martin Kramer, I find that WINEP's Robert Satloff has some thoughts from his recent time in Morocco. Not unexpectedly given his political orientation, I have some disagreements with him, such as his thinly supported down-playing of anti-American sentiment in the country. I didn't have much personal experience with this, and many people had pictures of Bill Clinton hanging in shops and such as well as the king, but there was definitely opposition to American foreign policies regarding the Muslim world, which is what the polls are used as evidence for. At the same time, Satloff noticed the same thing I did about Moroccans tending to distance themselves from Middle East and oppose militant Islam, an important point to consider.

What I found bizarre, however, was Satloff's call at the end for the promotion of English education so as to combat Islamist elements in the "war of ideas." It is true very few people spoke English. Knowledge of French, however, was everywhere - it used to be one of the country's official languages. And despite this lack of English, Morocco is easily one of if not the most liberal countries in the Arab world. On the other hand, the Middle East, where knowledge of English is widespread, is where people show an ever higher level of anti-Americanism. (An amusing side note: Morocco's English-language university - al-Akhawayn - is funded by Saudi Arabia.)

Now maybe Satloff does have something to stand on here. It was my impression that French has made deeper inroads into Morocco than English has in Jordan, and while a friend from Oman tells me that English is almost the preferred language in the Gulf, the huge guest worker populations are a complicating factor in assessing cultural influences and I won't feel truly comfortable assessing it all until I've been there. So maybe Satloff feels that the deep French influence has contributed to making Morocco what it is today, and is simply calling for English promotion since the United States is English-speaking and not French speaking. If so, however, it seems odd to leave out a key piece of evidence supporting what he has to say.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Afghan Presidential Politics

This article on Massouda Jalal puts on a really positive tone. Just three years after the fall of the Taliban, a women is running for President of Afghanistan, and people are looking to her for change. Between the lines, however, there are problems. For one, the piece is based almost entirely in Kabul. No one disputes that the population of that city, patrolled by foreign peacekeepers, are a liberal bunch glad to be rid of the Taliban. However, the rest of the country is largely divided into fiefs governed by fundamentalist warlords who follow the central government only as long as they are basically left alone.

Where do these warlords fit into the Presidential race? The article drops a key sentence on this: "Many warlords are reported to be controlling votes from their regions to gain favor with the two top candidates: Karzai and Mohammad Yunos Qanuni." In other words, everything you read about, such as the high voter registration rate and and the election itself, is part of the same old Afghan political set-up as power players with militias and opium revenue try to get a bigger slice of the pie. Is it better than the Taliban? Sure. But we're a long way from democracy.

I hate to be pessimistic about all this, but there it is. And this will affect another Presidential election, as well. This October, President Bush will be able to talk about an election in Afghanistan returning to power the pro-American Hamid Karzai while pointing out sympathetic candidates like Massouda Jalal. The reality of what happens on the ground will go unnoticed as Republicans claim Iraq is on the same trajectory. And this ploy may well help Bush win four more years in the White House.

History Blogging

Greg Tracey announces that someone has created a history topic exchange in an attempt to promote the history blogosphere. It's starting small, but looks promising. Greg's blog, incidentally, is highly interesting in its own right, and has an emphasis on 20th century history.

Also, I don't know whether I've linked to this before, but there's also a "Medievalist Weblogs" list, including areas of interest and the frequency with which medieval content is posted.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Going After Sadr

This snuck up on me, but apparently we are again going after Muqtada Sadr. Given how things turned out last time, I'm not sure if this is wise.

Dahlan's Power Play

It seems increasingly clear that Muhammad Dahlan, whom I have been watching for a long time, is behind much of the anti-Arafat uprising in the Gaza Strip. Ha'aretz quotes him using some strong language against Arafat and issuing a deadline of August 10 before protests escalate. The Jerusalem Post reports that Dahlan is offering cash incentives to potential supporters in the West Bank. The article also states that pro-Arafat gunmen broke up a reformist meeting in Nablus. I continue to suspect that outside powers do have a hand in the uprising, as Israel and the U.S. would love to have a strong non-Hamas hand in Gaza before the Israeli withdrawal, and if successful, Dahlan could represent that hand.

Turkmenistan's Religious Rules

As the Moscow Times reports, Turkmenistan is implementing plans to make it easier for small religious minorities to practice their faith. The article indicates in a couple of places that this happened because of American pressure given Saparmurat Niyazov's desire for closer ties with the West. While this is only a small step, it is a positive development in a country that badly needs one.

Merit Pay, Student Evaluations

In response to this post, high school teacher Craig Barker e-mails the following:

"I want all schools to be rid of the dead wood, I also want risk takers to be protected from vindictive administrators or personal vendettas...Here's the problem I have with merit pay that has never been fully explained to me. I teach five classes a day, in the fall for the last three years, it's been three sections of freshman world history and two sections of AP U.S. History. I have a measurable test with the AP kids to know if they achieved as I had hoped, I have the AP test. But what about those world history kids? At the semester break, they will be shuffled to other world history teachers, and I will get two new classes worth as I also pick up my International Relations class. How exactly do we measure my achievement as a teacher. Two of my three subjects are in areas that draw the brightest and best of the talent pool. Do I get a monetary reward for teaching kids who likely didn't really need my help as much as a kid achieving at the middle of the percentile scale? And when the kids do take the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) test in their junior year, how do we know that it was my effort that put them over the top? How do we know I didn't damage them and another teacher is the one who helped them? There's no way of knowing and that is why I am distrustful of merit pay, no one has ever been able to explain to me how it would work in such a way that I would know it was my efforts."

On a somewhat related topic, Jonathan Dresner and Sharon Howard are discussing grade inflation and student evaluations. This quote from Dresner seemed especially insightful:

"One thought which didn't make it into the article is that student evaluations and student learning assessments both assume that learning is a short-term process, that a student can judge at the end of a semester what impact a teacher has had, and that what a student learns over a semester is best evaluated at the end of the semester. They also assume a sort of separability which is not entirely justified, either: students evaluate teachers in comparison, not in isolation, and students do not take one course at a time (and, by the way, there's no control group, and no attempt to openly discuss evaluation metrics, just a self-referential population making up their own scales). The most effective and realistic forms of assessment are going to be post-graduation tracking, long-term studies, carefully selected and analyzed qualitative and quantitative measures."

Interesting perspectives all around.


Remember when we were restoring all that electricity in Iraq? And when we stood up to Muqtada Sadr?

"For the second straight day on Sunday, angry crowds attacked the Electricity Office in downtown Najaf, protesting interruptions in the electricity supply that stretched to as many as 18 hours straight in recent days. The lack of electricity hurts local industry and agriculture, and leaves the population without air conditioning or fans at a time when highs are 50 C./ 122 F. Employees fled from the Electricity Office in fear of their lives, and were protected from attack by the Mahdi Army militiamen of Muqtada al-Sadr, who still patrol the Old City."

Via Juan Cole, who also talks about a political crisis in Amara.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

300 Wins

I'm watching the Gerg Maddux go for his 300th win right now, and the announcers keep talking about the possibility that no one will ever reach that mark again, with the possible exception of Tom Glavine. This strikes me as really pessimistic. 300 wins requires a player to average in the high teens in wins for a fairly long career. This is certainly rarer than it was in the days when pitchers got 30 decisions a year, but it still happens. I think Mark Mulder could conceivably pull it off, as might Mark Prior or Javier Vazquez. If you look at Maddux's career, he did have a few years with very high numbers of total decisions, but I suspect that if if those are reduced a bit, he'd still make it to 300 - after all, he has another couple of years left in his career. So while I think it will be rarer, and longevity will become a larger factor, we will see 300 wins again.