The inheritors

In the 1980s, I was a teenager living down the street from a used bookstore.   My view of the world was shaped by the paperbacks available there for 85¢ and less.  Many of those were political books from 15 or 20 years before. Among them was Peter Mansfield‘s book Nasser’s Egypt, a general survey of Egypt as Mansfield saw it the late 1960s that depicted President Nasser, his pan-Arabist ideology, and the centralized economic planning of his government with the utmost sympathy.  Other political books I found at the same store depicted Nasser less favorably, but even those that presented him very negatively could not suppress all romanticism in describing the ambitions of his program and the dashing quality of his personality.

In the days when I was reading these books, the American mass media were lionizing Anwar Sadat.  From the moment President Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with Israel, he was presented to the American public as an apostle of humanity who embodied hope for peace in the Middle East.  When the movie Gandhi was a hit, Hollywood followed up with a series of other biographical epics about history’s great peacemakers; Sadat, starring Lou Gossett, Junior, was the first.  Indeed, Sadat and Mahatma Gandhi figured in the US media as exact equivalents in those days.

Considering that he came to office in the shadow of two men who inspired so much legend, it is hardly surprising that Hosni Mubarak has been seen in America as a bland placeholder.  Indeed, the most flattering thing I’ve ever read about President Mubarak in a major US publication called him “Egypt’s Gerald Ford,” a man who was his country’s leader today for the sole reason that he happened to have been kicked upstairs to the vice presidency when President Sadat wanted to get him out of the way and appoint a new defense minister.

Therefore, Egypt’s three modern presidents figure in my imagination as dramatically different figures: Nasser the tragic hero, Sadat the secular saint, Mubarak the afterthought.  It always jolts me when I see people bracketing the three together.  I know that from the perspective of many Egyptians the current regime seems like a rancid thing that’s been stinking up their country since 1952, but when I read phrases like “Nasir-Sadat-Mubarak continuum” I always scratch my head.

Another book I found at the same store was Eric L. McKitrick‘s Slavery Defended: The Views of the Old South.  A line of McKitrick’s reproduced on the back cover convinced me to buy it:  “Nothing is more susceptible to oblivion than an argument, however ingenious, that has been discredited by events.”  None of the pro-slavery documents McKitrick found put forth an argument that I would call especially ingenious, though several of them did manage to raise awkward questions about the economic system of the states in which laborers were nominally free.  Still, I think McKitrick makes a vital point.  If some Southern apologist had constructed a truly brilliant argument in defense of slavery, the fact that no serious person is today looking for any such argument would likely mean that the apologist’s work would be forgotten.

The same applies to other arguments.  Whatever its drawbacks, Nasser’s pan-Arabism had  far more to recommend it than did the practice of slavery in the United States.  Yet it too is a spent force, one which has left many monuments but which no longer attracts followers.  President Mubarak’s career is one of those monuments; his administration’s evident lack of public support shows that he has long since exhausted whatever political inheritance may have been left from Nasser when he took office decades ago. Of course, the events that discredited pan-Arabism took place long before Mubarak came to power.  By 1981, Syria had been out of the United Arab Republic for twenty years, and North Yemen had been out of the United Arab States for as long.  The June 1967 war with Israel would bury pan-Arabism, but the collapse of these federations may have marked its real death.  The case for pan-Arabism, no matter its abstract appeal, could not survive these events.

If nothing is more susceptible to oblivion than an argument discredited by events, surely the converse is true as well.  Nothing is less susceptible to oblivion than an ideology, however asinine, that has inspired a winning cause and given many people opportunities to become rich.  I suspect that many of the ideas which still have currency and power in world affairs are at least as weak as pan-Arabism.  Indeed, if we were to examine them in the abstract we would find that many forms of nationalism and internationalism have the same logical structure as pan-Arabism.


Yemen’s Salta

Salta is a dish that does not, to my knowledge, exist anywhere beyond Yemen.  (Though I’ve heard you can get it in Dearborn, Michigan, a town with a high concentration of Yemeni people.)

Salta is nothing but a fairly simple stew, containing vegetables and bits of meat.  It’s traditionally eaten, not with utensils, but by scooping it out with bits of bread.  It’s a specialty of San’a, the capital … but is available in other parts of the country.  Furthermore – and I have absolutely no idea why this is the case – it’s a traditional lunchtime food.  Salta joints seem only to be open around midday, at which time they are packed with hungry working men.

There are two factors that make salta distinctive.  The stew has a highly unique topping of blended vegetables and fenugreek.  And it is served at extremely high temperature in a stone bowl.

I recently prepared salta for myself.  I knew in advance it would be impossible to replicate the original – but it was close enough.  It was quite good.  Here’s what is looked like.

A ukulele teacher in Qatar

Via Ukulele Hunt (long may it wave,) “Mrs P,” a Westerner living in Doha, Qatar, reports that she has been giving ukulele lessons there.  Among her students are members of the royal family.

Astounding Evidence (??)



I have no particular agenda here other than to offer this link for your consideration.  Judge the evidence upon its merits:

The Nation, 10 November 2008

As you would expect from its cover date, this issue was devoted primarily to the 2008 presidential election.  As that event recedes into the past, I find it hard to imagine myself going back to re-read any articles about it.  Perhaps I may wake up some morning and find it impossible to believe that it ever really happened, and may want to look up this issue as proof that it did. 

What I want to note now is a review essay by Moustafa Bayoumi.  Bayoumi treats three books, Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict, by Sandra Mackey; Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East, by Ussama Makdisi; and Origins: A Memoir by Amin Maalouf.  Bayoumi aligns Mackey’s book with “a budding movement on anthropology’s right wing.”  Thinkers associated with this movement look at Arab societies and see one institution as paramount, the tribe.  Bayoumi cites Philip Carl Salzman, who argues (in Bayoumi’s paraphrase) “that Arabs, universally and throughout history, organize their societies along a series of ‘nested’ relationships- family, lineage, clan, tribe, confederacy, sect, and religion- with each group larger than the preceding one.  Indeed, Islam, on this account, postdates tribalism; with its ability to magnify the difference between believer and nonbeliever, it’s simply the largest tribe of all.”  The tribalist school has had great influence in recent US policy in the Middle East; a 2003 Brookings Institution report on Iraqi tribalism (“The Iraqi Tribes and the Post-Saddam System,” Brookings Iraq Memo #18, 8 July 2003) has apparently served as one of the blueprints for US occupation policy in Iraq.   Inasmuch as, according to Bayoumi, “tribalist theory presumes that tribes always impede the growth of the state,” the influence of the tribalist school over Iraq’s occupiers may explain why so little appears to have been done in the last five and a half years to develop a viable state in Iraq.


The austerity of height

“The austerity of height shamed back the vulgar baggage of our cares. In the place of consequence it set freedom, power to be alone, to slip the escort of our manufactured selves; a rest and forgetfulness of the chains of being.”

-T.E. Lawrence

Waterfall by Hokusai

The Hell Is “Qat” ?

Is Qat something like Khat or Quat? Isn’t that a drug ingested for a stimulant effect?

If no one knows from first hand knowledge, maybe we can look it up!


Cute Shit

If you’re in the mood for some cute shit, click here:

If you can get over the whole cutesy aspect of the thing,

you realize you’ve discovered the answer to the question:

What happens to people who don’t have 24/7 access to a channel

specializing in trashy films like ‘The Patriot’ starring Mel Gibson.

And the answer, of course, is that they turn to religion as a convenient

pretext for playing silly-ass little games with (if not destroying)

other people’s lives…and then congratulating

themselves for their own piety!  Look, goddammit:

Jacking your dick to images of Mel Gibson’s long musket makes you a

disgusting pervert.  But it’s not reprehensible like making a fifty-some-year-old

woman submit to a series of lashes for essentially no reason except she was

stupid enough to come to your country and try to help educate small children.

Glittering With Sweetness

Here is another post, to rival my last one in pointlessness and ridiculousness.  This time it is a translation of a modern poem.  For maximum pretentiousness, I’m including the original in transliteration.  As an additional bonus, there is also a paragraph from the back of the book, which provides some insight into the particular qualities of this poet’s oeuvre, not to mention its glittering sweetness.

“Another Flowerpot”

This is what you want, thus

The rifle of the hunt,

and the horse’s saddle

and the bag of tobacco suspended from the ceiling.

This, therefore,

is what has called you to return, friend.

Take also,

the colorful bundle of papers.

(You still attend to the lighting of firewood.)

And the shaving implements – those – that are on the shelf.

And the jacket of hide..

And also bottles of wine buried in straw.

Do not grieve, friend,

for your flowers grow, now,

in another flowerpot.


aSiiSun aaxaru

 haaðaa maa turiidu-hu, iðan

bunduqiyyata al-Saydi,

wa-sarja al-HiSaani

wa-Surrata al-tibği al-mu<allaqata fii al-saqfi.

haaðaa, iðan,

maa da<aa-ka ilaa al-<awdati ayyuhaa al-Sadiiqu.

xuð ayDan,

Huzmata al-awraaqi al-mulawwanata

fa-maa tazaalu tuSliHu li-ish<aali al-HaTabi.

wa-adawaati al-Hilaaqati – tilka – allatii <alaa al-raffi.

wa-sutrata al-jildi..

wa-ayDan zujaajaati al-nabiiði al-maTmuurata fii al-qašši.

laa ta’sa ayyuhaa al-Sadiiqu

fa-azhaaru-ka tanbutu, al-aana,

fii aSiiSin aaxara.


The first of what he discloses to you (in this collection by Amjad Nasir) are his conditions of mind, which flourish, isolated from language’s protection:  very naked poems, with far-reaching sensitivity.  Some are natural compositions, while others enlist technical skills.  Each poem is a short idea, an idea like a brief gleam of light, intelligent and compassionate.  Amjad paves the way for them with spare introductions, with just a minimal flavor, through which he leads you into the snare of a conclusion glittering with sweetness.

Twin Critters

One of the more disgusting things I’ve been involved in here, has been killing rats.  The title “twin critters” refers to a small pair, caught in my house last night.  It was a “live capture.”

I don’t set up rat traps, for this reason:  You will definitely catch a rat.  This opens us all kinds of issues, like, what will you do with (or to) it?

Naturally, somebody walked by their little cage and sprayed them with Raid.  Why kill them when you can just douse them with insecticide and watch them suffer?

Rats are repulsive, and I really don’t care if they get killed.  But even these foul little creatures deserve a merciful swift death.

I was so grossed out by these miserable, Raid-dripping little rats.  They had no prospect that anybody would “process” them for many hours.

So I filled a garbage can with water and drowned them.  What is really gross is, they could still be submerged.  (I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to drive them to the dump.)

Hopefully someone has finished their processing, by now.  As I indicated above, I don’t set up these traps, because I don’t care to deal with the processing.