Saturday, February 26, 2011

Requiem for a man who died in a fire: Mohammed Bouazizi

Once, there was a man from the town of Sidi Bouzid in the governorate of Sidi Bouzid in the southern, middle part of Tunisia.  His full name, Anglicized from Arabic in one way, was Tariq el-Tayyib Mohammed Ben Bouazizi.  The facts which are easy to come by about the good Mr. Bouazizi, the commonly known ones that have become trivia for reporters and politicos, are frankly fairly limited in number.  He was born in 1984 by the common Western reckoning, or 1406 by the Islamic calendar’s, and was one of seven siblings. His father died when he was only three; his mother married his uncle, but he was too sickly to work.  Mr. Bouazizi worked from the age of 10 at least part-time to help his family with their expenses; parts of his life are already unconfirmable, it seems – some sources claim he never attended college, other that he graduated after having supported his entire family while attending classes full-time.   This, according to these same sources, would include sending two of his sisters to college as well, though only one graduated.  I do not know which of these stories is true.
Mr. Bouazizi’s job, at least in December of last year, was that of a fruit salesman – he owned a cart, I suspect but cannot be certain it wasn’t particularly large or fancy, from which he operated his business, and he seems to have made due.  Then, on the 17th of December of 2010, allegedly, (and I have no reason to believe anything otherwise) corrupt officials impounded his fruits and vegetables which was by no means unusual, apparently.  This time, however, they also demanded his scale and he refused to allow them to take it.  The response of the officials (including, apparently, a woman – a particular insult, some sources allege) was to physically attack him in the street, beating him and depriving him of his means of survival.  Mr. Bouazizi went to both the city hall and the governorate seeking redress and was rebuffed by both levels of state.  He was left with no prospects as a 26 year old man and in significant debt for the wares on his cart.  Mr. Bouazizi left the governor’s after insisting he would burn himself if he could not see him – the police who barred his entry were unmoved.
 I do not know much else about Mr. Bouazizi’s life, his mental or emotional health, his hopes, his dreams, his fears.  I never shook his hand or met him.  But I know that no 26-year old man should feel so helpless, so inconsequential, so powerless that he has decided, as such a young age, that death is the only answer.  Yet that is what Mr. Bouazizi felt, and that is sad. 
            Mr. Bouazizi did something different, however, than what most people who plan to kill themselves do.  He did not seek speed, nor quiet, nor solitude, nor painlessness. Rather, like an artist who creates only a single work of note, he decided to transform his death into something profound and meaningful, whether the world would have it or not.  And so, Mr. Bouazizi went into a public place, specifically across the street from the governor’s building on 7th of November Square of the town of the Sidi Bouzid, and poured what is described, variously, as either paint thinner or gasoline onto himself.   Mr. Bouazizi demanded the right to see an official of the state once more.  Once more he was denied.  Mr. Bouazizi lit a cigarette lighter and caught flame.  By the time he was extinguished he was covered with third degree burns.

Protests began in Sidi Bouzid almost immediately and soon would be emulated all across Tunisia.

Mr. Bouazizi did not die easily, no matter his intentions, which I cannot know.  It took 19 days for him to die, nearly three weeks of the kind of suffering only massive burns can inflict.  I pity him deeply for this, no matter anything else, because is not how anyone should have to die. 
            There is a long standing tradition in many nations, particularly, at least in recent decades, in many Islamic nations, that the politically driven death should be aimed at injuring the enemy – that to justify one’s own kamikaze-esque behavior one had to harm other human beings, to create fear.  Yet Mr. Bouazizi did not attempt this, not in anyway.  Rather, he committed the most final and absolute form of civil disobedience available to the human individual – he destroyed himself, everything he was and might have been, all the contributions that he might have made, and did so in a manner that created fear not of the oppressed, but of the oppressor.  I understand many have ethical qualms with suicide of any kind – certainly I do – but in his act of suicide Mr. Bouazizi made a statement that is hard to miss – you, establishment, made a human being able to rationalize burning himself to death. 

The square where Mr. Bouazizi died has already been renamed Mohammed Bouazizi Martyr Street – the citizens of the town leave flowers in memorial still.  Paris, France’s Mayor is already planning to commemorate Mr. Bouazizi by naming a street or plaza after him – I suspect Bouazizi will become a popular name for children and monuments for many years to come and the people of Sidi Bouzid and Paris are merely anticipating a great wave of memorialization for a man who was pushed too far.

Mr. Bouazizi’s final words before setting himself on fire were simply, “How do you expect me to make a living?”

Key resources I used in writing this piece:

Matthew Banister interviewing Samia Bouazizi “The first protestor” BBC

Ben Macintyre “The power of one” Ottawa Citizen (originally published in The Times)

“Bertrand DelanoĆ«: a Bouazizi square shortly in tribute to Tunisian Revolution” Agence Tunis Afrique Presse

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dominoes versus snowballs: a conflation of concepts

I have noticed several instances, so far, of conflating two similar but distinct political models of regime change in a number of news stories (my glance at Google News showed about 90 different recent articles including the search term "domino theory" - my suspicion is that virtually all of them are referring to the current situation in the greater Middle East).  The two models are the domino theory, which was particularly critical to shaping Western strategic thought throughout the Cold War, and snowball (or demonstration, or diffusion) theory, which I first learned of as a part of Samuel P. Huntington's Third Wave model.

At first glance the two seem similar.  Domino theory asserts that each state within a region represents a set of finite real resources - manpower, natural resources, and other capabilities.  Similarly, each state exists within a geopolitical reality - Vietnam, for instance, borders Laos and Cambodia, which themselves border Thailand and Burma, which in turn borders India and Malaysia which borders Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, and so on.  It is possible, therefore, to clearly predict the existence of geopolitical "lines" along which conquest, be it traditional or using a "Fifth Column" or some combination thereof, would most likely have to occur if any given state was to be converted to a fundamentally new and aggressive political-economic ideology (e.g. Stalinist Communism).  Allowing any one state to convert is to convert its resources to the advantage of the opponent, increasing the pace of conversion, which is to say movement from state to state.  Thus, lining dominoes and then toppling one over is an appropriate metaphor - it was critical for the Soviet Union, in any one region, to topple over only one domino to begin its take-over of the region as a whole, and it was equally critical for the United States to prevent any single state from first converting.

Honestly, and I say this with no snarkiness at all, the best way to really get a sense of this is to play several games of Risk, or some other similar game, and note both how geography limits the available rational strategies and how resource acquisition tends to allow a steadily quickening pace of play.

On the other hand, diffusion theory, often known as snowball theory, refers to a similar, but not identical model.  The gist is that states cover a spectrum in terms of their political, economic, social, geographic, and cultural characteristics.  This spectrum typically is epicentric - you can choose any state in the world and as you move further away from it, well, states become less like it (there are exceptions - consider the English-speaking world whose members deeply influence each other at a very high rate and are scattered across the globe).  The assumption is that this system is fairly stable - like a mountain at which our epicenter is the tip-top covered in great quantities of snow.  But, if you have a radical event occur in one state then the effect is like that of rolling a snowball off the top of a mountain into deep snow.  At first the snowball moves slowly, affecting only nearby states.  But, if the snowball picks up enough snow it grows in circumference and weight and speeds faster and faster down the mountain, giving it the potential to affect an ever increasing number of states.  While Huntington speaks of this specifically in terms of regime-change (democratization being his snowball of interest) clearly this logic could follow for a number of different political phenomena.

The difference between these two models, both of which purport to explain how regime change in state X may cause regime change to occur in neighboring and/or similar states A, B, and C, are more significant than one might imagine.  Domino theory, for instance, clearly lay within the theoretical bounds of "hard power" politics - it is a realist understanding of regime change in which having more real, measurable power results in greater political success.  Furthermore, domino theory is very much a theory about hegemony - regime change of particular regimes is important and significant only within the broader struggle of great powers to control the world - it works very well to explain at least some of the logics of the US in Vietnam and the USSR in Afghanistan, for instance.

Snowball theory is significantly different - it is ground on the notion of imitation, and therefore falls under the aegis of "soft power" theory, such as that described by Joseph S. Nye, Jr.  Soft power includes all that power which a political actor receives through means other than the "carrot" and the "stick" (pay-offs, threats of coercion, and coercion).  In diffusion theory when actor X affects A, B, and C it isn't primarily through the machinations of X (though that might be occurring) or of hegemon Y, it is becomes X has demonstrated something to actors within A, B, and C and they have decided, consciously, to imitate it without any particular hope or need for reward or fear of coercion from X or any given hegemon.  Call it inspiration, ethical, ideological, philosophical, or even practical (it is tough to build a wheel if no one mentions the concept of the wheel to you your entire life), it is inspiration by one population of another that results in snowball diffusion.  

Why is this relevant here?  Because clearly we see both models at work in the greater Middle East, but not both at work in the rebellions, protests, and revolts which dominate the contemporary news.  The United States, as well as other great powers, are clearly bent on achieving regime stability in the region, and have been at least since late in the Cold War and especially since the 9/11 attacks - the overriding fear that anti-Western theocracies might emerge, inspired in particular by the 1979 Iranian revolution, regimes which could then imperil critical resources emerging from the area (especially petroleum) and destabilize "frontier" regions of Asian great powers such as India, Russia, and China, has led the Western great powers to engage in Machiavellianism of the highest order in the greater Middle East, guided by an implacable faith in (or at least fear of) the validity of domino theory's logic.  On the other hand, the emergence of what are increasingly being called the "Arab Revolts" (even as they spread into non-Arab states - irony) is clearly an instance of snowball diffusion - the great powers not only aren't the primary forces behind the movement, they're frankly afraid of its possible implications even as it results in a Middle East which, quite possibly, will better mirror their own ideals.

The irony is palpable, and the error of conflating dominoes and snowballs couldn't be more pronounced.

Articles from Foreign Affairs and the Council on Foreign Relations

Once more Foreign Affairs, arguably the most prestigious journal on international and comparative politics being published today, and its sister Council on Foreign Relations site have provided some really great material.  Consider:

Robert H. Pelletreau "Transformation in the Middle East: Comparing the Uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain" Foreign Affairs (Thursday, February 24th, 2011) - Pelletreau is arguably one of the most qualified people on earth to speak on the current disruptions - he has served as US Ambassador to Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain respectively under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and then served from 1994 to 1997 as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs - he is, in other words, the real thing, and this article gives us a subtle, if admittedly not game-changing overview.  What is arguably most important is that he makes an endorsement of the US's handling of the situation so far (though this is hardly surprising - press handling and delicate stepping make the US's behavior looks very much like late-1980s/early-1990s American diplomacy so far.

Bernard Gwertzman interviews F. Gregory Gause, III "Is Bahrain's Regime Next to Fall?" Council on Foreign Affairs (Friday, February 18th, 2011) - In depth, easy to understand, really a tremendous article.

Robert Zaretsky "Egypt and the Long Duree'" Foreign Affairs (Thursday, February 10th, 2011) - A brief explanation of why it is, frankly, too soon to call the outcome of events in Egypt, citing the natural conservatism of political culture (if not politics) in the Mediterranean basin.

James D. Le Sueur "Postcolonial Time Disorder: Egypt and the Middle East, Stuck in the Past" Foreign Affairs (Monday, February 14th, 2011) - A great article positing a model in which dictator's blindness in the Middle East is understood as a cultural bias of the surviving elites of the first post-colonial generations that still  rule many of these states.  Introduced me to the term "hegemonic nationalism" as well - going to need to look that up, see how it is used elsewhere.  Regardless, probably a good read for anyone who studies nondemocratic post-colonial states.

Clement M. Henry and Robert Springbourg "A Tunisian Solution for Egypt's Military: Why Egypt's Military Will Not Be Able to Govern."  Foreign Affairs (Monday, February 21st, 2011) - Another great one - here Henry and Springbourg argue (1) strongly in favor of civilianization of Egypt and (2) argue it is inevitable, despite the military's significant political and economic power base.

"Issue Guide: Arab World Protests" Council on Foreign Affairs (running updates, last updated February 22nd, 2011) - A clearinghouse of articles from around the net that are "must reads" - I haven't read them all, but recognize some heavy hitters and shall return.

Suzanne Maloney interviewing Roya Wolverson "Iran's Protests and Economic Realities" Council on Foreign Affairs (Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011) - Some comparisons with Egypt and a description of the growing strength of the Revolutionary Guard, as well as some other interesting policies and the population bulge.

News and a flag

The 1951 Libyan flag currently being used by "Free" Libyan forces
(Image by Martin Grieve on the Flags of the World Website)

I just wanted to share a few stories, etc. that I have found which I thought might be interesting at one or another level.  In no particular order: 

"Moroccan single mother burns herself in protest" Reuters (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - Beyond the tragedy, this is significant because it is a case of self-immolation by a woman, the first so far in the 2011 disturbances, but also because it happened in Morocco, a nation-state that so far has seemed more immune from disruption than many of its regional peers. 

Martin Chulov "Libyan city dubbed 'Free Bengazi' as anti-Gaddafi forces take control" The Guardian (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - Self-definition of rebel forces seems to be emerging in Libya - the use of "Free" to indicate which cowboy hats rebels are wearing, the use of the pre-Gaddahi regime Libyan flag - nothing too dramatic, but interesting.  A lot here, including some clear evidence that the military is fractured and that mercs are in situ. 

Faith Karimi "Cameroonians plan anti-government protests" CNN (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - Potentially very important - snowball/demonstration effect in an Muslim-minority, Sub-Saharan African state.  Something to watch carefully. 

Muhammad Jamjoom "Yemen president calls for new national unity government" CNN (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - Yemen keeps heating up even as Saleh keeps trying to negotiate his continued preeminence. 

"Egypt swears in new ministers" Al Jazeera (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - The headline is less important, possibly, than the fact that several out-regimers are sworn into the new cabinet - prompting the disdain of disestablishmentarians, including the important Muslim Brotherhood. 

"Yemen MPs resign over violence" Al Jazeera (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - Splits in the ruling party. . .  

"Bahrain frees political prisoners" Al Jazeera (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - About 50, not quite half are Shi'a actvitists - but it is a move? 

"Saudi king announces new benefits" Al Jazeera (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - Totaling about US$ 11 billion - another attempt at the bribery method - and it might work, given that the Kingdom is comparatively stable still.  I look forward to reading some much more in-depth coverage of this in the next couple of days. 

Jacqueline Head "The Arab world's 1989 revolution?" Al Jazeera (Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011) - I missed this one when it came out (cursed hospitals with no internet) but it definitely is worth a look-see - not in-depth, but penetrating discussion. 

Andres Cala "Europe rethinks dependence on Libyan oil" Christian Science Monitor (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - Tardy.  

Peter Grier "Why Qaddafi is losing parts of Libya" Christian Science Monitor (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - A geography lesson on Libya that is very important, though perhaps a little too apocalyptic in comparing Libya to Yugoslavia when Czechoslovakia might just as easily be an alternative.  Of course, so might Libya. 

Jane Arraf "Iraq attempts to diffuse huge protest planned for Friday" Christian Science Monitor (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - Demonstration effect in a state that is already transitioning to democracy. . . 

Deborah Amos "Nearby Uprisings Stoke Saudi Political Passions" NPR (Wednesday, Februrary 23rd, 2011) - A really, really great article, very nuanced, absolutely a must read to get a handle on what is happening in the Kingdom - also, it quotes a very, very different number on the King's benefit plan: US$ 35 billion - wow. 

"Don't count your dominoes: Will other north African countries explode too?" The Economist (Thursday, February 17th, 2011) - A discussion of the gravity factors that might prevent the entire subregion of North Africa from following suit with Tunisia and Egypt - and a total misuse of the concept of domino theory.  Clearly, tomorrow, I have a blog entry to write. 

"Oil pressure rising" The Economist (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - Oil prices are gonna' rise, probably a lot, in the next few months (and probably years) in response to real and perceived threats to the supply.  Geopolitics may finally make that electric car and public transportation something to consider, SUV moms.

"Will Arab revolt spread to Palestinian territories?" BBC (Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011) - Complex interstate politics are slamming head-first into the already recently destabilized Palestinian Authority, making this an incredibly important question with no clear answer . . . and few prospects of a happy (immediate, at least) outcome. 

Okay, that should sate for a little while.  I am turning in.  Night kids. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No. It isn't just the social media.

The mass media is full, and I mean brimming around the edges, with obsessive coverage of how "new social media" based on internet and inexpensive personal mobile communications is pivotal in defining the current disruptions in the Middle East.  And to a degree, they're correct.  It isn't hard to observe that Facebook and Twitter and their ilk have transformed observably the tactical and strategic cat and mouse game of establishment versus disestablishment in the current conflicts.  Yet it is easy, entirely too easy, to overstate the significance of these technologies as causes, rather than means.  And this, I believe, is where the mass media is largely getting it wrong.  

Let's clarify for a moment.  In the sciences, including political science, beyond simple observation, our primary focus is establishment of regularities - patterns or relationships that are enduring when repeated.  We divide these relationships between variables into three general types:

1. Correlations - Look at the word and you'll see it pretty much defines itself - when one variable changes, the other changes - they co-relate.  This is an ambiguous term however - it implies we know that when you see X you tend to see Y, but we can't strongly demonstrate that X comes before Y in time, or vice-versa, or if there is some extra variable that is acting on both at the same time.  We know, in other words, that they are interrelated, but we can't really show definitively how.  To choose "correlation" over "cause," then, is an act of scientific humility.  

2. Reflexive Relationships - Again, the terms nearly define themselves - as in the case of correlations we see that when variable X changes, variable Y changes - here we see the same thing but we have some reason or reasons to suspect that X causes Y causes X causes Y causes X causes . . . well, you get the picture.  In other words, both variables are suspected as serving, in their own time, as cause and effect, so attempts at discerning "original cause" is largely fruitless - very chicken and the egg.   The example I use most frequently with my classes is the cycle of violence principle - those people most likely to be abusive are those who were themselves abused - this is both linear and, sometimes, perfectly reflexive, such as when an abused child responds by abusing their own parents in their old age. 

3. Causal Relationships - Now, this is the relationship that non-scientists tend to use to describe all relationships (inaccurately).  Cause and effect refer to a specific type of correlation, one in which the one variable invariably comes in time before another variable - X precedes Y.  It also infers something very specific - that X is necessary for Y to occur (though it still may not be sufficient).  If something isn't necessary for Y, it isn't a cause - that doesn't mean it isn't important, or that it doesn't shape events (and therefore may be considered causal of a second or later stage in a "causal chain"), but that strictly speaking, it didn't cause Y.  

Okay, chief, you're saying.  I'm bored.  Move on.  What the hell does this have to do with Twitter?  There are a host of underlying causes of radical disestablishmentarianism in general, and of the Third Wave in particular, but these causes fall into two general categories.  On the one hand we have what you might call the conditional causes (institutions and structures), on the other the "causers," being the individual actors, mostly elites, whose decisions ultimately are a reaction to the perceived costs, benefits, and risks of different responses to those conditional causes.  

Why can I say that new media didn't cause these disruptions? Because that is not unlike saying that the U-Boat caused the First World War.  The U-Boat changed the war, altered it, forced new responses (some successful, some less), but the war was caused by human beings making rational decisions in response to the circumstances they perceived around them.  The fundamental rules of human behavior, and the general principles that explain why human beings engage in violence, didn't change.  In the same sense, Twitter, Facebook, and new media clearly did affect and is affecting the way the current disruptions are preceding in the Middle East.  They allow for simple, rapid, mass communication that is incredibly cheap, on the one hand, while also giving states unique intelligence gathering opportunities.  But the causes of these disruptions, ultimately, lay in the decisions of disestablishmentarians to engage in mass resistance in response to domestic and interstate conditions (which I'll go into at another time).   

The proof in the pudding?  Human beings have always been prone to internal disestablishmentarianism - revolts and civil wars are relatively common in virtually every civilization during virtually every period of time.  The legitimate means and ends of these revolts, sometimes tied up in pure pragmatism, sometimes in theology, sometimes in ideology, have changed, but the phenomenon is very old and tends to emerge whenever we see governments that fail to guarantee high levels of governmentality (state penetration into society), functionality, and/or legitimacy.  The only thing technology has really changed is that it has "conquered" space and time - actors now have the ability to coordinate over larger areas faster - and it has made it easier to incorporate larger numbers of people into movements through the development of mass media - that is to say, it has allowed for the development of command polities, economies, and societies.  Strategies and tactics, yes; causes, no.  

So when you want to explain why the Tunisian people stood up a few weeks ago, remember - a man killed himself in protest, shocked his nation, and men and women who were already dissatisfied stood up, they looked around, weighed the consequences, and decided to act. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What do we mean when we refer to the "Middle East?"

One of my majors in college was geography.  Now it seems that most people who never study geography, which in the United States seems to be virtually everyone, has a tendency to conceive of geography as the study and mapping (cartography) of landforms.  And sure, this is part of it.  But geography is also about human beings - in part how we transform our land, making it into artifacts that serve human purposes (and dealing with the consequences of these changes) and in part about how we socially construct the meaning vis-a-vis our land, which is to say how we culturally define territory, invest it or divest it of value, determine who "owns it" or has "rights to it" and so forth.   Geographers study the artifice of the mapped and divided territory and try to understand how these cultural labels substantively alter the nature of human interaction with said territory.  Consider how different life was for human beings before and after the concept of privately owned land entered a given civilization's lexicon, or how fundamentally different interstate relations would be today if during the emergence of nationalism and the concept of the nation-state the notion of highly defined state boundaries had never evolved.  Regions, it would seem, are just another example of this.

The classical example of a region, the one I learned from Ed Davis, my political geography prof at my alma mater Emory & Henry, was that a region is any assortment of political units (or economic or social - whatever floats your boat) that you group together based on a presupposition of some inherent similarities that made them appropriate to group together.  The logic is essentially the same as that of comparative political scientific methodology - we categorize states into groups not merely out of taxonomy utility, but because it helps to make and test hypotheses since the number of control variables drops.  Some.  States are pretty big and complicated.  But I digress.

Regions are, therefore, always artificial - they are always marred, for lack of a better term, by the fact that we create them to serve as a shorthand.  If we remember they are a shorthand and therefore cannot be expected to explain everything, more's the better.  If we don't, well, the concept of a "region" becomes an empty and useless tool.

This brings us to the Middle East.  The term comes from Europe.  Yup.  No surprise there.  For the Europeans the world could be divided into how they related to themselves.  Everything east of what was that day considered Europe (is it Russia? the Urals? the Ottoman frontier?) for centuries was known as "the Orient" from the Latin oriens for "rise" (as in the sun) which a signifier for "east" - everything from West of that magical line was "Occident" from occidens, Latin for "set/fall" (again, as in the sun) which is a signifier for "west."  Nothing too nefarious, just sort of inaccurate given that no one can agree on what magical line really matters, for starters (Is Eastern Europe really Eastern?  Isn't the Earth a sphere suspended in a vacuum?).  Add in the fact that it was way too broad a term to have meaning (how many civilizations exist east of "Europe" - presently, according to very famous dead guys like Arnold Toynbee, a lot - I could name the Chinese, Japanese, Turko-Altaic-Mongolo-Siberic, Indic, Islamic, Oceanic, and of course native Australnesian all come to mind, along with a host of other smaller potentials.  Finally, Orient was pushed right out the door because Europeans developed entire theories and logics obsessed with distinguishing between the European and "Oriental" mind, frame, and civilization that, by the early 19th Century at minimum, had become grossly stereotypical and insulting, a justification for acts of imperialism.

By the way - I'm not just dissing the Europeans here.  My ancestors were by and large European, so I think I'm allowed to, but more than that, I have read enough about other civilizations to know that they all have their sins of stereotyping and institutionalized discrimination which, when it meets with the cartographic ink, has a tendency to make certain civilizations more prominently in in the middle of the maps and others in drab, "Here Be Dragons" colors on the edges - I'm looking at you, every civilization.

Back to the dance.  The term "Middle East" wouldn't evolve definitively till the 19th Century - there is some debate where it came from, but I feel confident in asserting it was a natural outgrowth of the use of two other terms - "Far East" to designate East Asia and "Near East" to designate Anatolia and the Levant.  The Middle East thus probably (reiterate) was originally conceived of as the broad stripe from the Caucus Mountains to the Gulf of Aden, taking up the entire Arabian Peninsula, as well as at minimum Persia (today's Iran) and parts of what would best be neutrally Western South Asia (today's Afghanistan and Pakistan).  Might India be thrown in there some?  Sure, probably.  How about "greater" India, all the way to Burma.  Heck, if you're crazy enough to do it.  Central Asia?  Why not?

Seems arbitrary, doesn't it?  That's because it was, and to a degree, it still is.  Certainly other regions make more sense in other ways - speaking of the "Arab world" being those territories in which the Arab language is dominant makes more sense, for instance, and the same goes for the Turkic and Persian worlds.  Speaking of the Islamic world, well, that is huge taking in vastly varied landscapes, cultures (and cultural assumptions), and covering a huge proportion of humanity - perhaps we could narrow it to the Sunni or Shi'a world.  Again, imperfect, but something.

So, let me tell you what I mean when I say, "Middle East" (or, rather, greater Middle East) in the context of this blog.  It is something very specific - a collection of geographic zones that roughly correlate with certain social, economic, and cultural characteristics imperfectly, but enough that there is some expectation of overlap.  Yeah.  It is going to be kind of arbitrary.  Kind of.  There is a logic.  Trust tree.  Nest.

Let's start with the sub-regions that aren't going to provoke much ire.

1. Anatolia - The peninsula that makes up the bulk of the state of Turkey today - dominantly Sunni Muslim, ethnically mostly Turkish and Kurdish, and a core mass of the ol' Seljuk and Ottoman Empires.  Never colonized.

2. The Levant - Formerly referred to as the "Near East," the home of today's Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine (or Palestine/Israel - as you prefer it) agglomeration, and Jordan, all part of the Ottoman Empire and most of the major regional Islamic Empires.  Arab culture has been preeminent in most regions, save Lebanon (which is just complex in all the most beautiful, interesting, and sometimes sad ways), though with the emergence of the State of Israel a non-Arab actor, in historical terms, "appeared."  That said, while the area has long been Arab and Sunni Muslim dominated, this isn't to say it was ever ethnically or religiously simple - cosmopolitan was conceived of as a word to deal with this region, I'm half convinced - though that doesn't mean people always liked each other before the 1940s.  Or the Crusades.  Today many minority religious groups are very powerful in this sub-region and the variety of regime sub-types is kind of stunning.  Tragically, so is the level of violence, both literal and structural.  Divided after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire (against American wishes) by the United Kingdom and France into League of Nations protectorates; also, the territory of Palestine which would become today's Israel was largely colonized (in its initial iteration, at least) by Europeans and Americans of the Jewish faith pursuing the 20th Century's favorite cause, nationalism, and fleeing the very real history of persecution in that faith in Europe.

3. Iran - Iran, formerly Persia to Westerners, the huge subregion that stretches from the Caucus Mountains and Caspian in the north to the Persian (or Arab, depending on who you are) Gulf and Arabian Sea in the South, hugging against the western Himalayas in the east and right across the river from best friend/worst friend forever Iraq, Iran is interesting because it wasn't Ottoman, or Arab, or dominated by Sunni Islam.  That said, this ancient state, and it is truly ancient, has a history which in many ways is a dialog with the same questions struggled with by the Turkic and Arabic empires and its history has been, in many ways, one which reflects the choices not taken by those states.  The Kingdom of Persia was the primary competitor for dominance of the Middle East with, well, almost every other empire that would emerge for almost its entire history, both before and after conversion to Shi'a Islam.  Oh, and while Iran was never directly colonized, it spent a huge portion of the last century dominated utterly by the British.  Also, ethno-religiously diverse but definitely Persian dominated Iran is unique in that it is a model for a theocratic Islamic republic, a regime sub-type set that is rivaled only Sunni traditional hereditary states in terms of its influence on 20th and 21st Century Islamic fundamentalist thought.

4. Iraq - You thought I was going to stay romantic didn't you, go with Mesopotamia.  Sorry.  I'm a rebel.  Regardless, Iraq is that territory which, for the time being, is a state that is emerging from a forced regime-change (by the United States and several of its allies, if you didn't know) which is located primarily between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.  It is a complex state, which is probably why it ideally would never have been only one state in the modern period - it is not definitely dominated by any one ethnic or religious group, but three groups - primarily Sunni Kurds in the north, primarily Sunni Arabs in the central part of the country, and primarily Shi'a Arabs in the south.  As such, Iraq really is fascinating in that it it is a geographic wedge between the great Sunni Arab culture and the great Shi'a Persian culture, a transition zone with high levels of cultural diffusion that make the idea (and physical prospect) of splitting the state desperately painful.   Iraq is where the Middle East as a whole has come together as a society and now, well, they have to live with it.  Iraq was, it should be noted, a protectorate of the British as well.

5. The Arabian Peninsula - We can really talk about two, maybe three, categories of states on the Arabian Peninsula, which is a large, fairly dry bear claw of a piece of land surrounded by narrow gulfs or seas on three sides, the Arabian Sea open water sea on another, and then the deserts that separate northern Arabia from the Peninsula to the North.  The biggest state is the never colonized successfully Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - it takes up most of the Peninsula's territory and besides being a regional power driven by an engine of petroleum, it is also home to a traditional monarchy that wasn't installed by someone else - a traditional monarchy that supports a heavy-on-the-Sunni-theocratic institutional design based on Salafi legal teachings. It is also home to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and as such the King, in exchange for the enormous undertaking of maintaining these cities in a state appropriate for the annual hajj, receives enormous international curry and favor.  That said, the Saudi Kingdom, while not a hermit kingdom by any means, was always more aloof from the the region's politics than others, partly because its geography allowed it to be, but partly because it was the only state not integrated into the Ottoman Empire or another regional trading empire.    The other states were all administered by the Ottomans for extended periods of time or maintained extensive overseas empires - the Gulf states of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would all be for the former category, Yemen and Oman of the latter.  Regardless, all these states are dominated by Sunni Arabs - though some with a twist - the UAE depends, for instance, on migrant labor of such quantities that the immigrants are a numerical majority, and in Bahrain Shi'a outnumber Sunni, but have virtually none of the political power.  Yemen is of course our "maybe a third kinda' state" - no part of the Peninsula has experienced as much warfare as Yemen during the last century where it became a battleground for Cold War politics before finally reuniting in 1990 as a republic (the only one on the Peninsula).  Still suffering the after effects of a tough century, its development lags behind that of the other peninsular states.  Oh, and both Yemen and Oman?  Former British protectorates.

Okay, those are the easiest ones.  The next one is slightly more problematic due of a simple question of geography - it isn't even on the same continent as the previous sub-regions. . .

6. North Africa - North Africa is exactly what it sounds like - that strip of states which bound the southern Mediterranean Sea - Morocco (and occupied Western Sahara), Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.  All of these states are predominately Arab (though the diversity of what "Arab" means as a concept really comes through when comparing Morocco to Egypt to Oman to Syria) and predominately Sunni Muslim, though significant ethnic and/or religious minority populations exist in most of the states of the region (e.g. BerbersBedouin and Coptic Christians).  All of these states were at some point part of the Ottoman administration except for Morocco, and all were at some point colonies and/or protectorates of either the United Kingdom or France with the exception of Libya, which was a colony of Italy.

Okay, the phase that is relatively uncontroversial has drawn to a rapid close.  From this point on the sub-regions I'm adding to the greater Middle East, or rather dealing with as if they are a part thereof, become a bit more problematic - I'll explain why in each case, of course, but the gist is that these other sub-regions share more and more characteristics with other general regions.  That said, all of these regions are predominantly Muslim, though we'll see that there are outlier states which are non-Muslim or that have complex/split religious identities, and see that while in a few of the sub-regions Arab culture and language are important, others lay entirely within the greater Iranian/Persian and Turkish cultural hearths thanks to a long history of empires and migrations across the sweep of Central Asia.

7. Sahara-Sahelian Africa - The Sahara desert, much of which is contained in the region already described as North Africa, is nothing you aren't already familiar with - it is the desert that all other deserts are measured by in popular culture.  The Sahel, however, may be less familiar to you - it is the dry transitional region that divides the Sahara from the wetter areas of central Africa, a place of very dry, often seasons grassland and savanna prone to droughts.  This region fascinates me, and I wish I could find more on the pre-Western kingdoms that dominated the region (growth area, future historians) but in essence what we find is that the region was dominated by oasis and trading kingdoms specializing in high-profit durable goods for centuries, save around huge sources of water that allowed for denser populations (e.g. the Nile).  The states I include in this sub-region are Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, the Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti - states that we can roughly divide into four groups.  Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Chad are all former French holdings that are truly desert regions in which you have relatively high ethno-national diversity and a significant, if not overwhelming, Islamic population, though in the case of the first is Arabic an official language.  These are areas that were converted fairly soon after the emergence of Islam but which were politically (though perhaps not economically) far less integrated into the "Islamic mainstream" of North Africa and Southwest Asia.  The Sudan, well, it gets its own category - ethnically diverse, split religiously, home to radically different climates, this enormous former colony of Britain seems to be on its way to becoming multiple states and I can't but think that isn't for the best for everyone involved.  Northern Sudan is definitively Arab territory, while the Darfur in the west resembles Chad culturally and Southern Sudan is definitely "East African" and home to more practicers of traditional religions and Christianity - though Arabic is frequently used as a lingua franca throughout the country and in urban areas.  Ethiopia and Eritrea represent our third clumping - Eritrea being a part of Ethiopia until the 1990s - ethnically diverse states which are majority Christian with large numbers of Muslims.  Eritrea has had more definitely Arabic influence (hardly surprising given its geography) though both are clearly sheltered politically from the region's greater movements - transitional again is the by-word.  Both were administered together as a colony of Italy during the early 20th Century.  The final clumping are those states which are part of greater Somalia - Somalia, Djibouti, and the often overlooked predominately Somali territories of Ethiopia known as the Ogadan.  The Somali people are overwhelmingly Muslim by faith, though there is great variance in terms of interpretation, and the there has been significant Arab influence on Somalian history and culture - hardly surprising given its deep and enduring relationships with the states on the nearby Arabian Peninsula - their territories were colonized by both the United Kingdom and Italy in Somalia proper, Italy in the Ogadan, and France in what is today Djibouti.

8. Western South Asia - Yes, I did just distinguish between Western South Asia and Southwest Asia - if you're from near the Southern West Virginia/Southwest Virginia borderlands, like I am, you'll be able to keep up.  If not, well, such is life.  The gist is this - Afghanistan and Pakistan are in essence transitional zones between Persian/Iranian culture, to their West, Central Asia to their North, and the astounding cultural complexity of the Indian subcontinent to the their East.  Of course, both of these states (if we can meaningfully talk about Afghanistan as a functional state) were administered as part of the British "Empire of India," but that does not tell us much - what is critical is to bear in mind that both are overwhelmingly Muslim religiously (Pakistan now far more so now than historically after the flight of non-Muslims from Pakistan and Muslims from India in the mid-20th Century), though with many different Islamic traditions, and with distinct divides between more secular urban areas and rural areas dominated by traditional institutions.

9.  Central Asia - The meaning of Central Asia has shifted over time, but what it has always been is that area of mountain, steppe, taiga, desert, and tundra filled Asia dominated by political-economies specially suited to difficult-to-survive-in-environments.  Arguably huge parts of today's Russian Federation, People's Republic of China, and India should be included - they only reason I leave them out is that, well, the Central Asian peoples of these regions aren't really that in control of their own political destinies (e.g. Xinjiang, traditional home of the Uyghur Turks) , on the one hand, and on the other, the fact that while many of the Central Asians are of the Muslim faith, these are generally (with meaningful exceptions) in the minority.  Thus, while Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan are probably more like Mongolia than Morocco, the predominance of Buddhism and indigenous religious beliefs in Mongolia has prompted me to leave it right out.  Regardless, the states included in this definition of Central Asia are overwhelmingly dominated by the speakers of Turkic languages, unsurprising since this is where the Turks of Southwest Asia originally migrated from centuries before, and all are former Soviet holdings that broke away during the Revolutions of 1989 to 1991.   Which of course makes one wonder about the future of other primarily Islamic regions in Central Asia that haven't achieved independence should demonstration effect really ramp up at sometime in the future.

And finally,

10. The Caucasus Region - The Caucasus Mountains are just, well, geographically they're unusual.  they are literally a chain of mountains and valleys that separate the Black Sea from the Caspian Sea, east to west, and European Russia from Southwest Asia, north to south.  This means they were destined to importance whether their residents desired it or not - put aside the domestic characteristics of this sub-region, it is a corridor for trade, for war, a choke-point between civilizations.  That means great history books and high walls.  Three states are independent currently in the Caucasus - Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, but as in the case of Central Asia, the picture is really a little more complicated when we remember that two of these states have quasi-states that are functionally independent within them (Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan and Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia) and that Russia's most rabidly pro-disintegration regions are nestled in the Russian Caucasians, including Chechnya and Dagestan.  The area is ethno-nationally very diverse, adding to the complications (and interest), though most people are either Eastern Orthodox Christians, Armenian Christians, or Muslim - of the independent states, and this is probably what renders this addition to my list more contentious than any other, only Azerbaijan is predominately Muslim - specifically, Shi'a.  Why include this region in the list?  Well, largely because the Caucasus states, all former Soviet holdings like the Central Asian states, are politically, economically, and culturally so deeply tied to the cultural trends of Southwest Asia - it would be tough not to be when your neighbors for the last several centuries have been the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Persia/Iran.  Azerbaijani, by the way, is a Turkic language - Georgian and Armenian are not related to one of the "big three" language groups of the greater Middle East.

To say, first off, that this is a bare-minimum, scratching the barrel sort of explanation is to say the least - I know.  I spent hours on this and feel like I could probably work solidly for a week expanding, but I'm not sure whether that would make it more useful as a "brief" introduction to why I am including what I'm including in the concept of greater Middle East.  I would like to note a couple of the things we see, maybe not universally, but on a huge scale across all these diverse areas, however, as a final bow on the package:

1. The preeminence of Islam - There are other faiths in these regions, some of which even are in-state majorities.  And, certainly, there are a number of very religiously complex states.  Further yet, Islam is by no means a monolith, but a complex set of different sects, denominations, and schools of thought.  But there is no question that this broad band of states is overwhelmingly Muslim.

2. The preeminence of three major lingo-cultural groups - Again, there is tremendous ethno-national variety and complexity in the greater Middle East, but the Arab, Turkish, and Persian/Iranian cultures are the superpowers, directly or indirectly impacting culture and language in virtually every corner.

3. The environment - The greater Middle East is not, by and large, a land of milk and honey - most of the greater Middle East is agriculturally marginal, meaning it takes a lot of work to live there, dominated as it is by harsh environments - deserts, steppes, savannas, and mountain ranges make up an enormous proportion of the region.  Not only that, we see that much of this region is blessed with enormous petroleum and natural gas reserves - this has led to the replication of certain developmental patterns  which are rarely successful in the long-term (again, there are key exceptions) in the 20th and early 21st Century - what geographers and social scientists refer to as "resource curse."

4. Democracy is rare - Democracy is very rare in the greater Middle East, rarer than in any othier region of the world, in fact.   There are untold theories as to why this is this the case, but that subject deserves a lot of space.

5. Pre-colonial empires - Persian/Iranian, Turkish, and/or Arab - the name of the game for centuries was multi-religious, multi-ethnic empires.

6. Colonial experiences until fairly late - The vast majority of the greater Middle East was, at one time, controlled by one of four powers - the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union/Russia, and/or Italy.

[Note: I'll probably be returning to this post in the future to tighten it up, add details, etc. - I'll let you know when I do!]

Monday, February 21, 2011

Four Choices Emergent

If there were any real doubt left, today it became clear that there were, and are, significantly diverging behavioral patterns emerging among the established elites of different greater Middle Eastern states experiencing the onset of radical disestablishmentarianism.  At least four strategies, as far as I can tell, have emerged:

1. Measured response and refusal to conciliate or arbitrate until very late
2. Early and extensive conciliatory response with focus on key factions
3. Measured response and withdrawal with open door for conciliation, at least formally
4. Overwhelming use of force

The first of these, which we saw in both Tunisia and Egypt, is as much a sign of "dictator's blindness" (the tendency of autocrats to believe they are both more legitimate than they are and that their regime is more stable than, in fact, it is) as anything else.  Two autocrats and their cliques ultimately lose power because they refuse to accept the possibility of taking fairly radical reforms early in a conflict AND because they failed to learn the morally dubious but functionally true lesson of the 1989 Revolutions - you cannot expect to take half measures and crush massive, popular, radicalism without the use of overwhelming military capacity a la Tiananmen.  Had Ben Ali or Mubarak elected to either meaningfully undertake even a few reforms early they would probably be in office for years longer - equally, had they called out the military early enough, keeping it properly in check, of course (e.g. using only the most self-disciplined troops and police) the same would likely be true.  But they elected not to respond as such and new regimes are being knitted together in these states.

The second option, that of an early and extensive conciliatory response focusing on, frankly, corporatist buy-offs of critical factions, both pro- and, when possible, anti-regime in nature, is probably being best used by King Abdullah II Jordan, though certainly the Yemenese are undertaking some similar strategies.  Increase subsidies, increase pay for your civil service and military, decrease taxes on whatever goods are most important at this moment (e.g. foodstuffs in Jordan - I think, by the way, that we'll look back at rising food prices as a huge part of this movement in only a few years, if not months), and so forth - it isn't cynical, it is logical.  By co-opting critical factions many regimes have been saved, autocratic and democratic.

The third option is that which Bahrain seems to be taking, though I'm not sure it isn't too early to tell - specifically, it involves cracking down in waves, withdrawing, and leaving the option of negotiation open.   I don't believe this is a good strategy - each time the Bahraini security infrastructure withdraws from public squares the protests rise again, resurgent - I am reminded again of 1989 when the protests in Beijing, which lasted ages, only ended when that fundamental logic of all infantrymen with a lick of sense, "hold the ground" kicked in and the People's Liberation Army decided to take public spaces formally for an extended period of time.  Allowing the opposition to reform after each of these has allowed it to become more robust, better capable of coordinating, and frankly, more determined it seems as they gradually acquire shared experiences, "battle hardiness" and a collective identity.

Finally, a number of regimes are pulling out the stops - Iran's ruling clique roaring in parliament for the opposition to be killed - Algeria's security instruments actively preventing the emergence of large-scale public protests rather than responding to their effects (I am reminded, with a shiver, of Madison's warnings in The Federalist Papers) - and now the unquestionable over-response (virtually regardless of your moral compass) of the Qadaffi regime in Libya as the dictator has begun an air war on his own people (though, admittedly, one which might prove his downfall as his own diplomatic corps abandon him in droves and NATO states begin debating a no-fly zone) which some of his own pilots are refusing to carry out.  This latter category, this is the lesson learned by so many autocratic regimes in the post-1989 world - force used en masse by a loyal security apparatus can, essentially, end most popular uprisings if it is used early enough.

The Birth of a Term . . . "Day of Rage"

There are a lot of terms being bandied about during the current dramas that, for lack of a better description, have great propaganda value.  One of them is the phrase "Day of Rage" - I can't help thinking of Days of Thunder every time I hear it, by the way, which is sophomoric, but nonetheless true.  Regardless, earlier today, while working on my still-not-quite-up-to-date timeline spreadsheet of the disruptions (I'll post it on here as soon as it is something close to useful) I came upon this article on MSNBC by Petra Cahill explaining the (possible) roots of the concept, I decided it should definitely be shared - I like the fact that there is this sense that the concept is domestic and/or traditional when it is imported and, frankly, pretty new.

The Inspiration for "Third Wave: Middle East"

In late December of 2010 I, in essence, disappeared from public life.  I contracted a very rare condition known as aplastic anemia which, for the time being, has undermined not only my ability to produce the most basic of blood cells but has also essentially eliminated my immune system.  The treatments for this condition, as well as my body's reaction to these treatments, have left me largely bedridden and in functional isolation for most of the last few months in hospitals or clean rooms around Tennessee, far away from my "stomping grounds" at the University of Virginia's College at Wise where I teach, well, almost all of the international relations and comparative politics courses offered.  As I began to recover enough to watch television and check e-mail occasionally I began to realize that I was going through a situation something like that of Rip Van Winkle.  I had gone to sleep, so to speak, and the world made sense - I knew things about the Middle East and Islamic world - it wasn't my primary expertise, but I had taught about it, read extensively on the subject, felt confident in at least some sense of durability of the existing landscape.  And I definitely knew about regime change - my dissertation was on the subject and I was (and will return to, once I am allowed to take up my position again post-illness) working only weeks ago on the second, third, and fourth stages of a six-stage project on the subject of critiquing and functionalizing Samuel P. Huntington's Third Wave model of democratization - heck, I'd presented the first round of findings just last spring at the Virginia Social Sciences Association conference.  And now this?  Pro-liberalization radical, popular disestablishmentarianism erupting of all places in the Middle East?  I was moribund.

I wasn't upset because I was wrong-headed about things - a real scholar is wrong about a lot of things in his or her lifetime and I'm becoming adapted to my own ignorance.  I was upset because I was isolated from my academic libraries, too sick to spend hours on the phone with my friends in Washington and around the world who are reacting to the emerging situation, too beaten up to try to catch up on my online reading (and just depressed at the "look-here-is-another-picture" style of television journalism I could physically deal with for a few minutes at a time).   So I rested, listened to names, got my brother to fill me in on what he'd gleaned during his visits, learned what nurses and doctors read newspapers and ignored "yelling-based-television," and so forth.  Until one day, halfway through my treatment for a secondary condition emerging from a treatment for my aplastic anemia, I felt okay.  Not good.  Not strong.  Those days are coming.  But "Robert Louis Stevenson would be sitting up in bed writing right now" good.  I begged the nurses and doctors at my hospital to get me an internet connection, got my brother to bring my laptop to the hospital, and the next day, after 45 minutes with a friendly enough but eternally mumbling hospital IT soldier, I had access to the world again.  That first day I only read for perhaps two or three hours, but I realized - my god, has it only been weeks, months at most?  I cried at what I'd missed.  

I cried because the most important moment in making me who I am (at least professionally), other than reading Bradbury's Martian Chronicles in seventh grade (long story) was the period between 1989 and 1991 when I became politically aware even as the political landscape of the Earth transformed.  It was in that three year period that I began to care about power, about politics, about people whose languages and cultures and political-economic-social assumptions were different, began to care about them not only because they were interesting, but god help me, because they were human beings.  It changed me utterly - this is when I negotiated for weeks not for a higher allowance or fewer chores, but the right to stay up until 11:30PM so I could take in the late news.  This is when I began to read more and more military and international history, no longer dwelling exclusively on the American history which I loved (and still love, mind you) exclusively.  This is when I learned to be an optimist in Poland and a pessimist in Beijing.  And I realized, even then, I might never see its like again - hell, my great, great grandkids might not see it.  

And now, sitting in a hospital room where everything smelled, tasted, and felt like antiseptics and the immunosuppressants and overcooked food, I realized I might have missed seeing it again - certainly the opening salvos, but potentially, if things went sour again (which, hypothetically, they might) a lot more.  I also realized that I am a professor - okay, an assistant professor - and these are the moments I live for - the moments when I get to teach students the grand lessons of politics, the thunder and the drums, and have the staging that makes them actually give a damn.  And I was, and largely still am, missing it.  

This is hard for me.  I'm a reader and a scholar, but I'm also a doer, an actor.  I need to teach.  I need to talk and write.  And I need for kids from the same Appalachian Mountains I was raised in to understand their place in a greater world then the one they can imagine at this moment.  

After three or four days of furious reading, literally until I'd call for painkillers and sink into sleep after a session, I began to write.  I'm working on perhaps five articles at once - some highly technical, built on deep methodologies and complex theoretical mumbo-jumbo (formal term), some designed for a broader audience.  And one problem continuously emerged - this is all going too fast.  It'd be going too fast for healthy, 50- to 60-hour work week Eric Drummond Smith and it sure as hell is going too fast for "I can sit up in my bed three to five hours a day" Eric Drummond Smith.  But I need to do something, start presenting my ideas and get to teaching again. 

That is where this blog comes from.  I want to help you fill in the gaps in your (and probably my) knowledge, your questions, your ideas, and so forth.  And I want to help you find what you're looking for, give you any informed opinions you might want, and so forth.  I want to be a resource as much as my malfunctioning blood and marrow will let me.  And I might throw some of my research ideas, concepts, methodologies, etc. at you for feedback, comment, and conversation.  Oh, and if I find article or media worth sharing, look for them here too.  That's it.  If this works, and I recover, I plan on maintaining this blog after my recovery as an ongoing resource, but for now, well, this'll do.   

How do you contact me? Well, you're welcome to comment (though show your manners - you might want to read the "rules" below) or, for more privacy,  you can always e-mail me at my work address  I'll get back to you as quickly as I can, but please, bear in my mind my circumstances.


PS - My sincerest and ongoing thanks to my friends, my doctors, nurses, and other professionals at Vanderbilt University Medical in Nashville, East Tennessee Oncology and Mercy West in Knoxville, and most of all my family for helping me through what we've already beaten and what we still have to beat.  I love you guys.