16 February 2011


I just sat across a desk from John Yoo.  A strange experience in itself, he made me realize something over the course of our conversation. 

I’d gone to see him because I have a legal question about a job.  At Boalt he runs a veteran’s legal clinic, and my question fit the nature of both the issues addressed by the clinic.  To my surprise, rather than direct my email to a law student, he asked to meet me in person.  So there I was this morning explaining that the BLM failed to give me veteran’s preference and turned me down for a crap job.  I sent them a snarky email and asked them why they lied about my status.  Yoo said that it’s important I give government agencies every chance to correct their errors.  But as he talked, I couldn’t help but perceive an underlying point in his argument.  The obvious point is that, legally, I need to establish that they denied me my preference deliberately and maliciously, rather than just on accident.  Additionally, though, I think his underlying assumption is that the government really does want to work for our benefit, and if given the opportunity, will correct its mistakes.  It was so strange to hear someone talk like that.  Even in the Army no one talked like that.

In a way it was refreshing.  I haven’t been open to the possibility in a long time that the state may work to do anything other than lie, cheat and kill.  Don’t mean to be too glass-half-empty here, but it honestly never occurred to me to simply address this with the BLM as though it was an honest mistake.  And to be fair, I don’t think Yoo necessarily thinks it was an honest glitch either.  Or maybe he does.  I haven’t talked with anyone recently who would even consider such an optimistic possibility. 

The key question, regarding the BLM, is if I would have been given the job had they granted me 5 additional points.  When I received the rejection I of course wondered that, but never would have emailed to ask, because I assume they would not actually answer.  I still believe that.  But, Yoo instructed me to email them now and ask.  Even their [assumed] failure to answer will be helpful to me at this point, but what a strange exercise for me.  I will pretend the state wants to do the right thing by me.  What a weird assumption for me to indulge in!

I am so entrenched in my distrust of the state, and it was an interesting awakening for me this morning.  This is of course in addition to the fact that I had the strange experience of seeing John Yoo in person, shaking his hand, and receiving sincere and helpful advice from him.  It’s probably the most striking example in my life of a person who does what I see as terrible, indefensible things, being just the nicest guy.  It reminds me that people are complicated.  Really, really complicated.  Sorry if I harp on this, but I can hear Anderson reminding me that, “whatever you can imagine, people are doing that.  Whatever you can’t imagine, people are doing that too.” 

Marx and Engles argued that the “…state was the state of the most powerful (that is, economically dominant class ‘which, though the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class.’”  I believe that because I see abundant evidence of the truth of this.  Last week I heard a poor woman in Oakland declare that, “Poor people don’t get jobs!  They go to the people who need them much less.”  For a variety of complicated reasons, some of which are her fault, she is correct.  Generally, it seems to me, those with the least advantage see this with the most clarity, and those on top are permitted to pretend that these social structures do not exist. 

I want to believe in meritocracy so much.  So, with as much optimism as I can muster, I will contact the BLM and ask them the questions that Yoo recommended I ask.  Care to guess which one of us is correct.  I never thought I’d say this, but I hope John Yoo is right.  Wow, that was weird even to type!

10 February 2011


Dear “Intelligence” community,

I am no expert on Egypt.  I’ve been there one time; I couldn’t wait to leave.  I found the place hostile, and the people even worse.  Not to mention that I never had any decent food in that Allah-forsaken country.  BUT, I can’t help but watch my hair turn gray as you continue to look confused while the obvious happens.

A few reasons for your idiocy:
  1. If I never hear another “Egyptian” with a Canadian passport go on BBC and say, “Well my friend, a professor at AUB told me this morning that…”  Who cares?  The fake Egyptians I’ve heard on all news sources, save very few, are as expert as I am at analyzing that country.  In fact, they probably suck more at this than I do given that so far, I’ve been right about this whole thing, and they continue to wrongly predict everything.

  1. Stop looking at this movement though the lens of Facebook and Twitter.  I believe it’s a grave mistake to assume this is a revolution pushed by young people.  The demographics of Egypt, indeed the Middle East, make young people the likely participants in anything!  I see this as a movement of the impoverished who care more about basic living standards than the currently-lofty and obtuse goals of “democracy.”  If I were hungry I’d be more keen to rectify that than to ensure my right to vote in a transparent election.  Give poor people the credit they deserve.  Keep in mind also that this movement is not necessarily united; people are out there for diverse (and just) reasons, and democracy is only one cause.

  1. Mubarak has never really been vulnerable to public opinion, why should now be any different?  Why would he suddenly care that people have always hated him?

  1. Who in the world thinks that the Arab world runs on western time?!?  That Mubarak was late to his own speech seemed to indicate that there was vigorous “debate.”  Good god people!  He’s on time there! 

  1. Who in the world thinks that rumors in the Arab world are legit and should be heeded?  I don’t even know what to say to this one.  Has anyone commenting on this actually been to the ME?

Now, because people haven’t just become bored and wandered home, it will be time for the army, or one of the various other security agencies, to move in and begin killing people.  America has stood around saying things that make us look awful, and we’re going to continue to stand around and let this happen, as though we don’t know it’s pending.  (Maybe we really don’t know, since we haven’t know anything else so far…)  Good thing Marc Lynch is around to blog about how Obama is dealing well with all of this.  Otherwise I might begin to think that we’re really screwing up here.  It's also worth considering that these regimes didn't become this violently indifferent to its populations without some serious dedication to the direct cause of not giving a crap about people in order to profit financially and in terms of social capital.  Obama coming out now and telling them to use restraint is therefore entirely, 100%, useless.

Me during Eid 2006 in Ta7rer Square:

21 January 2011

Road Trip

1 November: I woke up again lamenting my good faith attempt to become part of a ridiculous organization and do some good.  Glad for the people I met, I nevertheless felt desperate to get the hell up out of that bitch.  I had NO idea that would be the day I ETSed.

Here I am with my Post Clearing Checklist.  Waiting, just minutes from signing my DD-214 and handing over my ID.  KDC and I were together, and she and I were planning to head for Atlanta and have a much-deserved beer.

At the place where we signed out, we laughed at the "No Running" signs on the stairs.  Seems we're all really, really ready to get out of there.
The next morning I dropped her off at the airport and cried like a baby.  She is important to me.  She kept me sane, and kept me from flinging myself off the roof.  I miss her.
Above, KDC looking out of our prison.

So I waited for the next chapter to begin.  Picked up my mom at the airport a few days later, and we began an epic road trip.  We ate waffles in Corbin KY:

We continued on to see MI.  It was fall when we left GA, and it felt like late fall when we arrived in MI.  We stopped at the Creation Museum [sic] in KY, and felt righteous. 
MT showed us an amazing time, and I really didn't want to leave.  We went to the Rouge Ford plant, and I actually really enjoyed the tour.  I had no idea how hand made cars are, and I liked being in a place where union membership isn't suspicious.  Then we went to get really good Arab food.

On to Chicago:
We stayed with LL for a few days.  I really liked Chicago.  The people were really nice, and the city is beautiful.  We were there for most of the pretty colors of fall.
Then on to Wisconsin, or some other place in the Midwest.  It all started to look the same.  Pretty, but flat.
We encountered our first snow in Minnesota.  It was pretty predictable, I suppose.  We went from Georgia, up north to Michigan and planed to head west along a northern route in November. 
This is Albert Lea, MN. Or something like that.  We were stuck there for a day after only making it about 30 miles from where we began.
The above is in South Dakota, the first time we saw sun for a while.  SD also marked the point at which the landscape transitioned into something other than flat+barn.  The rolling hills of the Bad Lands welcomed us.
From Rapid City, home of the largest Best Western in the world, or something like that, we discovered that we were quite close to Mount Rushmore.  I had no idea.  Rushmore and Deadwood are about 30 miles apart.  Double score.

It began snowing at Rushmore, and by the time we ascended to Deadwood, it was pretty slushy.  I was rather nerve wracked from the drive.  Deadwood in November is soooo off-season the waitress asked us if we merited the locals discount for our lunch.  We hunkered down for the night and hennaed (sp?) our hair.
Everything in Deadwood is for lease.  It's a gambling town.

On to Montana, my favorite state, and the day of the most treacherous drive.

By the time we made it to Lame Deer, or Deer Tick as I like to call it, we'd made it through the worst.

Montana is just the coolest state.  I had no idea, but I really liked it there.  I think we agreed that Missoula is a really great town, freezing, sideways snow not withstanding.

Another mad dash through a pass.  We drove from Missoula to Seattle in one day.  Above is Snoqualmie pass, important only because it's where Twin Peaks was filled, or as we say in Jordan, Twin Beaks.

Seattle is a horrible city, and I curse that place.  With the exception of P and K, who showed us a great time, I was ready to go.   It was the low point of an otherwise great trip.

Then on to Portland, and another mad dash through snow.
Portland is a great city.  M and J hosted us, and fed us well.  Man, they make some good coffee there.

Did you say you wanted to read about another crazy race with the snow through an unsafe mountain pass?  Well, wait no more, reader.  We drove from Portland to Berkeley for our last day.  We passed a sign on the highway nearing the CA border telling us we needed chains, and there would be a chain check ahead.  I looked for a place to turn back, but not only was there no way to do so, but there was no chain check.  So, on we headed up the grade that turned increasingly slushy.  Onward little German car!  That GTI is a beast.  Here is the traffic headed up, as we head down:
Then finally to California!
Somehow, literally as we crossed the state line into California, the sun emerged for the first time in a few states.  Above is Mount Shasta.

Back in San Diego:
K stocks up.

This is necessary in order to enjoy his stash from Shatilla in Deerborn.  We think they put crack in the bird nests.
All in all, with the exception of Seattle, the trip was amazing, and I really enjoyed the chance to spend time with my mom.  It was good for me to see the country.  I'm too California-centric.  Not that I feel too bad.  It's 65 degrees here today on the coast.  But, I am so glad we headed north and I saw something beyond the south west states.

03 November 2010

Stone Mountain

The day began at Ria's Bluebird in Atlanta. The waiters were wearing stickers with peaches on them that had sad faces, a reaction to the elections the waiter told me. Good food.

Then I went to Stone Mountain, about 10 miles from Atlanta. It's a beautiful monument to the south's strange relationship with its own history. The actual mountain of stone has the world's largest bas relief picturing Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and of course, Jefferson Davis. Should you require a gift, go knowing they accept money from the United States, even if Davis isn't on it.  Above, you can make out the carving, and to the right is a big pile of snow.

The carving was funded by one of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the KKK. It was so inspiring a place that the second coming of the KKK got off the ground there. According to Wikipedia, which is never wrong, a piece of granite from the mountain was sent to the people in charge of making a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King. Thankfully, that particular source of granite was declined.

It's fall, and the leaves were beautiful.

Now to the bridge. This was my favorite part of the park. I had this place to myself.

The park is beautiful, but it creeps me out to be in a place that openly celebrates such strange stuff. The cool waiter at RB told me that within the 85 in Atlanta, it's progressive, but anywhere else, I'm in The South. Strange.

24 August 2010


I'm back a little early, and not for reasons I thought I'd be back.  Happy, nevertheless.
Berkeley is better than I remember it being.

28 March 2010

Out of the Office

 (auto reply): I'll be away from this desk until September.

07 February 2010


The snow is mostly gone, but it has left a crispness that’s really pleasant.

Last night M, A and I went to this café on Rainbow Street where we smoked and talked about the Economist, the law, 7adiths, and the crazy people that live in this building where we all stay.  It was chill and very pleasant.  Aside from the majnoon dude who is here right now, it’s nice to be reminded that generally the people who come through here are pretty cool.  I’ve enjoyed meeting new folks, and I will miss them.

So, the crazy guy is pretty crazy, and not always in an entertaining way.  Every day he has a new business deal, or a new lawsuit, or a new research project.  He is a “business man,” a “lawyer,” and now a security expert.  None of us can figure out how he does anything in Jordan when he does not have a mobile phone.  He sleeps during the day, and sits up all night, and he rarely leaves the building.  He’s also a talker, though this week we’ve noticed that he’s sitting at his own table during lunch and not speaking to us.  It’s a down week, evidently.

I discovered this while I was looking around for information about the Jafra Café.  It’s a great “tour” of the Balid.  It features Hasham’s, the DVD place, and Jafra.  What more would one need?  Nothing, that’s the answer.  I love the map, complete with commentary about the beverages at Wild Jordan.  Perfect.  S took me to Jafra the other day, and we sat there for hours having Nescafe and talking.  I really enjoyed it.

I’m about to head out and go to Reem al-Bawadi with M.  I’m reading his Master’s Thesis; he wanted a native English speaker to edit it before he turns it in.  It’s about water sharing and the two state solution.  Pretty heavy.  I was telling S about it the other day over lunch, and she said what I think many of us have been thinking for a while now: the two state solution (no longer worthy of capitalization) is dead.  It’s too late for it to work.  She pointed out that as long as the TSS is still the “language of international politics and diplomacy,” America will continue to flog this dead dog.  Truly a wretched plan at this point.  So, I’m looking forward to good food, and talking politics with someone who grew up in Bethlehem.

Then, I have to pack.  Then at 8, A will pick me up for lots of coffee, and then take me to the airport.  I understand it’s good that I’m not flying into BWI, or anything around there because of the snow.

I have to sleep on all I’ve taken in here, and then I will be ready to write more about my time here.  It was a great 3 weeks.