Saturday, December 25, 2010

I wish it really were all like Four Lions

In the proud tradition of violent Islamic extremism being mostly counterproductive, a suicide bomber who seems to have been supporting Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (which has claimed responsibility against a rival group who had been taking over territory from TTP. They are referred to as "the Salarzai tribe," (though my reading in more specialized places suggests that going straight to tribal classifications is often not the best course, cough, understatement).

The counterproductive part is that while the bomber (gender apparently still in contention, no ID that I've seen anywhere) took out several of the intended targets, the chosen place for this event was...a World Food Programme event. The words coming to my mind go something like "I mean, honestly" but that doesn't seem right. It just seems, again, counterproductive--there was no other way to do this? Of course intimidation is a major part of coercing the local populace in any insurgency effort, but this sort of thing is not too far off from what lost al-Qaeda a lot of support elsewhere.

At any rate, 43 people were killed in this incident, and:

On Friday, a force of 150 militants in Mohmand Agency (just south of Bajaur), had targeted 5 checkpoints of the Frontier Corps, a Pakistani government paramilitary unit, killing 11 troops in the Safi and Baizai districts. Some 24 of the rebels were killed in a riposte by government sources. This attack also came in revenge for the Taliban having been expelled [by the Salarzai] from those areas of Mohmand Agency.

On Saturday, Pakistani troops using helicopter gunships came back after the insurgents, allegedly killing 40 of them in Baizai and Lakro villages.

This leaves the headline at "Over 80 Dead."

Juan Cole has a pretty good roundup of what all went down.

If only Four Lions were all there was to it.

[Note: embedded video is even worse now than it was before. Once upon a time I could adjust the size in the code, but not now, noooo. Link is all you get. Sorry.]

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sad news

RIP, Richard Holbrooke.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fun with words!

Ezra Klein points us to a fun new toy:

Citizens for All That Is Good About America
By Ezra Klein

Americans for America. The New Century Foundation for Progress. A Bright Future for Children and Families. PAC names are a genre unto themselves. A proud, optimistic, vapid genre that's designed to sound so much like apple pie that you never think to look at the filling -- or, to be less metaphorical, the money. The Sunlight Foundation decided to have some fun with this and set up a PAC-name generator. Some of these PACs are the real deal, but most are just perfect PAC names waiting to find a home.

He seems to have chosen "Strong Women, Good-Looking Men and Above Average Children for Liberty" as his flag to fly, but me? Well, unbeknownst to all, I am actually the founder of "New Englanders against Sinister Sentiments."

You're welcome, world.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

They're coming to get you

I just. I can't. This is really quite amazing. Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) has convinced Huckabee--who had her on his Fox News show to talk about this--that Hizballah operatives are being funneled from Iran through to Venezuela, up to Mexico, and then infiltrating the U.S. via the Mexican border in collaboration with drug cartels. In order to plant car bombs, or something.

I swear, I am not making this up:

As [TPM has] reported, Myrick believes Hezbollah "is partnering with Mexican drug cartels in the U.S. borderlands and may be planning 'Israel-like car bombings of Mexican/USA border personnel or National Guard units.'" Part of her evidence of this is that "well trained officials are beginning to notice the tattoos of gang members in prisons are being written in Farsi" along the Southwest border.

She's since expanded on this theory, claiming that because Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are "very good friends," Iranian members of Hezbollah "go from of course Iran into Venezuela, stay up to two years, learn the language, get false documents, and then transit up through Mexico to come across our border."

Huckabee had Myrick on his show on Sunday, and was quite alarmed at this "pretty explosive information," because "we're not hearing this - not from the Department of Homeland Security."

This is shatteringly stupid for a number of reasons. As many commenters at TPM pointed out, the drug cartels would have to be very, very dumb indeed to do anything like this, as it would certainly be very bad for business. Secondly, a Hizballah member with Farsi tattoos on would be an odd duck indeed, Iranian influence or no.

Thirdly, the slender thread of truth here--that Hizballah once was active in Latin America--is being rather abused. Hizballah has not been active in a major way in this hemisphere for over a decade, as far as I know; and when they were active in Latin America, the attacks took place in Argentina.

Now, if you Google around, you can find what look like some fairly reliable sources backing this claim up (MSNBC, for one). But no serious academic source I've encountered has ever mentioned the ongoing existence of a widespread fundraising operation by Hizballah in Latin America (which at least seems a slightly more plausible version of a similar claim), and the DHS has officially stated that it has no "credible information on terrorist groups operating along the Southwest Border."

Finally, the only way this could ever possibly work would be if a) all brown people looked alike and b) no brown people of any kind had any interest in stability/the absence of car bombs in the U.S.; otherwise the terrorists would be immediately distinguishable from the drug dealers, and/or the loyal American citizens of Hispanic or Arab descent might choose to enlighten their chalky overlords neighbors.

I assume I don't need to elucidate what's wrong with those premises.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A thought

What is the deal with genies these days? For one thing, they keep showing up in ads all of a sudden, and for another, they seem to be mostly not Arab. Like not in any way. One of them is a Scottish man in a tux:

And the other, whom I am certain I will not be able to find, is a guy who I suppose could be Arab (or meant to be) but at least initially came off Hispanic, and who was wearing a muscle shirt. He was advertising really cheap phone service.

I have no idea what this means. Not that this is the most serious trend in the zeitgeist regarding anything east of Istanbul or south of Sicily, but what the hell, I've been watching a lot of TV lately.

Monday, November 22, 2010


US totally grifted by random Afghan:

For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

It really just kind of sums everything up, huh.

Rolling Stone ventures to MENA (!)

Rolling Stone is launching Rolling Stone: Middle East.

Needless to say, I subscribed immediately. I hope it's obvious why this is a huge deal; for one thing, this is a major American pop-culture publication showing major interest in the cultural products and pop life of a region that is almost uniformly understood as backward, primitive, and totally lacking in anything Rolling Stone could ever be interested in. That in itself is a huge deal.

If people in the region read it, that could be even better. It would be complicated, as validation by Western observers always is for almost any Arab group, individual, movement, or trend; but it could also be very valuable. It depends on how they play it at RS, and on how many people in the region actually read it and take it seriously. (Those variables are, of course, related--it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing). As much as it can be fun to make fun of RS these days, when I was in high school that magazine was incredibly important to me. I was the proverbial sad indie kid, and it was kind of a lifeline at times. There are some kids in the Middle East who are probably already consuming this kind of Western media, whether they can actually get their hands on the glossy or whether it's via an Internet cafe; how great is it that they could get their own deal? Something actually meant for them?

The major caveat is that as far as I can see, it's all in English. That worries me a little, and it throws the emphasis back toward the remedial-Orientalist perspective. Maybe there is or will be an Arabic-language version or website; I really, really hope so. Even if that doesn't happen, I still very much applaud this step.

And finally, it'll just be fun for me., people: go. Read. Be pleased.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Here we go

It seems the ever-restrained Texas Board of Education is now on a mission to remove "Muslim propaganda" from our nation's poor, defenseless textbooks.

It's no surprise at all--it's perfectly to be expected, right on schedule, really--but it still blows.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Veeery interesting

This AP article packs some pretty interesting things into a few short lines:

JERUSALEM — Israeli officials say a Cabinet minister met secretly with Turkey's foreign minister in an attempt to improve relations between two allies after ties dramatically deteriorated.

The officials say Industry Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Europe Wednesday.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the government did not confirm details.

The supposedly secret meeting was reported by Israel's Channel 2 TV. The Israeli prime minister's office eventually confirmed an "unofficial meeting."

The talks drew an angry response from Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who said he was not informed.

If this is true, it could mean that Lieberman's stock is falling pretty fast in the government and perhaps Netanyahu and co. are finally starting to see him as the obstacle that he is, rather than a convenient conduit to right-wing votes.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I have a couple of major posts about Israel lurking in the back of my mind, but I doubt I'll find the time or energy for them until after finals are over (oy). Instead, here's an image-heavy, slightly sappy post about Afghanistan. At the very least, the pictures are really worth scrolling through.

Foreign Policy has a gorgeous photo feature about the Afghanistan of the 1950s. It really underlines the tragedy that Afghanistan and Iran, among other Near Eastern and Central Asian countries, share--a past that seems almost unthinkable after it was wiped out and covered over by civil war or civil strife and extreme social repression.

I wrote an essay a couple of years ago that dealt with the treatment of Afghan women as one of its case studies, and my research for the paper turned up nostalgic accounts of this past, as the authors I read sadly sought to fix in history the fact that Afghanistan enjoyed a brief, but not negligible period of stability, higher education and far more equitable gender relations for about thirty years up until sometime in the 1970s (the year escapes me--Afghanistan is not an area of my expertise). The photos give that period a clearer face, and so in some ways a sadder sepia tint.

Afghanistan is one of the few cases where I feel pretty comfortable abandoning the relativist skepticism of broad negative statements that was drilled into my every pore as a liberal child of a liberal family in a liberal city getting a liberal education. I certainly don't mean to say that Afghan culture is necessarily or inherently retrograde, evil, or anti-women; but Afghanistan--and Yemen, while I'm rambling--are the two places from which stories of women's lives consistently go much further than making my feminist blood boil and induce a simple, awful sadness in me. It's a place with some really incredible cultural heritage, as an exhibit at the Met last year demonstrated beautifully (that is the only time I can actually remember buying the damn book at the gift shop--the combination of amazing artifacts and a syncretic tradition that I knew nothing about was irresistible).

There's just something tragic about a place spanned by the Silk Road, whose history includes Mesopotamian influences,

Hellenic influences,

South or Southeast Asian influences--there are things about this that remind me both of India and Cambodia--

and a nomadic culture that carried around artifacts like these:

(The crown is collapsible, if I recall correctly!) That is to say, a place whose heritage included all of this, as well as, eventually, some pretty great-looking record stores:

Only to have nearly all of it burned and bombed away. The collection that was loaned to the Met is only extant because some courageous museum workers hid it in the presidential palace; the rest of the Kabul Museum's collection was lost in the civil war.

From all of that (with, of course, a great deal of history in between about which I admit I know next to nothing), to dark streets and girls burning themselves to death rather than be sold in marriage to pay off opium dealers.

I hope I get a chance at some point to learn more about Afghanistan's rich history that is not quite so recent. The introduction to the FP photo essay begins:

On a recent trip to Afghanistan, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox drew fire for calling it "a broken 13th-century country." The most common objection was not that he was wrong, but that he was overly blunt. He's hardly the first Westerner to label Afghanistan as medieval. Former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince recently described the country as inhabited by "barbarians" with "a 1200 A.D. mentality." Many assume that's all Afghanistan has ever been -- an ungovernable land where chaos is carved into the hills. Given the images people see on TV and the headlines written about Afghanistan over the past three decades of war, many conclude the country never made it out of the Middle Ages.

But that is not the Afghanistan I remember.

It's important to remember not only what is lacking, but what was lost.

Two and two together

Marc Ambinder, who seems to have gotten some kind of fire lit under him in the past month or so--all of a sudden his stories are about forty times more interesting--has a brilliant piece about some of the interagency jockeying going on around the war in Afghanistan. It's a lesson in how to read for subtext and hidden information, and how much you need to know to be able to do so at all:

Greg Miller, the Washington Post's ace intelligence and national security reporter, poured a bucket of ice down the backs of American officials with his publication last night of a story about how U.S. special operations forces are hamstrung from pursuing high value targets in Afghanistan, even as they're quietly drawing up plans for direct military retaliation against entities who plan terrorist attacks in the United States. The Post chose to headline the story with what I thought to be of secondary importance -- the drawing of contingency plans for retaliatory attacks: "Options studied for a possible Pakistan strike." [...]

But the real interesting part of this story is subtextual. Miller is a fantastic journalist, and he has sources almost no one else has. But even the most voluble of sources chose to speak at moments when disclosing information would best advance their equities in a particular debate. So why are Miller's sources talking right now, and what message are they trying to communicate?

He proceeds to tell you his thoughts--which seem pretty plausible, but I'm hardly in a position to evaluate when it comes to the subtle discontents of CENTCOM vs. SOCOM in targeting procedures--and then wallops you at the end with a protip that, if you're me, leaves you gaping at the obvious genius of it while he vanishes cackling into the interweb.

By the way, note how two of the quotations in the piece use the word "punitive." If you've got some time today, run the word "punitive" and the names of the senior officers associated with the special operations command and see if you can figure out who likes to use that phrase a lot. (Do the same thing, incidentally, for the words "pulse" and "kinetic" and "senior administration official." That has nothing to do with this article, but it's going to be revealing, nonetheless.)

Trust, if I had any idea what the relevant names were, I would be happily digging around LexisNexis and not sitting here typing this.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Nerd moment

One of my major geeky interests is religious history, particularly in the form of a) fairy stories/fairy lore and taxonomy (i.e. Irish folk history, Jungian and other analysis of the content of fairy stories, et. al.), b) ancient Mesopotamian history (anything and everything I can get, but the Sumerian and Babylonian polytheistic traditions are fascinating), and c) early Christianity (which is to say Judaism and early Christian or Christian-like sects in Palestine and the surrounding area in the first century CE). (Islamic religious history I place in another category, which is to say that it's a branching of my actual area of focus and therefore not simply an area of geekdom).

All of this is by way of saying that while some people may spend their Saturday nights out drinking and partying, I spent mine drinking and watching Blade Runner with my roommate (a deep meditation on existence and mortality if ever I saw one) and then watched a lengthy lecture on the location of the historical Jesus within Jewish sectarian and mainstream tradition. I share it because, as I said, I'm having a nerd moment.

Enjoy, if this is your thing!

Friday, May 14, 2010

So I've been watching the West Wing over again

And I love it as much as I always did. And I couldn't help but be reminded of Aaron Sorkin's distinctive cadence--and I know this is maybe going out on a limb a little--by this clip of NJ Gov. Chris Christie (R) calling out a reporter on, you know, caring about knucklehead stuff:

Gov Christie calls S-L columnist thin-skinned for inquiring about his 'confrontational tone'

So I got curious and I went and looked up his record--and by looked up I mean I went to his Wikipedia page--and it's kind of mixed for me. Not sure quite what I think of the man, not that it matters at all yet. (I'll be marginally surprised if he never runs for President.) Anyway, one to keep an eye on.

P.S. I don't know enough HTML to really know why there's that huge gap there or what to do about it; I also decided screw making the video fit entirely in the margins, since you can see all of him and if I did it it would be either tiny or very distorted. I hope everyone will manage to get through their day regardless.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I'm not qualified to talk about Elena Kagan in terms of jurisprudence, so I won't. I haven't really done much research on her politics, but from what I hear nobody really knows much, and while this is a (worthy) subject of much discussion, it's not what I want to talk about since I haven't done what's necessary to discuss it intelligently.

The main thing I feel like commenting on right now is the whisper debate going on regarding her sexual orientation. I have no idea if she's gay or straight. I can understand, I suppose, why some people think that she is. But I'm going to join Digby in saying that what Elena Kagan chooses to say about herself is her truth by right. I don't mean by this that a person can be nominated for a major political office and declaim whatever biography they choose; I mean, rather, that in this case and on this point if she says she's straight, she's straight, and that's good enough for me. Where does anybody else get off saying she's lying or mistaken in this day and age?

I can construct a vaguely reasonable argument for where they get off, of course, and the argument has no doubt been made; but the argument rests on the significance of her hypothetical homosexuality for future decisions on gay rights, and how that significance changes if she is out or not. It does not rest on the fact that she's denied it. I choose to believe her because to do otherwise is patronizing and disrespectful.

I won't lie; I would love it if President Obama would nominate and stand by an openly gay justice. I've been revisiting my favorite show of all time, The West Wing, a great deal lately, and my hunger for a lefty President with the courage of his convictions and a record of wins to back it up remains as real as it was when I was fifteen and convinced I wanted to be Deputy Chief of Staff when I grew up. But as far as I know, Obama's not the guy and this is not the fight I'd love to see. For that matter, this is probably not the universe in which that fight ends as I'd like it to.

Given all that, I have no problem with Elena Kagan other than a certain wistfulness which is certainly not her fault. I wish her a smooth, vigorous, and serious confirmation process and I wish everyone would shut up about why she has no kids and wears her hair short.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Burnt Ochre was always my favorite crayon name

We all have our burdens in life

I must say that all of this yelling about Miranda rights and the fact that it's now being referred to as "the Miranda debate" consistently leaves me very confused. This on top of years of people making jokes about how I should read them their rights upon being told my name.

Little did my parents know what they were burdening me with.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Are you--yes. Yes, you are crazy.

This one is not that fresh from the interweb presses, but the bouquet of its madness remains as aromatic as on the day I first read it: Israel must topple Assad in next conflict with Syria proxies.

I tried to find a money quote, but the crazy is so artfully laced throughout that I couldn't pick one. It's really in the way all the parts relate to one another. The parts are as follows:

1. Syria has delivered SCUD missile systems to Hizballah [though it seems the proof of this actually having happened is a tad iffy; I've seen it confirmed by sources I trust, too, though, so I'm not sure what I think about it].

2. Goldstone concluded that any and all deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure constitutes a war crime as a form of collective punishment. However, Israel need not obey this ruling, only find a way to dance around it or get away with violating it.

3. Therefore [?!], Israel should announce that any aggression by Hizballah will lead to a direct and unrelenting attack on Syria's infrastructure and the deposition of President al-Assad instead of/before retaliation to Hizballah. Further, Israel should make it clear that it has no choice in doing so.

4. This will act as a deterrent.

So, yeah, this is beyond crazy in a variety of ways. And who wrote it? Oh, no one very important, just the former head of the IDF artillery corps, which is, you know, no big deal--oh, wait, it is. I'm not saying this makes him the voice of the government, but it's not like he's ignorant of military matters.

I can't imagine who would support Israel were it to take such a step. Even the U.S. would be hard put in that situation, I think. Not to mention the "you break it, you bought it" rule--what happens to Syria after that? Does Israel just withdraw and assume that will be the end of things? Until the current president (Bashar al-Assad)'s father, Hafez al-Assad, took over, Syria was a realm of total chaos and massive political instability. (There's a reason Syria invited Egypt to form a political union with it and take over the country back in the late fifties, and it wasn't because they loved Gamal al-Nasser so much, okay?) I have no idea what it would be like without the Assad family in charge.

I just--it's nutso, okay? Let's just leave it at that and go about our lives.

File under "le sigh"

At least 10 states look like they'll be dealing with at least attempts to emulate Arizona's immigration law. Granted, it seems like lots of these ideas won't go far (Ohio, really?), but it's still...unfortunate, I guess.

I've never quite understood why states seem to go through fads with hot-button issues. One state moves on something and all of a sudden an equivalent is being proposed at the state house or offered as a ballot initiative all over the country--even though most of these issues don't affect all states in the same way or to the same degree.

I do understand the kick-in-the-ass effect of having one of your peers go where none has gone before or what have you, but it always feels stupid to me even when it's working in a direction I agree with. You'd think if it's that important, you'd want to take the time to do it right--or perhaps you'd already have done it--rather than waiting for one audacious (or in this case, totally effing crazy) state to lead a straggling charge.

For the record, my favorite of the initiatives discussed at the link is Missouri's:

The state legislature is considering a law that would make it unlawful for any person to conceal or shelter "illegal aliens," and would also make it a crime for illegal immigrants to transport themselves. Similar local laws have in the past been declared unconstitutional.

It just brings me back to when I was learning about the Underground Railroad in second grade, you know?

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Oh, Tom Friedman. How do I put this delicately?

I’ve been trying to understand the Tea Party Movement. Sounds like a lot of angry people who want to get the government out of their lives and cut both taxes and the deficit. Nothing wrong with that — although one does wonder where they were in the Bush years. Never mind. I’m sure like all such protest movements the Tea Partiers will get their 10 to 20 percent of the vote. But should the Tea Partiers actually aspire to break out of that range, attract lots of young people and become something more than just entertainment for Fox News, I have a suggestion:

Become the Green Tea Party. [...]

The manifesto is easy, too: “We, the Green Tea Party, believe that the most effective way to advance America’s national security and economic vitality would be to impose a $10 “Patriot Fee” on every barrel of imported oil, with all proceeds going to pay down our national debt.”

Um. The problem with this is that it is completely unmoored from reality. As if the Tea Partiers would ever consent to being associated with something as highfalutin as Green Tea.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Well, I'll be

Turns out Obama sent Netanyahu a message after all.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Oy gevalt

It seems Turkey's Prime Minister Erdoğan is making vague threats to expel 100,000 Armenians currently working in Turkey "should it become necessary" because...the U.S. and Sweden decided to call the WWI massacre a genocide.

This sort of thing regarding non-Turkish and/or non-Muslim minorities is not new in Turkey's history, but this particular example of it seems rather boneheaded. Armenia isn't even directly involved, so far as I know. If the aim is for Turkey to avoid looking bad (where "bad" is taken to mean "perpetrator of genocide" or at least "mean to Armenians"), then this sort of thing doesn't really help.


We can now see once and for all that the Mongols were the biggest badasses of all time. I think at the end the video should have marked Damascus in addition to Baghdad and Jerusalem--it is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, after all--but then, I'm biased.

H/t Juan Cole.


I wonder what Mike Vanderboegh's opinions are on terrorism. I bet he'd say he's not a fan. And yet:

Mike Vanderboegh of Pinson, Ala., former leader of the Alabama Constitutional Militia, put out a call on Friday for modern “Sons of Liberty” to break the windows of Democratic Party offices nationwide in opposition to health care reform. Since then, vandals have struck several offices, including the Sedgwick County Democratic Party headquarters in Wichita.

[...] “We can break their windows,” he said. “Break them NOW. And if we do a proper job, if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary.”Vanderboegh told The Kansas City Star that the action was meant to “get everyone’s attention.”

“What I was trying to get across was that people do not understand how on the edge of civil conflict this country is,” he said.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Calorie labeling: aw jeez

So Ezra Klein points out one of the "prevention" provisions of our shiny new healthcare bill, as is is job, wont, and duty:

One of the bill's provisions is a menu labeling proposal for chain restaurants with more than 20 locations. The proposal requires chains to post the caloric content of each item (and the total calories of combo meals) next to its listing on the menu, the menu board, and even the drive-through menu kiosk. This goes into effect next year, and will be one of the most visible effects of the health-care bill. You can read the provision here (pdf).

The early evidence on menu labeling has been undeniably mixed, but this is good information for people to have. In 20 years, I think we'll be baffled that there was a time when it wasn't easily available to us.

So here's my thing. The immediate parallel, to my mind, is the nutrition facts labels on food products. I know I have a hard time imagining buying prepared foods, whether that means orange juice or microwavable Indian food, without being able to see what-all's in 'em.

But the difference is you have a choice. I can pick up, buy, unwrap, and eat a candy bar without ever looking at the calorie count or the saturated fats percentage or the nature of the carbohydrates locked within it. When that number is splashed big and loud and in red on a menu--a menu that in some situations will be the equivalent of a poster--that is a whole different story. Furthermore, nutritional information gives you much more than the bare number of calories. At least it gives you information that you can use to manage your diet in the way that works for you, if you so choose.

I understand that its inescapability is the point of the provision. But my god, what about the eating disordered in this country? Many will be perversely overjoyed: no need to privately estimate calorie counts, round up wildly to be "safe," google around for others' tallies. But many will also be terrified. They will be terrified that if they consistently pick the lowest-calorie option when obliged to eat out at a chain restaurant, their friends and family will notice; and they will be terrified that on the occasion that they venture, manage, or feel obliged to pick a higher calorie option, someone--anyone who knows what they picked, whether a dining companion or a server or a bystander, will be thinking, "what is that fatass doing eating anything but naked lettuce." Fat people who want to be left alone to eat a goddamn meal will face even more detailed commentary and well-intentioned, yet ultimately hurtful advice from friends, family, and random strangers than they do now. "Normal" people (i.e. those not included in the previous two categories) will find themselves competing with themselves or others to limit their calories while restaurants compete to offer the lowest calorie options (with no incentive to do so with regard to nutritional content or to provide customers with the ability to consider nutrition, rather than calorie-counting, themselves).

This is not to mention three larger points: 1, not all calories are created equal; 2, weight loss is not health. It is not necessarily not-health, and I am not saying that this provision is the only mechanism in the bill (lord knows if it were Ezra would be singing a much different tune), but I would really like to see some work on urban food deserts, for example, before we start giving ourselves even more tools for public body and diet shame.

Finally, 3: in many ways one of the biggest issues around food and health for Americans is that our culture can't conceive of food as food. It's all calories and good fats and bad fats and antioxidants. Having to intellectualize and moralize the shit out of everything we eat is not good for us. It leads to deprivation/binge cycles, depriving ourselves of things we need because they're "bad," sometimes relying on companies or fads to figure it all out for us (read: diets). Many of these diets are not very nutritionally sound, and almost none of them promote healthy relationships between mind and body--which is really one of the bases of health.

I think this further standardization and commodification of food into points which are good or bad but ultimately to be conquered will do nothing to help this pathologization of food and plenty to further it.


MeMe Roth: "We’ve gotten ourselves to the point where we’re behaviorally and neurochemically dependent upon food."

Michael Pollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy."

Our culture, sadly, is much more in tune with the former sentiment than the latter. I don't think putting calorie counts on menus nationwide will help.

U.S. hiding its teeth very well

There was an AIPAC meeting yesterday. Benjamin Netanyahu and Hillary Clinton both spoke at it.

Bibi at AIPAC:

“The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today,” Mr. Netanyahu said to the group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “Jerusalem is not a settlement; It’s our capital.”

Clinton at AIPAC:

She warned that the Obama administration would push back “unequivocally” when it disagreed with the Israeli government’s policies. But she reaffirmed that America’s support for Israel was “rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever.” [...] “There must be no gap between the United States and Israel on security,” she said to loud applause.

As for how far off we are from anything remotely resembling a rational state of affairs:

“I thought she was excellent,” said Hal Rosnick of Easton, Conn. “She wants the parties to get back to indirect negotiations.” But Diane Hornstein of Chicago, said, “I would like her to recognize that Jerusalem is not a settlement. There’s no evenhandedness in the demands made of Israel.”

Wooo! Indirect negotiations!

To be clear, "indirect negotiations" means George Mitchell talking to the PA in Ramallah, driving over to Jerusalem, talking to Bibi's government, then driving back to Ramallah, and so on ad nauseam. That this is the goal--for Clinton to smooth things over enough for Bibi and Abu Mazen to consent to essentially sit with their backs turned and have their poor friend play the "Bibi says you're a stupidhead," "Well, tell him HE'S A STUPIDHEAD" "...Abu Mazen says you're a stupidhead" game--is really all you need to know.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh, just kill me now

The Camel Method, it seems, is a method of converting Muslims to Christianity by using the Qur'an.

“Camel” is not (readers might be gladdened to learn) a reference to a beast of burden in Arab lands. Rather, it is Mr. Greeson’s acronym — Chosen Angels Miracles Eternal Life — to help missionaries remember aspects of Isa’s story.

Sure it is. And the rifle sights supplied to the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan with Christian scriptures engraved on them are just a celebration of the manufacturing company's faith.

"We believe that America is great when its people are good," says the [manufacturer's] Web site. "This goodness has been based on Biblical standards throughout our history, and we will strive to follow those morals." [...]

Weinstein, an attorney and former Air Force officer, said many members of his group [the Military Religious Freedom Foundation] who currently serve in the military have complained about the markings on the sights. He also claims they've told him that commanders have referred to weapons with the sights as "spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ."

Well, hey, we'll get 'em from the inside and out. Use the Gospels to shoot 'em down on the battlefield and to convert them in the streets until soon there won't be any pesky Muslims to deal with anymore. At least, not any upper-case ones:

“At the extreme,” Dr. Reynolds said, “these Christian missionaries will grow beards like Muslims, give up pork, even say that they are ‘muslims’ — lower-case ‘m’ — in the Arab-adjective sense of ‘submissive to God.’ ”

So what if there are a million ways of saying you're a believer in god that wouldn't elicit this kind of confusion? So maybe you have to engage in a little shell game to get your foot in the door. It's for their own good. Come to Jesus, hajji.

Another Quartet statement, cont.

Rosemary Hollis at FP's Middle East Channel has much more to say on the Quartet statement, though the upshot is basically the same:

All that being said, this latest Quartet initiative does not constitute a breakthrough. It provides no new ways to oblige the parties to make "the difficult choices" required to deliver "an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel." That will require more than an end to settlement expansion. It will require the removal of a good many settlements plus land swaps.

What she says it does do is hopefully give Abu Mazen cover to begin proximity talks despite the settlement debacle during Biden's Israel visit, as well as give the US the opportunity to "use the Quartet as a vehicle to send a strong message to the Israeli government that Washington's support is not automatic."

I don't see this as all that strong of a message to that effect in the light of the U.S.'s fairly rapid drawdown of displeasure since the incident. Washington needs to make a much sharper gesture than what we've seen if that's the message it wants to send.


Brazil and Argentina have agreed to negotiate a free trade agreement with...the Palestinian Authority.

The piece is a bizarre read. It's like an alternate universe, almost (an impression no doubt enhanced by the fact that I study mostly Gaza and I assume this article is about the West Bank).

Through the looking glass

Private military companies have officially gone meta. Just when I was getting used to the idea of corporate entities that make war for pay and maybe run some mining and transport operations on the side, Cambodia went and solicited corporate sponsorship for its military along the Thai border.

Then it turns out that one of the corporate sponsors is owned by the military. I at first assumed this meant the Cambodian military, which would make it the most circular arrangement since the cinnamon bun I ate yesterday--but no. It's owned by the Vietnamese military.

Which is just sort of mindboggling to me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Another Quartet statement

The Quartet had a meeting, after which they released a statement. The Majlis has the transcript.

As one would expect, it contains nothing new and doesn't hold out much to be hopeful about.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nepalese reconciliation not going so smoothly

Apparently, the chief of the Nepalese Army has declared that no, he will not induct the Maoist rebel troops into the Nepalese regular army en masse, thanks all the same. That the rebel fighters should become part of the national army was part of the peace agreement between the Maoists and the government; after General Gurung's statement, the Maoists have of course started hopping up and down.

What I find much more bizarre than their reaction is that a) this concession was ever a part of the agreement to begin with, and b) that both the Times of India article discussing it (linked above) and the World Politics Review post that linked the ToI (I love me some Off-The-Radar News Roundups) seem to take the tone that this move by the general is unwise. ("The stance is in contravention of the 2006 peace accord that put an end to Nepal's insurgency, and already destabilized the country last year when the previous chief of staff adopted the same position.")

I don't know if there was a different way that General Gurung could have gone about this, but integrating several thousand rebel forces with strongly demonstrated disloyalty to the state into your armed forces en masse, in the context of a very recent total breakdown of state sovereignty, is a recipe for disaster. Wikipedia says that the Nepalese army is 95,000 strong; it does not, however, say how it knows, and despite the surprising excellence of the website of the Nepalese Army, I can't find such numbers there. If Wikipedia is correct, then 6-7,000 Maoists (this being the conservative claim from the Times of India) in an army of 95,000 is not nothing. Even if you split them up pretty extensively you could have real problems with cohesion, authority and morale.

Look, Frederick the freaking Great understood this (per a deeply pompous* series of rebuttals to Machiavelli constituting the aptly named "Anti-Machiavel"). It seems reasonable to me that General Gurung, in the advanced year of 2066 in the Nepal Sambat calendar, should understand it too. I can't pretend to know much about how this agreement came about in 2006 (the Gregorian calendar year, not Nepal Sambat)--while I do need to make a bit of a study of Nepal's situation as an ancillary case to my thesis, I haven't gotten to it yet--but all I can say is that I hope this concession was a highly, highly necessary one.

General Gurung has some pretty good suggestions for what to do with the People's Liberation Army instead, if you ask me:

Gurung said the PLA could be accommodated in the police, border security forces and other non-military agencies. They could also be sent overseas for jobs or be rehabilitated with an economic incentive.

Meanwhile, the PLA seems to be acting in pretty bad faith, waiting for an excuse to break the agreement:

Gurung also expressed concern at Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda giving training to the PLA in their cantonments and urging them to be ready for another revolution if the government failed to implement the new constitution by May 28.

And, of course, what would be an attempt at post-civil-war reconciliation without a "you first" standoff:

There is growing uncertainty over the fate of the fighters with their own leaders saying the new statute should be promulgated before they are disbanded while the ruling parties are demanding the discharge of the PLA first.

At any rate, I currently feel quite a bit of sympathy for the good General, who seems to be very sensible and is being asked to do something that seems to me to be rather less sensible.

*Actual excerpt from Frederick the Great, I kid you not:

Where do these examples leave Machiavelli, and what comes of the ingenious allegory of David refusing to fight Goliath with the armor of Saul because of its weight? It is a lot of whipped cream! I admit that auxiliaries sometimes inconvenience princes, but I ask if conquering cities and provinces is not worth a little inconvenience.

Upon first reading, I recall picturing David facing up to Goliath covered from head to toe in whipped cream armor. Oops.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don't do it, Kirkuk!

Firstly, I want to note the launch of's Middle East Channel, which is already shaping up to be fantastic (how could it not be, being edited by the likes of Marc Lynch and Daniel Levy?).

From that very channel comes this piece, Kurds No Closer to Taking Kirkuk After Iraqi Elections.

The piece is of course interesting on a topical level, as the fate of Kirkuk (whether it, and its oil, should become part of Iraqi Kurdistan or not) has been a major sticking point in Iraqi politics. However, being all caught up in my thesis as I currently am, I found this bit particularly interesting:

In the public eye, every election in Kirkuk turns into a census and quasi-referendum rolled into one. This is because the ethnic communities here assume that Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans vote for their own candidates; that this shows the respective communities' sizes; that the vast majority of Kurds want Kirkuk to be attached to the Kurdistan region; and that these factors combined suggest the probable outcome of a future referendum on Kirkuk's status.


Moreover, matters are complicated by intra-Kurdish divisions. Some of the heaviest campaigning in Kirkuk was not between Arabs and Kurds but intra-Kurdish: between the Kurdistani Coalition which combines the two Kurdish principal parties - the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan - and the upstart Goran, or Change, movement. Goran's strong showing in the Kurdistan regional elections last July was a dire warning to the ruling parties, especially the PUK, the party from which Goran's frustrated would-be reformers sprang last year. Today, when no open campaigning was allowed, the PUK and KDP went all-out in their bid to outpace their rival. Cars bearing KDP and PUK flags and blaring their horns crisscrossed Kurdish neighborhoods as if the campaign was still in full swing. Men beat drums; in some areas, women - decked out in their most colourful finery - danced to the beat.

Some Goran candidates may not be following the main parties', and possibly their own leadership's, line on Kirkuk. For five futile years, the KDP and PUK have insisted that the only way to resolve Kirkuk's status is by a referendum based on an ethnic vote. They have loaded the outcome through their control of local government, which allowed them to change the governorate's demography in their favor. That outcome, therefore, is unlikely to be accepted by the losers, who have threatened violence if they are inducted into the Kurdistan region against their will.

Some Goran officials in Kirkuk, by contrast, seem to be saying something new - that the only sensible way to proceed is to restore trust between the ethnic communities and let Kirkukis decide for themselves, over time, what the best solution is for Kirkuk, by referendum or otherwise. This is music to the ears of Arabs and Turkomans, who have made no secret of their hope that Goran will gain a couple of seats at the PUK's expense, even if they themselves wouldn't vote for Goran, lest they increase the overall Kurdish vote.

It sounds like the PUK and KDP have been trying to take the province in a Lebanese direction--that is to say, legislating and statebuilding based on demographics. What is at stake in this case is different from what was at stake in Lebanon when the various agreements on which Lebanon's confessional system is based were made, but the consequences might not be dissimilar--widespread violence and general anarchy. I'm not sure what "letting Kirkukis decide for themselves, over time, what the best solution is for Kirkuk, by referendum or otherwise" would entail other than paralysis and punting--some kind of decision needs to be made one way or another--nor do I know how Goran would propose to go about "restoring trust between the ethnic communities", but all of that said, I can't see the PUK's and KDP's approach ending anywhere very good.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

In lieu of a real post

I'm afraid I've gotten too busy to keep up with this like I used to--I keep catching things I want to post about and never getting around to posting them. So here we'll have a link dump, but first I wanted to mention:


don’t use the term “world music” around thurston unless you want a 20 minute lecture

It's true. I will give a lecture about the problematic nature of "world music" to most anyone. Maybe not a full 20 minutes, though.

Anyhoodle, here are some things I've been meaning to post about:

Kate Harding on Kevin Smith's Southwest experience and the perils of flying while fat.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on how we define terrorism, who is a terrorist and who is not, and the lessons we have failed to learn from our national history of domestic race terrorism.

Finally, this article on depression and what it does to your brain--and what it may do for your brain--struck a chord with me.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Al-takfir (التكفير)

Ta-Nehisi Coates was away in Chicago for a while, so he had some friends guest blog in his absence. Adam Serwer was one, and his post, "American Takfiris," is as good a piece as any blogger could hope for from a guest.

The theological justification for al Qaeda's wholesale slaughter of civilians was provided by Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl, one of the founding fathers of al Qaeda. Because the murder of innocents is forbidden in Islam and the murder of Muslims in particular, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden required some sort of theological framework for justifying terrorism. This was provided by al-Sharif, who essentially argued in his book, "The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge," that apostates could be murdered, and that approach, takfir (which has come to be known as takfirism) allowed al Qaeda to, for all intents and purposes, kill anyone they wanted without violating the laws of Islam by declaring them to be apostates. In other words, Dr. Fadl helped provided a theological justification for something that everyone involved knew was wrong.

The legal memos justifying torture aren't very different in terms of reasoning--it's clear that John Yoo and his cohorts in the Office of Legal Counsel saw their job not as binding the president to the rule of law, but to declare legal any tactic that the executive branch believed necessary to fight terrorism. They worked backwards from this conclusion, and ethics officials at the Department of Justice, we now know, decided that they they had violated professional standards in doing so. Whereas al-Zawahiri and bin Laden turned to al-Sharif for a method to circumvent the plain language of the Koran, Bush and Cheney went to Yoo and Jay Bybee to circumvent the plain language of the law. Most Islamic scholars, just like most legal experts, reject their respective reasoning as unsound.

It's worth reading the rest. I don't subscribe to the more or less optimistic conclusion Serwer comes to, but I'm very inherently cynical about this sort of thing. It would certainly be nice if he were proved right.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Christopher Street boys

The only way this video could be improved is if his cat had made an appearance.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Israel-Hizballah conflict on the horizon?

"Everybody and their brother thinks that 2010 will witness a second round between Hezbollah and Israel," says Qifa Nabki; like him, I hope that's not the case and don't see it as inevitable (at least for the next few months, barring a game-changing event--which, in today's Middle East, is not too unlikely). The post is worth reading--it features a few different takes on what might be the catalyst for a conflict between Israel and Hizballah and how Hizballah and/or Israel (depending on the scenario) might try to spin it.

The short version of my opinion: you never know, it doesn't take much for these two, but it would be stupid on Israel's part. The long version is below.

Nabki's reason for thinking conflict doesn't have to happen too too soon is that the current situation is mutually beneficial: "Israel gets a quiet northern front and Hezbollah gets to re-group, re-arm, and weigh their options while certain relevant regional powers weigh theirs." (Cough cough Iran.) I think there's one more reason: the current Israeli leadership doesn't have any hawk cred to prove or warlike, manly flexing to do. They're still pretty fresh off Operation Cast Lead and they're not due for elections anytime soon.

In addition, Operation Cast Lead didn't exactly go well for Israel in global public or diplomatic opinion--I mean, who outside of Israel was happy about that? Anyone? Not even the U.S. was on board (okay, maybe Charles Krauthammer)--and another war, even one provoked by Hizballah, would not help Israel in that department. The Goldstone Report is still being investigated by both sides, and the U.N. will probably send it to the Hague--a reasonably ominous development for Israel and its ongoing investigation, since according to The Majlis "Richard Goldstone recommended the UN send the report to the International Criminal Court only if both sides aren't willing to conduct legitimate investigations." Human rights groups are still on the scent. Israel doesn't need to give them new material.

I think the half-life on Goldstone will have a lot to do with whether we see a full-scale conflict in Southern Lebanon, even if Hizballah provokes--Israel has a choice to escalate, and right now there are few upsides and lots of downsides to taking it. (Indeed, that choice is a large part of what won Ehud Olmert such opprobrium in the aftermath of 2006's July War, and has won him the privilege of being referred to as "stupid," "idiotic," etc. forever after whenever that war is discussed.)

Of course, that hasn't always stopped them before. Nabki says, "Israeli strategists are talking about the Dahiyah doctrine and the concept of punishment, not dissimilar to Ops Accountability and Grapes of Wrath in 1993 and 1996. Next time, they say, we won’t bother try to defeat Hezbollah, instead we’ll smash Lebanon to demonstrate to the Lebanese the folly of tolerating them."

On the one hand, not trying to crush Hizballah is probably wise. It didn't go well last time and will just add fuel to a number of fires. On the other, punishing the people for a group's politics and actions hasn't been working too well in Gaza, nor, as Larison keeps hammering away (here too--there are too many good ones), does it generally in the case of sanctions (against Burma, Iran, Gaza, ad nauseam) or in principle.

What's more, while I have no doubt in Israel's ability to lay waste to Lebanon no matter what Hizballah does (unless Nasrallah is hiding a large air force very well), they still have to deal with the risk of Hizballah's managing to make them look bad tactically. Israel doesn't just have to win to avoid that; they have to embarrass Hizballah. Otherwise, in the context of asymmetrical expectations, the specter of 2006 combined with an impressive or even decent showing from Hizballah will not help the nyah nyah narrative one bit.

Finally, I fail to see how this plan works out well for Israel in the strategic long run. Even if it goes brilliantly, they'll then border an impoverished, destabilized Lebanon full of a lot of very mad, very suddenly poor people for whom employment with Hizballah could start looking very good (especially if Iran is smart and sends a bunch of cash Hizballah's way to pay recruits--Hizballah was offering $100-$200 a week back in the mid-eighties, thanks to their Shi'i parent). Hizballah, in this scenario (only the one-sentence version, to be fair), will be left more or less intact, and it will be ready, willing, and able to make Israel's northern border very unhappy (especially given their stated intention, per Nabki, to go on the offensive "next time" rather than fighting "defensively and reactively" as they did in 2006). (Though Syria has a role to play here, too, which I think could go either way in terms of giving the green light.) The Israeli government will probably have a reasonably doubtful chunk of the electorate on its hands, especially if the government is seen to have started or disproportionately escalated the conflict that created this situation.

This particular plan of attack would really, really not help Israel on the human rights front, either--Hizballah is their best target from the point of view of avoiding civilians and hitting an internationally unpopular enemy, despite recent softening from Britain and international observers toward the group in response to their new platform.

All of this said, I wouldn't be shocked if it happened: Hizballah is maybe due to remind everyone of its war-waging chops (it's coming up on four years now)--they did just redeploy their rockets deeper into Lebanon, raising the stakes of a conflict--and Israel has been known to get in deeper than necessary when the IDF feels it has something to prove (cf. Israeli-Lebanese war, 1982-2000), which it probably does with regard to Hizballah. On that front, it's at least promising that Ariel Sharon isn't Defense Minister, even if Netanyahu isn't a huge improvement on Menachem Begin.

Plus, well, in this arena, it doesn't take much. But if there's a good option for Israel that includes conflict, I don't see it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Once again, there's just nothing to say

On Wednesday morning, a suicide car bomber slammed into a Frontier Corps convoy of vehicles heading to inaugurate a girls school in the village of Kad, in the Lower Dir district of northwest Pakistan, killing 7 and wounding at least 130. Among the dead were 3 US troops in Pakistani dress and a Frontier Corpsman. The others were schoolgirls. The attack occurred as the convoy was reaching two girls' schools, one an elementary school and one a high school rebuilt with US funds. The force of the blast collapsed the high school's walls, but it was empty. Most of the wounded were schoolgirls in the elementary school, hit by flying glass and debris; ironically, given that the Taliban claim to be Muslims, some were having their class on Islam when the shrapnel hit them.

H/t Juan Cole.

New steps by Hizballah

A recent article from the Washington Post says that Hizballah has redeployed its long-range rockets "deep into northern Lebanon and the Bekaa valley"--that is, away from the southern border with Israel--which would mean conflicts between Hizballah and Israel would now involve a much broader territorial swath of Lebanon, probably forcing a conflict between the two states (or a crackdown by the Lebanese government on Hizballah, which seems unlikely, though I would be fascinated to see how that would play out--it would be very tricky PR for the government and a very interesting test of the rebuilt Lebanese army).

This is an interesting development for its own sake, but particularly so coming fairly quickly after Hizballah's announcement of its new political platform, which has been received by most observers as a sign of moderation and a swing away from militiadom and toward full-fledged political party status. Qifa Nabki agrees.

Nabki in particular is not necessarily saying that this represents a moderation or a path toward full political engagement and military quiescence, but that is a sense I get from much of the commentary. I didn't quite buy this notion at the time and I still don't. Hizballah is and has been a political movement for a few years now; they are also, at the same time, a guerrilla fighting force. I don't think they have any plans to give up either end of the operation, because what they are is, in fact, something different from either of these characterizations. I'll wait to talk more about what that is after I've actually written my thesis, but this is what it's about.

In addition, I find this bit from the WaPo article interesting:

Hezbollah "learned their lesson" in 2006, when vital intelligence enabled the Israel Defense Forces to destroy the group's long-range launch sites in the first days of the conflict, said reserve Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash, a former head of IDF intelligence. In effect, he said, "the 'border' is now the Litani River," with Hezbollah's rocket sites possibly extending north of Beirut.

It's an interesting statement because the original objective of Israel's 1978 intervention into Lebanon was to make the Litani river the actual border (see Benny Morris's Righteous Victims). The notion of annexing Lebanon south of the Litani and leaving the rest for a Christian Maronite state that would enter an alliance of religious minorities with Israel in a sea of Arab Muslims goes back to David Ben Gurion.

I have no way of knowing if it was Gen. Farkash's intention to reference this particular tradition. If it was, it's an unfortunate reference to make on the public record (or at all, one would like to think). Either way, his statement seems to interpret Hizballah's move as a defensive one, a form of retreat. This is inaccurate. It represents, as most other observers have concluded, Hizballah's confidence in its penetration of greater areas of Lebanon and its aim to strategically invest more of Lebanon in its endeavors, rather than remaining limited to the South. (Of course, the Bekaa is and has been a Hizballah stronghold for years, but as far as I know this represents a new level of military investment.)

I'm interested to see what Hizballah's next move is.

Postgame analysis

Larison has some interesting public opinion numbers from Iran.

I don't know nearly enough about Iran, so I won't comment, but I figured I'd pass them along.

Monday, February 1, 2010

O rly?

It is with much dis-gusto that I present to you the Make Me Skinny Jacket by Rebecca Taylor.

Listen. Blazers and fitted jackets can indeed produce the illusion of a small waist, hourglass figure, and other features that translate to "flattering" by today's dominant beauty standards. This is one of the many, many things I love about them. (In the "black blazer" category alone I have three. This should tell you something.)

However. I must point out that they do not actually change one's body composition, and that while it is not this or any one company's fault that we have a national obsession with thinness, marketing products on the basis of future or illusory thinness (usually both) is really unhelpful to everyone (except the ones counting the cash, I suppose). This is just such a pathetically transparent and tasteless example of it that I actually couldn't quite believe it when I saw it.

That's all, really. Carry on.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Good advice

"It's always hard to say, 'I don't know.' But no one else can say it for you."
--Ta-Nehisi Coates, January 28th, 2010.

Now the question is, when I say this to my hypothetical future children, do I say "there was this blogger..." or do I just lie and say Grandpa said it?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Undeserving of response

It would be a waste of time and energy to try to explain to someone so willfully stupid and profoundly heartless why his thoughts on Haiti are offensive. Better to let him keep hanging himself with his own rope, which he does in this piece at least four times.

If You Rebuild It, They Will Come by Paul Shirley.

True enough. But what about when people repeat their mistakes? And what about when they do things that obviously act against their own self-interests?

In the case of mistakes and warnings as applied to Haiti, I don’t mean to indict those who ignored actual warnings against earthquakes, of which there were many before the recent one. Although it would have been prudent to pay heed to those, I suppose.

Instead, I’m referring to the circumstances in which people lived. While the earthquake was, obviously, unavoidable, the way in which many of the people of Haiti lived was not. Regrettably, some Haitians would have died regardless of the conditions in that country. But the fact that so many people lived in such abject poverty exacerbated the extent of the crisis.

How could humans do this to themselves? And what’s being done to stop it from happening again?

After the tsunami of 2004, the citizens of the world wailed and donated and volunteered for cleanup, rarely asking the important – and, I think, obvious – question: What were all those people doing there in the first place? Just as important: If they move back to a place near the ocean that had just been destroyed by a giant wave, shouldn’t our instinct be to say, “Go ahead if you want, but you’re on your own now.”?

We did the same after Hurricane Katrina. We were quick to vilify humans who were too slow to respond to the needs of victims, forgetting that the victims had built and maintained a major city below sea level in a known target zone for hurricanes. Our response: Make the same mistake again. Rebuild a doomed city, putting aside logic as we did.

And now, faced with a similar situation, it seems likely that we will do the same.

Shouldn’t there be some discourse on how the millions of dollars that are being poured into Haiti will be spent? And at least a slight reprimand for the conditions prior to the earthquake? Some kind of inquisition? Something like this?:

Dear Haitians –

First of all, kudos on developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Your commitment to human rights, infrastructure, and birth control should be applauded.

As we prepare to assist you in this difficult time, a polite request: If it’s possible, could you not re-build your island home in the image of its predecessor? Could you not resort to the creation of flimsy shanty- and shack-towns? And could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while?

The Rest Of The World

Seriously, this is such splutter bait. It tempts me so to just start ranting about structural economic inequity and reproduction rates across economic strata and on and on and on--but that a) will make no difference to anyone and b) is the only sane goal I can imagine Shirley had when writing this piece.

And yet, I can't stop. I need to quote at least one more time. It's sort of like watching a car wreck, or a scary alien from a sci-fi movie--you know what it is, you know it's awful, its every move is pretty predictable, and you can't stop looking at it.

And I’m not as naïve as I once was – I don’t think the people of Haiti have the option of moving. But I do think that our assistance should be restricted, like it should be in cases of starvation. It simply does not work to give, unconditionally. What might work is to teach. In the case of famine-stricken segments of Africa, teaching meant making people understand that a population of people needs a certain amount of food, and that the creation of that food has to be self-sustaining for the system to work. In the case of earthquake-stricken Haiti, teaching might mean limited help, but help that is accompanied by criticism of the circumstances that made that help necessary.

First of all, congratulations to Shirley for inventing sustainable development all on his own without any help from all those dumb bleeding hearts who have been working on it for decades. Secondly, I completely agree that when entire countries in Africa have their weekly community meetings they should be discussing whether there was a big enough crop this year to have any babies yet rather than, I don't know, sitting around playing drums? Oh, Paul Shirley. What a guy.

I'll just end with this:
A Haitian woman, days after the earthquake:

“We need so much. Food, clothes, we need everything. I don’t know whose responsibility it is, but they need to give us something soon,” said Sophia Eltime, a mother of two who has been living under a bed sheet with seven members of her extended family. (From an AP report.)

Obviously, a set of circumstances such as the one in which Ms. Eltime was living is a heart-wrenching one. And for that, anyone would be sympathetic. Until she says, “I don’t know whose responsibility it is.” I don’t know whose responsibility it is, either. What I do know is that it is not the responsibility of the outside world to provide help. It’s nice if we do, but it is not a requirement, especially when people choose to influence their own existences negatively, whether by having too many children when they can’t afford them or by failing to recognize that living in a concrete bunker might not be the best way to protect one’s family, whether an earthquake happens or not.

Of course, Sophia Eltime was living in a concrete bunker because it's just so industrial chic, and she's always been really into post-apocalyptic science fiction and this way she got to feel like she was a character in a Philip K. Dick story! And family planning was, of course, entirely under her control, what with her excellent sex education, easy access to contraceptives, and well-respected rights to control her body that have never been questioned by the social and familial context in which she lives. She just loves children, you know? They really brighten up the bunker.

Dammit, he got me in the end. At least I kept my sarcasm. I'm going to end this now before I get tempted to actually comment on his website.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Juan Cole:

Gates went to Pakistan to emphasize to Islamabad that the US was not again going to abandon it and Afghanistan, as it had in the past. Pakistan, he wanted to say, is now a very long-term ally of Washington. He hoped for cooperation against the Haqqani, Taliban and Hizb-i Islami guerrillas. He wanted to allay conspiracy theories about US mercenary armies crawling over Pakistan, occasionally blowing things up (and then blaming the explosions on Pakistanis) in order to destabilize the country and manipulate its policies.

The message his mission inadvertently sent was that the US is now increasingly tilting to India and wants to put it in charge of Afghanistan security; that Pakistan is isolated; that he is pressuring Pakistan to take on further counter-insurgency operations against Taliban in the Northwest, which the country flatly lacks the resources to do; and that Pakistani conspiracy theories about Blackwater were perfectly correct and he had admitted it.


In, uh, less significant good news, I've written 18 pages of thesis!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The glories of social networking

I just got a message on Facebook from a friend in Syria. I spent a lot of time--and I do mean a lot--helping him with his English studies and tutoring him. Our friendship was one big language exchange and we taught each other a lot. Anyway, he said the following:

Hi! How is it going . what dose girrrrrl maen in USA does it mean lettel girl . and that why you wrote boyyyyyy .for jock or somthing .انا حبيت الرساله كتير . يعني كتير شكرا وحظا سعيدا مع الجامعة. انت شاطرة وانا فخور بك . انا الان في المسوى السابع في الانكليزي وادرس جيدا. طبعا انت السبب في ذلك

First let me say that his spoken English is exponentially better than his written English. I mean unbelievably so. He picked up a good accent from me and he speaks and understands very well. But his reading and writing are not so hot, partly because the English program he's in sucks. They didn't even teach them that capital letters come after periods. ANYWAY, what he said in Arabic was:

I liked the message [from you] a lot. I mean, thanks very much and good luck with university. You are clever and I am proud of you. I am now in the seventh level in English and I study well. Of course you are the reason for that.

I feel really good about that, what can I say? Last I heard from him he had stopped studying, so I'm really happy he's back at it.