I know next to nothing about basketball. But I do have deep loyalty to my alma mater, and an appreciation for small details. So, when my dad asked what Davidson’s record was against Catholic schools (re: Marquette), I decided it was well worth the next half hour to figure that out. It looks promising.
Steph Curry and co’s 2008 tournament run started by defeating two Catholic schools, but the further back we go, the more distinct the pattern becomes. Of the 11 times Davidson has been in the NCAA tournament, we have advanced past the first round four times, three of which have been victories over Catholic schools (St Johns, Villanova, and Gonzaga). Conversely, of our first round losses, only one has been to a Catholic school (St. Bonaventure, in 1970).
Looking at total tournament victories, rather than just first round games, we have won 9/20 games, 45%. Of those, our winning proportions are significantly higher against Catholic schools (5/7, 71.4%) than non-Catholic schools (4/13, 30.7%). I’d say Thursday’s game looks promising, but there’s something to be said about the predictive power of precedent.
Also, my professors would be aghast if I didn’t cite my sources. But they’d also be shocked at how reliant I am on Wikipedia these days. You win some, you lose some.
I’m as guilty as any of us about talking about the weather when there’s nothing else to talk about. A few days back, some weather-talk actually turned interesting.
I was chatting with two guys at Nature Iraq, Nwenar and Ali, about how it’s cold now, and how it’ll be hot in the summer, and how mosquitos suck. Nothing too exciting.
So, I launch into a half-remembered Alaskan Inuit legend, just to keep things going.
Here’s the story: apparently, way back in the day, there was a Blood Drinking Giant making life thoroughly unpleasant for some Inuit types. As tends to happen in myths and legends and old stories, a heroic warrior type arrives, or emerges, or comes into his own, and after many trials and tribulations, defeats the giant.
Now, when this giant is on the ground breathing his (I’m assuming his) last breaths, he spews something about how he would haunt us human folks forever, and dies.
Warrior-dude, incredulous, burns the corpse. And then the ashes become mosquitos. There may be a moral, but I’ve forgotten it.
I wrap this tale up, and Nwenar looks at me and says, “So it’s all the Americans’ fault!”
I’d like to start this post with two apologies, neither of which have to do with the fact that it’s been, like, 15 years since I last blogged.
Apology one. Some people have heard this story already. Apology two, there’s a bit of explanation involved that other readers may already understand.
So, in the Middle East, broadly speaking, there aren’t really family names. Your name is Your Name, followed by Your Father’s Name, followed by His Father’s Name. Which is why you get people named Ibrahim Ibrahim (no joke, he was a student of mine).
Now, I’ve had a series of semi-misunderstandings about this with border guards, customs officers, and the like. Once, when I got a “Why your name George?” thrown at me by a man working on my immigration file, I made the mistake of saying, “It’s my mother’s father’s name.” This produced one of the most deeply confused expressions I’ve seen on a human face. If the dude didn’t have a unibrow to start with, he definitely did after I dropped that little bit of information on him. I then had to explain, as patiently as possible, that in American and European Cultures, one does not take their father and grand father’s name, but usually has a Given, Middle, and Last name. Further brow furrowing ensued.
That man, I was able to convince my name is actually my name. Another time I was not so fortunate. Later in the month-and-forever process of renewing my residency, I overheard a conversation between another immigration official (who was wearing Kurdish work pants, for some reason) and Ahmed, my interlocutor with this system. In short:
Ahmed: James George Wudel.
Kurdi Pants: Na, James Darcy Albert Wudel!
Kurdish exchanged on both sides.
Ahmed: James George Wudel.
Kurdi Pants: NA, James Darcy Albert Wudel.
Rinse and Repeat.
Kurdi Pants (turning to me): Your name James.
Kurdi Pants: Your father name Darcy
Kurdi Pants: His father name Albert
Kurdi Pants (to Ahmed, in a tone signifying something has been decided): James Darcy Albert Wudel!
Fortunately, my name is correct on the final document. And I think Ahmed told them I’m a Muslim.
I’ll admit it, I’m a junk food addict. But at least I’m an adventurous addict (although my predilection is towards the salty). In my 7 (almost 8?) months here, I’ve done some casual investigation of the local snack food situation. With the exception of Baghdad Chips (kettle chips, but slightly oiler, with a 50/50 chance of being stale), most of these come in from Iran or Turkey. As does most everything else in Kurdistan. I’m also becoming convinced that some variation on Sour Cream and Onion is near-universal.
Peanut Cheetos- Palatable, but only barely.
Ketchup Cheetos- Disgusting. Same goes for ketchup potato snacks.
Lime Potato Chips- Surprisingly good, vaguely reminiscent of salt and vinegar.
Grape Potato Chips- Haven’t been that brave yet.
Kebab Flavored Everything- Well, not quite everything, but Cheeto-equivalents, tortilla chips, and processed cheese for sure. Not quite disgusting enough for me to turn it away.
Paprika chips/potato sticks- Fantastic.
Other oddities: Disney characters, Digimon, and Manchester United grace a surprising number of chip bags (odds are very good none of these parties know this is happening). Recently, you’ve been able to find decent tortilla chips round Sulai. Still flavored Dorito-style, but some are quite tasty (Lime and Jalapeno, I’m looking at you).
In other news, I was trying to make a hip hop beat using a Kurdish hip hop sample last night, and ended up with an ambient epic. Timestretching does crazy things.
I have a confession to make. I’m a closet design nerd. I complain to myself about the poorly put together GUIs of iPad music apps, I occasionally find myself nodding sagely when someone drops a Jon Ives quote, and I rock at this kerning game.
With that off my chest, I’d like to pay a quick tribute to an unsung and (as best I can tell from 45 minutes with Google) anonymous pilnth of the design community. A man (I’m assuming) who successfully achieved Sir Ives directive to make “objects that you can’t imagine any other way.” Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to pay homage to the human being who came up with the toilet seat cover.
I’m not sure what genius piece of physics and/or psychology guarantees that my aim is superior when my target is half an inch lower and maybe in inch greater circumference, but I can say with confidence that it is. This simple oblong hinged piece of plastic has improved hygiene, public health, and countless relationships. My gratitude goes out to you, you forgotten master whose work has passed into ubiquity, every time I don’t have to take the extra fifteen seconds to clean up after myself.
And, just in case anyone was curious, I had to use a squat toilet for the first time yesterday. Wikipedia claims that there is some medical evidence that squat toilets are better for ones health than sit toilets. I can testify, it’s a workout.
And, in one last toilet-related thought, I want one of these.
“The Situation Remains Fluid”: that’s what the US State Department (or maybe the Canadian equivalent, I’m not entirely sure which) told me about Iraq when I started thinking about coming here. It’s become a personal mantra since then, one that helps me navigate the arbitrary hours of business, unexpected presence of construction work, and too-frequent power outages that help shape life in the KRG.
This may be the most fluid of months in an already free-flowing society. I’m not sure anything actually gets done during March. At Nature Iraq, we’ve had three days off for various versions of Kurdish independence days—two to commemorate an uprising, one to commemorate the actual granting of autonomy, if I’m actually understanding the folks I work with—, an effective day off for Wear-Your-Traditional-Kurdish-Clothing Day—which probably has a snappier name than that, and is somehow tied to International Womens Day—, and four days off for Nawroz, the Persian/Kurdish/Bahai New Year. Nawroz is a Christmas-level holiday, the kind of celebration that gets everyone out of work and feeling festive and has its own genre of music.
Now, I’m able to report how many days we’ve had off because we’ve actually had these days off. Holidays seem to be contingent on the decisons of mullahs, ministries, and managers. Noone actually told me about the first of the Kurdish Independence days, so I had a confused conversation with Araz the office manager when I showed up to the office at my usual time. At least once every couple months, religious holidays will get bumped forwards or backwards by a day with about a week’s notice. The day before our Nawroz break began, Araz expressed some consternation that some ministry would find out we were taking too many days off and penalize us somehow, and may have made the next day an “optional” work day. Still puzzling that one out. The situation remains fluid.
On America’s March Madness: the NCAA lost my $4 and promoted internet piracy by not letting me buy their streaming package. Silly licensing agreements.
It is also always a great day to be a Wildcat, no matter what Louisville has to say about it.
I’m in a good spot now, musically speaking. My new years resolution was to make music every day, and I’ve stuck to it better than I expected to. My dad, step-mom, and I are hosting weekly jam sessions, which kicks my game up a notch or two. These jams have made me take another look at songs I hadn’t had much of a feel for (if you’d told me 6 months ago that I could wax poetic about the harmonic structure of an Elvis ballad, I’d have been skeptical), and introduced me to a good bit of new music.
One of my favorites of these new-to-me songs is this track up top. There’s a lot to like here: some gorgeous harmonies, a just-funky-enough chord progression, the frontman’s beard, the way the fiddler milks the mic just right. That said, my favorite thing about this song is the line “at least I know she’s lying still.” It’s layered. On the one hand, it means that the song’s narrator succeeded with his .44, but that’s a little to easy. Maybe his murderous intent was thwarted, but he ended up in jail anyway, and takes some cosmic satisfaction in his fidelity, his honor compared to her continued deception, although that feels like I’m pushing it. The interpretation that has the most (admittedly slightly Freudian, or perhaps Santorum-esque) meat to it is that this dude is glad she’s prostrate and immobile, that she’s not bouncing around in bed. It’s a beautiful bit of characterization
Anyone else want to read into this song with me?
Imagine, if you will, that sometime around 1700 Spain, Germany, and Italy divided up the chunk of land that would become the modern state of France. For the next hundred years or so, religious common ground and cultural similarities notwithstanding, the French got treated poorly. Speaking French was forbidden in most places. Spaniards talked about the French as “Northern Spaniards,” with no culture of their own. The Germans mounted an active campaign to move Germans into French cities and Francophones into German cities. Baking a baguette and wearing a beret became capital offenses in Italy. Then, after a quick and decisive war around 1800 in which Ethiopia humiliated Germany (remember, hypothetical situation), the French managed to carve out a corner of Germany that they could rule independently. There was much rejoicing.
Once you’ve let that parallel history play out in your head, move it about 3000 miles east and a couple hundred years later. Then replace “French” with “Kurdish” and “German” with “Iraqi.”* Now you’ve had your first Kurdish history lesson!
This metaphor comes out of a conversation I had just before I left the states to come to Iraq with a friend who didn’t know the term “ethnic group.” The comparison breaks down when you put much scrutiny on it (my rough grasp of both European and Middle Eastern history doesn’t help), but I think it gets the major points across. Although they share related languages, a common religion, and deeply entangled history and geography, Kurds are not Arabs, Turks, or Iranians. They’re Kurds. They’re the largest stateless people on the planet, the twentieth century treated them particularly poorly, and they’re fiercly proud of the fact that they now have a place to call their own.
What they’ve done with their corner of the world is pretty fantastic. As bombings and shootings have ramped up in Baghdad and Basra, Sulaimani and Erbil have remained peaceful. Kurdish cities are growing quickly (if unevenly). A Carrefour recently opened in Erbil. In Sulaimani, where I’m based at the moment, a New Zealand burger chain has set up shop across the street from me, liquor stores outnumber mosques (for better or for worse), and the majority of women go unveiled. This is not to say the KRG is completely Western or completely stable, and my limited experience of the Middle East limits the comparisons I can comfortably make. But even so, I’m impressed by the Kurds.
*If you want to be really completest, go ahead and replace Spain with Turkey, Italy with Syria (although I don’t think making shwarma or wearing baggy pants ever became illegal in Syria), Ethiopia with the United States, and Islam for Christianity.
Background: I somehow managed to snag a 5 week ESL class at the American University. It was a trip. More posts will follow.
The story: One day after class, a student who I alternately suspected of being in the closet and being a fundamentalist, started quizzing me about where I’d bought my new cell phone (I’d managed to put my previous phone through the washing machine. I was stressed for those 5 weeks.). I had asked the class the week before where I should buy myself a phone, and the general consensus was Malaway Street, the main drag of the Sulaimani bazaar. This was dissapointing, but somehow fitting: I wanted specifics, they gave me generalities. On the recommendation of a friend, I ended up at a shop on another main street in the bazaar where they spoke English.
I told my student where I’d picked up my phone, and he gave me a funny look, laughed a little bit, and explained that the street where I’d done my shopping was for women, that that was where women bought gold. The connection was not and still is not clear to me. The longer I’m here, the less I understand.
Hello, my name is James, and I’m a terrible blogger. I make promises and don’t keep them, I don’t finish my thoughts, I occasionally sound self-pitying. Here’s the proof. That said, I’d like to flex some writerly musculature now and then, and this seems like the best way to do it. Watch out Tumblr.
I had thought about writing this post as a personal manifesto of sorts, listing things I would and wouldn’t write about, talking about my goals for this sting, making promises to myself and my hypothetical audience. That’s not happening. If I have something to say to the internet that takes more than 140 characters, I’m gonna say it here.
I would, however, like to make one thing clear. Although I am currently living in Iraq, this is not going to become a blog about Iraq or my time here. I’ve done the travel blog thing, I’ve read too many travel blogs, I don’t particularly like travel blogs. The fact that I’m here will certainly shape what I’m writing, but that’s not the point, that’s not the overarching concern.
That said, I’m gonna write about Christmas music sometime in the next week.