And now for something completely different

Today is going to be another light blogging day, although when I say “another”–I mean, considering I didn’t start writing until around 6 PM yesterday I think I churned out a decent number of words. But I digress.

I’m sorry to make this All About Me, but today I tried going to a strange new place…


The truth is, I used to be a member at a gym I liked very much, but it went out of business a few months back. One of the reasons I liked it was that I was often one of only 3 or 4 people in the place at any given time, and apparently that’s not a very sustainable business model. Anyway as I say it’s been a few months, most of which I spent resisting the opportunity to join any of the big chain gyms around here, most of which get bad-to-mediocre online reviews at best. I finally did join a big chain gym, though this one gets very good reviews, and I worked out there for the first time today. On the plus side, I was able to find all the equipment I needed to get through the workout routine I was doing at my old gym. On the downside, I got through the workout routine I was doing at my old gym–all the way through, after several months of, you know, not doing that. And now not only do I look like a guy who hadn’t worked out in a few months, I also feel like a guy who hadn’t worked out in a few months, and then did. If I don’t make it, please remember me as a Man of Peace. I don’t really have the credentials for it, but neither did Shimon Peres, and yet here we are.

I’ll probably be back this evening with something more meaningful, after I shepherd my daughter to one of her various after-school activities, but since I’m feeling in a healthy mood I thought I’d do the rare bit of food blogging and share the thing that’s been keeping me alive for the past few weeks. It’s a smoothie, so feel free to get out of the car here if that’s not your thing.

Continue reading

attwiw’s 10 best-read posts of 2015

Before you read this, if you haven’t already, please check out the fine writing to be found in the “Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2015” over at Vagabond Scholar. Something of mine is listed there alongside a number of other great pieces.

I actually find it almost physically painful to write self-referential things, a fact that is immediately clear to anyone who’s ever seen any cover letter I’ve ever written. But since this blog’s readership ticked up markedly toward the end of the year, and because I’m desperate for content I can queue up in advance over the holidays, I thought a year-end “10 best” list of attwiw’s 2015 #content might be in order. And, again because of the self-referential thing, I figured I’d skip trying to compile some subjective “best of the year” list and rely on something objective also subjective but in a different way, so I’m going with my 10 posts that got the most traffic. Enjoy!

  1. Don’t Help ISIS Get What It Wants: Easily the most widely-read thing in this blog’s history, written in the aftermath of the November 13 Paris terrorist attack. I tried to argue that the worst thing we Westerners could do in the aftermath of such an attack was to give in to panic and lash out at Muslim communities living in the West, because doing so would be playing right into ISIS’s propaganda. It’s a message that obviously resonated with the American public.
  2. Progress Never Comes Without Cost: Also written amid the fallout from Paris. Examining ISIS’s apparent shift toward focusing on international terrorism in addition to its paramilitary activities in Syria and Iraq, I suggested that territorial losses in its core zone have caused the group to lash out. This piece got a boost thanks to being cited by columnist Ryan Cooper at The Week.
  3. Ramadan Mubarak: I have no idea why this got so much traffic, but it did.
  4. Terror Attacks in Paris: This was the piece I kept updating as the attacks were taking place, when I was thinking an al-Qaeda branch (AQAP, or maybe AQIM) made more sense as a culprit than ISIS. I realized shortly after posting this that I’d overstated the case against ISIS and said so in a follow-up post later that evening and tried to explain why I was slow on the uptake in a post a few days later.
  5. Mossadegh, 1953: history swallowed up in legend: The anniversary of the 1953 MI-6/CIA-engineered coup that ousted Iran’s elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, is obviously a big deal for a blog that covers Iran as much as this one does. In this post I tried to cut through some of the mythologizing about that coup, and about Mossadegh, on both sides of the story.
  6. The good war: I came clean about the fact that I’d been kind of OK with the US/NATO 2011 Libyan intervention (although I wasn’t blogging back then, and I’ve since seen the error of my ways) before getting into a short look at the conflict there.
  7. ISIS driving people to Zoroastrianism: This is another post whose traffic levels are a little inexplicable to me. I was just recounting a report in NIQASH, highlighting a small trend among Iraqi Kurds to “convert” to Zoroastrianism as a statement of opposition to ISIS and of Kurdish nationalism. It’s an interesting story although it’s not something that seems to be sweeping the Kurdish nation or anything.
  8. Islamic History, part 25: Early Islamic theology: Part of my ongoing series on Islamic history. I really slowed down in writing these this year, because of lack of time and because the subject matter got into areas where I felt like I needed to do more research before I could write about them. Hopefully I’ll do more of these next year.
  9. Today’s Happy Birthday wishes: Ibn Battuta: I don’t like commemorating birthdays, because most of the people whose birthdays I would commemorate on this site are people who would have reckoned their own birthdays by the lunar Hijri calendar rather than our solar Gregorian calendar, and so marking their birthdays can be a big semantic mess. But I wrote this before I really had firmed that rule up, and anyway Ibn Battuta’s story is worth making an exception to any rule.
  10. So much for resting in peace…: Again, inexplicable. Just a short comment on a story about a tree in Ireland that blew over in a storm and unearthed an 800 or so year old skeleton in the process. This was probably the first thing I’ve ever posted that got any play on Facebook (posts that my wife shares with her friends excepted), so that was exciting.

Anyway, my real point is: thanks for stopping by this year, and please keep reading in 2016. Happy New Year!

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Also, while you’re out there on the internet tubes, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page and following me on Twitter! Thank you!

Americans, I don’t think we’re getting the most out of our political system

Last night’s Republican debate was entertaining if viewed as a sort of ridiculous spectacle, the ongoing descent into madness of our entire political system. But given some recent events in eastern Europe, I have to wonder if we’re getting the maximum amount of enjoyment out of our political leaders.

Take, for example, Romania. The Romanian Parliament recently enacted new regulations limiting the number of sheepdogs that a person can own there, because…wait, what? Sheepdogs? Yes, they limited the number of sheepdogs, owing to the concerns of hunters and environmentalists. OK, that’s a little eccentric but not too outrageous.

The problem, as it turns out, is that there are a lot of shepherds in Romania, and they have a lot of sheep (in the neighborhood of 10 million of them). Understandably, Romanian shepherds didn’t appreciate being told that they had to limit the number of dogs they owned in order to protect their flocks, and so yesterday downtown Bucharest looked like this:

That’s more than 1000 shepherds storming the grounds of the Romanian Parliament to protest the new sheepdog regulations. Police resorted to tear gas, which is not funny nor entertaining in the least, but how can you not watch that video and imagine a bunch of big guys, some of them in very big fur coats, swarming the Capitol (in a completely non-violent way, of course) to protest, I don’t know, limits on the number of cat memes that any one person is allowed to post online in a single day? And they won! Today, the Parliament ended its sheepdog restrictions, and Romania’s shepherds undoubtedly went home and fixed their doggies something nice, maybe some bacon or whatever (I like to think it was bacon), for being such good boys and girls.

Then there’s Ukraine. Continue reading

David Letterman and the 2008 election

For some reason I can’t really understand, my wife decided to watch Game Change a couple of days ago. She’s already seen the movie, and I’m not really sure what put her in the mood to watch it again, but she doesn’t understand why I watch The Godfather every time it’s on TV, so whatever. Because our daughter monopolizes one of the two TVs in the house when she’s home, and the other TV is in our one-degree-cooler-than-the-rest-of-the-house-and-therefore-apparently-uninhabitable family room, she streams a lot of stuff on her iPhone, and inevitably I wind up watching some of it with her. Unlike her, I’ve never seen Game Change all the way through (it seems like a fine movie, I guess, but I lose interest after a while), and you’d have to pay me to get me to read anything by Mark Halperin, so needless to say I haven’t read the book.

Anyway, I know the movie (and I guess a big chunk of the book, I don’t know) focuses on McCain picking Palin as the turning point in the campaign, seemingly to McCain’s benefit at first but really to his great detriment. I assume anybody could come away from watching the movie and conclude that it was the Palin pick that ultimately sunk a campaign that was playing catch up to Obama from the beginning, and to some degree I guess that’s true. However, and not to defend Palin in any way, but I’ve always felt that McCain sunk his own campaign when, right after the economic crisis, he went through what can best be described as a public conniption fit. Now, to be fair, polls said that McCain had already started to lose the momentum he had coming out of the Republican Convention, and he was always going to take more heat for the financial collapse because he was the nominee of the incumbent party, but look at what happened. The country fell into a financial panic with a little over a month left in the campaign, and it was presented with the choice between one candidate who looked panicked and overwhelmed, to the point where he wanted to “suspend” the campaign, whatever that means, and another candidate who said “hey, a president has to be able to do more than one thing at a time.” That was the end of the competitive phase of the campaign.

So on David Letterman’s last day as a full-time television personality, and in a craven attempt at pure clickbait, I thought it might be appropriate to remember the role that he personally played in turning McCain’s reaction to the economic crisis from “disconcerting” to “public joke.” McCain was supposed to be on The Late Show on September 24, but earlier in the day it looked like a planned bailout was falling apart in Congress and McCain canceled his Letterman appearance at the last minute to “return to Washington” and work on finding a solution. Letterman was less than impressed with this move, and he spent most of his show letting his viewers know about it (he even brought Keith Olbermann on as McCain’s emergency fill-in just to amp things up a little). Then he found out that McCain hadn’t gone back to DC, but was being interviewed by Katie Couric for the CBS Evening News at the very moment Letterman was taping his show. It got ugly:

We shouldn’t overestimate the influence that a guy like David Letterman has, not just on his own audience but on how the media covers things and the much wider audience that consumes that media, but we shouldn’t underestimate it either. I think it’s fair to say that Letterman had a non-trivial impact on the course of that race.

Kirby Delauter (yes, that Kirby Delauter) upset that reporter used Kirby Delauter’s name in article about Kirby Delauter

If you’re like me (and you’re reading this blog so, duh), you’re a big fan of Frederick County (MD) commissioner Kirby Delauter. Oh, ha ha ha, I can practically hear you saying “who the hell is Kirby Delauter?” right now, because you are obviously making a joke, and I really love the fact that you have a great sense of humor about your Kirby Delauter fixation. But seriously, who wouldn’t be a fan of Kirby Delauter?

Kirby Delauter

Also Kirby Delauter

kirby delauter blingee

Again, Kirby Delauter, though it’s possible that I edited this one slightly

Kirby Delauter, folks.

Anyway, it seems that Kirby Delauter is very upset that a reporter for the Frederick News-Post used Kirby Delauter’s name in a news article, in which she was talking about Kirby Delauter, without getting Kirby Delauter’s permission! The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson was first to bring Kirby Delauter’s anger to the wider Kirby Delauter fan base, and he flagged this Facebook exchange between the reporter and Kirby Delauter:

delauter facebook

Obviously Kirby Delauter is taking this situation very seriously if Kirby Delauter is advising Ms. Rodgers to contact an Attorney! It’s not clear which of Ms. Rodgers’s articles has made Kirby Delauter so mad, but I think it might be this one. I think you’ll agree, the News-Post editorial board is having more fun than an editorial board should be allowed to have over Kirby Delauter’s temper tantrum.

Anyway, kudos to Kirby Delauter for attempting to assert a right that does not exist in an effort to keep Kirby Delauter’s name and likeness out of his local newspaper, an effort that has now gotten Kirby Delauter’s name and likeness into Talking Points Memo, Mediaite, Power Line (maybe the only time I’ll ever link there, so enjoy), Twitchy (this will be the only time I ever link there), and The Washington Post. Mission accomplished, Kirby Delauter!

Men are from Mars, Buzzfeed is from Venus and will hopefully return there someday

Friends, the latest Buzzfeed video #content is definitely #LOL and #WIN, not #TRASHY and #FAIL, because it explores the manner in which women consume a man beverage that they have never tasted before. I am not sure it rises to the artistic heights of an #OMG, but it is certainly on the right track.

The thing is, I know plenty of women, including my wife, who drink as much whiskey as I do, if not more (I tend to stick to beer unless a good cigar is also involved). And I’m certain that plenty of men, me included, made all of these faces and more the first time we got a taste of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee What The Hell Is This Go Get Me a Maker’s Mark. So while I get that the point of this and literally everything else that goes on at Buzzfeed is CLICKS, MAN, CLICKS, couldn’t we get clicks without playing to dumb sexist tropes?

“I’m #WIN! Not like everybody says… like #FAIL… I’m #WIN and I want respect!”