Throwback Thursday: Yemen Between the Wars

Note: I’ll be out of town between the 4th and the 15th, in a wilderness repast, with little to absolutely zero connection to the internet or my phone. Posts during this time, written in advance, will be bigger-picture, or more idiosyncratic, rather than directly pegged to the news. If events happen that supersede or negate anything I say, think of these as a more innocent time capsule. Try not to let the country burn down while I’m gone.

(All posts about Yemen have been, almost be definition, depressing. And they’ve been depressing because this means something. These are real people, in a real country, which was and is filled with beauty. I’m going to reprint an essay I wrote about the Old City of San’a, way back in 2004. It was for a book I helped The Yemen Observer publish, to commemorate San’a. I honestly don’t know if I have the permission to run this, but will anyway, because I think it matters. I want people to know that this was real and living city, wrecked by idiot ideologies. I apologize for the youthful Orientalism– I wince every time I see “nameless” in the 2nd paragraph– but I’m going to leave it intact. Please don’t think this is an attempt to define San’a; that isn’t in me, and I’m not arrogant and misguided enough to believe that it was. I urge you to read Abdel Aziz al-Maqaleh. It is just my impressions at the time, and they are now a terrible reflection of the broken and shattered present. The talk of permanence has brought bitter tears. If you read this, please know it was written with love, love for people and a place. And think of them as you read it. I want to thank Greg Johnsen for providing the image that opens the piece).

The brown and white cupolas of the AL-Mahdi Abbas Mosque loom above the dry banks of a stone river. Inside is a tomb; outside is a magician. The tomb is of the man whose mosque bears his name. A ruled of Yemen who twice had to put down revolts led by the sorcerers of his day, he lies uneasy as another one has come back to haunt his restless nights. The magician is a teamaker, a timeless resident of Sana’a, who operates at night in a dirty and noisy little hole carved into the side of the silent mosque.

It is here, at the nameless stand operated by a nameless stranger that you can get the best cup of tea in town. The magician doesn’t pour milk into the black tea– he makes it all at the same time, a long procedure that is worth the wait, the noise, and the screaming silence of its creator. The sweetness of his alchemy is matched only by the grandeur of the view from the uncomfortable metal chairs that are set up haphazardly outside. You sit and sip and gaze out over the paved levy that used to carry water and raiders into Sana’a. On the other side the Old City sits in its nighttime silence. Frontlit from the street, it seems unreal, a movie prop, a gingerbread backdrop that would topple on you if a strong wind came roaring off Jebel Nuqum.

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Programming Note: Out on The Road


I’ll be traveling the next week and a half, with almost no internet (and virtually none after Saturday). There won’t be any posts tomorrow or Friday, but I have some scheduled for next week. These are longer (how?), more big-picture posts on American fascism, Constitutional crises, AQAP vs ISIS, and more. Hope you enjoy. Try not to let Trump take the lead, ok?

Bold prediction: by the time I’m blogging again on the 15th Trump will have said something stupid. You can take it to the bank. The money bank!



Programming Note


Today is Wednesday, softball day, which means I have two choices.

  1. Go outside with friends on a beautiful (if meltingly hot) summer day, run around, have some laughs, and then go for pizza and beer in a fierce and successful attempt to negate any exercise, or;
  2. Watch Mike Pence, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, and Newt Gingrich, who I’ve ranked in order of loathsomeness (and that list began with Mike Pence and didn’t even end with Ted Cruz)  tell enormous lies in an attempt to elect the worst candidate in American history? Knowing that I’ll be watching said candidate speak tomorrow? And that I’ve already spent two summer days inside watching more or less the same, but not from five of my top-30 least favorite politicians, and 3 of the top 3/4 (depending on what you call Trump)?

It’s a close call!

Karen’s Greenberg’s “Rogue Justice” Review

The fine folks at Just Security were kind enough to ask me to review Karen Greenberg’s excellent Rogue Justice, about how we transformed into a security state following 9/11. It’s a great read, and persuasively argued (the book, not my review). One of her key insights, beside the great reporting, is that the decisions made after the attacks fundmentally changed our relationship with the government, in ways we didn’t realize, and that I think will affect the national character for decades.

I’ll have more on the book later on, a few longer essays on some of the themes. In the meantime, here’s the review. Thanks to Just Security, especially for keeping the Huck Finn theme throughout.


This complicity came from careerists worried about rocking the boat, politicians in both parties worried about being painted as weak on terror (with notable and noble exceptions), and to an uncomfortable extent, the general public. The terrorist attacks in 2001 made everyone realize that anyone could be a target, but we didn’t see — or didn’t want to see — that in a very real way, we also became a target of the government. Many of the policies enacted in the wake of 9/11 made everyone a suspect as much as a target. Through official secrecy aided by general indifference, we allowed ourselves to be passively dragooned into being on both sides of a war.

Waukesha and Borges

I want to apologize to the literally somes of you who have been reading the Waukesha/Borges pieces. It’s been a far busier week at work than I thought, and I haven’t been able to devote the time I wanted to them over the last couple of days. The quicker political pieces are easier to do before work*. I hope to finish up the both of the series this weekend. In the meantime, if you are interested, please feel free to read the first entries in each.

The Borges Retrospective:

Waukesha Diversion Week!


*If there happens to be an idle billionaire who wants to subsidize this blog, and my lavish lifestyle, we can maybe work something out…

Programming Note

Moving forward, I promise to spend less time on Trump, and more time on geopolitics, international relations, and, hopefully, literature and science and Great Lake diversions and cool stuff like that. Maybe more time spent making fun of Thomas Friedman, which is the lifeblood of any blogger. This blog wasn’t supposed to just be about the dirt of the campaign, but there’s something about the single-worst nomination in the history of this nation that’s just, well, gripping I guess, in the way that the mountain speeding toward the window of your cockpit has a certain fascination.