Stateless in Somalia, and Loving It

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

Stateless in Somalia, and Loving It makes a bold proposition about the country best known for Black Hawk Down:

Somalia has done very well for itself in the 15 years since its government was eliminated. The future of peace and prosperity there depends in part on keeping one from forming.

From the CIA factbook:

Despite the seeming anarchy, Somalia’s service sector has managed to survive and grow. Telecommunication firms provide wireless services in most major cities and offer the lowest international call rates on the continent. In the absence of a formal banking sector, money exchange services have sprouted throughout the country, handling between $500 million and $1 billion in remittances annually. Mogadishu’s main market offers a variety of goods from food to the newest electronic gadgets. Hotels continue to operate, and militias provide security.

Van Notten, a Dutch lawyer who married into a Somali clan, holds that Somalia is a country based on customary law:

Customary laws develop in a country like Somalia in the absence of a central legislating body. Rules “emerge spontaneously as people go about their daily business and try to solve the problems that occasionally arise in it without upsetting the patterns of cooperation on which they so heavily depend” (Van Notten, 15: 2005). Van Notten contends that the Somali customary law closely follows the natural law and therefore should be preserved.

The extended family is the core of Somali society. Families descended from common great grandparent form a jilib, the basic independent jural unit, and a number of jilibs in turn form a clan. Each family, jilib, and clan has its own judge, whose role is to facilitate the handling of disputes by deciding where the liability lies and what compensation should be paid. For example if a man is murdered, the murderer’s clan gives the victim’s clan one hundred camels (the blood price). Verdicts are widely discussed, and a judge who does not base his decision on norms prevailing in the community is unlikely to be asked to settle further disputes. Thus while a judge may form his own principles, his customers will decide his competence as a judge.

What happens when you try to impose democracy on a tribal society?

When the electorate is composed of close-knit tribal, religious, linguistic or ethnic communities, the people invariably vote, not on the merits of any issue, but for the party of their own community. The community with the greatest numbers wins the election, and the minority parties then put rebellion and secession at the top of their political agenda. That is nothing but a recipe for chaos.

Libertarian Paradise

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

James H. Joyner Jr. calls the Netherlands a Libertarian Paradise:

I recently spent a few days in what a friend referred to as ‘the land of debauchery.’ Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, is probably as famous for its openness toward prostitution and drug consumption than for wooden shoes, canals, or world class museums. Yet, strangely, it nonetheless seems to be a clean, functioning society.

While Holland has an exceedingly redistributionist economic policy, it is a libertarian’s paradise on the social front.

Dogbert Explains "Fungible"

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

Dilbert doesn’t understand what “fungible” means. Dogbert does.

1994, Year of the Newt

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

Brian Carney suggests that Newt Gingrinch, who led the Republican Party to victory in 1994, may be making a run for the presidency in 2008:

The party governed to maintain power, and so lost touch with its electorate. And here he adds a warning: ‘Our natural majority in the country is a very reform majority. It’s the taxpaying majority. It’s the people who do not trust Washington, do not like seeing their money wasted, are not impressed with pork — if anything, they’re irritated by it. And either the House and Senate Republicans are going to move substantially in the next few months or they’re going to run a very real risk of losing the fall election.’

So what does ‘substantial movement’ look like? Unsurprisingly, Mr. Gingrich has a program. ‘[T]here are two layers. I’ll give you things they can’t do and things they can do.’ First, the things they can do, such as cutting down on earmarks and pork-barrel spending. ‘They should change the House rules so that any conference report that comes back is automatically filed on the Thomas system [the Web site where congressional actions are logged and made publicly available] and is not voted on for 72 hours so that every blogger in the country can go in and read it. That would immediately cut down on the most outrageous stuff because you wouldn’t be able to pass it.’

This is Mr. Gingrich at his best — a swish of the sword when faced with a Gordian Knot.

Asymmetrical warfare, 1906

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

Asymmetrical warfare, 1906 looks at the long war against the Muslim Moros of the Philippines:

They had never been Filipinos: their identity pre-existed King Philip of Spain; their national consciousness had always been as Muslims. After the first Mohammedan missionary arrived in Sulu in 1380 parts of the island of Mindanao had constituted themselves into the Sultanate of Sulu. A succession of Europeans: the Portuguese, French, British, and Spaniards had attempted to incorporate it into their respective colonial schemes but the Muslim Malays, led by Imams who controlled ruthless kris killers, resisted implacably. When beaten on the battlefield they simply surrendered out of convenience, signed a peace treaty and disregarded it once the enemy force had left.

When the US acquired Mindanao after the beating Spain in the Spanish-American war, Americans came face to face with what came to be known as asymmetrical warfare. Here were attacks on civilians, beheadings, raids on schools. All the stuff of modern headlines. And in the pre-explosive era the ultimate weapon of Imams was the suicide bomber of the day: the juramentado.

To make his point, Wretchard cites a few colorful passages from Victor Hurley’s Jungle Patrol:

Then all firing ceased as the men went at it in a furious bayonet to barong duel that was a fight to the finish. At the nearest cavalry tent a white soldier rolled out under the wall, rifle in hand. Before he could stand up a Moro was upon him. Another soldier crawled out and the Moro leaped to him. My Corporal Batiokan ran up to crush the Moro’s skull with a rifle butt. Blood was squirting from two great gashes in the cavalrymen’s back. Soldiers came running to carry away the wounded man. Their uniforms were red with blood. … One of the men was past medical aid. He had been chopped to ribbons, with arms and legs severed and lying apart from his body. …

Seven of the eight juramentados who had made the attack had succeeded in getting through the wire in the face of the fire. One lay dead outside the wire and seven were stretched out in the enclosure when morning came and we made inspection. The hospital was lined with terribly wounded men, slashed with barongs, and we were forced to kill many of the slashed horses who had been in the path of the charging Moros. The juramentados who had plunged through the wire in a desperate dive had left skin and clothes on the wire. They were horribly torn from head to foot by the long barbs. They were riddled with bullets, and many had heads bashed in and bayonet stabs. They lay there, with glittering eyeballs and bared black teeth. Their heads were shaven and their eyebrows were a thin line of hair.

Has the world become a better place?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

GapMinder‘s goal is “to make sense of the world by having fun with statistics!”

Enjoy this animated presentation, Has the world become a better place?

Minister offers £6m to behead cartoonist

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

This is not reassuring. Minister offers £6m to behead cartoonist:

A minister in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has offered a £6m reward to anyone who beheads one of the Danish cartoonists who outraged Muslims by depicting the prophet Muhammad.

Yaqoob Qureshi, minister of minority welfare, said the killer would also receive his weight in gold. He made the offer during a rally in his constituency in Meerut, northeast of Delhi. Protesters then burnt an effigy of a cartoonist and some Danish flags.

A Pakistani cleric has also offered a $1m reward — and a car — as a “prize” to anyone who kills one of the cartoonists. Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi made his announcement after Friday prayers in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.

The Age of Corporate Environmentalism

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

In The Age of Corporate Environmentalism, Katherine Mangu-Ward says, Surprise — big business has learned that it’s pretty easy being green:

The idea of the rich corporate villain gleefully dirtying Mother Earth is powerful and appealing. Children of the 1980s encountered this supervillain in comics, movies, public awareness videos, and science textbooks. Times were good for mandatory recycling, for mandatory emissions reductions, for anything mandatory aimed at restraining corporate polluters.

But in the late ’90s, something peculiar started happening. The men in suits were still middle-aged, round, and white. They were still just as concerned with profit and golf. Very few of them sported tie-dyed attire, aside from the occasional whimsical Jerry Garcia tie. But the men in suits started caring. Or at least acting like they cared. Which, if you ask a spotted owl, is the same thing.

Hottest Fitness Trends

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

Some of the new year’s Hottest Fitness Trends:

  • The newest offering at Crunch Fitness Gyms across the U.S. not only makes their female members look good in high heels, they make them exercise in them. Recently introduced, ‘Stiletto Strength’ classes consist of a 30-minute routine of Pilates and strength training, with the last 15 minutes spent strutting around in 3-inch heels.
  • At Equinox Fitness, new offerings include a sword-wielding class called Forza.
  • At Clay Health Club in New York City, members can tighten their abs with an Indian dance called Masala Bhangra.
  • In Bikram yoga studios, clients follow a series of yoga techniques in a room of 90 to 120 degrees.

You’re Never Too Old for Dodgeball shares some more fitness trends:

  • Chelsea Piers’ 25,000-square-foot gymnastics facility advertises the largest adult gymnastics program in the country, attracting both first-timers and professionals. Classes are split nearly evenly between men and women, instructors said. Participants hail the sport’s almost meditative effects, but the regulars’ sharply defined muscles point up other benefits.
  • The Seattle-based group Underdog Sports offers adult leagues for elementary-school staples — dodgeball, kickball and flag football.
  • The Sports Clubs Network — which has 135 U.S. health centers — offers hip-hop dance, a ballet workout and “urban rebounding,” exercises on miniature trampolines.
  • The ballet class offered by the Sports Clubs Network, the NYC Ballet Workout, can be done at home, too. Since it was created in 1997, more than half a million copies of its videos and DVDs have been sold, along with 100,000 instructional books.
  • With the influence of the
    Winter Olympics and the Fox TV network show “Skating with Celebrities,” figure skating is becoming particularly popular among adults.

Hidden Passageways

Monday, February 20th, 2006

I may have to remodel the house. From

Creative Home Engineering is a registered contracting company that adds value to homes by integrating silent, automated hidden passageways.

I’m not surprised that they have sample hidden doors triggered by pulling books on a bookshelf or twisting candles on a mantle; I’m surprised that they don’t have one triggered by a button in a bust of Shakespeare.

Go With Your Gut

Monday, February 20th, 2006

Harriet Brown says Go With Your Gut — because it’s better for you:

I’d like to make a radical suggestion: instead of wringing our hands over fat grams and calories, let’s resolve to enjoy whatever food we eat.

Because, as it turns out, when you eat something you like, your body makes more efficient use of its nutrients. Which means that choking down a plateful of steamed cauliflower (if you hate steamed cauliflower) is not likely to do you as much good as you think.

In the 1970′s, researchers fed two groups of women, one Swedish and one Thai, a spicy Thai meal. The Thai women — who presumably liked the meal more than the Swedish women did — absorbed almost 50 percent more iron from it than the Swedish women. When the meal was served as a mushy paste, the Thai women absorbed 70 percent less iron than they had before — from the same food.

The researchers concluded that food that’s unfamiliar (Thai food to Swedish women) or unappetizing (mush rather than solid food) winds up being less nutritious than food that looks, smells and tastes good to you. The explanation can be found in the digestive process itself, in the relationship between the ‘second brain’ — the gut — and the brain in your head.

The Father Without a Son

Monday, February 20th, 2006

Lee Harris celebrates President’s Day — Washington’s Birthday — by praising The Father Without a Son:

So here was the problem. Washington had to be given the kind of powers normally reserved only for kings and military dictators — yet it was politically impossible to declare him either one or the other. After all, America was a Republic, and Republics could not be governed by kings or dictators. Therefore, a solution was found in devising an hitherto unheard of office, namely, the Presidency. Though the word ‘president’ had been used before to designate various appointed officials, it had never been used to designate a Head of State.

By a stroke of extraordinary good fortune, the man for whom this office was designed was also a man who was profoundly aware of the potential dangers inherent in the office that had been specially designed for him. Washington was keenly aware just how easily the Presidency could degenerate back to a monarchy, or worse; and, shrewd man that he was, he clearly saw that there was nothing in the written Constitution that could prevent such a process from occurring.

For example, there is a remarkable letter that Washington wrote, before assuming the Presidency, in which he argues that he is peculiarly qualified to be President because he has no son. Now imagine a candidate for the Presidency today making such a claim: Vote for me, because I have no son. How strange it would sound to our ears. Yet Washington regarded this as virtually an indispensable desideratum in a President — or, at least, in the first President. Nor is it difficult to see why this mattered to him so much. He did not want the office of the Presidency to become the possession of a dynasty.

The Saintly Sinner

Monday, February 20th, 2006

In The Saintly Sinner, Joan Acocella looks at Mary Magdalene and the stories that rose around her.

From the Bible itself, we know two things about Mary Magdalene: she was crazy — Jesus cast “seven devils” out of her — and she saw the angel who announced His resurrection.

Later stories conflated her with Luke’s “sinner” — it all made sense, after all — and Mary Magdalene was declared a whore:

As such, she was a tremendous success. Europe, once it was converted to Christianity, was not content to have all those holy people in the Bible confine their activities — or, more important, their relics — to the Middle East. And so the Magdalene, among others, was sent west. After the Crucifixion, it was said, infidels placed her in a rudderless boat and pushed it out to sea, in full confidence that it would capsize. But, piloted by the hand of God, the Magdalene’s bark arrived at Marseilles, whereupon she undertook a career of strenuous evangelism and converted southern Gaul. Eventually, however, she tired of preaching and retreated to a cave in a mountain near Marseilles, where she wept and repented her foul youth. She wore no clothes; she was covered only by her long hair (or, in some paintings, by an appalling sort of fur). Nor did she take any food. Once a day, angels would descend to carry her to Heaven, where she received “heavenly sustenance,” and then fly her back to her grotto. This went on for thirty years. Then, one day, her friend Maximin, the bishop of Aix, found her in his church levitating two cubits above the floor and surrounded by a choir of angels. She promptly expired.

This is a summary of various stories, but most of them can be found in The Golden Legend, a collection of saints’ lives written by a thirteenth-century Dominican, Jacobus de Voragine, who later became the archbishop of Genoa. After the Bible, The Golden Legend is said to have been the most widely read text of the Middle Ages. On its basis, sermons were composed, plays written, altarpieces painted, stories told by the hearth fire. The Magdalene, according to some sources, became France’s most popular saint after the Virgin Mary.

This story made me a bit queasy:

The crucial development in Magdalene scholarship was the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library. Biblical scholars had understood for a long time that the orthodox Church was just the segment of the Church that won out over competing Christian sects, notably the so-called Gnostics. But, apart from what could be gathered from the Church fathers’ denunciations of these supposed heretics, students of early Christianity knew little about them. Then, one day in December of 1945, an Arab peasant named Muhammad Ali al-Samman drove his camel to the foothills near the town of Nag Hammadi, in Upper Egypt, to collect fertilizer for his fields, and as he dug he unearthed a clay jar about three feet high. Hoping that it might contain treasure, he broke it open and, to his disappointment, found only a bunch of papyrus books, bound in leather. He took the books home and tossed them in a courtyard where he kept his animals. In the weeks that followed, his mother used some pages from the books to light her stove; other pages were bartered for cigarettes and fruit. But eventually, after a long journey through the hands of antiquities dealers, black marketers, smugglers, and scholars, Samman’s find was recognized as a priceless library of Gnostic writings—thirteen codices, containing fifty-two texts—recorded in Coptic (an early form of Egyptian) in the fourth century but translated from Greek originals dating from between the second and fourth centuries. In time, the books were confiscated by the Egyptian government and moved to the Coptic Museum in Cairo, where they remain today. (They were published in 1972-77.) Actually, they were not the first Gnostic texts to be discovered. Others had come to light in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but most of them were not published until after the time of the Nag Hammadi discovery.

The Mary Magdalene of the Gnostic texts is far from a lowly prostitute; she’s a fount of wisdom.

Shining Tree of Life

Monday, February 20th, 2006

In Shining Tree of Life, Adam Gopnik explains why the Shakers made such fabulous furniture:

Most of the elements of Shakerism are common to orders and sects: the Dervishes whirled, Dominican monks renounced the flesh. What seems distinctive is, first, their feminism and its insistence on coed monasticism, which made much of the sexual while also denying it. Theirs was a genuinely radical feminism. Shaker communities, though not specifically matriarchal in rule—there were plenty of male elders, too — were among the few American communities of nearly perfect sexual equality. There is even a sense, perceptible in the letters and other writings, that this made a Shaker colony a welcome place for “effeminate” men — a surviving letter reveals a code of homoerotic innuendo that is as easy to decrypt as pig Latin.

The Lessons of Counterinsurgency

Monday, February 20th, 2006

When the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment served in Iraq in 2003-04, its performance was judged mediocre, with a series of abuse cases growing out of its tour of duty in Anbar province, but its recent tour in Tall Afar has been judged “a case study in classic counterinsurgency, the way it is supposed to be done.” Here are some of The Lessons of Counterinsurgency:

The regiment’s campaign began in Colorado in June 2004, when Col. H. R. McMaster took command and began to train the unit to return to Iraq. As he described it, his approach was like that of a football coach who knows he has a group of able and dedicated athletes, but needs to retrain them to play soccer.

Understanding that the key to counterinsurgency is focusing on the people, not the enemy, he said he changed the standing orders of the regiment to state that in the future all soldiers would ‘treat detainees professionally.’ During the unit’s previous tour, a detainee was beaten to death during questioning and a unit commander carried a baseball bat that he called his ‘Iraqi beater.’

‘Every time you treat an Iraqi disrespectfully, you are working for the enemy,’ McMaster said he told every soldier in his command. He ordered his soldiers to stop using the term hajji as a slang term for all Iraqis, because he saw it as inaccurate and disrespectful. (It actually means someone who has made the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.)

One out of every 10 soldiers received a three-week course in conversational Arabic, so that each small unit would have someone capable of basic exchanges with Iraqis. McMaster, who holds a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina and is an expert on the Vietnam War, distributed a lengthy reading list to his officers that included studies of Arab and Iraqi history and most of the classic texts on counterinsurgency. He also quietly relieved one battalion commander who didn’t seem to understand that such changes were necessary.

I recommend reading the whole article.