Friday, December 31, 2004


When I was in Morocco, I noticed that my comfort as a Westerner was far more important to many local authorities than their own people. At least one report suggests this is true in Thailand, as well, even in the face of tragedy:

"While foreign survivors of the ocean's onslaught were put up in an international school complete with beds, TVs and Internet connections, Thais from a devastated fishing village slept outside, many without blankets, burning wood to keep warm and keep mosquitos at bay.

"The locals said Friday that they are torn between wanting to help the foreigners, who are the lifeblood of the area's economy, and getting what they can from the relief effort.

"'No one came to help, we just helped each other out,' said 65-year-old Yokhin Chuaynui, whose home in Ban Nam Khem was destroyed. 'When injured Thais went to the hospital, if they weren't about to die they helped the Westerners first.'"

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Uzbek Elections

Observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States claimed Uzbekistan's elections were "free and open," evidence that election observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States should probably not be considered good election judges. I don't doubt that they were calm, as all the rigging took place when the opposition parties were banned from participating.

Mahdi Army and Gas

IWPR reports on the Mahdi Army's work organizing fuel distribution in Sadr City to prevent price gouging and ensure everyone has access. This is the sort of thing the American forces have been unable to do throughout much of the country because we simply don't have enough troops to effectively fight the insurgency and handle these sorts of day-to-day issues. This creates an opening through which a figure like Muqtada Sadr, whose political program is pretty marginal by Iraqi standards, can earn respect and a huge following.


If anyone reduced to searching via google lost a black and gray cat that likes to rub his head against people on the north side of Quincy, Illinois, an e-mail to me might put you closer to your goal, as he's taken a definite liking to our yard and our neighbors' tree. We're in the Berrian Park area, if that helps. The cat is really adorable.

Tsunami Tragedy

Plenty of other people are keeping us all up to speed on the tragedy in South Asia. Don't forget, however, that in the developing world an earthquake is the start of a disaster, and not a single event, as disease and other problems follow in it's wake. You might want to give these guys some change.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Travel in Islam

I've been taking an unplanned blogging break lately, but this post on travel in Islam caused me to snap out of it. I suffer from chronic wanderlust - often controlled, but never fully cured. I've also found a spiritual dimension to most trips I've taken for the past six years. As a student, I regard travel as important to my understanding of the world - talib, the Arabic for "student," literally means "seeker" and hearkens back to the days when students would literally wander the Middle East in search of the best teachers.

For those interested in a whole book on this issue, however, I can recommend Pilgrim by Leonard Biallas, one of the featured books on my sidebar. His lectures on the subject are the reason I'm so specific with the "six years" mentioned above.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Year-End Quote

"We all were sea-swallow'd, though some cast again,
And by that destiny to perform an act
Whereof what's past is prologue, what to come
In yours and my discharge."

-Shakespeare (The Tempest, Act II Scene 1)

Settler Resistance

Settler leaders have begun calling for civil disobedience to resist Prime Minister Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan. Bentsi Lieberman, head of the Yesha council, called withdrawal "an immoral decision and a breach of human rights. I'd rather not learn whether Lieberman thinks taking Palestinian land to build settlements is also an immoral human rights violation. These settlers' protests will probably affect many Israelis emotionally due to the tendency of people to sympathize with those of their own culture, but the withdrawal train is moving full speed ahead and I don't see this as having much impact in the long run.

Why Keep Tenure?

Because of this.

Turkmenistan Votes

RFE-RL has a special report on Turkmenistan's "elections.", in which not many people voted and most of those who did didn't care. That tends to happen when there are no opposition candidates in your totalitarian police state. According to Jonathan Edelstein, voters even got a free copy of the Rukhnama. I guess incentive programs just don't work anymore.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Syrian Redeployment

The prospect of a nuclear Iran may be making the most noise, but Syria has been producing the most concrete news for several months now. Yesterday they redeployed some of their forces in Lebanon, moving troops from the Beirut airport, and Hizbullah-dominated suburb, and somewhere in the country's north and placing them in the Bekaa Valley, disputed between Lebanon and Israel. The context is that Syria wants international acceptance of the relationship between Syria and Lebanon as one between two states regardless of UN resolutions that demand an end to foreign interference in Lebanon. Bilateral agreements between Syria and Syrian-dominated Lebanon call for Syria to move all forces in the Bekaa.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Atlas Mountains

This is a picture of the Atlas Mountains taken near the Cascades d'Ouzoud.

People vs. Warlords

IWPR has an article about people starting to stand up to the warlords in Afghanistan. That Afghans feel comfortable enough to protest property seizures and demand restitution is a hopeful sign that, against my earlier expectations, things in that country ultimately might work out. I'm still not calling it a democracy, but the elements are starting to come together for a thriving civil society even outside of Kabul that can ultimately fill with meaning the processes which have been created.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Missile Strike

Someone fired a missile at a camp for returning Kurds in Kirkuk, apparently hoping either to scare off Kurds trying to reclaim land they were forced from due to Ba'athist Arabization programs or just trying to incite violence. This is a new high for that area, but incidents occur all over the country, and the general trend is for them to keep getting worse.

Once in Royal David's City

This is an underrated Christmas carol.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Uzbekistan's Elections

More Middle Eastern Judaism

Juan Cole posts e-mails on Jews in Iraq and Iran during the first half of the 20th century.

Turkmenistan's Elections

This Sunday it will once again be time for Parliamentary elections in Turkmenistan. Unlike, say, American elections, Turkmen candidates don't need to waste time with a platform, because their leader is all-wise and all-knowing, and their only job is to serve him and implement his ideas. The OSCE hopes to send in a team to determine whether they need to monitor the election, but they have been denied visas. Turnout is expected to be low, as many people don't even realize there's going to be an election.

Apology Controversial

Palestinian reaction to Mahmud Abbas's apology to Kuwait appears mixed. While some see it as a necessary gesture, others are angered by what they claim is a sign of weakness toward a nation which expelled 400,000 of them following the First Persian Gulf War. Given what Abbas hopes to do regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it doesn't bode well that he's already being derided as weak over some words toward another Arab nation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Jung Personality Test

ENFJ - "Persuader". Outstanding leader of groups. Can be aggressive at helping others to be the best that they can be. 2.5% of total population.
Free Jung Personality Test (similar to Myers-Briggs)

The "extroverted" is different from my Myers-Briggs result, when I got this, but the percentage was 55%/45%, which for an Internet test is probably within some margin of error. The "Persuader" bit should come in handy for my teaching career.

UPDATE: Actually this Myers-Briggs INFJ explanation probably explains the introvert/extrovert thing pretty well. I am sociable, always getting to know people and genuinely interested in what they have to say. However, on lots of personal issues I take a while to really open up to people.

Schwyzer on Porn

Speaking of Hugo Schwyzer, he has just picked what he considers his five best posts of 2004. After reading them over, I'd especially like to pick out this one:

"Porn kills many things: innocence, hope, trust, health, bodies, spirits. I know it is hip today to proclaim it harmless, but the unfashionable fact is that this is an industry built on distorted fantasy, loneliness, and despair. And we on the left need to stop hiding behind the First Amendment issues and articulate this untrendy but vital truth."

As I've noted before, these issues are close to the core of my own spirituality. While some people, mainly men, derive pleasure from this stuff, the price in what Schwyzer so eloquently calls "distorted fantasy, loneliness, and despair" is too great. Because I don't think such exploitative activities violate the First Amendment, I don't believe in legal remedies, but let the social crusading continue.

Jews in Arab World

Juan Cole posts a broad history of Arab attitudes toward Jews and Israel. Having studied religious minorities in medieval Islam for my master's thesis, there are some points I might have handled differently, but nothing substantial.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Koufax Awards

The nominating period for the 2004 Koufax Awards is now open:

"The Koufax Awards are named for Sandy Koufax, one of the greatest left handed pitchers of all time. They are intended to honor the best of the left of blogtopia. At its core, the Koufax Awards are meant to be an opportunity to say nice things about your favorite bloggers and to provide a bit of recognition for the folks who provide us with information, insight, and entertainment usually for little or no renumeration. The awards are supposed to be fun for us and fun for you."

I'm nominating Abu Aardvark for Best Series for his coverage of the Arab media, Jonathan Edelstein for Most Deserving of Wider Recognition, TAPPED for Best Group Blog, Kevin Drum for Best Blog, Hugo Schwyzer for Best New Blog, and Tim Burke for Best Writing.

The Iraq Choice

As Kevin Drum notes, a major choice is looming in Iraq:

"It's easy to overstate the problem here, but there is a problem. The Shiite slate is clearly going to win the January elections, and as Spencer points out, there's only one plank in the UIA platform that its leaders consider important enough to discuss publicly: a desire to get U.S. troops out of Iraq.

"At the same time, democracy promoting neocons like Kristol not only don't want U.S. troops to leave, they want to widen the conflict: to Syria right now and eventually to Iran and possibly Saudi Arabia — which 'may ultimately be more serious than the Syria problem.' But that can't happen unless U.S. troops have a permanent presence in Iraq.

"Sometime next year this will come to a head. Do we leave Iraq if a democratically elected government asks us to? Or do we stick around in order to eventually bring the rest of the Middle East to heel? Stay tuned."

Arab Media on Egypt

Abu Aardvark uses the Egyptian demonstrations to show how al-Jazeera is a force for positive change in the Middle East. For more on this important issue, check out the latest CEIP Arab Reform Bulletin.

Palestinian Apology

Attempting to heal an emotional rift in the Arab world, Mahmud Abbas apologized to the Kuwaiti people for Palestinian support of Saddam Hussein during the First Persian Gulf War. Meanwhile, Marwan Barghouti's decision to quit the Presidential race makes Abbas's election there all but a done deal.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Withdrawal Talks - Lebanon

Ma'ariv reports that Syria has begun withdraw talks with Lebanon over how to remove all its troops from the country. This follows intense American and French pressure on the matter, with the Americans aiming to snap the terror connections in southern Lebanon while France seems to have a political ally whom they would like to promote within the country. The big unknown is what happens when Syria leaves, and many fear there are enough unsatisfied militias floating around to create havoc.


This is the northerntip of Ceuta, Spain's main enclave in North Africa.

Cleft Lips

Oman is hosting a cleft lip summit to discuss this common problem in the Gulf, where parallel cousin marriage remains common.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Forced Conversion Protest

Egyptian religious tensions have recently spiked over the alleged forced conversion to Islam of a small town priest's wife named Wafaa Constantine. There are always reports of such incidents circulating through Egypt, and many of them are probably true, though such compulsion is strictly forbidden in Islamic law. Gender probably played a role in this case, as well. The woman has now returned home, but the situation became critical when Coptic protestors holed up in a cathedral threw rocks and police which the police then threw back, leading some Copts to claim the authorities were using violence against their community.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Jordan and Iraq

Abu Aardvark has some insightful comments about Jordan's Iraq policy, how they have benefitted from the conflict, and the manner in which various Jordan-related developments are probably related.

Hockey Coverage

They need to settle the NHL labor dispute just so hockey columnists will be able to find something to write about.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Iranian Influence

These accusations made by Jordanian and Iraqi officials that Iran is trying to influence the elections sound bizarre. Let's take it for granted that Iran is, in fact, trying to influence the election. Is "coaching candidates" really scandalous behavior? Spending money on public projects? The latter they did in eastern Afghanistan and we welcomed it as reconstruction aid - there are reasons Ismail Khan liked his Herat gig and why that area of the country was among the most stable. Finally, while sending Iranians to vote in the elections would be a serious problem, the figure quoted - 1 million - sounds ludicrous. There are 70,000,000 people in Iran. Is 1 in every 70 Iranian really willing to pack up and move to Iraq to participate in election rigging on behalf of a regime many of them don't like? And wouldn't the actual Iraqis notice? What we're basically talking about here is Iran taking an interest in the affairs of a neighboring country in which they have vital interests, much like the U.S. and U.K. are. The best way to handle this is simply to do what the Iranians are doing and do it better. Or do members of the Iraqi Interim Government really think foreign influence had nothing to do with their ascent?

Cole on Israel

While defending himself against a right-wing hit piece, Juan Cole mentions this article about the Israel divestment issue. What might be the core of his position regarding the conflict begins about paragraph three. His views are a growing subject of discussion, but I've noticed that almost always they're in the context of another discussion, such as divestment or American Iraq policy. As far as I know, he's never produced a comprehensive essay summarizing his thought on the conflict, which I'm sure he would admit is not his main area of interest.

Saadawi for President

Nawal Saadawi, the author of Woman at Point Zero, will run for President of Egypt as a protest candidate. I actually had a chance to meet her a few years ago, but had to leave town instead.


Happy Hanukkah!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Orientalist Training

Martin Kramer (December 6) and Angry Arab may agree, but after seeing the issue I'm not sure I do. Both feel that Middle East Studies should return to orientalist training. That would essentially make Middle East scholars linguists who happen to study history, theology, or whatever. Far be it from me to dispute the importance of language ability for research, but I've certainly benefitted from being trained primarily in the discipline of history, and I'm sure lots of people in other fields feel the same way. True, there's a danger of getting caught up in intellectual fashions of the moment, but I feel I've learned more from poking around a seminar in ancient Roman history or reading Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities than I would have absorbing the traditional orientalist program. However, the best path for any individual probably depends on their particular research interests more than anything else.

Palestinian Poll

Abu Aardvark posts a Khalil Shikaki poll showing a tight race for the Palestinian Presidency, with Mahmud Abbas narrowly edging Marwan Barghouti and the Gaza Strip of all places providing his margin of victory. Many have commented that Abbas is not very popular with the Palestinians, but I suspect he can win if he makes himself simply the least objectionable. However, I'm not sure what to make of any polling done in these matters. For one thing, there's not much of a track record for Palestinian voting behavior. What's more, the West Bank and Gaza Strip seem like the sort of places where you might run into some voting irregularities. Abbas, of course, is in a better position to bring about such irregularities than Barghouti.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Communication and Authority

Via Chapati Mystery, I find this contest for good academic writing. I've been hearing about the issue of scholars' writing ability since I was an undergraduate, and in recent years have only half-joked that graduate school cost me my ability to write. This is, however, an issue that academics need to take seriously, because your influence in society often depends on the ability to communicate your ideas.

I don't normally blog comments that aren't made publicly unless I have permission, but to plunge in anyway, today I had lunch with Juan Cole and some UW faculty, and someone commented on the odd fact that the face of academic expertise on Iraq should be a historian of Iranian religions rather than a political scientist dealing with Iraq. Part of the reason, of course, stems from the short supply of the latter, as Saddam was likely unwilling to allow aspiring professors to comb his country for political undercurrents. However, another reason is that of all the possibilities, Cole had the ability to communicate his ideas to a broad audience and bothered to find a forum to do so. An even better example of this in Middle East Studies is Bernard Lewis, whose influence doesn't originate in his Ottomanist academic credentials, but in the fact the guy can flat out write and has been doing so for a long time.

However, just to show the situation isn't new, I'll quote a description of the Persian historian Wassaf from page 21 of David Morgan's The Mongols:

"Rashid al-Din's dominance is so great that it has tended to obscure the major importance of another Persian historian writing at the same time and a little later, Wassaf. Part of the trouble is the almost unbelievable complexity of Wassaf's Persian style, compared with the simplicity and clarity of Rashid al-Din's, at least in his narrative sections. It is said that when Wassaf read part of his great work to the Ilkhan Oljeitu, the monarch was unable to make head or tail of it. This is an experience which has been shared, in all probability, by every subsequent would-be reader, Persians not excluded."

Incidentally, Juan Cole is not only an extremely nuanced and thoughtful scholar, but one of the nicest and humblest people floating around the field.

Arab Blogs

Jonathan Edelstein highlights some corners of the Arab blogosphere in Jordan Planet, Bahrain Blogs, and From the Rock based in Libya. Many of my readers might find them interesting.

Women's Soccer

Tunisia has established a twelve-team women's soccer league which will compete for a "Tunisia Cup" in February and ultimately provide the basis for a team in the 2008 Olympics. According to the article, Morocco and Algeria officially have women's soccer programs, but there is no league in either, nor did they field teams in Athens.

Khatami Heckled

How things change in eight years. Iranian President Muhammad Khatami, once the hero of his country's reform movement, has been heckled by students angry over his failure to produce changes in the Iranian political system. I still think the failure of the student movement and the reform politicians to coordinate will go down as the great failure of the past few years, and most of the blame rests with Khatami, who too often saw the young protestors as a threat to order rather than the sort of force needed to bring about change.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


Saturday, December 04, 2004

Wisconsin Quiz Bowl Results

Today was the University of Wisconsin NAQT Fall Quiz Bowl Tournament, and while Conserve School may have changed their coach and entire top squad, they got the same results as they went undefeated to win the championship. It should be noted, however, that while the standings looked decisive, they actually reflect Conserve's perfect record in overtime, something second place West High School from Wausau, Wisconsin will undoubtedly work to ruin in the future. In third place were Conserve's perennial rivals from Rufus King High School in the Milwaukee area, while Logan High School from LaCrosse, Wisconsin took 4th. The feminist in me also can't resist pointing out that, despite the fact quiz bowl has been strangely male-dominated in my 14 or so years of involvement, at this tournament the top four teams all had female captains, two of whom were also the lead scorers. Congratulations to all the teams, and tournament directors Sean Kinney and Eli Morris-Heft for putting on such a fine event.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Hamas's Move

A senior Hamas leader has raised the possibility of a de facto peace with Israel if there is a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders. I think this is a development people should take seriously. For one thing, Hamas wants to join the post-Arafat Palestinian political process. In order to do so, they need to be acceptable to the current Palestinian leaders and at least halfway conciliatory toward Israel. Furthermore, in order to achieve short-term electoral success, they need to broaden their base beyond the hard-core rejectionists. While it's quite possible Hamas leaders who say this sort of thing are lying, it is a lie with practical implications for the debate within Palestinian society.

Max Boot on Falluja

This editorial by Max Boot, found via Matt Bruce, sets out some reasons why Falluja was a military victory without really addressing the criticisms of those who are pessimistic about its overall importance. For one thing, he claims the Allawi government held together, oblivious to the withdraw of the Sunnis in protest and subsequent calls for an election boycott. He also seems to think the Mosul issue is settled despite hard news to the contrary. Sure, it felt good to drive people like Zarqawi out of their lairs, but its far from clear we did anything but temporarily inconvenience them. Boot also fails to note that the Iraqis involved in the operation were Kurds. As usual, he makes some good points about how everything takes time, but there's really nothing in his interpretation of the Falluja fighting to back that up.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Archaeology is a fascinating subject. Archaeological reports are some of the most boring things ever written.

Falluja Update

I won't comment much on this:
"US Marines keeping a tenuous peace in the battered Iraqi city of Fallujah say they expect an explosion of violence as rebels hiding among returning refugees renew their deadly campaign of bombings and ambushes.

"They also fear the insurgency will find increasing support from Fallujah residents who return to find their homes and businesses devastated by last month's massive US-led assault on the Sunni Muslim enclave."

Disengagement Minister

Ariel Sharon is in coalition trouble, and Labor might bail him out. However, Ma'ariv reports that Labor leader Shimon Peres might accept a newly created post of disengagment minister. This strikes me as a problematic idea. When Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, the evacuation of settlements was in the hands of hardliner Ariel Sharon. As we enter the delicate withdraw phase, I can see settlers who have trust in a figure like Sharon being less willing to cooperate fully with the management decisions of someone like Shimon Peres, whom even many in the Israeli peace camp find idealistic.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Thoughts While Running an Errand

Some of the people who drive cars aren't very good at it.

Having a roundabout in the middle of Deming Way is pretty pointless.

It is hard to find a business when the phone book address goes with the back of the building.


Am I the only one who hates dealing with UPS? Most weekdays, I'm on campus from a little after 8 a.m. until about 5. Those are when UPS delivers, so after a failed first delivery attempt yesterday, I'm trapped home today waiting for the second. They didn't even check a box for the time range in which they would make their second attempt! I also have an errand to run by early evening I don't feel I can leave for. At least I'm a grad student who can stay home easily - if I were a high school teacher this would be impossible.