Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ceasefire Fails

While I was away, the ceasefire between the Yemeni government and al-Houthi movement fell apart. The key issue was the rebels refusal to disarm.


Grand Strategy

Matthew Yglesias somehow manages to keep track of our network of alliances and interests in Iraq:
"We're giving Israel billions of additional dollars to get them to not object to us selling advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia. We're selling the Saudis the weapons to check Iranian influence.

"Meanwhile, we're complaining that the Saudis are undermining Maliki's government in Iraq. The Saudis are doing that in order to check what they see as Iranian influence. Maliki wants us to sack our commanding general in Iraq or, at least, to stop arming what he sees as anti-government Sunni rebels. We think we need to arm those rebels to check al-Qaeda influence. And now our special forces are going to attack Kurds -- along with Israelis, the one group in the region that seems to genuinely welcome American influence -- ostensibly in order to head off a more dramatic Turkish intervention."

When diplomatic and military historians examine the Bush administration, the thing they will probably find strangest is our decision to abandon the time-tested "divide and conquer" strategy in favor of taking on all possible enemies at once.

Let's go back to 2002. The United States had deposed the Taliban and had al-Qaeda on the run, part of a campaign against a group which had attacked us. In the process, we had cooperated with Iran, which would in just a year offer to negotiate the so-called "grand bargain" to end a generation of hostility. How might the past five years have gone if we had followed up on the Iranian diplomatic track rather than lumped them into the "Axis of Evil" and put them on the regime change list? What prospects for dealing with Saddam Hussein's Iraq might that have opened up?

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Back in Israel

I am now back in Israel, and resuming my routine here. Getting in was once again mysteriously easy given how challenging getting out through Ben Gurion can be. The only comment was a notice that my student visa has expired and I'm now on a short-term tourist visa, which I knew already.

Meanwhile, after almost 24 hours here, I already miss air conditioning. Now I remember why I spend so much time in libraries.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Badger in 'Baijan

Steve Schwerbel reports from Azerbaijan, including a description of a wedding.


Israeli Security

Tomorrow morning will once again see me on the 6:12 a.m. train to Chicago, this time as the first leg of my return trip to Israel. That, combined with the fact that I didn't get my visa in advance this year, has me thinking about what may await me trying to enter the country. That has never been a problem for me before, though two friends were detained at the airport for two hours after a winter break trip to Turkey, and journalist friends are stopped almost routinely.

Because I see entering a foreign country as a privilege that country grants you, I don't object to security procedures as such, and certainly Israel has reason to be cautious. For this reason, I also think destination profiling makes some sense. I figure most of the questions security personnel ask you are designed to probe your story, see if you ever contradict yourself, and perhaps see how you respond as part of the psychological profiling. The only questions I've been asked that I think were inappropriate were when I left for my job interview in February, and had to offer my opinions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Second Lebanon War. At the time I just gave brief answers, but those are really the sorts of things a democracy should feel hesitant about having their security forces delve into, whatever the reason.

What potentially irritates me is the degree to which the security folks at Ben Gurion seem unable to peg me. When I flew back to the U.S. in late June, they came up with all sorts of alleged inconsistencies in my story, such sa the fact I claimed to have travelled to the UAE for pleasure when the things I described myself doing didn't sound like typical pleasure activities. (Admittedly it was mixed, as these things can be in my line of work, but I've learned they don't like complex answers and if I'd emphasized the scholarly aspect they would have wanted to see some concrete product.) It also seemed ridiculous to think that a person who had been there for a year would be able to recall and recount all my movements during the past year multiple times in different orders without contradiction.

That said, getting out through Ben Gurion is by reputation much more challenging than getting in, and as far as I can tell a common denominator among those who do get stopped going in is that they have visas from officially listed "enemy countries," such as Syria and Iran. My Arab stamps, on the other hand, are from Bahrain, Jordan, and the UAE. Still, I plan to make sure I have my fellowship documentation readily accessible for passport control.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mullah Omar's Limits

Apparently Mullah Omar disapproves of some terrorist tactics:
"Mujda claims that Mullah Omar was not completely in favor of appointing Mansoor as Mullah Dadullah's replacement. 'Omar opposed many actions of Mullah Dadullah, like the tactics of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which Dadullah exercised in Afghanistan,' Mujda explained. 'Dadullah did not care much about Omar's or any other high-ranking Taliban official's orders. He willfully adopted most of the new tactics. Because of this, Omar was opposed to Mansoor's appointment because he fears that Mansoor will be like his brother.'"

I'm too rusty to find much significance in this, but thought it was vaguely interesting.


Seminar for Arabian Studies

Last week's Seminar for Arabian Studies was successful, at least from my perspective. I'm at a point in my career in which I still get excited when people are enthusiastic about and interested in my research, such as asking me about what I'm going to say if they have to leave before my session or saying they showed up Saturday morning just to hear my paper. I also think I presented fairly well, in what was my first adventure with powerpoint.

One element I noticed in the two days of the conference I attended was the way technology is changing the way archaeological projects and presentations are conceived and implemented. Google Earth was everywhere, and people were able to provide much better images of sites and their surroundings than in the days of simple photography. The availability of that and other forms of satellite imagery is also allowing for greater precision in projects across wide areas, such as a comprehensive classification and mapping of all the tens of thousands of burial mounds in Bahrain and a nearby peninsula of Saudi Arabia. And incidentally, the person doing this has still never been to Bahrain, simply because he can get most of it done just from remote imaging.

It was also a conference with a pretty friendly crowd, as usual. Another grad student commented to me that during the three days her first year she got gradually passed around to all the leading lights of the field, something which paralleled by own experience last year. Among the regulars, there also seem to be certain common traditions, such as the importance of Korean food followed by the consumption of beverages at The Plough until after midnight. Archaeologists also tend to have better stories than do historians =)

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Non-Spoiler)

1.) With an Aeschylus quote leading us off in the front matter, can we now be officially out of "children's book" territory?

2.) The book as a whole surpassed my loftiest expectations, despite momentary fears she would do the Thing That Must Not Be Named.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Off to London

At 6:12 a.m. tomorrow, I'll be on a train headed to Chicago, from where I'll fly to London for the annual Seminar for Arabian Studies to offer a paper on this. No more blogging until next week, by which time I plan to have finally seen this from the inside.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Table of Contents Debut

I have made my first table of contents. Now you, too, can have a bit of Brian Ulrich scholarship for the low, low price of 47 British pounds!


Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Dangers of Bush

I'm shamelessly taking this quote from Talking Points Memo:
"[Bush's crimes are more] worrisome than Clinton's because he is seeking more institutionally to cripple checks and balances and the authority of Congress and the judiciary to superintend his assertions of power. He has claimed the authority to tell Congress they don't have any right to know what he's doing with relation to spying on American citizens, using that information in any way that he wants in contradiction to a federal statute called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He's claimed authority to say he can kidnap people, throw them into dungeons abroad, dump them out into Siberia without any political or legal accountability. These are standards that are totally anathema to a democratic society devoted to the rule of law."

Watch the whole 5-minute clip.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Harry Potter in Kabul

If you're in Afghanistan, you can sign up here to get Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Second Pair of Eyes

I now frequently have an instant editor peering over - or rather, from - my shoulder when I work at my parents' computer.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bahrain's Boycott

Gulf News quotes an MP from Bahrain's Muslim Brotherhood saying government ministries may end its insistence that contractors boycott Israel. If this is true, it is probably due to American pressure as he says. He has vowed to use his Parliamentary position to try and block the moves, and would probably get support from across Bahrain's political spectrum if this turns into a showdown.


Where Kulov Comes From

Erica Marat provides more on Feliks Kulov's sudden ideas about a confederation between Russia and Kyrgyzstan:
"Although many in Kyrgyzstan find Kulov’s idea absurd, most Kyrgyz citizens agree that today Russia is the country’s key strategic partner. Support for greater integration with Russia is noticeable across all generations and occupations. “The mentality is the same,” says a 35-year old Kyrgyz entrepreneur whose business is connected to China. Some believe that while the U.S. presence in Kyrgyzstan is temporary, links with Russia are historical and therefore more stable. 'Russia is the only force to prevent the total absorption of Kyrgyzstan by China in the future,' commented a university professor from Bishkek...

"Kulov chose such a pro-Russian line primarily to increase his own political standing. Along among the Central Asian states, Kyrgyz political officials seek power by subordinating their country to Russia rather than promoting national sovereignty. For example, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, both with strong Russian political and economic influence, maintain a fundamentally different approach toward Russia. While acknowledging the importance of links with Russia, the governments of both states emphasize their country’s ethnic identity and sovereignty.

"Kulov appeals to patriotic feelings to promote his idea. He suggests that Kyrgyzstan would solve its most pressing problems by joining Russia, including the north-south divide and economic underdevelopment. Kulov also brings in historical arguments of Kyrgyz-Russian 150-years of diplomatic relations. Other politicians used similar techniques to campaign against the World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and to provoke public anger against the shooting of a Kyrgyz citizen by a U.S. airman in December 2006."


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Habits Meme

I don't do that many memes, but this one seems interesting:
"Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

1.) When I like a TV show, I get really into it, watching almost every episode and going on-line to make sure I'm up on all the characters and subplots. By contrast, if I'm not into a show, I hardly ever watch an episode even as a brief diversion.

2.) I enjoy being outside. When in Madison, I worked and read outside as much as possible. Being able to do even more outside was a major incentive in my getting a laptop.

3.) I have been a fan of the Seattle Mariners since 1985 or 1986. I've never had any connection with Seattle, but was a fan of lost causes, and so went for the most hopeless team I could find when I first got into baseball. Ironically, I became a fan of the Chicago Cubs for NL purposes, not because of their hopelessness, but because all they had day games on WGN which I could watch after school and during the summer.

4.) I became a passionate St. Louis Blues fan thanks to a dramatic comeback in a play-off series against the Detroit Red Wings televised on KPLR in 1989, 1990, or 1991. I could probably track down the exact year by the fact Vincent Riendeau was the starting goalie and Curtis Joseph the back-up.

5.) Yes, I did bump my head as a child. When I was about a year old I fell off the staircase into the basement and knocked it on the concrete floor below, leading my parents to install a barrier there that remains to this day.

6.) My first effort at an original work of history was my efforts to chronicle the history of the TAG class with which I passed 4th-6th grade, and was mostly in honors and AP classes with until graduation. I think a volume of just over 30 pages on our 5th grade year is still extant.

7.) Being back in the U.S. for a little while has made me realize how little time in Israel I've spent simply relaxing. With most of my stuff in storage in Wisconsin, I've referred to my apartment as more like a camp than a home; my activities seem like I'm putting myself through a Middle Eastern history boot camp, though I've never felt overwhelmed by it.

8.) I played French horn from the 4th grade up through my freshman year of college, when I started having scheduling conflicts between band time and classes I wanted to take. I still have the instrument, however, and hope to return to it at some unknown point in the future, if I wind up settling in a community that has a good option.

I won't tag anyone, but feel free to tag yourself!