Tuesday, December 30, 2003

one-third

one-third of americans think bush should be impeached for his decision to go to war in iraq. as atrios notes, this is approximately the same percentage as those who favored clinton's impeachment. atrios claims this says more about the media than anything else, but i don't totally agree. while the media certainly jumped on the impeachment bandwagon, it was not instigated by them (whatever "them" means when you are speaking of something as nebulous as the media). the impeachment frenzy was pushed relentlessly by conservatives in congress even as polls repeatedly showed that they did not have support of the public. (clinton's approval rating was in the mid-60s when he was impeached, a number that is higher than bush's present rating). the media just followed along. sure, they didn't have to, but the republican leadership was really good at creating the appearance of blood in the water. it was inevitable that the media would be drawn to the spectacle.

as far as i know no democrat in congress has called for bush's impeachment. is that because democrats don't have enough votes to pull it off? or because they are too high-minded to resort to such a low tactic? or because they believe the clinton impeachment was damaging to the country and don't want to put us through that again? or because they fear that to make such a call would be political suicide in these times of war and they think that the president should be allowed to do whatever crazy shit he dreams up so long as he chants "war war war" as he does it? or just because they are a bunch of big wussies? we report, you decide.

this is a new one

i got an email this morning with the following subject line: ‘Concerning the manufacture of Rubber Hose parts and Automobile rubber parts." the message is from a turkish rubber manufacturer who, i guess, thinks i am a rubber hose retailer. clearly turkish t.v. has dropped the ball here. don't they show "welcome back kotter" reruns in bursa?

no news is good news?

no new york times delivery today, so that means i am crabby. our newspaper delivery is really spotty here. about 5-10% of the time it either doesn't arrive at all or arrives too late for me to read it on the train to work. our neighbors used to subscribe to the philadelphia inquirer but canceled because the delivery was so bad. service actually improved after they canceled. they got a free paper most days for the rest of the year that they lived here. even now, three years later, we get an inquirer fairly often. (but not today)

i will give our paper delivery person one thing, he/she has balls. a few weeks ago our paper did not show up one day and then was too late for me to read before i left on the next. when it finally did arrive (around mid-day, i am told) there was a little card tucked in with the paper instructing us where to send a christmas bonus. i think the paper was late the next day too.

crab crab crab!

Monday, December 29, 2003

the star chamber

surprise! it looks like saddam's trial will not be public because of "the possibility that he will mention the names of states and the names of persons to whom he has given bribes and wealth." at least so says iyad alawi, a member of the iraqi interim governing council. alawi claims that secrecy is necessary to avoid poisoning relations between iraq and other states who may have supported iraq in the past, but its pretty obvious that a secret trial would also prevent saddam from mentioning american patronage of his regime during the time he was gassing kurds.

furthermore, alawi himself has much to gain from a secret trial. alawi is a former baathist and no doubt is someone who was "given bribes and wealth" by the hussein government. so while alawi held open the possibility that other countries such as kuwait and iran could indict saddam in their own courts, but only "after the Iraqi trial had finished" and added that he expected saddam would be executed soon after the iraqi trial. the foreign trials, especially an iranian trial, would be out of the control of the iraqi governing council and the u.s. occupying power. so i expect that saddam's execution will take place before anyone else gets a chance to get him in court. the only question is whether the results of the secret trial or the execution itself takes place in October 2004. i'm sure karl rove is trying to puzzle that one out right now.

back in the saddle again

i had a good holiday, but it's good to be home. this should be a nice quiet short week at work and the after work craziness is probably a thing of the past.

the weekend was good fun, albeit totally internet-free. in addition to eating too much and loading up on gifts, i managed to hook some of my wife's relatives on settlers of catan. we also played samarkand. it was my first time playing since visiting samarkand. the game really has nothing to do with the uzbek city (the islamic-style art on the board is more arabian and turkish than uzbek or tajik), but i like it anyway. the important thing is that they are both fairly simple games and thus good gateway games for non-playing relatives. next year maybe i will hit them with something a little harder.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

orange

yesterday we flew home from minneapolis to philadelphia. between when we flew to minnesota on friday and our return on monday, the powers-that-be upgraded the security alert to an "orange" level on that be-afraid-be-very-afraid terrorism alert scale.

despite all the excitement on cnn about the new color, there was no noticeable difference at the airport aside an occasional recording advising travelers that we were now at "orange" alert. the recording ran every 20 minutes but did nothing to explain what, if anything, we were supposed to do differently. in fact, my wife and i did nothing differently and it went fine. we got through security no slower than before the alert level was raised (in fact, a little faster. but i think that was due to the fact that the minneapolis security people seemed to have their act together more than their colleagues in philly) even though i had no valid photo i.d. with me.

while in line for security i noticed that my driver's license had expired three weeks earlier on my birthday. i should note at this point that not noticing that your license is expired for three weeks is not stupid. why would i ever bother to read my own driver's license? i'm a busy guy, what with my blogging and all. the security line, however, was boring enough so that i finally had a chance to catch up on my driver's license reading. thus i noticed the date in the upper right hand corner. after i read the date, i imagined myself being pulled out of the security line and started mentally cataloguing all of the stuff written in arabic that i happened to be carrying on my bag. would they be able to tell the difference between simple conjugation exercises and love letters to osama?

but in fact, there was no need for concern. the security people looked at my license and let me through without comment. no one at the airport seemed any more vigilant than before, including the people behind the x-ray machines.

touching base

we got back from minnesota late last night and tomorrow we leave for central pennsylvania. i was able to do some stuff on the internet from minnesota, but i highly doubt that i will in central pa. so after whatever i write in the next 24 hours (if anything. no promises here) there probably won't be anything else until sunday or after. somehow i am sure you will survive. merry/happy/mubarak whatever-the-hell-you-celebrate!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

we're number one!!!

this site is the number one hit if you google: swan hose seattle

who says i'm not making a difference with this site

time (or lack thereof)

i don't think i've ever been as busy with non-work things as i have been these last two weeks. it will continue for one week more, at least. it's so odd, because work is actually slow these days. i got plenty of cases on my desk, but as opposing counsel, judges, and clients disappear for some holiday-related vacation, most of my work has stalled as i wait for one or more of those people to return. for the last week, i have mostly been dredging through THE PILE. THE PILE is a pile of things that i never had time to deal with before, a real chamber of neglected horrors. nothing in THE PILE is a serious problem (the work can only enter THE PILE if there is no real deadline). but there usually is a reason i originally tossed a particular piece of work into THE PILE rather than just doing it. so dealing with THE PILE, while a good thing to do now and then is a real slog. procrastination is always a tempting option (you may note from the time stamps of my blogging that i have been doing most of my posts during work hours lately). at least i don't have to stay late at work these days.

when i leave work, however, i've been crazy busy. i've had an executive board meeting, several holiday parties, a bowling party where we did not bowl, arabic study sessions, the arabic final exam and post-exam boozing with classmates, dental appointments, a sneak preview of monster, people coming over to play board games, a birthday brunch for my mother, and, of course, the opening night viewing of return of the king. tonight, we are hosting another holiday party at our apartment, followed by my firm's party tomorrow night, then we wake up bright and early saturday to fly to minnesota to visit my father-in-law and assorted family members. we fly back from minnesota monday night, i go to work on tuesday, the next day we leave again for central pennsylvania to spend christmas with my mother-in-law and another bunch of my wife's family.

that brings me to sunday, december 28th. after that, things may finally calm down. or maybe not. our post-12/28 time is filling up fast. every time some new social event comes up we push it back to the other side of christmas when we will finally have time. except that soon we won't have time. there is no escape from this cycle

don't get me wrong. all of the things that are keeping me busy are fun (except for the dental appointments. damn that sweet tooth of mine!). i am enjoying myself. but i am also wearing down. i've barely seen my wife over the past few days (last night i didn't get home until 12:30, only to wake up early this morning for work). it's been weeks since i simply left work and went home without having guests show up or immediately leaving for somewhere else. at least in minnesota there will be some down time.

but blogging. well, i've only been able to continue with my erratic posting lately because work is slow. when i go away to various in-laws, it will likely stop. i really can't blog when i should be spending quality time with the relatives. i realize i also said that i might not be able to blog when i was in uzbekistan, but then ended up posting a lot. yeah, i was a dirty liar back then. but this time i really mean it. i just hope that my political rants don't build up to dangerous levels in my brain when i have no blogging outlet.

maintenance

i just played catchup with my links to add various the new additions to the liberal coalition. (that auto link script is seeming more and more appealing as we grow). i also updated my new blog showcase vote, an entry by one of the new coalition members. check out what's so wrong about peace, love and higher taxes?

will the capture of saddam hurt the president politically?

juan cole summarizes how this could bite president unelectable in the ass in the long run. juan has also argued that the capture could increase the violence in iraq, not decrease it. apparently a u.s. intelligence report agrees as it argues that "seizing Hussein could provoke more attacks by making the insurgency more acceptable to Sunni Muslims who were not members of Hussein's Baath Party elite." (article via joshua marshall).

as i noted in my "captured" post below, saddam's capture is more of symbolic victory than a substantive one and symbolic victories have a way of backfiring in the long run. it remains to be seen what the long-term effect of saddam's capture will be.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

me and arabic: a longwinded history

tonight is my final exam in my arabic class. unfortunately, it's uncertain whether there will be a class next semester. the whole thing can be quite frustrating. i have been trying to learn this language for 5 years now and despite my dedication to the language, it is extremely difficult to ever achieve fluency even though i have lived only in major metropolitan areas and i have been determined to continue with my studies despite each dead end i run into. if you want one example of why this country is so woefully short on arabic speakers despite a good higher education system and several large arab immigrant communities, here is my story:

i first decided i wanted to learn arabic in 1998. initially i tried to teach myself the language. i managed to master the alphabet (though not the pronunciation) and a few simple words, but i quickly discovered that it is impossible to learn a language without interacting with others to develop an ear for the sounds. so in the summer of 1998, i signed up for an intro to arabic class that met once a week out of a community center on the north side of chicago. the class sucked. the teacher was an iraqi immigrant and all he had us do was memorize phrases from an arabic phrasebook interspersed with lectures about how great life was in iraq. (the guy was a christian who was a big fan of the hussein government because saddam's strict secularism kept the fundamentalists at bay. i wonder what my old teacher is thinking these days).

after that, i began to seriously search for a real class in arabic. i did a blind call to "american islamic college," a school i learned about just because i happened to pass the building while driving around chicago and found out that they offered night classes in arabic. the classes were amazingly cheap ($100 a semester) and featured a real professor teaching a real college level class. we learned "fuus-ha" or high arabic, the language of the qur'an and the educated classes in the arab world. the rumor was that the college was subsidized by the saudi government, hence the low tuition. most of my classmates were muslims who were taking the class for religious reasons, but not all. one of my classmates, jesus, was a mexican linguist. we joked that we had both jesus and mohammed in our class (actually, several mohammeds). so i wasn't the only non-muslim in the class, but i was the only atheist jew. no one seemed to care. in fact, i was briefly mentioned (though not by name) in an interview with my professor in the chicago tribune when noted that the college was open to students of all backgrounds and religions.

i took my first year of arabic at american islamic college and really learned to love the language. in 1999, however, my wife was offered her current job outside philadelphia. it was tenure track and we could not seriously consider turning it down, so we moved here, causing an interruption in my arabic studies. the interruption lasted for a full year. first, i had to concentrate on passing the pennsylvania and new jersey bar exams (remarkably, an illinois law license was not that marketable in philadelphia). in the summer of 2000, we went to tunisia for vacation. i was hoping to practice arabic there, but the street arabic in north africa is quite different from fuus-ha so i could not get very far. also everyone in tunisia spoke french, a language i have studied for seven years. so whenever i wanted to interact with anyone i could either struggle through articulating what i wanted to say in arabic or say it in french and it would instantly be done. the easier french route was hard to resist and within a few days i stopped even trying to do anything in arabic.

i came back, however, determined to pick up my arabic studies. i found a night class at philadelphia community college and took a year of arabic there. i had to start over with first year again–the year gap had cost me a bit of my language ability, plus at PCC they taught a different kind of arabic, a sort of fuus-ha colloquial arabic hybrid (which is actually a lot more useful since, in effect, i was learning two languages at once). the PCC class moved very slowly, there was a wide range of seriousness and ability among my classmates and the speed of our progress was determined by the slowest in the class. but i still got a lot out of it, and became good friends with several of my classmates and my professor. at the end of the first year, the core group of serious students scattered. one went to cairo, another north jersey, another just decided he needed a year off. in the end, there were not enough students to justify a second year class, i was the only one left who was really pushing for it.

when September 11th happened, there was much talk about new enthusiasm for the arabic language. according to news reports, colleges and universities were adding arabic programs left and right responding to a surge of interest among both students and the government. contrary to those news reports, i went the entire year unsuccessfully looking for a second year arabic class i could take in the evening after work. intro to arabic classes may have been crammed, but there were no second year classes. and one year of arabic is pretty useless when you consider how much time is spent at the beginning just trying to master the sounds and alphabet. i told myself that once the crammed first year classes graduated to the next level, more second year classes would open and i would find something.

i finally found a class in the fall of 2002. the university of pennsylvania had a 2 year arabic sequence at night. unfortunately, i would have to start over with the first year again and the first year class was full (about twice as many people had registered for the class as there were slots). i tried to talk my way in, i met with the professor and the head of the program. i talked them into giving me a placement test which indicated that i could skip the first semester if i wanted. but they would not agree to let me join in the second semester unless a whole lot of people dropped out during the first. the class was just too full.

a lot of people did. one thing about arabic is that it is an extremely hard language to learn. that's what i find so fascinating about it. it's filled with bizarre grammatical rules and a complex system of roots and patterns. the u.s. military rates arabic as among the hardest languages that it teaches. as a result the casual enthusiasm that drives people to decide to take arabic generally does not carry them far once they realize how much work it will be. at the beginning of the first semester 45 people had registered for a class that was capped at 21 slots. by the second semester when i joined, there were 12 people in the class, half of whom, like me, were not part of the original 45 who registered at the beginning of the year. so the huge surge in interest in arabic is not generating a huge number of arabic speakers. the drop off rate is so high, only a minuscule portion of the people who register for the intro class will ever develop any meaningful speaking or reading ability. and there is no reason to believe that the total number of people who are willing to go the distance is any more than the pre-9/11 numbers. in my experience, the people driven by 9/11 to take the class are the first to drop out. for some reason, one seems to need a different motive to carry through.

anyway, because of the large drop out rate, i managed to get into the second year for the first time after four years of trying in two different cities. once again, i got along well with a core group of serious students from my class. several of them had similar stories of unsuccessful attempts to learn arabic over the previous few years. when the class ended last spring, three of us continued to meet all summer once a week to study on our own. we worked our way ahead in the text book so that we were far ahead of the second year class when it started last September. (which was good, for it allowed me to go off to uzbekistan early in the semester without falling behind).

now that the first semester of the second year class is over, there are questions again about whether there will be enough people to have a class in January. we are now down to 5 people, right around penn's minimum threshold for a class. i just learned that one of my classmates accepted a job with the state department and is moving to washington at the end of the month (government recruitment is an ongoing hazard for arabic students. i have been spoken to about joining the military and foreign service several times now. we are a hot commodity, after all) even if we pull off a second semester class, there is always the problem of what to do after that. i'm trying to talk penn into adding a third year class at night. there really won't be enough students for a third year, but i am hoping that they will schedule their third year graduate level class in the evening so i can attend.

i don't know if i will be able to continue my arabic studies after tonight. but even if i find a way, i expect it will be a constant struggle to find a way to learn the language, just as it has been so far. there is clearly a broad consensus that our country is desperately in need of more people who know arabic, but in my experience nothing has been done to make learning the language much easier. while my reasons for taking arabic have nothing to do with the reasons this language should be a national priority, it really is surprising how limited the resources for learning arabic there are here.

Monday, December 15, 2003

lovecraft time!

what if jack chick worshipped the elder gods
(via pen-elayne)

and

a very cthulhu christmas
(via the gamer's nook)

woo-hoo!

a few weeks ago i won a geography contest in the lonely planet email newsletter, then i promptly forgot about it. i just got home from work and my prize, a trekking in east africa guide book was waiting for me.

captured

i had a really busy weekend, but i thought i should at least make some comment about saddam hussein's capture. basically, it's a good thing. one less murderous leader running around is always a good thing. what else is there to say, really? perhaps it will reduce the amount of violence against u.s. forces there, perhaps not. we will find out, i suppose. i personally doubt that saddam was in charge of the resistance so i don't think his capture will do much but boost soldiers' morale and take away one excuse for why the violence continued after the war was supposedly over. so it really cuts both ways. i could be wrong, of course. none of us really knows. we all have to wait and see.

which is why i find some of the what-does-it-all mean analysis so difficult to take. also it seems to me that saddam's capture is being turned into a bigger thing than it is. i suppose he is a symbol of resistance to america, so his capture is at least symbolically a big deal. but the story is totally drowning out real big news that is happening elsewhere. like the loya jurga in afghanistan. is anyone even covering afghanistan anymore? the loya jurga convened yesterday to draft a new constitution for afghanistan. what happens at that conference may determine whether the country becomes a stable republic or whether its remains a lawless haven for terrorists groups. unlike the capture of saddam, the loya jurga represents a real potential turning point in the so-called "war against terrorism." its success or failure could have real consequences for the future safety of people in the u.s. but it seems like anything relating to afghanistan is automatically assigned to the back burner of american news sources, no matter how potentially important it is.

meanwhile, i keep reading speculation about how the capture of saddam will effect the ‘04 presidential race. the likely effect is absolutely nil. that seems rather obvious. the election is eleven months away and the capture is really just a symbolic victory, not a substantive one. symbols are good at boosting short-term popularity, but usually don't help much in the long term. sometimes they can even hurt a candidate once it becomes clear that symbolism does not mean substantive progress (for example the "mission accomplished" aircraft carrier landing).

i also don't understand how saddam's capture validates anyone's position on the war in iraq. i don't think critics of the war ever said they were against going to war in iraq because we would never be able to capture saddam. in fact, i think most people (both pro and anti war) assumed that he would be killed or captured at some point and were surprised that saddam evaded capture for so long. personally, i don't see any relation between my position on the war and his capture.

okay, i will make one prediction: saddam will be put on trial which will be, at least partially, televised. and the trial will be scheduled for next october, just before presidential elections in the u.s.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

blog maintenance

i've updated my LC blogroll this morning and added a new blog showcase vote link on the sidebar (this week i'm voting twice. ya got a problem with that?). i got more plans. big plans! but, let's be honest, i probably will never get around to doing any of them.

meanwhile atrios seems to be leading an effort to get google to classify president bush as unelectable just as he is a miserable failure. i am always a strong supporter of abusing the internet so i urge everyone else who has a site to help make him unelectable too.

unelectable unelectable unelectable!

Thursday, December 11, 2003

upyernoz gets uppity

i had a trial yesterday and while i would love to tell the tale, this clearly falls into the unbloggable category (like virtually everything that happens at work). i'm only bring it up as an explanation for why i didn't post anything yesterday. real life things get busy now and then.

which begs the question why i feel compelled to even provide an explanation. i don't need to justify anything here. this is my site. i can do whatever i want. sometimes maybe i won't post for days just because i don't want to. so there.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

whew!

david brooks is pissing me off again. i guess i no longer have to worry about losing my liberal coalition decoder ring.

for the record, i am not a dean supporter... yet. i might be in the future. i have remained agnostic about the whole democratic primary so far. in the end i will support basically anyone against bush. i won't commit to anyone this early as part of an almost silent, and rather pathetic when you think about it, protest against the whole primary system. as the primary campaign season gets earlier and earlier, the race seems to be decided before anyone actually casts a vote. dean may well emerge the winner, but i want to pretend that voters decide this rather than some polling firm. if you think diebold voting machines are subject to manipulation, reflect for a minute on the potential with private (and sometimes ideologically committed) polling companies.

so why am i bothered by brooks's column about dean? because brooks, like virtually every columnist i have read, has not noticed what most strikes me about dean, he is running a campaign like the republicans do. when republicans run for president, they portray themselves as farther to the right than they actually are during the primary season. that's called "playing to your base" and they do it to garner the favor of the right wing of the party who have a large turn out rate and who hold a majority votes within the party. when the primaries are over and some republican is nominated, then the candidates unveils his (for it is always a "his") "middle-of-the-road" positions to win the center. for while the right wing base can carry a republican through the primary, it is but a minority of the general electorate (and not a particularly well-liked minority in the general population). that is how republicans win elections and the press seems to understand that. when the last primaries were covered, they regularly noted how bush's pandering to the crazy right was just a necessary evil for him to get nominated.

dean is positioned to follow the same strategy. as the anti-war guy, he has gotten a solid lead among the more left wing side of the party, even though he has pretty solid centrist credentials from his record as governor of vermont. he just isn't emphasizing them yet for strategic reasons. i predict he won't emphasize his more moderate side until after he has the nomination wrapped up. this confuses brooks, just as it confuses many columnists. brooks's column is really nothing more than an attempt to play a game of gotcha! with dean. he contrasts the views of the "old" dean with that of the "new" dean. but much of his portrayal of the "new" dean is simply not accurate. for example, brooks writes "The old Dean was a free trader. The new Dean is not." meanwhile, the "new" dean said the following:
Capitalism is the greatest system that people have ever invented, because it takes advantage of bad traits, as well as our good traits, and turns them into productivity. But the essence of capitalism, which the right-wing never understands - it always baffles me - is, you got to have some rules. Imagine a hockey game with no rules...Nobody benefits. Nobody benefits. So you have got to have reasonable rules. And the rules have to protect everybody in the game.


(thanks to ntodd for pointing out the quote on his site). clearly dean is not the communist radical some people are trying to make him out to be.

dean's strategy of playing to the left while he campaigns for primaries should be familiar to political watchers like brooks. but instead, he is feigns confusion by it and uses it to point out such illusory contradictions. the contradictions, however, seem to be mostly in brooks' head. although, to be fair to brooks, the stereotype of dean as a left-winger seems to be in a lot of people's heads these days.

the misconception that dean is a radical leftist seems to come from his association with the anti-war crowd. for whatever reason, there seems to be a two dimensional stereotype of who the anti-war people are which draws of picture of them as radical 20-something hippy wannabes. the stereotype seems to assume that all protesters are essentially the same people. so when someone marches against the war in iraq, they are conflated with the anti-globalization protesters in seattle. reality, of course, is a bit more complex. dean was not at seattle. as far as i know dean has never made any statement supporting the anti-globalization cause. there is no logical connection that would link opposing the war in iraq with anti-globalization. no doubt some of dean's supporters are anti-globalists, but that does not mean dean is.

there's another reason that i didn't like brooks' column. it's not just the fact that brooks' misrepresentation of dean offends me a little. more importantly, this particularly pisses me off because as a member of the crazy left, i want to be pandered to. is that too much to ask? if bush bends over backwards for the black-helicopter-watching types, why can't any politicians pay attention to me? so i say, let dean follow the pander-to-the-left-during-the-primary-season strategy. it's about time that someone does.

Monday, December 08, 2003

swan king i


Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.
(via blogAmy who even ended up being the same lunatic as me!)

felber

i love his letter to club guantanamo vacationers.

full moon

when i got off the train tonight i noticed there was a full moon. i have noticed the full moon each month since september. it never really happened before that. tonight when i saw it, i thought: three months ago i was in khiva. that's what i thought last time too. only then it was two. i wonder for how many months this count will continue.

it seems like a lot longer. that night in khiva i wandered the streets in short pants with a desert wind blowing on my face. tonight, i was crunching over snow with my briefcase in my hand. it's like a different planet.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

kucinich ad

check out this. it’s the strongest political ad i have seen so far. i wonder if it will actually get any airtime. if it does i predict a lot of sanctimonious complaints that kucinich is using the deaths in iraq for political gain, as commercials of bush visiting the troops on thanksgiving flood the airwaves.
(via atrios)

blogroll crap again

whenever blogger comes back online, i will enter the new coalition members onto my blogroll. there is a script i could paste in that would automatically do it for me, but i didn’t like the way it looked when i did a test run. we’ll see how long this dedication to aesthetics lasts.

nbs vote

by the way, by the power vested in me, i hereby vote for More On Moore, Who Is No More in the new blog showcase.

blogger’s out

i just wrote the previous long post and i can’t post it. i guess i’ll have to save it on a word processor document and then past it in when blogger comes back. kinda feels like blogging from uzbekistan. except it’s colder. and i’m poorer. and the food is different here. and there don’t seem to be any uzbeks about.

al-3aql al-arabiyya

every now and then someone uses the phrase “the arab mind,” usually in a sentence like: “i don’t understand the arab mind.” or worse, “you don’t understand the arab mind.” i’ve never heard of the russian mind or uzbek mind, or chinese mind. it’s always the arab mind and it’s always got something to do with understanding, or lack thereof. (There’s apparently even a book with that title). my own mother has used it with me. so, i have developed an intense hatred for the phrase. it taps into every stereotype of the inscrutable easterner that has plagued the west’s relations with the middle for the last few centuries, implying that the arab mind is somehow alien and needs a special skill to understand. they are the “other” with brains that are just somehow fundamentally different from us.

so today the phrase appeared in the new york times:
"You have to understand the Arab mind," Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, said as he stood outside the gates of Abu Hishma. "The only thing they understand is force — force, pride and saving face."

our political leadership, which began this war because they were unable (or unwilling) to discern the difference between religious fundamentalist arabs and secular nationalist arabs has now put people in charge of winning the hearts and minds of the iraqi people in the hands of bigots like captain brown.

ironically, the understanding of the arab mind is staring people like captain brown in the face. the very same article describes how u.s. forces have collectively punished entire towns of 7000 for the actions of 7 individuals, how they have bulldozed the houses of family members of suspected militants, required all males to get a special i.d. card that is printed only in english (and thus obviously not intended to be of any use to iraqis), surrounded towns with barbed wire fences, etc. these harsh policies are the product of captain brown’s attitude. but if he paused to think about how he would feel if he and his family were subjected to those same conditions, maybe he would realize why iraqis are acting so ungrateful towards the u.s. occupation. the solution to the puzzle of the arab mind is that there is no puzzle. they are just reacting in the way anyone would act if you put them in the same situation.

as the article notes, the u.s. military is essentially borrowing tactics in iraq from what israel uses in the west bank and gaza. but just as israel has not won over the residents of the occupied territories over the past 36 years, by adopting their tactics the u.s. has effectively given up on creating a meaningful democracy in iraq. viewing arabs as understanding only “force, pride and saving face” will lead to policies that may be able to maintain tenuous control of the country, but it will not create a stable democracy, and it will have the inevitable side-effect of never-ending casualities and growing resentment against the u.s. both inside and outside iraq.

the thing that pro-iraq war types don’t seem to understand is not just that the war is not over in iraq, but also that it is possible for the u.s. to lose. sure, the u.s. will win every battle, if for no other reason than because it so severely outguns any possible opposition. but the u.s. won ever battle in vietnam, but yet it lost the war because the vietnamese simply refused to give up. when you treat iraqis under your control like caged animals who understand nothing but punishment, they have no incentive to give up and nothing to lose by continuing to fight. any human mind put in such a situation would inevitably reach the same conclusion.

UPDATE: chris at see why was also struck by the same "arab mind" bit in today's times.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

this might get me thrown out of the liberal coalition but

i actually liked david brooks' column this morning. he usually pisses me off, but today i found him to be pretty funny. plus, the whole thing is really making fun of tom delay, which is really never a bad thing in my book.

i haven't gone out to read what other bloggers thought of it yet. maybe i will now. or maybe not. it's pretty and snowy out and i am itching to play (and the union x-mas party is officially snowed out).

yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

it's snowing!

i love the winter. in fact, my biggest gripe about the philly area is that the climate is too warm for me. whenever i wake up and look out the window to see snow on the ground part of me screams "snow day! no school!" (i don't actually scream, i just do in my head). this happens even when the snow comes over the weekend and there would have been no school anyway (the voices in my head apparently don't look at a calendar, just as they never got word about my graduation), and dispite the fact that i usually have to go to work anyway when it snows. but even when i have to work, it puts me in a good mood all day.

today, it may have the added bonus of getting me out of going to a certain union christmas party. said union is a client and i should start by saying that the party is not bad. it's just that when i am there i am really working, so it's not like a normal party. which means i have to be on my best behavior and try not to insult anyone. so last year, for example, when i was at the table with a particularly conservative union member, i had to bite my tongue when he talked about why it was such a good idea to invade iran. also, the party is a one hour drive from my place., which means it takes 2 additional hours out of my evening and i can't drink when i'm there. later this afternooni will call a fellow lawyer in my office to see if i can skip it this year.


Friday, December 05, 2003

i have rejiggled

visiting my fellow coalition members just got easier

more of a coalition than we have in iraq

i just got invited to join the liberal coalition, a group blog for other wackos like me. i'm at work now, so i do not have time to mess with my links. but some day (maybe even soon) i will rejiggle my links to direct both of my readers to the other fine blogs in the coalition.

in the mean time, i urge both of you to follow the coalition link, lap up all the words of wisdom there, and then follow all the other links to the various coalition members for further lapping.

mmmm, wisdom.

p.s. i almost forgot, thanks to ntodd for inviting me to join

p.p.s. i know the liberal coalition link is not working this morning. i have checked and rechecked the url and i think the problem is blogger glitches rather than my inability to type links correctly the first time around. but i can't say i am positive it's not somehow my fault. in either case, it still doesn't work when you read this, just wait and either i or the fine folks at blogger will eventually make things right.

p.p.p.s. okay now it works.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

don't ask don't work

i suspect there is a connection between the ongoing deaths of american soldiers in iraq and the military's don't ask don't tell policy.

ten years ago, when the gays in the military controversy first erupted, conservatives portrayed the issue as a conflict between political correctness and miliary readiness. they argued that to allow gays to openly serve in the military would risk the lives of soldiers in combat because it would ruin unit cohesion.

i think our experience in iraq shows precisely the opposite is true. the military's actions in enforcing the policy illustrate it will discharge anyone who it determines is gay regardless of their strategic importance. currently, the military is in desperate need of arabic translators. because of the shortage, u.s. troops are regularly getting into conflicts with iraqi people that are often no more than simple misunderstandings. sometimes these conflicts have resulted in fighting at the time of the misunderstanding, but other times they just breed resentment that further encourages iraqis to participate in future attacks against the u.s. the campaign to win over the hearts and minds of iraqis cannot succeed when americans cannot even communicate with the people they want to win over. although it is really impossible to say for sure, i believe that the shortage of arabists in the u.s. military is significantly contributing to the number of deaths

the military's shortage of arab translators is very real. hell, the state department apparently has only 402 arab speakers, and that includes all of the personnel in all of the embassies and consulates in 15 or so arab-speaking countries. if anything, the discharge of gay arab linguists has accelerated. meanwhile, the government's shortage has come up in every arabic class i have taken since 9/11. it even came up when i was in tashkent. while wandering one night, i met a guy who did I.T. work for the u.s. embassy. during our conversation he asked me what languages i knew and when i mentioned arabic, he tried to talk me into either joining the military or foreign service because both were facing such a dire need.

in one sense the "political correctness versus military readiness" formulation touted by the military during the original debate was accurate. but the political correctness that interfered with military readiness turned out to be the military's kowtowing to it own anti-gay culture. (see this article for an example of the wasted potential that results from this policy (via bark bark woof woof)).

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

guantanamo

i've said it before, but i think that the bush administration's policy with regards to those people held in guantanamo is probably the worst thing the administration has ever done. in one fell swoop, the administration destroyed any pretense that this country stands for justice or the rule of law, undermined our treaty obligations, jeopardized american military and civilians serving abroad (creating a precedent allowing a country to disregard the geneva convention at will), creating a rallying cry for islamic fundamentalists that is sure to encourage more terrorism against the u.s., and alienated our allies (almost all of those held are nationals of allies in the so-called war against terror and yet no american citizens are held in guantanamo). on the whole, i simply cannot see how it can be effective in decreasing the risk of terrorism either. if we had any proof that any of those people were involved in terrorism against the u.s, we could hold them legally under the geneva convention, or even regular criminal law. the fact that the administration decided that they did not want to follow those procedures suggests that they have no such proof.

in a few years, i expect that guantanamo will be uttered in the same breath by historians as japanese interment during world war two, the palmer raids during the 1920s, lincoln's decision to suspend habeas corpus, and the alien and sedition act. while the decision to create "camp x-ray" in november 2001 could, at least initially, be explained as a knee-jerk reaction by a traumatized nation, there simply is no excuse for the fact that these people are still detained two years later. even worse is the fact that the american news media's coverage of the detentions has been sporadic.

while most information about the detainees and the conditions they live in has not been publicized, what little has leaked out is pretty bad. some of the detainees are children, and there have been a remarkable number of suicide attempts among the detainees (remember, these people are supposedly islamic fundamentalists, a religion that strictly condemns suicide). for a while we have known that most of the detained were detained for the most part on the word of locals in afghan. but this article mentions that the u.s. military was paying locals to find detainees. thus some of the detained, not because of any connection to terrorists, but "were kidnapped for reward money offered for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters."

while the u.s. media looks the other way, the guardian has published good article in which it interviewed the few detainees that were released (all were held for more than a year and none were ever found to be dangerous or connected to terrorists in any way).

as the guardian article notes, the detentions in guantanamo are entirely unnecessary. the stated purposes of the detentions could have been met while complying with existing international law. instead, the bush administration made up the concept of "illegal combatants," a new class of detainees who have all of the disadvantages of prisoners of war, but none of their rights:

Practical templates were available in international law that, on the face of it, would have allowed Washington to satisfy its aims. It remains a mystery as to why the Bush administration chose not to follow international law, but to make up its own. Its first step away from international norms was to refuse to categorise the Afghanistan captives as prisoners of war. One source told me of a - possibly apocryphal - story that Bush and his aides were going through the Geneva convention when the president came to the part that declares PoWs must be paid between eight and 75 Swiss francs a day. At this point, the story goes, Bush lost his temper and ordered his people to find a way for the captives not to be PoWs.

Officially, the US hides behind the fact that the resistance in Afghanistan didn't dress like soldiers. It is true that, like CIA operatives in the field in Afghanistan and Iraq, and like many of the Northern Alliance allies of the US, the Taliban and non-Afghan fighters didn't wear uniforms, but that does not prevent them being declared prisoners of war. Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention is clear: any captured belligerent whose status is uncertain should be considered a PoW until their status is settled by a 'competent tribunal'. The US carried out hundreds of these tribunals during the 1991 Gulf war and in the recent Iraq war. In Afghanistan, it didn't. Asked why there hadn't been any tribunals for the Afghan captives, Major John Smith, a military attorney in the Pentagon department organising the forthcoming trials of Guantanamo detainees, says it is because the president decided there was no need.

'The president's decision was that there was no doubt these individuals did not qualify for PoW status and a tribunal wasn't required,' he says.


most damning of all, comes from the recent news that the u.s. is contemplating releasing 140 of the detainees because they have determined that they pose no threat. but if the government has determined they pose no threat why haven't these people been released yet? why because the bush administration is "waiting for a politically propitious time to release them." in other words, they admit that there is no basis for holding them any longer and yet they are still detained because bush is worried about how it will play politically. another political consideration going into when they will be released is the supreme court's decision to hear whether a court has jurisdiction to decide on the the legality of the detentions. when the court decided to take the case, it "accelerated" the time table for the release. ironically, this is precisely the reason why judicial review is so serious. when the deprivation of people's rights depends upon the sole discretion of the executive branch–the only branch of government which is always exclusively controlled by a single party and which, like the other political branch, is always concerned with reelection–it is only natural that those rights become nothing more than a political football.

i am somewhat hopeful now that the supreme court has decided to review the matter. this type of detention without any court access is so unprecedented that even conservative justices are likely to greet the administration's argument with a high degree of suspicion. also, the fact that the court will hear arguments on the case and issue a decision within the next nine months practically guarantees that the story will reach the front pages of americans newspapers on at least two days, the day of argument and the day of the decision. i don't think the detentions can withstand any outside scrutiny, whether by the media or the courts. hopefully they will finally be brought into the light of day soon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

irony is dead, part 32,234,455,321

one of the things i wanted to post about when i was away for thanksgiving was the paul bremer's clashes with the grand ayatollah ali sistani over democracy in iraq. bremer, leader of the occupying force that is supposedly there to "bring democracy to iraq," is pushing an undemocratic caucus-style election in which the people designated by american forces would have the right to attend the caucus and vote. sistani, on the other hand, is pushing for a one-person-one-vote style election. i wonder if the bush administration has heard of that concept?

meanwhile, in another sign that democracy is marching along in iraq, the occupying authority raided the baghdad offices of al-arabiyya (an arabi television network) and banned its broadcasts because it was too critical of the u.s. and the occupying authority's rule. (see helen thomas's criticism of the decision here).

crank

this morning all of the attorneys, except me, had a explicit threatening voice mail message. the female attorneys each had more than one, each threatening them personally with sexual assault. the male attorneys had only one each. their messages similarly explicit except that they were directed at the attorney's mother. each message was obviously from the same person, although he tried to do a different accent on each one. in the longer messages his accent fades away by the end. our voice mail time-stamped the messages as being recorded between 11:52 and 12:15 last night.

it really (and understandably) freaked out one of the other young attorneys here. she got three messages, more than anyone else.

oddly, our crank did not leave any messages for any non-attorneys. plus he skipped me. when i heard the messages, i assumed that it was one of our clients, but no one has been able to identify the voice. the police are coming to listen to the messages. i don't expect that they will do much, but we do not have caller i.d. in the office and so the phone company won't release their records unless we file a police report.

strange morning.