Thursday, August 31, 2006

Secret Holder Stevens Out

The blogging campaign succeeded; the office of Senator Ted Stevens, Alaska's premier pork chef, leaked that they were in fact holding the reform bill. See here and here.

Student Poets: Mohamed Mehra

This is the fourth in a series of poems (previous) by my English students in Morocco. Presently, it's the only one I have written by a man, but I did have one more by another student that I handed back and will try to get a copy of via email. This was written early in the semester, and by a student with relatively less fluency than the others.

I Look For Myself

I look for my self
I look for my life
The old are pointless
The young do not believe
I am looking for myself
I am looking for my life
There are wars and not peace

Cite-Checking and Drinking

Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate, questions the reasons that the Supreme Court has 7 women clerks among 50. Some - apparently including her editor - think this article shouldn't even be taken seriously. Her editor entitles the article, "Is there a major girl crisis...?" A girl crisis? Yikes.

I'll give her the respect of a reasoned reply, though perhaps vaguely implying, like the editor, that Lithwick is a whiny girl is a better tack. Two major problems are evident to me in Lithwick's arguments. First she argues that even if the four best applicants are men, there are probably women a little bit further down the line who could do the job just as well; it isn't, in her mind, such a difficult job. Then she argues that a lot of the lack of diversity comes from the personal preferences of the justices, implying that bias plays a role.

She may be correct, but if she is the justices, and not her, show internal cohesion in their thought process. Viz., "It doesn't matter which of the top ten applicants I take, so I'll take the four who I relate best to." This goes right along with her dubious claim that,
The real problem here, of course, is that there is just no way to measure what makes for "better" clerks.
Of course.

She then proceeds and makes her case entirely based on the unfounded, unquoted, entirely personal opinion that there isn't really any difference among the top tier of achievers. Yet, looking at any quantifiable field of human achievement (e.g. sports, earnings, warfare) and we find that the top of the field has a great deal of spread, whereas a great many competitors are lumped together at the middle.

Just fifty clerks are selected for the Supreme Court out of a pool of top applicants from several law schools and several feeder courts. This is roughly analogous to the All-Star game in baseball. What she is arguing is that if you replace one "major-league" clerk with another, the team will be essentially the same. So, throw in Coco Crisp instead of Manny Ramirez and you've got the same team.

Going behind even this blind assumption, we have a more fundamental one: the idea of right. The case has been made that people of different races, genders, etc., should have equal right to the principal opportunities in our nation. But the extension of this right to highly privileged, highly coveted positions does not follow. It has been shown that women can be Supreme Court clerks, and in fact it seems that justices pay a social penalty by selecting the best clerks instead of the most politically correct ones. But until it's shown that top-ranked women with great resumes are routinely passed over for lesser-qualified men, the accusation of bias is a specious, shameless grab for prestige by people who have not earned it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Citizen Soldiers

Kudos to N.Z. Bear and the other Porkbusters for their clever initiative to out the Senator who placed a secret hold on Senate Bill S.2590, which would create a database on most recipients of federal funding. Made available through FOIA, that would let bloggers and journalists figure out which companies subsist entirely on the public dole. The remaining suspected senators are all Republicans, though the bill is bipartisan, and includes veteran Porkieire Ted Stevens of Alaska.

Hat tip to Dead Parrot Society

Milking Lebanon Dry

Israel hit an important military target in Hezbollah's Bekaa valley. Liban Lait, the country's biggest milk and yogurt producer, had its processing facilities and some of its bovine capital destroyed last month in an Israeli attack. Since then, UNIFIL has switched to an undisclosed foreign source. The management is crying foul, and guessing that Israel did the damage to give one of their own companies a chance at the contract. UNIFIL won't admit or deny anything of the like.

Naguib, R.I.P.

The greatest Arab novelist of all time passed away this morning. At age 94, Naguib Mahfouz died of complications following a July 19th fall.

Some of my friends had the privilege of visiting Naguib just a few years ago; they found him convalescent, with but little remaining of the spark that relit the Arab literary scene sixty years ago. His Wikipedia biography offers only a cursory look at his life; I will be surprised if it is not presently expanded.

In the Anglosphere, he is best known for Cairo Trilogy and Midaq Alley. Amazon has dozens of translations for sale, mostly for a song. You can also find Naguib (also known as Najib Mahfuz) in any sizable college library.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Student Poets: Khadija Aamari

This is the second poem by Khadija to be published in this series. The literary depth is astounding for a poem written originally in a second language. Her analogies to the story of the first sin, as told in both the Koranic and Biblical accounts, give this poem a host of meanings. When she first showed it to me, I first corrected the grammar and spelling, and then wrote 500 words interpreting the poem as an unitiated reader! Not only does she echo the fall and curse of man, but she ends her poem - intentionally or unintentionally - twisting the Noahic blessing into a curse. This poem gives me the heebie-jeebies.


I taught you the secrets of women
And I sat you in the seat of command
For you will be president of an empire of women
And you will love to die a martyr

But you didn’t succeed
Because you were a tyrant
And the world wept because of you
A sad story
For you I made black flowers
My tears changed to thorns
They don’t water anyone
Because they are poison
It kills me slowly, slowly
It hurts me, without sympathy
I don’t know what I did
But I know I erred
When I taught you the secrets of women
When I gave you the key to command women
When I planned for you the future

To Indian music
Snakes were dancing
And you changed me to a snake
Didn’t dance, or sing, or talk
But dreamt
Of becoming a beautiful flower
Growing in fields scorched
By you
But I won’t complain
Because I know My God is Just
And one day
I will take my right
And you will be a worthless snake
Without power
Or poison
And you will die under
My shoes
Because of your injustice
I will show you day stars
And night sun
I will show you cold in summer
And heat in winter

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Student Poets: Rkiya Bouya

This is the second in a series (previous) of poems by students of mine from Morocco. Rkiya (photo forthcoming) is an attractive, intelligent young woman, who admits she's "angry all the time, but acts happy anyway". This poem contrasts sharply with her second one, which will come later in the series. This was written originally in English for my class, and includes language devices, rhythms, and emotional expressions that gainsay her second-language status. One of my readers reacted to the first poem by admitting that she didn't think Arab women were capable of expressing themselves so deeply and freely. These writers have a lot to teach us.

My Rights

I dislike this life day after day
Because I don’t find any way
I’m a flower who is planted in desert
It wants to grow beside a river
* * *
I dislike this life month after month
Because I haven’t any simple Right
The answer to my questions is always bequiet
I abhor this obscurity; I adore the light
* * *
I dislike this life year after year
In my heart there is a huge fire
A fire that declares a great war
On each one who touches my rights, near or far

A Child's War

I have been asked by a few people for my opinion on the latest war in the Middle East, which seems to have drawn to an uncertain conclusion only recently.

Israel, to my mind, was little better than a petulent child in escalating a border incident to a full-fledged war. I also agree with many Lebanese that Hezbollah has been a poor guest of Lebanon in bringing this war on themselves: if you live next door to a monster, don't taunt it!

Hezbollah started the war by killing ten Israeli soldiers and capturing two in a cross-border raid, occuring while Israel was thundering against Palestinians in Gaza over another captured serviceman. Attacking violently on such a scale across a border is clearly cassus belli, but only against the aggressor. According to Israeli arguments, Lebanon's failure to rein in Hezbollah makes them a party to the latter's aggression. What makes this argument specious is the well-known fact that Hezbollah is stronger that Lebanon, especially in south and east Lebanon, and could probably win a direct conflict between the two militaries. So Israel could have reasonably bombed Hezbollah installments or carried out counter-raids; but to attack Lebanon generally was not warranted.

What's more, Israel acted directly against their own interest. What could be better for Israel than an Arab ally in an economically powerful neighbor? I have long held that open trade between Lebanon and Israel would bring a boom to both countries and be the biggest step in rebuilding the old internal lines of trade in the Middle East. And Lebanon took the biggest step toward that end this past year, throwing off the Syrian mantle and re-establishing legitimate democracy (see Wikipedia). As part of that democracy, Hezbollah participates, and in the context of that democracy finds that it must compromise and work with other parties, Muslim and Christian, to meet its goals. Like no other system, democracy disarms angry mass movements.

Obviously, Israel's assault on the Lebanese state put the nascent democracy in jeopardy. Syria could have come back in to "protect" Lebanon; pro-Syrian parties could still sway elections toward inviting Syria back in if Lebanese feel they need protection. It is a testament to the tenacity of the Lebanese reformers that their movement has thus far survived; it is a testament to the immaturity, petulence, and nearsightedness of Israeli policymakers that they would put such progress in jeopardy in order to express their wrath.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Student Poets: Khadija Aamari

This is the first in a series of poems by my Moroccan students. I am amazed at their ability to express themselves in English. The complexity, depth, and nuance of these poems is something I could not accomplish if I tried. This poem was written by Khadija, an avid Arabic poetess and hopeful future English teacher. She's beginning university this fall in Meknes. She's also a lovely young lady and has the most creative and colorful wardrobe in Midelt. This poem was written originally in Arabic and translated by the author.

I Search

I search in every place in my country
If I will find you
I search in every street
In every place
Without shoes
Under my old blue coat
To seek you in every place
Maybe I will find you
At night in the cold winter
In my small corner, Midelt.
Under dark night
I saw you in every place
But I didn’t stop one moment.
My thoughts seed the clouds for rain
It rains for the land
And my rain is tears
On top of my cheeks
And tears boil on top of my heart.
Dark long night the winter past
And now summer day will come
And I’m under Midelt sky
Under “small Paris” sky
But I didn’t find you.
My feet were torn
After they had known every street
And my eyes became dim
Caused by need of sleep
And they came to miss dreams
Also they yearned for long slumber

But, oh, oh...

How will one girl like me sleep?
Like an owl
At night I search like one afraid
And by day write a message for mystery people
I send this letter at dawn
To sea in a bottle
And by pigeon foot
To a mystery, without address
But this address is written on my heart
Also on my forehead.
In the end of a summer night
I knock on sorcerers’, astrologers’ doors
Because I broke the wall of science and religion
But I was searching
In every place, if I will find you
In every place, without shoes
Many seasons past
Also I search in every palace
And I swim in every sea
But the sea is angry at me
So it throws me away
To Sahara, without water or people
To search for you
But my question died in dirt
And I lose my clothes on top of dirt
And my self flies to the sky
Without having found you.

Best of the Best of Essaouira

Essaouira blew my mind. There are few places I have seen in all my travels that are so unique, so beautiful, so in tune with nature, and yet so vibrantly, humanly alive. Essaouira is overrun with tourists, yet seems perfectly attuned nonetheless. The newest outsiders fit right in with the city's history as a pirate stronghold, a Portuguese fort, and a Moroccan music mecca.

In these photographs, the sea and sky are integral subjects. Essaouira is built between them, with barely a gesture at the continent rising behind it. The Atlantic throws muscular breakers against the city's natural defenses. Fishermen scamper back from the edge of 30-foot reefs to avoid the whitecaps; each wave seems to explode like fireworks when it hits the grotesquely misformed rocks.

It's all blues and whites: the deep sea blue that will swallow your eyes whole; the white of the foam and the clouds and the seabirds, the sandy beaches and bleached walls, the whitewashed homes and light blue windowframes. Blue carriages, white horses, blue trash bins, old holy men in white performing a moussem to frenetic gnaoua music. Blue and white lights falling from the stage of the summer music festival; white fish grilled on demand under blue awnings at the base of the fish piers. Blue boats with white sails, blue nets and boys in white shorts running barefoot along the wharves.

These photos are a poor representation of a city that will make you feel that you may be all alone in a cool, calm world, but that's alright, because it's right there with you.

Best of the Best of Marrakesh

I took 130 good photographs during 24 hours in Marrakesh. Of these, I just published the 23 "Best of" in the photosabroad@gmail account. Of these, I give you just a few. The Best of the Best:

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Summer Photos

A few highlights from among the 800+ photos I took this summer in Morocco. These come from the 300+ that are posted at my photosabroad@gmail account. If you want to see the rest, email me and I'll give you the password.

My Plans

For anyone curious, my next few weeks will involve quite a bit of transportation. I'll drive home to Boston from Rochester with my family on Friday next. After a week or so in Boston, I'll find some way back here (anyone in the mood for a road trip) to move into my old digs on Plymouth Ave. So if you want to get together while I'm in Boston, take the initiative: I'll have lots of time on my hands but for a limited time! And for you Rochesterians, look forward (or await with dread) seeing me permanently from September 1st or 2nd.

Introducing: Donny D & Vik Hits the Fan

Two of my colleagues at the U of R just got blogs. Check 'em out: Donny D & Vik Hits the Fan.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Introducing: Cory

My friend Cory, a hard-working, sacrificing, and self-depracating Peace Corps volunteer (and, above all, a good friend), has a witty little blog over at 32' North, 5' West. Check out some of my photos that he's posted over the last two months and read news from Morocco, where I taught English over the summer.

2006 Red Sox, R.I.P.

I have only one thing to say about the Red Sox completing their August collapse this week: GO PATRIOTS!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Free-for-All-2008: Crossing A Line

George Allen is gone. His chatter comes in at 421, and the search George Allen macaca yields 480 hits. More importantly, WUSA reports that Allen may lose his Senate bid, his once-commanding lead having evaporated. Mr. Allen was never such a frontrunner for the nomination that "to macaca" (vb., transitive/reflexive) will enter the political lexicon as it might have if he had waited until December 2007 to make the comment. As it is, the inane career of an inane politician has been capped, if not ended.

Some might say this is harsh of us Americans to so punish someone for one comment made off-the-cuff. It's not rare - remember Trent Lott's praise of Strom Thurmond a few years ago? But I don't think it's an unfair punishment. Politicians normally work over every word, and when a moment of candor reveals not humor, not perspicuity, not love of country, but provincialism and nativism, how can we not act on what little of the true George we know?

Over the summer, my perspective on the next two elections has crossed a line. Whereas in May I thought a Democratic revolution in Congress unlikely, I know consider it as likely as not. Foiling the British terror plot certainly helped Republicans, reminding us that the war on terror has some true enemies and some true successes, but the effect is likely to wear off by November. What is likely is a spate of bad news from Iraq in late October (the terrorists aren't stupid), and that may be enough to flip the House.

If that occurs, I think voter anger will be satiated, and the Democrats will show that they can't stop earmarking, fix the war, or do any better on a host of issues. Bush will wane in importance after November, as lame ducks always do, and the campaign will become more about Capitol Hill. With Democrats in charge, the flaccidness of 2000's Washington could come (somewhat accidentally) to rest on the shoulders of Hillary Clinton and the other legislative-branch Democrats seeking the nation's highest office. People will be sick of the mainstream of both parties, and with the GOP far stronger among non-insider candidates, this sequence of events could swing things to a reform-minded, centrist Republican.

In addition, without a consensus nominee (such as Allen) on the center-right of the GOP, the center-left of the party could coalesce around McCain in the primary while the right splinters among Romney, Hagel, Brownback, Frist, and Huckabee. And McCain is one of the few candidates who could run away with a landslide in 2008.

The searches were performed yesterday, August 21st, 2006.

The monthly prediction...
Aug '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Jul '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Jun '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
May '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Apr '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Mar '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice
Feb '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice

Check out graphs of the Chatter Rankings from May 2005 through April 2006

Rank Candidate ChatterRank Change
R.1 Sen. John McCain 1,1700
R.2 Gov. Mitt Romney 1,040+1
R.3 Sen. Bill Frist 886-1
R.4 Gov. George Pataki 506+5
R.5 Rudy Giuliani 444+1
R.6 Sen. George Allen 421-1
R.7 (tie) Gov. Mike Huckabee 240+3
R.7 (tie) Newt Gingrich 240+5
R.9 Secy. Condoleezza Rice 192-1
R.10 Sen. Chuck Hagel 166-3
R.11 Gov. Jeb Bush 1510
R.12 Sen. Sam Brownback 70-7
R.13 Rep. Tom Tancredo 310
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 2,2300
D.2 Sen. John Kerry 1,6700
D.3 Al Gore 750+2
D.4 Sen. John Edwards 740+2
D.5 Sen. Harry Reid 718-1
D.6 Howard Dean 593+3
D.7 Gov. Tom Vilsack 551+4
D.8 Gov. Bill Richardson 419+5
D.9 Sen. Evan Bayh 385-2
D.10 Sen. Russ Feingold 297-7
D.11 Gov. Mark Warner 286-3
D.12 Sen. Joseph Biden 263-2
D.13 Sen. Barack Obama 232-1
D.14 Wesley Clark 1270
D.15 Tom Daschle 420

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. Tom Tancredo and Tom Daschle may be purged if they continue to perform at abysmal levels.

See the Chatter Rankings from July, June, May, April, March, February, December, August, July, June, and May.

Free-for-All-2008: Midsummer

All of this reflects things as of July 19th, 2006. The searches were done by me in North Africa.

Many candidates showed large increases in raw chatter, and very few (only 2 Democrats and 5 Republicans) experienced declines, and of these only Jeb Bush declined sharply.

The monthly prediction...
Jul '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Jun '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
May '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Apr '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Mar '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice
Feb '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice

Check out graphs of the Chatter Rankings from May 2005 through April 2006

Rank Candidate ChatterRank Change
R.1 Sen. John McCain 1,8700
R.2 Sen. Bill Frist 1,6100
R.3 Gov. Mitt Romney 1,080+5
R.4 Sen. George Allen 1,0300
R.5 Sen. Sam Brownback 691+5
R.6 Rudy Giuliani 679-1
R.7 Sen. Chuck Hagel 528+5
R.8 Secy. Condoleezza Rice 426-2
R.9 Gov. George Pataki 334-2
R.10 Gov. Mike Huckabee 212-1
R.11 Gov. Jeb Bush 195-8
R.12 Newt Gingrich 193-1
R.13 Rep. Tom Tancredo 180
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 2,9100
D.2 Sen. John Kerry 2,4500
D.3 Sen. Russ Feingold 1,470+4
D.4 Sen. Harry Reid 1,0200
D.5 Al Gore 931-2
D.6 Sen. John Edwards 740-1
D.7 Sen. Evan Bayh 601+4
D.8 Gov. Mark Warner 415+1
D.9 Howard Dean 365-1
D.10 Sen. Joseph Biden 323-4
D.11 Gov. Tom Vilsack 316+2
D.12 Sen. Barack Obama 306-2
D.13 Gov. Bill Richardson 227-1
D.14 Wesley Clark 1810
D.15 Tom Daschle 1250

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. This month's tested-but-not-qualifying list is Rep. John Murtha, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and Haley Barbour. Some of the men on the list almost surely won't run for president (Reid, Dean) and are there just in case, or as an indication of VP popularity.

See the Chatter Rankings from June, May, April, March, February, December, August, July, June, and May.