Sunday, September 16, 2012

'Howth' rhymes with 'both'

Popped over to the town of Howth this Sunday, and the sun actually came out for a bit! Did a lot of walking and it was nice to get out of Dublin. Full picture album here

If anyone ever has some time in Dublin, I definitely recommend getting over to Howth. It was really beautiful and it's really accessible from Dublin city center via the DART. 

In one day I was able to visit the Howth Cottage Market, Howth Castle, the National Transport Museum, St. Mary's Church of Ireland, the farmers' market, West Pier, the cliff path, and quite a few coffee shops along the way. Everything is walkable and easy to find once you're in Howth. It's quite easy to navigate because there are so many vantage points, which are also so beautiful!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Running in Dublin

I've been over in Dublin for work and things were quite busy on the job today so I was happy to finally escape for a run in the evening. So far most days I've been out running here I've gotten a bit lost but today I finally made my way to run along the ocean (or sea as I suppose they call it here), and it was pretty awesome.

The route, from where I am staying in Gasworks:

Some pictures from along the way:

Tide was out.


Appreciated these clouds seeming to guide the way.

Canals on the way back.

Aviva Stadium.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Biking from San Bruno to Santa Cruz

Today I rode my bike from San Bruno to Santa Cruz and it was a pretty cool ride so I want to do a blog post in case anyone wants to replicate it. I'm a pretty novice rider and this route proved to be a good way to challenge myself without getting too crazy. I brought along two water bottles, some edamame and a protein bar and that proved to be just fine.

The route I took was about 70 miles total, starting from Bayhill Shopping Center in San Bruno and heading up San Bruno Ave. I started at 7:30am and right out of the gates I fell off my bike at a stoplight on an uphill because I didn't clip-out in time. Classic rookie mistake! Right at the top of San Bruno Ave I hit the San Andreas trail, which is a part of the Crystal Springs Regional Trails. The trail is paved and totally awesome! For about six to seven miles I was on the Crystal Springs Regional Trails, which are all paved and really beautiful along the reservoir. There are a few spots where you have to go back on the road for a little bit but they are clearly marked with signs so it's easy.

I left the trails at Crystal Springs Road and due to bridge construction took a detour up Bunker Hill Road to get to the 35. Bunker Hill road was the only point on the ride I put my bike in granny gear - it was hella steep! From there the 35 took me right to the 92. I was pretty nervous that the 92 was going to be gnarly, but I was pleasantly surprised. The uphill to the summit wasn't too steep and when I got to the top, it turned out there was a huge shoulder and smooth and fairly straight road going down to Half Moon Bay. As it was pretty foggy with wind chill at points, I did wish I had along gloves or a bit more gear - next time!

In Half Moon Bay I got on Highway 1 which took me all the way to Santa Cruz. The beginning of the 1 there was a fair bit of up and down and it took awhile to get to the ocean. Once I got to Pigeon Point Lighthouse the ride got way more awesome. Not sure if it was due to the time or place, but right then, around 11:15 the fog finally cleared and the final thirty miles of the ride were all sunny and beautiful along the coast. There was a good sized shoulder and smooth road the whole way - totally awesome. I'm not much for stopping to smell the roses, more get err done type of cyclist, but I did pass by a lot of State Beaches, fruit stands, and ranches. Typically awesome highway 1 views, I'll add a few more pictures below.

I got into Santa Cruz around 1pm so all in all the ride took me about 5.5 hours total cycling time. I turned off the 1 at Western Drive to head up towards campus. I met up with my sister who is a UCSC student, and a friend who was cool enough to drive down to give me a ride back up towards San Bruno. We headed to burger were grubbing hard on some burgers, sweet potato fries, and milk shakes. Awesome!

PS. I did this ride for fun, and because I'm training for a triathlon with Team Challenge. To learn more and donate (please donate!), check out this link.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I wrote this paper in Spring 2008 about the Muslim Brotherhood's potential to succeed Mubarak and now I feel smug (Hope you appreciate the pretentious undergraduate student title too).

The Production and Potential of the Islamic Alternative:
Neoliberalism and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

         When you hear ‘political Islam’ what comes to mind? There is perhaps the standard story of terrorism, or of an oppressive Islamic regime, up against the modern and all-powerful forces of the West. Journalist Thomas Friedman tells this story, characterizing the rise of political Islam as a manifestation of Arab frustration and humiliation with the West and with the impacts of neoliberal globalization (Friedman, 2005, pg. 392). This paper envisions an alternative story. The Muslim Brotherhood is a centrist Islamic group in Egypt. As a social movement, it is now the largest provider of social services, and as a political party, it is now the largest opposition group to President Hosni Mubarak’s twenty-six year long, state-of-emergency autocracy (Stacher, 2007). Over the past thirty years, the Muslim Brotherhood has steadily risen in prominence. In this story, the Brotherhood does not exist because it has reacted to neoliberalism or western Influence Egyptian elites. The Brotherhood has been produced, surely, in relation to these, and yet it has identity and legitimacy that are viable in their own right. While the Muslim Brotherhood gained legitimacy and power in the neoliberal moment by providing the people with the social safety net that Mubarak and neoliberal policy did not, the Brotherhood’s potential as a real political alternative challenging the hegemony of Mubarak and of neoliberal globalization, stems from the Brotherhood’s ability to forge an identity that is not simply reactionary, an identity of its own, of manufactured consent.
         The efficacy of The Muslim Brotherhood as a group in Egypt has been shaped from its inception by its relationship with religious tradition, with working-class Egyptians, with Western influence and with Egyptian ruling elites. The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by six laborers and a schoolteacher employed by the British in the Suez Canal Zone. Founding member Hassan al-Banna (the schoolteacher) said, “We are weary of this life of humiliation and restriction. We see that Arabs and the Muslims have no status and no dignity. They are not more than mere hirelings belonging to foreigners...All that we desire now is to present you with all we possess” (Al-Yassini, 1986, pg. 112). According to present-day Brotherhood leader Abul Futouh, the group’s current long-term goal is to “create a participatory, democratic country, based on the principles of Islamic law” (IRIN, 2006). The Brotherhood is committed to effecting these changes through the existing system, not by violence; unlike other Islamic groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Egypts’s Muslim Brotherhood has no armed wing (Stacher, 2007). Secular nationalist laws prohibiting religious political parties were enacted in the 1950s, effectively banning the Brotherhood (IRIN, 2006), and still the Brotherhood has retained its commitment to nonviolence. Even though it is illegal, the Brotherhood has continually manufactured popular consent to its legitimacy by invoking and engaging with its relationship to multiple identities. While the founders of the Brotherhood were inspired to create a counter-movement to British Imperialism, their movement did not originate “solely from elite politics nor did its existence depend on [them]” (Escobar, 1995). While it may be possible in some instances to view the Brotherhood as a reactionary group responding to Western hegemony or the hegemony of Egyptian elites, the Brotherhood is also constantly engaging with its undeniable tie to Islam (which is greatly important and ever present in Egypt) and its ties to the Egyptian people and the Egyptian nation. The meanings of these ties and identities change as society changes; new meanings change the Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood changes meanings. Thus, through the Brotherhood’s history we see its identity manifested as an unbounded creation, constantly being reshaped through its interaction with multiple, constantly changing dynamics that it itself shapes. What is important as we delve into The Muslim Brotherhood’s changing role in the context of neoliberalism is that we continue to view the Brotherhood’s identity as a constant creation at a dynamic crossroad.
         Structural adjustment and austerity, part of a neoliberal IMF reform program agreed to by Egypt’s elites, produced structural inequality and government corruption in Egypt. Subsidies were removed on basic goods while wealth is increasingly concentrated through privatization in the hands of a few. Under the 1980s and 1990s reform programs, the budget deficit did fall to less than one percent of GDP and the inflation rate below five percent (Mitchell, 2002, pg. 272). These statistics are widely cited as proof of the efficacy of neoliberal principles, and indeed, if Development success means reaching monetary and fiscal balance, then Egypt is neoliberalism’s poster child. The statistics often cited by the IMF however, ignore other changes going on in Egypt such as drops in real wages in the public sector and increasing inequality. Reforms didn’t remove the state from market; new wealth was just moved into private hands, the hands of increasingly corrupt elites, those who were already in a position to take control of industry and capital prior to privatization (Mitchell, 2002, pg. 286). In a 1995 ethnographic article, Mary Ann Weaver, paints a picture of Cairo that reflects what in many ways could be considered the ravages of neoliberalism: “The city’s once astonishing diversity of cultures and social strata had seemingly been reduced to two starkly contrasting poles: poverty, which appeared everywhere, and extraordinary wealth. All across was easy to spot soaring new apartment buildings of glass and polished chrome and, immediately behind them, narrow labyrinthine lanes where half naked children played...” (Weaver, 1995). Thus we see how, while neoliberalism did much to improve the face of Egypt’s macroeconomy, it did the little to improve actual living conditions for the majority of lower and middle class Egyptian families. And while Weaver’s ethnography portrays in important ways the ravages of neoliberalism, it is important to keep in mind that the picture of socioeconomic polarity is a dichotomy to be wary of; both are produced. The glitter of new wealth for elites and the labyrinthine quandary of increasing poverty for lower classes are spun in the hub of the same wheel at the intersection of the same spokes.
            In the 1990s the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood spun neoliberal policies as un-Islamic and un-Egyptian. They pointed out that by imposing conditions on debt relief structural adjustment programs violated the Islamic prohibition of charging interest on debt. The Brotherhood also claimed that elimination of subsidies for basic needs under structural adjustment violated the fifth pillar of Islam, zakkat or giving alms to the poor (Lubeck, 1998, pg. 299). Additionally, the Brotherhood could easily characterize the reforms as unegyptian due to the evident role of institutions like the IMF in implementing the program. Their rhetoric pointed to IMF conditionality requirements as instruments of foreign control over Islamic society (Lubeck, 1998, pg. 317). People, both within the Brotherhood and among its audience of working class followers, were receptive and drawn to the message that Mubarak’s agreement to the IMF reform package was not an Islamic or an Egyptian move. The Brotherhood’s message garnered strength from the context of the historical moment in which it appeared. Mubarak and the elite’s surrounding him were increasingly perceived by lower class Egyptians as corrupt, poverty was increasing in light of the reforms, and distaste with colonial influence still hung heavily with Brotherhood and working people alike.
            In addition to their discursive spin on reforms, The Muslim Brotherhood reshaped the face of the neoliberal moment through shifts in their own policies. In the context of decreasing government provision of social services, the Brotherhood, building on its own historical legacy of accountability to Egypt’s working class, focused increasingly on providing social services for everyone. Over the 1990s the Brotherhood built up a vast system of wide-ranging social programs, running, for example, 22 hospitals throughout Egypt and schools in every governate in Egypt (IRIN, 2008). For its own members, the Brotherhood provided full health benefits (Walsh, 2003). After the 1992 Cairo earthquake, at a moment when natural disaster exposed and amplified the structural inequalities produced by neoliberal policy, at a moment when the government did little, the Brotherhood was the main responder, providing shelter, food, medical services, and 1000 US dollars to every newly homeless family in Cairo (Walsh, 2003). The Brotherhood attained funding for its infrastructure by invoking zakkat (the same Islamic tenet of alms-giving that they accused government elites of violating) to collect donations among its members. The Brotherhood’s services were made available to all Egyptians, regardless of their political or religious affiliation, allowing the Brotherhood to continue to cultivate its identity as both an Islamic and Egyptian organization, accountable to the working classes.
            In the neoliberal moment, Egypt’s working class embraced the Brotherhood’s rhetoric and actions, producing increasing legitimacy and popular support for the Brotherhood as an alternative to Mubarak’s majority party. The Muslim Brotherhood gained huge amounts of support from students, young professionals and the working class. With government spending on public goods decreasing drastically, the cost of education increasing, and subsidies for basic goods disappearing, students were hard-pressed to pay the high costs of food, transportation, and textbooks, and turned in larger and larger numbers towards the Muslim Brotherhood (Walsh, 2003). The Brotherhood was a networking tool for students to find the resources they need, and in turn the students became a networking tool for the brotherhood. Young professionals developed a similar relationship with the Brotherhood. The government’s privatization of public sectors of the economy effectively dismantled Nasser’s long-standing policy of guaranteed government jobs for rising professionals, and groups of professional that had previously been strongholds of secularism increasingly supported the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, in 1987 elections the Brotherhood gained control of the Engineers’ Syndicate, a 200,000-member trade union (Walsh, 2003). What is evident is that while the majority of Egyptians felt the effects of neoliberal economic reform due its inability to provide a social safety net, their experience was at the same time reshaped by the ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to provide the safety net and remain accountable to all Egyptians. In this way, in the neoliberal moment, we see the Egyptian populace manufacturing consent for the Muslim Brotherhood as a social movement and as a political party. As expressed by one Brotherhood member, “The organization [sustains] two mutually reinforcing wings: the political and the social” (IRIN, 2006). Although the Brotherhood is still officially banned, Muslim Brotherhood members who ran as independents, currently hold 20% of the seats in parliament, making them the largest opposition bloc.
            In the new moment, we see the Brotherhood emerging from a changing relationship between itself and the government as increasingly legitimate, while Mubarak’s government is increasingly losing legitimacy as it reacts to the Brotherhood’s increased power with more and more militarism and coercion. In the initial years of structural adjustment an unspoken cooperation between the Brotherhood and Mubarak was mutually beneficial. Mubarak’s tacit alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood presented Mubarak as Islam-friendly thus preventing his criticisms of radical Islam and alliance with the United States from being politically explosive. The Brotherhood was able to build up its network of social services, getting its foot in the door politically despite its official illegality, and filling a hole in Mubarak’s policy, thus quelling political uprising in light of his implementation of IMF austerity policy (Walsh, 2003). As Mubarak began to perceive Brotherhood as a real threat to his power, he ended cooperation, and increasingly cracked down on the Brotherhood, implementing mass-arrests of any reputed Brotherhood members and suppressing peaceful protests with violence (Walsh, 2003). The Egyptian government’s attempts to maintain its legitimacy through coercion illustrate a poor reorientation to new realities and increasing reliance on the ability of its military to quell popular protest by force. The jump in the Egyptian government’s human rights abuses that this generates increasingly undermines the government’s legitimacy in the eyes of the world community and Egyptians alike (Lubeck, 1998, pg. 306). The Muslim Brotherhood converges on this moment as a group with integrity whose legitimacy has been produced not by violence but by people’s consent to its authority, a much more stable backbone of legitimacy. Additionally, since many government elites retained wealth through the privatization process, the majority of Egyptians increasingly view the government as corrupt. The Brotherhood however, is developing an increasingly informal administrative structure in order to operate in spite of its illegal status (IRIN, 2006). The decentralized nature of the Brotherhood’s power structure is not a manifestation of their focus on the local as a source of power or the way of the future; it is a manifestation of their operation at the convergence of civil society, economy, and government. The power of the Muslim Brotherhood is legitimate because it has been created at the meeting place of the multiple identities and moments- Islamic, Egyptian, socially supportive, accountable -that a dynamic group of individuals ascribe to it.
            While the Brotherhood has power through identity that is not merely comprised of what it opposes, the hegemonies of the Egyptian elite and neoliberal policy are limited by  their reliance on forces that embody other energies, methods, and goals (Mitchell, 2002). For example, Mubarak’s regime initially maintained a tacit alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, a social service provider, to prop up his own legitimacy while he removed social service programs; we’ve seen how Mubarak’s legitimacy is crumbling. Additionally, western desire to maintain free-market capitalism can be conceptualized as originating with a desire for access to oil in Arab world (Mitchell, 2002). While we habitually and mistakenly may perceive Islamism as a reaction to all-powerful forces of capitalism, in reality both must be actively produced. What emerges from this is a picture of markets as produced by a combination of very uncapitalist forces, by the “rule of experts” (Mitchell, 2002).  When we see both the Brotherhood and neoliberalism as active productions that have produced each other, we see that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a local movement resisting a top-down impact from elite or global forces. Through this paper we have conceptualized the Muslim Brotherhood as an autonomous and non-reactionary movement. This does not mean the Brotherhood stands like an island, unmoved and unrelated to what is going on around it. It means instead that it is constantly interrelated, constantly adopting multiple identities and adapting to multiple moments, thus powerful beyond its reactions to opposition.
            While the Brotherhood has most definitely responded accountably in the neoliberal moment by providing much-needed social services, its rising power and legitimacy is produced by the consent of the majority of Egyptians as more than a responder. The identity of the Brotherhood exists at the meeting place of its success in light of neoliberal failure, of Islamic culture, of Egyptian nationalism, of civil society, economics, and government. While we may be concerned about the Brotherhood’s ability to uphold non-violent democracy with space for civil society and religious freedom and plurality, these are some of the very values and traditions that the Brotherhood’s authority rests on. As such, Brotherhood leaders have made no mention of changes such as a ban on alcohol or mandatory veiling for women (Williams, 2006), and have a consistently expressed a desire not for power itself, but for Islamic-oriented democracy. As a current Brotherhood member reiterates, “The Brothers consider constitutional rule to be closest to Islamic rule” (Walsh, 2003). And given the Muslim Brotherhood’s proven success in upholding these values through its rise to prominence over the past thirty years, we should consider it a viable alternative to Mubarak’s crumbling regime which remains undemocratic, failing to provide to services to poor populations and employing violence arbitrarily. There is little doubt among scholars that if free elections were held in Egypt, an Islamist government could arise under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood (Lubeck, 1998, pg. 306). The Muslim Brotherhood, as a political party and a social movement, presents an opportunity for state-led development in Egypt, capable of acting in solidarity with the majority of people. With this in mind, we look towards the future.

Works Cited

Al-Yassini, Ayman. (1986). “Islamic Revival and National Development in the Arab World”, Journal of Asian and African Studies p. 104-121. Sage Publications.

Escobar, Arturo. (1995) “Imagining a Post-Development Era”, Power of Development.

Friedman, Thomas. (2005). The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

IRIN: the Integrated Regional Information Network. (2006). “Egypt: Social Programmes bolster appeal of Muslim Brotherhood”.  UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Lubeck, Paul. (1998). “Islamist Responses to Globalization: Cultural Conflict in Egypt, Algeria, and Malaysia”. University of California Press, p. 293-319

Mitchell, Timothy. (2002). Rule of Experts. University of California Press.

Mitchell, Timothy. (2002). “McJihad: Islam in the US Global Order”, Social Text, Duke University Press.

Stacher, Joshua and Shehata, Samer. (2007). “Hear out Muslim Brotherhood”, American University in Cairo and Georgetown University for the Globe Newspaper Company.

Walsh, John. (2003). “Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood: Understanding Centrist Islam”, Perspectives on the United States Journal Article published in the Harvard International Review.

Weaver, Mary Anne. (1995). “The Novelist and the Sheikh.” The New Yorker, p. 52-69.

Williams, Daniel. (2006). “Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood May Be Model for Islam’s Political Adaptation”, Washington Post Foreign Service.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

To Homs, Abbasiya and Damascus

My heart goes out today to Egypt, where people are pouring into the streets in Abbasiya, surrounding the Ministry of Defense, to demand accountability from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces led by Tantawi. As post-colonial intellectual Franz Fanon wrote, "It is difficult to start a revolution, more difficult to sustain it. But it's later, when we've won, that the real difficulties will begin." I can't imagine the strength and patience and persistence it must require to consistently demand justice and change in the way that so many individuals in Egypt are doing now.

My heart is aching today for Syria. Today in Damascus people were literally scraping up body parts from the sidewalk in the aftermath of a suicide bombing. Pro-Assad troops fired on protesters. Activists picked up the body of a child, physically carrying a child's corpse to UN observers as proof of the violence. The Washington Post reports that "In another protest, people held up 45 squares of cardboard with writing and drawings that — when viewed together from above — showed a picture of Assad and the words 'oppression, corruption, despotism, demolition.' When they simultaneously flipped over the squares, it created a new message that read: 'Toward a modern society that is more developed and sensible.'" I am forever in awe of Syrians, who in the face of the most incredible oppression, continue to go down into the streets in thousands.

Some people claim that seeing footage of the dead in Syria, causes them to lose faith in humanity. Indeed, such violence is incredibly sad. That said, for me, the fact that people continue to believe that justice is worth seeking and are continually willing to risk their lives in pursuit of this justice, is the ultimate testament to the strength of the human spirit. Videos of people reciting the Shahada, cursing Bashar, yelling for justice, even in their moment of death, leave me aching and in awe. It is all I can do to put up a prayer.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Hunger Games

I just finished reading the last book in The Hunger Games series. These are children's books, but riveting with some truthy ideas in there: how ceasefires will always favor the powerful, how they create unjust peace that isn't peace at all, making peacekeepers oppressors.. how absolute power corrupts absolutely, how beauty and love can be found in the darkest of lairs. Palestine is on my mind. To those people who say The Hunger Games is too violent for a children's story, imagine if we told them what's happening in the real world.

Monday, March 12, 2012

It Is A Nominal Sentence

I first read this poem by Mahmoud Darwish while in university, and in the past years lines from it keep popping into my mind. I am trying to translate it with the hope that more people can appreciate it, although my imperfect translation hardly does justice to the beauty of the words in Arabic. Please do comment with any suggestions for a more accurate and just translation. I love this poem, so beautiful and haunting.

هي جملة اسمية

هي جُمَلَةٌ اسمية ’ لا فِعْلَ
فيها أو لها: للبحر رائحةُ الأَسِرَّةِ
بعد فِعْلِ الحُبِّ... عطرٌ مالحٌ أَو
حامضٌ . هِيَ جملة اسمية : فرحي
جريحٌ كالغروب على شبابيك الغريبِة .
زهرتي خضراءُ كالعنقاء . قلبي فائضٌ
عن حاجتي , متردِّدٌ ما بين بابَيْنَ :
اُلدخولُ هو الفُكَاهَةُ’ والخروج هُوَ
المَتَاهَةُ .أَين ظلِّي – مرشدي وسط
الزحام على الطريق إلى القيامة؟ ليتني
حَجَرٌ قديمٌ داكنُ اللونيْن في سور المدينة’
كستنائيُّ وأَسودُ , طاعِنٌ في اللاشعور
تجاه زوَّاري وتأويل الظلال . وليت
للفعل المُضَارِع موطئاً للسير خلفي
أو أمامي’ حافيَ القدمين . أين
طريقيَ الثاني إلى دَرَج المدى؟ أَين
السُّدَى؟ أَين الطريقُ إلي الطريق؟
وأين نَحْنُ, السائرين علي خُطَى الفعل
المضارع, أين نحن؟ كلامُنا خَبَرٌ
ومُبْتَدأٌ أمام البحر, والزَّبدُ المراوغُ
في الكلام هو النقاطُ علي الحروف,
فليت للفعل المضارع موطئاً فوق

It Is A Nominal Sentence

It is a nominal sentence. No verb
in it or of it: for the sea the scent of the bed
after making love... a salty perfume or
sour. It is a nominal sentence: My joy is
wounded like the sunset at your strange windows.
My flower is green like the phoenix. My heart overflows
my need, hesitant between two doors:
Entry is a joke and exit is
a labyrinth. Where is my shadow, my guide amidst
the crowding on the way to the day of judgement? I wish I were
a stone, ancient, of two dark colors in the wall of the city,
chestnut and black, protruding in subconscious
towards my visitors and interpretation of shadows. I wish
for the present tense, a foothold for walking behind me
or in front of me, barefoot. Where is
my second road to the staircase of expanse? Where is
futility? Where is the road to the road?
And where are we, marchers on the footsteps of the
present tense, where are we? Our talk is predicate
and subject in front of the sea, the elusive foam
in speech is the dots on the letters,
so I wish for present tense, a foothold on
the pavement...