nov 11

Middle East

 A few days ago, I mentioned a passage that suggested the term "al-Qu'aeda" might have come from Isaac Asimov. Fascinating conjecture, but here's a follow-up from an acquaintance, a Jordanian journalist, who offers her interpretation:

I also read something about Qaeda. They say that it started as a data base and I presume this is the way they got the name. Too simple, no fanciful story! By the way, I was familiar with the Arabic term "Qa'eda" because we covered the story of the trial of its members in Jordan, a long and high profile case. In fact, we used to translate the name as "base group." It's really strange how we forced the translated word on ourselves when in a year's time American officials and western media would begin use our Arabic term! Anyway, when Powell first used the word "Qaeda" I never related it to our Qa'eda because he pronounced it in a way that eliminated any possible resemblance. You should listen to a Jazeera reporter and hear how we pronounce it, and then I'm sure you won't blame me. Anyway, one day, I went like, "oh, it's the same word!" So, my version is that "Qaeda" means a base. And I think that Bin Laden is a pragmatic man who would use terms to serve his purpose. But I'll keep an eye for other interpretation of the word.

 Remember back to this time two years ago, before Floridian folly culminated with a goofball landing in the White House. It was big news at the time, but everyone seems to have forgotten when George W. Bush was given a surprise foreign relations quiz. An intrepid reporter at WHDH in Boston asked Bush to name the leaders of four countries (at that time, hot-spots in conflict): Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan. Bush was able to get one partially right: Taiwan. Now, I see Bush on the tele patting Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, on the back like they were old pals. Late one recent night, I watched a full live press conference from Musharraf on CNN. It actually made me envious: he seemed a bold and proud leader, a man who understood conflict and admitted not knowing all the answers while sounding firm at the same time. Certainly, there are troubling parts of his history (despite promising an electoral process he still rose to power via dictatorship, and his previous backing of the Taliban seems puzzling), but he nonetheless seems like someone America could never produce. I never wrote the ode to Musharraf that I wanted, but Salon (who, in a somewhat Details/Cosmo-ish way, always seems to sexualize every topic) has My Crush On Musharraf.

 Bin Laden: Yes, I Did It. [Note: this report isn't fully substantiated.] has put up a very good tour of WTC Infographics from publications around the world.

 The New York Times Magazine devotes itself to "Beginnings: An Issue About The Next New York." Good pieces include Colson Whitehead on the new and the lost, Jacob Weisberg on the return of NYC, Terence Riley on what to build, John Tierney on traffic, and Lynn Hirschberg on WTC TV. Not to mention NYC songs by Lou Reed and Run D.M.C..

 Tom Tomorrow was on the NPR program "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" this weekend. He was very sarcastic -- in the best way. Listen.

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