August 2008


John McCain is running for President as the maverick, not any old maverick but “the” maverick frozen in American popular culture. The original Maverick was an ABC television show that ran from 1958-1962, starring James Garner as an inveterate (rather than a veteran) and not very chaste gambler. You have probably seen some of the reruns even if you did not see it in your living room (as I did) almost a half century ago, and, of course, you can always go to You Tube. Here is how the nostalgia site for the show describes the Black and White version of the Red, White and Blue riverboat gambler:

Maverick told the story of Bret Maverick, a card shark who lived during the Old West era. The show was originally a straightforward tale of his adventures, but it evolved when the writers began adding comedy into the scripts. Bret quickly became the television western’s first mercenary, a character who would help the forces of justice only if he stood to profit from doing so. (more…)

I arrived in Yogya yesterday at 8:45 in the morning. Before my Fulbright grant starts in earnest, I have the opportunity for two weeks of language study. As I had expected, the hotel did not have my room ready and so I went down to Jalan Malioboro, a major tourist destination with lots of shopping. I turned down a side street to the area that were my stomping grounds in Yogya when I was younger. No more than 10 steps down that street then someone asks, “Hey, don’t I know you.” It was Agus, he runs a losman, a small simple inn, that targets backpackers (young westerners who travel the world on very small budgets). It was good to see an old friend.

We talked about many things – esp. the way that things change and the way that they stay the same. Many businesses in this “backpacker ghetto” had closed or changed, but in many respects the neighborhood remained unchanged.

Unprompted, Agus related some significant changes. With the fasting month of Ramadan starting soon – no bars are open and may not open again until after the month of Ramadan has concluded. This law reflects a number of interested changes for Indonesia. First , is the change from the long held perspective that what someone does is a matter between themselves and God. Indonesia has not taken the step of enforcing the fast – in Malaysia a Muslim faces a $100 fine if they are caught not fasting. However, forcing all bars and dance clubs to close during Ramadan has significance beyond Muslims. Muslims aren’t supposed to drink in the first place, but I suppose in order for bars to be profitable some people who have “Muslim” written on their ID cards must drink. Agus said that this law shows respect for Muslims and that he likes it. I had heard of this law before but was under the impression that these laws were local ordinances and not national. Agus suggested that while they were local ordinances that a mandate came out of the central government for such local ordinances.

In a previous post, I commented on a 1925 National Geographic Magazine article by Major F. A. C. Forbes-Leith. In his journey from London to Quetta, the major passed through Iran and had a close shave, or at least saw one, as noted above.

Daniel Martin Varisco


Book of Enoch, Copied ca. 200-150 B.C.E.


Israel to Display the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet

By ETHAN BRONNER, The New York Times, August 27, 2008

JERUSALEM — In a crowded laboratory painted in gray and cooled like a cave, half a dozen specialists embarked this week on a historic undertaking: digitally photographing every one of the thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the aim of making the entire file — among the most sought-after and examined documents on earth — available to all on the Internet.

Equipped with high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and with lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays, the scientists and technicians are uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, discoveries that could have significant scholarly impact. (more…)

This photograph of “Baking Bread in Syria” was published a century ago in The National Geographic Magazine, March, 1908.


Cistern collecting water in Hayfan

Tomorrow morning I will be giving a presentation at USAID in Washington on the development problems surrounding water resources in Yemen. As almost anyone involved in Yemen’s development knows, the country is rapidly running out of water. The handwriting has been on the wall for some time now, as the following quotes show:

“In general, the cultivators make good use of the water available. What is mostly needed is an increase in supply.” FAO Mission to Yemen, 1955

“Water is the limiting factor in most of the Yemen development projects.” Water Resources Sector Study in the YAR, USAID, 1977

“Water is a scarce resource in Yemen; there is not enough to satisfy present and potential demand.” Water Policy Initiatives for Yemen, CID for USAID, 1980

“… available information indicates that groundwater has been severely overdeveloped.” Irrigation Sector Study, World Bank, 1980

How did this happen? (more…)

Ramzi storms to 1500m gold medal

BBC News, 19 August, 2008

Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi held off Kenya’s Asbel Kipruto Kiprop down the final straight to win gold in the 1500m.

Ramzi hit the front with 200m to go and although Kiprop, who set the pace for the first two laps, burst clear of the pack he could not hunt Ramzi down.

Nicholas Willis of New Zealand came third while Great Britain’s Andrew Baddeley finished down in ninth.

Ramzi, who used to compete for his native Morocco, claimed Bahrain’s first Olympic gold medal. (more…)


Outside a café: Biskra

A century brings change, yet memories of the past can still bring life to a quickly forgotten past. Exactly one hundred years ago, if you were to visit your doctor and pick up the latest issue of National Geographic Magazine, you would find a story about Biskra, the oasis in Algeria. Pre-Valentino’s The Sheik, this is rather pedestrian travel dialogue from an author who survives in the text only as a Mrs. But the pictures are truly marvelous and make returning to this century-old magazine well worthwhile. Webshaykh

A visit to the market place during the morning is one of the sights of the town and oriental in every tone. Squatting groups and bronzed-legged Bedouins, in brown and white camel’s-hair burnouses, are selling cous-cous, dried peppers, and of course dates. Bunches of fresh grass and green barley and thistles are heaped in one corner of the inclosure, Moorish slippers here and a pile of red fezzes there, and souvenirs for the tourist not lacking. For fifty centimes one may purchase a set of graceful gazelle horns, and curious knives and Arabian guns tempt the collector on the way. An ebon negress is selling oranges, an Arab boy in a red fez, and not much else, carries a basket of purple fruit in green leaves, while cloaks, burnouses, turbans, and yakmahs, purple, blue, deep red, and spotless white all crushed together, make a kaleidoscopic color in the whitewashed square. Bags of henna leaves, for staining the nails in Arab fashion, send forth their pungent odor, and the aroma of coffee and cigarettes fills the air. A Kabyle girl in red gown, tattooed bluely as to her forehead and cheeks, stained yellow as to her finger tips, passes us, cigarette in mouth, her bangles and anklets clanking as she goes. (more…)

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