Friday Quick Hits and Good Reads: A Divided Yemen, Water in South Africa, Automation, and more



What’s this week been up to? 


Happy Friday! Let’s get to the readings…

“The South will never be governed by Sanaa.”


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This map actually sort of makes sense


Some fine reporting by al-Jazeera on how the UAE is funding, and often literally fighting for, independence in south Yemen. Their motives seem to be a mix of regional power displays (Saudi Arabia is obviously against this move, violently supporting the Hadi government) and geopolitics, as their influence in a newly independent state will give them primary control over the region’s shipping lanes.

But, like, is this a good idea? In theory, the concept of splitting up a country is anathema to us, but it isn’t like the modern country of Yemen has a long history of unity from the sands of Saudi Arabia to the sea. It was originally unified in 1990 after the rapid decline of the Soviet Union made socialist South Yemen untenable, but then split again into civil war in 1994, only to be forcibly reunified by then-President Saleh and cadres of returning jihadis, who started to impose their concrete-grey vision of Islam on a more liberal area.

Looking at 20th-century history, one could argue that Yemen was split due to colonialism, with the Brits ruling southern Yemen out of Aden, but as cruel as their colonialism is, it was basically a concession to reality. The south was essentially never ruled by Aden.

Hell, most of the north was rarely unified. Even Yahya Muhammed and Ahmed bin-Yahya ran a “kingdom” based on constant negotiations and deal-makings, not absolute control. And never over the “south”.

None of this is to say that Yemen is a made-up land like Iraq, which is violently fraying again. It’s the idea of a modern nation-state ruled by a city in the north is essentially foreign, and against the way that Yemen has been governed for most of history.

To say that the south will never be governed by Sanaa doesn’t strike me as particularly defiant. It’s just saying what has been true for all but less than thirty of Yemen’s thousands of years.

“Could this be a sly plot to economize water in a third world country?”

Image result for cape town drought

Very excited about a new blog by ThatCapeTownGirl, who has as one of her initial posts an in-depth look at water in South Africa, and how it appears to be used as a political cudgel against the poor (which in South Africa of course is unmistakeable racialized).

While there has been a heavy drought in Cape Town for much of the year, this blog looks at how it is disproportionately being politicized, and how slow the recovery has been. She fears this may be an attempt to “economize water”, a great turn of phrase. There will always be people who capitalize on disaster, and water is one of the last great frontiers in commodification. It’s the one we have to fight the hardest. Once water becomes a tool of commodity, there really isn’t anything left. We’re all bought and sold.

Looking forward to reading this blog and learning more about South Africa!

What Bowe Bergdahl Comments Say About Trump



Hell yeah! This picture again! 


Easily-lost Army Sargent Bowe Bergdahl, who pled guilty and is currently awaiting sentencing, has used in his defense wildly-inflammatory and prejudicial comments made about him by then-candidate and now-President Donald John Trump (just to remind you that yeah, this really happened).

“We’re tired of Sgt. Bergdahl, who’s a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed,” Trump said at a Las Vegas rally in 2015. “You know in the old days — Bing. Bong,” Trump said while mimicking firing a rifle. “When we were strong.”

He also added: “thirty years ago, he would have been shot.”

A few thoughts on this and what it says about the Current Occupant:

  1. Guns go neither “bing” nor “bong”. He can’t even be a doofus right.
  2. Desertion isn’t really being a traitor. Trump obviously didn’t know this, nor does he now, I’m sure. Just another reminder that he knows nothing about anything.
  3. These are clearly inflammatory lynch-mob type statements about a confused young man who probably never should have been in Afghanistan to begin with. As Hollywood Mark Perrone points out, he was in the army because he was considered too mentally unstable to be in the Coast Guard. But that’s Trump: a braying carny with the instincts of an arsonist. He doesn’t know anything, but he knows how to incite the basest passions of the mob.
  4. The “thirty years ago” is my favorite part, because at the time, 30 years ago was 1985. I’m pretty sure we weren’t lining up people against the wall in 1985. But Trump lives in an endless “the past was better”, even when the past has to move up to horrible times like the 80s, when the country was cheap and tacky and vulgar and idiots like Donald Trump were considered avatars of success. It shows the essential emptiness of his psuedo-nostalgia, but also its powerful pull: “the past”, as a concept instead of reality, is always better. In Back to the Future, 1955 was a time of innocence and cool, far more than 1985. Now 1985 is that past. For people whose lives are grim, that’s a powerful concept. Someone has to kick modernity in the pants, and that someone is somehow Donald Trump. That’s the rotten and phony core of his rotten and phony appeal, and that it doesn’t make a lick of goddamn sense somehow only makes it stronger.

OK, I actually gotta run. I’ll do a full post on the New Yorker automation article in a bit, because there is a lot of irritating stuff I want to yell about.

George Saunders is the Man (Booker)

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Congrats to George Saunders, winner of the Man Booker prize! In the 4th-year that the prestigious literary award has become even more prestigious by allowing any English-language author to win, Saunders is the second American to do so, winning for the brilliant Lincoln in the Bardo. Needless to say, this is already causing gnashing of British teeth.

As an internationalist, and someone who loves many English writers, I understand. As an American though, I say go pound sand, John Bull! U-S-A! U-S-A!

As of now, the POTUS has no comment on the book or the prize.

Actually, I shouldn’t be so glib. This is the first time, I think, that I’ve actually read a Man Booker winner before it won the prize, so this puts me only one ahead of Trump. However, I also have a review of it, so if you haven’t read this masterpiece of horror and of American history, you should do so. And read my review.

The novel might not be of the moment, but it speaks to us, as a country, and as individuals. It’s about acceptance, but that acceptance isn’t a call for passivity: it is a call to arms. It’s about taking up the mantle of what it means to be a free and engaged people, with all the burdens of history we carry, and all our individual weaknesses, and doing something with them. It’s a ghost story about love, which, really, is all that the mythology of a country really is.


The Unraveling: San Juan, Kirkuk, Bishkek, and the End of the 20th Century

One of the more grotesque manifestations of Donald Trump’s attitude toward the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico is that he insists on referring to the island as a collection of “thems”, as opposed to “us”, or rather, the US. We can’t leave “our” first responders there forever; “they” have to help “themselves”; “they” should be grateful.

Obviously, there is surface-level racism at play here, but there is also a bone-deep ignorance of Puerto Rico’s status. Its people are Americans, but not “Americans”- they can’t vote in our national elections and don’t have any full members of Congress. And clearly, the bulk of American sympathies toward them have a paternalistic remove.

That’s because Puerto Rico exists in a kind of hazy borderland we want to ignore: the one between the present and a bloody past. Our occupation of Puerto Rico is part of the same colonizing energy that saw us wipe out nations to expand across a continent. Our ginned-up war with Spain was of the same era that the west was finally “won”. Indeed, while the “Frontier theory” of Frederick Jackson Turner isn’t much-regarded, his point that once America reached the Pacific it needed new areas to occupy is pretty much spot-on.

You’re welcome, Puerto Rico!

Continue reading

Programming Note!


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Stop the presses! 


Hey all- I know it has been a bit of a spell since I posted. Started a new job, in an office, and am working out when I am going to write. Somehow haven’t been able to get up early enough to do so, but am working on it. Will start posting more before and after work, starting next week.

At least that’s the plan, but as they say, when man makes a plan, God laughs and laughs and laughs. Honestly, it kills him. He just doesn’t stop. It’s really weird.

Back to regular posting soon.