August 2012

The world has been on the verge of ending ever since people decided it was on the verge of ending, which probably happened when we were Neanderthals wondering why it took so long to figure out how to make fire. The history of apocalypse prophecy is, quite literally, a bottomless pit. The 21st century is no exception, especially for those who were convinced we would never make it past 2000 or 2001. What is particularly ludicrous is the prediction that the world will end at a specific point in time. This says as much about the gullibility of our species as it does about the duplicity of certain self-proclaimed prophets. Forget Ezekiel and the wheel or Daniel in the lion’s den: every era has its doom sayers. Take October 22, 1844, for example, which was only a few months after Joseph Smith (the prophet of Mormonism) was murdered at age 38. On this October day more than a century and a half ago perhaps as many as 100,000 God-fearing Protestant folk had given up their earthly possessions and quite a few joined Miller on a hill waiting for Jesus to come and greet them. The Mormons believe that Jesus came to Missouri, but it seems he skipped Rev. Miller’s venue.

There are quite a few doom-mongers to choose from, some like Harold Camping of relatively high media renown, but let’s focus on an internet prophet named Ronald Weinland. In 2006 he published a book saying that the world would end in 2008. As you can see in the cold print below, the United States has ceased to exist as an independent nation, at least as far as the prophet could see. (more…)

In attempting to keep up with the news in Yemen, I surf a number of Yemeni news sites. When I tried the usually reliable this morning, I was redirected to a commercial site called Mojo Pages. So I switched to, where the top story was about the Huthi forces arresting two individuals in Sa‘da. While reading the article I realized that it was impossible to ignore the Gestalt of the total screen page, which I reproduce above. Here is a scene of several Yemeni fighters, clearly in a qat-chewing mode, and holding what I suspect (not being a military expert) are grenade launchers. What struck my attention was the advertisement adorning the banner and taking a prominent space on the left of the screen: Scarlet, the new adjustable cleavage bra. I have not been in the market for a bra, so I do not think the ad showed up due to any sophisticated Facebook-style marketing strategy. But I am male, so perhaps the assumption is that any Western viewer is in the market for a bra, since the ad is in English after all. And ten minutes later a new ad took its place: this time for a car rental place in New York.

Then a couple of hours later I happened across an article on Haaretz and there she was again: dear Scarlet hawking her gawking adjustable discount bra. Perhaps I am a victim of cookies twisting, but what a coincidence that is probably not a coincidence. Criss-crossing the endemic violence in the Middle East, the ongoing plight of the Palestinians and the voices in the Zionist wilderness of left-leaning Israelis there is the seductive power of an ad, as if politics did not really matter. In this case the bra fits all sizes of religious persuasions and the model is available to be ogled by anyone, at least from a Western computer. How ecumenical can commercial immodesty get.

It is the multifarious irony of these pages that weighs me down. I will focus on the Yemen website, since that was the first encounter with Scarlet. First, how ironic that I devour news by scouring multiple websites, most of which do not explicitly state their de facto bias. While there are a couple of Yemen News sites that are available in English (like Yemen Times and Yemen Post), they tend to be days old and in need of better English editing. Yemen Times, for example has a most recent post of August 15, five days ago, which is hardly Time Magazine timely. Yemen Post has a story only a day old, but its presentation is nowhere near as slick as any of the major Yemeni sites in Arabic. Irony #1 is that what is available but not in Arabic is old and out-of-date internet-wise. This is only an irony for the hubris with which English-speakers assume that news must be packaged in their native language.

The second irony is the critical crux. Where else can you find images of a seductive woman in a bra revealing cleavage (and at 40% off) counterposed with a truckload of qat-chewing Yemenis holding grenade launchers or on a major Israeli online newspaper in English? (more…)

Here is the continuation of a previous post the story of Habib the knight from Jacques Cazotte’s Mille et une fadaises, Contes a dormir debout (The Thousand and One Follies, Tales to Sleep Upright), which was later translated into English. The English edition published in the year of his death is available in that magical resource for book lovers: There are several volumes, but the excerpt here is from volume 3. Enjoy.


The Telegraph has published some extraordinary photographs by Goran Tomasevic of the fighting around Aleppo in Syria. To see the pictures, click here.

One of the great novelty Vaudeville songs of the early 20th century was “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” a number one hit for the singer Eddie Cantor in 1923. I have the Edison 1923 recording sung by Billy Jones, Arthur Hall and Irving Kaufman, which is also on Youtube. The song made fun of Italian accents, like the one my Sicilian Grandfather no doubt had as a boy. But it seems that in this case, almost a century later, unlike the Little Italy vendor in the song, Yemen does have bananas and very good ones at that.

Here is the report from Yemen’s Saba News Agency:

Yemen comes first among 45 countries exporting bananas

SANA’A, July 24 (Saba)- Yemen has came the first among 45 countries exporting bananas at the Regional Roundtable for exporters of banana products, held in Geneva during the period (July 20-21).

Yemen has sent varieties of bananas from some farms in the Yemeni provinces famous for the production of bananas, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is the mediator for this product in the Regional Roundtable for exporters of bananas, Official of the agricultural export activities at the Small and Micro Enterprises supported by the Social Fund for Development, engineer Samar Abdullah, told Saba.

Samar said that this win motivates the banana growers in Yemen to compete in the improvement of banana production and its cultivation as it has health benefits, and enables Yemen to enter into the global markets of bananas exporters.

Harvard University has announced its 2013 International Nieman Fellows. Among them is the superb photographer Karim Ben Khelifa, whose work can be seen here.

Karim Ben Khelifa is a photojournalist and the co-founder and CEO of, a website designed to promote crowdfunded visual journalism. For the past 12 years, he has covered conflicts in the Middle East and Africa and other stories around the world. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Time, Le Monde and Stern. He has exhibited his photos on four continents and has won numerous photography awards including the 2004 Fujifilm Young Reporter Award. He also was selected for the 2000 World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in the Netherlands. At Harvard, Ben Khelifa will conduct research on journalist-audience engagement, analyze the behavioral economics linked to crowdfunding and study new business models promoting the diversification of visual storytelling. He is the 2013 Carroll Binder Nieman Fellow. The Binder Fund honors 1916 Harvard graduate Carroll Binder, who expanded the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service, and his son, Carroll “Ted” Binder, a 1943 Harvard graduate.

As Ramadan for the Hijri year 1433 draws to a close, the violence between Muslims on the ground is paralleled by the violence about Muslims on the screen. The daily slaughter of Syrians, continued terrorist bombings throughout the region and the uncivil rebellion in Mali dominate the news, as such atrocities should. But cinema does not lag far behind in showing blood spurting out of bodies and broken bones, all in the name of politicized religion. I am not talking about The Expendables, where aging Hollywood superheroes unite to make themselves even more money, but a Ramadan television serial that has captured the attention of Muslims across the Middle East: a retelling of the story of the second caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. Click here for the trailer and here to watch Episode #2.

Premiering 36 years after Moustafa Akkad’s acclaimed The Message recreated the life of Muhammad without actually showing Muhammad, the serial ‘Umar in 30 episodes is a millions-of-megabucks production worthy of Cecil B. DeMille. The earlier film had the blessing of the major Islamic organizations, since it avoided showing an image of the prophet Muhammad. It was a bit eerie to see Anthony Quinn as Hamza constantly speaking to the camera as though the camera-not-very-obscura was in fact the Prophet. But this new film has been railed against by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and the sheikhs of al-Azhar because it dares to show an actor playing a companion of the Prophet, notably the caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. If it had been Saladin, that would be okay it seems. (more…)

The name Jacques Cazotte may not ring many bells these days. After all, he died in 1792, a victim of the success of the French Revolution, but probably not because he was into the Illuminati… But fans of Oriental tales imitating the famous Arabian Nights may recognize his name. In 1742 he published Mille et une fadaises, Contes a dormir debout (The Thousand and One Follies, Tales to Sleep Upright), which was later translated into English. The English edition published in the year of his death is available in that magical resource for book lovers: There are several volumes, but I have chosen an excerpt about Habib the knight from volume 3. Enjoy.

to be continued (just like the 1001 Nights…)

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