Grey Wool Knickers They breathe

July 10, 2009

Back in the Belly of the Beast—رجوع إلى بطن السوء

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 3:40 pm

I’ll continue with the travel narrative in a bit, but here’s something a bit more recent

Well, after a hellish day of traveling, I’m back in the US of A.  It was something of an unhappy arrival.  I had a short scheduled layover in JFK  airport in New York before proceeding to my new home of Washington DC.  Unfortunately, neither the fates nor the Department of Homeland Security were with me.  First, I got stuck behind an American dude with his new Spanish wife and kids and their dachshund (which had previously managed to escape during landing).  That required some amount of paperwork, including the immigration official checking through the Spanish woman’s secret envelop (she was obliged to carry it with her, but was not able to see it before the immigration officer did).  When it came my turn, the fellow was courteous enough, asking me the usual questions about what I was doing in the Middle East, etc.  He assured me, “don’t get me wrong, I’ve visited Egypt.  I like Egypt.”  “I don’t,” I replied, while trying not to be too impolite.  He did, however, find it quite strange that I would chose to take a trip to Sudan for tourism.  “It was winter and we wanted to go somewhere warmer,” I said.  “I’ve been to to Cairo in winter and it’s not that cold.”  “We’re from California,” I clarified.  “‘Nuff said!”

He then escorted me back to another room, saying to one of his colleagues, a Mr. ‘Abd al-Aziz, “I know you’re gonna hate me, but I got a CTR109 [or some such nonsense code] for you.”  “You’re right.  I do,” came the response.  My name had popped up on the monitor and I was getting some special treatment.  Me, a young Egyptian kid with an unfortunate name, a guy with a bit of a zabiba and a skullcap, an Egyptian family and a very tall New York Jew working between Cairo and Chicago, sporting a shaved head that nevertheless failed to disguise previous decades of Orthodox grooming.  Depending on what you consider the latter, I was the only white person in the room, and the second to last to get questioned.  Before it was actually my turn to go through the process, Mr. ‘Abd al-Aziz made a bit of small talk about Syphilis (that’s our cat), asking what kind of cat she was.  I responded that she was a tortoise-shell.  His answer was that he had some special breed at some point (I forgot what it was), but he had to get rid of it because it was “too emotional.”

After the poor kid who shared a name with an equally unfortunate Arab was waved off by ‘Abd al-Aziz, annoyed that he was obliged to bother this kid and have him open his bags, and after the New York Jew was advised to write to his Congressperson to complain that he is stopped and processed like this every time he goes back between Cairo and the US (writing the head of the DHS just won’t be going high enough, they assured him), I was then once again asked a number of routine and, considering the situation, not particularly invasive questions about what I had been doing in the Middle East, none of which would have been news to anyone reading this blog.  About two-thirds of the time was spent not answering questions, but waiting while Mr. ‘Abd al-Aziz typed who-knows-what into the terminal.

Next, I had to proceed through customs, where I spent about 15 minutes waiting for someone to show up.  The Customs official on duty was tied up dealing with the 20 cartons of Marlboros getting smuggled in by an Egyptian dude.  The person that finally came again asked me a number of questions, most of which I had just answered with the previous two guys.  Again, most of the time was spent waiting for the Customs official to type whatever it was he was typing.  I should have just told them to save themselves the trouble.  I’ve already done plenty of typing, they could just cut and paste from this blog.

Of course, by this point, I had missed my connection, so I was obliged to wait around for four hours for the next flight.  Contrary to the Egyptian handlers who were more than happy to take my baksheesh in exchange for slinging my cat into the X-ray machine, the woman at JFK prit-near had a conniption when I slid Syphilis in her cat-carrier toward the X-ray machine with every intention of removing her before reaching the machine.  I walked to the gate, where I was immediately assaulted by the sound of CNN turned up to 11.  What’s more, aside from a couple minutes here about the police shooting of a serial killer and 15 seconds there about Honduran President Zalaya in the US, CNN spent every other moment “covering” the Michael Jackson memorial—”coverage” which largely consisted of footage of black cars driving around backed by repetitive interviews with people who had nothing interesting to say about Michael Jackson or anything else.  I tried for a few hours to sleep through this ridiculousness with old Bruce Springsteen blasting in my ears to drown out CNN.  Eventually, I realized there was a bar upstairs, so I proceeded to medicate myself with a Sam Adams cherry wheat beer.  The cherry flavor was over the top.  I felt like I was eating a McDonald’s cherry turnover with a beer chaser.  Welcome to America.

March 2, 2009

Dance of Death: ‘Waltz with Bashir’ and Sympathy for the Killer—رقصة الموت: «فالس مع بشير» والعطف على القاتل

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 1:07 am

I spent some time over the past week translating this excellent critique of the film “Waltzing with Bashir” by As`ad AbuKhalil (aka, the Angry Arab).  Aside from butchering the title of the article and completely failing on one complicated parenthetical statement, I seem to have done pretty well.  It was rather difficult, but quite rewarding.  I don’t think I’ve ever even read anything of this length in Arabic, let alone translated it.  The translation—in addition to being here below the fold, with some handy hyperlinks for those unfamiliar with the many names and historical events that appear in the article—can also be found on the original authors site, here.  I also recommend this film review that appeared on Electronic Intifada.  (more…)

January 30, 2009

A conversation about this image—مناقشة عن هذه الصورة

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[singlepic id=957 w=320 h=240 float=center]

What follows is a conversation about the above image, which I’ve been using as my profile picture on Facebook.  The other party agreed to have his/her words reproduced here without her/his name attached:


December 28, 2008

New Year’s Resolutions—عزائم للعام الجديد

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My apologies to those who had been following my blog and were disappointed to find that I wasn’t updating since last spring.  My access to the internet over the summer while I was bopping about North America was somewhat limited and it became difficult to get back in the habit of posting when internet was available again.  In addition to this, I groaned every time I thought about trying to critically engage with the dominant political discourse around the US elections or the “world financial crisis”, a phrase I became tired of just as quickly in Arabic as in English. (more…)

December 2, 2007

Surrender is Surrender

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — admin @ 5:38 am

A friend of mine handed me a recent (November 15) article by Slavoj Žižek, entitled “Resistance Is Surrender”. It comes from the London Review of Books. This friend wanted to know my opinion. My answer? The short version is not appropriate for a public audience, so I’ll share with you the long version. Just about everything in the article is worthy of a counterpoint, but I’ll try to limit myself.  I encourage the reader to read Žižek’s article in full first.  Most of it has been quoted below, but there are a few chunks I left out: (more…)

November 4, 2007

Collecting places—مجموعة الأمكنة

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States I’ve Visited

There’s something insidious about this website (click on the map to go to it) that will generate such a map for you based on the states you click, designed for you to be able to show off the states you’ve visited (there is another version for the world traveler).  And, no, it’s not because all of the states are red.  It’s because it is one of the most crass illustrations of that crass urge of so many tourists and travelers (I engage in it myself) to collect places—their cultures, their terrains, their vistas—as so many notches on the belt, as so many state-shaped vinyl stickers on the back of the recreational vehicle.  (more…)

October 22, 2007

Embarrassing my future self

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 6:43 pm

Let this post function as a sort of caveat. I’ve just posted a whole bunch of stuff on this here blog, most of which was culled from emails I’ve sent to people over the last several days. Lacking the time or the patience to fully edit this material and tweak it for a more public audience, the reader is liable to discover some quixotic lines here and there, along with some rather bold leaps of logic, tossed with a liberal helping of generalization and drizzled with the choicest first cold-pressed extra virgin bullshit. Do feel free to call me on any or all of these things and set me straight.

October 15, 2007

Welcome to Grey Wool Knickers!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — admin @ 5:00 pm

This blog is still pretty bare, and I haven’t yet migrated a lot of content from my previous static site at, but I’ll get there. I’ve spent entirely too long setting this thing up, so I’m going to take a break for a while and allow GWK to fill up with content over time, in due course. Please feel free to leave any comments or to contact me via the link on the sidebar with your input on the site, its functionality or its content.

An interesting piece of information: before I got in touch with my ISP to set up this blog on their servers (thanks Electric Embers!), I tried to set it up on the site. It turned out that I wasn’t able to connect to the site. Somewhere along the line, between Cairo and the WordPress servers, the connection was being blocked. I was eventually able to connect through a proxy server. I might be so bold as to suggest that the Egyptian authorities had blocked traffic to the site (just the main site, not its various subdomains), which would not be out of character. They control all internet traffic in and out of the country. In any case, I just checked and it is no longer blocked. I’m not quite sure what would motivate the Egyptian authorities (or whoever else was responsible) to prevent people from setting up blogs (all of the blogs hosted on the subdomains of were accessible, oddly enough, so people could read and edit already created blogs) for just a couple days. Then again, much of what the Egyptian government does seems quite arbitrary.

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