Sunday, December 27, 2009


It was only the Seahawks—a crummy team (Sorry, Shawn). But we dominated that crummy team—no second half slump! That is new and bespeaks discipline.

I still worry about the O-line and probably will until I see them beat a good defense playing their best. We may see that quite soon. But for the moment, they're holding their own and I'm grateful. Moreover, this was a win in the cold. All I could think of was that second Bears game in 2007 and that blasted NFC Championship game against the Giants. Today, we won in the cold. The Green Bay Packers may, just may, be winter's team again.

For the first time in a while, I could enjoy that delicious jaded feeling of casual half-interest in the second half of the game, indulging in idle chatter with others, knowing my beloved Packers had everything under control and that victory was well in hand. I have missed that luxurious, decadent feeling reserved for the most blessed sport-fan bastards in all the earth and am glad to have had it back for an afternoon.

Playoffs, baby! GO PACK GO!!!!!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Practicing in the Cold Helps...

According to Mike Vandermouse, Mike McCarthy recently said

But the Packers might be better equipped to handle the cold this year because McCarthy has them practicing outdoors on a new heated field. In past years, the Packers worked out inside the Don Hutson Center in the winter.

“Practicing outside definitely helps,” McCarthy said.

How many seasons did it take Captain Dipshit to come to the conclusion that practicing in the cold might actually help the team weather the cold? How many seasons did he say, "You get the best practice under the best practice conditions, so we'll just practice indoors and leave the doors open?" Does anyone remember that we lost the NFC Championship at Lambeau Field because the team sucked in the cold? Knowing McCarthy, he probably has Crosby and Kapinos practicing their kicking indoors, too.

McCarthy sucks. Slowest, most stubborn fuck I've ever seen.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Day

I’m in a good mood due to some stimulating conversations I’ve had over the past few days.

Thinking about the Packers Offense

I had an online chat with a guy named Oppy on the CheeseheadTV live blog during the Packers-Lions game today. Last week or the week before, Oppy mentioned that Rodgers is McCarthy’s “shiny new sports car, he wants to show it off.” As a result he tends to solve most of his problems by using the quarterback.

This makes a lot of sense to me, this notion that McCarthy is basically a QB coach and thinks like a QB coach. Oppy also critiqued my notion that the O-Line was ignored, “I don't think the o-line has been ignored.. Just over-estimated. O linemen have been taken en mass through the draft for years. They just haven't panned out much. Spitz and Sitton look to be the best of them, but Spitz's future is uncertain at this point.”

I like that. Clearly management feels that they’re focused on the O-Line. It’s just they think that they can coach Alex Gibbs’ zone-blocking system. They can’t. I strongly want to critique this notion of McCarthy being an offensive genius. I think he’s a quarterbacking genius. But ultimately he’s too biased toward the position of the quarterback in most of his analyses.

Oppy asked, “I still don't get why on 4th down attempts or 3rd and Goal McCarthy seems to refuse to use sets that at least make defenses acknowledge it might be a run. I mean, if you want to pass it, that's fine.. But would it kill you to pass it out of a formation with a RB and maybe even a FB in the backfield?”

I said back, “Oppy, I almost get the impression that McCarthy just doesn't trust running as a concept. It's like he thinks, ‘On third and long, of course you throw. No one would rush, so why fake it?’”

He said back, “Cup, I'm not even talking about 3rd and long situations. I'm talking about 3rd and goal.. 4th and 2.. At least make the defense THINK you MIGHT run it. But when you go empty backfield, you're telegraphing ‘Just rush the passer or cover’”

I thought for a bit, but realized it didn’t change my answer. “Oppy, I still think that line of reasoning can be expanded. McCarthy is biased toward passing. Whenever tension is high, he passes. He grafts that bias onto the defense. He thinks, ‘This is a crucial play, we can't run it. The defense knows that.’ He likes passing and grafts that bias onto the defense, so he doesn't try to trick them, thinking it won't work. That's my theory, anyway.”

The Packers play book, according to Aaron Rodgers, is roughly 250 pass plays and 100 run plays. Is it any wonder that he passes way too often? It feels more than 75 percent of the time, but I don’t know the numbers. But even going by a random distribution of the plays, he’d be passing at least 75 percent of the time. Call me old fashioned, but I think that’s crazy. He may be a genius QB coach, but he’s not a genius offensive coach and he’s no head coach. He’s trained Rodgers. He’s done the best he can do. I don’t think he’s a strategist.

Thinking about the Damned Dissertation

I had a talk with Steve Hanson, which very often has a mind-clearing effect for me. He drove home a clear point. “Talal, you should be an unabashed supporter of qualitative methods.” Ellis has also told me to be myself and stop sounding “like you through a Poli Sci echo chamber.” Steve pointed out that all this work was worth it because it has prepared me to go up against the KKV types and that was what I needed to get out of the methods courses. So I guess, in the end, you come up against yourself.

Steve also gave me a minimum for my causal argument. It has to be reasonably falsifiable. That’s the boundary. I can work with that. For the first time I feel like this is a football game I could win. My goal is a theory chapter by Week 1 of next term.

I’m actually pumped about writing.

I Need to Stop Selling Myself Short

I’ve lost a lot of respect for myself because of the illness. I’ve come to believe that I can’t fight, that I don’t have it in me to fight. Maybe I’ve sat in too many seminars in the Pacific Northwest. When I went to Palestine, when I saw that wall in Jericho, I realized that was wrong. There’s fight left in this sclerotic carcass after all. I want to go back.

I will not fear—fear is the mind killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reading Up on Packers O-Line

The Packers O-Line has never recovered from the loss of Mark Rivera and Mike Wahle at the end of 2004. Two veterans of the old O-Line remain: Mark Tauscher (RT) and Chad Clifton (LT). Both are injury prone, as one would expect of ten-year veterans in this vicious sport. Tauscher is backed at right tackle by Allen Barbre, a third year player. Clifton is backed at left tackle by T.J. Lang, a rookie, who also backs up left guard. Our current center, Scott Wells, is back in his job again after having been ousted by Jason Spitz, our former right guard. Spitz is out for the year with a back injury, so Wells is in again. At left guard we have Darren Colledge and second-year player Josh Sitton is right guard. Sitton and Wells are both backed up by Evan Dietrich-Smith, a rookie. The unit is run on a “musical chairs” philosophy. It has no coherent identity beyond the fact that, as a unit, they suck.

Aaron Rodgers has been sacked a total of 37 times in eight games. That’s nearly five sacks a game. That old man who works in Minneapolis has only been sacked 18 times this season. That’s a little more than twice a game. And that doesn’t tell the story. Aaron Rodgers is mobile. We can’t say that Brent moves that well. He’d be toast if he still played here.

Last summer, when McCarthy purged the defense coaches and started anew, he didn’t bother to change his offensive line strategy at all. This is a problem. This is how Pete Dougherty of The Green Bay Press-Gazette summed up the coaching history of the line.

When McCarthy became the Packers’ coach in 2006, he brought with him Jeff Jagodzinski, a Gibbs protégé, to teach Gibbs’ distinct and idiosyncratic branch of the zone-blocking scheme.

Gibbs, whom McCarthy worked with in Kansas City in 1993 and 1994, had a track record of success, especially in Denver (1995-2003) and then Atlanta (2004-06). In both stops, he was allowed to fully implement his comprehensive run scheme that emphasizes smaller, quicker offensive linemen, extensive cut blocking, and decisive one-cut running by the backs.

But considering no one running Gibbs’ system has duplicated his success, maybe there’s something about it that’s too dependent on Gibbs himself.

So we’re trying to build a miracle O-Line that operates with sprightly leprechauns instead of the beefy motherfuckers that everyone else favors for all their O-Line needs. Our sole link to the mystical body of the canny and sagacious Alex Gibbs, the only man able to create this miracle O-Line, was a guy named Jeff Jagodzinski. Jagodzinski left the Packers at the end of the 2006 season, the season that O-Line was looking just a little bit better.

So, you ask. Who is the Packers O-Line coach now, Talal? They knew that this strategy was motherfucking hard and can’t just be pulled out of your ass. They got a specialist, right?

Our current O-Line coach is James Campen. Here’s a bit from his profile on the Packers website:

Promoted to offensive line coach Jan. 15, 2007, by Head Coach Mike McCarthy, Campen moved up from his position as assistant offensive line coach in McCarthy's first season at the helm. Prior to that, Campen filled the role of assistant offensive line/quality control coach for two seasons following nine years in the high school ranks.

That’s right, boys and girls. They put the head coach of Ponderosa High School in charge of the Great Experiment, because the kids get mighty high-tech in Shingle Springs, California. The guy watches Jagodzinski for a year, and suddenly he can coach the Miracle O-Line Zone Blocking Scheme.

Give McCarthy his due. He’s an excellent quarterback coach. I like the way the Kid turned out. I truly do. But that’s all I like about McCarthy. So long as he's coach, this line is never going to perform.

What floors me is the way the media covered this. I'm a crummy football fan. Kirk sends me website URLs to read up on what a zone blocking offensive line is supposed to be. I heard about the Broncos's success with the approach and experienced it first hand at the most unfortunate Super Bowl game of my life. But until I found this recent Dougherty piece, I didn't know that no one has had success coaching it besides Alex Gibbs. And Jagodzinski left at the end of the 2006 season. He's the last guy who has worked with the guy extensively. Then they bring in the high school coach. But no one over three seasons says anything. Yeah, they're under pressure from the team to be rally the troops. But I have to wonder just how knowledgeable reporters are in sports. The reason I ask is that very few are much good as analysts in politics. I know that because while I'm not a beat reporter, I can often cull together decent analysis based on what they can feed me, because I know the Levant well (and not as well as I want, by the way). This data has been there for a while. In this case, they didn't pick up on it, or were too afraid of the team's response to use it. My gut tells me it's mostly the former.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Frustrating as it is to not have gotten my massive article download, I'm excited by the prospect of getting my camera back to Palestine/Israel and getting better pictures. These are my best from Nazereth.

The produce shots I got at Carmel Market are better, but I couldn't resist this stack on the road up to the Church of the Annunciation (I can hear Alberto, our tour guide now: AN-NUN-CI-A-TION!) I couldn't resist this handsome guy I met on the road, either...

A lot of people have religious experiences in Holy Land. The only place I came close was at the Church of the Annunciation. It was really the only place I felt genuine love for God. The art was simple, but sincere and it moved me. Below is a Madonna donated by Japan:

The Annunciation to the Blessed Mother by the Archangel Gabriel.

Mary Magdalene washing Jesus' feet. The Latin reads, "Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace."

A Madonna donated by Egypt.

A Greek Madonna.

I found this image commemorating a meeting between Pope Paul and Patriarch Atenagoras to be particularly moving, as there isn't much in Jerusalem to express any sentiment of Christian unity. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is particularly bad in this regard.

Here's more detail on their faces. The birds are perhaps Orthodox, as clearly they weren't too kind to poor Pope Paul...

We had so little time in Nazereth. I really would like to spend the day next time. It's such an Arab city. It looks like an upscale version of Fuheis.

This one caught the eye of the political scientist in me.

I never saw a single Palestinian flag in any of the Arab parts of Israel. But Palestinians express identity in several ways through religion. I imagine this sign was up for Ramadan. I'd like to get a clearer idea of the way religion expresses identity for Arab Israelis.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Too Little Butter Spread over Too Much Bread

The past two weeks have been difficult, primarily because my workout schedule sucks and this is making me very unhappy. Anyone who knows me is likely to laugh, as I’ve never really taken any work out program seriously before, but let’s lay out recent changes.

Value Changes

My values with respect to working out have changed. I have two motives. The first is pragmatic and the second is spiritual. First, I discovered that working out in concert with B-12 seriously improves my health and overall energy level. This real difference on a daily level is worth the fight.. I feel healthier when I go the gym. I love the feeling of blood pumping up my muscles for a few days after a workout. It makes me happy.

The second is that being queer has changed my spirituality. Before I was always concerned with the soul and the mind. Discovering a world of sex has really changed the way I look at the body. I realize that the core of my peace of mind is the body. There is nothing more beautiful than the male form. When I see a built guy, especially one who doesn’t have an asshole streak—that sort of energy is really offputting—seeing his body puts me at peace and fills me with awe. I realize that I want to be that for any queer guy like me who needs to see it. I’ll never be Brian Urlacher, I understand this, but I can be better than my present form.

We didn’t have the cash for a gym membership in Tel Aviv, so I didn’t get to work out at all. Craig lost weight there, but I didn’t. I’m not as badly off as when I started working out at the start of summer, but I hate being in the hole again. I need to get back on the wagon.

What Works

To be successful, I need to:

  1. Eat Breakfast: This is a double latte (a shot of caffeinated espresso, a shot of decaf, and ¾ of a cup of steamed 1 percent milk), a large bowl of Fiber One Cereal (aka Super Colon Blow from Saturday Night Live), and a low-fat, high-fiber Jimmy Dean Pseudo-McMuffin.
  2. Work out immediately: I lift two days and do cardio for the other three.
  3. Eat lunch: This meal will be larger than breakfast. I’ll be good and hungry. A stir fry with brown rice is good. Unlike when I first wake up, I can actually eat a larger meal after working out. I find that if I eat at this time, I don’t have much hunger or energy lulls during the day.
  4. Snack three times through the afternoon on apples, celery, etc.
  5. Dinner: A large salad and chicken or steak.

Root of the Problem: My Teaching Schedule Sucks

I’m a teaching assistant this term. That means I’m on campus five days a week—a commute totaling roughly twelve hours. Moreover the schedule itself is lousy. The lecture is at 9:30, as are my first sections. So I’ve got to be there bright-eyed and busy-tailed. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t do bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Moreover, my second sections are at 12:30, so on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m trapped on campus. I have to work in the law library (where no one knows me and I can’t get sidetracked).

This Leads to Difficulties with Working Out and Diet

All of this means that I’m having trouble managing working out and eating. I’m only working out two or three times a week. After Wednesday, I’m really dragging. I have two many “on” days. Without the B-12, I’d never make it to the gym at all. But still, I can’t pretend that I’m a normal, healthy, 38 year-old man who can push myself exactly as hard as I please. Thursdays and Fridays, I drag. I seriously lifted for the first time again last week. I did it right in doing the ultrapathetic workout the week before. I was sore, but not in pain today.

Because I need to prep in the morning for sections, I tend to workout later in the morning, rather than early. It sucks. Craig and I had a really busy weekend and I haven't cooked. I'm going to be, as the Hobbit once said, "Like too little butter spread over too much bread."

Plus, I have a huge hang-up about visible progress from my previous high-energy life. My shoulders SUCK. I really want to see some progress there over the next few months, but with this pathetic schedule, I can’t hold my breath on that count. I hate not having shoulders. I’m thinking about starting to run. I’ve always sucked at running. It would be so cool to be in good enough shape to play rugby. If I could, I’d take a page out of Kirk’s book and get the laser surgery so that I could see without glasses. Plus, I promised myself when field research was over, I could get a dog. It would be cool to be one of those guys who runs with his dog by Lake Washington. Plus, I like yellow labs, but they’re energetic dogs.

I need to build myself for this. I also need to survive this term. I’ve been working on a new proposal. I’m getting there. This is all progress, it just doesn’t feel like it. I have to make sure I don’t lose faith in myself. Just because it feels slow, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I have to stick with it, despite the fact that I won’t feel like I’m making progress. The hardest thing about MS is that it’s a slow boring of hard boards. It takes passion, but perspective. I suck at perspective.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Greenland from the Sky

I took these shots of Greenland from the air on the flight home from Tel Aviv. They all punch up to larger sizes for more detail (less than a meg each, though). Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

About Last Night

The O-Line stinks and will continue stink all season. They were sort of okay when Jeff Jagodzinski was here. Still, the success of the 2007 season was more luck than skill. Since Jagodzinski left, it’s clear that there’s no one to coach this zone blocking approach. If the line is to get better, we need a change of coaching staff or BIGGER LINEMEN and a more traditional approach.

McCarthy seems to be a good QB coach. Sadly, he seems to have been promoted beyond his greatest competence. Under his leadership, we will continue to be a mediocre football team. I officially vote no confidence in his leadership.

I don’t want to talk about Brent anymore. I just don't.

It was good to hang out with Shawn Lee. I am mindful that I own him and Simon letters of recommendation. Simon's has to be written tonight.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Yankees? WTF?!

Shawn Lee, survivor of POL S 325, wrote to me while I was out of the country to complain about my “misguided” sense of sports loyalties.

Yankees: WTF! The fucking yankees. How Boring! That is all it took, take Talal to the ballgame, buy him some peanuts and a new ballcap, and he won't care if he ever comes back? The Yankees are the arrogant bratty prep school rich kid of baseball, they don't cultivate thier own talent, they just buy it from other teams, because they have far greater resouces than every one else. Any attempt at revenue sharing is routinely killed by the Yanks. Anyone interested in social justice, and aren't all you liberal academics interested in that?, should not support the Yanks. Enjoy rooting for Goliath. I am sure that is satisfying for the soul.

Your sports loyalities seem a bit troubling. There is no regional logic to them, and seems to have a heavy dose of (gulp) front-runnerism. By buddy from Detroit finds it odd that you are a Wings fan and a Packers fan, and now throw the Yanks in the mix. Whoa.

What’s truly magnificent about that speech is that I can hear it in Shawn’s voice in my head. Sports fandom brings out the passion in the male voice. It’s a beautiful thing.

Despite my admiration for the rhetoric, I have, however, felt for a few weeks now that this required some sort of rebuttal. Moreover, Neil has had his real life troubles over the past week, so I thought this might cheer him up. Here's hoping.

> Yankees: WTF! The fucking yankees. How Boring!

And there I was thinking I was being controversial... For what its worth, you don’t sound bored, Shawn.

> That is all it took,
> take Talal to the ballgame, buy him some
> peanuts and a new ballcap, and he won't
> care if he ever comes back?

Well, Neil actually did spend hour after impassioned hour explaining the strike zone and the nuances of the catcher-pitcher-batter triad. Listening to him explain strategy while at a baseball game is actually quite mesmerizing. But yeah, sheer enthusiasm and giving a shit was basically the price of my loyalty. I thought I was easy. But out of all my friends over several years, Neil was the only one who cared. So I’m a Yankees fan.

> The Yankees are the arrogant bratty
> prep school rich kid of baseball, they
> don't cultivate their own talent, they
> just buy it from other teams, because
> they have far greater resources than
> every one else.

Hmm. My friend Kirk, a Red Sox fan once posted to this blog to say, “If you take a step back and look at the Yankees of late '90s objectively any true fan (even Red Sox fans) would have to admit the team truly did win through home-grown talent.”

Did I mention Kirk is a Red Sox fan?

> Any attempt at revenue sharing is
> routinely killed by the Yanks. Anyone
> interested in social justice, and aren't all
> you liberal academics interested in that?,
> should not support the Yanks. Enjoy
> rooting for Goliath. I am sure that is
> satisfying for the soul.

Actually, this is what I’m enjoying. I’m always on the losing side. I’m an Arab, not an Israeli. I’m a Democrat and not a Republican (Republicans manage to rule with an iron fist with a mere 40 votes in the Senate—you've got to admire the skill). I’m gay, not straight. I’m always on the runty, losing side. This is new and different. Besides, if baseball is all about bucolic suburban serenity, wouldn’t it make sense that I’d be a fan of the team that’s the Hegemonic Urban Machine?

> Your sports loyalities seem a bit troubling.

Do they now?

> There is no regional logic to them,

I’m quite literally from Bedouin stock. You know, the people who “wander from place to place?” I have no regional logic because I’ve never really settled anywhere. Well, actually there is one exception to the non-regional rule—I was born in Bridgeport, CT. As it’s right outside New York City, that would make it logical that I wound up an Yankees fan. In fact, that’s the only team that has a slight regional logic to it. I have been to New York many times. I’ve only been to the airport in Detroit and I’ve never set foot in Wisconsin. Although my dear friends Simon and Nelly want me to go tailgating with them for the Favre game at Lambeau Field. When financial aid money comes in, we’ll have to see. The ticket to Chicago is pricey. Although we may see of going straight to Wisconsin is cheaper…

> and seems to have a heavy dose of (gulp) front-runnerism.

This of course has been my bad (?) luck. The only thing I can say in my defense is that I had no idea how football was played when I became a Packers fan, let alone that Packers had won the Super Bowl the year before. I really gravitated toward the Wings very strongly because my buddy Aram was a big fan. I understood a lot more about hockey than football, so watching them play was mesmerizing. Of course, as you say, the ’98 Wings were a legendary team.

For what it’s worth, you’ll see me still root green and gold, despite the fact that our offensive line still stinks and it’s quite likely that Brent is going to hand us our collective asses next Monday.

> My buddy from Detroit finds it odd that you
> are a Wings fan and a Packers fan,

Come on. They don’t play football in Detroit. I mean, yeah, there’s that whole “Lions” team they’ve got there, but no one takes them seriously. Well, except maybe the Redskins.

> and now throw the Yanks in the mix. Whoa.

Kirk, ever the scholar of sports patterns, actually hit the trend:

You seem to have adopted the teams with the best team histories in other sports. Green Bay and Chicago have far and away the best team histories in the NFL, particularly pre-merger. After 1970 or so several other teams have been more interesting but the Packers still will always have one of the very best team histories in the sport. The same goes with the Red Wings, who were one of the original 6, each of whom have great team histories. I would say that is probably the one characteristic that most closely binds the Packers and Red Wings and going with the Yankees for baseball would fit very well.

I definitely have tended toward teams that have rich histories and, above all, a fanatically loyal fan base. I’m usually rooting for the visitor whenever I get to see any of my teams. It’s good to know that your fellow fans will always be a presence in the enemy stadium. I have to admit, that fanatical loyalty that reaches beyond geography is deeply appealing to me.

I don’t know if that will convince you, Shawn. But I feel secure in my sporting fan choices…

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Home Again

Craig and I got back on September 24. We’re trying to whip the house into shape and get situated again. Owing to the short-term recall problem, I do very poorly when my patterns get disrupted. Once I have a pattern, I’m good at sticking to it, because it’s in longer-term memory and pops up just fine. But when patterns are disrupted, you stop using the memory of the procedures. This forces you back into short-term recall, as you reinvent the activity. Relying on short term recall = consistent fuck-ups. The equation is that simple. So basically I’m swamped and at my most inefficient right now.

I need new infrastructure. The system of prompts I had is out of commission after a major disruption. Specific alarms that I set on my cell phone will have been turned off and I have to remember to turn them back on, etc. Often, this can take several days of fuck-ups. My life is a series of daily alarms. Out of sight, out of mind. I get lost in what I’m doing very easily and distracted from what I’m doing just as easily. I won’t remember to do things like laundry or start dinner if I don’t have the alarms. If they’re not on, I won’t necessarily remember to turn them on. Eventually, you get the system back in place. But the infrastructure has to be re-established. There’s no option for “hitting the ground running.”

Plus I’ve got to choose new times. I have to be up at 5 am every fucking day this term. I got shafted on TA assignments, so I’m teaching at 9:30 am and 12:30 am. There’s a two hour gap between classes. Just more proof that I need to fucking graduate. My present prof wants me to carry a copy of The New York Times to every class. This way, I set an example. I think this will have no impact and is a waste of time.

I forgot to take the negative led off the pickup’s battery before I left. The battery was very sadly dead on our return. I charged it up some on 6 amps, Craig jumped me and it was fine. But I’ve only driven it to campus once. Last night, I forgot to remove my cell phone charger from its socket. So naturally, it was completely dead this morning. So I have it charging today on 2 amps, hoping that tonight it will be roaring to go. I wasn’t having any alternator problems before I left to the best of my knowledge, so I’m hoping that the battery was weakly charged after only one round trip to campus. We’ll see tonight.

So, on the whole, I’m cranky. I’ve got to start writing again.

Friday, September 18, 2009

National Christians Go to the Movies Day in Israel

The sun has just set and Rosh ha-Shana, the Jewish New Year, has begun. Dinur very wittily calls Christmas “National Jews Go to The Movies Day.” I thought he might get a kick out of the role reversal. Although I must confess I was very able to empathize before, having spent many years of my life in a Muslim country. Ramadan, in particular, was impressed on my mind. Experiencing someone else’s dominant religion is always interesting. I think it’s actually `Eid al-Fitr today as well. Gotta love the lunar calendar.

From my perspective, Rosh ha-Shana will be like the Sabbath on steroids. Everything will shut down for the weekend, including the bus system. I have no idea if the movie theaters will actually be open. Of course, this is a cultural difference predicated not on religion, but on dedication to capitalism. I look forward to all these vestiges pre-capitalist society vanishing in some near future. Between this sort of thing and Ramadan, studying the Middle East is nigh near intolerable. Surely religious minorities everywhere ought to be able to enjoy the American freedom of going to the movies on majority religion feast days…

Of course, I’m thinking a lot about identity here in Tel Aviv. I remember when I worked at the Texas state senate as a messenger. This was the summer of ‘93. Once, Senator Armbrister, who was a very nice man and very easy to work with, asked me if I were “the Jewish messenger.”

I stared at him rather blankly and said, “No Senator, I’m Catholic.” It hadn’t dawned on me that my “look” might have contributed to the decision to hire me until that very moment. Likewise, it hadn’t dawned on good Senator Armbrister (who is really a very nice man to work with) that I wasn’t Jewish. Of course, if I were, how would I have answered that question? Given that I know Senator Armbrister is a very nice man, how must identity work in his mind for him to even ask the question?

Needless to say, I am deeply aware of the fact that I look really Jewish. I’ve been told this since puberty when my nose swelled up like a balloon. Of course, at the time, I simply assumed it was because most Texans are too stupid to tell an Arab from a Jew. While there is some (small) truth in this judgment, it is not the correct interpretation in this case.

You see, I remember the first time in Jordan that someone thought I was an Israeli. This was back in the ’95-’96 school year, when I was on Fulbright. I was completely psychologically unprepared for this moment. I was a lot younger then and hadn’t the first clue that I was a homosexual. I took identity for granted back then. I was in Jerash (the tourist site in Jordan that, unlike Petra, is really worth seeing, IMHO). I was laying on my back in one of the stage entrances to the Roman coliseum, taking a photo of how the ceiling’s corner had been constructed. Yes, I’m a geek and yes, I love Roman architecture. Sue me. The security guards looked at me with a marked hostility. One asked the other in Arabic, “What’s he doing?”

The other said, “Oh, he’s just taking a photo of the corner.” They both sounded contemptuous. I immediately greeted them in Arabic. Talal’s Lesson One of Third World Dictatorship Etiquette: always be polite to the cops. They both gave me a nasty stare and walked off.

I was absolutely floored. People don’t give you nasty looks for no reason in Jordan. People are friendly. And being polite and speaking Arabic seemed to make matters worse, which isn’t usually the case in Jordan. I was stunned. When I got to the Temple of Diana, people also gave me dirty looks. This sort of thing usually doesn’t happen in Jordan (especially if you are male, which solves 93 percent of your Arab world problems, very sadly). When I got to the nyphaeum, some kids had climbed to the top and shouted down at me, “Shalom!”

Shalom? I thought, dumbstruck. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Oh my God! They think I’m an Israeli! I was quite distressed. I expected this in Texas. I never guessed it could happen in Jordan. I really look like a Jew, I thought, even to other Arabs! I spent an impassioned fifteen minutes trying to persuade these kids that I was from Fuheis. I speak damned good Arabic with a real Arab accent. On my best day in Jordan, I went about 25 minutes chatting with a cabbie before we got to talking about something complex and he realized that my Arabic wasn’t native and asked, “Where are you from?” As that’s usually the first word out of the cabbie’s mouth in the Arab world, I am deeply proud of that statistic. But I wasn’t making any sales with these kids. I was an Israeli tourist in my own goddamned county (or one of them, anyway).

And here in Israel? I fit right in unless someone asks to see my passport. Being a quarter Swedish, having bluish eyes and a lighter complexion than most Arabs apparently has its advantages in Israel. After they’ve seen me twice, security guards often wave me through without further inspection. This floors me. There’s lots of security here, but I can’t say their commitment impresses me. I don’t understand why these guys make people here feel safer.

I’m pretty sure that I’d be treated differently here in Israel if I really looked really Arab. This has its ironies. Last week, when I was at the supermarket, two of the stockers were talking near the front of the store. They were speaking Arabic. I watched them with a little longing. Even though lots of people speak English here, it’s rough being in an all-Hebrew environment. Let’s face it: `ivrit sheli stinks! Well, the Palestinian stocker stared me down quite violently. I didn’t stop smiling, but I looked away, as I didn’t want to get into a fight. Undoubtedly, he learned young to stand up for himself and wasn’t going to take some Jew looking down on him. But I wasn’t some Jew. I was an Arab, like him. And I wasn’t looking down on him. I was thinking how awesome it was that he was speaking Arabic, how “at home” hearing that familiar language in this foreign place was. But of course, starting a conversation would have been intensely awkward. I’m some Jewish-looking gay bearish guy standing in line with my domestic partner at a Tel Aviv supermarket. Who the hell would believe I’m an Arab? What would an Arab be doing here, if not working as a stocker? And after the second intifada even that is way less likely.

The more I study violent identity conflict, the more I realize that all the clichés are true. Many, many people in different societies are people of good will. The trite truism is true. It’s just that the in-group, out-group distinction is more basic and prior to that good will. When you leave the sphere of hanging out only with people you knew and grew up with, identity is determined by markers that allow you to slot the individual. The rationalization of the capitalist economy teaches us over and over again that no system of markers is foolproof. I slip under the markers here quite easily until someone looks at my passport, which isn’t often. Haim Gal, the archivist here, thinks that with my beard, I look like a rabbi.

The rationalization of identity and technology leads to bizarre situations. I have had my first experiences with computer support here in Israel. Our internet died, so my landlady hooked me up to Hot, the Israeli cable provider. The woman I spoke to was named Manar. She was an Arab Israeli, but spoke no Arabic. Just Hebrew and excellent English. She lives in (what’s left of) Palestine and I speak better Arabic than she does. The second time I had to call up, my service rep was Palestinian woman whose name I forget, but only spoke Hebrew and Arabic. I’m quite proud of the fact that I made it through a long customer service call in Arabic and actually got our internet back up. In fact, what was entertaining was that we both had to make reference to English words, as the operating system was in English. Moreover, she called a computer a mikhshav not a hasub (extra linguistic points if you figured out that both words actually have the same root—see, I told you I was a geek!). It was the ultimate postmodern moment. An Israeli-Arab helping an Arab-American get his internet connection back up, her using her standardized call center politeness, and us throwing three languages around. She and Manar had asked me where I was from as part of the conversation. I asked the second woman where she was from, and she responded, “Ana min Hot…” (I’m from Hot). I told her I understood. Yeah, her answering that question for real could lead her to a lot of compromising situations. I hadn’t meant to be rude. Not that she treated me as if I had been. She was a smoothie and well-versed in call center etiquette.

Never in my life could I have anticipated this bizarre, syncretic set of conversations!

The place where people sometimes do get a little funny about me is actually in the archive. You see, everyone there knows that I’m an Arab. I think that’s a little weird for them. Of course, I would imagine that not many Arabs have come there to read the Arabic newspapers. The same papers that are collected so assiduously there are for the most part forbidden at a Palestinian university like Beir Zeit. I’d like to be sanctimonious and leave it at that, but many aren’t available at Arab universities anywhere, thanks to our fine Arab commitment to sad little dictatorships with no sound economic development policy (not that I’m bitter). This lack of open library stacks, after all, that was what drove me to come to Israel in the first place.

My second or third day there, Mikha, the guy who assists Haim, was moving several boxes of papers back to the stacks. Apparently they had just been scanning a large stack of Filistin, Palestine’s leading paper through the mandate that kept printing in Jerusalem up through ’67. Of course, those of you with a little Arabic know that the word Palestine is a Latin corruption of the word Filistin. So when moving the boxes he threw them down in a joking way and said in Arabic, bir-ruh, bid-dam, nafdi ya-filistin! This is a Ba`thist chant that usually ends with the word “Saddam” or “Hafiz” (and now, I suspect, Bashar)—in the soul, in the blood, we will sacrifice, O [INSERT BA`THIST LEADER HERE]. I gave Micha what I hope was the strangest look. “Well that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

“Maybe if you’re a Ba`thist…” I said.

Little things to test my reactions. People greet me in Arabic with this sort of weird air about them, as if they weren’t quite sure how to respond to my presence. I mean, when I learned Hebrew, I did assume that it would be used for more than an occasional sports-related conversation with Dinur (which, lazy student that I am, I don’t do enough of). Perhaps they only learned Arabic to read the newspapers. I mean, there are lots of Arabs nearby. One of the janitors working in that very building was a Palestinian woman (she got engaged just before Craig and I left the country). But apparently me being there among the Arabic newspapers is as weird for them as for me. In a way it’s reassuring that I’m not the only one who’s a little edgy in this situation.

One of the undergraduates walked up to me the other day and showed me a political cartoon in a March 2002 issue of ash-Sharq al-Awsat, the Saudi-owned Arabic daily out of London. You’ll recall that this was the time at which the “Arab Peace Initiative” was advanced by the League of Arab States—an offer of complete recognition and normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for complete withdrawal to the 1948 borders. The cartoon was a picture of the Arab League building with all of the flags of the Arab states in front of it hanging at half-mast. He asked for “the interpretation of an American researcher.”

Yeah, right, I thought. My American aura is what brought you here. But maybe it was. Who knows? The question, however, seemed quite loaded to me. After all, from the Israeli vantage point, the cartoon was not flattering.

I did what a scholar should do in such circumstances, which is to give a genuine interpretation. So I told him, “They’re mourning the death of pan-Arabism.” This seemed to surprise the student a little, so I explained. “The Arab-Israeli conflict is viewed as a zero-sum conflict by both sides. Any possible compromise must be viewed in that framework. The Arab League made an offer to recognize Israel. This is tantamount to admitting defeat, especially after the Arab failure to create political unity after the collapse of the UAR. From that time forward, the only real project that expressed pan-Arab sentiment was the liberation of Palestine. An offer to accept Israel in the 1948 borders is a tacit admission of defeat. The pan-Arab project was a failure.”

The student seemed taken aback. I said to him, “For what it’s worth, the Israelis rejected the offer out of hand, adding insult to injury. For them, of course, this gesture wasn’t nearly enough. In a zero-sum conflict, compromise is rarely a viable means to a solution. I don’t know if you know any American history, but there was this guy named Henry Clay—”

“—the Great Compromiser!” the student finished. “Yes, I know him!” I must admit that I was quite impressed. Most of my students don’t know who David Ben-Gurion was, let alone someone a little more second-tier like Levi Eshkol. This kid has read enough American history to know who Henry Clay was and speaks English. While analyzing a cartoon doesn’t suggest Arabic skills, he may well have those as well. Most of my students are not bilingual. Most people in Tel Aviv seem to be. As our education system declines into the sewer, I can’t help being a little envious.

“Well, then you know at the end of the day, all the compromises failed and we had a civil war. Compromise doesn’t work in zero-sum conflicts.” I don’t know if anyone has ever tried to prove that. It might make an interesting research project.

“You don’t think it could be the League mourning the deaths of the Arabs who died in the Intifada?” he asked.

“Well, I guess anything is possible, but this image isn’t the most direct way to express that sentiment. Why would you need the Arab League building in the picture if you weren’t trying to say something about the institution itself?”

He thought for a while. Apparently he had been attached to his previous interpretation, which suggests that perhaps he hadn’t brought the article to test my politics after all. “I see your point. It is a better way of looking at it,” he said. He nodded and walked away.

The last image I had is of my landlady. Craig and I had wondered, after getting a good look at the Tel Aviv, if receiving the apartment in the state we had received it was par for the course. After meeting Raya, we’re pretty sure that it is. She seems like a very nice and sincere woman. Craig and I both liked her immensely. She asked in out forty minute, delightful conversation in the kitchen, if Craig and I were going to go to Jordan. I told her that I thought it might be awkward, as I really wasn’t out to my father’s family.

“They wouldn’t be accepting?”

“I don’t even know if they have any clear way of getting their heads around it. We don’t formally exist in their culture.”

She nodded. She clearly understood the tragic nature of what I felt. She told me about her brother and his American partner who live in Toronto, where they can be legally married. Her dad had trouble accepting her brother’s homosexuality for many years. “Such a small thing to make such a big deal about,” she said.

Ellis said it might be hard on me. Ellis was right.

But I don't want to end on that note. Craig and I are getting used to Tel Aviv. In many ways, it has been easy. For example—

See? They clearly knew we were coming. Craig and I couldn’t resist buying lemon-scent Fairy for all our manual dishwashing needs.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Photos for Briggs

Briggs wanted pictures. Here's the best 15 of the lot I took in Jerusalem. You can click for somewhat larger versions, but only one is over 200k in size. They should pop up quickly. This is a view of the Old City taken from the Mount of Olives.

These are the city walls, again from the Mount of Olives.

This is a Russian Orthodox Church. I forget it's name, again taken from the Mount of Olives.

This is a view of the West Jerusalem taken from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum.

This is Craig, with West Jerusalem in the background, again taken at Yad Vashem.

This is a windmill in Jerusalem. It was not built by Don Quixote, but from the story the tour guide told, it might as well have been. Sadly, the details are fuzzy in my memory. I don't know that I trusted our tour guide to begin with.

This is the Abbey of the Dormition.

The Dome of the Rock and one of the minarets of Al-Aqsa Mosque, taken near the entrance to the Wailing Wall.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, taken near the entrance to the Wailing wall.

This is a close-up of the Dome. You can click onto it to get the full resolution. I didn't scale it down—so if you click on it, you'll get over a meg of data. But you can really see a lot of the detail.

The domes of Al-Aqsa Mosque, taken at the Wailing Wall.

One of the many beautiful rooftops in the Old City. Craig does our porch with flowers in Seattle like this. It's rather permanently given me a soft spot for porches, terraces and rooftops of the sort.

This is opening of the Fatiha from the Quran. It's inscribed in the room in which Jesus was supposed to have had the Last Supper, from the period when the room was made into a mosque.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Christian Coffee in The Jewish State

Living with Craig all these years has made me a little more interested in aesthetics. The most aesthetic thing about our crappy apartment is making Turkish coffee in the morning. So I played with that process this morning. First, our kitchen is dark. Now, this camera is magnificent at letting in light. In fact, it's overexposing my outdoor pictures—I have to play with the manual and figure out how to avoid that problem. But in the dark kitchen, it has a slow shutter time. As a result, kitchen pictures tend toward blurriness, as it is very difficult to keep the camera perfectly still during that long shutter time.

This problem can be solved by using a tripod. Note the picture below of the bukraj is nice and clear. The word is Turkish, I think. It's what we call a Turkish coffee pot in Jordan. They call it other things elsewhere.

The only really nice thing about our cesspool apartment is the roughly three square feet of marble countertop. The Middle East on the whole is big on marble countertops. Most older houses have them. Anyway, you add three heaping tablespoons of Turkish coffee and two level tablespoons of sugar and mix them up like so:

I probably should have had "action shots" showing the spooning. I was lazy. I'd never make it in advertising. Plus, the focus should have been on the contents of the pot. Anyway, you then add water. I didn't get an action shot there, either. You live; you learn.

I did try for the action shot when lighting the stove (no pilot light—just a match), but I didn't angle the remote correctly and missed my shot. I was, again, too lazy to reshoot.

You will want to stir the coffee once as you start boiling it and again just as it starts boiling. Note that the grate on the stove makes a pleasant background for the photo. This apartment doesn't totally suck after all!

Invariably, the coffee will boil over. Just as it does, snatch it from the fire, stir and then put it back on again. You repeat this proccess twice more. Thad Tierney once told me, "Oh! You make Christian coffee!"

"Christian coffee?" I ask.

"Christian coffee!" he says. "Muslims only let it boil once. Christians do it three times for the Holy Trinity."

I had no idea that I made Christian coffee. My mom never told me the theology behind it when she taught me how. Of course, she's from Bridgeport, Connecticut, so whichever one of my dad's relatives taught her may never have explained this logic to her either. But there we are—a tutorial on Christian coffee from the Jewish state, inspired by an Irish guy from Wisconsin, who's still not as big a Packers fan as I am but apparently has a thing or two to teach me about the Middle East! It's a small fuckin' world!

Pouring, of course, has its own set of dilemmas. The autofocus targeted the rim of the cup. This is undesirable when empty, as the eye is drawn to the cup itself, rather than the contents. As a result, the image appears blurry.

There are ways of targeting the autofocus and them moving the focused object out of the center of the screen and maintaining that first focus. As is, the camera tends to retarget. I need to learn that technique. Like I said, I've been lazy.

Then, of course, pouring technique is everything. Note that I have a coffee stain on the back right of the cup. Sloppy! I'd make a terrible geisha. But note the fact that as the surface of the coffee rises, you mind the unfocused body of the cup less and less, as you are seeing an increasingly focused surface of the rising liquid. I imagine the proper solution is to pour a little, refocus, pour a little, refocus, etc. It sounds like a pain in the ass, especially when you're making your first cup of the day.

The final product follows. Again, we would want to see the final picture served up with a tall glass of mineral water and perhaps a cookie. But my desire to drink my coffee won out over my need to have my coffee.

And that was my most boring post ever! Well, maybe not. I just wish it was. Sigh.